Invisible Ties

Chapter 26

Robin groaned, hanging his head and putting both hands on the back of it, letting their weight stretch his neck.

He and Chrom had been at it for hours, and still there was no end in sight.

“No matter how we slice it,” the tactician said tiredly. “We just don’t have enough men. We barely have enough to hold this city if it’s attacked.”

“Come on Robin, we planned for this,” Chrom said, sounding just as tired as the other man.

“No,” Robin corrected, leaning back. “We planned for numbers reflecting the forces we had already fought. We planned under the assumption that the ten thousand men we fought on the sea was a sizeable chunk of Walhart’s army. We did not, in fact, plan for him to be able to throw ten thousand men at us and still have a million more hiding somewhere.”

They had been in Valm Harbour now for three days, and in that time it had become abundantly clear to Robin that they were almost comically outnumbered.

Robin and Chrom were sitting in the small room on the bottom floor of the inn that had agreed to put the Shepherds up, where they had been all morning, pouring over maps with the Valmese troop movements and looking at their own troop disposition reports.

The bulk of the Ylissean League’s army, as the locals had taken to calling it, was only now beginning to arrive in the hulking troop transports, but even with the ships filled to bursting they would have to make a second trip to collect the remainder of the troops; another four month round trip before the entire army was assembled.

“Your pessimism doesn’t help,” Chrom deadpanned, glancing up at Robin.

Robin sighed. “I know, I know. We’ve just been cooped up in this room all day working on this; I’m starting to get claustrophobic.”

“Perhaps we might break for lunch,” Chrom said, rising from his chair.

Robin was already halfway through the door when Chrom added, “A short break.”

The tactician grinned over his shoulder. “Define ‘short’.”

Robin smiled as the cool wind from the harbour tossed his hair around, sunlight beating down on his dark coat. It was a pleasant change to the dingy little planning room Chrom had set up, that was for sure.

He watched the steady stream of soldiers trickling off of the transports, heading directly to the empty warehouses they were being billeted in. Men in pale blue or white armour that had spent two months packed together like sardines stretched, smiling and joking as they walked to the warehouses alongside other warriors wearing leather and furs, glad to finally have the space to move around again.

“Tis a sobering sight, no?” Say’ri asked, coming up behind Robin.

He turned to look at the woman; she was good, he hadn’t even heard her approaching.

“Yeah,” Robin agreed, going back to watching the men. “Makes me grateful for the closet sized cabin I had on the Claw.”

Say’ri stood beside Robin, her back perfectly straight as she clasped her hands behind her back, looking over the harbour like a queen observing her subjects.

“Beautiful day,” Robin pointed out after Say’ri had been silent a few moments.

When in doubt, discuss the weather, Robin repeated in his mind.

She nodded thoughtfully, staring at the troops coming off of the ships.

“So what’re you doing out here?” Robin asked curiously when she still didn’t answer him.

“I could ask you the same question,” she responded.

Robin huffed, letting his head drop. “Looking for inspiration.”

“And watching your troops usually inspires you?” Say’ri asked seriously.

She and Panne would probably get along great, he thought absently, glancing up at her out of the corner of his eye. They both strike me as very driven individuals.

“I can’t leave the city,” Robin admitted after a moment. “Usually when I’m tired or stuck on a problem I get closer to nature; go for a walk in the forest, sink my feet in a creek for a while, that kind of thing. It helps me think.”

“But you cannot do that at present,” Say’ri finished for him.

Robin nodded, sighing. “The best I can do is the ocean breeze in my hair.”

Say’ri went silent again, before turning away from the harbour.

“I have an idea that may help you. Follow me,” she said, motioning for Robin to join her.

Thinking something along the lines of what have I got to lose right now? Robin followed the serious woman down the main street before veering off and walking down some narrow side streets. Robin trusted that she wouldn’t lead him to harm, but he became turned around pretty quickly by the labyrinthine layout of the back streets.

Low hanging awnings blocked out the sun, and the feeling of claustrophobia soon set in on the tactician. Walls and doorways were everywhere in the shadowed twilight of the back roads, eyes watching from high windows and cracked doorways. The streets were clean, though; no garbage or refuse littering the area; obviously the residents of Valm Harbour took keeping their homes presentable seriously.

Robin began to feel a little nervous following Say’ri, spotting more and more eyes and blank stares watching their progress, but the armoured woman didn’t seem concerned and kept walking, her head straight and high.

They came into a small courtyard before an old looking shrine. The buildings seemed to have popped up around its grounds, pressing in on it but not disrupting the tranquillity that Robin could feel in the air. A small pond stretched across and around the carefully maintained gravel of the courtyard, water lilies and rushes dotted its surface. Robin watched small, brightly coloured fish darting around beneath the surface, captivated by the sight.

“My people appreciate simplicity of design,” Say’ri said, running a hand along the railing of the short bridge as she crossed it. “We seek to achieve tranquillity in our temples and shrines. This is hardly the same as a creek in the woods, but perhaps you will find the answers you seek here?”

