Morgan blinked a few times, looking back and forth between her father's outstretched hand and her sword's hilt.
"Er… okay," she said after a second, unstrapping the sheath from her belt and placing it in his outstretched hand. "Can I ask why?"
"Just trust me," he said cryptically, tucking the weapon loosely into his own belt. "Hopefully I'll be able to tell you when I bring it back."
And then he turned and was gone, disappearing back into the press of the busy afternoon camp cycle, Morgan quickly losing sight of him among the press of bodies.
"That was strange," Lucina commented.
Morgan nodded, feeling uncommonly naked without her sword.
What on earth would her Father need her sword for? Was it secretly a potent magical artefact from the future that he needed to cast some devastating spell and make the next day's battle easier for them? Or, more likely, was he bringing it to whoever her mother was? Maybe he was bringing it to Jake the blacksmith to see if he could have another made?
Whatever, she thought with a shrug. Morgan trusted her father. He would tell her when he was ready.
"Well, come on Luce," she said to the other woman, beginning to head into the camp herself.
"What? Where are we going?" Lucina asked curiously, falling into step with the girl.
"I feel uncomfortable without my sword, and when I'm uncomfortable I go and drink tea. If you're not busy I thought you might like to…" she trailed off, the unspoken invitation hanging in the air.
"Of course," Lucina said with a smile to hide her own worry about why Robin was acting so strangely. "It would be my pleasure."
Robin walked briskly through the camp, his daughter's sword clenched tight in his hand. As soon as he had been out of view he had taken a closer look at the blade. There was no longer any doubt in his mind; it was Say'ri's sword.
I don't know whether to feel relieved or terrified, the tactician thought as he ducked around a wagon hauling supplies that would be used on the frontlines.
He passed Laurent trailing the wagon, and the mage didn't even look up from his clipboard as the tactician waved a greeting.
I should be happy, the tactician's inner voice reasoned. Worst case scenario, I get stabbed. The camp's full of healers anyway. Best case scenario? I get laid again!
I cannot believe I actually just thought that.
Robin stopped and stepped into an alcove near one of the supply tents, leaning against a pole as his head span, growling and mentally beating his wandering thoughts into submission.
He had shut himself down particularly violently this time, and he was starting to feel a little weak. Assuming his subconscious was just trying to get him out of something he didn't want to do, Robin ignored the feeling, steeling himself and stepping back out into the flow of foot traffic in the camp.
All of the scouts were due back tonight; they would finally know the disposition of the Valmese forces and be ready to march in the morning for Fortress Steiger. They were taking too long, though; Robin was afraid that if the assault on the fortress didn't go down exactly as planned then they would have to retreat and rely on Lady Tiki's ability to sway the Dynasts that hadn't heeded Say'ri before.
The last thing Robin needed was something like the current situation he was in with the woman hanging over his head.
He stepped into the officers' tent-city, threading his way between tents bearing symbols from Chengshi, Regna Ferox and Ylisse, all jumbled together. At least cohesion amongst the various different parts of the army was assured if the officers were all getting along, rather than segregating themselves by whatever their homeland was.
Say'ri had chosen to put her tent in with the other military leaders, despite the conversation they had had in Valm Harbour about her being welcome among the Shepherds.
I think it's pretty safe to assume who the reason for that is, Robin thought, stepping into a small corridor between tents.
"Took the words right out of my mouth," his internal voice said. "It's no fun if you insult yourself before I can."
I really am going crazy, aren't I? Robin thought, running a hand through his hair. Great, now I’m starting to literally talk to myself. That can’t be healthy… Think Libra would give me an exorcism or something?
The fact that the voice was voluntarily silent this time just made Robin even more nervous as he stepped back onto one of the main thoroughfares.
The 'important people' tents were just ahead; Khans Flavia and Basilio's big animal hide tents were there, as were the square, boxy tents of the Ylissean officers. Liung's tent was a little farther away, a bright red circular thing with images of heraldic serpents and dragons on the sides.
Then there was Say'ri's tent; a dark cream colour, geometric patterns outlining the entryway in red, symbols of what the tactician assumed were the written language of Chon'sin stitched into one side of the flap.
"Wait," a voice said softly in Robin's ear as he went to make for the tent, taking a deep breath to quash his nerves.
At first he thought that his interior voice was bothering him again, so he ignored the voice until he heard movement keeping pace behind him. Turning, he saw Sei’ko waving him over to a smaller tent in the same vein as Say'ri's.
The tactician hesitated a moment before going over to her.
"Can I help you, Sei’ko?" he asked neutrally. "I'm kind of in the middle of something."
"I'm actually trying to help you, Robin," she said seriously.
"I like you, so I give you this warning; if I was you, I would stay far, far away from that tent. Princess Say'ri will… not react favourably to your presence at this time."
"I know," Robin said with a tired sigh. "But it's important, for both of us."
Sei’ko looked at the tactician questioningly. Robin shrugged in response, holding up Morgan's sword.
Seiko looked at the weapon curiously for a moment, glancing quickly between it and the tactician holding it before speaking again.
"I saw this same weapon in my Lady's hand not five minutes ago."
"I can imagine," Sei’ko said with a slight grin. "You know, I am a spy. There is not much that escapes my notice. This is your daughter's sword, yes?"
Robin nodded, his nerves jumping again at the spy's easy demeanour for some reason.
"Then perhaps it would be best that you speak to Princess Say'ri of its origins," the spy suggested with a little wink. "I will linger near the tent to ensure she does not lose her temper. Not close enough to overhear anything, but close enough to…"
She seemed to struggle for a moment to find the right words.
"Prevent me from getting stabbed?" Robin offered with a tired grin.
Sei’ko giggled a little. "Not as eloquent as I was hoping to phrase it, but yes. I wish you luck, my friend."
Robin nodded gratefully, stepping back out into the camp and taking a deep breath to steady himself as he strode towards his destination.
He stopped at the tent and rapped on the thick canvas with the back of his knuckles a few times.
"Enter," Say'ri called from inside, her voice cold and carefully measured, the way she had presented herself the first time they had met.
Robin took one last deep breath before ducking beneath the flap and into the tent.
