Invisible Ties

Chapter 20

Robin stared back at himself with a cruel smirk on his face, eyes glinting with malice.

“By the Gods! What dark sorcery is this!?” Chrom shouted in shock.

“This… this is a joke,” Robin said weakly. “This is some kind of joke…”

The Hierophant laughed mirthlessly at their shock, his laughter like dead leaves sliding across a stone courtyard.

“My name is Robin,” the Hierophant laughed, bowing with a courtly flourish. “Oh, and wasn’t that your name as well? What a small world we live in.”

“My, what are the odds?” Validar said with an evil smile. “In any case, I believe we are finished here. We will allow you to be on your w-”

“Hold on just one moment,” Chrom said quickly.

“Milord?” Aversa asked innocently. “Is there something else?”

Chrom levelled a finger at the Robin-doppelganger.

“What is the meaning of this?” he asked in a low voice. “Why do your Hierophant and Robin look-”

“I’m afraid we have little time for such trivialities right now, milord,” Aversa cut Chrom off, quickly sinking into a sickly-sweet mocking tone as she spoke. “We have preparations to attend to and you have such a long, hard journey to attend to.”

The Plegian trio all bowed low and began retreating.

“Oh, and do be careful on your return to Regna Ferox,” Aversa said cheerily over her shoulder. “This time of year the highroads of Plegia can be quite… treacherous.”

Robin was still reeling; the combination of that sinister aura and his exact double was making his head spin. Chrom had to shake his shoulder and practically shout his name to get his attention.

“Robin! Let’s get out of here.”

The tactician nodded numbly and the trio returned the way they had come. Robin stumbled a little when they re-joined the rest of the Shepherds, his mind still focused on the spectacle of his dark twin.

“Robin, is everything alright?” Cordelia asked with concern, steadying him with a hand on his elbow.

Robin looked up, his face still stricken.

“No,” he said in a quiet voice. “Everything is not alright. Let’s get the hell out of here.”

Robin lay awake that night staring at the roof of his tent. Try as he might, he couldn’t get the image of the Hierophant’s sadistic smile out of his head. It had taken him some time, but he finally realised that the thing that had really bothered him were the man’s eyes; soulless, black orbs staring out from his face, replacing his normally regular blue eyes.

Robin shuddered again as the image popped unbidden back into his mind.

“I need some air,” he muttered, sitting up and running a hand through his hair.

They had returned across the channel in silence, everyone taking notice of the aura of fear that Robin was giving off. It had been uncomfortable and awkward around his friends, something that had never happened before.

They were all acutely aware of his discomfort, but unable to do anything to help him.

Once they had set up camp Robin had simply retired to his tent, burying himself in tactical manuals in an attempt to try and distract himself… for all the good it did.

Nothing had worked, so he had finally given up and attempted to get some sleep, and had wound up staring at the roof of his tent ever since.

The question I should be asking isn’t why, but how Robin repeated in his head for the hundredth time. Obviously they were trying to get under our skin. It worked. So we already know the why; more important is how the hell they managed to do it. Some form of Dark Magic maybe? The Grimleal are all over that kind of stuff, and the man was their Hierophant, so it’s possible… Maybe I have an identical twin? It’s a possibility; gods know I can’t remember my childhood. But I didn’t get any sense of nostalgia from him like the other things… Urgh. This is all making my head hurt. I really do need some air.

Robin rose and stretched a little before walking out of his tent. He considered putting his coat on over his bare torso, but the night air was warm and he wanted to cool down; not something he would accomplish by covering up.

The camp was silent this late at night, the Shepherds having long since retired. The occasional snort could be heard from where the various mounts were tied to Anna’s wagon, along with all the other snores and sighs that Robin had come to associate with the Shepherd’s camp at night.

It was a small comfort to know that his friends were near, but Robin craved solitude at the moment, so he began to silently head away from the camp.

“Robin?” a light voice whispered as he passed the perimeter.

Cordelia, obviously on night-watch duty, had spotted him.

“Hey, Cordelia,” Robin said with a tired wave. “Just going to get some air, do some thinking.”

“Well… be careful,” she said with evident concern. “We’re still in Plegia. I’d hardly call this safe territory.”

Robin nodded, smiling a little. “Thanks. I won’t go far.”

The wilderness so close to Regna Ferox wasn’t the usual sandy terrain of Plegia, but rather hard packed dirt, and small shrubs and even some hardy trees actually grew. Robin could make out the massive shape of the Longfort in the distance, lights from torches dotting its top from the constant patrols on it looking like tiny stars much lower to the earth from his viewpoint casually strolling through the scrub.

At least the moon is bright tonight Robin thought absently. The last thing I need is to break my ankle on uneven ground now of all times.

Robin’s head snapped around as he heard shuffling in the shadows of the bushes near him, but before he could investigate it the pain of a thousand needles piercing his head brought him to his knees with a strangled scream.

“Heed me, Robin.”

“What in… Naga’s name?” Robin ground out, desperately clutching his head as his vision swam.

Mocking laughter greeted his question.

