Heavy, gasping breaths echoed around two men as they dashed through the desert landscape towards the looming temple before them. One of the men, the smaller of the two, was wearing a hooded black coat that covered the majority of his face. The other, a regal-looking man in silver armour that ran with a limp continually looked over his shoulder as they ran.
“What about the others?” the first, a blue-haired man on the wrong end of thirty asked as he glanced back again.
“They’ll be fine, Chrom,” the other responded coldly. “Flavia’s leading them. I’m honestly more worried about us.”
“We’ll be fine, too,” the bigger man, Chrom, said with a reassuring grin.
The hooded man skidded to a stop at the base of the great staircase to the temple, looking down at the ground. Chrom actually made it a few steps up before he realised his partner had stopped.
“What’s wrong?” he asked impatiently.
“I can’t go in there,” the hooded man said quietly.
“We don’t have time for this!” Chrom snapped. “We can end this horror here and now, but we need to move-”
“Chrom, if I go in there, only one of us is walking out!” the hooded man snapped, shouting over his partner.
The bigger man’s face softened as he stepped down to the other’s level, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder.
“We’ll be fine,” he repeated. “We can do this, together. Validar holds no power over you. Now let’s go and create our own destiny. For our daughters.”
With that, Chrom dashed up the steps, leaving the hooded man standing and clenching his fists as he glared at the ground.
“You’re wrong, Chrom,” he whispered as he took a tentative step up. “You don’t fight destiny. You don’t write your own. It’s… infallible. We’re both going to die in this place. I’ve seen it…”
He shook the maudlin thoughts from his head before following the limping man, who still moved infuriatingly faster than the hooded man.
They passed through the abandoned temple, ignoring the treasures and relics of the Grimleal religion as they passed, aiming solely for the temple’s Inner Sanctum.
The hooded man had to stop and grip his forehead a few times, assailed by migraines powerful enough to blur his vision and almost bring him to his knees. He pushed on, though, wary of worrying Chrom in this most important time. He hadn’t lied when he’d said only one of them was walking out of that temple; and he’d make damn sure it was his friend.
They burst into the Inner Sanctum, a wind spell from the hooded man blowing the huge doors in, before full-pelt running towards the enemy standing in front of the sacrificial altar waiting for them; a tall, skinny sorcerer, blazing with dark power, purple flames dancing off his flesh.
No time was wasted on idle chatter. Both parties knew where they stood. All that was left was to fight to see who was in the right. Life or destruction.
The hooded man darted forward fist, flipping through his spellbook as he ran. Chrom had his sacred blade held horizontally in a two handed grip while he followed the other man, his cape flapping around heroically in the draft created by the hooded man’s wind spell.
Validar… the sorcerer trying to kill them, his name was Validar. The hooded man remembered that as his head throbbed, bits and pieces beginning to escape from his mind.
Blasts of dark energy erupted between the two, and Chrom rolled left as the other rolled right. With a burst of yellow light the hooded other let loose three bolts of lightning when he came up, two of which hit their mark and caused Validar to stumble. Chrom took the opportunity, charging up the middle and without a second of hesitation running the sorcerer through with his divine blade, Falchion.
Chrom leapt back as Validar burst into dark flames and fell to his knees, slumping forwards as blood pooled around his knees. With a wet thud, the body hit the ground. One sorcerer against the two greatest warriors in Ylisse meant nothing, even if he was the head of the Grimleal. All the magical power he wielded meant nothing to a sword, in the end.
Chrom was laughing, smiling as he turned away from the cooling corpse. “We did it! Thanks to you we carried the day!”
He made his way to the other, clapping him on the shoulder. “We did it.”
The hooded man couldn’t help but grin in response. It had been so long since he’d seen Chrom smile like this; not since the blue-haired man’s second daughter had been born, in fact.
Just as he was about to voice his own relief that their deaths had been avoided the blood froze in his veins. There, floating above the altar, was the energy Validar had gathered. It wasn’t dissipating. The sorcerer wasn’t dead yet.
