Invisible Ties

Chapter 25

Say’ri panted as she ran through the port city, her kimono soaked with sweat and her long brown hair sticking to her face.

Fie, she thought, cinching the loose silken fabric tighter around her chest. I am never volunteering for undercover work again.

She could hear loud crashes and even explosions from where she was, three blocks away from the harbour already; the Ylissean League was close.

She growled with frustration, kicking off the light sandals she wore that were impeding her progress so and proceeding barefoot.

She ducked low, hiding her face as a mounted squad of the Conqueror’s cavalry rode by, kicking up a cloud of dust and forcing the civilians on the road to dive aside.

Savages, she thought, glaring at the backs of the men riding to the harbour. What manner of warrior would sacrifice those they have sworn to protect for their own vain ambition?

She regretted wiping the thick white makeup she was wearing to disguise her identity off of her face earlier, but she had thought to meet the Ylissean League with a little dignity, not painted up like a harlot. She had been forced to hide her katana with her armour, but the small tanto strapped to her inner thigh was a comforting weight beneath her kimono.

Women of pleasure from Chon’sin were not uncommon along the eastern coast, making a perfect disguise for Say’ri’s spy network and herself when she had to travel incognito. Her chief spy, Sei’ko, had set her up with the proper papers to get into the city with the intention of staying with her, but the two had become separated almost immediately by drunken soldiers, and Say’ri had slipped away while Sei’ko distracted them.

She had to duck again as another squad of cavalry, the fourth one so far, charged by her, heading for the docks.

Another explosion, a very loud, very big one, sounded from over at the docks.

What are these Ylisseans doing? She thought, watching the flames, obviously magical in nature, reach into the sky.

Steeling herself, she ducked back out onto the street, angling for the next block.

Just a few more feet… she thought, head bowed low as she jogged across the street.

Say’ri’s jogging was brought up short when her head was dragged back by a gauntleted hand viciously grabbing and yanking her hair.

“And where would you be off to in such a hurry, Princess Say’ri?” a cruel voice asked from behind her.

Say’ri twisted, seeing that the Captain of the Conqueror’s forces, Farber, had a grip on her hair and a smirk on his face.

“Please,” he said, his tone dripping with sarcasm as he threw her backwards into the now abandoned street. “Allow us to treat you with the due hospitality a woman of your position deserves.”

She hit the ground hard, her cheek stinging as the skin was torn away. A fifth squad of Cavalry had assembled around her, spears pointed down at her as the Captain dismounted, his armour clanking heavily as he approached her.

“It really is a shame to kill one as beautiful as you,” he whispered, kneeling down and running the back of his gauntleted hand down Say’ri’s undamaged cheek.

Acting on impulse as the Captain’s hand drifted to the fabric on her chest and began drawing it back she tore the tanto from its bindings around her leg and lashed out, nicking Farber’s face and giving her the opportunity to escape down the alleyway behind him.

“Argh! Damn it all! You two! After her; kill the slant-eyed bitch!” Farber shouted angrily from behind her. “The rest of you, on me! We ride for the harbour!”

Say’ri ran, darting around the tight corners of the back alleys, doing her best to lose her pursuers. At some point they had dismounted, giving up on trying to follow her on their horses through the tight corners and low passages.

She paused to get her bearings as she emerged from between two buildings onto the harbour, breathing heavily as she gripped the small knife in her hand tightly.

As she watched another fireball blossomed among the cavalry lined up on the docks, throwing men and horses high into the sky. She could see a man standing on the front of the ship coming in to the docks, blazing with magical energy as he cast another spell, bolts of lightning striking from the heavens to great effect among the cavalry. Another figure was next to him, wearing similar clothing as she cast smaller spells into the front ranks of the cavalry. Five more mages appeared as arrows started flying past them, raining down on the Conqueror’s forces.

In an unparalleled show of magical superiority the seven mages conjured a typhoon together, throwing the assembled cavalry off of the pier that the Ylissean ship was pulling up to and clearing the way for the infantry leaping over the side.

A gangplank pounded down, and Ylissean Knights in different coloured armour charged out, riding to engage the red-armoured foe as pegasi flew overhead, raining spears down as they went.

Spinning as the shouting behind her drew closer Say’ri turned and ran for the docks, hoping she could reach the Shepherds before the Conqueror’s men reached her.

Robin watched Frederick lead the Knights in their charge, his perfect armour glinting in the sun.

The mages around him were sagging from their efforts to clear the dock for their landing; Ricken and Miriel sagged off to one side, while Henry laughed tiredly, looking over at Tharja as she leaned against the railing. Laurent had simply sat down, fanning himself as he waited to recover some strength.

Robin grinned. At least the good thing about constantly exhausting his mana supply was that he had forced it to grow.

Morgan was doubled over and panting, hands on her knees as she tried to catch her breath.

He opted for discretion rather than to continue casting, though, breezing through the mages as he headed toward the main deck where Chrom was preparing the next wave, giving Morgan’s shoulder a quick squeeze as he passed her, descending to the main deck.

He passed Olivia, carrying waterskins for the exhausted mages with a determined set to her features.

The Shepherds were already beginning to move off the Dragon’s Claw, Chrom standing at the top of the gangplank and waving them onwards.

“Ready to kick this war into motion?” Robin asked, resting the spear he had opted to borrow to combat the mounted foes on his shoulder as he adjusted his silver breastplate, coming up alongside the Prince as he descended the plank himself.