"So how long were you in this world before you joined with the Shepherds, anyway?" Morgan asked as she perched on the edge of Noire's cot. "My Dad's notes on the whole issue are surprisingly vague."
He probably understands the whole time-travel thing about as well as I do.
Lucina glanced up from her own cup of tea. "About two years."
They were in the tent that Morgan and Noire shared; at some point in the past Morgan had won a tea-set from Virion during a very heated chess game, and she had been intent on putting it to use for some time now.
"Does that make you… two years older? Or do you exist outside this timeline? I mean, did you age in those two years? All of this time-travel stuff is confusing; I'm trying to get a better idea on how it works."
"Then perhaps you had best ask Laurent," Lucina chuckled. "He was the most knowledgeable among us. I'm sure he would have many theories on the matter."
Morgan huffed, resting her chin on her hand.
"I did ask him. I couldn't understand a word he said."
Lucina laughed softly. Laurent had inherited his mother's habit of speaking overly scientifically, to the point that he was almost speaking another language entirely to those not acquainted with him. Lucina would admit that even she had trouble understanding him at times.
During the course of their journey over the sea, Lucina had made it a point to discuss the experiences of the others from the future. She had arrived two years earlier, early enough to attempt to make a difference by foiling the planned assassination of her Father and Aunt and assist in the war against Plegia. Kjelle had arrived much later, and spent nearly six months wandering around Northern Regna Ferox, fighting bandits alone and defending the villages. Noire had arrived even later, about a week before they had found her. Yarne, Nah and Severa were in similar situations, only recently having arrived from the spell that had transported them.
Laurent, though, had arrived three years earlier than Lucina had. He had refused to speak of what he had done during his five years of wandering; Lucina assumed that the prideful mage was just embarrassed that he had gotten lost for so long. He had never really been competent at reading maps, a fact that incessantly irked the man.
Morgan's amnesia made her a mystery, though. She had simply woken up in a field the day they had found her, and that was the beginning of her very short memory.
"I assure you I have aged as per usual," Lucina said. "The others will continue to age as well, you included I would assume."
"How can you be sure?" Morgan asked curiously.
"Because I know I have aged in the last two years," Lucina explained. "And even if you don't remember how Laurent looked before, I can vouch for the fact that he too has aged in the years he has been here."
Indeed, the skinny mage had gone from a gawky, awkward teenager to a slightly taller, slightly broader skinny, gawky man. He had been born a year after Lucina, but was now two years older than her. Thinking about it made her head spin a little.
Morgan giggled. "I seem to recall something about him being lost in the desert for a few years."
Lucina joined in with the tactician's laughter.
Morgan had the same easy bearing that her father did, despite being slightly more excitable and energetic; something that could easily be ascribed to youth. She was easy to talk to, despite the obvious age gap between the two.
A thought occurred to Lucina as Morgan took a loud, childish slurp from her cup.
"Do you know how old you are?" she asked.
Morgan blinked a few times before she shrugged.
"Does it matter? I don't even know when my birthday is. How old are you, huh?"
Lucina was silent a moment before answering, trying to actually recall how old she had been before time-travelling. It was not something she had thought about often by the time they utilized Naga's spell.
"With the additional two years I have spent in this timeline I believe I am twenty-two."
Morgan was silent a moment, leaning forward and tapping her chin with her fingers, lost in thought. It was interesting watching Morgan think; Lucina could practically see an image of Robin superimposed over the girl as she tapped her chin the same way he did, watching as the gears turned behind her eyes while she stared into space.
"Let's make the day you and Father found me my new birthday," Morgan said excitedly, perking back up.
"But you still don't know how old you are."
Lucina chuckled. "Was that a guess?"
"An educated one," Morgan winked, jumping to her feet. "Old enough to have fun, but still young enough to get away with it! And now that we know we missed my birthday not that long ago, I declare we must go on a quest for cake!"
Where does this girl get her energy from? Lucina wondered as Morgan dragged her from the tent.
"I'm sure Gaius has something stashed somewhere, let's go bug him!" Morgan cheered.
Robin stepped into the dimly lit tent, his stomach churning and his palms going sweaty almost instantly.
Say'ri glanced up from where she was cleaning her armour, her face becoming stony as she realized who was calling on her.
Oh gods this is going to end badly.
"What?" she asked coldly, going back to maintaining her armour.
Robin took a deep breath. No pleasantries, no greetings; straight to business.
"Atta boy, take the plunge. I'll be here in case you get stabbed."
And what exactly will you do, huh?
"Did you really think that stunt with the assassins in Chengshi was all you?" the voice laughed. "Screw the bird; I'm your real backup here tonight."
"I assume you've read the reports about Lucina and the others' origins in the future," he began, quashing the voice as its laughter still echoed around his head.
Say'ri glanced back up at him, frowning a little.
"Then you would be aware that a handful of the Shepherds serving with us have already made contact with their parents in this time period."
Say'ri nodded, her eyes narrowing suspiciously as Robin held out Morgan's sword.
"My amnesiac daughter from the future had this on her when we found her. She has no idea who her mother is. I think it's you."
Say'ri's jaw actually dropped before she rose from her sitting position, eyes blazing with rage at the tactician, snatching the sword from Robin and yanking it from its sheath.
"If this is your idea of a joke I will use this sword to… to…" she snarled before trailing off.
Say'ri stumbled backwards into the small chair she had been sitting in, the sheath falling from her hand to clatter mutedly to the canvas floor as she held the blade up to the light. Her gaze flicked back and forth between the weapon in her hands and the one sitting on the rack off to one side of the room as she muttered in what Robin assumed was her native language.
"This is my sword," she said in a small voice, returning to the common tongue, eyes wide as she inspected the blade. "It is weathered and… and older… but tis my…"
"You're sure?" Robin asked, heart still beating out of control.
"There was an imperfection with the crafting," Say'ri explained softly, running her fingertips along the sword. "A small blemish in the blade, right… here. The revered sword smith died shortly after crafting my weapon. There has never been another created like it."
Robin let out a breath in the ensuing silence. She was taking the news better than he had expected; worse than he had hoped, but better than he had feared.
