Invisible Ties

Chapter 15

Flavia took a deep breath like she always did in the fleeting calm moment just before a fight. It was that little oasis of quiet before the inevitable storm that galvanised her for what was to come. The dusty, dry air of Plegia did little to calm her nerves this time, though; she would have killed for the frigid, biting air of Regna Ferox.

On the outside she was as calm and cool a leader as she always was, but inside she seethed. Her first campaign as Khan Regnant and they had been utterly routed by the bastard Gangrel and the Plegians. Total loss almost sixty percent casualties to the Feroxi Clan Armies all told. Thousands dead, thousands more wounded and crippled...

It wouldn’t stand. She wouldn’t let it.

Gangrel was a dead man walking. He just didn’t know it yet.

She and the oaf Basilio had separated from the Ylissean Shepherds that morning; now it was afternoon, and they were looking down on one of the outlying sentry camps the Plegians had set up. From her shoulder Basilio chuckled.

“Too easy,” he rumbled quietly. “Do they really think that those crappy tarps hide their camp?”

“Apparently so,” Raimi said from her other shoulder. “Should I ready the men?”

Flavia shook her head.

“I only see ten or fifteen Plegians down there,” she declared, shielding her eyes from the sun to better see their victims. “We can handle this ourselves.”

Basilio guffawed, shaking his big bald head. “Far be it from me to question the will of the Khan-”

“So don’t,” Flavia cut him off.

There was movement from behind them and Flavia turned. The two Ylisseans, the eye-patch one and the irritatingly helpful one, had come up behind them, bearing arms.

“Think we might even the odds?” eye-patch asked, indicating himself and the other with a predatory grin.

The Shepherd’s tactician Robin had opted to send the two Knights with the Feroxi; mostly because many of the Feroxi soldiers wore light armour unlike the Ylisseans, and two heavily armed and armoured Knights was quite the boon on a campaign like this. The helpful one had been forced to leave his horse behind; the creatures were too difficult to hide in scrubland like the Plegian desert, but the man had proved just as adept at fighting dismounted in the short time they’d been raiding Plegian camps.

Basilio snorted at the offer and Flavia’s grin took on that feral quality that she knew only happened before a good fight.

“I think we have Plegians to kill,” she said, before vaulting over the lip of the small cliff they were on and sliding down it, sword in hand and eyes wild, her blonde hair flying out behind her like a comet’s trail as she began to scream Feroxi war-cries.

As her mind readied itself for battle she absently noted that the others were following her down the cliff face, Basilio and Raimi shouting their own war cries.

In the end the Plegians never knew what hit them.

Robin would freely admit he was growing used to the feeling of being followed. Be it from marching at the front of the group with Chrom, having a gaggle of adjutants buzzing around him looking for orders during the march to Plegia, or simply having people to make sure parts of him didn’t fall off after being wounded, a job Olivia had apparently taken quite seriously, it was becoming commonplace for him to have some sort of tail or another.

Which is why, when Robin spotted Tharja following him for the third time during their second night of camping, Robin felt a little strange that he should feel so… strange about it.

It wasn’t that he was uncomfortable with her apparent worry for his welfare; quite the opposite, it was in fact a little flattering. But Robin had managed to ditch Olivia after the first day of the march back across Plegia and, well… Tharja had remained. He hadn’t even spoken to her yet. The only time he’d heard her speak was the night in Regna Ferox where they all swore to see the war through to the end with Chrom.

The Shepherds had set up their little tent-city for the evening, having separated from the Feroxi forces led by the Khans earlier that day, leaving only the Shepherds and their newest addition, the dancer and support-player Olivia, out in the light Plegian scrub.

Olivia had been adamant in her shy, timid fashion about accompanying the Shepherds on their journey. Robin couldn’t for the life of him figure out why, though. Her traditional non-magic first aid skills were top-notch, though, and she was an excellent chef. The dancer had some skill with a sword, too, a shorter version of the blade Lon’qu used that seemed to be favoured by most Feroxi warriors, but Robin wasn’t about to put her on the frontlines, that much was for certain. She also seemed to be nothing but interested in making everyone else’s lives easier by doing laundry and mending clothes and tents, managing the supply wagon, all of the things no one really wanted to do.

Robin chuckled and shook his head. The timid dancer was liable to put Cordelia out of a job, she was so helpful. The difference between the two women, though, was you could tell when Olivia was helping, unlike Cordelia’s help which you just discovered later.

However, the best thing about Olivia in Robin’s opinion was by far the dancing. She was almost as clumsy as Sumia in her daily tasks, but once she began to dance she became a completely different person.

Robin paused as Panne rushed by him, the Taguel not even looking at him as she practically shoulder-barged him from her path.

The tactician watched her go and shrugged to himself, his thoughts returning to Olivia’s performance the previous night. In all honesty Robin felt better just watching her sway and spin, like it was some sort of strange, esoteric magic that made the entire audience feel like they could fight for days on end without rest. It didn’t hurt that Olivia also had one of the most beautiful, slim, toned figures he had ever seen in his life, and wore somewhat revealing dancing clothes most of the time…

Lon’qu came rushing up to Robin, interrupting his thoughts at the perfect moment before they got away from him and he started drooling, the Feroxi swordsman panting and holding a small bag.

“Have you seen the Taguel woman come by here?” he asked without preamble.

“Panne?” Robin asked before pointing the opposite direction that he was walking in. “Yeah, she went that way. Kinda strange to see you chasing a woman for a change, though.”

“Be silent,” Lon’qu grumbled, moving past Robin. “She simply dropped this bag.”

Robin snickered and watched the other man disappear around the tents, catching another glimpse of his second shadow watching from behind a stack of crates. He simply rolled his eyes and continued on his way. Tharja would get bored sooner or later. He hoped.

Stopping as he came out into the centre area of the little camp where Frederick was just getting the fire started, Robin glanced around and smiled a little. The sun was starting to dip low on the horizon and Stahl and Sully were going around lighting a few lanterns to assist with the night patrols. Lissa, Maribelle and Olivia were preparing the ingredients for dinner; no doubt Stahl would get in on the cooking later, too. Vaike was doing push-ups off to one side while Miriel sat near him, nose buried in a book. Gaius was busy eyeing the ingredients that were no doubt for dessert. Robin sighed contentedly and just watched the Shepherds relax, the sight putting him at ease.

“Robin, look!” Cordelia said excitedly with a large grin on her face when she spotted him.

The beaming red-tressed Pegasus Knight rushed over to where he was watching the camp life unfold and held out a new-looking javelin.

“I crafted a new javelin using the feedback you gave me!” she said triumphantly.

“Really?” Robin asked, quirking a brow. “You just… made one? Just like that?”

Cordelia nodded, looking a little confused at Robin’s response. “Er… yes?”

“As in you made itself from scratch?” Robin prompted. “Not from, like, a kit or something?”

Cordelia laughed a little at the tactician’s sheer disbelief.

“No, silly. I cut a sapling, fashioned a grip, and hammered the point in the portable forge,” she explained before laughing again. “I suppose I could have waited around for the javelin fairy, but she's so unpredictable. Here, look. See the pattern on the shaft? It's my own design. Well? What do you think?”