Chrom nodded, looking out over the ruined harbour as the Shepherds began to engage, his own thick silver armour gleaming regally beneath his white and blue cape in the afternoon sun.

Virion and Noire had taken up positions near the ships railing, crates of arrows behind them as they began shooting with larger longbows than their regular bows. Robin watched as their shots struck true, and cavalrymen began falling from their horses, Virion’s distinctive fletching waving in the wind.

Frederick, Sully and Stahl charged along the beach, intent on circling the Valmese forces and striking from their flank; Cordelia and Sumia flew above them, tossing occasional thin javelins into any Valmese unit that strayed too close.

Cherche was right in the middle of the fighting with Vaike, Kellam, Libra and Kjelle, striking out with her halberd and knocking Valmese soldiers clear off their horses, making them easy prey for her wyvern or the other soldiers on foot.

Nowi and Nah swept low over the flank of the Valmese cavalry, their dragon forms shrugging off the arrows flying at them as they breathed fire on the unsuspecting horsemen before peeling off to the Shepherds rear to rest. Nah wasn’t quite as skilled as her mother, and could only remain transformed for so long; which turned out to be just long enough to cause serious disarray on the Valmese flank that the Knights weren’t angling for.

Panne and Yarne darted forward, Gaius easily keeping pace with the two Taguel as the three of them tore into the flank that Nowi and Nah had just broken, Severa, Donnel and Anna hot on their heels.

Lissa and Maribelle were waiting patiently at the foot of the gangplank for wounded to begin to retreat, staffs held at the ready.

Lucina was waiting for Chrom and Robin at the foot of the gangplank, and together the three of them charged forward for the front.

Robin instantly lost sight of the two royals as he joined the melee, striking up at the mounted Valmese and instantly becoming grateful for the greater reach of his spear to his rapier.

The final weeks of their sea journey had not been wasted, and Robin whirled and thrusted with his new weapon, striking with all the skill of an expert.

The flanking teams met up in the middle, and between all three of them the Valmese forces were quickly pulling back to the higher ground near the city.

“We have them on the run,” Robin said to Chrom, leaning heavily on his spear.

The stupid thing weighs three times as much as my sword, Robin thought tiredly.

Chrom nodded, brandishing Falchion in the direction of the Valmese forces, which were hastily reforming their lines on the western edge of the harbour.

“Press forwards, men and women of Ylisse!” Chrom shouted, a line forming around him as the Shepherds advanced.

Robin held back, noticing a scuffle going on over on the eastern edge of the harbour; two armoured men were holding a defenceless woman at sword-point as she tried to escape.

Robin didn’t even think, charging directly towards them with his spear held low to the ground.

The two armoured men turned as Robin got closer; he didn’t slow as they brought their own swords up, jabbing out with his lance and burying it in the first man’s stomach. Dropping the lance and drawing the sword he turned on the second man, prepared to duel a larger and more armoured opponent, only to see him drop to his knees, bleeding from the gash across his neck while the woman Robin had been set on rescuing stood above the corpse. In one hand she held a short, single bladed knife similar to Morgan’s sword, her arm soaked to the elbow in blood.

“I guess my intervention was not necessarily needed,” Robin said wryly as the woman eyed him suspiciously. “Are you okay?”

She nodded once, retreating a step and brining up her knife as Robin took a step towards her.

“Whoa,” Robin said, holding his hands out in a non-threatening manner. “I’m not here to hurt you.”

“Are you with the Ylissean League?” the woman asked shortly, still eying Robin with mistrust.

Robin’s brow rose as he deciphered her strange accent.

“Uh… I guess?” Robin said. “Is that what they’re calling us here?”

“Do you serve the Prince of Ylisse or not?” she asked with an unmistakable tone of warning in her voice.

“Yeah, I’m his tactician,” Robin said, glancing over his shoulder. “And I should really be getting back to the battle. Do you have somewhere safe to hide?”

“I must speak to Prince Chrom,” she said, lowering her knife but not moving forward.

“We’re kinda busy right now,” Robin said, his patience beginning to run thin.

“Indeed,” the woman said, brushing past him. “And I will fight alongside you. Let us be off.”

Robin rolled his eyes.

“With a knife and a fancy bath-robe?” he said as he flipped the rapier in his grip, holding it out to the woman pommel-first. “I don’t think so. Can you use one of these?”

She hesitated before taking the rapier.

“Arigato,” she said, bowing slightly before she turned and started heading to the battle, holding Robin’s sword in a two-handed grip.

“What?” Robin asked, quirking his head to the side. “What did you just say? Hey, wait up! At least tell me what your name is!”

Robin groaned, running a hand through his hair.

Why does every woman I meet have to be so complicated?

Morgan jogged forward, her sword in one hand as she hurried for the front. The other mages were still hanging back near the ship, still utterly spent, but Morgan had a secret weapon. She still had a few precious vials of Gregor’s special revitalizing tonic.

Her eyes grew misty as she thought of the gentle old mercenary that had distracted her from seasickness by teaching her to play checkers, but she quashed the thoughts and focused on the battle.

A good tactician couldn’t afford distractions.

She slowed a little as she watched her father darted off, moving the opposite direction to the rest of the Shepherds, but Morgan reasoned that he probably had a good excuse, so she paid him no mind, instead slowing as she neared the rest of the Shepherds.