"Then my suspicions have been confirmed," Robin said quietly. "Morgan is your daughter from the future. This also explains why she has blue eyes. I have brown, unlike you."
The atmosphere in the tent grew cold as Robin waited for Say'ri to process the information. He resisted the urge to lean against something, despite how tired he was. She simply sat, cradling the sword in both hands as she stared at the blade. Occasionally she would move to run her fingers over the small blemish on the blade, as if she were trying to wipe it away.
Robin had been fully prepared to argue the point that Morgan actually resembled the woman, but it looked like he wouldn't need to; she understood the implications as well as he did.
Say'ri was Morgan's mother. Robin grimaced, imagining how much worse this would make his rejection for her.
"This isn't fair," Say'ri said, her voice still soft but her knuckles going white as she clenched the hilt of the sword.
"It is not fair!" she repeated louder, glaring up at Robin. "First you reject me outright and now… now this? What have I done to deserve this treatment!? I gave myself to you, body and soul, and you crushed my heart! Now you tell me we have a child together!?"
Robin shook his head.
"I'm telling you this because you have a right to know," he explained.
"And so does Morgan," Robin added in the pause that followed.
"Am I…" Say'ri asked softly, trailing off, unable to say the words. "Am I… now?"
"I don't know," Robin admitted. "She could have been born years from now, for all we know. I don't even know if she will be born in this timeline at all now."
I'll just leave any mention of 'Aunt' Tharja out for the time being…
"That is a cruel fate," Say'ri said accusingly.
"For who?" Robin asked sharply. "You? Or her? Or perhaps me, for knowing I may have condemned that bright young woman, my own daughter, to never exist in the first place all for my own selfishness!?"
"Twas your decision, not mine," Say'ri said, rising as her voice rose in volume. "I thought I loved you, Robin. You never even gave me a reason for your rejection; you simply ran away."
The accusation hit Robin like a blow to the gut.
"Ouch. She's got you there."
I do not need my own colour commentary right now!
"I never did apologize for that," Robin said, holding a hand to his temple, attempting to remain calm as a fresh wave of pain and nausea shot through his head.
"To hell with your apologies!" Say'ri shouted. "You owe me an explanation at the very least!"
"I didn't come here to talk about us, I came here to tell you about Morgan," Robin said tiredly through clenched teeth, his irritation growing as his fists clenched.
"I think one pertains to the other," Say'ri hissed dangerously.
Robin grimaced, another wave of nausea hitting him as his temper finally snapped, raw magic crackling like purple electricity along his knuckles.
"I rejected you because I'm already in love with Lucina!" he shouted, rounding on Say'ri.
Her face went pale, shock evident in every inch of her posture.
Robin didn't realize what he had said until the words left his mouth, but as soon as he did he regretted his choice of words, the magic dissipating instantly.
Crap, the tactician mentally cursed, a new wave of panic rising to the fore. I… I usually have more self-control that that… Was I really about to cast a Flux spell?
Robin brought a shuddering hand to his forehead, mind whirling. He didn't cast Dark Magic as a matter of principle; he knew how, he knew that he could achieve the spells; but the price was usually too high for him to want to. He hated using Dark Magic. Robin glanced up, his eyes meeting Say'ri's.
"So I was what to you?" she asked in a low, angry voice. "A dalliance? Some way for you to entertain yourself while you waited for her?"
Robin swayed, catching himself before he fell.
"I can handle this! Just give me a chance! I promise not to start any fires!"
"The river of time always prefers its original course," Robin explained, ignoring the voice in his head and recalling something Lucina had said, taking strength from the thought of the blue-haired woman. "We were meant to be together in the future; that night was time's attempt at making things happen the 'right' way. But for all that, I can't ignore what my heart tells me to do."
"Answer my question!" Say'ri roared, brandishing Morgan's sword. "What was I to you!?"
Robin instinctively reached out, his mind not catching up with his body in time, wrapping his hand around the razor sharp blade as Say'ri waved it in front of his face.
The tactician cursed, stepping back as blood began running from the deep cut on his palm.
Say'ri made a sort of strangled gasp, stepping back and dropping Morgan's sword to the floor of her tent with a dull clatter.
"Why did you do that?" she asked in shock. "Why…?"
"You waved a sword in my face, and I wasn't paying attention," Robin growled, gripping his wrist tightly and trying to slow the blood-flow to the wounded appendage.
"I was not…" Say'ri said, looking away with confusion and hurt warring on her features.
Robin started to laugh; he couldn't help it. After all his melodramatic worrying about getting stabbed, he had actually gotten stabbed.
"Why is this funny!?" Say'ri shouted. "Have you lost your mind!?"
I don't know? Have I? Robin thought, his laughter subsiding to a quiet chuckle.
"Hey, you're pretty normal from in here."
"You have delivered your message," Say'ri said in a carefully neutral tone, turning her back to him. "Now I would ask you leave before you bleed all over my tent. I will… talk to Morgan. Eventually."
Robin nodded, silently retrieving his daughter's sword in one hand, clutching the other tightly to his chest.
"I would prefer this conversation stay between us," Robin said as he made for the tent's flap.
"Do not worry," she said bitterly. "Your precious tryst will remain a secret."
It's not a tryst until she reciprocates, Robin thought as he stepped out into the night. And that may never even happen.
"Well, not with that attitude, anyway. Good job, in there, though! I only had to intervene once. Probably should have left the Princess' name out of there, though. Not so smart on my part."
"Shut up," Robin snarled, clenching his wounded hand into a fist, blood dripping into the earth at his feet. "Just shut up. I don't want to hear it."
The tactician started walking again, not even stopping when Sei’ko called out to him.
As he walked he looked at his bleeding hand, the one that had been so close to silencing Say'ri with Dark Magic, and shook his head.
Morgan stepped into her tent, breathing a happy sigh as she rotated her shoulders and let her coat fall off before turning to pick it up.
It was late now, but everyone had had so much fun at her little ad-hoc birthday party; Vaike had procured beverages of an alcoholic nature from somewhere, and Stahl and Lady Cordelia had even played music for them on their harps. Most of the Shepherds had shown up, both past and present, and even a few people from outside the little group, most notably the Feroxi Khans Basilio and Flavia and the Tracker Lari, who had brought more beer with them.