Robin accepted the proffered weapon, casting his untrained gaze over it. It was elegant, beautiful and felt perfectly weighted. The tip was razor sharp, too, and the pattern on the shaft was a delicate leaf and vine gilt design in elegant silver that looked like it had been carved by a master artisan, rather than a rank-and-file Pegasus Knight.

“I have to say I’m impressed,” Robin admitted, carefully handing the weapon back. “I honestly wasn't expecting you to go and fashion a whole javelin from scratch so fast. You really are a genius!”

Realising his faux pas he stopped himself short as Cordelia’s face fell.

“Sorry,” Robin apologised quickly, knocking himself in the side of the head with his knuckles. “I know you don’t like the G word. Anyway, I’m glad I could help. If there’s anything else I can help you with, just let me know.”

Cordelia’s smile returned. “Heh, Robin, you are far too kind! Why, if I...”

She stopped speaking quickly, looking around the camp as the other Shepherds began to gather around the fire waiting for dinner. Letting out a sigh her face fell as she took a step away from Robin.

“No, wait,” she said sadly. “We can’t be doing this. People will get the wrong idea.”

Robin’s eyebrows shot up higher than they ever had before. “Doing what? What are we doing? I haven’t even had the chance to do anything yet!”

Cordelia looked down, adopting a very Sumia-like pose and tone of voice. It was quite possibly the cutest thing Robin had ever seen, and he had seen Lissa baking cookies.

“If you keep being so kind to me people might think that…” Cordelia mumbled, trailing off.

“That…?” Robin prompted after a moment.

“That we’re friends,” the Pegasus Knight finished, glancing up from under her fringe.

In that moment Robin burst out laughing. He couldn’t help it, and honestly tried not to, but Cordelia’s behaviour was just far and away the funniest thing he’d seen in days.

“We are friends, though,” Robin said once his laughter calmed down a little. “Aren’t we?”

Cordelia looked up, her eyes bright. “Do you… really? You really think so?”

“Yeah,” Robin said, still chuckling a little. “Why? Is there some weird Pegasus Knight initiation I have to pass to be your friend? If so bring it on!”

Gods I can’t remember the last time I laughed like this, Robin thought, wiping a tear from his eye.

“No, not at all! Oh, I'm sorry. I guess...” Cordelia said, her smile reappearing, albeit a little more sheepishly than before. “I guess I grew accustomed to not having any. I was the youngest recruit in the Pegasus Knights. All of my comrades were veterans. There was no one whom I could truly call my ‘friend’.”

“Then I, Robin the Tactician, do hereby claim the title of ‘Cordelia’s First Friend’!” Robin said with a dramatic flair that made the woman laugh.

“Very well, sir tactician,” Cordelia laughed. “If that is your wish, I won’t deny it!”

As they went to see if the others needed help with preparing dinner, Robin moving admittedly a little more reluctantly than Cordelia, he could have sworn he heard some sort of animal emitting a low, dangerous sounding growl. As far as he knew there were no predators in the desert, but he made a mental note to tell Sully to be extra vigilant during her first patrol, just in case.

Dinner had gone off without a hitch, much to Robin’s pleasure and intense relief. Not that he had contributed in any great way; all they had let him do was some of the chopping of the vegetables, but his reputation for kitchen duty was slowly healing. He had even managed to sneakily attempt a small carrot stew again with the leftovers from the main meal for Panne, who had accepted it gratefully. He still hadn’t improved, but she had seemed grateful regardless, in her usual severe way.

He had spent the entire meal laughing and joking with Chrom, Lissa and Sumia, and was heading back to his tent to get some reading done before bed when he heard a scuff behind him, prompting him to watch Tharja quickly duck and hide behind a nearby barrel.

Robin looked at the barrel in confusion for a moment before letting his tactician’s curiosity get the better of him.

“Uh… Tharja?” he called, taking a few steps back towards her. “Have… Have you been following me?”

“Maybe,” she said without hesitating or rising from behind the barrel.

Robin stopped, processing her admission for a brief moment.

“Now,” he said, closing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose. “And quite frankly more importantly; why? I’ve seen you hiding behind barrels and wagons all week. I heard you helped save me after Plegia, and I’m grateful, but I assure you I’m perfectly healthy now.”

“It’s not that,” Tharja said, slinking out from behind the barrel, blushing and smiling happily to herself. “It’s… you’ve finally noticed.”

“I get the feeling I might regret asking this,” Robin asked lightly, “But ‘noticed what, Tharja’?”

“My love,” Tharja said excitedly before blushing even heavier and turning away from Robin’s exceedingly confused gaze.

“You-da-hadda-wha?” Robin blabbered, trying to wrap his head around what he was hearing. “Your love? What are you talking about?”

Tharja nodded excitedly, her perfect hair swishing with the movements. “Oh yes. I realized it the first moment we locked eyes. ‘He isn't like the others’ I thought. ‘He's the one I've been seeking’!”

“Wow,” Robin said, running a hand through his hair, mind desperately trying to come up with an adequate response. “Uh… I’m, um, flattered.”

Okay, this is getting out of hand Robin thought. Crazy with a capital ‘C’. I have to nip this in the bud before it gets worse. I’ll let her down gently, spout some crap about not being able to afford distractions during a time of war… yeah, that’ll probably cut it. And then I’ll spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder.

Tharja smiled at the dirt before beginning to take a few shuffling steps towards Robin before her gait grew more confident, her hips swaying suggestively as she walked. Robin was immediately struck, as her heavy dark cloak swayed open with her movements, just how much of a woman the Dark Mage was. To say she was ‘boingier’ than any other woman in the Shepherds would have been a vast understatement. Hell, she even gave Cordelia a run for her money in terms of sheer physical appeal.

“That's why I've been watching your every...single...move,” she said huskily. “Yesterday you read two books and part of a third. You snacked on an apple, and last night, you turned over 12 times in your sleep. ...Well below your average.”

Reaching Robin as she spoke Tharja ran a finger down his chest, oblivious to the tactician’s overt attempts to back away.

Wait. What? What the hell did she just say!?Holy crap! Red alert! Robin thought in shock, eyes widening.

While Tharja clearly won out in terms of sex appeal, the look in her eyes sent shivers down Robin’s spine. Crazy. With a capital ‘C’.

“You’ve been watching me sleep!?” he said a little louder than he meant to, shaking off the dark mage and taking a few big steps back.

Tharja froze, her mouth working soundlessly as she seemed to be genuinely confused by Robin’s reaction.

“I thought you would be grateful,” she finally said in a small voice.

Robin didn’t see her confusion, though, too busy feeling incredibly violated.

“I’d say that the word you’re looking for is ‘disturbed’. I… you… so you’ve been stalking me every day since we met?”

“Yes,” Tharja admitted, her voice still small, all of her earlier confidence gone as she seemed to disappear into her cloak.

Robin’s head spun. Why he felt so violated was beyond him, but he did.

