Robin ducked low to avoid the hanging beads in the doorway to the healer’s hut, failing miserably and spending nearly a full minute flailing around wildly to dis-entangle himself from the strings assaulting him.
“This has been a spectacular waste of time,” Robin grumbled, trying to brush the incense ash off of his coat and casting one final dirty glare at the bead curtain.
“No luck here either, huh?” Anna asked lazily from the wagon.
Robin shook his head and climbed back aboard the tray, doing his best to avoid stepping on the various goods and other passengers. They had been travelling with Anna for nearly two months now while she made her rounds as a travelling merchant to every village in Eastern Regna Ferox’s frozen north. Robin had seen countless healers, shaman and medicine-men, but none of them had done anything but give him a headache, or a nose-bleed, or make him drink strange elixirs that had given him wild hallucinations. Robin was beginning to doubt the validity of their quest. Or that Virion would ever live down finding the tactician half-naked and hallucinating in the middle of the night. Or that Tharja would ever forgive the archer for making Robin cover up before she could ingrain the image of his bare torso into her mind.
All in all, it had been an ‘interesting’ couple of months.
“That was the last one I had heard rumour of,” Virion muttered dejectedly. “I apologize; I had no intention of raising your hopes like this.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Robin said, lowering himself down next to where Tharja was curled up and napping on a pile of furs that Anna had gotten ‘at a great price’. “At least we managed to get out of Ylisstol before being roped into even more weddings.”
“Ah, I love weddings,” Anna sighed wistfully as she directed the cart away from the village they had just been in. “Everyone’s so happy, and happy people are big spenders!”
“Do you ever think of anything besides money?” Robin asked.
Anna seemed to think for a moment, adopting her usual pose of finger to her chin.
“Nope,” she said with a huge smile. “Money, goods and profit! In that order.”
Robin rolled his eyes and let his head fall back.
“Of course it’s that order,” he chuckled defeatedly.
“Maybe we’re looking at this the wrong way?” Robin suggested, idly sloshing the ale around in his mug.
He, Virion and Tharja were waiting in the local tavern while Anna conducted whatever business she had in the town, a small barren place that was little more than an inn, a tavern and a trading post on a hill in the endless Feroxi forest. The tavern was clean, though, and Robin was sick of eating campfire food, so he had kept his complaining to a minimum as they had brainstormed.
“How so?” Virion prompted when the tactician fell silent.
“These healers,” Robin began explaining, downing the rest of his mug in one go. “They focus on physical injuries that have affected a person’s mind. Maybe my problem isn’t physical as much as magical?”
“A spell?” Tharja perked up, paying more attention. “That would explain the aura you give off…”
“I admit I have no information on the topic,” Virion said sadly. “Perhaps we had just return to Ylisstol and seek the aid of the Royal Mage Academy? We have already been gone quite some time, anyway.”
Anna chose that moment to make her entrance, appearing next to Robin’s elbow and leaning in to join the conversation.
“What’re we talkin’ about?” she asked cheerily.
Robin didn’t even jump; between Tharja’s stalking, Gaius’ constant thievery of his deserts and Kellam’s… Kellam-ness he had grown used to sneaky companions.
“Do you have any information about a healer or a mage that might be able to undo a spell sealing someone’s memories?” he asked hopefully.
Anna pulled up one of the chairs, sitting down and thinking.
“I heard a story about a witch-doctor on a small island to the south-east of Ylisse,” she ventured. “Apparently they can undo any curse or spell that people bring to them.”
Robin nodded in thought for a moment. The Southern Islands were, literally, on the other end of the continent. It wasn’t a short trip, but at this point he had almost tapped out Regna Ferox’s supply of healers, not to mention that travelling south would get them closer to their end-destination of Ylisstol.
“Well, what do you think?” Robin asked, turning to the other two questioningly. “One last try and then we go home?”
Virion shrugged. “I see no harm in the idea. At the very least it brings us closer to our final destination.”
Tharja nodded happily, blushing a little. “If it’s for you then I would travel to the ends of creation itself.”
“Great!” Anna spoke up. “When are we leaving?”
Robin exchanged confused glances with his other travelling companions before blinking a few times at Anna.
“Don’t you have… you know, work?” he asked.
“Are you kidding?” Anna said, getting excited. “I bet the people on that island have never seen any of the stuff from Regna Ferox! Spices, furs, natural glacier-water; I’m going to make a fortune!”
Robin rolled his eyes as Virion chuckled and Tharja scoffed.
“Of course you will,” the tactician said. “I guess it’s settled then.”
The trip back through to southern Ylisse, at that time of year with most of the mountain passes still frozen over, would have taken six months at least; of course the irony that by the time they arrived the passes would have been open again didn’t escape Robin. Instead Anna suggested that they take a boat from the port town on the eastern coast of Regna Ferox. Apparently one could charter a merchant boat specialized in moving quickly through the Eastern Sea, cutting their travel time down to a little less than a month.
Robin was pleased to note that the days were getting longer again, too, meaning winter would soon be over, much to his relief.
Maybe I am from a desert? He thought as he desperately tried to warm his hands.
