The next morning thoughts swum around in Chrom’s groggy mind as he tried to pull himself from his deep slumber. The Prince gave a mighty yawn, trying to organize his thoughts. There were the lingering thoughts of the war; troop dispositions, enemy movement reports, but mostly he was replaying the events from the previous night when he had been speaking to Sumia for what seemed like the entire evening.
If her were to be completely honest, he was beginning to think he had fallen madly in love with his childhood friend.
Even through all of the trials that the war had thrown at them so far, she had stood firmly by his side; the only person outside his family that he valued as much as her was Robin, for some strange reason; the tactician had been a good friend, listening to him complain and treating him like Chrom the man, not Chrom the prince, like so many of the others did.
A soft moan from his chest brought his thoughts back to his current situation. He and Sumia had talked late into the night as he shared all of his fears and hopes for the campaign and the future of Ylisse itself; he had revealed to her that the greatest reason he wanted to rescue Emm was because he didn’t feel up to becoming the Exalt. He was no ruler; he may be a military leader, but there was no way he could captivate the hearts and minds of the people of Ylisse like Emmeryn could.
Sumia had sat, listening silently until he was finished, before taking his hands in hers, and telling him quite frankly that he was wrong. That he was a wonderful leader, and would make a fine Exalt. He had sworn to her then that if they didn’t rescue his sister, that if the worst were to come to pass, that he would spend the rest of his life living up to her ideals. He had sealed the promise with a kiss.
Then they had given in to each other and… Well, Chrom didn’t want to dwell on it while the woman was still in his arms, as naked as he was least he lose himself to his baser urges again. He was sure, too, that they had woken Robin the previous night. He would have to apologize for that.
As the haze of comfortable sleep lifted Chrom began to realize something was wrong.
He became instantly aware of a number of things as he jolted back to awareness, sleep receding instantly like a curtain being yanked off of his mind.
Firstly, there was a lot more noise outside his tent than there should have been given the time of morning it was; they weren’t supposed to march until an hour after sunrise, and through the crack in the tent flaps Chrom could tell that the sun was just now beginning to rise.
Second, Chrom could smell smoke; not cooking fire or torch smoke, but burning tent and flesh smoke.
Third, as he tried to rise, there was still a fitfully dozing Pegasus Knight using his chest as a pillow.
“Sumia, wake up!” he said, shaking her awake. “We’re under attack!”
In the burning camp Robin was everywhere at once.
He was directing the mages from both the Shepherds and the Royal Mage Academy that had accompanied the army in using wind spells to suck oxygen from the flames while others used fire spells to try and keep the blaze localized to the few tents that were already burning.
He was shouting orders to ready defences, making damn sure that the men in question would be rousing Themis, Phila and Flavia as their first ports of call; those three could handle the bulk of the troop deployment and free up Robin to take a more overall look at the situation.
Most importantly, though, he was slashing and felling every man in a Plegian Assassin’s outfit that threw himself at the Shepherds’ little compound while the Shepherds hastily donned their armour and prepared for battle.
And he hadn’t even had time to throw on his coat yet.
Lon’qu, Panne, Vaike and Ricken were with him, holding back anything that got too close and was wearing black. It was pretty obvious who the Plegians targets were.
“How did so many get past the sentries!?” Ricken shouted over the din.
“Don’t matter!” Vaike answered as Robin retreated to shout more orders to the Ylissean and Feroxi soldiers. “Kill first, ask questions later, kid!”
“Ricken, I need you on those fires!” Robin shouted, grabbing the boy by the shoulder to get his attention. “Find Miriel and do exactly what she says!”
“Right!” Ricken nodded, his voice breaking before running off in the direction of the burning supply tents.
The poor kid was terrified; and he should have been. The Plegian surprise attack had come out of nowhere. It shouldn’t have been possible. Hell, even Robin was unnerved by the sudden appearance of the assassins. One moment he had turned around, the camp empty behind him, and the next when he turned back he had been surrounded. Fortunately they were lightly armoured, and no amount of leather would stop a lightning bolt.
Another assassin leapt at Robin and he realized that they weren’t fighting Plegians as he stabbed the man in the chest and he burst into purple-black smoke and ash.
“Risen!” Robin shouted as loud as he could.
This shout made the Shepherds come running from where they were trying to put out the fires, Gregor at their head with his massive sword swinging. The Risen had been all but silent for weeks, becoming little more than a nagging thought in the back of his mind that would need dealing with once the war with Plegia was over. But now here they were, obviously intent on killing the Ylissean command structure; a fact that did not bode well in the least.
Robin took a few steps back as the rest of the Shepherds slammed into the Risen, beginning to rout the enemy easily with their skills and numbers as Robin grabbed the first Ylissean soldier he could find.
“Are the perimeter sentries still in place?” he snarled above the din of battle all around them.
“Uh… y-yes milord, they should be!” the man stammered.
“Should be isn’t good enough! Go double check!” Robin ordered, giving the man a light shove in the direction of the perimeter.
At least by Chrom giving him almost total authority in the army Robin could get things done.
A bucket line had formed from the closest oasis, and now that the Risen threat was safely under control Robin joined it, sure that the Shepherds were roused they could handle the last of their foe. Nowi followed him, looking lost as she stumbled around wide-eyed and shocked by the destruction. Eventually they managed to put out the fires, and after the soldier Robin sent off returned with his report he began to breathe easy again.
There was a flash of familiar blue hair in the corner of Robin’s vision and he turned expecting to see Chrom approaching, only to see someone disappearing around the corner of one of the tents. Before he could investigate another soldier was demanding his attention, asking him how they were to redistribute the supplies, and Robin forgot all about the blue-haired shade.
Chrom found him later, well after the sun had properly risen, the tactician covered in soot and dirt as he dug through the remains of one of the supply tents. The Prince was still wearing the lighter gear from the previous day, Robin noticed, although it, too, was smudged with soot and dirt now.
“What happened?” Chrom asked without preamble.
“Well good morning to you, too,” Robin grumbled, sitting on one of the less-damaged crates before launching into his explanation. “We were ambushed; the Risen simply appeared in the middle of the camp. All of the perimeter defences are intact, all of the guards reported in, and no tracks lead in from the desert.”