The other’s warning shout stopped in his throat as a roar of defiance shattered their short-lived celebration.
“No!” Validar shrieked, voice cracking and forcing himself back to his knees. “No! This is not over! Damn you! Damn you both!”
With one final shout, Validar sent a monumental wave of the dark purple flames at Chrom and the other before turning to ashes. Chrom reacted a second too slowly, spinning to face the unexpected retaliation; the other saw everything in slow motion, and acting on instinct he shoved Chrom to the side, taking the full force of the attack and screaming in pain as he smelt burnt cloth and flesh.
“No!” Chrom shouted as the other collapsed to one knee, hand reflexively opening and dropping his own spellbook. “Hold on!”
The hooded man looked up as Chrom skidded to his knees next to him, holding him up with one arm as the man checked his wounds.
“Hey! Are you okay?”
The hooded man grit his teeth as he was assailed by another migraine, the worst one yet. He wanted to vomit, he wanted to curl up and just die already… His vision went white as further, excruciating pain exploded behind his eyes that had nothing to do with the spell he’d just been hit by.
Before Chrom could speak again his eyes went wide, and he stumbled to his feet clutching the small, purple-bladed dagger in his chest.
The other was shocked. He looked down at the empty scabbard on his hip where the dagger Raziel usually sat, before looking back to Chrom, fear and revulsion written on his face at what he’d done.
He had killed his best friend. He had killed Ylisse’s Exalt.
He had killed the last hope for the world of man.
Their roles from seconds before were reversed, the other holding Chrom’s shoulders as the bigger man collapsed backwards. Their eyes met, and Chrom smiled the same easy smile that put everyone at ease.
“This isn’t… Isn’t your fault…” Chrom gasped, blood welling up between his smiling lips. “Promise me… Promise me you’ll escape from here… Promise… Me…”
And with that final plea, the light faded from Chrom’s eyes, smile never wavering from his face, even after his eyes closed a final time.
The other took a deep breath before clicking his tongue.
“Of course it wasn’t my fault. What did I tell you?” he muttered, his voice hoarse. “I told you… in the end… only one of us would be walking out of here…”
He gently laid Chrom’s body down before shrugging off his coat, laying over his fallen friend in a mark of respect. He didn’t even let his wife or daughter touch his coat, but he and Chrom had worked together for years, decades now. Even if they rarely got along like they used to, the man still owed his old friend that respect.
He looked up, brown eyes narrowing coldly as he put the latest death out of his mind. It was just one more among many. It didn’t even matter anymore, anyway.
He could actually see the fell energy swirling above the altar now, a sickening red orb of pure corrupt mana. He could feel it calling to him. Grima’s life-force, the energy that would give birth to darkness incarnate, called to him.
He could hear it in his mind, his destiny that he’d denied for years, almost as long as he’d worked for Chrom.
He realised then that he could contain the fell dragon’s essence within him. He could seal it, and if he were to die it would die with him. It made perfect sense. He could be the hero for a change, rather than Chrom. All he needed to do was add a little more blood…
With shuddering breaths as he was wracked by blinding pain in his head, the other made his way to the altar. It was starting to get hard to think… All it needed was a little more blood to complete the rite. What else did he have left? His companions would never accept him back now that he’d killed Chrom anyway, and the darkness had already proved it still held sway over him. There was only one option; contain the damage.
He wiped his hand, still slick with Chrom’s blood, on the altar, completing the rite, tears of pain now running down his face.
His eyes went wide as comprehension hit him all at once.
What… what in Naga’s name was he doing!? What had he done!?
Laughter echoed around him as he realised that, in the end, he’d been played the fool.
“Chrom… I’m so sorry… Say’ri… Morgan… Forgive me.”
He screamed in pain as the darkness flooded his veins. Purple lines of tainted, fell mana snaked beneath his skin, tearing him apart from within and rebuilding him as they went. His eyes blazed black as excess mana looked for any escape point it could find. Blood and bile splattered to the ground beneath his feet as the fell energy created a magic circle over and through his stomach.
In that moment he was destroyed and remade in the Dark Dragon’s image.