“I feel ill,” the tactician muttered. “I think I need to lie down.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you again,” Tharja said quickly, almost desperately, reaching out for him again.

Robin took another step back, instinct getting the better of him. This was going badly and he knew it, but he couldn’t keep the look of fear out of his eyes. He had all of a month’s worth of memories, but he knew on an instinctive level that this was pushing the limits of weird.

“Oh no! Coming from a normal friend that might have been a bit more comforting a thought,” he muttered, trying to think of how to get the hell out of this situation.

Apparently Robin had still been too loud, because Tharja’s face fell again, her feelings obviously hurt.

She seemed to disappear under her cloak and hair, her chin and mouth the only visible parts of her body.

“Is that what you want?” she asked Robin emotionlessly. “A normal woman?”

Again, Robin’s panic got the better of him.

“What? Yeah, I suppose, but that’s not the poi-”

“All I needed to hear!” Tharja said quickly, turning in a flash of dark fabric and hair and running off faster than Robin would have thought her capable of.

“Wait!” Robin called. “Tharja, stay here! Where I can see you!”

Robin groaned, pinching the skin between his eyes again.

“At least stay the hell out of my tent!” he called desperately.

Crazy with a capital C, that one. I wonder if Virion would object to sharing a tent for a few nights?

Robin woke the next morning to Frederick’s shouting, like he always did. The man was worse than a rooster. A big, frowny, armour-clad rooster. Yawning and stretching, Robin casually cast a glance at the stool he had placed in front of his tent flaps with his breastplate balanced on top of it as a makeshift intruder alarm. Just in case Tharja hadn’t taken the hint.

It was still unmoved, meaning that no one had been in or out of his tent since he had retired last night.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Robin set about preparing for the day ahead, completely missing where the base of his tent had been loosened to the point someone could easily squeeze under the canvas.

They marched for the majority of the day again, only once coming across a Plegian patrol in the distance. Robin had advised discretion over valour, and they had hidden behind a conveniently placed rock formation until the Plegians passed.

“Obviously Flavia and the others are making enough noise to keep the Plegians off our tails,” he said optimistically after the patrol had passed.

Chrom had nodded, watching the cloud of dust fade into the distance.

“I like to think it’s more than just blind luck that’s gotten us this far undetected,” the Prince said at length.

“Brilliant strategy from your dashing tactician?” Robin said with a shrug.

Chrom chuckled and shook his head. “How your attitude never falters…”

“Ego,” Robin corrected. “The word you’re looking for is ‘ego’.”

“We should keep moving,” Frederick had said, appearing behind the two and practically pushing them back into movement.

Robin had almost jumped out of his skin, expecting Frederick to be Tharja. He wasn’t sure what was more disconcerting; when he had spotted her following him around all the time, or now that he couldn’t.

Flavia stood at the edge of a vast empty space around the fortress that the Plegians were holed up in; even with the warriors they had managed to scrape together at the last minute their numbers were still woefully small compared to the Plegian forces; after taking out the wounded that had retreated during after the debacle at the Plegian capital and adding the fresh recruits they still barely numbered thirteen hundred soldiers.

The Plegians had at least three times that many in the fortress they were to assault.

It made no difference, though; their plan was to lure them out, into the wastes where the Feroxi’s true potential could be reached.

Ambushing with hidden swordsmen and assassins. Cross-fire from archers. Not to mention the Ylissean mages that had escaped from the battle with Raimi.

They had been playing cat and mouse for nearly a week now; striking supply convoys, lightly defended watch posts, even assaulting mounted patrols along the roads. Slowly the Plegians had come to realise that it was they that were the mice, not the Feroxi. Now the time had come to begin the assault on the fortress.

“You’re up, oaf,” she said, looking over to Basilio.

The big man chuckled, rolled out his shoulders, and began walking from cover towards the fortress over the open ground. It was a killing field; all of the vegetation and even the larger rocks had been moved away, and Basilio had nothing to hide behind. But his plan had been good, so Flavia had opted to listen to him for once.

Basilio just strode out, bold as you please, ignoring the archers training their bows on him.

When he saw that a large proportion of the Plegians were gathered on the fortress’ parapets he stopped and looked up at them.

Flavia watched as the General of the fortress, a fat, balding man pushing fifty, pushed his way to the wall and stood looking down at the lone Khan.

“Hey!” Basilio called up to them. “Plegians!”

Flavia watched as Basilio spun on his heel, bent over, and dropped his pants.

“Come and get us!” the bald Khan roared as he started running, securing his pants with one hand and dodging the arrows from the enraged Plegians, casting a rude hand gesture over his shoulder as he ran with his other hand.

The fortress gates opened and Flavia was so busy laughing herself to tears she almost missed her cue.

“Mages!” she said, trying in vain to stifle her laughter.

Not that the Ylissean mages were doing much better, but they still moved into position.

Basilio jumped back into cover just as the first of the red-faced Plegians came riding out, the furious General at their head.

“Think that got their attention?” Basilio asked cheekily.

“I’ll never look at you the same way again,” Flavia said, bursting into a fresh fit of laughter.

Flavia spun onto her stomach to watch the Plegians’ progress. Once they were all on the open ground of the killing field Flavia gave the order and the thirty odd mages popped out of hiding, some even appearing out of thin air, and let loose the spells they had been preparing. Lightning rained down from the sky as the earth opened up beneath the Plegians’ horses, fire and lava spilling forth even as they were herded into a tighter bunch by powerful wind magic. Flavia’s laughter turned dark as she watched the blood drain from the General’s face when he realised that he’d let himself be lured into such an obvious trap.

The Plegian outriders were slaughtered, but Flavia could already see the second wave approaching through the gates.

“Fall back!” Flavia ordered, still grinning at her partner’s antics.

The games had just begun.

Roark was squatting behind an enormous rock, waiting for Flavia’s signal. Apparently he’d know it when he saw it. His armour had been covered in a layer of dust and sand from the desert to stop any glare or reflections giving his position away, and his face was covered in grey Feroxi wode like the rest of the archers.

Roark shook the thoughts from his head. Working with the Feroxi had been frustrating enough when they were allies; now that he was serving under the Khans things were just getting worse. They had no military discipline; no ranks, no squads, no organisation to their army. It was all just ‘hey, you have a sword and I have a sword so let’s go kill things!’. At least they were competent warriors; he had to give them that.

And they made quality weapons, too. The bow in Roark’s hands was of a top quality, very finely crafted.

Roark was no archer, but like most Knights had a passing skill with the bow which he was about to put to good use with the rest of the Feroxi archers. Across the small and dry gully Roark knew that Seth was squatting with another bow, thinking the exact same thoughts as he was.

Namely, ‘what the hell is the signal going to be’?

Roark perked up as he heard the sounds of running and… laughter?

Khan Flavia leapt into the air, sliding down the gully and continuing to run, laughing hysterically. Following her were Khan Basilio and all of the mages. They passed through the gully, climbed up out of the other end, and kept running in the direction that the rest of the ambushes were set up in.

Almost as soon as they were out of sight a large group of Plegian soldiers, all on foot, charged into the gully.