She blushed a little when she thought of dark young Feroxi Tracker; he was definitely related to Basilio somehow. No one else would have been smooth enough to sneak a kiss the way he had, boozed-up or no.
Morgan giggled a little, thinking that it was probably a good thing that her father had been absent. She had little doubt that he would have taken his sword to the attractive Feroxi man. As it was, Tharja looked like she had been trying to decide which hex would cause Lari the most discomfort.
She took a moment to lightly brush her fingertips across her lips, savouring the feeling. As far as she knew, that had been her first kiss.
The young tactician stumbled a little as she folded the coat over her arm, placing it gently on her desk before she noticed her sword sitting on the tabletop.
She picked it up and drew the weapon from its sheath, probably not the smartest thing in the world considering how drunk she was, but inspected the blade all the same.
A small gasp escaped her lips when she noticed the small red smear on the sword near the tip in the dim lighting from the camp outside.
"Wha?" Noire asked sleepily, sitting up in her cot. "Wh-what's wrong?"
Morgan shook her head, wiping the blood away on her coat where no one would notice it.
"It's nothing," she slurred, sheathing the weapon and placing it carefully on the table next to her coat before crawling into her sleeping roll fully-clothed.
What exactly did father do with my sword tonight? She wondered, curling up into a ball and trying not to let worry consume her, thoughts of her fun evening being replaced by anxiety.
Robin glared at himself in the mirror again the next morning, looking even more dishevelled than before. His stubble and wrinkled clothes were making him look like a drifter, and the dark bags under his eyes weren't helping either.
Why aren't I getting any rest? He thought as he began to run the small shaving knife over his jaw.
It's not like I'm not sleeping. Morgan had to practically kick me awake this morning. I should go and see Libra and make sure nothing's wrong with me.
The tactician hissed angrily and cursed as a thin red line appeared on his chin, a few drops of blood dripping into the basin he was leaning over. He hadn't been paying attention and now he'd cut his face; the perfect way to start the day.
"Right, bugger it," Robin decided, wiping his shaving knife clean and rinsing his face.
He dried his face, dropped the shaving kit back at his tent and made his way through the hectic pre-march camp to the Shepherds' mess tent. Most of the Shepherds were busily breaking camp, packing up tents and loading up the supply wagons, a scene repeated by soldiers all over the war camp as far as the eye could see.
Robin hesitated at the flap of the mess, glancing in before he broke out into a tired smile.
Sitting at one of the corner tables was Morgan and Say'ri, talking happily. Morgan had a huge smile on her face, and they both burst into laughter as she said something funny.
Robin grinned, discreetly grabbing an apple from the food counter and making his way to where Chrom and Sumia were eating.
He'd let Morgan and Say'ri talk. The last thing either of them needed was the added awkwardness of Robin's presence right now.
"Good morning, sunshine," Chrom said sarcastically as Robin fell into a seat.
"You look like crap. What, did you get bored halfway through shaving?"
Robin chuckled around his first bite of the sweet fruit in his hand, pointing at the red line on his chin as he discretely hid his bandaged hand under the table.
"I'm having an off day. You wanna shave me? Be my guest."
"Good luck with that," Sumia laughed. "I can barely convince him to keep shaving his own face!"
Chrom groaned and rolled his eyes as Robin and Sumia broke into quiet laughter.
Robin stood to the side as he watched the Ylissean League move out, ordered rows of soldiers marching to the steady rhythm of the drums of war as the early dawn light flashed down on them. The majority of the Shepherds, led by Robin and Chrom, would be behind the first rank of men as they assaulted Steiger; it would be their job to cut through the lines if they became static and give the initiative back to the Ylissean soldiers. A smaller team of Shepherds, scouts from Chengshi and Feroxi Trackers with the same role would be moving down the path Morgan had scouted the previous day, the young tactician leading the group with Lon'qu. An even smaller team of Say'ri's spies had already deployed to infiltrate the fortress and open the way for the Shepherds.
The real goal, though, was to disorganize the forces outside the fortress to allow the Shepherds to slip through. That was assuming, of course, that the Valmese general didn't take the field. If they could take her out in the field, so much the better; their goal would be accomplished without any messy fortress-assault. If the general was smart, though, she'd hole up and make the Shepherds come to her. It was what Robin would do in her situation, but his experiences with high-ranking military types had left little respect for their tactical prowess.
Morgan's force would be assaulting much closer to the side entrances that they would be utilizing for their infiltration, a carefully calculated risk on Robin's part. The enemy would be thicker there, but they wouldn't be expecting to be flanked from the river.
Robin nervously kneaded the grip of his sword; Morgan was marching into battle alone, without him for the first time. He trusted her and knew that she wouldn't let him down, but he still worried.
Cordelia's flight of Pegasus Knights flashed overhead, Cherche, Nowi and Nah keeping pace with the lighter creatures easily as they zipped ahead to scout and possibly begin to sow a little discord from the air. Robin knew for a fact that Sumia was flying with them that day, too; something he would have preferred to have avoided, but she had been adamant about her decision, and technically she was the Queen. Plus, her skills with a healing staff would be beneficial to the Knights, even if she wasn't as practiced as Lissa or Maribelle.
The two healers would be marching with the regular Shepherds, too; another thing Robin would have preferred to avoid, but they would be closer to respond quicker in an emergency at least. And Lissa had put her foot down; she wasn't being left behind again, and technically she was the Princess…
Why bother having a tactician if no one listens to him anyway? Robin thought with a huff.
"You look nervous," Virion said, coming up beside him.
Robin muttered a wordless affirmative, still watching the men march.
"You should not be," Virion assured him, clapping a hand on his shoulder and giving him a reassuring wink. "Your plan is, as always, flawless. I know because I helped you come up with it."
"Do you even know what humility means?" Robin asked with a tired chuckle, glancing over his shoulder at the archer.
Virion shrugged exaggeratedly.
"This is our first real engagement," Robin said, looking back over the marching troops.