The port town they were in was a small affair, much the same as so many of the other villages they had passed through; an inn, a tavern, a few trading posts and some small houses on the periphery. Anna had called it ‘Nauta’, and apparently it had once been an important whaling town before the decline in demand for whale-products, yet still functioned as an important supply post for the passing ships due to the depth of its harbour. It was further west than the Eastern coast, too, but apparently a ship’s captain in the village owed Anna’s Aunt a favour, meaning free passage. The dock itself was a simple affair, an old wooden construct that would allow boats to unload their old cargo, pick up their new cargo and be on their way. Anna had assured them she could secure passage for them and the wagon with her Aunt’s contacts, leaving Robin and the other two to laze about and wait for her to call them.
“So it’s back to the south now, eh?” Virion drolled as they leaned on the dock railing, watching the various ships come and go.
“I was getting sick of the snow anyway,” Robin admitted, clapping his hands together. “And I never did get around to buying those gloves.”
“All you had to do was ask and I would have kept your hands warm,” Tharja said, sidling up to Robin. “Your hands and the rest of you…”
He just shook his head and sighed, biting back the witty retort he had come up with as he saw Anna skipping happily back towards them from the trading house.
“Okay, we’re all set to go!” she said happily. “They’re going to bring us straight to the island!”
“What, really?” Robin asked.
“Sure! Never doubt the power of a favour owed to an Anna,” she explained with a wink.
They followed the plucky merchant onto one of the smaller boats, her wagon and horse already safely secured with the cargo by the time they had arrived. It was supposed to be a three week journey by sea, and Robin was seriously looking forward to getting away from the frigid Feroxi climate.
A month later when Robin stepped off the boat he found himself realizing just how preferable icy climes were to tropical ones. The plain wooden docks were some way from the small village they would supposedly find the witch-doctor in. The island itself was beautiful; palm trees swayed in the breeze while brightly coloured birds flitted to and fro and the sound of the ocean on the shore beat its steady rhythm, lulling Robin to sleep as he lounged in the back of Anna’s wagon.
“It’s so hot!” the merchant complained, fanning herself in the afternoon heat as she led the horse and wagon from the docks.
“Nay, fair Anna, it is the humidity that causes the worst of your discomfort,” Virion said from the wagon bed.
“I’m all of a sudden glad that I brought all our old clothes with us,” Robin said.
He, Virion and Tharja had all changed back into the clothes they wore most of the time in Ylisse; Robin’s plain cream shirt and dark trousers under his coat, Virion’s light-blue battle-gear that looked more at home in the courts of Ylisstol rather than actual battle, and Tharja’s practically see-through and skin-tight suit worn under her Dark Mage cloak that left absolutely nothing to the imagination. Anna, however, only had her thick red winter clothes, and was suffering immensely in the tropical climate.
“I hate you all,” she moaned from the front of the wagon.
“I’m sure you can find some lighter clothes in the village,” Robin said as he stretched out.
“Ew. Village clothes. No thanks,” Anna said quickly, regaining her composure.
“Amazing,” Tharja muttered from next to Robin. “Something she and I finally agree on.”
Robin chuckled a little. It was no secret that Tharja’s personality was a little abrasive and she didn’t get along well with… well, anybody besides Robin, but during their travels in the last few months Robin had noticed Tharja’s harsh exterior give way a little. It had started when she began to actually talk with Virion, and once they had joined up with Anna things had snowballed, even if they still rarely agreed on anything. She still came across as dark and creepy, but Robin knew that she had warmed considerably to spending time around people; most importantly, people that were not Robin.
The setting sun beat down on the winding path through the rainforest, casting strange shapes and patterns in shadow over the wagon as they trundled along. Robin was content to lean back and simply enjoy the ride through the forest until a familiar sound made him groan as he snapped back to alertness.
“I know that particular groan,” Virion said, reaching for his bow. “We are about to come upon a battle, aren’t we?”
Robin sighed and nodded.
“Uh-huh. Is it really so hard to get proper work?” he complained as he hopped down from the bed of the wagon. “Or is being a bandit just really fun or something?”
“Why don’t we ask them?” Tharja suggested, hopping down next to him.
A young boy burst through the undergrowth, cutting off any comments Robin or the others might have had, and skidded to a stop in front of the wagon.
“Help!” the boy cried. “Please help, milords! Our village! Bandits’re attackin it!”
“Yeah, I figured as much,” Robin muttered, taking a good look at the boy.
He would have only been about Ricken’s age, and he looked scared out of his mind, panting while he leaned heavily on the rough-cut lance in his hands. His skin was a dark tanned colour and it looked like he had cobbled armour together out of whatever he could find; including a brass pot for a helmet. Tharja snickered openly at the boy while Virion and Anna tried valiantly to hold their laughter back.
“Slow down, kid,” Robin said in his best impersonation of Chrom’s comforting tone. “Fill us in and we’ll do what we can to help.”
“Er, right,” the boy said, taking a few deep breaths. “M’name’s Donny- ah, Donnel, lords, and like I said, m’village is under attack by bandits.”
“How many?” Robin pressed.
“It’s… ah, about twenty all up,” Donnel said. “M’sorry, they’ve been pesterin our village for ages now, n’we finally got fed up an’ told em to scat, now they’re burnin the place down!”
“Can you fight?” Robin asked, already thinking tactics while he talked.
Donnel looked confused for a moment before he realized he was holding a lance.
“Not… Not very well, milord, but I’ll do m’best ta save my home!”