Robin nodded, awestruck that such a place would exist in such a tight-packed city. All sense of claustrophobia and being watched evaporated, leaving Robin feeling pretty silly that he had let his mind jump to conclusions.

“This is amazing,” Robin breathed, quickly forgetting the problem he and Chrom were trying to solve.

“Is all of Chon’sin like this?” Robin asked, turning to face Say’ri.

Say’ri paused for a moment, obviously not expecting the question.

“Some areas, yes,” she said. “Others are much busier, much more modern. We walk a fine line between honouring the past while striding toward the future.”

Robin nodded, looking around the small space again. He took a deep breath, basking in the moment.

“Did you find the answers you were seeking?” Say’ri asked after a few minutes of quiet contemplation.

Robin sighed and shook his head.

“No. I just don’t know where we’re going to get more men on such short notice. We have the soldiers from the boats, but that’s barely half of our army. Until the other half gets here we’re vulnerable unless we find reinforcements, and quick.”

Say’ri chuckled. “Fie, good tactician. Why did you not say that was what vexed you so? I may have a solution for you.”

“And you’re sure that they’ll join us?” Chrom asked cautiously.

“Aye, Prince Chrom,” Say’ri answered with a nod. “As long as you request their aid in person. Lord Liung is a proud man, and will be insulted if any but you request his aid.”

“I’m just not sure how comfortable I am with travelling alone in what is paramount to enemy territory,” Chrom admitted.

“Fie, Prince,” Say’ri said. “You and I will not be alone; Sir Robin shall assemble a team for us to travel with, and as long as we avoid the main roads we will easily avoid incident with the Conqueror’s forces.”

Chrom nodded thoughtfully.

“And what do you think, Robin?” he asked, looking over to the tactician.

Robin thought Say’ri’s plan was a godsend; it was the answer to their problems. He had brought her directly to the tavern and into Chrom’s little planning room; the Prince had been a little unimpressed with Robin’s tardiness, but the idea of going to one of the closer, more sympathetic dynasts for aid had been enough to distract Chrom’s irritation.

“I wouldn’t have brought her in here if I didn’t think it was our best shot,” he said with a wry grin instead.

Liung’s seat of power was about a week’s journey north west through the forest; they couldn’t risk open roads while the Imperial Valmese still held them, not even in disguises. Say’ri had offered to lead a small group to Chéngshì, where they would appeal to the man for his army’s aid. Say’ri had assured them that he followed Walhart only because his lands were threatened, and she was confident he would join them.

Chrom nodded. “I’m not too pleased to be leaving the army at this critical juncture, but I suppose we have no alternatives.”

“Great!” Robin said, clapping his hands together. “I’ll draft up a team and we can head off tomorrow.”

“We?” Chrom asked with a grin and a raised brow.

Robin shrugged in response. “I owe you an adventure by now; figured you’d want me to make good on it.”

Chrom laughed, shaking his head.

“Of course. We’ll leave before first light tomorrow.”

Robin was sitting in the small common room that the Shepherds had been using as a place to relax in the inn, hunched over a sheet of paper and trying to figure out who the best candidates to bring on the journey were.

So far the only solid names he had were his own, Chrom’s and Say’ri’s.

Robin considered Lon’qu, knowing that the man was trained for stealth ops and also doubled as an excellent tracker. His extensive experience in the forests of Regna Ferox clinched it, and Robin wrote his name down next.

Libra was in as well; last time he had travelled without a healer had not ended well for anyone involved. Robin blushed, remembering the conversation he had had with Lucina about her leg-wound’s awkward placement… Robin shook his head, focusing. He just needed to find the blonde priest and tell him now.

“Five of us should be enough…” Robin muttered, standing and packing away his things.

Robin glanced up as Lissa and Morgan walked into the room, placing their packs next to the door and looking up at him expectantly.

“No,” Robin said, rolling up the scroll he had been working on.

“Aw, come on!” they both cried in unison.

“No,” Robin repeated, bopping Lissa on the head with the scroll.

“Why not?” Morgan asked, making puppy-dog eyes at Robin.

Gah! Not the puppy-dog eyes! Robin moaned in his head.

“Because I’m not taking the entire Ylissean royal family into certain danger,” he said, looking at Lissa before turning to Morgan, “And Frederick’s going to need a tactician while I’m gone. That will be you.”

“But you’ll need a healer!” Lissa persisted, stomping one foot on the ground petulantly as Morgan went silent, her eyes wide. “I’m not letting you take my brother and my husband and leave me behind!”

Robin sighed. “I’m already going to ask Libra.”

“Then I’ll go and tell him to say no!” Lissa said, running out of the room, no doubt to go and pester the quiet Priest.

Morgan was still staring at Robin with wide eyes when he picked up the writing tools he had left on the table. Grinning, he bopped her on the head with the scroll too, which seemed to snap her out of it.