His destiny, after fighting it for so long, had been achieved.
Above him the darkness laughed at his pain as it took shape, six baleful eyes staring down at him and-
“Well? What do we do?”
Urgh. Go away. Let me sleep. I need to see the rest of this dream.
“What do you mean?”
Huh. That voice sounds familiar. But… where have I heard it before?
“Well we can’t just leave him here!”
Ugh… That girl is unnecessarily loud. Can’t she see my head is killing me?
With reluctance, he forced his eyes to open. The first thing he realised was that he was on his back looking up at two strangers as they bent over him; two eerily familiar strangers. One was a blue haired man, obviously the older of the two, but he couldn’t be older that twenty-one or twenty-two. The other was a much younger blonde woman, still in her late teens, eyes widening as he opened his own.
“Oh!” the young blonde said, as she leaned closer, the familiarity rubbing the man the wrong way. “Hi there!”
“There are better places to take a nap, friend,” the blue haired man said with an all too eerily familiar smile.
“Here,” the man added, offering his hand to help him up.
The man took the blue haired youth’s hand, allowing himself to be pulled up. He absently noticed the six eyed symbol tattooed on the back of his hand, but didn’t dwell on it; why he had a funny-looking tattoo was the least of his issues at present he reasoned, desperately clinging to the last remnants of his weird dream.
“You all right?” the blue haired man asked.
Chrom? That’s his name!
“Yeah. Thanks, Chrom.”
Chrom’s eyebrow shot up.
“Ah. So you know who I am, then?”
“Uh… No, actually. It just sort of came… to me… Weird…”
He trailed off, panic running through his mind, the strange dream he had just had still waring for his attention.
Why do I know his name and not my own?
“Oh?” Chrom asked, bemused. “So what are you doing all the way out here? Passed out. In a field.”
The man cleared his throat nervously, pain shooting through his head as his mind drew blanks.
“You know, I’m not a hundred percent on that one, either.”
“Well, what’s your name? Let’s start with that, then.”
The man shrugged helplessly.
Chrom’s eyebrow went back up as he crossed his arms.
The blonde woman spoke up excitedly.
“Oh! I’ve heard of this! It’s called amnesia!”
The third member of the group in front of the man, who had gone unnoticed until then, scoffed.
“It’s called a load of Pegasus crap. We’re supposed to believe that you remember milord’s name and not your own?”
The third stranger was bigger than the other two, and wearing heavy blue and white plate armour; obviously a knight of some sort, considering he was holding the reins to a large brown war-horse wearing plates of similar armour. How the man had missed him was a mystery for later, though; the man was obviously unimpressed with the stranger’s attitude, giving the man a modicum of confidence he didn’t have a moment ago.
“Well it’s true,” the man said, annoyed.
Before the plate-wearing stranger could retort, Chrom interceded.
“What if it is true, Fredrick? We can’t leave him out here alone and confused. What kind of Shepherds would we be if we did?”
The blonde woman was nodding empathetically in agreement, eagerness oozing off of her. The man decided he liked her and Chrom more than Fredrick.
Fredrick looked about to object further before he nodded as if the very motion caused him pain, his glare at the man capable of melting steel.
“Very well, milord; but I would advise caution all the same,” the grumpy man said reluctantly, glaring the whole time.
“It’s settled then!” Chrom said, apparently not noticing the knight’s displeasure or choosing to ignore it. “We’ll take him to the closest town. Someone will be able to help steer us in the right direction there.”
The blonde woman jumped up and down excitedly, agreeing with Chrom. Fredrick grunted his assent as he mounted his horse, taking up his lance as he did so.
Er… what? Hold on… the amnesiac man thought, waiting for his thoughts to catch up with him.
“Wait,” the man said, holding up his hands. “Don’t I get a say in this?”
“Nope,” the blonde woman chimed, smiling innocently.
“Don’t worry,” Chrom laughed, clapping the man on his shoulder. “Once we get to town we’ll hear you out; there are better places than open fields to talk.”