“Naga has nothing to do with this, boy.”

Robin looked up as Validar stepped towards him out of a circle of purple fel-energy.

“Why do you resist? Why do you close your heart to him?” Validar asked in Robin’s head, the King of Plegia’s mouth unmoving.

With each word further pain coursed through Robin’s head. Blood dripped freely from his nose as he doubled over, groaning and squeezing his eyes shut.

“Have you truly forgotten?” Validar asked, kneeling in the dirt inches away from Robin.

“Get out… of my… head!” Robin gasped, blood starting to pool in his mouth and run down his chin.

Validar tsked and stood, motioning for Robin to do the same. His body moving out of his control, Robin stumbled unsteadily to his feet as Validar exerted some form of magical force against him.

Robin gasped, choking as blood ran down his face and bare chest.

“Are you truly so arrogant to think that you can-”

“I said get out of my mind!” Robin shouted, throwing his fist towards Validar’s arrogant face the way Chrom had taught him.

Validar smiled as he held up a hand, fingertips brushing Robin’s fist as it hung in mid-air a long way from its intended target.

“You would strike your own father?” Validar asked, his tone turning mocking as a cruel smile split his face.

Robin went pale as he tore his arm free of whatever force was holding it, stumbling back a few steps as his vision blurred again.

“What… what are you talking about!?”

Validar’s cruel laughter echoed in Robin’s mind.

“You are of my flesh, but of sacred blood,” Validar declared proudly as if he were delivering a church sermon. “Yours is a glorious, blood stained destiny my child! Search in your heart! You know this to be truth…”

“I said GET! OUT!” Robin roared, lashing out with whatever magic came instinctively.

Dark purple symbols seared across Robin’s bare, blood soaked chest as a wave of dark magic flew towards Validar who simply laughed as he erected a barrier.

“You cannot resist destiny,” Validar taunted. “You must see that. Stop wasting your time with these doomed servants of Naga and-”

“SHUT UP!” Robin roared, his entire body taught and still flaring with dark energy as lines of fel magic danced beneath his skin and purple flames danced around his hands.

With a wordless roar Robin let all of the energy flow through him and out his hand, wincing as the darkness burned his fingers.

Validar fell backwards, hastily returning his barrier with a shocked look on his face.

“Impudence!” the King roared in Robin’s mind. “I will tear your very soul asunder!”

Validar raised a hand and hesitated, glancing over the tactician’s shoulder.

“Robin!” Cordelia called as she came running, lance held at the ready. “Robin where are you!?”

“It does not matter,” Validar purred in Robin’s head, his tone changing completely. “It is only a matter of time…”

Robin sunk to his knees again, smoke still rising from his hand as he fell forwards in pain. When he looked up he was alone, the only evidence of his struggle with Validar were the small dark flames licking at the dry shrubbery.

“Gods, Robin! What happened to you!?” Cordelia almost shrieked, sliding to her knees next to him.

“I’m fine,” Robin moaned, wiping at the blood on his face with the back of his hand. “I’m also… really… glad I didn’t wear my coat… would’ve been a huge pain to clean.”

The pain was beginning to dissipate, allowing Robin to see clearly again. Cordelia’s pale, worried face looked down at him as she supported him with one armoured arm around his shoulders.

“I’m fine,” he repeated, climbing unsteadily to his feet again.

He could hear commotion coming from the camp and guiltily realized he must have woken them all.

And how exactly do I explain to them what just happened? He thought bitterly, swaying and catching himself on Cordelia’s shoulder. Gods, I don’t even know what just happened!

Cordelia stepped back from him suddenly, fear evident on her face as Robin quickly caught himself from falling face first.

He looked down, realizing that the fel energy patterns were still pulsating beneath his skin; not as brightly and they were starting to fade. Cordelia must not have been able to see them while he was hunched over.

“Robin, what…” Cordelia asked, fear and confusion warring in her voice. “What happened to you?”

Robin made a distasteful face as he looked at his bare arms. The lines had faded almost completely now, slowly running down to the six eyed symbol of the Grimleal on the back of his hand.

I guess I know what the symbol means now Robin thought bitterly as the symbol faded, too.

“Robin, you’re scaring me,” Cordelia said, raising her lance a little. “Answer me!”

“Will you point that somewhere else?” Robin asked, a little annoyed that she would be levelling a weapon at him as he slapped the point of the lance away.

I thought we were friends…

“I was attacked, and the weird patterns are a form of dark magic I used to… defend myself,” Robin explained, beginning to feel slightly normal again.

“You’re covered in blood!” Cordelia pointed out. “What the hell were you attacked by? And since when were you a dark mage?”

“King Validar…” Robin said hazily. “Validar attacked me… in my mind, he spoke to me. He called me… his son.”

Cordelia’s face went an even lighter shade of pale.

“Are you… is that true?”

Robin shrugged. “Who knows? He got in my head; he could have planted whatever he wanted in there. I don’t know that it’s a lie, though.”

“Prince Chrom needs to hear of this,” Cordelia said, taking Robin’s arm and draping it across her shoulder. “Can you walk?”