“Me?” she asked nervously. “You want me to be… acting tactician for the whole army? Me?”

“A-yep,” Robin drawled, grinning at his daughter. “The best way to learn is by doing, and I wouldn’t suggest it if I didn’t think you could handle it. Besides, Fr-”

The rest of what Robin was saying was lost when Morgan launched herself around him in a tight hug.

“Thank you so much, dad!” she squealed. “I promise I won’t let you down!”

She released him, suddenly looking very distracted.

“I’m going to go upstairs and read over my basics again! Make sure you say goodbye before you leave,” Morgan said quickly, retreating from the room like it was on fire.

“Wait a minute,” Robin called her back.

Morgan re-emerged through the doorway, a questioning look on her face.

“Care to explain the giant bruise on your forehead?” Robin asked, raising a brow and crossing his arms.

He hadn’t noticed it before; the way her bangs hung over her brow hid it pretty well. Put when she had hugged him Robin had noticed the great purple bruise right in the middle of her forehead.

Morgan laughed nervously, looking down at her feet.

“I was hoping you wouldn’t notice that,” she mumbled. “I was doing an experiment to see if I could get my memories back.”

“By doing what, exactly?” Robin asked, his voice unamused.

Morgan shuffled her feet nervously, still looking for all the world like a child that had been caught doing something they weren’t supposed to be instead of the grown tactician-in-training about to take over her father’s duties.

“I beat my head into a pole…” Morgan finally said quickly.

Robin had to stop a moment to process what his daughter had said.

A pole? He thought. Really? How was that supposed to work, exactly?

“And how did that work out for you?” he asked instead.

Morgan grinned up at Robin. “No change. I did get a splitting headache, though.”

“I wonder why,” Robin drolled, bopping her with the scroll again. “Go see Maribelle before you start studying and get that taken care of. I need your brain in working order before I leave.”

Morgan perked back off at being let off the hook, nodding and smiling widely.

“Yessir!” she said quickly, spinning and running from the room again.

“And no more poles!” Robin called after her, chuckling at the girl’s antics when he was sure she was out of earshot.

He hadn’t been lying when he had said that she was ready to take over from him for a little while; all they did in his spare time was go over the tactical manuals, play tactical games and talk tactics. Robin knew she trained more than he did, too; her swordsmanship and spellcraft were both well above average. Her eccentric nature made him worry a little, though…

Robin scratched the back of his head as he put his gear back in the little planning room.

Maybe I ought to step things up a notch, too, he thought, worried about his daughter outpacing him.

Robin stepped outside, once again feeling the wind in his hair as it blew in off the ocean.

It really is a beautiful day, Robin thought, heading down to the training area.

Robin ran through his sword exercises, working his way up from the very basics.

Slash, step, parry, stab… he counted in his head, sweat beginning to dot his forehead. Spin, stab, step, stab, step, slash…

He struck out, imagining Gangrel standing in front of him where his strikes landed.

Come on, boy, the Gangrel in his head sneered. You can do better than that. Your little brat could do better than that. Hit me!

Robin twirled again, duelling with his imaginary foe. The Gangrel in his mind fought with much more skill than the one Chrom had killed did. Robin ducked low under an imaginary high sweep, aimed at his neck, thrusting upwards with the tip of his blade to Gangrel’s stomach. The phantom sidestepped, and Robin rolled forward as his blade came down where the tactician had been kneeling.

The Gangrel phantom laughed, cold and harsh. Really now, he snorted. I just can’t seem to die! Where’s that messy end I was promised, eh?

Robin bounced on the tips of his toes, slipping out of his coat and throwing it onto the nearby bench his towel and waterskin rested on.

He and the phantom Gangrel circled each other, Robin slowly rolling up the sleeves of his cream coloured shirt as they did. Without warning the tactician darted forward again, striking high with one of Chrom’s moves, only to meet air as Gangrel ducked under his guard. Robin hopped back, bringing his rapier down to parry a wild series of blows.

You are weak, tactician! Gangrel sneered.

Robin glanced down as he stumbled across his feet, desperately dodging the downward strike the dead king directed at his neck.

You are weak… but you could be so much more if you just embraced your destiny!

Robin’s eyes shot back up. Gangrel was gone. In his place Validar was standing, laughing at the tactician with his cold, dark eyes boring directly into Robin’s soul.

With a low growl he lashed out, striking at the Validar phantom that made no move to defend itself.

Running a hand through his hair Robin took deep calming breaths, his heart racing out of control.

Damn my over-active imagination…

He was so caught up in his post-training lamentation that he didn’t even notice he had an audience until he stopped for a break, panting from his exertions as he went for his waterskin.

Lucina clapped slowly as she approached, Robin wiping the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you actually train before,” she said, stopping a short distance away from him. “It was rather impressive.”

Robin nodded, still breathing heavily. “It’s… ah, been a while, honestly.”

“I spoke with Lissa about the mission you and Father are going on,” she said as Robin walked to the bench holding his coat and waterskin, drinking from the skin deeply as Lucina talked.