The amnesiac man resisted the urge to groan, following him and the girl as they led him down the road. With a guilty pang the amnesiac realised he’d forgotten to ask the girl’s name.
He sighed as they walked, realising that he’d completely forgotten the dream he’d been having.
The man walked along behind Chrom and the blonde girl, who the man had heard referred to as Lissa a few times now, taking in the scenery, drinking from the waterskin they had given him. Dwelling on his lost memories was proving a pointless endeavour; all it was doing was giving him a headache. The funny mark on the back of his hand had disappeared, too; he was willing to chalk it up to a lingering hallucinatory effect of the dream.
The country they were walking through was beautiful; long flowing grass rippling in the wind was on either side of the road, trees dotted the fields here and there, breaking up the carpet of grass that covered the rolling landscape of light hills. It was picturesque in a way that, for some reason, the man realised he’d never seen before.
I’m kind of hungry he decided idly, putting the waterskin back in the empty pouch at his hip. Wait. Not empty, after all. There was a thick book in there, too.
How did I miss that before? Man, I’m really off my game today. Well, I mean, I guess I am. Got to figure out what exactly my ‘game’ is before I can say I’m off it.
The man turned his attention to the two walking in front of him. Lissa and Chrom walked calmly enough, completely at ease with the stranger following them and their wild surroundings. He didn’t have to look back to know Fredrick was still glaring at his back, too; he could feel it like the knight’s gaze was poking him with the lance in his hand.
He was still unsure as to what they were going to do with him, though.
“So am I your prisoner now?” he asked tentatively.
Chrom laughed heartily. “Of course not! Once we establish you’re not an enemy of Ylisse you’ll be free to go.”
The man scratched his head. “Ylisse? Is that where we are?”
Fredrick scoffed from atop his horse.
“Someone give this actor a reward; he plays quite the fool. Very convincing, even down to the furrow in his brow,” the knight said, sarcasm fairly dripping from his voice.
Chrom stopped walking, turning and rolling his eyes. “Please, Fredrick. If you didn’t mistrust everyone we meet, you’d never speak a word to any but the other Shepherds.”
Then to the man he started explaining. “We’re currently in the Haildom of Ylisse. Our leader is the Exalt; her name is Emmeryn. I guess proper introductions are in order. I’m Chrom, but you already know that.”
He gestured to the blonde girl at his side. “The delicate one here is my sister, Lissa.”
Lissa stuck her tongue out at Chrom.
“I am not delicate,” she protested, before turning a smile on the man. “Excuse my brother. He’s the thick one in the family. You should be grateful that the Shepherds found you; if the local bandits had found you, your morning would have been much less fun.”
Oh sure, the man thought, waking up with no memory and being forced into marching with three complete strangers has been so fun. Wait… bandits are a bad thing. Okay, I’m slightly more grateful now.
Instead he said “That’s the third time you’ve mentioned being Shepherds. You tend… Sheep? In full armour? With… weapons like that? What kind of wolves do you guys have in this country?”
Not counting Fredrick’s full plate armour, Chrom was wearing what appeared to be leather plates under his clothes, one arm bare, and the other with a gleaming white shoulder pad. Lissa, though was wearing a simple yellow dress and carrying an ornate staff with a large blue gem atop it. A healing staff, the man realized without knowing why he knew that information. From her waist down she had some sort of steel cage contraption that the man guessed was some sort of armour. The ‘Shepherds’ were obviously not poor farmers.
Chrom chuckled depreciatively. “It’s a dangerous job. Just ask Fredrick the Wary, here.”
Fredrick rolled his eyes, muttering. “Because Naga forbid one of us shows even a modicum of caution…”
The man grinned up at the knight, deciding to get in on the teasing. “I’m sure being the watchman for such a noble group is very rewarding, though.”
Before Fredrick could respond the man turned back to Chrom, a memory striking him like lightning as he stuck his hand out.
“Well, my name’s Robin.”
Lissa and Chrom looked at him curiously.
“I… just remembered that,” he mumbled, dropping his hand again. “Odd…”
“Oh, I’m sure you did,” Fredrick deadpanned from behind him.