“So… what? The Risen can suddenly teleport behind our lines?” Chrom asked, kicking at the ash on the ground in frustration.
“I’m saying that’s what it looks like, but I don’t know,” Robin conceded. “That, or Plegian spies have figured out a way to summon them. Reports came in while you and the others were dealing with the Risen; most all of the soldiers were unharmed, a few minor burns and injuries, no fatalities.”
“A group of Risen appears in the middle of camp and there are no fatalities?” Chrom asked incredulously.
“It appears they wanted us,” Robin said.
“No; you and me,” Robin said, deadly serious. “They were growling our names. It’s scary enough to think that the monsters can talk, but that they were specifically after us…?”
“That is… disquieting,” Chrom admitted. “But it doesn’t change anything. We march south for Plegia’s capital as soon as we break camp.”
“Well,” Robin said, getting up and brushing his pants off, “On the bright side, at least there’s a little less camp to break now, eh?”
“I think it’s your sense of humour that’s broken,” Chrom said, rolling his eyes.
“I need my coat,” Robin admitted with a self-depreciating smile. “I’m off my game without it.”
“It is confirmed; the Exalt is to be executed at the castle today.”
Robin nodded grimly at the news.
He, the two Feroxi Khans, Phila and the two Ylissean Dukes were meeting with Chrom, when Basilio’s chief spy had barged in warning of dire news. Chrom, to his credit, didn’t flinch or falter.
“We were expecting this,” he said evenly. “Despite the attack this morning we must continue with the plan.”
“Your prediction was right, Robin,” Basilio rumbled quietly, obviously thinking, before dismissing the spy with a wave of his hand, who slunk out silently as if he had never been there.
“Why am I not reassured by that thought?” Robin muttered darkly.
“Chin up, lad!” Flavia said boisterously. “It’s your predictions and thinking that’s gotten us this far; show some confidence! You’ll need it soon when you’re knee deep in Plegian blood!”
“This plan is risky, but only if we fail,” Aerir said with a nod to the tactician.
“We can make it work,” Phila assured them confidently.
“This time tomorrow we’ll all be swapping stories with the Lady Emmeryn on the road back to Ylisstol,” Duke Themis said, encouragingly clapping a hand on Robin’s shoulder.
“You’re right,” Robin said, faking a smile to cover the uneasiness he felt.
“For what it’s worth,” Chrom said with a smile. “We all believe in your plan. You don’t even have to any of the heavy lifting, either, so what are you worried about?”
Robin nodded as the assembled leaders chuckled. When they had all filed out of Chrom’s tent, Robin lingered.
“Chrom,” he said, standing before his friend. “When the fighting starts I want you to know that no matter what, I’ll be right there by your side.”
“With little more than a coat and a spellbook for protection?” Chrom asked playfully, pulling his own breastplate on over his head.
“Uh…” Robin stammered as Chrom started to laugh.
“Look in the bag in the corner of the room,” he said, pointing.
Robin did as he was told, eyes widening as he saw what was inside.
“You know,” Robin said with a big grin breaking out on his face. “I think if we did this to Vaike, he still wouldn’t take the hint.”
Despite the arid, oppressive heat, Robin freely admitted he would rather dry up and float away than not wear his coat. It was dirty, it was tattered, it was in dire need of a good mending, and it was far, far too hot to be wearing such a heavy garment, but the thought of even carrying it under his arm made Robin shiver. The only other thing he really owned was his spellbook, and if he were to be entirely honest he was just as overprotective of it as well.
His spellbook, in his own mind, was just as unique. Albeit in much better shape than the coat was, living safely in his pouch most of the time. Robin had noticed during his interactions with the other mages that it was indeed unique, though; their spellbooks were much smaller, usually only containing one or two spells and eventually losing their focusing power after a period of prolonged use. Robin surmised his was special, and focused power from within his body, rather than the book itself, explaining why he ran out of mana so much faster than the others, but also why his spells were usually so much more devastatingly powerful. According to Miriel it was ‘old-fashioned’ spell-casting that had long ago fallen out of favour for the more expedient ‘disposable tomes’ that the majority of mages used out of convenience. Unfortunately, if he wasn’t careful it also meant that he may start to shorten his lifespan if he kept abusing his mana and working himself until he dropped. It also explained the messy, handwritten quality to his spells, and why they were all subtly different to the others’ versions. His ‘thunder’ spell, in particular, was at least three degrees removed from the average thunder spell, from what he’d seen in Ricken’s tome.
So as they trudged along with the rest of the army, behind the mounted divisions but ahead of the foot-soldiers, Robin had his hood up and his shirt unbuttoned, fanning himself with some of the blank loose leafs from the tactical manual he was busily compiling in his spare time for fun, thinking fondly of his spellbook; he was really quite proud of the grimoire, to be honest.
But not as proud as he was of his coat.
“I know we have to march in armour,” Stahl panted eventually, “But why on earth are you wearing that bloody coat?”
Robin simply shrugged. “I like my coat. Besides, not wearing armour is going to bite me in the arse one day soon.”
Vaike sidled up, grinning maniacally. “It just gives you plenty of manly scars like Teach has!”
“Vaike, the only reason we let you fight without armour is to scare the new recruits into wearing it when they see how beaten up you get,” Lissa said, walking up alongside them. “And of course I’m the one that always has to put you back together.”
At some point the girl had foregone her horse, donating it to one of the knights whose mount had been wounded. She was nothing if not altruistic to her people, Robin thought with a grin. Vaike had shrugged, illustrating Lissa’s point perfectly when he flinched, his shoulder wound from the previous day causing some pain.
They all laughed so hard at that that they coughed after inhaling the ever-present desert dust, even Vaike.
The capital of Plegia was in the middle of the desert, sitting next to the old, giant bones of the dark dragon Grima that had been slain millennia ago. Strangely, Gangrel’s castle was actually constructed atop the ancient skull, almost like a parasitic growth that had refused to die when its host had. Even stranger was the fact that there was no oasis in sight, and the capital would have had to import water from elsewhere. Chrom had explained that the Plegians’ main national religion was ‘Grimleal’, a cult worshipping the Dark Dragon as a god, much the same way that the Ylisseans worshipped Naga. The word Grimleal had set Robin’s non-existent memories awhirl, his head pounding as something tickled the back of his mind. Something about the word had seemed to scream importance in his life, but nothing was coming to the fore of his brain, so he decided to ignore it.