Spinning to help direct her mana, Morgan cast a small fire spell, throwing embers at the Valmese cavalry at face height. Many of the soldiers dropped their weapons and began patting at the embers in their eyes and coughing as the red-hot dots were breathed in. The spell was much, much smaller than Morgan had intended, but the effect was the same she had been hoping for.

Prince Chrom looked back, grinning thankfully before he ordered the charge.

“Shepherds!” the Prince roared. “For Ylisse! Attack!”

Morgan lost sight of the grand picture as soon as she joined the melee, winding up fighting at Severa’s side. The fiery red-head frowned as Morgan darted around her shoulder, thrusting forward and piercing the armour below the armpit of a soldier pressing in on the woman.

“Thanks,” Severa said grudgingly, before the two of them were back to fighting.

Morgan regretted not following her father’s lead and choosing to double with a weapon with greater reach than her sword, but wasn’t about to dwell on it during a battle.

Besides, she thought as she cast a weak thunder spell to get the attention of a red-armoured form closing in on Kellam, she still had her magic; even if it was weak after their assault on the pier.

Severa shouted a warning, and Morgan instinctively ducked, a long-hafted axe passing through the space her neck had been occupying a moment ago.

The cavalryman cursed as he passed, reining his mount around and making to charge at Morgan again while she backpedalled, holding her sword out in front of her defensively with shaking hands.

Before the cavalryman could reach her a brown and fluffy blur smashed into him from the side, tearing him from his mount and driving him to the hard stone ground.

Morgan relaxed a little as Yarne looked up at her, still in his adorable bunny form.

“You owe me one, now,” he said, his voice oddly flanged as he hopped off towards his next enemy.

That. Was. So. CUTE. Morgan thought, watching his ears flop around as he moved back towards the battle.

“Morgan!” Severa shouted, finally getting her attention. “Gawds, you’re dense! We need to move up!”

Morgan laughed sheepishly, rubbing the back of her head as she moved up with Severa.

A good tactician cannot afford fluffy, cute distractions, she repeated over and over in her head.

Robin thrusted his lance up, catching the gut of the cavalryman charging at him and knocking the man off his horse, the mysterious woman in the fancy bathrobe dancing in and slashing at his exposed neck with her borrowed sword.

Robin had to admit, they made a pretty good team. She fought like Lon’qu, but with such grace it was like she was dancing with the sword. So far none of the cavalrymen had even torn her robe, let alone touched her with a weapon.

Robin glanced up as he heard Severa yelling at Morgan and jogged over, the woman at his heels.

“Hi, dad!” Morgan piped up, smiling brightly as he approached.

Severa huffed and crossed her arms, her sword hanging from one hand and tapping against her hip.

“Uh, hi ladies,” Robin said, hesitating at Severa’s reaction to his presence.

What is her issue? Robin thought before putting her odd behaviour out of his mind.

“Have either of you seen Chrom lately?” Robin asked, directing the question more to Morgan than Severa.

“Frontline, right in the middle,” Morgan said. “You can’t miss him; I think his fancy sword was doing that cool glowy thing that it does when he’s mad.”

“Joy,” Robin moaned, turning when the strange woman behind him started walking directly for where the fighting was thickest.

“He would have to be right in the thick of it, wouldn’t he…” Robin muttered, walking quickly to catch up with the woman with his sword. “Because Naga forbid he actually stays somewhere safe. It’s not like he leads this army or anything…”

“What was that?” Morgan asked, keeping pace with Robin. “And why does the lady in the fancy bathrobe have your sword?”

“I just don’t know anymore,” Robin said, letting his head drop for a moment as they walked.

Severa scoffed again from behind them; she was really starting to get on Robin’s last nerve, if he were being honest, but he really didn’t have time for her crappy attitude.

Robin jogged ahead, catching up to the strange woman with his sword just as they melted into the frontline, striking and stabbing at the dismounted cavalrymen that were beginning to grow in number. Robin spotted Chrom a little distance away, facing off against a man in black armour with red trim.

“That man in the black armour is the leader of these troops,” the woman said, confirming Robin’s suspicions.

“Then he dies,” Robin said, moving forward again.

Robin spotted the woman looking at him with something approaching respect before he was lost to the melee again, whirling and stabbing, both mounted and unmounted men falling before his lance. He lost sight or Morgan and Severa at some point, but trusted the two to watch each other’s backs; as annoying as Severa could be, she was definitely a skilled soldier.

Shadows flashed overhead and all of a sudden his way to Chrom was clear, Sumia and Cordelia flying back towards the Dragon’s Claw to resupply on javelins.

Robin gave them a quick wave before charging forward, stabbing at the man in black armour that was striking at Chrom from atop his horse.

Chrom stepped back, allowing Robin to take the initiative and giving him a chance to catch his breath; Robin stabbed quickly the way Cordelia had taught him, drawing the lance back and striking again, slipping by the black armoured man’s guard but not piercing his armour.

Robin jumped back as Chrom pressed forward again, slashing high with his sword and cutting a deep furrow into the man’s black armoured side.

Before either of the men could press their advantage, though, the mysterious woman leapt onto the black armoured man’s horse from behind him, dragging him to the ground. She recovered faster than he did, and viciously stabbed into his chest with Robin’s rapier, leaning close to whisper something to the man before she spat in his face.

“Well that was… brutal,” Robin said, eying the woman warily.