“Fredrick, put the lance down. We’re almost in town, anyway. Once we get there we can talk properly.”
So my name is Robin, huh? Robin thought to himself as the group started moving again. Strange. Maybe the rest of my memories will come back piece by piece, too if I’m patient. Makes me wonder if I was always such an optimist.
They walked up the last small hill before the town. Chrom and Lissa were still ahead of Robin, and as they crested the hill he heard Lissa gasp.
“No! Chrom, the town!”
Robin made it to the top of the hill and looked down on the town; a few small buildings, most likely houses for the families that worked in the bigger ones; a blacksmith, an inn, a grocer. In the centre of the town at one end of a large square was a large stone church, its plate glass window in the large tower above the entrance reflecting the afternoon sun lazily. The square in front of the church was paved, although the majority of the roads in the town were compacted dirt. Farming implements lay in piles outside of houses, and the smell of grain and soil pervaded everything.
It looked like Robin imagined any other town would, except for the bandits running through it lighting various buildings on fire and looting whatever they could carry.
“Damn it all, I’ll bet it was those bandits we’ve been chasing around the countryside all week,” Chrom growled, beginning towards the town at a much quicker pace, no hint of hesitation in his stride. “Lissa, Fredrick, let’s go. Robin, stay here until its safe.”
With that, the trio left Robin standing alone on the hill overlooking the town without so much as a backwards glance.
Robin watched them leave, hand unconsciously moving to the book in his pouch. It was old and well worn, obviously heavily read, with a dark leather cover. Robin flipped through it quickly, not making any sense of the complex figures and symbols, but at the front of the book something caught his eye.
“Lightning?” he asked the air as he looked closely at the familiar symbols on the page, being rewarded with a tingling sensation in his fingertips.
This is a spellbook? Am I a mage?
Robin read the incantations in the book, gestured his hand and was rewarded with a weak bolt of lightning jumping from his hand to the tree he had gestured at, leaving a decent sized scorch mark.
Satisfied, Robin clapped the book closed and hurried to catch up with Chrom and the others.
Best not dwell on why I’m doing this, Robin thought, racing as fast as he could. I’ll just give myself another headache.
Before long he was racing through the outer residences of the town, his boots clapping on the dirt road between the buildings. Rounding a corner he found Chrom duelling with one of the bandits, Lissa crouched behind a barrel off to the side, watching diligently, a staff in her hands. As Robin approached he saw Fredrick ride between buildings, striking left and right with blinding speed at bandits as he went, his lance whistling through the air.
Chrom was so intent on the enemy in front of him, though, that he didn’t see the bandit sneaking up behind him.
“Chrom, look out!” Robin warned, concentrating on the spell in his mind and extending his hand.
Both of the bandits and the Shepherd looked up at Robin’s warning as a much larger bolt of lightning arced from Robin’s hand and hit the bandit behind Chrom square in the chest, throwing him off his feet with its force. Taking advantage of his enemy’s distraction, Chrom spun and with three swift strokes had felled the bandit in front of him.
Robin blinked as he approached the other two, looking down at the hand that had launched the spell with newfound appreciation.
“Robin!” Lissa cheered as he crossed the last of the distance to the others.
“What are you doing here?” Chrom asked, resting his large ornate sword on one shoulder.
Robin shrugged. “Honestly, I have no idea; it seemed like a good idea at the time. But apparently I can use magic, and there’s an old adage about safety in numbers that comes to mind.”
Chrom chuckled as Fredrick rode up to them, blood dripping from the end of his lance, despite the fact that his armour was still pristine.
“Well I won’t begrudge an extra set of hands, especially ones as obviously skilled as yours.”
“Milord,” Fredrick interrupted, taking Chrom’s attention. “The bandit’s leader is making his stand outside the church with a few others.”
Chrom nodded, all business. “Very well, who are we to deny them their last stand?”
A thought struck Robin as they began to move towards the centre of town, again without any realization of why he would have this knowledge.
“Is there a way to get around the buildings and to the church from the side?”