“I’m still not taking her,” Robin said, wiping his mouth and corking the skin. “I already spoke to Libra, and he agreed to come with us. If, gods forbid, something happens to us I can’t be responsible for losing the entire Ylissean royal line.”

Lucina nodded.

“You mistake my intent. I agree with your decision to leave my Aunt here. I want you to bring me with your party.”

“You?” Robin repeated.

“Yes,” Lucina said simply.

Robin gave Lucina a knowing look, frowning a little as her transparent intentions became clear to him.

“It’s not hard to see what’s going on here,” he said, grabbing the towel next to his coat and wiping his face with it.

He paused, looking at the crow sitting on the back of the bench, staring at him with its beady little eyes. The bird cawed softly before taking flight and sitting on the ledge of a nearby building, like it was watching him.

Lucina seemed taken off guard by his comment, opening and closing her mouth a few times before going stone faced.

“And what, exactly, is going on?” she asked shortly, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Lucina, anyone could tell that you’ve made it your personal mission to safeguard your father,” Robin said, throwing the towel back onto the bench. “And I get it, I really do. He’s the important one; we’re all just the seat-fillers. And truly, I agree with you that it is important to protect him at all costs. But you’ll burn out if you keep going around suspecting and mistrusting everyone close to him.”

“Oh,” Lucina said, her arms falling to her sides, her face a neutral mask hiding her emotions.

“You’ve been going non-stop since you joined us,” Robin added, noticing the change in her attitude and bearing. “I just thought… you know, you could use a break. You’re my friend, and you’re important to me. I don’t want to see you burn out. You have to look after yourself, as well as your father. I mean, what would happen to him if you were to collapse under the strain?”

“I can handle it,” Lucina said, her voice carefully level.

“Look, I’ve probably crossed some line here,” Robin said, running a hand through his sweaty hair. “But… Will you just promise me to take better care of yourself?”

“For you… yes,” Lucina said quietly, deflating and softening a little.

“But I’m still going with you,” she added, her usual fire returning.

Robin threw his hands into the air.

“Why bother being a tactician when no one listens to you anyway!?” he groaned, spinning to retrieve his things.

He paused with his hand halfway to his beloved coat when he heard the soft swish of a sword being unsheathed. Turning slowly, Robin let his own hand fall to the hilt of his rapier.

“We will duel,” Lucina said, grinning wickedly. “If I win, I join you.”

“And if I win, you stay?” Robin finished for her. “Why is everything settled with swords around here? I guess I don’t have a choice in the matter, do I?”

Robin drew his rapier again, shaking out his arms and loosening up as Lucina began to circle him.

“Whenever you’re ready, Princess.”

“How exactly did you get this wound again?” Libra asked, leaning close with his staff.

Robin shifted uncomfortably as the priest attended to the deep scratch across his chest while Olivia mended his shirt behind them.

“Duelling,” Robin said shortly, glancing away as his face grew hot with embarrassment.

Libra made a tsking sound, shaking his head. Robin couldn’t help but notice the man’s hair looked like liquid gold as it swayed with his movements.

The truth was that Lucina had annihilated him while barely breaking a sweat. She had simply swept his guard aside and lunged, obviously expecting Robin to be quicker than he had been. She had apologized profusely, but Robin waved her off, saying that he had needed to go and see Libra anyway.

“Our tactician should know better than to duel with real weapons,” Olivia chided as she cut the thread she had been sewing his shirt up with.

Libra sat back and let out a small sigh. “There. All fixed up.”

Robin looked down, flexing experimentally. He hissed when the newly closed wound stung as he moved, holding a hand to his bare chest.

“It will hurt until your brain realizes that the wound has been healed,” Libra explained in his soft, melodious tones. “Just move around a little bit and you’ll be fine.”

Robin nodded his thanks, getting up and circling his arms, trying to ignore the stinging pain across his chest.

“About this mission,” Libra said as Robin tried to convince his brain he wasn’t wounded.

“Lissa got to you already?” Robin asked, turning to look at the blonde priest.

Olivia was silent behind him, listening intently as she tried to clean the blood out of Robin’s shirt. The pink-haired dancer tensed, though, at the thought of Libra leaving.

“She did,” the man said, placing his staff down carefully. “And I support your decision. I will accompany you on your mission.”

Robin sighed with relief.

“Thanks,” he said. “I managed to get it in my head that Lissa would convince you to deny my request.”

“She is difficult to say no to,” Libra agreed, chuckling softly.

Robin knocked on the door of the room Laurent had claimed at the inn, waiting for the young mage’s response.

“Enter,” he called tersely.

Robin always felt he was intruding around the boy, especially while he was in the room he had claimed, but the tactician needed to speak to the Shepherd’s quartermaster and treasurer before he left.

“Afternoon, Laurent,” Robin said as the skinny blonde man looked up, pushing his glasses further up his nose.