“I welcome the assistance,” Robin said weakly, letting Cordelia hold him up.

“Just like old times, right?” she said with a weak laugh before adding in a small voice, “Don’t ever scare me like that again.”

“Sorry,” he mumbled.

Robin snapped back to alertness, forcing his exhausted muscles to move as the rustling from the bushes returned behind them, accompanied by footsteps running towards them. With a monumental effort Robin spun and threw Cordelia to the side as the Risen swung its axe in a downward arc where she had been just a few seconds ago. Robin reached out, grasping the haft of the weapon and focusing like he had before, sending a shockwave of dark energy through the weapon and back into the Risen, sending it flying before it hit the ground, disappearing into a cloud of black mist as it struck the hard Plegian soil.

Robin swung the axe around the right way in his grip, pointedly ignoring the purple lines that had reappeared on his arm.

“Risen!” Robin shouted as loud as his tired voice would let him. “Risen attack! To arms, Shepherds!”

Robin glanced around as Cordelia pressed he armoured back to his, lance held at the ready.

Robin gave the axe still in his hand a few experimental swings as they faced the Risen circling around them appearing out of the night. The axe felt a little strange in his hand, but not completely alien, like he had trained with the weapon before.

Any further thought on the matter was cut off as the Risen advanced, growling and hissing black smoke from their terrifying leather masks.

Robin and Cordelia were quick to define the zone of combat, slashing out horizontally with their weapons and knocking back any Risen that came close.

Robin absently noted Cordelia’s new lance flashing through the air like lightning, its head a blue blur as it struck again and again, dancing through the Risen that encroached in Cordelia’s masterful grip.

“We need to get back to the camp!” Robin shouted over the roars of attacking Risen.

Cordelia nodded, parrying a blow meant for her head before pirouetting and sweeping the feet out from underneath her assailant.

Robin spun as he saw a glint out of the corner of his eye, a heavy sword-blade thrusting for his face before the Risen wielding it reeled back, dropping the weapon and swatting at the random crows flapping about its head, tearing at the leather mask on its face.

“What in the…” Robin muttered under his breath as he and Cordelia experienced a brief respite while a flock of the black birds descended on the Risen.

A cackling laugh, more happy than evil, sounded behind them, and the two Shepherds spun to see a smiling silver-haired man in Dark Mage robes holding his stomach and giggling as the birds tore into the risen.

“CAW! CAW!” he called out to the birds before laughing some more and seeming to notice Robin and Cordelia.

“You folks lost?” he asked cheerily. “Or perhaps a lost… CAWse? Get it? Oh, I slay me!”

Robin blinked a few times, holding his axe low in front of himself warily. But he couldn’t resist the man’s bait.

“Not if the Risen get to you first,” he said.

The silver-haired man stopped and looked at Robin, a huge smile breaking out on his face.

“Hey, that’s a good one!” he said happily, seemingly blissfully ignorant of the carnage going on around him. “I’d wish you luck killing these things… but they’re already dead!”

Robin groaned as the silver haired stranger burst into hysterics at his own horrible joke.

“Are you going to help us or not?” Robin asked in exasperation, noticing the birds beginning to retreat to safety.

“Oh sure,” the silver haired man said, slapping his knees. “I’ll join your… CAWs! Heh, you know what they say; birds of a feather and all that. I’m Henry, a mage with a thing for killing; I do so love the killing.”

Robin watched as he pulled a spellbook and a wicked looking dagger out of his robe, one in each hand.

“Yeah, sure, fine,” Robin said, readying his axe as the Risen began to break through the birds surrounding the three humans. “Just stay close and try not to die.”

“Cordelia?” Robin asked, being rewarded by a nod from the saffron-tressed knight.

“Fighting retreat!” Robin called, bludgeoning his way through several Risen with his appropriated axe as they broke through the cover of birds.

They leapfrogged, Henry staying close to Robin, fighting through Risen before emerging into the torch-lit pandemonium of the Shepherds camp.

The young mage was a terror to behold as he lashed out with both elemental and dark magics, using the dagger in his off hand to great effect when Risen got to close. He almost looked disappointed he wasn’t being splattered in blood when the third Risen he stabbed evaporated in a cloud of mist.

Robin looked around as they hit the camp, desperately trying to find Chrom in the melee, striking out at any Risen that came too close.

“There!” Cordelia called, pointing to the higher ground above the camp where Chrom and Frederick were fighting off a horde of Risen, their backs pressed together as they did in much the same way Cordelia and Robin had been fighting.

“Stay here, clear the camp,” Robin ordered; not waiting for an answer and launching himself towards the hill Chrom and Frederick were on, swinging his axe in wild and angry motions.

He ducked and weaved, holding the axe in both hands as he dodged; aware of just how unprotected he was without his magically altered coat. The knowledge didn’t slow Robin down as he ripped through the Risen like a man possessed, pouring his confusion and anger from the day’s events into fighting the creatures threatening his friend.

Robin rolled, emerging through the press and coming up near an astonished looking Frederick and Chrom.