“Who’s your new friend?” Chrom asked, breathing heavily.

Robin shrugged, looking around. Without their leader the Valmese forces were retreating from the harbour en mass, many simply abandoning their weapons when they saw the Ylissean ships pulling into the other docks.

“Ah, good,” Chrom said, spying the ships at the same time Robin did. “Roark and the Khans made it.”

“Late as usual,” Robin added, leaning on his lance.

Ylissean and Feroxi soldiers started flowing off of the ships, and Robin spotted Flavia at the head of the first group, signalling a charge with her sword held high.

Robin was content to stand by out of their way, leaning on one of the low stone walls around the harbour as Flavia led the first of the Feroxi forces into the city.

“Drive the Valmese soldiers out of the city!” Chrom called to her. “Don’t harm the civilians! Set up a perimeter along the town’s outer wall and make sure that the town is ours by nightfall!”

Flavia saluted with a lazy wave of her sword, beginning to jog into the town itself with her warriors close behind, bright Feroxi banners snapping in the ocean wind.

The strange woman cleared her throat once the Feroxi soldiers had passed them, reminding the Prince and his tactician of her presence.

“Oh. I forgot about you,” Robin said, looking her up and down. “Are you done with my sword yet?”

The woman ignored him, looking right at Chrom.

“Tales of your strength were obviously no exaggeration,” she said to the Prince. “I am called Say’ri, and I am one of the leaders of the Resistance.”

“Hi there,” Robin said, lifting a hand in greeting and still being ignored.

“So there is an organized resistance movement?” Chrom asked, wiping the blood from Falchion with a scrap of cloth taken from one of the dead Valmese soldiers.

“Aye, of sorts,” Say’ri said. “There are many groups that formed to seek liberty for the states of Valm.”

“Word was that the Emperor had stamped out all dissent,” Chrom said, testing the woman.

“He tries, but we resistance are not so easily defeated,” Say’ri declared proudly. “We strike hard where his army is weakest, and disappear again into the dead of night. Even now rebels ride to the banners of the old dynasts across the continent. United we could pose a veritable threat to Walhart’s reign; so I conspired to bring them all together.”

“Sounds like you don’t really need our help. What’s stopping you bringing them all together, then?” Robin asked.

Say’ri sighed tiredly.

“Greed; sloth; jealousy,” she said. “All of the old weaknesses of man. The dynasts would all have freedom, but on their own terms. Some refuse to take up arms unless their territory is threatened. Others thrive under the Conqueror’s heel, and will not revolt unless they see profit in it. Liberty is a fine dream, aye, but not always enough to rouse men from their foolishness.”

“Great,” Robin groaned. “We’re playing politics now. I nominate Virion.”

Chrom tried not to chuckle, attempting to look like a leader in front of Say’ri.

“So we just need a more convincing argument, then,” Chrom suggested.

Say’ri nodded.

“Just so, but so far my efforts have met with meagre success. I fear many distrust me because my brother fights for Walhart.”

“That… is kind of a big deal, yes,” Robin pointed out.

“Why would he support the empire if you seek its downfall?” Chrom asked.

Say’ri sighed again. “Would that I knew, Prince Chrom. Yen’fay was a good man once, but he is my brother no more. If we were to meet him on the battlefield, I would cut him down the same as any other imperial, this I swear to you.”

Chrom shared a glance with Robin.

Robin had no experience with siblings; or if he did, he didn’t remember it. But swearing to strike down your own blood felt a little extreme to the tactician. He knew for a fact he could never turn his blade on Morgan, or any of the Shepherds for that matter, not even if they would abandon them to the enemy.

“Okay, let’s head to the ship and call a war council,” Chrom said, running a hand down his tired face. “We need to take stock of the situation and make preparations to occupy the city. Lady Say’ri, I would be honoured if you were to join us.”

Say’ri nodded once, falling into step with Chrom, leaving Robin to follow behind them.

“Can I please have my sword back now?” he asked as he followed them.

Robin leaned with his back to the railing on the forecastle deck back aboard the Dragon’s Claw as the rest of Chrom’s war council assembled. He grinned, realizing the war council was pretty well a third of the Shepherds now.

Say’ri stood next to Chrom at the front of the deck, her hands clasped behind her back and her posture perfect. She had cleaned Robin’s rapier, and it now sat tucked beneath the sash she wore around her midsection. Robin eyed it longingly; he’d get his sword back if it killed him, which considering the level of skill he’d seen the petite woman display, it just might.

Morgan and Severa were the first ones onto the deck, Morgan smiling happily as she leaned on the railing next to her father while Severa crossed her arms and glowered from behind the girl.

Frederick came up next, pausing for a split second as he spotted Say’ri, but collecting himself and moving to stand next to Chrom’s other side. Robin glowered at him. His armour was still absolutely pristine, as if he had just spent the afternoon polishing it rather than fighting.

Virion clambered up next, spotting Say’ri and giving her his best charming smile as he took up a position on Robin’s other side.

“Good to see you faring well, friend Robin,” he greeted the tactician.

“She has my sword,” Robin muttered, eyes never once leaving his sword.

Virion chuckled and shook his head, crossing his arms and leaning back silently, seeing that he wouldn’t be getting any conversation out of the tactician at present.

Cordelia arrived next, standing near Virion and smiling at all those gathered; when she smiled at Severa Robin saw the younger woman’s jaw twitch.