“Then you lead the way. Anna, stay with the cart, one of us will come get you once it’s safe. Virion and Tharja, we know how to play this game.”
“Donny, was it?” Virion asked, jumping down and extending a hand to the boy. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Th-thank you, milord,” the boy stammered.
“Why do you keep calling us that?” Robin asked.
“Well… you’re Shepherds, arentcha?” Donnel asked hopefully.
“Ah hah! His eyes ring true and his hopes go answered this day!” Virion said in his best stage voice. “For now, the Shepherds descend to save his village!”
Robin rolled his eyes. Any chance to steal the spotlight…
They followed Donnel through the forest and back to the village, the sounds of fighting getting louder the closer they got. Robin noted how Donnel moved through the forest; quickly but silently, automatically knowing exactly where to place his feet or which branches not to touch to make as little noise as possible.
They stopped near the edge of the forest, Robin looking out to get a tactical sense. The villagers were holding off the bandits, keeping them at bay with lances and bows and by throwing rocks, but Robin could tell that it was only a matter of time before the bandits beat through their line.
“Mostly garden variety bandits,” he reported to the other two Shepherds. “Axes, swords, one or two bows; they’ll be your first target, Virion. Tharja, group them like we practiced up north. Donnel, you’ll be with me going up the middle. Hang back and attack when you see an opening. Don’t take any unnecessary risks. Ready?”
Three affirmatives sounded and Robin burst from the bushes, sword in hand with the village boy on his heels.
Lightning crackled in the twilight sky as Tharja brought bolts crashing down on the bandits the furthest out.
Virion lined up his shots, waiting patiently for the archers to appear before firing, felling them both with deadly accuracy.
Robin whirled as he met the first of the bandits, knocking his axe away and striking out with his sword before extending a hand and knocking three more of the bandits back with a wind spell. Robin spun to see a bandit with his axe raised to strike drop as one of Virion’s arrows buried itself in his chest.
Donnel hurried up behind Robin, striking out with his lance and knocking one of the bandits’ in the head, distracting him long enough for Robin to finish him with a sweeping blow from his sword.
The villagers, emboldened by their unexpected reinforcements, charged out of the village gates. Between the three Shepherds and the villagers the bandits were soon routed.
“That was the most terrifyin’ thing I ever done in my whole life,” Donnel panted, sinking to one knee.
“You did well, Donny,” Robin congratulated him. “You’re a real natural at this.”
The village boy nodded his thanks as Tharja came sauntering up to them.
“Nothing like a little bandit-slaughter to liven up the day,” she said happily.
“Okay, I can’t tell if you’re joking, and that scares me. Where’s Virion?” Robin asked.
“He went to tell Anna that it’s safe to bring her precious wagon in now,” Tharja said, looking bored as she studied the villagers.
The collective villagers seemed to be unsure as to how to treat the two newcomers, eying them warily from across the village gates while they treated their wounded. One of the older looking ladies caught a glimpse of Donnel and started walking over, an angry frown on her face.
“Donnel!” She called. “Didn’t I tell you to stay in the village!?”
Donnel’s head snapped up as his face went pale. “Ma!”
“Don’t you ‘Ma’ me, mister!” the woman shouted, rapping Donnel’s pot-helmet with the back of her knuckles. “What if you’d been killed? What then, huh?”
“Jeez, I’m sorry Ma,” Donnel said as he stood.
“Your son’s a hero, miss,” Robin said, stepping forward. “He’s the one that found us and led us back to your village to help.”
Donnel’s mother seemed to size up Robin, staring him down the way only a mother could. The tactician wilted under her glare, shuffling his feet like a child being scolded.
“Well, thank you for saving our village,” she said after a moment of glaring.
Robin nodded mutely as she strode off, shouting at the other villagers to start cleaning up the mess that the battle had left behind.
“Gods I’ve never been so terrified,” Robin muttered as he reeled from Donnel’s mother’s glare.
“She has that effect on people,” Donnel said with a grin on his face. “But she’s the best.”
Robin kicked at the dirt, sighing.
Another healer had been a total waste of time. The next morning he had set out alone for where the witch-doctor made his home out in the rainforest, getting his hopes up despite every other crushing failure he had found with the other healers. The tactician groaned inwardly as he walked back to the village, finally deciding that enough was enough.
“I guess we’ll just go back to Ylisstol,” he muttered to himself. “Hopefully Chrom hasn’t given my room away yet…”
Robin continued walking, not taking note of anything besides the general direction he was going in. For nearly a year now he had wandered around the wilderness, first in blistering cold and now in oppressive humid heat and he had nothing to show for it. Despite telling himself time and again not to get his hopes up that’s exactly what he had done. At least the time hadn’t been a complete waste; he had spent the entirety of the journey laughing and smiling with his friends, and even made new ones; he had seen more of the world at a much more leisurely pace than when they had been marching; not to mention that-
Robin spun, looking for the source of the feminine voice calling out to him.
“Who’s there? Tharja?” he called to the empty forest. “I thought you were staying at the village? And, you know, over the whole stalking me thing.”
“Robin, you must return to Plegia.”
The tactician shook his head with another sigh. “I am not having another conversation with the voices in my head.”
“I’m not in your head.”
“Right. You’re in Plegia. Silly me,” Robin said sarcastically.
“Go to Plegia. There you will find the answers you seek.”