“Yes,” Fredrick answered after a moment of thought.
Robin clapped his hands together. “Well, if you two want to hit them from the front, I’ll sneak around and flank them.”
Chrom smiled again, but this time it was different, predatory. “I like the sound of that. Go on then, but don’t keep us waiting too long.”
Robin nodded and was off, skirting buildings and moving through the town. A few bandits got in his way and tried to stop him, but the lightning spell he had been using seemed to be particularly strong or easy to remember, and he made short work of them. Before long he was looking at the square outside the church, watching Chrom and Fredrick trying to reason with the bandit leader.
“Here sheepy-sheepy!” the leader was shouting, obviously rabid. “Come to the slaughter!”
Robin shook his head, assessing the enemy’s position. Two archers were standing to one side, arrows already nocked and pointed at Chrom and Fredrick; three other bandits with swords or axes stood between the Shepherds and the bandit leader. Robin decided to take the more serious of the threats and deal with the archers first.
With a thought and a hand gesture Robin sent a bolt of lightning at the further of the two archers, Chrom and Fredrick using the momentary distraction it caused as their cue to strike. Robin readied to strike again, but the second archer was faster, and he found himself dodging to the side as an arrow carved a furrow in his arm. Hissing with pain, Robin moved, low to the ground as arrows peppered the space he’d been in a second ago. The archer was good; magic wasn’t going to surprise him again. Robin scooped up a ratty old sword from the corpse of one of the other bandits Fredrick had obviously dealt with earlier, and charged the archer. Another near miss from the archer took a chunk out of Robin’s leg, but then he was before the archer with his borrowed sword, and with a finesse he didn’t know he possessed Robin spun and ran the archer through.
Turning quickly, Robin watched as Fredrick and Chrom dealt with the last of their foes, Fredrick planting his boot on the shoulder of one bandit to pull his lance back from the man’s chest.
Wait, where’s the leader? Robin thought with a spike of alarm.
Lissa screamed behind them, and the three men spun at once to see the leader, one hand wrapped around Lissa’s wrist dragging her back towards the town, the other one waving an axe in their direction. The entire tactic stank of desperation on the leader’s part, and it put a bad taste in the back of Robin’s mouth.
“She’ll bring some nice coin, she will,” the leader grunted, waving his axe erratically, eyes wide.
“No she will not,” Chrom said empathetically, charging the leader, Robin in tow.
The leader dropped Lissa, snarling and desperately gripping his axe in both hands.
Chrom rolled left, avoiding the leader’s axe, as Robin rolled right. The two men brought their swords up at the same time, striking opposite sides of the bandit leader’s chest simultaneously. The bandit dropped with a wet gurgle, Robin looking down at the corpse aloofly. For some reason he didn’t even feel an inkling of guilt for killing the man…
Chrom looked as surprised as Robin at his abrupt change from magic to swordsmanship, but smiled as his sister stood up and threw her arms around his neck.
Stepping back from her brother, Lissa looked at Robin with awe.
“Wow, Robin, you’re amazing. Magic, tactics and swords?”
“Yeah, apparently I’m quite the package,” Robin said, looking down at the worn old sword still gripped in his hand.
It had just come naturally, even easier than the magic had. That spoke of rigorous training with a blade, if his muscles had automatically taken the weapon up. Robin wondered what exactly he had been before he lost his memories. He could feel tight muscles underneath his clothes moving effortlessly as he gave the sword a few practise swings; not as large as Chrom or Fredrick’s, but definitely used to handling a blade. It was just a bronze short-sword, a piece of junk, really, but Robin felt better having it, and tucked it into his belt on the opposite hip that held his pouch.
“Milord,” Fredrick called, bringing his horse to a stop near the other three. “Did you notice that the bandits spoke with a Plegian accent?”
Robin noticed with a slight tic that the knight’s armour was still spotless, despite the dirt and blood he and Chrom were now covered in. Quelling the urge to ask for a bath, Robin looked to Chrom for the answers he was lacking.