“I guess this is the signal,” Roark said quietly to himself, wondering what they could have done to piss the Plegians off to a point that they would follow the Feroxi into such an obvious trap.

“Open fire!” Seth called, and as one fifty Feroxi leaned out of cover and let loose, arrows darkening the sky.

“Fire at will!” Roark ordered, shooting his own arrows.

He never saw if they landed any hits, but it didn’t really matter. None of the Plegians had survived.

In the distance Roark could see that there was a plume of dust rising, no doubt from more Plegian cavalry.

“Fall back to the next objective!” Roark ordered.

The Feroxi slipped silently away into the rocks and scrub, reminding Roark again as he tromped quickly through the desert making a lot more noise that he was not trained for stealth operations.

Raimi watched with some confusion as the Khans and the Mages retreated through the sparse forest the Feroxi were hiding in, laughing their arses off the whole way. She would have to ask about that later; she had just spotted the first of the second group making their way to the battleground.

Well, she had spotted the two Ylissean Knights, which meant that the second group wasn’t far away.

How the Ylissean tactician thought that the two men would be of assistance to the Feroxi on a mission like this Raimi couldn’t understand, but Khan Flavia had graciously agreed to allow them to come, and she did as her Khan ordered.

They had chosen the foot of a great hill, covered in what was possibly most of the vegetation in Plegia, even if it was dry and brown. The hill would afford the superior Feroxi archers a better vantage point to rain down arrows, while also keeping the Ylissean mages and Priests out of harm’s way during the battle. It also added a level of familiarity to the Feroxi, so used to fighting in the frozen forests of their homeland.

This was where they would stop the Plegians, having already demoralised them with the two earlier ambushes they would break upon the Feroxi soldiers like waves on a shore.

One of the Knights, the one with both his eyes, stopped near Raimi, breathing hard.

“Damn this armour,” he complained, putting down his bow and hefting an axe.

Raimi rolled her eyes as the Plegians drew closer. The archers and mages were slithering through the underbrush up the hill behind them while the mages took up positions lower on the mound, some even drawing short swords and readying staffs in case the Plegians got through.

Khan Flavia, still grinning maniacally, strode forward with Basilio, and Raimi and the two knights followed her, the five of them presenting themselves as bait to the Plegians.

“They really don’t like you,” Khan Flavia chuckled to Basilio.

The older man shrugged, grinning.

“What did you do to make them so angry?” the eye-patch Knight asked, eyeing the thousand odd Plegian soldiers charging in loose formation towards them.

“That’s my secret, boy,” Basilio said with a wink. Or a blink; it was hard to tell when the person only had one eye.

The Plegians were drawing close, now; Raimi had to admit, she respected the Knight with both eyes’ courage and focus. He hadn’t uttered a word, instead simply standing and staring down the charging Plegians, axe in one hand and shield on the other.

“What’s your name?” Raimi asked him after a moment’s hesitation.

The Knight looked up, startled to be broken from his battle-meditation.

“Uh, Seth, milady Raimi,” he said hesitantly.

Raimi nodded. “It will be good to fight alongside you, Seth of Ylisse.”

The Knight nodded and turned back to the charging Plegians.

Khan Flavia gave the order to open fire, and the front ranks of Plegians dropped, arrows sticking out of them; the rest still came on, heedless or simply caught up in the momentum.

Khan Flavia gave a different order and the Ylissean Mages, casting in unison, conjured a storm cloud that rained lightning and hail down on the Plegian forces, dropping many more.

When the Plegians were almost upon the five warriors standing alone before the horde Khan Flavia gave the final order, and nearly one thousand Feroxi soldiers appeared out of the light forest around the Plegians, and finally the battle was joined.

“Flavia and the others should have struck at the fortress by now,” Robin said, running a hand through his hair. “I think now would be the best time to attack Gangrel.”

He, Chrom and Frederick were in the Prince’s tent, leaning over a map covered in black squiggles and arrows depicting Plegian troop movement and locations. They had passed through the dessert unmolested for nearly a week; obviously his plan for the Feroxi to occupy the Plegians to the south had worked perfectly. He was worried about them facing such numbers, but trusted in Flavia’s ability to lead her troops.

“I think it would be prudent to attack tomorrow,” Frederick said, looking through the papers scattered about the remainder of the table. “The scouts report that the last of the Plegian garrison will be marching south, leaving Gangrel defended solely by his Honour Guard.”

Chrom nodded in agreement.

“Plus,” the Prince added, “It would give us a chance to prepare properly; make any final adjustments to our strategy, that kind of thing.”

Robin huffed and crossed his arms. “Are you saying my strategy needs work?”

“No, no,” Chrom laughed and held up his hands in mock surrender. “I’m simply pointing out the fact that we’ve been marching non-stop for a week now; it would be a great kindness to the Shepherds to allow them a good night’s rest and a little bit of a sleep-in.”

Frederick’s brow twitched at the mention of sleeping in, but he held his tongue.

Robin nodded, seeing the Prince’s logic. At least half of the Shepherds weren’t trained soldiers and were growing exhausted. A good meal and a proper night’s rest and they would be fighting-fit for the next day’s battle, though. He hoped.

“Right,” Robin said, stretching his back and making to leave. “I suppose for completion’s sake I should go and make sure there are no holes in my strategy after all. If we somehow lose tomorrow I’ll never hear the end of it.”

“You should rest while you can, Robin!” Chrom called after him. “Even experienced soldiers know when to rest during a campaign!”

The tactician grunted and waved dismissively over his shoulder. After all, it wasn’t like he was going straight to his books.

Robin was struck as he walked through the Shepherds’ camp how no matter where they were once the Shepherds set up a camp it always looked exactly the same, right down to position and orientation of the tents. Tents around a central area, usually with a fire pit in it, supply wagon and cooking area off to one side, training area to the south of the camp. It was comforting, and made the little tent city that popped up every night feel like a second home to Robin. Not that he actually knew what or where his first home was…

In his aimless wandering he found himself shuffling towards the supply wagon as he thought. He was sure he’d seen some more of those rock-hard ginger nut cookies in the back somewhere, and nothing went hand in hand like an afternoon of study and cookies.

At least in his mind, anyway. Cookies went with everything. Like pastries. Or cakes…

Gods I’ve been spending too much time around Gaius, Robin thought with an internal moan, forcing himself to think of getting an apple rather than a cookie.

As Robin neared the wagon he heard soft clinking, and then the sound of a woman counting. As he drew nearer he could just make out a head of pale pink hair.

“Olivia?” he asked conversationally as he helped himself to an apple. “What’cha you doing?”

The woman was sitting with her back to the wagon, counting a small bag of gold coins, but she jumped when she heard Robin, yelping like she’d been caught with something she wasn’t supposed to have.

“Sorry,” Robin apologized with a chuckle as he leaned on the wagon and took a bite out of his apple. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“It’s okay, Robin,” Olivia said with a hand on her chest, taking deep breaths to try and calm her racing heart.

“So…” Robin said through a mouthful of fruit. “What’s with the bag? Or is it one of those things mortals aren’t meant to know?”