The capital city itself was built on the more solid land of a giant salt-flat, the uniformly smooth, empty plain stretching out for miles in all directions around the buildings. No cover, no defence, not even any sparse shrubs or desert weeds. It was as if the very land around Grima’s ancient skeleton had withered and died.
Robin looked up at the castle, tugging down on the gorget on the new breastplate Chrom had commissioned for him that he wore under his coat, dread settling in the pit of his stomach. Many of the other soldiers had gone quiet with the knowledge that the final battle was upon them.
It was almost as if the tactician could hear whispering on the wind; dark, rasped phrases that he couldn’t make sense of, coming from the direction of Plegia’s castle. Robin had to think they were coming from the castle; the thought of the whispers coming from Grima’s gigantic, ancient skull made him break out in a cold sweat.
“Even as they resist, they write your return with each step o great one.”
Robin started, eyes wide, looking for where the voice had come from. After a few seconds he shook his head. Nerves… It was just nerves.
The Plegian army stood arrayed before them, stationed outside of the capital city’s walls, weapons pointed directly at the Shepherds, waiting for them. Robin stood beside Chrom, Duke Themis, Kahn Flavia, Basilio, Commander Phila, Duke Aerir and Frederick, looking out over the Plegian army as the Ylissean army moved into position beneath them.
“That’s a lot of men,” Flavia muttered excitedly under her breath.
“I’ll take the thousand on the left, you take the thousand on the right,” Basilio said lightly. “First one to finish gets the quarters at the Coliseum.
Robin stared silently, the sensation of memories on the tip of his brain’s proverbial tongue causing splitting pain in his head as the Kahns went about their back and forth.
“Robin?” Chrom asked, noticing his friend’s discomfort.
“It’s nothing,” Robin lied, trying to focus. “There… there’s less Plegian troops than we were expecting.”
“There must be an ambush somewhere…” Chrom muttered, scanning the oceans of sand around them.
“It doesn’t matter,” Robin said decisively, before raising his voice to speak to all of the assembled leaders. “You all know your roles in this battle, yes?”
A chorus of affirmative answers greeted him.
“Then go to your divisions and make ready!” Chrom ordered, turning and walking toward where the Shepherds were waiting at the front of the army. “This war ends today!”
Duke Themis was the first to admit that he was a proud man; and why should he not?
His daughter, the apple of his eye, was so strong-willed and beautiful it brought a tear to his eye just thinking about her. She was the spitting image of her late mother, whom he had loved with all his heart until the day she had passed; now Maribelle’s strong sense of justice had her serving the Prince of the Haildom himself, who could very well end up being the next Exalt, a fine stepping stone setting her on the path to being the first woman magistrate in Ylisse’s history, something he couldn’t be prouder of.
His once powerful city-state, Themis, had been so beautiful and strong that he had taken its name as his own. Her men had held the border against countless incursions from the Plegians over the years, and it had been his cavalry that had ridden with the previous Exalt during the final charge against the bastard Gangrel’s uncle during the final days of the last war.
That Themis could say, with pride in his voice and his hand over his heart, that he had served the Exalt and her father to the fullest of his abilities as a Knight, as a Duke and as a trusted retainer was the greatest light in his life, second only to his beloved daughter.
When the call to arms had gone out after Themis City had been destroyed, he hadn’t faltered before ordering the last of his men to prepare for battle again, and to their credit they were still standing beside him, ready to ride into the mouth of hell itself if he so ordered.
Because that was a Knight’s one true duty; obedience to the Crown, and to the blood of the Exalt.
It was as the Duke sat astride his great grey warhorse Invincible, his gold-edged white armour gleaming like freshly fallen snow in the sun, one thousand mounted Ylisseans at his back with his banner flapping behind him, the bear rising before the Brand of the Exalt ready to defend it with its life, that Duke Themis realised he was ready to die if need be.
“Are the men ready?” Themis asked without turning.
“Aye, milord,” Roark answered, holding the Duke’s standard.
Themis nodded. He liked Roark immensely; having no sons and unwilling to force his daughter into becoming the Duchess of Themis once he passed, the Duke had been grooming Roark to take his place for years. The man was strong, fast, skilled with blade and lance, and most importantly, he was clever, with a firm sense of right and wrong. Despite having been atrociously wounded during the retreat from Themis City, Roark had forced Duke Themis to take him with the war host, swearing to follow behind on foot if he had to. Roark had lost his eye to the Plegians and now wore an eye-patch over the empty socket, and his sword arm was still a little slow on a backswing, but there was none he would rather have had at his side that day.
“Sound the order to advance,” Themis said.
Horns blared and the Themis began to slowly advance, the first rank moving with him as the others fell in behind them. They slowly picked up speed as they advanced, going from a trot to a full blown charge, a cloud of dust flying in their wake. The Plegians began to fire arrows into the charging cavalry, for what little good it did; most of them missed, or were simply ignored as they found heavy Ylissean plate armour. Themis raised his sword high and the men of Ylisstol and Themis roared as they struck the Plegian lines like a hammer striking an anvil.
The Plegian line instantly buckled, and Themis’ world turned into the chaotic maelstrom of battle as he swung his weapon left and right, felling enemies with every swing.
Duke Aerir watched as his friend led the initial charge, sighing and rolling out his shoulders.
“I should really get a horse one of these days,” he muttered to Seth as they jogged forward, preparing to hit the Plegian lines at an angle from the western flank while Themis’ cavalry had their attention.
“Don’t bother, milord,” Seth replied frankly. “I believe all the riding talent in your family was passed on to your brother and cousin.”
“Pah!” Aerir spat, slipping his high-crested helmet on. “I just never got the chance to practice! I was too busy being the Duke!”
“I’m sure that’s it, sir,” Seth replied, balancing the Duke’s standard and his axe in one hand as he donned his own helmet with the other.