“What can I do for you, sir?” Laurent asked, clapping the book he was reading closed.

Robin was always struck by just how much the boy resembled his mother; if he hadn’t been blonde like Vaike he would have assumed that Laurent had just appeared out of Miriel one day like a seed or a bud off a plant.

“I’m sure word’s gotten around that the Prince and I are leaving for a mission tomorrow,” Robin said, leaning on the door jamb with his arms crossed lightly across his still-damp shirt.

Laurent nodded.

“Well, I just wanted to tell you that I’ve spoken to Frederick and your father,” Robin said, “and we’re going to be starting you on a new training regime while I’m gone.”

Laurent looked a little confused at the statement, blinking rapidly for a second as he tried to absorb what Robin had said.

“That showing on the Dragon’s Claw during the landing was pretty unimpressive,” Robin explained. “You have potential to be a great mage, Laurent. But you need to spend more time training and less with your nose in a book.”

“Sir, I assure you-” Laurent began before Robin cut him off.

“Don’t bother,” the tactician said with an evil grin. “You’re not getting out of it. I’ve asked Chrom to give you authority to conscript anyone you need to help keep up with the work you do around here because of the time you’ll lose to training, but that training’s going to happen. I’ve told Vaike to pick you up and carry you to the training ground if he has to.”

Laurent paled before nodding.

“I see,” the mage said, pushing his glasses up his nose again and beginning to make quick notes in a seemingly random book. “I’ve heard an old saying along the lines of ‘healthy body, healthy mind’… Perhaps I can turn this into an experiment on the effects of physical exercise on magical potency… Robin, you train with a sword regularly, yes? Would you say it increases your effectiveness with casting spells, too?”

“Er… I suppose?” Robin replied, caught a little off-guard with the fast change of topic.

This boy is so much like his mother it hurts, Robin thought, shaking his head as Laurent began to make more notes, buttering to himself and seeming to forget Robin was even present. At least he wasn’t too hard to convince; and here’s me ready for a big argument. I wonder if he knows just how important adaptability like this is to someone in his position?

Robin glanced back as he exited, watching Laurent nudge his glasses back up his nose with the end of a pen as he hurriedly made notes, referring to another book as he did.

Nope. He’s got no idea how much potential he has. Go figure.

Morgan sighed happily as she flipped through the pages of her father’s tactical manual, sitting on a bench near the harbour and reading through his messy handwriting. He didn’t know that she had it, but that was part of the fun; once he had finished his rounds for the day she would go and see if he could find the nefarious hiding place she would put it.

In her pouch, hidden in plain sight. He’d never see it coming…

Chuckling at her own genius she didn’t hear the footsteps approaching until Severa was on top of her.

“What are you sneering about?” she asked in her usual irritated tone.

Morgan jumped about a foot in the air, her father’s book going about a foot higher. She looked up, judging exactly where it would land and catching the book neatly in her outstretched hands, closing it gently as she did.

“Afternoon, Severa,” Morgan said, grinning at the other woman.

Severa was standing above her, arms crossed and frowning the way she always did.

“You should smile a little more,” Morgan said happily. “You’ll wind up getting frown lines.”

“Who asked you?” Severa asked huffily, sitting down next to Morgan on the bench and stretching her legs out.

“So what’s up?” Morgan asked, slipping her father’s book into her bag.

Severa shrugged, sighing as she rested her hands behind her head. A few of the men passing by glanced at the spectacle as her chest inadvertently thrust out, but the red-head’s glare made them quickly rethink their gaze’s direction.

“I’m just bored,” she said, going silent for a moment.

“Wanna go shopping?” she asked suddenly, surprising Morgan.

“Uh, sure…” Morgan said hesitantly. “Anywhere in particular?”

Severa rolled her eyes. “You don’t need to have a destination in mind to shop; you just go where the shopping takes you, genius!”

Morgan chuckled. “I didn’t know you took shopping so seriously. I’d be honoured to accompany you, oh mistress of the art of spending.”

“It’s not like I want to go shopping with you…” Severa huffed, glancing away. “Everyone else is just busy.”

“I’m sure that’s what it is,” Morgan laughed, hopping up before grabbing Severa’s hand and dragging her up too. “C’mon, we’re burning daylight here!”

“Alright, alright!” Severa groaned. “Just stop pawing at me already! Sheesh!”

Robin looked around his small room, scratching the back of his head in confusion.

“Where did I leave that stupid thing…?” he muttered.

He had wanted to go over the tactical manual he’d been working on again, just to keep it fresh in his mind while he was away. It was hardly space-saving to take a pile of books with him while he travelled, so he would be leaving it at Valm Harbour with the others. Not to mention the thought of rain constantly made him nervous for his spellbook at the best of times…

“I know it’s around here somewhere…” he muttered, squatting down and looking under the desk in the corner again.

“Hello father!” Morgan called from the doorway.

There was a loud thump and Robin cursed; she had snuck up on him, and he’d smacked his head on the underside of the table.