“Hm? Bag? What bag?” Olivia squeaked distractedly, before she looked at her lap and her eyes went wide. “Ooooooh, this bag! Er, it's nothing really. Just a few coins...”

“Ooh, secret stash?” Robin asked, tossing the apple core away and wiping his hand on his pants.

“It's money I've been saving out of my wages, I'll have you know!” Olivia huffed. “Sheesh. ‘Secret stash’ indeed. You make it sound so sinister.”

“Don’t take it the wrong way,” Robin shrugged. “I’m just impressed is all. It takes real dedication to save on a soldier’s pay. Gods know I’ve only managed a few measly copper coins, myself. And I’m technically an officer.”

Olivia’s face lit up at Robin’s admission as she let out a little giggle.

“Thank you, Robin!” she sighed. “Such praise means quite a lot coming from you!”

Robin smiled back. “Really? Well, I certainly aim to plea-”

Without warning Olivia shot up, a horrified expression on her face.

“Oh no! I've got to run. I'm on mess duty tonight. You know what they say, right? A hungry Shepherd is a big jerk!”

“Who says that?” Robin asked confusedly. “You’re a Shepherd now too, ya know…”

Robin trailed off and quirked a brow as he noticed gold coins all over the ground. Apparently Olivia had dropped her bag when she shot up.

“Hey,” Robin said, pointing. “You, uh, dropped your stash.”

Olivia went from rummaging in the supply wagon to crawling in the dirt faster than Robin could blink. Apparently a dancer’s dexterity went a long way to moving like a coiled spring.

“Will you please stop calling it that! People will start to think I’ve stolen it or something!” she pleaded, desperately trying to pick the coins up as fast as she could.

“Please,” the man said, rolling his eyes. “The only thing that gets stolen around here is people’s dessert rations, and we all know which self-admitted thief with a sweet tooth does that.”

“Gah!” Olivia groaned in frustration as more coins started to roll away in her haste to retrieve them. “Why do coins have to be so round!?”

Robin rolled his eyes and set about helping her collect them all. Once she was sure they had gotten all of the wayward coins Robin excused himself, least he force the shy woman to do something else he would be stuck cleaning up, grabbing another apple as he went. He passed through the corridors of tents quickly; one of the good things about the camp always having the same layout was it made it easy for him to find his own tent.

He passed by Nowi and Gregor playing some variant of chess with flat, coin-like pieces instead of the traditional ones; apparently Gregor was winning, judging from the adorable pout on the dragon-girl’s face. He dodged around Stahl running as fast as he could from Sully; their training had clearly once again spilled over from the confines of the training area. Robin skirted said training area, watching as Chrom and Vaike duelled with wooden weapons while most of the other Shepherds watched. As he walked past the supply tent he noticed Cordelia bent over a crate, counting the arrows inside and had to resist the urge to stare at her perfectly shaped legs as he passed. Finally he reached his own tent, smiling happily as he swept aside the flaps.

He was brought up short, and quite frankly speechless, when he walked inside, though.

“Why good evening, Robin!” Tharja said with a huge smile in a sing-song voice. “How fare you today? Enjoying the fine weather?”

“Uh… Tharja?” Robin asked, carefully putting the apple down in his desk and composing himself. “Didn’t we talk about this? What are you doing?”

And cue exit for the good mood I was in, he sullenly added internally.

“What, me? Ho ho! Whatever do you mean? Just a normal greeting on a typical day. Why? Are you concerned for my welfare, good sir?” Tharja said, inching closer to him.

Oh gods, Robin thought. I knew it was too much to hope she had gotten over the last incident so easily. Is this how a mouse feels in front of a snake? I’ll bet this is how a mouse feels in front of a snake…

“In a way, yes,” Robin admitted, choosing his words very carefully. “I’m also concerned as to why you’re back in my ten-”

“Oh, you are concerned!” Tharja practically squealed, blushing. “How sweet of you!”

Robin rolled his eyes. He had no idea what was going on, but he was growing more and more uncomfortable by the second. Which, given how naturally uncomfortable he was around his stalker, was a pretty amazing feat. She was acting strange; stranger than usual, anyway.

“You know what? I’m more concerned about what you have in store for me” he sighed. “Being alone, waiting for me in my tent. Without my permission.”

“Of course I have a plan for you, silly-billy!” Tharja giggled. “Now close your eyes, and get ready for... a slice of liver-and-eel pie! That's your favourite, correct? Oh, I do so adore baking...”

What? Since when? Robin thought, remembering how she disappeared every time her name came up on the cooking roster as Tharja pulled a pie out from behind her back; a really tasty smelling, mouth-wateringly good looking pie, apparently baked to perfection. Robin’s stomach growled and his jaw ached in anticipation. The flaky crust was golden brown, steam rising from the top of the pastry and wafting enticingly directly towards the tactician’s nose. If it tasted as good as it looked and smelled…

Robin had to shake his head. He was struck by just how… out of character Tharja seemed to be. He had taken some time to observe her during the march from Regna Ferox, and this happy, smiling and bubbly woman before him was not her. It was almost like an act she was putting on to convince not only Robin, but herself. Catching her eye in the brief moment before Tharja broke eye-contact Robin realised just how nervous she must have been.

“Are you sure you're all right, Tharja?” he asked cautiously. “You didn't eat anything strange, did you? Miscast a hex…? Hit your head on a rock?”

Tharja beamed at him, placing the plate she was holding down on his table and cutting a small piece of pie.

“Goodness me!” she laughed. “Such an imagination you have, good sir. I'm sure I wouldn't know anything about anything strange, much less eat it! Just a typical day for a typical girl here.”

“Uh huh,” Robin monotoned, raising an eyebrow. “This is about the other day, isn’t it? Because if it is, you’re taking what I said waaaaaay out of context.”

“Don’t be silly!” Tharja giggled again.

Robin started to panic a little, expecting some sort of Plegian trap.

“Tharja, I don’t want any p-”

Any further words he had been about to say were cut off by a fork-load of pie being crammed into his open mouth. Robin stepped back, waiting for the inevitable bite of poison on his tongue; instead he was treated to quite possibly the best meat pie he had ever eaten.

It did indeed taste as good as it looked and smelled.

“Okay, I take back whatever I was thinking before,” Robin admitted, swallowing the bite. “That is some damn good pie.”

“Oh, huzzah! I've been working on the recipe every day after normal practice!” Tharja said gleefully, jumping up and down a little in celebration.

Robin’s face slackened as his jaw dropped. Tharja. Jumping up and down in celebration. Like an excitable village girl.

“Who are you and what have you done with Tharja?” Robin asked, stepping away from her again.

Then what she had said clicked.

“Wait,” the tactician muttered. “Normal practice? Tharja, have you been practicing being normal so I would like you?”

“Indeed!” Tharja said with another big smile. “And it worked! I'm perfectly normal now! Ho ho! My yes, so typically normally plain.”

With a groan Robin realised what he had done, and with a sinking feeling he knew he had to fix it. Not because he wanted to, but because it was the right thing to do.

“Tharja,” he said as gently as he could. “You do realise that your ‘normal’ is, on you anyway, exceedingly abnormal?”