“Pass,” Robin said dismissively, starting to walk again. “Thanks for the offer though.”
After a few steps Robin stopped, threw back his head and groaned loudly.
“Dammit. Fine. I’ll go back to Plegia. But if this is just my overactive imagination I’m going to be very upset.”
Another two months later Robin stretched and yawned loudly as he stepped off of the boat behind Anna’s wagon and onto the hard-packed, dusty soil of Plegia.
“Never thought I’d come back here as a tourist,” he muttered, looking around the small port town they had arrived in.
“It’s so… diff’rent than the village,” Donny muttered, looking around awestruck. “I ain’t never seen so much sand.”
Donnel, or Donny as they had taken to calling him, had surprised them all by begging to come with them, citing a desire to become a Shepherd. Despite his mother’s objections he had followed them onto the boat they had taken to Plegia, and Robin had to admit the boy had martial talents that just needed a little shaping. He’d pass the boy on to Frederick once they made it back to Ylisstol for proper training. Hell, maybe the villager could make a Knight if he tried hard enough.
“I never thought I would miss the snow,” Tharja complained, holding her heavy cloak open and fanning herself with an open hand.
Donny actually blushed when he caught sight of that, and looked away hastily. Robin chuckled and shook his head. The boy was so naïve it was a wonder he’d shown the stones to come with them.
“So,” Virion asked, matching Robin’s pace as the others rushed ahead looking for shade, “Has there been any further word from our mysterious voice? Or are we simply to wander the desert until we find what we’re looking for?”
Robin scoffed. “We just spent another two freaking months on a boat; the voice has five minutes to tell me where to go or we get back on the boat and head to Ylisse.”
“I will admit I am finding the constant sailing… tiresome,” Virion said hesitantly.
“Yeah, and you don’t even get seasick,” Robin moaned, recalling all the time he had spent hanging over the railing of the ship as his stomach emptied itself without his permission.
“Perhaps we should simply take the land-route in our return?” Virion offered.
“First things first,” Robin said, rolling out his neck. “We need directions.”
Anna laughed as she counted the coins in her hand, running them through her fingers with glee.
“I can’t believe I made so much selling those fruits from that island! Tropical fruit movement is something I should really look into!”
Robin chuckled and shook his head as he unpacked their camp supplies wagon. The five travellers were sitting by the wagon near on oasis, setting up camp for the evening or simply going about their usual nightly rituals. Tharja was elbow-deep in her pack when she tsked and looked up, eyes locking on Donny.
“You. Boy,” she called to him. “Fetch me some lizard eyes from the ones coming to drink at the oasis. The big ones that look like they have horns.”
Donny shot up like a rocket, stammering a quick “Y-yes, ma’am,” as he ran for the edge of the oasis.
Tharja chuckled a little as she leaned back.
“I don’t know whether to think that was cruel or brilliant,” Robin said as he piled some wood in the centre of their fire-pit.
“Tis the way of the world,” Virion said as he began unpacking the ingredients for that night’s dinner. “Even the mightiest emperor can be laid low by the subtle blush of a woman’s cheek, and our Tharja here is one of the finest women ever to be born of this harsh land of sand and heat.”
“That’s right; you are from Plegia, aren’t you?” Robin asked, cutting off whatever acidic remark Tharja had been about to make to Virion’s praise. “Do you want to go and visit any family or something while we’re here?”
Tharja frowned and shook her head.
“Why bother?” she asked. “All they’ll do is complain that I never write and call me a traitor for siding with Ylisse during the war.”
“Your family supported Gangrel?” Robin asked curiously.
“My family supports Plegia,” Tharja corrected. “My father was advisor to the last King; the one that had the big war with Ylisse. And my Uncle is a high ranking Dark Mage in the Royal Guard. After that debacle I swore I wouldn’t serve anyone blindly like my father did. Except for you, Robin; you say the word and I’ll blindfold myself and do whatever you want…”
Robin groaned as Virion and Anna both started laughing.
I really thought she was getting over this obsession, he thought as Tharja squirmed up against him.
“And I do mean anything,” she whispered suggestively, running a hand up the inside of Robin’s arm before resting it on his chest.
The irritated tactician rose quickly, ignoring the laughter from the other two and the sultry look on Tharja’s face.
“I think it’s about time I went and… tried to contact that voice again,” he sighed. “Or something. Alone, Tharja. Stay there and… do whatever it was you were doing with those lizard eyes.”
Robin stood alone in the desert at twilight, basking in the cool breeze and the blessed silence. According to Tharja twilight was one of two times of day when Dark Magic was most potent, so she had insisted he try to contact the mysterious voice that they had followed halfway around the world. He had purposely chosen an area away from the oasis they had decided to stay the night near; far enough that he wouldn’t be disturbed, but close enough that if something happened he would be able to make the return journey quickly. The terrain looked like the rest of Plegia that Robin had seen; sand, some rocks, more sand. Just sand and rocks as far as the eye could see. Nothing special. No reason for him to have brought them in this direction, beside the lingering sense that something was out here.
“All right, voice,” Robin called to the empty desert. “Whenever you’re ready.”
Silence greeted Robin. After a few moments of waiting the tactician let out a long sigh and sat down on one of the nearby rocks.