"I mean real, honest-to-Naga army to army engagement. We'll be there, but it's not all us this time. We're not even in the vanguard this time. It's… a strange sensation to be in this position again after so long."
"Come now," Virion admonished lightly. "Plegia wasn't that long ago. You're going to make me feel old if you are not careful."
Robin chuckled a little, finally looking away and back toward where the Shepherds were gathered as he tugged down on the gorget of his breastplate.
It's been forever since I've worn this thing, Robin thought absently as he watched Jake tugging on Chrom's shoulder-pads to make sure they weren't going to come off.
The prince rolled his eyes as the blacksmith made minute adjustments to his straps, not noticing or otherwise completely ignoring the other man's discomfort.
All of the Shepherds were wearing their own versions of armour, even, astonishingly enough, Vaike; even if his idea of armour was just pauldrons and a large leather belt. Virion had strapped his short rapier to his hip, and a small round buckler hung from the small of his back beneath his full quiver. Chrom was covered in gleaming silver plates; Kellam looked like he was about to go on a parade-march; Donnel tugged experimentally on his new gauntlets; the scene was repeated over and over as they all adjusted to their armour. For some time it had appeared that they would be able to get away without wearing it for the smaller engagements, but that time was over now. The true war was beginning, and they were marching to hell right down the middle-path.
The tactician's gaze lingered on Lucina a moment as the woman adjusted the bindings on her wrist-guards before he shook his head and made for Chrom, Virion in tow as the tactician's coat billowed out behind him.
"The army is moving," Robin said as he approached Chrom. "We're going to have to move soon too, if we want to keep up."
The Prince nodded, looking down at where Jake was now testing the straps on his thigh armour plates.
"Thank you, Jake," Chrom said, obviously relieved to be getting the other man out of his personal space. "But we're out of time."
"I take no responsibility if bits fall off when you don't let me check properly first," Jake said as he rose, bowing politely before jogging back to Anna's wagon.
The plucky merchant would be accompanying Morgan's force, so Jake had gotten stuck with the wagon, while Olivia was leading the other supply wagons.
Robin sighed when he realized that this was the point of no return; they were literally all-in, as of this engagement; his plans all called for lightning-fast strikes and there wasn't a lot of wriggle-space if things started to go sour, not when they were literally surrounded by an army of millions.
"Is it too late to say 'why don't we wait for Raimi and Seth to arrive?' before we do this?" Robin muttered as he and Chrom began striding to the front of the group.
"We'll be fine," Chrom assured him. "I believe in your plans. Let's see them through."
Virion stuck with Robin as they marched, something that the tactician was actually grateful for. His presence was both at once calming and galvanizing; Robin felt renewed confidence knowing that his friends would be watching his back, but the anxiety refused to leave him.
The tactician felt his anxiety jump again when Lucina joined the three men at the front of the group, staring straight ahead as she marched at Chrom's side with her head held high. She was wearing her usual blue light armour, and Robin had no doubt that her parallel Falchion had been shined to a mirror hue.
I need to relax a little, Robin told himself. I never got this anxious before Plegia.
"You didn't have anything to lose before Plegia," the voice whispered in his ear. "Morgan, Lucina… the whole future of the world… there's a lot riding on your shoulders now."
Robin took a deep breath, resisting the urge to growl. At some point the errant thoughts in his head had taken on a life of their own. It was like his aggression had become personified, and it was vying for control. He could still beat it for now, but he couldn’t help but wonder how long that would last.
I'm only going to ask nicely once. Please keep your snide little remarks to yourself until the battle is won.
"Oh? Asking nicely now? Fine. In the spirit of co-operation, I'll keep quiet unless I have something life-savingly insightful to add."
Robin visibly sagged with relief. He didn't know why, but he believed the voice.
"Or if I find something really, really funny," the voice added with a burst of dark laughter in Robin's head.
The tactician sighed. Even the voices in his head were making fun of him now.
Morgan glanced around as she waited for the right time to begin to move her forces into position; she had been put in charge of the flanking force that was using the route she had scouted with Lari's trackers the previous day.
Her. The untested tactician-in-training. In charge of a thousand-man flanking force.
She shuddered involuntarily at the pressure.
The ever-silent Lon'qu staring over her shoulder constantly just made her even more nervous.
She took a deep, shuddering breath, attempting to calm herself down by reminding herself that she had done just fine while she had been left in charge of things in Valm Harbour. But that had been mostly paperwork and boring stuff. This was a real battle! People's lives rested on her decisions and tactics this time.
"You seem nervous," Lady Say'ri said comfortingly. "Relax. Once this battle is over there will be a hundred more just like it that will make this one seem trivial by comparison."
Morgan nodded, taking another deep breath.
Say'ri had approached her that morning, requesting to join the flanking force. She had also joined Morgan for breakfast, which had turned out to be a pleasant surprise; Morgan had enjoyed talking with the older woman about her homeland over their meals, and they had clicked almost instantly. Say'ri had started out a little stiff at first, but Prince Chrom had once pointed out that Morgan had the same easy demeanour as her father that made her incredibly difficult to dislike, and they had wound up getting along famously.
The foreign princess was a comforting presence, but not in the same way that the others around her age like Severa or Yarne were; Morgan just chalked it up to her being the only adult besides her father to offer her any praise or advice, rather than just expecting her to perform like a fully trained and officially qualified tactician.
Such is a tactician's duty, though, Morgan thought, recalling something her father had once said. Perpetually doomed to be over-worked and under-appreciated.
A thought occurred to Morgan. How exactly do tacticians get 'officially' qualified, anyway?
She snapped back to reality when Severa gave her a light slap upside her head.
"Hey genius," she said in her normal, irritated tone. "Aren't we supposed to be, you know, marching?"
Morgan perked up, looking around.
"No, we're still on time," she said, relaxing after the sudden burst of anxiety. "Once the third rank has passed, then we move. We're not marching at a steady pace, because we have more distance to cover; we have to move faster if we want to keep up."
Severa huffed and crossed her arms looking away.
Morgan smiled. Her father had filled her flanking force with people that she knew and trusted to help ease her anxiety. He hadn't said as much, but it was pretty obvious.