Robin watched as Tharja’s face fell again, her lip quivering a moment before she valiantly plastered her fake smile back into place.

“Oh my, huzzah?” she said a little quickly. “Goodness, I simply must... something?”

The tactician sighed, taking a seat on the corner of his cot, indicating for Tharja to take the chair sitting at his table. She did so hesitantly, all of a sudden acting very timid, carefully moving the pie atop Robin’s tactical manuals out of the way.

“Tharja, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry,” Robin said, making direct eye contact with her. “You shouldn’t have listened to me. I can’t say I liked the old Tharja because I never got the chance to know her very well, but I know for a fact that she was better than the new Tharja. Well, maybe not as good a cook, but my point still stands. It’s not you.”

Tharja nodded woodenly, staring directly into Robin’s eyes. Robin had to admit, her dark eyes were certainly alluring, but the sheen of worry and fear in her gaze made him focus.

“If I promise to get to know the old you, the normally abnormal you, will you promise to stop pretending?” Robin offered.

Tharja finally broke eye contact, looking down and making one last desperate attempt at being ‘normal’.

“Gracious, I... I have been practicing so diligently as of late, I'm not sure I can stop!” she said, her voice shaking.

“Oh,” Robin said with a slight grin, leaning back a little. “I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Why don’t you go hex something until you feel better and I’ll come find you during dinner, and we can talk over our meal; like normal people do; the real you and the real me.”

Tharja looked back up, nodding. Her usual personality seemed to be coming back when she grinned evilly at Robin.

“I said hex something, not someone,” Robin said stiffly, realising the error he had made.

“Oh you’re no fun,” Tharja muttered, just loud enough for Robin to hear the glee in her voice at getting a free hexing pass.

What have I just doomed myself to now? Or worse, doomed someone else to?

“Very well,” Tharja said, rising hesitantly. “I will… see you at dinner?”

She paused, looking over her shoulder at Robin. The tactician nodded and Tharja smiled genuinely for the first time since Robin had met her before breezing out of the tent.

Leaving Robin alone with that glorious, delectable pie.

“It would be rude not to…” the tactician said, justifying himself before pouncing.

Dinner preparations went off without a hitch, despite Robin lighting his coat on fire when he was trying to make another carrot stew.

Next time I’ll roll up the sleeves Robin thought sullenly, looking at the fresh burn on the arm of his precious coat and wondering how he would fix it.

Virion, strangely enough, had assisted with dinner as well, claiming to be under mysterious orders to make everyone a feast. Robin had shrugged, too busy focusing on not destroying his meal. Again. At least it seemed like he was slowly improving.

Robin had already delivered Panne’s bowl and was now carrying two more, looking for Tharja. She hadn’t joined the majority of the Shepherds and no one had seen her all afternoon.

Which meant one thing, in his mind.

He opened the flaps to his tent and sure enough, there she was, sitting at his desk and flipping quietly through his spellbook.

“You can tell a lot about a person from the contents of their spellbook,” Tharja said when she noticed Robin. “From which pages and spells hold the most resonance; how each spell has been subtly altered to suit that person’s individual talents; even the type of handwriting.”

“Does mine say anything about being doomed to never having personal space again?” Robin asked sardonically, setting Tharja’s bowl down in front of her and smiling at her revolted expression.

“What fool made this disgusting tripe?” she asked bitterly after her first taste.

“That would be me,” Robin said, struggling to keep a straight face.

“Oh,” Tharja said, blushing and staring into her bowl. “Sorry… It’s, ah…”

“Awful, I know,” Robin said with a laugh as he perched on the edge of his cot. “But I made too much, and if you’re going to insist on following me around I’m going to put you to use.”

Robin pretended not to see Tharja smile triumphantly as he basically accepted that she would be following him around.

“Now,” Robin said, glancing at the Dark Mage woman over the rim of his bowl. “You were going to tell me about yourself?”

Gangrel was stalking around his throne room like a caged animal.

“Where is she!?” he raged for the third time in as many minutes.

“Milord, we’re looking,” the terrified servant cowering in the corner stammered.

Aversa had been missing for days; she had simply vanished. No treasure was gone, no maps containing troop dispositions and no documents containing state secrets were missing; she was just gone without a trace.

And without Aversa they had lost their edge; Gangrel couldn’t call the Risen forth. Only Aversa could.

Gangrel roared, striking out with his sword and taking a chunk out of the closest column.

“Find her!” he roared, pointing his sword directly at the servant.

“Milord, please calm yourself,” the big General said from the corner near Gangrel’s throne. “They will find her.”

Gangrel snorted and continued his pacing. General Mustafa was one of his best men; strong, smart and loyal. But even he had been questioning Gangrel far too much lately. Not to mention that there were rumours circulating that he had been bested by the Ylissean Princeling in single combat and let the Ylissean soldiers live.

If he wasn’t so important, and Gangrel weren’t running so low on officers, he would have executed the great brute.

“Just find her,” Gangrel growled dangerously, sitting down on his throne and holding a perfectly manicured hand to his temple.

Robin stood with Chrom the next morning, watching as the Plegian soldiers left the castle Gangrel was holed up in.

“Gangrel is assured of his victory,” Chrom muttered, watching as the cavalry rode off.

“If we issue him a challenge there’s no way he’ll refuse,” Robin added, scanning the fortress. “He’s so crazy he’ll just think we’re committing suicide.”

Robin stopped as he noticed a big man with a beard and shoulder plates made of bone touring the castle walls; obviously and officer of some kind.

“Well let’s get back and start getting ready then,” Chrom said, turning away from the castle.

Robin watched the big man for a moment longer before lowering the magnifying lens and following Chrom.

Robin waited anxiously as the Shepherds broke camp. He had butterflies in his stomach like he never had before; it was a wholly new experience for him. Perhaps because he knew in his heart that this was the end; this was do or die. Either Gangrel died, or the Shepherds fought to the death.

Once Gangrel was dead Robin was sure that they could force an unconditional surrender from the Plegians; after all, reports coming in said that many of the Plegian soldiers had abandoned their posts and simply gone home. They didn’t want the war, either it seemed.

Robin snorted. At worst they might be able to force an armistice while the diplomats went back to talking. If that happened Robin couldn’t help but weep for Chrom; he’d be caught right in the middle of any negotiations.

Figuratively weep, of course.

Once the camp was secure on the back of the wagon and Olivia, Lissa and Ricken had agreed, Ricken and Lissa somewhat sullenly, to defend the wagon, the Shepherds began to march.

The castle Gangrel was holed up in was at the bottom of a basin, supposedly constructed specifically to catch the water that flowed into it during Plegia’s very brief rainy season, and had some of the nation’s only thick vegetation around the edges of the large bowl. The forest wasn’t very wide, though, and wouldn’t provide adequate cover if the Shepherds needed it.

Chrom marched proudly at their front, head held high. He led them in a way that would be impossible to miss from the high castle walls, his challenge to Gangrel so obvious that even the lowest-born farmer would be able to recognize it.