“I assume Plegia is some rival state of Ylisse?” Robin asked, warily eyeing the villagers as they came out of their hiding places now that the threat was obviously dealt with.
Chrom laughed again, sheathing his broadsword. “Plegia is the Western neighbour of Ylisse. They like to ‘unofficially’ send raiding parties into our territory to try and provoke us. There’s a lot of history between the two countries, mostly bad blood between the ruling families.”
Lissa looked around at the devastation that had been wrought by the quick encounter with a stricken expression.
“And it’s always the poor villagers that end up suffering for it,” she sighed.
The villagers were beginning to get the small fires under control now, Robin noted with satisfaction; bucket lines formed as others with the knowledge began to tend the wounded. He had to credit the Ylisseans, they certainly weren’t lacking in community spirit.
Fredrick stepped down from his horse, smiling reassuringly at Lissa.
“Milady, all due respect, but that’s what we are for,” he said in a voice much softer than Robin had heard from the man so far. “Shepherds to protect the sheep. Don’t dwell on matters such as these.”
“I know, I know,” Lissa said with forced cheer, smiling up at the knight. “Thank you, Fredrick.”
Robin noticed a little bit much familiarity between the two. He turned to Chrom, raising an eyebrow in question, and was rewarded by the other man giving a knowing smile and shrugging.
“Milords! Milords!” One of the villagers was shouting, running up to them. “Please milords, we’re a simple village, but we would be honoured to host you tonight! Give us a few hours and we can have a royal feast prepared for you all as thanks!”
Fredrick shook his head. “While we appreciate the offer, we really must continue on to our destination with all due haste.”
Lissa, however, had other plans.
“Dark meat for me, please, medium-well done, no salt in the soup… Wait, Fredrick, what?”
Chrom, Fredrick and Robin chuckled at the crestfallen look on Lissa’s face.
“But it’ll be dark soon!” she protested.
“And when it gets dark we’ll camp the way we always do,” Fredrick said, not unkindly. “Remember, milady, you’re the one that insisted on joining us.”
Lissa glared at the knight. “Fredrick? Sometimes I hate you.”
Their laughter rang through the village as the quartet left, accepting thanks from the villagers as they went.
“Okay, I think we’ll break here for the evening,” Chrom announced.
The man stepped off the road, leading the quartet into the light forest that ran alongside it. A few thin trees created shadows, their canopy blocking the last dying rays of the sun and sinking Robin into a premature twilight. Lissa and Frederick both dropped their packs, the big Knight going about stripping his saddle from his mount for the evening.
Chrom nudged Robin with his elbow, giving him a wink.
“Okay, we’ll go and find some dinner,” the blue-haired man announced. “You two can set up the campfire.”
Lissa perked up at the prospect of food, Frederick stoically going about his duty of collecting firewood as Chrom led Robin further into the forest.
“Game is pretty plentiful around these parts,” Chrom said as they weaved through the trees. “We shouldn’t have to go far, unless those bandits scared everything off.”
Robin made a face as he stepped in something squishy and yielding, groaning and trying to shake the deer-dung off his boot.
“Yeah, I don’t think we’ll have to look long,” the man groaned.
Chrom snickered and shook his head, crouching down to inspect the tracks near the droppings.
“These seem pretty fresh,” the man said, standing excitedly. “It should still be close.”
“Yeah, that was still fresh, too,” Robin muttered, dragging his soiled boot through the grass as he followed Chrom.
They snuck through the woods for a few more minutes, Robin moving as silently as he could. He was keenly aware of every excess sound he made compared to the man moving ahead of him; apparently Chrom was an experienced hunter.
A strange metallic scent reached Robin’s nose as they came upon a small clearing. In the twilight it looked like a pile of thick vegetation was moving in one corner of the clearing, until the bear reared up and blinked at them in confusion. Beneath the massive ursine form was the corpse of the deer they had been tracking, already half-eaten.
“Back… away… slowly…” Chrom whispered, hand drifting to his sword as he followed his own instructions.
Robin silently nodded, slowly reaching into his pouch and gripping his spellbook as he moved alongside the blue-haired man.