Severa, Noire and Yarne were all there, as was Panne, Gaius, Libra and Anna. The older Taguel woman scared the bajeezus out of Morgan, but she had a healthy respect for her martial prowess, and her ginger hired thief-of-a-husband was definitely easy to get along with. The redheaded merchant Anna was also a lot of fun to talk to, but would be hanging back, her own fighting skills limited. The priest Libra radiated an air of calm collectedness, another thing that Morgan was grateful for. She hadn't exactly had much to do with the man, but she had seen him tear apart Valmese formations at the Mila Tree without breaking a sweat, shortly before switching to the role of healer for the wounded Ylissean soldiers.
The Chengshi scouts were led by a dour man with a thin drooping moustache named Lee, who had simply nodded a terse greeting to Morgan before moving to make his men ready to march.
Then, of course, there was the leader of the Feroxi Trackers that made up the other half of her force; Lari.
"Such disrespect for your direct superior," the dark-skinned Feroxi said playfully. "I like it."
Morgan smiled at his calm disposition. She had no doubt that they would all work well together and that she would lead them properly.
After all, Morgan thought with a confident smile, it was what her father had trained her to do.
Robin watched with a sympathetic wince as the two opposing armies met, the Ylissean and Chengshi soldiers crashing into the unmounted Valmese line while Feroxi archers peppered their red armoured foes with arrows. Robin had found the perfect position on a low hill overlooking the main lines in the battle and he could see most of the flanks as well. Runners were already delivering messages and reports from the front, and he began to sift through them and dole out orders, never taking his eyes off the field for long.
Things were going well; despite the main line becoming static a little earlier than expected the enemy flanks were buckling under the combined magical and aerial superiority of the Ylissean League. Liung's heavily armoured spearmen and swordsmen were fighting just as hard as the Ylissean soldiers in the front, while the lighter armoured warriors of Regna Ferox assisted in whatever capacity they could; mostly archery and supporting the main line.
"Commander Frederick needs to strike the enemy cavalry in the south before they can work up any momentum," he said to one of the messengers waiting nearby as he made notes on a piece of parchment. "Roark is going to be bringing his own division in as backup for the Knight Commander, make sure they both know that it's a joint assault."
"Tell Miriel and Ricken to take Henry and lead the Ylissean mages in a spell to slow the Valmese retreat; we want to keep them out of the fortress for as long as we can. Something not too flashy; a small firestorm will do."
"Lord Liung's lancers are moving forward too fast. Have him call them back while the second archer division covers them."
"The third unit is going to need space to move up; tell the captain of the Feroxi Archer division in the west that he needs to move closer to the centre and consolidate his forces."
"Commander Cordelia needs to hit the southern flank at the same time as Frederick's cavalry; make sure she doesn't overshoot him and get cut off. Tell her I said I'm not coming to rescue her again."
Robin sighed and rubbed his temples as the last messenger raced off, glancing up as Lucina held a waterskin out to him.
"Thanks," he muttered, uncorking the neck and taking a long sip.
"Tell your father that we're going to have to move up soon. It looks like the natives are digging in," he added, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
Lucina nodded, racing off to convey his instructions. They weren't exactly orders; giving orders was Chrom's job. But everyone knew who was leading the army, and who was 'leading' the army. It would be different if Chrom would help with the strategies, but most of the time he trusted Robin to do his job.
Virion sighed theatrically as he shielded his eyes from the morning sun, looking out over the battlefield.
"Here I stand, ready to be of service, and my skills go to waste in the shadow of your own," Virion said playfully. "Truly you are the most tactical of tacticians, sir."
Robin smirked, taking another long drag from the waterskin before replacing the cork and placing it safely in his pouch.
"I haven't done this much talking in months. I feel like I've been marching across the desert again," he complained, beginning to descend the hill to join with the Shepherds.
He glanced up as Nowi and Nah landed, gracefully shifting back from their draconian forms into their human ones as their feet touched the earth. Nowi stumbled as Nah reached out to steady her, bright crimson staining her usually light clothes under a hand firmly pressed to her side.
With a spike of anxiety Robin watched Maribelle race over and slide from her horse's saddle, instantly setting to work on the dragon-girl with her healing magic. Nowi sagged a little, smiling sheepishly as Nah berated her mother for not being more careful as they had flown over the enemy archers.
"Robin?" Virion said softly. "We need to move. She will be fine."
The tactician's head snapped around, realizing he'd stalled and was staring at the wounded manakete as she was being healed.
He forced himself to swallow, calming a little. It was a minor wound; she'd be back to soaring above the battlefield, spitting fireballs at the enemy in no time.
Robin nodded silently, falling into step with Virion as they made for the front of the Shepherd force where Chrom and Lucina were waiting. He jammed his hands into his pockets, hoping to hide the fact that they were shaking.
Tharja gave him a questioning look as he passed, one he answered with a barely perceptible shake of his head.
He would be fine. He just needed to readjust to actual warfare again. At least that's what he kept telling himself.
"Shepherds!" Chrom roared, brandishing Falchion above his head as the tactician and archer finally took their positions.
Robin took a deep breath as he fell into step beside the Prince, drawing his sword one handed and readying a wind spell with the other, jogging forward to the frontlines as the Ylissean forces parting to allow the veteran Shepherds to pass.
Time to take the plunge, Robin repeated to himself grimly, snarling as he broke into a run alongside Chrom and Lucina, Virion just behind him with an arrow already nocked.
With a grunt Robin released the wind spell, casting upwards. The Valmese soldiers stumbled backwards, buffed by powerful magical winds as the Shepherds slammed into them.
Morgan panted a little as she kept pace with Lari and Lon'qu, both men obviously far, far fitter than she was. Even Lady Say'ri at her side was barely breathing any harder than she normally did.
I need to up my training regime, Morgan thought as she tried to keep pace.
They had covered most of the way to the gully that marked the end of the dry riverbed in quick and silent strides, the Feroxi trackers moving silently along the riverbed. The Chengshi scouts did their best, but wore light steel armour and had heavier weapons, so were making a small amount of clanking as they kept pace, no doubt giving their position away.
