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The Ghost of Ochs

Chapter Text

The afternoon and evening after a tough battle provided the perfect opportunity for everyone to relax. With the other two houses not estimated to return to the monastery for a few more days, the Black Eagles technically had the academy to themselves.

After making good on her promise to herself to get her shield fixed, Monica took another walk around the premises to clear her head. She wanted to get both her shield and her sword repaired by the blacksmith, but she used all of her money on the shield as it had taken far more damage. When Felix and Leonie returned, she planned on asking one of them if they had any more whetstones, and then learning proper sword sharpening techniques so she could give the blacksmith a break once in a while.

When night fell, Monica was tempted to visit Constance a few days early to tell her everything that happened over the past week. If not for the increased presence of the Knights of Seiros, Monica was confident that she could make it to Constance's house and back before bedtime. Instead, she found herself writing down notes on a sheet of paper she usually reserved for Byleth's lectures. Her hands no longer shook when she tried to write, and she could understand her own shorthand without too much trouble.

Monica folded the note up and tucked it away under her mattress. She reminded herself not to take it with her on her next date with Constance – it was just there so she had something to talk about, and nothing more. There was no point in risking the note getting lost, stolen, or ruined by the heat from the sauna. Even if Constance did somehow get hold of it, Monica banked on her being unable to understand the meaning behind the one- and two-word phrases written all over the page.

If someone like Miss Eisner or Lady Edelgard found it, though, then—

Monica suddenly remembered that she was to meet with Edelgard after their mission was over. While there were still a few things left to be done before they could consider their case "closed", Monica was eager to speak with her house leader before they both went to bed.

Walking past the academy dorm rooms and looking at the nameplates on the doors made Monica feel lonely. She hoped that everyone else would return safely from their missions, even if she knew she would never be invited into their rooms.

After a few minutes of wandering around, Monica located Edelgard's room on the second floor, sandwiched between Hilda and Hubert's rooms. Monica was happy to have received a first-floor dorm assignment for the second year in a row, but she could appreciate the relative privacy a second-floor dorm provided. No one was wandering in the hallway at that time of night, so Monica went to knock on Edelgard's door and wait for an answer. Before she could get close enough to the door, she overheard Edelgard speaking with Hubert.

"…and that's why if this plan of ours is to succeed," said Edelgard, "we need to use their power."

"You know that you will always have my full support, Lady Edelgard," said Hubert, "but I must wonder if you are being hasty in accepting the introduction of such unknown elements to the plan. Are you certain they can be trusted?"

"We don't have much of a choice right now."

After what sounded like a sigh or a deep breath, Hubert continued as Monica quietly walked closer to the door. "As for that other matter…don't you think you owe it to yourself to reveal the truth?"

"In time, Hubert," said Edelgard. "If I were to do so now, it would only get lost in the noise."

"I only ask that you do not draw too much suspicion toward yourself. Rumors have a tendency to spread quickly, and there is only so much that I can keep under control."

Monica was far enough away from Edelgard's door to avoid getting hit when Hubert exited. Judging by the dark circles around his eyes and how quickly he went to his bedroom, Monica assumed Hubert was too tired to scold her for spying on his private conversation. A few seconds after Hubert's door closed, Monica walked up to Edelgard's door and quietly knocked on it to avoid waking him. Edelgard, in turn, only opened her door wide enough to get a good look at Monica and see if she was being followed by anyone.

"Monica?"

"Uh…yeah, it's me," said Monica, instinctively looking behind her to see what else Edelgard was looking at. "Don't worry, it's just me. Um…do you have a few minutes?"

Edelgard opened the door the rest of the way. "Is something troubling you? This is the first time I've seen you on this floor. I'm also not used to seeing you awake this late at night."

"Well, there was that one time when Connie and I—wait, no! I mean, there is something I wanted to talk to you about, and I'm worried that I'll forget it in the morning if I don't bring it up now."

Edelgard quietly closed the door after allowing Monica to enter and sit down at the desk chair. Monica tried her best to sit up straight, even as she wanted to slip into some comfortable cotton pajamas like the ones Edelgard was wearing.

"All right," said Edelgard, looking as if she was ready to fall asleep herself. "What's on your mind?"

"Well, I'd been thinking about today's battle, and I thought I recognized the clothing that the enemy was wearing. I know I've seen it before…"

"Really? Where?"

Monica shuddered. She really wished she had brought something warmer to wear, even though there was no reason for it to be so cold in Edelgard's room. "The people who attacked my caravan that day…they wore the same robes," she said in a low whisper. "A few of them even wore these gross-looking masks to hide their identities...ones with blank, black eyes, and smiles wider than any mouth has a right to be. For months, there wasn't a day that went by when I didn't see one of those accursed things staring at me. I'd even see them when I closed my eyes at night."

Edelgard tilted her head to look Monica in the eye as she continued to recount her experiences. "Not all of them looked like that, though. There was someone that a few of them answered to – a carrot-haired, pale-skinned imp of a girl they called Kronya. She's the reason I have so many scars on my arms and legs. It wouldn't always happen when I was awake, either. Sometimes, I'd wake up and see a new scar or bruise on my arm or leg where I knew there wasn't one before. I was sure Kronya was the one doing it, too, because no one ever saw her without at least one dagger in her hands."

As the memories started coming back to her, Monica gritted her teeth, closed her eyes, and pressed her hands against her knees to try to steady herself. She tried to tell Edelgard as much as possible about how she escaped from Kronya's clutches – being backed into a corner where no one could hear either of them call for help, and then struggling to wrest one of Kronya's daggers away and wounding her with it just enough to dissuade her from attacking her again, but keeping the fight short to avoid exhausting herself when she saw the perfect moment to run away. Monica almost didn't mention the eyeless demonic beast from her nightmare, for she didn't want to believe such hideous creatures really existed.