Laurent stumbled up the stairs, his face pale and drawn as he clutched his clipboard and silently took up a position next to Severa. Robin would speak to him about practicing his craft a little more, rather than working on constant paperwork.

Lucina arrived last, her arm in a sling, obviously fresh from Lissa and Maribelle’s care. Half of her face was covered in bruises and her lip was split; she was also walking with a slight limp.

What the hell happened to her? Robin wondered as she took up position opposite Cordelia, frowning as his thoughts instantly flashed back to losing Gregor, a momentary spike of fear and concern making him on edge.

“The Khans are leading the troops to take the city,” Chrom said once everyone was assembled. “So it will just be us today. Have any of our forces suffered any serious injuries?”

Robin’s gaze was drawn to Lucina as she shifted a little uncomfortably.

Virion cleared his throat.

“I believe Vaike took a blow to his shoulder; the man really ought to acquire some armour. The mages are still exhausted from the beachhead they created. Apart from that, merely the usual scrapes, bumps and cuts.”

The archer shared a glance with Lucina when Chrom looked away, and the Princess nodded appreciatively.

“Excellent,” Chrom said. “The Khans and Duke Roark should have the city under our control before nightfall. We will be using it as a staging area while we unload the rest of the ships once they arrive, but I would not impose our presence on these people any longer than necessary. Once the army is assembled we will leave, and return to camping.”

“If such is your will, milord,” Frederick said while Laurent made hasty notes on his clipboard.

“The people of this city oppose the Conqueror’s reign,” Say’ri assured as all eyes in the group snapped to her. “They will not cause any trouble for your army.”

Chrom nodded.

“I believe introductions are in order,” he said, gesturing to the woman next to him. “This is Say’ri, one of the leaders of the Valmese Resistance. She has pledged herself and her army to our cause.”

Say’ri bowed deeply from the waist.

“I am honoured to meet you all,” she said.

“You’ll learn the names as we go,” Chrom said to her. “What I wanted to talk to you about were the numbers we face, the enemy’s disposition, and how we will get your dynasts to join us.”

The stern-faced woman was silent for a moment.

“The Conqueror’s forces number more than a million men,” she said gravely. “Perhaps more. Sooner or later Walhart will crush the resistance if we do not unite them and combine our forces.”

Robin’s jaw dropped as the assembled Shepherds made similar gestures of shock.

“Did you say a million men!?” Robin asked incredulously.

Say’ri nodded, grinning confidently.

“But what are one million men to the Ylissean dogs of war? You stopped a thousand of their ships, did you not?”

“More like a hundred,” Robin corrected her, already adjusting his plans in his head to reflect the superior Valmese numbers.

“Your daring strategy has awoken and inspired people all across Valm,” Say’ri persisted. “Together I know we can unite the resistance and break Walhart’s power!”

“Please, Prince Chrom,” she said, turning to the man and speaking passionately. “I beg you. Help me save my people.”

Chrom took a deep breath and looked away from the rebel leader.

“Milord?” Frederick prodded when Chrom had been silent for a few moments.

“This is no easy thing you ask of me,” Chrom said honestly, meeting Say’ri’s gaze. “I have my own causes; a Haildom to save and a future to win.”

Lucina shifted uncomfortably as Chrom’s gaze fell on her.

“I know a great battle has been foretold,” he went on. “But is this it? How do we know?”

He looked at Say’ri again and smiled reassuringly.

“Still, I admire your courage. Standing alongside us today was not something I take lightly; and perhaps your mission is the best way to achieve our own goals. So yes, Lady Say’ri, I will join my cause with your own, and together we will bring Walhart the Conqueror to his knees. Now what will it take to unite your people?”

Say’ri sighed with relief, smiling a little as she did.

“Lucina!” Robin called to the woman as she descended into the galley. “What in the hell happened to you?”

She paused, stepping back to create space for some of the sailors going about their business to pass.

“I was kicked by one of the Valmese Knights,” she admitted embarrassedly. “I let my guard down while he was charging past and paid the price for my lapse in attention.”

Robin took a step closer, looking closely at the bruise covering half of her face. Her eye was beginning to swell shut, the orb beneath her lids red and bloodshot.

“You need a healer,” Robin said, forcing her to sit down at one of the tables in the galley.

“I will be fine, Robin,” she persisted, trying to rise again but wincing and falling back into her seat.

Robin crossed his arms and stared at the Princess with one eyebrow raised, daring her to try to argue the point.

Lucina sighed and relented.

“Aunt Lissa and Lady Maribelle are both busy tending to the injured civilians, and Sir Libra is assisting with those subduing the prisoners. I did not feel it right to disturb any of them.”

Robin shrugged. “We’ve got spare staves. I’ll do it.”

Lucina looked up at him, startled.

“I was unaware you had any skill with the healing arts.”

“I don’t, but how hard can it be? I’m already one of the top mages in the army.”

Lucina grinned at him.

“Then I shall await your ministrations in my cabin, Robin.”

“Okay, just let me give this spear back to Cordelia, I’ll grab a staff and meet you there.”

Robin approached Cordelia on the quarter deck, still holding the spear across his shoulders.

“Hey Cordelia,” he greeted her as she was bringing food to her pegasus.

“Robin,” she said, spinning and standing up straight, an easy smile on her face. “What can I do for you?”