“Trying to copy Vaike’s look now?” Chrom asked playfully.

“I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I just forgot my coat,” Robin said, grunting with effort as he jammed the axe into the chest of one of the Risen.

“It’s a good look for you,” Chrom said, kicking high at another and knocking it off balance before Frederick ran it through. “Where did you find the axe, though?”

“Talk later!” the Knight barked, spinning and cutting a Risen in half one handed.

Robin and Chrom both laughed as they gave in to the mindless melee, felling Risen left and right, clouds of smoke from their deaths swirling about their feet.

Breathing heavily and leaning on the axe he had ‘borrowed’, Robin looked around. Once again the Risen were defeated, leaving nothing but clouds of dark mist and discarded weapons.

“That was not fun,” Robin gasped, still exhausted from his mental duel with Validar.

“Frederick, go make sure the others are safe; I’ll be fine here with Robin,” Chrom ordered.

“Yes, milord,” Frederick said with a slight bow before taking off down the hill.

Robin glared at the Knight’s back; he was barely breathing hard at all and his armour, once again, still looked pristine.

Chrom sighed, drooping a little. “Gods I thought that horde would never end.”

The witty response Robin had prepared died in his throat as something hit him square in the back from behind, propelling him forward a good three meters.

As he flew through the air he instinctively shifted his weight, rolling and landing on his back to stare up at another gargantuan Risen like the one that had stomped on him during their first encounter in the forest. As the creature lifted its tree-trunk sized leg Robin realized with a sinking feeling he was about to experience a repeat of that night.

“Kill prince!” the Risen growled, lifting its leg above the prone tactician, its chilling voice muffled by the thick, glowering mask covering its face. “Kill! Kill prince!”

Before the limb could fall, though, Chrom was on it, burying his sword in its massive shoulder as he flew through the air, shouting Robin’s name and driving the Risen back a few steps.

“You want me, here I am!” Chrom snarled in its face, holding tight to the sword buried to the hilt in its chest.

With a massive roar and a vicious jerk Chrom sliced diagonally through its chest, the two pieces of the Risen splattering to the ground wetly before evaporating into the black smoke that they had become so familiar with.

As Chrom rose victoriously he failed to notice the smaller Risen looming above him, poised to strike.

“Chrom! Behind you!” Robin called, trying in vain to reach the Prince in time, scrambling onto his hands and knees and reaching for his axe.

Chrom spun, bringing up his sword.

Robin watched in slow motion as the Risen’s axe descended, cringing and looking away when he realized they were both too slow.

“Father, no!” a feminine voice shouted as a blue blur barrelled into Chrom, knocking him aside.

Not wasting the opportunity of already being in a runner’s start position Robin threw himself forward and brought his axe up, slicing deep into the Risen’s chest before spinning and taking its head off, watching as the two pieces evaporated to be sure.

Marth rolled off of Chrom quickly, getting back to her feet and looking at the Prince in horror, eyes the size of dinner plates as her mouth worked wordlessly.

“Did… did you just call me ‘father’?” Chrom asked, propping himself up on one elbow.

“Did I?” Marth asked, obviously stalling before sagging as she realized she’d been caught. “I… perhaps we might speak privately?”

“Perhaps we should, yes,” Chrom agreed.

Chrom nodded, getting to his feet with Robin’s aid and motioning for Marth to walk down to the river ahead of him. Chrom gave Robin a pleading look before he turned to follow her, and Robin knew he would be running interference until they were done talking. As the tactician watched they moved a small distance away to the bank of the river.

Robin sagged as Sumia came bustling up the hill, a space healing staff in her hands.

“Robin! I heard you were wounded!” she said worriedly before adding, “Where’s Chrom?”

Robin motioned over his shoulder with a jerk of his thumb, wincing as he did so. Without realizing it he had become covered in small nicks and cuts, the blood from earlier in the evening mingling and becoming unrecognizable with the blood oozing from the multitude of wounds.

“Well hold still then,” Sumia said, setting to work.

“I wasn’t aware you could use healing arts,” Robin said as she began channelling.

“Shhhh!” Sumia said, looking crossly at Robin. “I’m nowhere near as good as the other girls, so I need to concentrate!”

Robin apologized, trying with all of his mental faculties not to point out that Libra was a man and letting the woman work. She healed much slower than Lissa or Maribelle, and as her face contorted in concentration Robin found a new respect for how difficult it must be to be a healer.

Sumia gasped and sagged, letting the staff fall forward as she practically doubled over.

“I’m sorry,” she gasped. “But that’s the best I can do.”

Robin experimentally flexed. Many of the wounds still remained and stung when he moved, but movement came easier and he was able to lift his axe again, plus he wasn’t bleeding anymore.

“It’s fine, Sumia,” Robin said, subtly positioning himself so that Sumia couldn’t see Marth and Chrom talking and…

Oh gods, Robin thought with confused terror as he shifted to block the view. Why are they hugging when Chrom knows Sumia’s RIGHT HERE? He really, really must hate me.

“Robin, what are you-” Sumia began, leaning around Robin and gasping as she dropped the staff she was holding.