The bear let out a low growl, falling forward onto all fours and taking a few ponderous steps towards them. Despite the low light Robin could clearly make out the glint of the creature’s long black claws and its wicked teeth. The blood matting the fur around the bear’s muzzle from its fresh kill just made the animal seem all the more nightmarish to him.
With a bone-shaking roar the bear charged, and Chrom and Robin both dodged to the side of the creature. Chrom drew his sword as he rose, stabbing out at the creature as Robin came up onto one knee, flipping through his spellbook desperately looking for…
“Fire!” the amnesiac shouted, slapping the page with the spell he was looking for and then indicating at the bear.
Balls of fire the size of Robin’s head shot out, hitting the bear’s flank and filling the clearing with the stink of burned fur. The creature roared again, its voice taking on an unmistakable tone of pain, as it rounded on Robin. The new target of the bear’s ire leapt backwards as it reared up on its hind legs, paws reaching to the sky. Flipping through his book again Robin’s eyes settled on a new spell.
The bear advanced on him as he muttered the incantations, waving his fingers through the air. Chrom shouted as he hacked at the bear’s wounded flank, trying to get its attention again but only succeeding in being swatted clear across the clearing by a lazy backhand. Robin looked up at the predator as it loomed over him and finished his spell.
“Elthunder!” he announced, throwing his hand back.
A dazzling bolt of lightning jumped from Robin’s hand into the bear’s face, lighting up the clearing. The creature moaned as the electricity ran through its body, swaying back and forth before finally collapsing backwards. Chrom emerged from the bushes he’d been thrown into, grinning madly as he surveyed Robin’s handiwork.
“I am so glad we picked you up!” the bigger man laughed as he clapped Robin on the shoulder.
An hour later Lissa looked forlornly at the meat sitting on the wooden plate in front of her.
Chrom looked up over the roaring campfire from where he was eating his own piece of roasted bear meat.
“What’s wrong with bear meat? I like bear; it feels like it’s been forever since I’ve eaten it.”
The four travellers had set up their small camp in another small clearing in the light woodland just off the north road, and it hadn’t taken much for them to get comfortable. The woodland was dry at this time of year, so firewood had been abundant, and Frederick had apparently had a roaring fire going in no time.
“There’s a good reason for that!” Lissa persisted. “You couldn’t find something that normal people might eat? Like deer, or a hare or something? This is messing with the food chain, brother! Right, Robin?”
Robin looked up from where he was stuffing as much of the roasted meat into his face as possible, managing a strangled sound of curiosity in Lissa’s direction.
“Urgh, forget it,” Lissa moaned, poking at the lump of meat on the rough wooden plate in front of her. “Birds of a feather…”
“Come now, milady,” Fredrick laughed, sitting next to her. “It’s really not that bad.”
“So why aren’t you eating any?” Lissa asked, a vicious grin rising to her face.
“I… uh… had a big lunch? Yes, a big lunch and now my appetite fails me!” Frederick spluttered quickly.
Whatever, more for me, Robin reasoned. Maybe we should have taken back some of that deer for her, too…
Lissa didn’t look at all convinced by Fredrick’s lame excuse, but before she could call him out Robin began to choke, dropping the chunk of meat he’d been inhaling and gripping his throat as he turned blue.
“You shouldn’t be eating so fast, Robin,” Chrom said mirthfully, slapping the other man on the back.
“I told you I was hungry,” Robin rasped, sucking from the spare waterskin that Lissa had given him.
Lissa huffed. “I suppose anyone would enjoy eating this after starving for days.”
“It’s really not that bad,” Robin said, placing a much smaller portion of meat in his mouth. “You just pretend that instead of the texture of boots and tasting like leather that the meat tastes like… you know. Meat.”
The three Shepherds, including Fredrick, burst out laughing, followed closely by Robin.
If this was to be one of the earliest memories Robin retained, at least it was a good one; the forest ringing with their laughter as they relaxed and chatted after saving the village. Just the thought made Robin feel content as the distasteful meat slid down his throat.