Not that anyone would be able to tell; the sounds of the battle in the distance were loud enough to distract any casual observers. Again, not that there would be any, considering the huge battle going on nearby.
Morgan skidded to a halt at the same time as Lari, the Feroxi man flicking out a hand as a small throwing knife from the bandolier across his chest darted into the bushes.
A red-armoured Valmese scout tumbled down the dry river bank, landing face down and still.
"Scout," Lari said. "We need to hurry."
Morgan nodded, and they redoubled their efforts to get to their intended position unnoticed.
She absently noted horns sounding in the distance, but they were too far away to make out clearly.
Morgan was silently glad that she hadn't voiced her opinion about there not being any scouts. Obviously she still had a lot to learn about enemy tactics; just because there was a battle didn't mean that a general would recall their scouts.
Lon'qu, Lari, Lee and Say'ri charged up the side of the gully, barely even slowing. Morgan hesitated a split second before following them, motioning for the soldiers to hold their ground.
The young tactician came to a halt, her gasping breaths momentarily stopping as she looked out over her first real battlefield with wide eyes.
The first thing she noticed were the bodies everywhere; red-armoured Valmese soldiers lying alongside the blue-armoured Ylisseans, leather-clad Feroxi and steel-coloured Chengshi. The next was the smell; blood and bile, dirt and smoke, and death pervading everything. She had seen death before; she had killed, she had hunted, but this… this…
She could see fighting not too far away, but the Ylissean lines had moved much further ahead than her father had predicted. Their flanking tactic was redundant now.
Morgan quashed her desire to retch, standing up straight and glancing at Lon'qu.
The stern Feroxi man smiled softly and reassuringly, giving her a nod.
"The… the battlefield has moved further north," Morgan said, taking stock of the situation. "If we charge in now, we can link up with the main force, but that would defeat the purpose of sneaking in as a flanking force."
"And your plan is?" Lee asked condescendingly.
"Charge in and join up with the main force," she said. "We missed our window of opportunity; the main army pushed too hard and too fast and left us behind. That's not a bad thing. We were an ace in the hole in case the lines went static, but they're pushing the Valmese back just fine, so we'll join up and slip into the frontlines on the army's eastern flank."
"A sound plan," Lon'qu said with a nod.
Lari voiced agreement, sliding back down the gully to issue orders to his men, Lee doing the same silently.
"A good plan," Say'ri complimented softly, laying a hand on Morgan's shoulder. "You think quickly on your feet; this is a good trait to have. Stay close to me when the battle is joined. I will see no harm comes to you."
Morgan nodded as the older woman moved to converse with Lon'qu about something or other.
Her head reeled. That had felt almost unbearably familiar; something about Say'ri screamed at Morgan internally for attention, but the trainee tactician put it out of her mind. She could dwell on it and question the foreign leader after the battle.
The Chengshi and Feroxi soldiers began tromping by, climbing out of the gully and making for the Ylissean lines. The few Shepherds with them waited with Morgan and the others, looking out over the battlefield themselves. Libra began to softly pray as they waited.
Lari flashed by with his men, offering Morgan a grin and a wink as he did.
She smiled unconsciously as she gave the man a little wave. She would have to go back to focusing on the matter at hand soon, but for now she was willing to just wait and watch the lines.
Robin spun, lashing out with magical flames as Lucina and Chrom jumped back. The Valmese soldiers before them fell backwards, grasping at their burned faces or trying to put out their flaming clothes. Those that pressed forward again soon found arrows sticking from gaps in their armour, Virion kneeling near Robin's side as he shot at an almost inhuman speed, a grimace of concentration replacing the noble archer's usually easy expression.
The tactician stepped back as Kellam, Donnel, Vaike and Kjelle charged forward, weapons swinging. Miriel led Henry and Ricken in a potent area-effect spell, lightning falling from the sky as Tharja cast her own spells seeing dark energy lancing up from beneath the feet of the Valmese soldiers.
The enemy line had completely buckled under the force of the Shepherds' charge; less than twenty men had cast aside the Valmese forces and crushed their defences. Robin looked up as Cherche brought her wyvern Minerva down on a group of Valmese swordsmen that looked to be rallying, striking out with her long-hafted axe as her wyvern spun, attacking the enemy with her tail and claws.
A horn sounded from the west as the rest of the Ylissean army surged forward, blasting three short notes and two long ones three times repeatedly.
"Hold!" Robin shouted, grabbing the nearest signal-man he could find. "Reform the lines!"
Chrom heard the call and began shouting himself, Falchion held aloft.
"Reform the lines around me! To me, brave men of Ylisse and Regna Ferox! To me, proud men of Valm! Reform the lines!"
Robin glanced away as the signaller began to blow the call to reform the lines, Cordelia and her knights touching down just behind Robin.
"A large group of mounted soldiers is coming in from the west, far more than we expected," Cordelia reported. "Frederick and Roark are staging a fighting retreat, but they will be on us in a matter of minutes."
Robin nodded his thanks.
"Dragon's Teeth formation!" he roared. "Spears and pikes in front! Swords on the sides! Archers and mages in behind! Now, damn you!"
Chrom looked questioningly at his tactician, but took up the call anyway. The army began to shift, the spearmen and pike-wielding Ylisseans moving forward and creating a series of triangles that the mounted Valmese would crash into and instantly lose momentum, caught between the 'teeth'. This was the best plan he'd been able to come up with to defeat the mounted superiority of Valm; it was time to see if it worked.
Robin watched as the Ylissean Knights swept around the teeth, pulling back to safety.
"Run and tell Frederick to bolster the eastern flank," Robin said to a pale young runner. "You tell him the flanking team is going to need backup when the Valmese get around our flanks; tell him be ready to charge if the order is given."
He gave the boy a light motivating shove before turning to Miriel and Cordelia.
"I need you two to discourage any Valmese forces from hitting out western flank," he said. "Knights attacking from the sky, mages from a distance; if it looks like they're getting anywhere near you, pull back. Take Nowi and Nah, and watch each other's backs."
The two women nodded, Cordelia calling for her Knights to take to the air again while Miriel began shouting orders to the other mages.