“I wanted to thank you for letting me use this today,” Robin said, holding out the spear, sunlight glinting off the polished head and intricate decorative carvings along its haft. “You really did make a great weapon.”

“Why don’t you hold on to it?” she said with a light laugh. “I’ve certainly got enough of them lying around as it is.”

Robin looked at the beautiful weapon in his hands.

“Are you sure?” he asked, looking back up at her. “I know how hard you worked on this.”

Cordelia waved his question off. “I’m sure. I want you to have it. Consider it my thanks for your feedback on my javelin-making skills.”

Robin shrugged. “Okay, but at least let me help you with your pegasus to say thanks.”

The tactician knocked quietly on Lucina’s door, a healing staff resting on his shoulder.

He had gotten some funny looks when he had walked through the galley holding it, but the Shepherds already knew he could use just about every other weapon under the sun; they all just assumed he was expanding his repertoire of skills further.

“Lucina? It’s me,” Robin called softly through the door.

There was some shuffling and some muffled curses from the other side, before Lucina opened it, a frustrated look on her face.

“Come in,” she said shortly.

“What’s up?” Robin asked, stepping by her as she closed the door behind him.

“I cannot reach the clasps on my left side,” she said, indicating to her injured arm.

“How many times did you get kicked?” Robin asked with a chuckle.

Lucina grimaced.

“Are you going to help me or not?” she asked irritatedly, lifting her injured arm a little.

Robin resisted the urge to laugh as he unclasped the straps on the thin leather armour she wore over her chest. He reached up, carefully removing her pauldrons, and setting them to the side, drawing up the cape that came off with them so that it wouldn’t touch the ground and get dirtier. Lucina jumped and squirmed, trying to get the hardened leather chest piece off over her head without using her injured arm, hissing in pain as she failed.

“Hold still,” Robin said, reaching over and pulling the leather plate over her head.

“Thank you,” Lucina mumbled, blushing with embarrassment.

Robin grinned and chuckled as he set the chest plate down on the sideboard with her pauldrons and cape.

“You’re on your own for your boots,” Robin laughed. “Now sit down and hold still. This could take a while.”

Lucina did as she was told as Robin stood before her, gripping the staff tightly as he began to concentrate and pool his mana.

Unlike an offensive spell, healing magic had to be maintained once the spell was cast, which took a lot of concentration. An offensive spell like elthunder or bolganone was easy; all the caster had to do was summon the right amount of mana, say the incantation right and point. Healing magic required a gentle touch; the spells to heal were notoriously difficult to keep a hold of once they were cast, hence the staves that had a miniature focusing crystal embedded at their head to make life easier. Robin doubted even Libra could cast a healing spell strong enough to fix more than a paper cut without the aid of a staff.

Robin concentrated, feeling the spell begin to form in the staff. As he gently coerced it out and in Lucina’s direction he lost control, the magic dissipating as Robin growled and glared at the staff.

“Give me a second here,” he muttered, closing his eyes to try again as an idea occurred to him.

He followed the same steps, breathing deeply and trying to centre himself. Robin concentrated his mana, feeling it pool in the focusing crystal at the head of the staff, and he felt the spell begin to take shape.

Taking a deep breath Robin gave himself entirely to the spell the way Tharja had told him to with dark magic.

The effect was instant and incredible.

Robin reached out with his mind, feeling the same pain that Lucina would have been feeling; his own cheek stung, and his eye ached. His shoulder burned from the blow Lucina had taken during the fighting, and Robin winced with sympathetic pain.

He allowed the spell to flow through him, allowed it to use his body as the focal point rather than the staff. Robin reached out again, feeling Lucina’s pain start to fade as her wounds began to heal. Ruptured blood vessels beneath the skin of her face and shoulder were repaired almost instantly while torn and tired muscles knitted themselves back together with the aid of Robin’s spell.

All at once he was done, gasping and returning to his own consciousness.

“I don’t think I did it right,” Robin said, still breathing heavily, his mana now well and truly exhausted. “Did it work?”

Robin looked up, realizing Lucina was blushing again, his hand resting on the side of her face.

Apparently he hadn’t just reached out with his mind.

Robin’s hand snapped back as he blushed heavily.

“Ah, crap, sorry, I guess I needed to make… uh, physical contact, because I’m still… not entirely sure what I’m doing and…” he stammered, reaching behind him for the door. “I’ll just go now.”

Lucina nodded, still blushing as she reached up to feel her cheek where Robin’s hand had been.

Then Robin was safely outside the door, closing it behind him and leaning back against it, running a hand through his hair.

Great, he thought. Now she’s going to think I’m a freak.

Robin glanced down at his hand, flexing the fingers that had lingered on the soft flesh of her cheek.

He shook his head. He was just tired and feeling the cabin fever.

I wonder what the others are up to?

Robin found his daughter in the galley that evening, her head lying on the table she was sharing with Tharja and Henry while they all ate in an attempt to regain their strength after the day’s events.

“I know elbows on the table are bad manners,” Robin said as he sat down opposite the trio. “But what’s the etiquette on heads?”

“Depends,” Henry answered. “Did I cut the head off? Or is it still attached to someone?”

“This conversation got really weird, really fast,” Robin said with an awkward chuckle. “How’s everyone feeling?”

Morgan mumbled unintelligibly from the table.

“Eat something, Morgan,” Tharja said in a stern voice.

Morgan acquiesced, reaching up to the table and sweeping some jerky into her open mouth.