Aerir found himself thinking again, as he so often had been the past few days, of his little brother Frederick. Not that he was so little any more, but to Aerir he would always be the lad who was getting scolded by their father for spending the afternoon trapped under his heavy breastplate when it had fallen on him while he was playing dress-up. After their father had passed and Aerir had taken up the mantle of Duke of Jagen he had lost any time to spend with his family, although it had been one of the proudest moments of his life when Frederick had been accepted into the Royal Knights as a squire to Knight-Commander Cullen himself. It had been good to see him again, even if the man had a knight-sized pole up his arse these days; although Aerir could tell from the look in his brother’s eyes he had been happy to see him too. Aerir was determined to spend more time with his little brother once the war was over, already constructing some cockamamie story to get him to spend some time in Ylisstol to be closer to him. Perhaps he would even call their cousin Azolla back from whatever border garrison she had stuck herself in, and they could all act like a family again, if only for a little while. If they survived the next few hours, anyway.
Robin’s plan had been simple, indeed. The Shepherds would save the Exalt while the rest of them fought the Plegians in a distraction. Themis would charge the front; Aerir would hit them from the West, and the more mobile foot troops from Regna Ferox under the leadership of Khan Flavia’s second in command, Commander Raimi, would hit them from the East.
Aerir had liked the woman; she knew her duty, and carried it out flawlessly without mucking around. He could appreciate a practical woman like that. If only he were a few years younger…
Jagen was the third of the Ylissean City States, and famous for its soldiers’ ability to fight in heavy armour, both on foot and on horseback. Aerir wouldn’t admit it, but Seth was right; as a horseman, he was rubbish. Better to fight with his feet planted firmly on the ground, where he was an unmovable force of armour and lance.
Even if it had been far too long since he had worn his father’s ornate blue and white armour, instead focusing on his swordsmanship. Even now he was one of few in the charge with a sword strapped to his hip as his back-up weapon.
Aerir swung his shield experimentally as they drew closer to the Plegian lines. They were starting to take notice of the second force drawing closer. And Aerir knew for a fact that the enemy never appreciated being run down by horses and then spanked by two thousand heavily armoured soldiers with spears and axes.
Aerir raised his heavy lance above his head as he ran, and the men responded with a hearty roar, horns blaring the signal to engage.
He couldn’t help but think that this was going to be a long, long afternoon.
Robin stood with Chrom and Flavia now as they watched the rest of the army advance towards the Plegians.
“I should be at their head,” Chrom said bitterly as the Knights broke away and began to charge.
“We need the Shepherds to rescue the Exalt,” Robin reminded him, putting a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “That means all of the Shepherds; I need you on this one, Chrom.”
Chrom nodded, looking away from the ensuing battle.
Their plan was elegant in its simplicity; the army would charge, distract the Plegians, and the Shepherds and a squad of elite soldiers from Regna Ferox led by Flavia would swoop in and rescue Emmeryn before the Plegians could execute her. They would then retreat, and Naga willing, the combined Feroxi-Ylissean forces would triumph over the Plegians and take the capital. If not, they would simply retreat with Emmeryn and plan their next step from the safety of Ylisstol.
Simple. But as the old saying went: ‘The best plans never survive contact with the enemy’.
“If we move quickly we can be back in time for the push into the capital,” Flavia offered helpfully, and somewhat hopefully if Robin was reading the woman right.
Chrom just nodded as he strode to the front of the Shepherds.
Robin rolled out his shoulders, tugging down on the silver breastplate again. He would have to get his coat mended; the breastplate was so nice he felt foolish wearing it with his current clothes. At least he could buy new clothes when the war was over; the coat would be mended, though. And he was admittedly also growing rather fond of his worn old boots, too.
The Shepherds began to move, going back through the dunes they had passed through and emerging nearer to Grima’s giant skeleton than the capital with a minimum of chatter. There was no need; they had their job to do, and they would see it through. Once they neared the exit to the dunes, though, the sounds of fighting became immensely clearer without the high mounds of sand to mute them.
“Sounds rough,” Vaike muttered, grimacing.
“It most assuredly would be,” Virion muttered in agreement.
Robin silently agreed with their sentiments. The Plegians were outnumbered, yes; but they were on their home turf, defending their very capital from an invading army; couple that with their no-doubt gratuitous amount of experience fighting in the desert climate, and the Ylissean-Feroxi army was at a serious disadvantage. The only advantage the Ylisseans had was the Order of the Pegasus Knights, and Robin had drafted plans relying heavily on their mobility for hit and run and harassing tactics in the rear ranks of the Plegian army to keep them occupied. Hopefully, given the Pegasus Knights and the high concentration of mages from the Royal Mage Academy and the clerics and priests that worshipped the Divine Dragon Naga by practicing healing magics present, the fatality rate would be low.
A few times as they moved Robin thought he had seen flashes of blue in his peripheral vision, like someone following them. The Tactician had no doubt in his mind that Marth had found them again after the last time she had risked her life to save the Exalt. In fact he was sure he had seen her that morning, too, after the fires had been put out. It was comforting to think that the enigmatic woman was watching their backs and at the very least she was good with a sword; they could always use another heavy hitter.
As they came out of the dunes, Robin’s eyes widened.
“Back!” he hissed at the Shepherds, silently cursing his own distraction. “Back, damn you!”
There was at least two hundred Plegian soldiers gathered in the shadow of Grima’s colossal rib-cage; something Robin had not planned on. To make matters worse it looked like the entire Plegian capital had turned out to watch the execution, and the dunes opposite the Shepherds’ position were packed with civilians.
“What do we do now?” Flavia asked, deferring to Robin.
“Wait…” Robin whispered, holding up a hand.
Shouted words began to reach Robin’s ears as they drew nearer.
“We all remember the crimes of Ylisse!” Gangrel was shouting theatrically, his voice magically amplified, no doubt by the scantily clad woman that had been with him on the border and was again by his side. “Would you have their witch-queen answer for their crimes!? Here!? Today!? Now!?”
The crowd’s roar of approval was almost deafening, even from this distance. The sand dunes themselves vibrated, causing small avalanches to slide down to the Shepherds’ feet.
“Finally we will have justice!” Gangrel raved, spinning to face the rib-cage. “Executioner! If you would be so kind!”