“Sumia, don’t jump to conclusions now,” Robin said in his best calming voice. “I’m sure there’s a rational explanation for… hugging. You and I hug all the time, right?”

“Right,” Sumia agreed numbly, looking around on the ground. “You’re absolutely right.”

Spotting some flowers Sumia went straight for them, plucking a couple and beginning to tear petals off of them.

“Uh… what are you doing?” Robin asked concernedly.

“Flower fortunes,” Sumia said simply, eyes shining as she plucked petals.

“He loves me… he loves me not… he loves me… he loves me not…”

Robin shuffled over, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder and hefting his axe to his own shoulder with the other hand.

“Don’t worry,” Robin said with his best rougish grin. “No one messes with my friends. I’m getting pretty good with this axe, and I’ve got no problem smacking some home-wrecking harlot with it!”

Sumia sniffled and nodded, not making eye contact and going back to plucking at her flowers.

Chrom, you’d better have a damn good explanation for this Robin silently urged. Or I swear you’ll be getting a taste of this axe, too.

Chrom’s mind was racing as he followed Marth down to the river bed.

She called me father he repeated in his head. I’ll hear her out. I promise to hear her out. Gods, she’s the same age as me! She must be touched in the head or something. But she has Falchion. No, she has a Falchion, it can’t be the real one! Only I can wield Falchion.

“I don’t even know where to begin,” Marth mumbled, kicking nervously at the river rocks on the sandy shore as she came to a stop.

Chrom wasn’t sure either; this was way, way out of his league.

How would Emmeryn handle this? He thought desperately. She’d definitely be calm and kind, collect all the facts… yeah, I’ll start there.

“Well I already know you’re not ‘Marth’, though I’ve got nothing better to call you…” Chrom said, rubbing the back of his head with one hand. “I won’t ask anything you do not wish to reveal, though; whoever you are, Ylisse still owes you a great debt; as do I.”

It was true; the mysterious woman had saved first Lissa’s life, then Robin’s life, then she had defended Emmeryn during the assassination attempt, followed them into a war-zone and fought on the periphery with no back up, carried Robin halfway to Regna Ferox and then even joined them in the final battle against Gangrel. Now she had added saving Chrom’s own life to the list. Her debt was one beyond repaying, in Chrom’s mind.

“Thank you, but…” Marth said nervously, grasping at one arm with the other, still not meeting Chrom’s gaze. “I think after all this time I would prefer you know the truth of matters.”

Chrom nodded, waiting patiently as she gathered her thoughts. “As you wish.”

Marth took a deep breath and moved to stand in front of Chrom.

“Here. Look closely and all will… be made clear,” she said, drawing the hair from her face and looking into Chrom’s eyes for the first time.

Chrom looked, confused before stepping back and gasping.

In Marth’s left eye was the Mark of the Exalt, the same as the brand on his bare shoulder.

“You… you have the Mark…”

Okay, so she’s related to me somehow. But the only other person with the Mark in her eye like that is…

“Lucina?” Chrom asked, his confusion getting worse.

His daughter was still just a newborn; she was safe in Ylisstol with Cullen and the Royal Guard watching over her. He had purposely left without the proper retinue of Honour Guard so that the baby, his daughter, would be protected! This made no sense! But she had the Mark. She had his sword. How could those facts be explained away?

“You deserved better from me than a sword and a world of troubles…” Chrom said sadly, looking down at the perfect replica of Falchion on her hip and realizing that there was no other explanation. “I… I’m sorry.”

The woman in front of him was his daughter.

He looked up again as the woman’s stone façade crumbled and tears began to well in her eyes. She sniffled, looking away from Chrom and trying to wipe the tears away, but they fell unbidden down her cheeks as sobs began wracking her body.

Chrom acted, letting his fatherly instincts take over as he reached up and wiped the tears gently from her face.

Lucina, his daughter, full grown and so strong, looked up at Chrom, and he couldn’t help but smile with pride at the woman she would become.

“F-father,” she sobbed, throwing herself into Chrom’s arms and crying feely into his chest as he held her and gently stroked her hair. “Father!”

Chrom looked up as he held his daughter, no longer caring about the circumstances surrounding her arrival as he watched the sun begin to rise over the mountains in the distance.

After a few minutes like this she stepped back, sniffling and wiping at her face again as she began to compose herself.

“Better now, Lucina?” Chrom asked kindly.

“Yes. Father, I…” Lucina said awkwardly. “I’m sorry. It all just came rushing back at once. I didn’t mean to break down like that.”

“Father, huh?” Chrom repeated, rolling the word over his tongue and deciding he liked the way it sounded from Lucina.

“I’m… I’m sorry!” Lucina said quickly. “Should I call you something else? I don’t wish to make you uncomfortable…”

“Oh no,” Chrom said with a dry chuckle. “No. It’s just strange to my ear, is all. I like it, though.”

Lucina laughed sheepishly. “Heh. Father.”

Chrom shook his head.

“Yeah. Definitely going to take some getting used to.”

Not that I mind at all, though Chrom mentally added.