“I’m feeling pretty good,” Henry said disappointedly. “Which sucks, because usually when I exhaust my mana I usually get a really cool nosebleed…”

“I will be fine,” Tharja said, favouring Robin with a warm smile, a rare sight on her face.

“Good,” Robin said, helping himself to a piece of the jerky Morgan had missed.

The day had been brutal; the fighting had been fast and harsh, and most of the Shepherds were exhausted. Robin was worried about Lucina, though; she had disappeared as soon as the meeting had been over, and she was obviously wounded.

“Watcha thinkin’ bout?” Morgan mumbled tiredly, looking up from the tabletop.

“Getting you into a bed,” he said with a small grin, rising from the table and grabbing Morgan under the arms.

“Noooooo…” she moaned as Robin picked her up princess-style. “I’m not tired…”

“Say that to the puddle of drool on the table,” Henry giggled.

“Save me, Aunt Tharja!” Morgan shouted, her head lolling back as Robin carried her.

Robin glanced back to where Tharja was grinning waving evilly as Morgan pleaded.

He carried the exhausted girl to the rear of the ship, ducking and weaving through the tight confines of the Dragon Claw’s interior to where his closet of a cabin was, across from Chrom’s. He would simply take Morgan’s hammock in the main hold with the rest of the Shepherds while she slept in his marginally more comfortable bed.

He gently nudged the door to his room open, Morgan already out cold in his arms. Gently setting her down on the bed and covering her with his sheet, Robin became aware of just how tired he was himself as he watched the girl curl up into a ball on her side.

That hammock’s sounding pretty good right now, he thought as he absently stroked his daughter’s cheek. She responded by smiling as she mumbled incoherently, curling up into a tighter ball.

He quickly slipped out of his armour, careful not to make any noise as Morgan slept as he piled the plates in the corner of the tiny room. No doubt Morgan would still manage to trip on them in the morning…

Robin silently closed his door and stretched his back, the vertebrae popping loudly as he did, a small groan escaping his lips as he did.

Realization crashed into Robin, making him groan again.

Say’ri still has my bloody sword…

Robin sat on the low wall near the edge of the street above the harbour, watching the soldiers on patrol come and go and fiddling with his empty scabbard.

The sun had set completely, leaving Robin sitting in the dim light given off by the lanterns lining the street as he patiently waited for Say’ri to reappear.

His head drooped, chin bumping his chest before he snapped it back up.

Okay, so he was falling asleep. But he wanted his sword back.

Robin rolled out his neck in an attempt to stave off the encroaching exhaustion trying to claim him. He was about to give up and go wandering the streets, hoping to find the rebel leader when a flash of light on smooth white plates caught his attention.

Robin did a double-take, looking at the armoured woman walking towards the Dragon’s Claw. Say’ri had retrieved a set of strange, light looking armour she wore over another robe, similar to the one she had been wearing earlier, but obviously of a more utilitarian design. Her bare legs flashed in the moonlight, and Robin recognized the shadows of two swords hanging off her hips in the low light.

He called her name, bouncing off of the low wall and beginning to walk towards the rebel. She stopped when she heard Robin’s call, and stood waiting for him with her arms crossed over her chest.

“I believe you have something of mine,” Robin said, crossing his own arms as he approached Say’ri. “I’d like it back now.”

Say’ri nodded, taking the thin sword from her hip and handing it to Robin.

“’Tis a good blade,” she said, nodding once. “Thank you for allowing me to use it.”

Robin nodded in reply, sheathing it and bouncing his hip a little, ensuring the familiar weight was back where it belonged.

“Thank you,” Robin finally said. “I was starting to feel naked without it.”

Say’ri chuckled a little at Robin’s comment.

“It is the mark of a true tsuwamono to feel unbalanced without his weapon by his side.”

“I’m going to assume that was a compliment?” Robin said, his tired mind not comprehending Say’ri’s strange speech patterns.

“Apologies,” Say’ri said with a shallow bow, her face serious again. “It means ‘warrior’ in your language. I admit to still having difficulty speaking the common tongue on occasion.”

Robin smiled a little. “I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it fast enough. Just don’t say anything that the shirtless, spiky-blonde-haired one tells you to.”

Say’ri’s grin returned. “I shall endeavour to remember your advice.”

Robin clapped his hands together.

“Well, it’s getting late and I’m close to dropping dead,” he said with a rueful chuckle. “I’m going to go and crawl into a hammock and pretend the world doesn’t exist for a few hours. Good night, Lady Say’ri.”

“Good night, Robin,” she said formally, bowing low from the waist again. “I look forward to fighting alongside you tomorrow.”

Robin nodded, a little confused by her behaviour and speech, but putting it up to difference in cultures.

She’s not even speaking the same language half the time, Robin thought, running a hand through his hair. It’s kinda interesting, though. I wonder if she’d teach me some of it?

Besides, Robin mused as he walked back to the ship; it was in his best interests to try to get along with the serious woman. She was the one of the leaders of the Resistance, and they needed the Resistance’s bodies to win the war. Besides, she did have a certain old-world charm to her; her face was all soft lines and her skin was flawless and smooth looking. She could stand to loosen up a little and smile more, but Robin thought that about most of the people in his acquaintance.

Before he realized it Robin was descending the staircase back on the Dragon’s Claw into the galley, the space empty save for one figure sitting alone at one of the long tables.