“Ow… owowowowow…” Robin groaned, rubbing the new lump on his head.

“I suppose you’re looking on that Treatise on Tactics that you’ve been working on, right?” Morgan asked, sauntering into the room and leaning against the wall with her arms crossed and a superior smirk on her face.

“And how exactly would you know… that,” Robin asked, trailing off as realization hit him. “Waiiiiit a minute. What’d you do?”

“Oh, nothing,” Morgan said innocently. “But I thought it might be fun to pit your deductive skills against mine in a little game. A game like… ‘where did Morgan hide my book’?”

Robin grinned. He’d been waiting for this moment to come since the he’d found the girl in that ruined fortress in Regna Ferox.

“Are you sure you wanna play this game, little girl?” he asked mockingly.

“Oh, I’m sure,” Morgan said confidently. “I’m also sure you’ll come to me later, begging for some clue over where I hid the book. You have until sundown today! Though I could give you weeks, and you would never find my diabolical hiding-”

“Found it,” Robin said, smirking triumphantly as he cut Morgan off.

Her face fell, shocked before she quickly recovered her superior act.

“Oh?” she said, doing a remarkable job of imitating Severa as she crossed her arms and looked down her nose. “And where exactly is it then?”

Robin pointed at the pouch on Morgan’s hip in the exact same place he usually wore his.

“It’s in that pouch right there,” Robin said confidently.

Morgan’s mask shattered as she drooped, shock once again on her face.

“No. Way,” she said. “How did you… I thought I…”

Robin started laughing as she produced the book he had been searching for earlier and held it in both hands.

“It was easy,” he explained, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “You know me well, Morgan. And that includes knowing how much that book means to me. I knew you'd never hide it anywhere it might be damaged or stolen. So it needed to be somewhere you could keep a close eye on it...yet still concealed.”

Morgan groaned, sitting down next to Robin and staring down at the book.

“You just read my entire thought process,” she said bleakly. “And here was me thinking I was being so clever…”

Robin reached over, pinching the corner of the book between two fingers and sliding it out of her grip.

“I guess I win, huh?” he asked, taking the book and flipping it to the first page on his lap. “So now I get to choose the next challenge.”

Morgan looked up questioningly.

“You wanted to read this, right?” Robin asked, indicating the book on his lap. “So why don’t we see who reads faster between the two of us, huh?”

Morgan grinned, the spirit of competition rekindling in her.

“Oh you are so going down, old man.”

Robin scoffed. “Old? I’m barely three or four years older than you in this timeline. Now; get ready to read like you’ve never read before! Go!”

Robin sighed as Lucina walked past him, out of the gates to Valm Harbour to wait with Libra and Lon’qu under a tree.

“She challenged you to a duel, didn’t she?” Chrom asked with a knowing grin.

“Shut up,” the tactician mumbled.

Chrom burst out laughing as Say’ri approached, a curious look on her face at the Prince’s very un-princely behaviour.

“Don’t ask,” Robin said, Chrom still howling with laughter as he did.

Say’ri nodded seriously as Chrom finally quieted.

“Are we prepared to depart?” she asked.

Robin nodded. He had said his goodbyes to Morgan and given her all the last minute advice he could think of. Lon’qu and Lissa had said their farewells, Lissa glaring evilly at Robin the entire time. Chrom and Sumia had also shared a moment, but Sumia seemed to be content with the knowledge that Lucina would be there to watch her father’s back.

Libra had surprised everyone by arriving with homemade lunches for the party, wrapped up in cloth and prepared by Olivia no less.

Robin had made a mental note to thank the timid dancer on their return.

Chrom stretched his arms above his head as they stepped off the road and began their trek cross-country.

“It is so good to be off that boat!” the Price sighed happily.

“Says he who got the biggest cabin on it…” Robin muttered, making Lon’qu and Libra both chuckle a little.

“Just look at this natural beauty,” Chrom went on, glancing over his shoulder at Robin. “It’s such a beautiful day; I can see why you go on all the missions involving camping, now.”

Robin groaned loudly, his shoulders slumping as Chrom looked at him questioningly.

“Dammit all, Chrom,” Robin moaned. “You’ve just jinxed us.”

“Don’t be so superstitious,” the Prince laughed, facing forward again.

Robin grumbled, pulling his hood lower over his face as the rain pelted down on him and glaring at Chrom’s back.

Of course as soon as the Prince had opened his mouth storm clouds had rolled in off the horizon.

About fifteen minutes later and everyone was digging through their packs, hurriedly pulling out cloaks in a vain attempt to stay dry.

“What did we learn today, Chrom?” Robin asked as the Prince stepped in a puddle, groaning as the water splashed up his leg.

“Never underestimate my tactician’s superstitious nature,” the Prince replied, still grinning.