‘Here I am’ Chrom’s march screamed; ‘I am unbeaten, unbowed and unbroken. You will not defeat me’.

Robin snickered at his poetic side, deciding to take some time to see if it translated to paper once the fighting was over.

They marched with no unit cohesion, simply in whatever order they fell into as if they were defeated and dazed, looking to strike one final blow before they were forced to admit defeat; all of this was according to Robin’s devious plan. Once Gangrel took the bait, which he had no doubt the Mad King would, they would spring into action and form ranks.

It was simple and even a fool could see through the ruse, but Robin counted on Gangrel’s hubris getting the better of his judgment.

As they came into sight Robin gave a satisfied smirk. The entire Plegian Honour Guard, with Gangrel at their head, had taken the bait and stood waiting outside the castle.

“I can’t believe how stupid that man is,” Tharja muttered from his side.

She hadn’t left his side for the entire march; Robin had just sighed and accepted that he would have a second shadow until the fighting was over.

Chrom stopped dead for a moment, Robin wondering confused for a moment at why before he saw it too.

Hanging from the gates to the castle, just in front of the door were three bodies dressed in Ylissean armour; two men and one woman.

Robin had thought to give some form of warning, but when Maribelle shouted in outrage and denial he knew he was too late.

“Father no!” she cried, bursting into tears.

Frederick was stone faced next to her, pale and frowning, staring at the barbaric showing.

Duke Aerir, Duke Themis and Commander Phila had been strung up by their necks and left to rot. Gangrel was cackling and dancing beneath them, occasionally striking the bodies with his sword, bouncing the flat of the blade off of them to make them swing like a sick puppeteer.

Robin shook his head as the Mad King began shouting at his Guard, even going so far as to hit the closest ones, forcing them to take up positions in front of him.

“Shepherds, hold!” Chrom barked the rest of the Shepherds stopping behind him.

“This is an outrage beyond words,” Maribelle growled through her tears, her voice thick with pain.

Frederick still said nothing, but the glare he directed at Gangrel spoke volumes for what was going on inside of his mind.

Robin looked out over the assembled Plegians. At least a hundred men, all veterans, some obvious mages wielding tomes, archers spread out amongst knights and foot soldiers. They outnumbered the Shepherds five-to-one.

Robin grimaced. He had felt bad about beating the Plegians at such odds until they saw what the King had done to their friends.

“Gangrel!” Chrom shouted. “This is your last chance! Let this war end! Let us talk of peace!”

Robin was amazed that Chrom could still think of peace. He was truly holding on to his sister’s ideals.

The tactician could hear the Mad King’s laughter from where he was standing as he shouted orders to the soldiers. “Slaughter them like the others! Hang them from the gate so I might bask in my victory!”

“Form up!” Chrom ordered, falling back as the Shepherds presented a line and shaking his head at Gangrel’s madness.

Chrom, Robin, Vaike, Lon’qu, Kellam, Libra and Gregor moved forward, weapons drawn. Panne, Gaius, Virion, Tharja and Miriel took up positions behind the first rank. Cordelia, Sumia and Nowi took to the air, circling around the Shepherds, waiting for the signal to attack as Frederick, Sully and Stahl brought up their horses, ready to flank for whatever side Robin signalled.

Chrom looked over to Robin, nodding.

With a few deep breaths to centre himself, Robin closed his eyes and began casting his experimental wind spell that had saved them at the Plegian Capital, but altering it slightly.

When he opened them, dark clouds had appeared above the Plegians. The dark-armoured soldiers were milling about nervously, waiting for orders from Gangrel, who was too busy shouting obscenities at the Shepherds to notice his army lacked leadership.

With a flick of his wrist, Robin brought his spell down from the clouds. Razor sharp shards of ice, some as large as his arm, began raining down on the Plegians, skewering them and killing a large number of the front ranks.

Gangrel finally went silent, realising that the Shepherds were there to end the war one way or another.

Robin rolled out his wrist before drawing his sword. The dark clouds remained, though; not dissipating like they usually did after a particularly big Thunder spell.

“Advance!” Chrom called, beginning to move forward.

The rest of the Shepherds began to advance alongside him, keeping their formation tight. Robin spotted an opening on the enemy’s right flank, and signalling to Miriel and Tharja they combined their efforts and sent a fireball into the flank, weakening it further. Frederick saw his chance and the three Knights charged forward, breaking off from the Shepherds. Robin looked up, pleased to see that the three fliers were providing cover for them.

The Shepherds broke into a run, Miriel, Tharja and Robin sending steady streams of devastating magic into the Plegian ranks, throwing them off balance before the Shepherds slammed into them.

Gangrel reeled back, horrified.

He wasn’t going to win. The cold hard fact slammed into him with the force of a charging bull. He had done everything in his power, but it wasn’t enough; he had even sought to demoralize the enemy, to terrify them with the corpses of their leaders, but it hadn’t worked.

It hadn’t worked!

Panicking, Gangrel began to run back to the fortress, slamming into its huge wooden gates, beating against it again and again with his fists.

“Let me in!” He raged. “I am the King! You will let me in!”

From above the gate Mustafa looked down on his King, a disdainful frown marring his face.

The King was mad; he was deranged. If Plegia was going to survive, then there was no other choice.

“General?” one of his soldiers, one of the soldiers Chrom and his Shepherds had spared, asked.

“The sound of battle appears to be drowning out all else,” Mustafa said, turning away from the gate. “Do not open this gate until the battle is won and silence reigns again.”

I will not let a tyrant lead us all to our deaths Mustafa thought resolutely, ignoring the King’s frantic shouts. The Ylissean Prince has honour. Once Gangrel is defeated I will offer our unconditional surrender. This war will end today.

Robin hung back as the rest of the Shepherds began pushing into the Plegian lines. They were like an unstoppable force of nature; even the King’s Honour Guard, the most powerful soldiers in all of Plegia, fell like flies against the Shepherds.

Frederick, Sully and Stahl struck again and again, harrying the side ranks and taking out archers and mages, pulling back before they could be cut off before striking again. Cordelia led Sumia and Nowi from the sky, strafing the Plegians, raining down javelins and spears and dragon-fire, sowing discord in the centre ranks where the Plegians were supposed to be safe. Robin watched as Vaike and Miriel, working together, overwhelmed a squad of Plegian cavalry singlehandedly; Gaius and Panne were like lightning, flitting through the Plegians, tearing throats and exposed points in armour as they went; Lon’qu, Gregor, Kellam and Chrom were an unstoppable wall, killing everything that came so much as near them while Virion rained arrows from safely behind them. Maribelle sat atop her horse next to Libra, healing every wound that the front line sustained, never faltering; Robin watched as one Plegian soldier broke through, and Libra simply swept out his axe, calmly decapitating the man without even looking before going back to healing.

Robin looked up as he noticed Tharja looking back at him, concern evident on her face as she tried to figure out why he wasn’t still fighting at the front with them.

He waved, grinning before he set another thunderstorm on top of the unsuspecting Plegians.

Tharja smiled a little before she spun back to the battle, casting her own dark variations of the spells Robin usually used; purple-black lightning and fire dancing from her extended hands.