“What’re you still doing up?” Robin asked Tharja, sitting down across from her.

She glanced up, her gaze partially obscured by her low fringe as she leaned over her spellbook with a pen in hand, retracing the intricate circles and diagrams on the pages.

“I’ve put this off far too long,” she explained, holding up the pen before setting back to work.

Robin nodded his understanding. A spellbook was a very important thing to a mage; many chose to use the weaker, simpler to use, dime a dozen varieties available from most weapon merchants, but those truly dedicated to the craft had their own book, written in their own handwriting. Many of the more powerful mages, who were few and far between, only kept the spellbooks as reference, having memorized the necessary incantations and movements for their favoured spells.

Robin realized that he was fast becoming one of those mages.

He let his head fall exhaustedly onto the table in much the same way Morgan had a few hours ago, closing his eyes and letting his mind wander, the only sounds around him the gentle scratching of Tharja’s pen and the waves lapping at the ship’s hull.

“Do you think they’ll give us proper lodgings in this town?” Robin asked tiredly. “Or will we be stuck on this stupid boat until we start camping again?”

Robin glanced up as Tharja set her pen down, sprinkling a little fine dust on the ink to help it dry faster.

“I have grown weary of camping,” she admitted, reaching over to run a hand through Robin’s hair. “If all else fails I could hex some of the villagers into giving up their beds for some of us…”

Robin groaned, too tired to remind her that they were supposed to be helping these people and enjoying the simple human contact as she ruffled his hair.

“You need a haircut,” she pointed out.

“Argh, I know,” Robin moaned.

In a strange way they had become closer in the weeks following the revelation that Robin and Tharja never became a couple in the future; strangely enough, the tactician no longer feared physical contact with the Dark Mage, who had stopped looking for any excuse to initiate it. They were interacting like normal friends for the first time since they had met nearly three years ago, something Robin had never thought would happen, but was still incredibly grateful for.

He twitched as Tharja poked the top of his head lightly with one finger, unaware that he had drifted off.

“Go and get some rest,” she said, clapping her spellbook closed.

“Comfortable here,” Robin mumbled, closing his eyes again and yawning. “Just wake me when I’m in the way of breakfast.”

Robin jolted up as a tiny bolt of lightning struck his shoulder, making his entire arm twitch violently and almost throwing him to the floor.

“Argh, okay!” he groaned, forcing his tired limbs to carry him one last time. “There’s no need to get violent…”

Tharja chuckled as she turned, heading to her own hammock next to Henry.

Robin yawned again, running his hand through his hair as he walked into the next room, crowded with sleeping Shepherds and collapsed into Morgan’s hammock.

His last thought before unconsciousness claimed him was that the hammocks were actually far more comfortable than they looked.

Say’ri strode through the dark streets, far more comfortable in her armour than she had been in the light and flowing kimono.

Her hand rested comfortably on her sword, her tanto back in its regular position next to the longer katana. She shook the hair out of her eyes, wishing she had something to tie it back with.

The night air was cool, but Say’ri didn’t even notice as she rounded a corner into a dead-end alley. She walked all the way to the back, turning when she reached the sheer brick wall at the other end.

There, standing in the shadow that had been empty only a moment ago, was a slight woman in dark blue shozoko, her eyes the only thing visible. Even expecting the woman Say’ri still started a little at her sudden appearance.

“Good evening, Princess,” Sei’ko said quietly in the native language of Chon’sin, bowing low to one knee.

“Rise, Sei’ko,” Say’ri answered in her native tongue. “We do not have much time this evening.”

Sei’ko rose. Say’ri had rarely seen her chief spy’s face; she so often worked in the field, taking on the most dangerous and high-risk missions, stating that she was the best at what she did. What she did was the dirty work Say’ri couldn’t; assassinations, espionage, and weapons smuggling were but a few of the things that Say’ri relied on the kunoichi and her ilk for.

“The tactician is cute,” Sei’ko pointed out, her casual sense of humour at odds with her appearance and dangerous work as she passed Say’ri a sealed scroll.

“If you like outsiders,” Say’ri replied with a faint smile, accepting the scroll and tucking it carefully into the belt around her waist.

On it was the usual reports; Say’ri didn’t have to read them to know what they said.

“So the dynasts still will not be swayed?” Say’ri asked.

“No, my lady,” Sei’ko answered, bowing her head. “Their cowardice shames all of our people.”

Say’ri shook her head.

“They dear for their lives and their homes,” she told the other woman. “Were our roles reversed, I too would choose caution. That is why I have made the decision to involve the Voice in our war.”

Sei’ko was silent for a moment, her widening eyes the only indication of her surprise.

“You cannot have made that decision lightly, my lady. You have my support and the support of my clan, as always,” Sei’ko said with a low bow.

Say’ri nodded, clapping a hand on the other’s shoulder in gratitude.

“It means much to hear you say that, my friend. I need you to scout the Mila Tree, and to give me an accurate idea of the Imperial presence in the area.”

“Of course, my lady,” Sei’ko said, a slight crinkling at the corner of her eyes the only indication of the smile her hood was hiding. “After all, I look so good in a green shozoko. I will leave three of my best here to guard you from the shadows.”

Say’ri chuckled and nodded her thanks.

“If that is all, I must prepare for the journey,” Sei’ko said.

“Indeed. Be safe, my friend.”

“And you, Princess.”

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