Robin’s eyes darted up to one of Grima’s protruding ribs. Standing atop it, at the very edge, was Emmeryn, dirty and clearly having been beaten, yet unbroken and unbowed, even with a Plegian spear pointed at her back.
“I have a shot,” Virion said without being told, drawing his bowstring taught, an arrow ready to fly.
“So do I,” Flavia echoed seriously, a small throwing axe appearing in her hand.
“Okay, forget waiting,” Robin said. “Flavia, take the shot! Virion, back her up.”
With a grunt Flavia threw the axe, and Robin could hear the Shepherds’ collective intake of breath. Flavia’s aim was true, though, and the executioner tumbled from the rib, her axe buried in his chest just below his neck.
It almost made Robin laugh out loud when the entire host of assembled Plegians, Gangrel included, spun to face them with the same shocked expression on all of their faces.
“Shepherds!” Chrom said, suddenly above them atop the dune they were hiding behind, his white and blue armour practically shining in the harsh desert sun as his cape fluttered out behind him.
“As one! For the Exalt! Charge!”
Chrom sliced Falchion downwards, and with a lusty battle roar the Shepherds and Feroxi soldiers charged around the sides of the dune, Sumia and Cordelia simply going over it. As soon as Robin was around the other side he raced to catch up to Chrom who was racing ahead, remembering the promise that he’d made that morning. Frederick, Stahl and Sully easily overtook them, veering to the left of the assembled Plegians and aiming to flank them. The rest simply charged up the middle; Chrom, Robin and Flavia at the front, swords drawn. The Plegians, however, weren’t standing still, and just before the two sides collided Robin cast a weak wind spell directly at the feet of the front rank of Plegians, kicking up a cloud of sand into their eyes.
Then he was amongst them in a chaotic melee, soldiers and fighters everywhere. There wasn’t space for grace or tactics, Robin simply struck again and again in hacking or stabbing motions, Plegians falling at his feet before he moved on.
He looked over at one point, making sure he was still with Chrom and Flavia. Chrom’s face was a grim line, and Falchion was painted red to the hilt; the Prince hadn’t stopped moving since they hit the Plegians, simply frowning as they pushed harder. Flavia was the exact opposite of the Prince’s stern countenance, spinning and striking out, laughing as if she were having the time of her life, coated in blood and dirt.
“I haven’t had this much fun in years!” the older woman shouted to Robin during a brief respite.
Realizing he had a few moments Robin decided to evaluate the situation. Gangrel had fled, but with his capital under attack he had nowhere left to hide. The Shepherds and Feroxi were performing marvellously, slaughtering the Plegians by the dozen, never once faltering. There had been a few of the Feroxi soldiers that had fallen, though, and Robin quashed the feeling of guilt down; he could mourn later.
“C’mon, Tactician!” Flavia was shouting gleefully. “Let’s not keep these bastards waiting!”
“In a second,” he said, scanning the battlefield.
Vaike had gone to the aid of Miriel, Ricken and Maribelle near the rear of the battle where some clever Plegians had tried to assault the mages; he had been wounded, but Maribelle was taking care of it. Miriel also had a hand on his shoulder, apparently… thanking him? That was new behaviour for her, but welcome personal growth on her part.
Virion was moving along the periphery of the greater melee, firing arrows every chance he got. Every shot struck home, either distracting his target long enough for someone else to run it through, or even just felling the target itself. The man still looked like he was prepared for tea-time, though, so pristine was his gear. The only difference between then and the start of the battle was that his own quiver was empty, and every so often he’d stoop and take the quiver from one of the fallen Plegian archers, and just keep shooting like nothing was amiss. Apparently he’d been busy.
The three knights continued to ride backwards and forwards along the front of the assault, striking out and creating openings for the others. Lon’qu, Gaius and Panne took advantage of one of these openings, and before the Plegians could close ranks the three had cut deeply into their ranks, the lightly armoured Shepherds retreating nimbly before the Plegians formed up and trapped them.
Cordelia and Sumia were swooping around overhead, occasionally tossing down a javelin to great effect on the field. They had their hands full in the air, though, as a squad of wyvern riders had come to the aid of the Plegian soldiers. Virion noticed this too, and instantly set about supporting the women, arrows flying almost directly upwards in some cases. Sumia was holding her own, but Cordelia was a beast; nothing that came near her lasted more than a few more seconds in the air, quite often falling directly onto the Plegians. As Robin watched a third shadow appeared with the Shepherds, spitting a jet of fire at the nearest wyvern rider, the magical dragon-fire turning him into little more than a shower of ash. Nowi was obviously enjoying her flight, the way she was barrel rolling and flipping in the air after every successful attack. Robin had to keep reminding himself, though, that he hadn’t just sent a little girl to battle; he had sent a thousand year old dragon.
Gregor, Kellam and Chrom were pushing deeper into the flank of the Plegians, disrupting their line quite effectively. The older man was a sight to behold on the battlefield, completely eclipsing Kellam (not that it was a hard task to accomplish in the first place) as he fought beside Chrom. As Robin watched, a fourth person joined Chrom and Gregor’s push; a woman in white robes with long, perfect platinum blonde hair, swinging a wicked looking axe to great effect. She was tearing the Plegians around her apart, though, so obviously she was on their side. Robin could enquire about who she was once the battle was over.
“We need to catch up with Chrom and break the line,” Robin said, focusing again on the battle itself.
The Plegians were well disciplined and holding the Shepherds at bay, but the tide was starting to turn. Robin sent a ball of withering flames directly at the front of the Plegian force, creating another opening that Panne and Gaius gladly took the chance to use.
“Well come on then!” Flavia said, literally grabbing Robin by the scruff and carrying him a few feet in the direction of the battle. “I’m sick of standing around.”
“We’ve been standing still for five minutes!” Robin countered, shaking himself loose of her grip.
“Five minutes too long!” Flavia complained, striding forward again. “Let’s break their lines and be done with it already. I’m sick of the desert.”
“What, just you and me?” Robin asked, a grin forming on his face.
“I could do it myself,” Flavia replied with a similar grin. “But I figured you would want some glory for Ylisse or something.”
Robin laughed as he channelled his magic, releasing a torrent of lightning bolts into the Plegian lines, causing them to buckle as stunned soldiers reeled from the attack.