The realization that Monica barely made it out of those caves alive felt hollow when she thought of the fates of the other prisoners. She didn't put it past Kronya to have some of them killed to prevent any future escape attempts. Those that survived, if they ever saw her again, would probably blame her for "abandoning" them and only thinking of her own safety.

What else was I supposed to do? Could I have gone back and saved at least one of them?

It was hard for Monica to keep calm or quiet after telling her story. Her desire to put on a brave face for Edelgard only lasted a few more moments before she broke down, burying her face into her hands and crying. She looked up after about a minute and noticed that Edelgard was no longer sitting on her bed.

"Monica…" was all Edelgard said before searching her desk for a handkerchief and giving her distraught visitor a few moments to calm down. Monica borrowed the delicate handkerchief and used it to dry her eyes and placed it gently on the desktop when she was done, not wanting to dirty Edelgard's hands with her tears.

"I'm so sorry, Edelgard," said Monica.

"About what?"

"I didn't want you—or anyone, really—to see me like that." Monica tried to laugh to break the tension, but she thought it sounded like she was going to start crying again, so she stopped. "I just wish I could have done more to help those people… I'm always making such a big deal about showing everyone how strong and tough and brave I am, but when something like…that…happened, I just felt helpless, you know?"

"There's no need to apologize," said Edelgard. "You've been through a lot, and it would be irresponsible of me to expect you to keep that up at all times. If you feel like you need to cry, then I won't think any less of you for doing so."

Monica debated whether or not to remain seated for a few more minutes while Edelgard stood to her side, looking down at her with her hands folded. She looked up at Edelgard and arose from the chair, aware that she would eventually have to go back to her own room, where she was free to sit around and do whatever she wanted.

"I know it's late, Monica," said Edelgard, "but there are still a couple more things I'd like to discuss with you, if you don't mind."

Monica stopped just short of the bedroom door and turned around. "Okay," she replied, still trembling a little.

"Let's start by changing the subject to something a little less…bleak. I was worried that you'd be rusty or nervous after coming back from such a long absence, but you've handled yourself quite well in the classroom and on the battlefield."

"Thanks for noticing. I know it's only been a month since I started again, but I've been trying to work as hard as I can so that I don't fall behind everyone else."

"How has your experience so far compared to your previous year at the academy?"

"The last time I went to school here wasn't terrible," said Monica, "but I feel like I'm much better off now than I was back then. It helps a lot that I can actually talk with my professor outside of classroom hours. My old teacher was all business—he'd give us a lecture for the day about whatever coursework we had or what our mission was for the week, and then we wouldn't see him again until the next day, not even to answer questions about the material afterward. If we didn't get it the first time, then we were on our own."

"I'm surprised that anyone could have done well with an instructor like that at the helm," said Edelgard. "I think it says a lot about our professor that we've all benefited from her training in spite of this being her first teaching position."

Monica nodded half-heartedly. The burden of sleepiness began to weigh her down. Edelgard continued to stand proudly before her, almost as if she was still in the classroom.

"One more thing...when we brought up the possibility of the enemy attacking Remire Village, you were the first to suggest sending people there to defend it. With that in mind, I'd like you to help coordinate the defense effort in my absence. Can I count on you?"

"What do you mean by that?" asked Monica. "Why won't you be there with us?"

"Ferdinand and I are going to Larkspur within the week to speak with the mayor, so I may not be able to assist you this time. That means you and the others will have to pick up the slack while we're away."

Monica had never visited Remire and thus knew next to nothing about the people who lived there, how its defenses were set up, or anything beyond its status as a potential target for Myson and his faction to spread terror. It was a suggestion she had made on a whim, one that seemed like the most logical course of action at the time. She felt like she was being dared to accept the offer knowing that most of the blame would fall on her if her intuition was wrong, or if the defensive effort failed. Still, she knew that she would face similar situations when she became a baroness, so now was not the time to shrink in the face of duty or adversity.

"I'll do it," Monica replied, trying to pick herself up and ward off her sleepiness for a few more minutes. She stopped short of guaranteeing the villagers' safety as she worried about the size of the opposition she expected to face. "Um…thanks for listening to my story. I'm not sure how much this helps us out, but I'm glad to finally be able to talk to somebody about it."

"No…your story was quite helpful," said Edelgard. "We now have a better idea of where our enemy might have come from. I know it must have been rough for you to relive those memories, and I wouldn't wish what happened to you on anyone. If those two groups really are connected, then I would advise you to take extra caution in case one of them recognizes you and tries to attack."

I think it's a bit late for that, Monica thought.

She remembered the masked knife-wielder who showed up at the last minute to attack her and only her before escaping with Myson. Amid the chaos of battle, a quick glimpse at the dagger that fell on the ground revealed traces of blood, suggesting it had been used recently. Monica was unsure if the dagger belonged to Kronya or some other would-be assassin working for her, but the masked figure's casual speech when talking to Myson made her believe it was the former. Kronya's potential return was one of several things she planned on watching out for during her visit to Remire.

"I'll see you in class on Monday," said Edelgard. "Good night for now, Monica."

"Good night, Edelgard, and thank you again," said Monica, curtsying to Edelgard before leaving to return to her room.

After Monica left, Edelgard locked the bedroom door and blew out the candle near her desk. She walked cautiously toward her bed, trusting that her night-adjusted vision wouldn't cause her to trip and fall. As she slipped into bed and twisted and turned until she found a comfortable sleeping position, she slowly closed her eyes and hoped that she would get a good night's sleep. Listening to Monica's story didn't help much.

"Father… I promise you that I will make things right," she muttered to herself, "no matter what it takes…"