This was such a stupid idea, he thought bitterly, kicking at the dust. And a waste of time. I chose now to start listening to the voices in my head? When they say ‘hey, travel for an extra two months and get your butt to the country you just finished invading and maybe, just maybe, I’ll tell you something about your past’? Gah, I’m such an idiot.
“Aw, forget it,” he muttered, sinking his face into his hands. “We should just go home. This was a waste of time.”
“Why are you sitting out here talking to yourself?”
Robin’s head shot up, his hand immediately dropping to his sword.
“Whoa!” the interloper called, holding up her hands and taking a step back. “Easy! I didn’t mean to startle you!”
“Sorry,” he groaned, relaxing and running a hand through his hair. “Force of habit.”
The woman who had found Robin seemed to bounce on the balls of her feet for a moment before coming to a decision.
“So what’re you doing out here all alone?” she asked curiously, taking another step towards the tactician.
“I could ask you the same thing,” he shot back defensively.
“True,” the woman laughed. “But I live near here. You’re the one sitting in the dark talking to yourself.”
Robin chuckled a little at her logic. As she drew closer to him Robin got a better look at her in the low light. ‘Woman’ was probably too generous a term for someone so young; she only looked about fourteen or fifteen. Wearing an ankle length white skirt and a sleeveless leather vest she looked like she would be at home in the desert, except that beneath a head of long, dark purple hair her skin was far too pale for someone that had lived in the desert long.
“I’m out here looking for answers,” Robin admitted, spreading his hands wide.
“By talking to yourself?”
“It’s the best way to get intelligent conversation.”
The girl giggled.
“That’s funny,” she said. “I’d say making me laugh has earned you a free meal. Follow me.”
Before Robin could respond the girl was off into the night, her shadow the only thing left that Robin could see. With a patented ‘what have I got to lose’ shrug Robin picked himself up off the rock he was sitting on and followed the girl.
They didn’t go far before darkness fell completely and the only light was from a weak crescent moon. Fortunately it was a clear night and the desert sands seemed to be pretty smooth where she was leading Robin, so he didn’t trip once. He stumbled a few times, but managed to catch himself before face-planting. The girl moved like she had walked the path in the dark a hundred times before, expertly avoiding the rocks and edges of dunes as she led Robin deeper into the desert.
When they finally stopped at the foot of a strange pile of stones it took Robin a moment to realize that the stones were camouflage for the house beneath them.
“Huh,” Robin said, marvelling at the simplistic defensive design of the building in the moonlight.
“I know, pretty cool, right?” the girl said as she walked inside.
Robin lingered for a moment before he saw a light shine out of the doorway. Stepping carefully Robin followed her inside.
It was a simple building; a large circular main room with a kitchen and a living area with a few low benches around a table, five rooms off to either side that Robin assumed were either bedrooms or a bathroom and a balcony around the upper tier of the central room with large windows disguised as natural holes in the rock formation.
“I was wandering through the desert one day when I found this place,” the girl said, setting down the pack she had been carrying near a pile of what had to be her other belongings. “Just abandoned and empty out here in the desert. Imagine that? A perfectly good house like this, completely abandoned! How weird is that?”
“Yeah, that’s pretty weird,” Robin agreed, walking around the circumference of the main room and poking his head in the doorways.
Bedroom, bedroom, an old dried up bathroom, bedroom…
“No way,” Robin gasped, igniting a fire spell in his outstretched hand for light as he stepped into the last room.
The walls of the room were filled, floor to ceiling, with old books. Robin ran a hand across the spines of some of the titles; historical records, political volumes, tactical manuals, books about the various plants and animals around the world, books about magic…
“This is amazing,” Robin muttered, looking around the room with wide eyes.
His gaze stopped on the desk near the back of the room with several large tomes piled on it. Gingerly, Robin picked up the book on the top of the pile, a blue cloth-bound tome the width of Robin’s arm that looked to have been extremely well read, and began to leaf through it. It was A Beginner’s Guide to Battlefield Tactics. Robin felt an overwhelming surge of nostalgia as he closed the book and carried it with him to the main room where the mysterious girl had set up a pot over a small cooking fire.
“Find something good?” she asked as she stirred whatever was in the pot.
“Yeah,” Robin said with a faint smile. “I actually did.”
“Well, finders keepers!” the girl sang as she stirred the pot.
Robin sat down on the bench opposite the one that the girl was perched on and looked at her over the small fire.
“I’m Robin, by the way.”
“I’m Fae; nice to meet you!” the girl said, looking up from her cooking and giving Robin a big smile. “It’s not very often I get to eat with new people, and I’ve been travelling a long time; it’s probably why I talk so much. So where are you from anyway, mister Robin?”
“I don’t know,” Robin said truthfully. “I’ve got amnesia; I don’t have any memories that are more than about a year old.”
“Wow, that sucks,” Fae said sadly, before perking up again almost instantly. “But look on the bright side; you get to try all your favourite foods again for the first time, you don’t have to remember all the embarrassing stuff you would have done as a kid, and you even get to have another first kiss!”
“Yeah, I don’t think that last one’s high up on the importance ladder.”
“Aw, boys are no fun,” Fae huffed.
“So why are you travelling all alone?” Robin asked curiously as she began to ladle out a thin looking soup.
“I always have,” she said with a shrug. “I guess I always will. There’s a lot to see in this world, and I feel like I’ve seen so little of it.”