“Ladies first,” Robin invited.
Flavia laughed, racing forward with her sword held low; the Plegians actually started to back away as she neared, Robin close behind her. The two of them set to work instantly, tearing the line apart before more soldiers could take up positions. Ten of the Feroxi soldiers followed them in, and soon the Plegian lines were well and truly broken.
Chrom wasn’t sure at what point he had become separated from Robin during the fighting; one minute he was there, then the next time Chrom had looked up the tactician was outside the general melee, trying to gauge the battle. It didn’t really matter to Chrom, though; at some point Gregor and Kellam had caught up, and now the three of them were striking deep into the Plegian force.
He had even been approached by a Priest named Libra, and after a brief and incredibly awkward conversation the man had joined them in the fight.
Libra looked, for all the world, like a woman; he had perfect features and skin, his hair had a sheen and lustre most women would have killed for, and his robes were perfectly white like fresh snow. It had surprised Chrom immensely when he had simply charged into a group of the Plegians, axe swinging, and driven them back almost single handedly.
Now the four of them were fighting together, breaking the Plegian line from the flank while Robin, Flavia and the other Feroxi soldiers hit it from the front. Chrom had no doubt that on the opposite flank Frederick and the others would be wreaking the same carnage on the Plegians that he was.
With one final grunt, Chrom found himself clear of the Plegians, no others around for meters in any direction, all busy fighting the others. It was while looking around that Chrom noticed a dark haired, pale looking mage, looking around aimlessly like she was almost bored. She was clearly in no hurry to fight, and as Gregor bellowed and cut through another of the Plegian soldiers she actually scrunched up her face distastefully.
“You there!” Chrom called to her, thinking of what Emm would do given the situation. “Are you with the Plegians? You look like you’re reluctant to fight.”
The woman looked over at him, confusion evident on her face before recognition set in.
“Death comes for all of us eventually, Prince Chrom,” she said, approaching him slowly, swaying her hips. “Why invite it early, fighting for a cause I don’t believe in?”
“So… I should take that as a no?” Chrom asked, confusion getting the better of him. “If you don’t want to fight, you could leave the field; I would see that no harm comes to you… Or…”
She was still approaching, swaying her hips suggestively. As her heavy cloak parted he could see she was quite… well endowed, and wearing what appeared to be a translucent gossamer body-suit which left very little to the imagination.
“Let’s just say I’m keeping my options open,” she said, stopping before Chrom. “I mean, long live the King and all, but I would like to keep living as well. And I have a bit of a rebellious streak as well… A… dark side.”
“Well,” Chrom said, a thought popping unbidden into his head. “Why don’t you rebel now and join us?”
The woman began to laugh before she stopped, realizing he was being serious.
“You would trust me?” she asked. “A Plegian Dark Mage? What if this is just a ploy to earn your trust and stick a dagger in your back?”
Chrom looked down at the woman, taking a deep breath and sensing no deceit in her.
“You know who I am, so you must know my sister as well,” he explained. “I think she would trust you. I’m trying to learn from her example. Besides which, I already need to watch my back, weather you join us or not. My previous offer still stands, though. If you wish to simply quit the field, I will not stop you.”
The woman began to laugh again, making Chrom think she was mocking him at first.
“That’s truly the oddest thing…” she said, her voice a silky purr. “Usually when I bring up the backstabbing thing the conversation is over. You intrigue me, Prince Chrom. You may consider me your new ally. For now.”
Turning away, she cast him one final look over her shoulder, grinning predatorily. “My name is Tharja, by the way.”
Chrom rolled his eyes as Gregor, Libra and Kellam finally caught up to him. Gregor made to attack Tharja, but Chrom stopped him.
“She’s with us now,” Chrom explained as the woman set to work casting dark magic on her former Plegian allies. “I think…”
Robin was still forcing his way forward into the Plegian lines alongside Flavia, the two of them leaving a trail of bodies as they went, when he finally spotted the enemy commander.
“Forward you dogs!” the short, balding man in heavy black armour was screaming. “Forward I say! I will personally kill any man found deserting myself!”
Robin shook his head. Threats and intimidation were no way to lead; a true leader led by example, they led by instilling honour and pride in their soldiers. Robin locked eyes with the man. The Plegian General paled, starting to back away. The easiest way to demoralize the enemy was to annihilate their commander so utterly the rest of the soldiers scattered in fear.
Robin’s eyes glowed as he summoned one of his most potent spells; Valflame.
With a roar that gave even Flavia pause Robin released his spell, a fireball with a continuous jet of flame following it, turning the Plegian General to ash inside his armour, as well as a large number of the soldiers around him. Robin crumpled to one knee afterwards, his mana spent.
“What the bloody hell was that!?” Flavia shouted incredulously.
“A high level fire spell called Valfl-”
“No!” Flavia cut him off. “That was my kill! I was going to kill the General! You stole my kill!”
Robin rolled his eyes, forcing himself back to his feet. “Better luck next time, eh?”
Flavia’s response was to growl deep in her throat and shoot the Tactician a withering glare before moving on with her Feroxi soldiers in tow. Robin chuckled and shook his head. The people of Regna Ferox really were something else.
Spotting Chrom, Robin began jogging over to where his friend and the little group of warriors around him were just finishing clearing the area. With only roughly seventy men they had managed to almost completely route the Plegians; all that remained was to figure out how to get to Emmeryn.
“Nice lightshow,” Chrom said as Robin approached. “A little showy, but overall it seemed effective.”
“Don’t expect a repeat performance,” Robin gasped. “I’m spent.”
Robin straightened and noticed the two new members of Chrom’s group.
“I don’t believe we’ve been introduced,” he said friendlily. “I’m Robin, the Shepherds’ Tactician.”
The strange looking woman, obviously a Dark Mage from Plegia, blushed and turned her face down when Robin looked at her, her bangs casting her upper face in shadow. The other woman, a cleric from the look of her, smiled and greeted Robin, leaning her axe on her shoulder.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, master tactician; my name is Libra, a Priest in the service of the Temple of Naga.”
“Priest?” Robin asked confusedly. “Don’t you mean cle-”
Robin caught himself, noticing Gregor trying not to laugh as Chrom mouthed he’s a man! as obviously as he could from behind Libra.