Robin began to walk forward again, before he noticed an extra warrior fighting against the Plegians; Marth was attacking the left flank alone but tearing through it, Plegians actually panicking as they tried to get away from the woman.

Robin, satisfied that the Shepherds could handle themselves for a little while, charged over to where Marth was fighting alone. As soon as he was close enough he began to cast a fire spell, and the Plegians reeled as he swept flames across their line.

Marth looked up, confusion evident on her face before she recognized Robin and set back to the grim task before her.

Feeling a little worn out on the magic front, Robin wordlessly began to fight with his sword next to Marth, the two of them carving through the Plegians like they were new recruits.

Robin marvelled at one point just how similar to fighting beside Chrom it was. A few times he had even slipped and began to attack in a manoeuvre that he and Chrom had come up with, only to have Marth fill in as if she had trained with him just as long as Chrom. Robin knew that she and the Prince had eerily similar fighting styles, but he was shocked to discover that they weren’t just similar, they were exactly the same.

Robin struck a foe with a wind spell, knocking them back before Marth impaled them; Robin would strike high, Marth instantly struck low; they fought back to back in a storm of swords and magic, and the Plegians were no match.

Chrom roared as he drove the point of his sword, Falchion, through the breastplate of the Plegian officer, viciously tearing it free again before he moved on.

The Plegians were being routed, that much was certain. Frederick and the Knights and Cordelia and the fliers were preventing the Plegians from escaping, leaving the only option to fight their way back to the castle.

Chrom wiped his wet hair out of his eyes; at some point it had started to rain. He hadn’t even noticed.

Strangely, though, the castle hadn’t opened its gates, nor sent any reinforcements. Chrom didn’t understand or care why; he just knew that Gangrel was almost finished. He had spotted the man a few times through the melee, frantically trying to escape before being pushed back by soldiers too busy fighting for their lives to care about the King. For too long Gangrel had ruled through coercion and cruelty, and now his soldiers had seen it with their own eyes they had had enough. Many of the Plegians had thrown down their arms and knelt with their heads bowed low as the Ylisseans passed, others simply fighting because they believed they had no further recourse.

Chrom had spared those that had surrendered and allowed them to fall back to the castle. Strangely, the gates had opened for those soldiers, but not the King.

Chrom kept charging forward, the Shepherds at his back never faltering or even slowing for a minute.

Before he knew it he was through the army at the castle gates, staring down at Gangrel as he knelt shaking, sword still in his hand beneath the corpses of his victims.

“You bastard Ylissean dog,” Gangrel growled. “I should put you and your other bitch sister down and rid the world of your family’s taint once and for all.”

Chrom took deep, steadying breaths.

“It doesn’t have to end this way, Gangrel,” Chrom offered one last time.

“End!?” Gangrel cackled, rising to his feet. “Who says it will end here? Is the great Prince Chrom pleading for his life!?”

“I’m pleading for yours,” Chrom said. “Don’t make me kill you. We can still settle this peacefully.”

“Until one of us is dead there can never be peace!” Gangrel roared, his voice breaking as he swung his sword haphazardly, striking Themis’ armoured thigh.

“They were alive when I brought them here,” Gangrel taunted, striking again at Aerir this time. “But I soon changed that. You would have been proud, boy; they never once begged, they never once cried for mercy. It was almost boring! But then I broke them, and in their final moments they begged me for death!”

And in that moment Chrom finally saw it; the light of sanity had left Gangrel’s eyes. There would never be peace as long as this tyrant lived. Chrom sadly raised his sword. He had sworn to defend his sister’s ideals; even if it meant striking down a man in cold blood.

Time seemed to slow down and the sounds of the battle fade away as Chrom stared into the eyes of his sister’s killer. Gangrel stared back, breathing heavily, his eyes wide with madness as rain dripped down his twitching face.

Chrom charged soundlessly, moving faster than he ever had before as his booted feet kicked up little showers of mud and water, and swept out his sword at neck height. He could have sworn that in that moment he could see his sword flash through individual raindrops, could feel the blood pumping through his veins like never before as the memory burned itself into his mind forever. Gangrel had once been an accomplished swordsman, but his madness had sapped him of all of his skill, and even as the King brought his sword up too slow, Chrom sliced through his black ruff and his neck.

Gangrel’s headless body fell to its knees, his head bouncing twice before rolling to a stop a meter away.

Silence reigned. Chrom turned and saw the nearest Plegian soldiers watching; some had horror in their eyes, some relief, while others just stared blankly, insure what to do now without further orders.

“All Plegian troops are to stand down and return to the castle!” a deep, familiar voice shouted from atop the gate. “All hostilities are to cease, effective immediately! The war is over!”

The cry was taken up by other Plegians out in the field, and soon all fighting stopped.

Chrom moved out from under the gate and spotted the man that had given the orders. General Mustafa stood atop the gate, looking down at the Plegians.

“The war is over,” Chrom repeated disbelievingly to himself, stepping out of the way as the Plegian troops began to file into the castle.

“The war is over! Cease hostilities!”

The cry went up as Marth and Robin still fought on their own on the left flank. Robin had long ago exhausted his mana and had been wielding his light sword two handed, and took two steps back from the Plegians when the call went out, waiting to see what they would do.

To his surprise the man he had just been duelling with turned towards him and actually bowed before joining the rest of the surviving soldiers in retreating.

“We did it,” Robin gasped, doubling over with his hands on his knees. “We actually did it!”

He could hear in the distance similar sounds from the other Shepherds celebrating as they let the Plegians return to the castle. He turned and saw Olivia, Lissa and Ricken bringing the wagon in closer, laughing and waving at the others.

Robin laughed, turning to where Marth had been a second ago. She had gone, but Robin quickly picked her out as she disappeared into the forest at the top of the basin.

Robin, unsure as to why he was doing it, covered the distance between the battlefield and the forest quickly, scaling the edge of the basin in such a way that would have been comical to anyone watching.

Robin stopped at the edge of the forest, listening carefully over the rain and panting.

He heard a rustling, and hurried through the thick foliage to where he heard the noise and burst out onto the other side of the forest.

Wow, that wasn’t a very thick forest Robin thought as he tromped through the wet sand to where Marth was sitting, perched on a rock.

She was just sitting, staring up into the sky and letting the rainwater wash the dirt and the blood off of her face.

Robin stopped short, the breath catching in his throat. He had always thought Marth was pretty in a severe, mysterious way, but never before had she looked so vulnerable. From the gentle curve of her face to her supple lips, she was beautiful in that moment.

She noticed Robin’s approach and looked over to him, smiling.

“Shouldn’t you be celebrating with the rest of the Shepherds?” she asked him.

Robin shrugged, removing his coat.

“Then who would protect you from the rain?” he asked, holding the coat above her in a sort of makeshift umbrella.

She started to laugh, and Robin joined in. Her laugh was infectious, and he couldn’t help himself.

They had finally won against Plegia, and now Robin would get to see what normal life was like.

Standing with a complete stranger who had never even shared her real name with him, Robin finally felt like he could relax. The war was over.

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