“You know that’s one of the reasons we started travelling, too,” Robin said conversationally as he started to eat. “I mean, sure ‘let’s go find Robin’s memories’ was a great official reason to travel a little, but getting to see as much of the world as I have has been really great. This is really good, by the way.”
“Aw, thanks,” Fae said with a shy smile. “So you have no memories? None at all?”
“Well I wouldn’t say none… My head is full of facts and tactics and knowledge, but no memory of how any of it got there. I get weird senses of nostalgia all the time, but nothing to go off when I do. It’s really rather irritating, to be honest.”
“I can imagine,” Fae said over her bowl. “So have you found anyone that might be able to help?”
“Well we came here following a lead,” Robin admitted. “But it looks like that lead goes nowhere.”
Fae seemed to lose herself in thought for a few moments as they ate before speaking again.
“There’s supposed to be a shrine to one of the last divine dragons out in the desert near here,” she said, thinking carefully. “You could try going there and trying to contact the dragon and asking her nicely if she can restore your memories?”
“‘One of’ the divine dragons? How many are there?” Robin asked.
“Oh, there were lots,” Fae said excitedly. “Lots and lots; a whole race! Back before the time of the Hero King and the founding of the realms and everything the land belonged to the Dragon Tribes, the biggest of which was the Divine Dragons. They ruled over all the other dragons until the Earth Tribe betrayed them and started a war that the Dragons never recovered from.”
“How do you know all this?” Robin asked, leaning forward.
“I visit a lot of those shrines,” Fae said with a shrug. “I’m kinda like an unofficial dragon-scholar! I can take you to the one in the desert if you want?”
Robin weighed his options before answering.
“I’d appreciate that, but I’d have to find my friends again first. I’m sure they’d love to see it just as much as I would.”
“Yay! More friends!” Fae clapped, bouncing up and down.
Robin trudged into the firelight, making the others look up.
“There you are!” Tharja admonished. “I managed to save you some of the dinner.”
“Did you manage to contact our mysterious guide-voice, or are we simply to return to Ylisse?” Virion asked lazily.
“Who’s yer new friend?” Donnel asked from where he was cleaning the dishes.
“Ooooh, she’s so pretty!” Anna exclaimed. “But you know what would make you prettier, hon? Something from my cart! For an affordable price, anyway.”
Everybody was staring expectantly at Robin with a mysterious purple-haired girl half-hidden behind him.
“Everyone this is Fae,” Robin introduced. “Fae’s very generously offered to lead us to a shrine out in the desert that may or may not help return my memories. My thinking on the matter is what do we have to lose at this point?”
Robin turned to glance at Fae and, seeing her expectant expression, stepped to the side to make introductions.
“Sorry Fae; the scary looking one is Tharja, don’t worry, she’s a lot nicer than she looks; the one with silver hair is Virion, stay far, far away from him; the red head is Anna, don’t sign anything she gives you; aaaaaand our curly-haired friend is Donny. That’s everybody except the horse. So… I guess we’ll rest here tonight and make for the shrine come morning.”
Donnel got up and cheerfully greeted Fae, oblivious to the three glares being shot at Robin behind him as he did.
Fae started a little nervously, but before long she was deep in a spirited conversation with Anna and Virion about trade and economics, something she was apparently very interested in, while Donnel watched and listened with a wide eyed, uncomprehending look on his face.
Robin settled down next to the fire and took a few sips from his waterskin before pulling out the book he had found in the abandoned house.
“What did you find out in the desert?” Tharja asked curiously, settling down next to him.
“It was…” Robin thought for a moment. “There was an abandoned house. It looked like it had been vacant for a few years, but everything in it was untouched. Books, silverware, even the furniture. I… er… borrowed this book.”
Robin held the book out to Tharja, who accepted it and looked at the first few pages.
“A Beginner’s Guide to Battlefield Tactics?” she read aloud. “I always assumed you were a little beyond the beginner level.”
Robin chuckled. “I am. But I had the weirdest sense of nostalgia when I picked up this book, so… I decided to hold on to it.”
“I’m sure you’ve read this book before if it’s the beginner’s guide,” Tharja said, handing it back.
“Yeah, probably,” Robin agreed, putting the thick book into the pouch next to his spellbook. “Knowing the way I read I’ve probably read it twenty or thirty times.”
Tharja went quiet for a while, leaving Robin to drift in and out of the hazy realm of half-sleep, before she spoke again in a small voice.
“Do you really think you’ll get your memories back?”
Robin shrugged. “Don’t know. Don’t really care anymore. I doubt that there’s anything in my old life as important as the people in my new life.”
The last thing Robin saw before he fell asleep was Tharja smiling at him and blushing a little; apparently his veiled compliment had struck home.
Grunting as he snapped from asleep to awake, Robin rubbed his face and yawned before sitting up and looking around.
The sun was just beginning to rise, casting a pale light on the desert and the people lying around the ashes of last-night’s camp fire. Virion was curled up with his winter-cloak as a blanket, snoring lightly; his bedroll having been donated to Fae for the evening. The girl Fae was curled up on the bedroll between Tharja and Anna, the three of whom had lined up their rolls, possibly as a defence against any late-night wandering on Virion’s part. Donnel was already up, filling the waterskins and jugs that would sit in the back of the wagon during their trek across the sands today. Robin gave a stretch and stood, opting to help the young man.