“-aerly. I could tell from your robes,” Robin said, changing tracks as fast as he could.
“Now that introductions are over, we should be saving Exalt now, yes?” Gregor asked, grinning widely.
The others moved ahead, Chrom falling into step with Robin as they ran.
“Nice save, there,” he said.
“Yeah,” Robin replied, shaking his head. “Thanks for the heads up. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a pretty man.”
“Remind me to tell you later about the first conversation I had with him,” Chrom said with a grimace.
“What about her?” Robin asked, indicating over his shoulder at the Dark Mage following them, still looking down. Was… was she actually blushing as Robin looked at her?
“Her name’s Tharja. Again,” Chrom groaned. “I’ll tell you later.”
“Things just keep getting weirder and weirder around us…” Robin muttered as they ran.
As they charged closer to Grima’s skeleton Robin ducked on instinct as a shadow swooped low over him. When he looked up he was relieved, and somewhat embarrassed, to see it was just Sumia.
“We’ve secured the skies! Cordelia and I will keep flying on overwatch, so continue with the plan,” she panted, wiping sweat from her eyes before kicking her pegasus back into the sky.
“Chrom, the wyvern riders are routed! The skies are clear!” Robin shouted to the Prince, at the same time as he was twisting the end off of one of Miriel’s spark tubes.
Chrom nodded assent, and holding the little tube up Robin gave the signal, a bright green jet of sparks shooting into the air with a high-pitched whistle. Robin actually flinched at the intensity of the sparks; it would have been impossible to miss, even in the heat of battle. As soon as the sparks subsided Robin noticed a small green fire starting on his coat and with a yelp he hastily beat it out, thinking about just how much mending his coat would need when they were done.
When he looked back up Chrom was laughing so hard he had doubled over; Sumia was no better, almost falling off her pegasus with laughter from above them.
“Yeah, laugh it up,” Robin said, rolling his eyes at Chrom as the other Shepherds assembled below the rib bone Emmeryn was perched on.
“Emm!” Lissa called up to her. “Are you okay!?”
“I’m fine, Lissa,” Emmeryn replied, her voice exhausted.
Robin could see the Exalt’s easy smile from where he stood, though, and it buoyed his spirits somewhat.
“Alright, prepare to withdraw!” Robin ordered the Shepherds. “Be ready to fight our way out; I need most of you securing a path back through the dunes where we can-”
Robin didn’t finish as five pegasi darted in low and fast; fortunately the Shepherds remembered the plan, and with the exception of Chrom, Lissa and the two newcomers, they set off to their assigned duties.
They were almost home-free.
“Your Grace!” Phila called, circling the Exalt as the other four Pegasus Knights took up defensive positions around them.
“Phila!” Emmeryn said, happy to see her retainer well. “I’m so glad you’re safe! But how-”
“It doesn’t matter now,” Phila said, moving her pegasus low to the bone, attempting to get to Emmeryn. “Quickly, we must flee!”
An instant feeling of dread settled over Robin. A tingling in the air, setting his skin crawling. The Dark Mage, Tharja, shuddered, eyes wide as she looked around, obviously feeling it too. It was the same feeling he’d had just before they were attacked by the Risen that morning.
Robin looked up in the direction of the Plegian Castle, his unease growing. Gangrel and Aversa stood as if nothing were amiss, simply watching.
“You do not play fair, Tactician,” Gangrel said, the smile of a madman on his face. “Pegasus Knights? Really? Tsk-tsk. I think we should do something to… even the field a little.”
“We hardly play fair, either, though,” Aversa purred, producing a small box from somewhere on her person.
Robin’s blood froze at the sight of the thing. It was what was giving off the evil energy he was feeling.
“Chrom,” Robin called. “We have to move! Now!”
Chrom looked back, confused, before he spotted Gangrel.
Before the Prince could do anything Aversa flipped open the box. With a blast of wind that almost sent him sprawling, countless Risen began to crawl out of the sand at their feet.
“Back!” Chrom shouted, backpedalling. “Phila, get Emm out of there!”
Robin grabbed Lissa around the waist, dragging her back with him and the others, interposing himself between her and the Risen’s… Bows?
“Archers!” Robin screamed, his voice cracking with fear.
Cackling madly Gangrel lifted a hand, pointing at the Pegasus Knights.
“Phila!” Lissa screamed, trying to get out of Robin’s arms.
The Pegasus Knights were too slow though, and the Shepherds were forced to watch as they were riddled with arrows. Phila’s last act was to place herself between the arrows and Emmeryn, diving off of her doomed mount to bring Emmeryn crashing to the surface of the rib and out of harm’s way. Looking into the eyes of the woman she had watched grow from an orphaned child into the Exalt of all of Ylisse, Phila smiled.
“Your mother would be proud,” she whispered, before falling from the sky with and landing with a wet thud.
Emmeryn knelt at the edge of the rib, shock evident on her face even from where the Shepherds had retreated to.
“No!” Chrom shouted, redrawing his sword. “Gangrel, I’ll kill you with my bare hands!”
“Exuent the Wing-Commander herself!” Gangrel said, practically hopping up and down with excitement.
The Risen began to move about the fallen Pegasus Knights, kicking at the corpses to make sure they were dead. One of the other Pegasus Knights moaned and reached out an arm, before a Risen brutally stomped on her back and fired an arrow into her from point blank. Robin watched his carefully laid strategy crumbling in front of him.
“No,” he muttered, eyes going wide as he still clung to Lissa to stop her charging forward. “No no no no no!”
“We’ve lost,” Chrom muttered defeated, falchion slumping downwards in his grip.
Gangrel wasn’t through with them yet though.
“Now grovel before me, Ylissean dogs! Accept who is your true master! Plead and beg for your worthless lives and maybe I can find enough mercy to make you… chamber-pot boy!” Gangrel roared, his maniac smile never leaving his face before bursting into laughter again.
“Never!” Chrom growled, the spark of defiance reigniting in him. “I’ll die before grovelling to the lesser son of greater kings!”
“Ooh, a fitting epitaph for your tombstone!” Gangrel snickered. “But think, boy; your sister’s life hangs in the balance! All I have to do is raise my hand and she becomes a pin cushion!”