Robin watched as Sumia demolished her fourth handful of flowers and made an executive decision.

“Come on,” he said, grabbing her by the elbow and beginning to walk in the direction of the river. “I’m as sick of waiting as you are.”

He was cold, he was sore, and damned if he was running interference for Chrom anymore, so with a sputtering Sumia in one hand and his axe in the other, pondering which hand was currently holding the more dangerous weapon, he began to stride purposefully towards the Prince and the stranger.

“I’m sorry – Chrom?” Robin called as they neared.

Both of the blue-haired heads snapped up to look at him, and Chrom wilted guiltily under Sumia’s silently crying face.

“Ah… yes Robin?” Chrom said awkwardly. “What is it?”

“Well,” Robin began, releasing his hold on the former Pegasus Knight at his side. “You’re out here alone with Marth. Marth is crying, and you two were hugging. I want you to think about how this might look to the casual observer.”

Sumia nodded in agreement, doing her best to look threatening as she began to pluck more petals from the flowers still in her hands.

“Er… Sumia? Dearest? Why in Naga’s name are you shredding those poor flowers?” Chrom asked tentatively.

“I wasn’t spying on you!” she said with a waver in her voice. “You… you can’t prove that I was!”

Sniffling she looked up, making eye contact briefly with Marth as the other woman tentatively stepped forward before looking back down at the shredded flowers in her hands and letting out an involuntary sob and turning her back on them.

“Oh gods… you brought HER!”

Chrom looked awkwardly between the two women.

“Perhaps we’d best tell her, Lucina,” Chrom said hopefully.

Oh you sonnuvabitch, Robin thought dangerously as his hand tightened on the axe’s haft. I cannot BELIEVE you would sink this… wait. What did he just call Marth?

“Of course,” Marth, or rather Lucina, said with a shy smile.

Sumia spun, obviously thinking along the same lines as Robin was.

“Lucina?” she repeated, confusion evident on her face. “But that’s…”

“Dear, this is going to be somewhat of a… shock, but, ah…” Chrom stammered, rubbing the back of his head. “Well I’ll just say it. This is our daughter. This is Lucina.”

Robin wasn’t ashamed to admit that his jaw hit the shore. Sumia had a similar reaction.

“Are you daft?” she screamed, losing her composure and dropping the flowers in her hands. “Our daughter is still a baby!”

Chrom visibly flinched back from his wife’s wrath and Robin had to resist the urge to join in her yelling.

“Did you take a blow to the head or something while I wasn’t watching?” Robin asked, standing next to Sumia to present a united front.

“It’s true, Sumia!” the other woman, whatever her name was now, persisted. “I am your daughter!”

Robin rolled his eyes as Sumia seethed next to him.

“Look closely and see for yourself,” Marth-Lucina said as she stepped closer, drawing the hair away from her face.

She does have the same hair colour as Chrom Robin thought idly as he looked at her…

“Holy crap,” Robin breathed, looking into without a doubt the same set of eyes that had stared up at him less than a month ago as he held her in his arms, Mark of Naga and all.

“You have the Mark…” Sumia gasped as she looked into Lucina’s open face. It had to be her with those eyes; there was no other explanation.

“It is the same brand carried by all of House Ylisse’s bloodline,” Chrom said reassuringly, drawing closer to his wife again.

Sumia stepped back, shaking her head as Robin just stood dumbfounded.

“None of this makes any sense!” she said, her face ashen before she started to hyperventilate.

“Wait, where’s my daughter? What have you done with my baby!?”

Chrom stepped forward quickly, grabbing the panicking woman by the shoulders.

“Sumia, please calm down!”

“Your child is right where you left her,” the apparently-older-Lucina added helpfully. “She is perfectly safe. I am here from another time; from a time that has yet to come to pass.”

“Yes,” future-Lucina said as Chrom stepped away from the somewhat calmer Sumia. “More than ten years from now, after history takes a dark and destructive turn.”

Future-Lucina’s eyes glazed over as if she were remembering something terrible, leaving the group in silence. Robin shivered in the early dawn light, vowing never to go anywhere without his coat again, no matter how dirty it might get or how hot he was.

“Okay…” Robin led after a few moments of silence. “So what happens in this dark and destructive future that makes it so… uh, dark and… destructive?”

“Eloquent,” Chrom teased, earning a glare from a still confused Sumia.

“Hey, I haven’t slept at all,” Robin said defensively, his good humour failing him for the first time in his memory. “And now I have all this crap dumped on me on top of learning about my supposed family lineage? How freaking eloquent am I supposed to be, Chrom?”

Chrom looked shocked by Robin’s outburst as the tactician sighed and pinched the brow of his nose.

“It… uh…” Lucina said, clearing her throat. “The Dark Dragon Grima is resurrected. His roar is a death knell for man, a scream that silences all hope. Death… everywhere.”

“Well that’s just perfect!” Robin shouted, throwing his hands up in the air and losing his grip on the axe, watching it fly into the nearby river. “All of us dead? Our whole company? Chrom and Sumia and Frederick and… me?”