“Mornin’,” he mumbled as he drew nearer, grabbing some of the empty jugs and wading into the oasis next to Donnel.
“Mornin’, Robin,” Donnel greeted cheerily. “Sure is early for ya to be up.”
“I’m excited, what can I say?” Robin admitted, dunking the jug into the water. “This one isn’t like all the other healers and crap that I’ve gone through in the last year. This one feels different.”
A look of mild confusion crossed Donnel’s face. “But I thought ya weren’t goin’ to another healer.”
Robin laughed. “No, Donny. But I’ve been chasing healers and remedies to restore my memories for a whole year now. They all had the same… I don’t know, feeling of anticipation in the air before I went to see them. This shrine Fae’s taking us to… it feels different somehow.”
“Sorry Robin, but I ain’t following ya,” Donnel said. “Must be a mage thing.”
“Yeah, probably,” Robin agreed, corking the jug he had filled.
The two finished their chore in silence while the sun crested the distant mountains, and Robin lightly kicked Virion awake as he brought the jugs to the cart.
“Up and at em, ladies,” Robin called as he began to assemble the necessary ingredients for a cold breakfast. “The day is upon us! C’mon, wake up or I’m sicking Virion on the lot of you!”
“I. Hate. Sand,” Robin complained for what was possibly the millionth time as he up-ended his boot, pouring the grains out of it. “I mean how does this stuff even get in my boots? There’s barely enough room in them for my feet!”
The group had chosen to take a break in the shade of a rocky outcropping; so far the desert crossing had been just as boring as Robin had suspected. They had talked a little during the morning, but as the day wore on and it became increasingly warmer the conversation had dried up. Robin was worried for Anna’s horse, but the animal seemed to be doing much better than the humans it was pulling.
“So we’ve heard,” Tharja muttered, emptying her own shoes.
They had started walking alongside the wagon to try and stave off some of the monotonous boredom, something Robin and Tharja were now regretting.
“Yeah, the sand gets everywhere,” Fae said cheerily as she jumped from the back of the wagon. “We’re almost there anyway.”
“Will it be safe to leave the wagon here?” Robin asked, looking around the abandoned landscape.
“Yeah, should be fine,” Fae said with a smirk. “Not a lot of people still come out this way.”
“I can see why,” Virion muttered, eying the scorching desert sands all around them.
A great stone altar loomed above Robin and his travelling companions, white stone standing in stark contrast to the darker earth of the desert around it. Twin rows of giant white columns, something Robin was beginning to note as a recurring architectural theme when it came to dragons, rose up out of the sand, simply standing in the silent air majestically, casting long shadows across the approach to the altar.
As they approached there was a sense of… something in the air, something Robin couldn’t put a name to; a feeling half felt or a noise half heard. Tharja looked unsettled, too, so Robin assumed it was a type of magical resonance.
It was as if time stood still around the altar; no wind blowed, nor were there any clouds in the sky; it was as if the travellers had completely stepped outside of the flow of time.
“A great tower once stood here,” Fae explained in a hushed voice. “This altar and the columns are all that remain.”
Robin nodded wordlessly, scanning the area for any imminent threat as they approached the steps to the massive stone slab the altar was set on.
Virion absently fingered at his bow string, eyes darting from shadow to shadow. Donnel walked close to Anna, nervously watching his new friends for any sign that he should be worried; the merchant woman seemed immune to the ancient aura the place was giving off as she looked around the ruins, no doubt trying to find something she might sell.
As they followed Fae to the foot of the steps, Tharja cast a curious glance at Robin.
I’ve literally spent an entire year around her and still I have no idea how to decipher those glances, Robin thought irritatedly as she pushed ahead a little.
Robin hesitated when he reached the top of the stairs.
“What’s wrong?” Fae asked, looking back over her shoulder from halfway across the altar.
Robin shook his head, hurrying to catch up.
The surface of the altar was perfectly smooth and clean, as if untouched the elements despite having sat out in the desert for thousands of years. An ethereal aura hung about everything, and dancing shapes in the corners of Robin’s eyes made him turn, only to behold empty space and further desert.
“This is a place of great magical potency,” Tharja muttered in awe as she inspected the runes on one of the smaller columns ringing the altar itself. “I can practically feel it like a physical thing.”
Before Robin could answer he heard something silently calling to him from the centre of the altar, where a plain rectangular shrine sat embedded.
Fae stood silently and watched expectantly as Robin slowly approached and carefully put a hand down on the edge of the shrine, before jumping back from a blinding flash of light.
“Holy crap!” Fae shouted, awe and glee warring in her voice. “I can’t believe she actually answered!”
Robin looked with wide eyes at the girl, before looking back at the strange shrine.
Lying atop the shrine, which had been empty literally only seconds ago, was a woman.
She yawned and sat up slowly, blinking as if she had been asleep inside the shrine. Like Nowi she had long, pointed ears and when she yawned Robin could easily see that her teeth were much sharper than a regular human’s. Her long, dark green hair cascaded down her shoulders in a perfect wave as she slid off the shrine, stretching in a very human manner before realizing she had an audience.
“Ancient blood has awoken me,” she said slowly. “But I cannot linger long; my rest was not complete.”