He’s having the time of his life here, Robin thought with amazement. And I’m beginning to notice a pattern with my travelling here…

They had just begun crossing a series of open fields with absolutely no cover to protect the party from the rain; dark clouds hung oppressively low in the sky, cutting the light and turning the day into a strange grey twilight. The others didn’t seem to be affected, though. Libra and Lon’qu stomped on ahead with Say’ri, the three of them heedless of the pouring rain falling on their cloaks and puddles they were stepping in.

Chrom followed them closely, still grinning to himself.

It has been a long time since he’s been out in the field like this, Robin reminded himself.

Lucina stopped to adjust her cloak in front of Robin, and the tactician fell into step alongside her as she started walking again.

“Next time I organize a mission,” he muttered, “I’m going to roster some people with actual personalities to come with us. Those three up the front could be walking statues.”

Lucina nodded silently, not looking at Robin.

“We are in the middle of what is supposed to be enemy territory,” she said after a moment. “I think a little bit of seriousness might not be a bad thing, given the circumstances.”

Robin nodded, his brow furrowing under the fringe of his coat’s hood.

“You’re probably right,” he said, letting her get a few steps ahead of him.

What was that about? Robin wondered silently. Maybe she’s in a bad mood because of the weather or something…

Robin looked up absently when he heard the cawing of a crow circling above them, oblivious to the rain.

That evening they came upon a farm, and with some quick talking on Say’ri’s part and a few gold coins on Chrom’s, they were told to spend the evening in the barn.

“A barn?” Robin asked, eying the large structure incredulously.

“At least it’s dry,” Chrom said with a shrug as he wrung out his cloak just outside the door.

Libra and Lon’qu had already done the same; both men had retired early, and lay to one side on their bedrolls, covered by their blankets while their clothes dried on a line strung out not far from where they were sleeping.

The girls were set up on the other side of a high stack of hay; the entire party, with the exception of Robin thanks to his magically altered coat, had been soaked and forced to hang their wet clothes to dry. Robin had just shaken his coat, watching the droplets of water fly off, leaving the coat dry as a bone when he had folded it up, intending to use it as a pillow.

Chrom was right; the barn was dry and clean enough. For a barn, anyway. Robin watched as a large tabby cat slunk through the rafters, watching them with shining eyes in the light given off from the small oil lamp that had been given to them by the farmer.

The farm was nothing special; just another of the hundreds of thousands like it throughout the world; a house, some fields and a barn, with a couple of animals wandering around for good measure. The farmer had seemed suspicious, but the gold Chrom had pressed into his hand had silenced any protests from the man; it had probably been more money than he made in a year.

Robin stretched, getting up from his bedroll and stretching his legs. There was an undercover area just outside and around the corner from the large doors; he could take a minute to collect his thoughts in solitude out there.

Robin sauntered past the Prince, who was looking oddly out of place wearing nothing but a rough towel, and ducked around the corner of the barn quickly, ignoring the rain still pelting down.

He sighed contentedly, stretching and finally on his own. The tactician sunk to the dry earth, his back leaning against the barn’s outer wall, and sat watching the rain fall.

A flash lit up the night sky, painting everything in stark washed out colours, before distant thunder rumbled over the forest half a day’s walk from the farm.

There was something relaxing about watching a thunderstorm at night, Robin mused as another flash lit up the sodden countryside. The tactician sat and let his mind wander, thinking about the situation they had landed in.

Walhart’s forces outnumbered them, yes, but by all accounts the armies were spread thin; that was their only saving grace at this point. However it didn’t take four months for an army of decent size to congregate in one place. If Walhart really desired as much, the Shepherds would be destroyed by his superior forces.

Robin ran a hand through his hair. He really had not expected the man to be capable of fielding an army with numbers in the millions…

I am never assuming anything again, Robin swore, berating himself for not having the foresight to deal with this problem before it had arisen.

He looked up as he heard the light splash of someone stepping in a puddle, expecting Chrom to be coming and asking why his tactician was sitting out alone in the dark. Instead Say’ri, wrapped in one of the blankets that Robin had donated since his clothes were still dry enough to sleep in, rounded the corner, looking at Robin with what he was sure was a mirror of his own expression.

“Good even, Sir Robin,” Say’ri said, recovering faster than he did.

Robin nodded, looking back out over the field as more thunder rumbled.

“Evening, Say’ri,” Robin offered once the distant rumbling died off. “What’re you doing out here so late?”

“I could ask you the same thing,” Say’ri chuckled, mirroring their conversation from the previous day.

Robin grinned and shrugged.

“Nature,” he said simply. “There’s something calming about the chaos of the heavens during a thunderstorm.”

Say’ri nodded and took a seat against the barn next to Robin.

“In Chon’sin the old stories tell us that twin gods battling in the sky is the cause of storms such as these,” she said. “They fight to see who is the superior of the two, despite being evenly matched.”

Robin nodded, rolling the word ‘twin’ over in his head.

Is that what the Hierophant was? He thought. Was that man my brother that I simply have no memory of? Why am I even thinking about this now? It’s been months since then, and I didn’t dwell on it for the entire voyage here. So why now?