“Yes,” Lucina confirmed hesitantly.

Robin heaved a sigh before sinking to sit on a log near the river bank. “Brilliant.”

Chrom was silent in thought for a moment, kneading Falchion’s grip as he pondered his future-daughter’s words.

“A tale that beggars belief,” he admitted. “And yet the truth stands before us. She would not be able to carry Falchion or wield it were she not my daughter. Not to mention the brand in her eye.”

Lucina nodded. “The sword… it was all I had left of you.”

“There’s only one Falchion,” Chrom said with conviction. “I believe her, Robin.”

Robin groaned, massaging his temples.

“I’ve had enough for one night,” he muttered, devising a plan to get Anna to let him sleep in the back of her wagon on the return trip.

“Naga, the Divine Dragon, feared mankind would face Grima again one day,” Lucina went on. “So she devised a ritual of sorts to send a willing person back in time, allowing them to rewrite past events. I made the journey together with others, but we… became separated.”

“So there are more time-travellers out there?” Robin asked tiredly. “I suppose I’ll add finding them to the to-do list.”

Another silence descended as Robin ruffled his hair in frustration. How could this evening get any worse?

Sumia tentatively stepped forward, looking directly at Lucina.

“Are you… are you really my daughter?”

Lucina seemed shocked by the question for a moment before smiling at the other woman reassuringly.

“I swear it on my life.”

Sumia looked to be at a loss for words. “You grow up… er, grew up so strong, and… and so beautiful.”

Lucina looked unsure as to how to respond to her mother’s praise.

“Thank you… ah, Sumia.”

“You don’t want to call me mother?” she asked.

“I thought that you might mind,” Lucina admitted, looking away.

“Of course I don’t mind!” Sumia said, her confidence returning even as tears began to run down her face again. “I love you so much! More than anything in the world!”

Lucina looked like she was trying not to burst into tears as she frantically wiped at her eyes.

“Mother,” Lucina said with a sob, before taking a few steps and then practically throwing herself at Sumia.

They simply stood there, crying and holding each other while the two men awkwardly waited for them to finish.

“I’m so proud of you,” Sumia said once she had calmed down.

Lucina nodded and sniffed, gripping her mother tighter.

“I missed you more than you could ever know,” she muttered into Sumia’s shoulder.

Robin smiled and stood, unobtrusively beginning to trudge back up the hill that the camp was on the other side of. Things were moving into a familial situation Robin didn’t belong in; besides, he was starting to fall asleep where he sat, exhaustion finally beginning to overtake him.

Breakfast then sleep he thought simply. Everything else can wait until I feel human again.

“That is very disquieting,” Chrom said, leaning forward in his seat.

Robin stopped eating, looking over at the Prince apologetically.

“Sorry,” Robin said, swallowing a mouthful of oats before he did. “Was I chewing with my mouth open again?”

“Not you, you dunce,” Chrom said good naturedly, smiling before sobering again quickly. “That Validar would attack you so brazenly. And he’s your father, too?”

Robin shrugged, setting down his empty bowl.

“Dunno,” Robin said honestly. “He got inside my head; he probably knows more about me than I do. I wouldn’t put it past the snake to have said it just to mess with us.”

“You mean mess with you,” Frederick pointed out coldly.

“Well it worked,” Robin said with a tired sigh.

Robin, Frederick, Chrom, Cordelia, Sumia and future-Lucina were sitting in the mess tent going over the events from the previous evening while the others broke camp and prepared to travel.

“So the big question is what do we do now?” Robin asked, pointedly looking at Lucina. “We’re on the cusp of a war with Valm; we can hardly afford another front against Plegia, too.”

“As far as we can tell they’ve been true to their word about preparing the ships,” Cordelia added. “Reports came in from my Knights flying reconnaissance along the shoreline, and they are indeed moving the vessels.”

Chrom sighed.

“One war at a time,” he said, looking at the troop rosters Frederick had provided him. “We go to Valm, deal with them first, and then come back and play whatever games Validar has in store for us.”

“And Ylisse?” Sumia asked tentatively, still unused to sitting in on war meetings.

“Cullen and the Royal Guard will have no problem defending the realm if Plegia begins acting up,” Frederick explained helpfully. “The Plegian army is still in shambles.”

“So the plan remains unchanged,” Robin said definitely. “We wait for the boats at Port Ferox, and then away we go to Valm.”

“Yes,” Chrom said, looking up at the tactician and chuckling a little. “Now will you please go and put on a shirt, Prince Robin?”

“Don’t you dare start calling me a Prince,” Robin said, shooting to his feet. “Or I swear to whatever gods you hold dear I will tactically lead you off a cliff.”

“How would that even work?” Chrom laughed.

“I’ll think of something!” Robin shouted, clenching his fists in the air. “With Naga as my witness, I’ll think of something!”

Frederick rolled his eyes as the rest of the assembled Shepherds began to laugh at Robin’s antics. At least the fight with Validar hadn’t harmed his awful sense of humour.

Robin looked over and was relieved to see future-Lucina laughing along with the others.