Chrom paled visibly, before taking a few steps towards Gangrel. “I swear to you, monster-”
“Guards!” Gangrel shouted to the Risen. “If this boy takes one more step towards me, fill him and his whore-sister full of holes!”
“I’ll kill you!” Chrom roared in frustration.
Things were deteriorating fast. Robin’s mind was working in overtime trying to work out how best to avoid losing anyone else; plans half-thought came to mind and were instantly rejected. He was panicking, which was making his thoughts scattered. He needed to calm down.
“Prince Chrom…” Gangrel said, his voice turning silky as he approached the man. “Chrom, Chrom, Chrom… You can avoid all this needless bloodshed. All you have to do is lay down your sword, hand over the Fire Emblem, and everyone walks away alive.”
Chrom took a step back.
“Chrom, you can’t trust him!” Robin called. “Don’t listen to him!”
“I know I can’t trust him!” Chrom called back, desperation in his voice. “But I can’t just abandon Emm like this!”
“Your sister or your vaunted duty, Prince,” Gangrel said, turning his back and returning to the safety of standing behind the wall of Risen. “Choose.”
Chrom reached into his pouch, where Robin knew the Fire Emblem was being kept.
“Dammit Chrom!” Robin shouted, finally losing his composure. “Don’t give up! We’re not done yet! If you hand that over, I swear to whatever gods you hold dear that I will kick your arse myself!”
Chrom reeled as if struck before smiling sadly at his friend. “If there’s another way, I don’t see it.”
“My patience is at an end!” Gangrel snarled, his countenance changing like someone had flipped a switch. “I will count to three! If your weapons aren’t in the dirt by then, your precious Exalt becomes the world’s largest quiver, and I will kill you all! One! Two!”
Before Gangrel could reach three, Chrom threw down Falchion, the sound of the sword striking the ground echoing off the bones and rocks beneath them.
“Damn you, Gangrel,” Chrom said. “You win.”
Everyone in attendance looked upwards to Emmeryn, standing on the very end of the rib, looking down on them all.
“King Gangrel, please!” she implored. “Will you not give peace a chance? Is there no hope you will listen to reason?”
Gangrel simply cackled, shaking his head. “All I want to listen to is the sound of your scream and the wet splat of you hitting the rocks beneath you! This is your last chance! I will have my guards shoot you unless someone gives me the Emblem now!”
Robin looked beyond the King; a large crowd of Plegian soldiers and civilians had gathered, watching the drama unfold with wide eyes.
Emmeryn smiled, before softly saying “Then I know now what I must do.”
“People of Plegia!” Emmeryn called, her voice strong and full of compassion. “I ask that you hear my words! War will bring nothing but pain and heartache, both within your borders and without. I beg you; free yourselves from this endless cycle of hatred and vengeance! Free yourselves, but do as you must. As I do now. Know that one selfless act has the power to change the fate of the world!”
“Emm!” Chrom cried, catching on to his sister’s intent. “Emm, for the love of all we hold dear, no!”
At last, a final plan crystalized in Robin’s mind. It was a horrible plan, but he could see no other option. As Emmeryn began to fall, Robin began to cast. His casting drew the attention of the Risen, and before they could fire at him and potentially hit Lissa, he spun her, throwing her behind the remains of a low wall nearby, never breaking his concentration. He was trying to cast two spells at once, not an easy thing to do even when he was fresh, rather than exhausted.
Time slowed down as Emmeryn plummeted; Chrom reached out, calling his sister’s name; Lissa shrieked, covering her ears and closing her eyes; Libra went as pale as his robes, staring in disbelief while Tharja looked on, a look of intense curiosity on her face. Robin was aware of it all as the Risen began to draw their bowstrings tight.
This is going to hurt like hell he thought sullenly, releasing the first of the two spells, his experimental wind spell that would hopefully create a wall of ice between the Shepherds and the Risen.
An arrow hit his shoulder, burying itself deep and spinning Robin around. He barely felt it as his spell was complete and a rough ten-foot wall of ice grew between them and the Risen in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately, a number of other arrows were already on the other side of the wall, and as Robin was releasing the wind spell that would have broken Emmeryn’s fall his concentration was ruined by four more arrows hitting him. One took the leg out from underneath him, forcing him down to one knee. Two more pierced his new breastplate, burying themselves in his chest while the last one skimmed his forehead, tearing at the flesh on the side of his face. Spitting out blood and wiping it from his eyes, Robin forced the wind spell out anyway, but he could tell it was too little, too late.
Emmeryn barely slowed before she hit the rocks. It wasn’t enough, though. Robin could tell he hadn’t slowed her descent nearly enough.
Robin toppled to the side; his last thoughts before the world went dark were that he had failed everyone, his last sight Chrom howling with pain of the heart.
“Robin!” Chrom shouted, skidding to a halt.
He didn’t know what to do! Why had Emmeryn… Why had Robin…
Chrom fell to his knees, despair overtaking him.
“Damn you Gangrel!” he roared.
His sister was dead. His friend was no doubt the same. All because of one madman.
“I’ll kill you!”
He could hear Lissa screaming, and Gangrel, the bastard, laughing from the other side of the wall Robin had erected, even as the Risen tried desperately to tear through it.
Chrom was shocked when another voice joined in the denial.
“No! No, I’m too late… Our bleak future is written once more… Now darkness awaits us all.”
Marth was standing a few meters back from him, looking like she, too, were about to collapse, mumbling nonsense.
Chrom almost struck out as a huge brown arm grabbed him around the chest, dragging him to his feet.
“Dammit boy!” Basilio grunted. “Feel sorry for yourself later! We have to escape!”
Basilio looked over to Marth. “You grab Robin, lass! I can’t carry them both!”
It seemed like the woman-looking man in priests’ robes was attending to Lissa, while the scary looking Dark Mage began casting hexes over Robin’s body, hopefully doing something to help him.
“No!” Chrom shouted, some life returning to him as he looked over to his sister’s body again. “Her body! I can’t just…”
“I’m sorry,” was all Basilio could say while he was dragging Chrom away.
“Emm!” Chrom shouted, trying to free himself. “Let go of me, damn you! Emm! Emmeryn!”