“May I ask you a question, Robin?” Say’ri asked, breaking Robin’s train of thought.

“You just did,” the tactician joked lamely. “But go ahead and ask another.”

Say’ri seemed to think carefully about how to word her question. At least that’s what Robin thought was happening; it was dark and he could barely see his own hand in front of his face, let alone the serious woman sitting next to him.

“The others say you are an amnesiac,” she said after a moment.

“That wasn’t a question,” Robin said lightly when she didn’t go on.

“Are you?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Robin said with a sigh. “Yeah, I am. Why do you ask?”

“I have never met a man like you before,” Say’ri explained. “I find it curious that you have no memories and still act so normal. Irreverent and disrespectful, but normal.”

“I’ve had three and a bit years now to get used to being an amnesiac,” Robin said with a shrug. “It was kinda hard at first, admittedly, but you get used to not knowing where you’re from or how old you are…”

Robin sighed, looking down from the majesty of the storm in the night sky and staring at the ground.

“Or who your family is…” he added, thinking about Validar and the Hierophant.

“Would that I could forget my own blood ties…” Say’ri muttered bitterly.

“Sorry, that was insensitive of me,” Robin said quickly.

Say’ri chuckled, and in another flash of lighting Robin saw her waving his apology off.

“Think nothing of it, Sir. It is a burden I must bear, not you. I apologize for forcing you to dwell on your own problems.”

“I was already dwelling before you came out here,” Robin admitted with a self-depreciating chuckle, before growing serious and adding “How am I supposed to know who I am when I don’t know who I was?”

“I cannot answer that question for you,” Say’ri said, shifting in the darkness. “But I can tell you that I’ve only known you a small time, and you seem to have a fair idea over who you are without prior memories.”

Robin nodded, slightly mollified.

He had dealt with all of these questions years ago; he was just suffering a momentary lapse in confidence due to so many of his plans coming undone recently. He just needed to think about something else for a little while.

“Tell me a little more about Chon’sin,” Robin said suddenly, eager for a change of subject after they were silent a moment.

“What do you wish to know?” Say’ri asked from the darkness, sounding a little surprised.

Lightning flashed again, followed by thunder rumbling much closer than it had been before. In the brief second that the world had lit up Robin could see that Say’ri had shifted and was sitting perched on her own legs, much the way a bird would. Robin had no illusions that his legs would hurt like hell after sitting the way she was for a few minutes.

“Tell me about your armour,” Robin said, asking about the first thing that popped into his mind. “It’s different from ours. Is the style common in Chon’sin?”

“Aye, it is. Most warriors wear a variation of it,” Say’ri explained. “It is made of hardened lacquer. It keeps the armour light while providing excellent defence. It's quite rare to see heavy armour where I come from. And we wield a curved, single-edged blade in both hands, so we do not carry shields.”

“Lon’qu fights in a similar fashion,” Robin pointed out. “But it's still a far cry from what I'm used to... Are there any other important differences?”

“Aye, a world's worth, sir! You'd find much of Chon'sin culture curious. Food, dress...most everything.”

Robin smiled lightly in the night. “I’d love to hear more about it. If you’re willing to share, of course.”

“Of course. I would be honoured. Talk of my homeland keeps it close to my heart,” Say’ri said happily. “Although perhaps it is a conversation best saved for another day; it is growing quite late now.”

Robin nodded, watching one final burst of lightning in the distance before standing.

“I will join you momentarily,” Say’ri said when Robin hesitated, looking back at her.

The tactician shrugged, braving the rain as he ducked back inside.

It is nice that others share an interest in our culture, Say’ri thought as she watched Robin retreat to the light and warmth of the barn.

“It is safe now,” she said quietly to the night in her native Chon’sin dialect after a moment.

A vaguely human shape materialized in the darkness, stepping out of the rain into the small covered area.

Sei’ko knelt down low, rainwater dripping off of her.

“I thought he would never leave,” the spy admitted in the same language, shaking some of the water off of her soaked extremities.

“Your report?” Say’ri prompted.

“Lord Liung has agreed to meet with you and the Prince,” the said without preamble. “Although there are more Walhart supporters in his court than last time. I would advise caution, my lady.”

Say’ri nodded, not surprised. Walhart used bribery and coercion just as effectively as brute force; after all, dead men couldn’t be pressed into service.

“Thank you, Sei’ko,” Say’ri said as she stood. “Why don’t you rest here out of the rain for a time?”

“You are too kind, Princess,” she said with a low bow.

Say’ri nodded, smiling before she too returned to the barn.

The princess hesitated before she did, though; in the last flash of thunder she thought she had spotted a glimpse of a head of long blue hair around the far corner of the barn.

Thunder sounded, growing distant again as the storm passed over them.

Say’ri put the thoughts from her head as Sei’ko sat down, getting comfortable to rest for a time.

They have no reason to mistrust me, she assured herself. But one does not reveal all of their cards at the beginning of the game.

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