The meeting wrapped up pretty quickly after that, Robin groaning loudly as he headed straight for Anna’s wagon.

Cordelia caught up with him, jogging to reach him before matching his pace as he practically crawled to his destination.

“Robin,” Cordelia said, stopping him with a hand on his elbow. “I wanted to apologize for last night.”

Robin turned, looking at the Pegasus Knight in confusion.

“Why? What did you do?”

“You seemed to be really upset when panicked and levelled my weapon at you,” she said embarrassedly. “So I want you to know I’m sorry, and that I still trust you.”

Robin nodded graciously. “Don’t worry, Cordelia; no stab-wounds no foul. We’re good.”

Cordelia sighed and sagged with relief.

“Here,” she said, taking Robin’s arm. “At least let me help you to the wagon.”

“If you really want to help, then help me find my bloody coat before I lose my mind!” Robin said, exasperatedly looking around for wherever Virion and the others had packed up his tent and belongings.

Cordelia chuckled as they began their search, holding Robin up the entire time.

Robin bolted upright, the momentary sensation of having no idea where he was passing as the gentle rocking of the wagon reminded him he had fallen asleep in Anna’s wagon a few hours ago.

Robin groaned and stretched, relishing in the feel of his coat against his shoulders and back.

“So you’re finally awake?”

Robin turned his head to see Marth – or rather Lucina – perched on a crate near the driver’s seat of the wagon.

That’s right Robin thought, his groggy mind desperately playing catch up, the Risen attacked our horses last night. We were short of mounts and she’s riding in here with me.

Robin thought about saying something eloquent and meaningful, but instead settled for falling backwards onto his bedroll, making a strange garbled mumble.

Lucina chuckled. “I can empathize with your exhaustion, Sir Robin. Last night was truly a hard-fought victory, especially for you of all people.”

“Robin,” the tactician mumbled, dragging himself back up.

Lucina looked questioningly at him.

“It’s just Robin,” he explained. “No ‘sir’. I renounced my military commission after the war with Plegia. I’m only a Shepherd now.”

“Ah,” she said, nodding her understanding. “I apologize; when I am from the Shepherds were all great heroes, masters of war and combat leading the Ylissean army against any that would oppose them. You were all a sir or a lady to us.”

Robin groaned. “You’re telling me I was supposed to lead a life in the military instead of wandering around the wilderness for two years?”

Lucina’s face froze as she took in what Robin was asking.

“I… I do not know,” she admitted. “I have tried to limit my interference in this timeline by not meddling too much, but…”

“Yeah, I guess that went out the window the moment you screamed ‘daddy’!”

Lucina blushed heavily and glared daggers at the grinning tactician.

“I most certainly did not ‘scream daddy’,” she protested.

Robin couldn’t help but laugh at her embarrassment.

“Relax, Princess,” he said between chuckles as she continued to glare. “Obviously you never spent a lot of time around me in the future. I didn’t mean any disrespect.”

“I see,” Lucina said, calming a little. “I’m sorry. There is not much cause for humour in the future. I am rather unfamiliar with the concept.”

“That… that sounds horrible,” Robin admitted, sobering slightly.

They sat in silence for a time, Robin imagining a world where the Shepherds were gone and society had crumbled, a world without laughter; Lucina no doubt remembering such a world.

“There’s something important I want to say to you,” Lucina said after a time. “And only to you.”

Robin looked up, quirking a brow. “That sounds… ominous.”

“In the future, almost no corner of our world is safe for humans,” she explained. “Risen prowl the land as masters of all; the people cower in terror, helpless.”

“So you’ve said,” Robin said. “It sounds horrible, though… like a waking nightmare. I can see why you’ve been vague on the details so far.”

“It is a hell on earth.” Lucina added. “That is why, we cannot—we must not—lose this war. Do you see that? You must ensure that Chrom and this brave army avert catastrophe.”

Robin nodded, giving Lucina his best reassuring smile.

“That’s what a good tactician does, Lucina,” he said. “I make sure we win. There’s no challenge to great or too small that will stop me from claiming victory for you and your father. Nothing will stand in our way, this I promise you here, today.”

Lucina nodded, relief evident in her relaxing posture.

“Thank you, Robin. That is what I wanted to hear.”

The tactician shrugged, leaning back against a crate as he grinned mischievously.

“Hey, I’ve been dragging your father’s sorry butt to victory for three years now; what made you think I was about to stop?”

“But I thought you said you wandered around the wilderness for two years,” Lucina pointed out, grinning a little and putting the tactician on the wrong foot as he realized what he had said.

Robin’s brow twitched. “I thought you said you were unfamiliar with the concept of humour.”

“I am a fast learner.”

Robin shook his head, breaking out into laughter, followed quickly by the Princess. She was most definitely related to Chrom; he could see it in the way she laughed, the way she tilted her head back and closed her eyes when she laughed really, really hard, just like Chrom did.

Robin couldn’t help but admire the fact that the effect was much, much cuter on her than her father, though.

He shook his head quickly. I’ve spent way too much time around Virion lately.

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