Robin tried desperately to get his mouth to close.
Looking around he was relieved to see similar reactions on the faces of the others, all except Fae.
Virion looked at a loss; usually he would be hitting on a woman as beautiful as the dragon-lady, but something about her bespoke of ancient power not to be looked down on, no doubt silencing and confusing the man. Tharja had gone paler than usual; she was much more attuned to magical resonance than Robin, and no doubt she was feeling a little overwhelmed by the dragon’s presence; Robin certainly was. Donnel looked like he was about to drop to his knees and start praying, and Anna, for the first time since Robin had met the woman, looked at a complete loss as to how to proceed.
“Well,” Fae prompted with a light elbow in Robin’s ribs. “Ask already!”
“Uh, sorry,” Robin stammered, stepping forward. “I’m, ah, Robin, and I… uh…”
“I know who you are and of your circumstances, Robin,” the dragon-woman said with an ethereal, musical laugh. “You do not need to hold me or my kind in such high regard; in fact, I know you already treat with two others of my race in a very human manner.”
“Two?” Robin asked, forgetting who he was talking to for a moment. “I know Nowi’s a dragon, but who…?”
A light cough and a slight embarrassed wave from Fae got Robin’s attention, before the girl pulled the hair back from her very much not human ears.
“Can we talk about it later?” Fae asked shyly. “Time is a ticking.”
“Right,” Robin said, snapping back to the dragon-woman. “I was hoping you might be able to… you know… help with the whole amnesia thing?”
“You wish to know if I can cure your amnesia?” the woman asked in her clear, melodious voice. “I cannot.”
Robin couldn’t help but drop his head as disappointment took root in his soul again.
“Do not despair, Robin,” the woman said, appearing before him and lightly forcing him to look up with a hand beneath his chin.
“I offer you knowledge,” she continued. “I cannot return to you what neither you nor I have. You have no memories because they have been taken by an ancient, horrible force that I had hoped to never face again.”
“What?” Robin asked desperately. “Who has my memories?”
“I do not remember his name,” the woman said sadly, releasing Robin and heading back to her shrine. “Such is the fate of one as ancient as I. But know that your fate and his are inexorably linked.”
“What does that word mean?” Robin heard Donny whisper to Anna, who quietly shushed him.
“My time here is at an end,” the woman said sadly, looking out over the desert.
“Aw… but you just got here!” Fae moaned.
“You cannot outrun your destiny, Robin,” the woman warned cryptically, turning to him as she climbed back onto the altar. “But you may change it, if your spirit is willing.”
“If my… This really raises more questions than it answers,” Robin said, finding his voice again.
“I am sorry,” the woman said, now sitting on the shrine. “I wish I could answer them for you.”
“Then just answer one. What’s your name?”
The woman seemed to be surprised by Robin’s question, before she smiled again as she lied down.
“It is Nagi, Robin. My name is Nagi.”
Robin nodded as Nagi faded into the shrine.
“Thank you, Nagi.”
The altar went silent as the dragon-woman disappeared again, and time seemed to return to normal, the wind blowing grains of sand on to the altar and through the columns.
“That. Was. So. Cool!” Anna exclaimed, jumping up and down and shattering the peace. “Did you see her!? We should see if we can get her do it again and charge admission!”
“What do you think that our mysterious beauty meant by your fate being linked to another’s?” Virion asked, moving to study the altar, before muttering “This was truly a pointless endeavour.”
“Not so much,” Tharja corrected him, crossing her arms and thinking. “We found out that Robin’s memories were stolen, and that his fate was linked to the thief’s. Right, Robin?”
“Robin?” she asked again, turning when Robin didn’t answer.
Robin had moved, and was standing at the edge of the altar looking out over the desert with Fae.
The view was beautiful; much like before in the north, the sky was a perfect, uniform blue over a seemingly endless sea of sand.
“So… you’re a dragon, too?” he asked, eyes not leaving the horizon.
“Yup,” she replied. “But by our standards I’m a pretty young one.”
“Why didn’t you say so earlier?”
“Because when people find out it’s always ‘ooh, transform and do tricks’ or ‘can you burn this guy’s house down’ or ‘let us worship you’. It gets old.”
“I can imagine. I assume that’s why you travel alone?”
“Well, we’ve already got one manakete living with us among the Shepherds…” Robin began, before Fae cut him off.
“Thanks, but I’m not quite done seeing the sights,” she said, smiling in a carefree way.
“Well, the offer stands,” Robin said with a happy shrug. “We’re kinda hard to miss. Just go to the biggest building in Ylisstol and ask for me if you ever change your mind.”
A thought popped into Robin’s head.
“Give this to one of the guards, and they’ll bring you directly to me,” he said, fishing the charred stuffed rabbit he had been carrying around with his spellbook and other things for more than a year now.
“I’ll remember that,” Fae said, taking the small toy and putting it in her own pouch, hopping off of the altar and beginning to walk out into the desert, waving back at Robin and the others. “It was nice meeting you all!”
“What?” Donny asked, hurrying over to the edge. “She’s just leavin’?”
“She’s still got sights to see,” Robin said softly as the retreating form of the manakete girl disappeared in the heat haze.
Robin looked back to where the others were watching him expectantly.
“C’mon,” Robin said, clapping a hand on Donnel’s shoulder. “I think it’s time we all went home.”