"Tharja, go with the mages," Robin said, turning to the Dark Mage.
"I'm not leaving your side," she said stubbornly.
Robin groaned and rolled his eyes. He didn't have time to argue.
"Fine, then I'm putting you to work. Come with me."
Robin began walking back to where the front had reformed into the triangular teeth formation; he could already see the Valmese cavalry charging towards them in a plume of dust. He climbed up onto the back of a box, getting a better view of the battlefield before pulling Tharja up next to him.
"You and I are slowing the cavalry down. Aim to damage, not to kill; wide area of effect. We want to disrupt their charge as much as possible."
"Just the two of us?" Tharja asked in a familiar low tone as an evil smile broke out on her face.
"I know," Robin said with a grin of his own as magic began crackling around them. "It's overkill, both of us doing this, but you insisted."
Morgan skidded to a halt, eyes wide as the others around her doing the same and looking back curiously. She had heard the horns; they were about to get hit hard.
"Form up!" she shouted desperately. "Form up! Form a line!"
"Morgan, what-" Say'ri started before the tactician cut her off.
"The main army's changing into a 'Dragon's Teeth' formation," the girl explained as the troops, already spread out as they had been making for the main Ylissean force attempted to consolidate.
"The Dragon's teeth makes a shorter front-line," Morgan went on, watching the Ylissean lines shift over the shoulders of the Feroxi and Chengshi under her command. "Which means whatever's charging at them is going to spill over and hit us."
Lon'qu's head whipped back and forth between her and the Ylissean line before he started shouting orders, attempting to make a coherent line out of scouts and trackers.
"Move, Naga damn your hides!" he roared. "Swords and axes in front! Archers behind! I shouldn't have to explain this!"
"Trackers!" Lari ordered quickly. "Bows ready! Aim for suppression and slow them down!"
Lee began barking in his native language, harsh sounds made up of all constantans, his men grouping together tightly with the melee-weapon wielding Feroxi as he joined the frontline some way away from the Shepherds.
Severa began cursing under her breath, jogging to the front with a visibly quaking Yarne in tow. Panne was looking around, judging the terrain as Gaius began to do a few little stretches to limber up, cool as ever. Noire looked like she was about to burst into tears as she joined the Feroxi archers, Lari patting a comforting hand on the girl's shoulder as she did. Anna looked lost, her face pale and drawn.
Say'ri paled as well when she, too, looked out over the men.
"We came up with the Dragon's Teeth together," Morgan said in a quaking voice. "Me and dad. I named it… We… we designed it to deal with cavalry charges."
Lon'qu looked back, grimacing before beginning to shout again.
"Expect cavalry! Hold this line! Once they make their first pass we make for the main army! Carry the wounded! Leave the dead!"
Leave the dead!? Morgan thought frantically. Just how bad is this going to be!? Oh gods, what have I led us into!?
The young tactician took a deep breath, trying to project an air of calm as she shouldered her way to the front of the line, standing next to Lon'qu as Say'ri took up position next to her. Yarne shot her a pleading look as he leaned forward, his body elongating and his fur growing as he shifted forms. Severa gave her a confident nod and a feral grin as she gripped her favoured sword.
"You should be in support with the archers," Say'ri said in her ear.
"I can cast just as well from here," Morgan argued, wincing as the sounds of battle in the distance rose in pitch again.
"Advance in formation!" Morgan called. "Get closer to the League! Don't break formation!"
Lon'qu took up the cry, the usually quiet swordsman's voice booming out over the assembled soldiers. They were a pitiful number compared to the majority of the League's foot soldiers that were in formation already across the battlefield. As their little group began to slowly creep forward, maintaining their formation, Morgan fervently hoped that she was overreacting, but she knew that her father wouldn't have used an untested formation like the Dragon's teeth unless he deemed it necessary. Which meant a very, very big cavalry charge.
Dust began to rise in the distance and there was a monumental crash, the sound of armoured bodies impacting against each other.
"Hold here!" Morgan ordered, the line coming to a standstill.
A plume of dust had rounded the Ylissean flank and obviously spotted the flanking force. Rather than circle about, which would take time and effort, the Valmese soldiers did exactly what Morgan had feared they would; they kept right on charging, building up momentum as they raced across the battlefield.
Lari shouted an order in the native language of Western Regna Ferox and a hail of arrows flashed out towards the Valmese charge.
"Blood and thunder!" Noire roared before bursting into manic laughter punctuated by the twanging of her bowstring, her personality shifting again. "Come! Face oblivion! Face me and I will speed your passing!"
Morgan let out an involuntary chuckle. She couldn't help it; Noire made her laugh.
Say'ri let out a deep breath next to her as she crouched low in a defensive stance, her sword held straight.
"Stay close, child," she said to Morgan again.
Feeling a little competitive Morgan grinned and cast a quick spell, knocking the feet out from under a few of the lead horses with blasts of green wind and causing pile-ups with those behind them.
"I'll be fine," she said, casting a firestorm across from where Lee and the majority of the Chengshi soldiers were grouped.
The Valmese cavalry slowed as the horses hesitated at the flames, being funnelled closer to Morgan's position in the centre of the line, arrows raining down on them like fletched hail all the while.
Before Morgan could cast a third spell the first of the cavalry were on them, Say'ri throwing her to one side as one of the mounted Valmese men passed between them.
"Move!" Morgan screamed. "Move and fight! Don't let them run us to ground!"
She swung her sword in high arcs, slashing at mounted thighs and stomachs as she began to run. The line dissolved almost instantly, Lee and his men completely ignoring the Shepherds and the trackers and making a break for the rest of the army.
"Lee!" Morgan shouted, waving her arms and trying to get the man's attention. "Lee! Hold formation! Hold- damn you! Fine!"
She growled under her breath as she began to strike at the Valmese men again.
The cowardly Chengshi man would get his, she silently promised.
Yarne and Panne bounded by, knocking aside horses or dragging men from their mounts as they went. Gaius and Anna followed, dancing nimbly through the melee as they tried to clear a path for the archers.
"Move!" Lari shouted to Morgan, his face close to hers, gripping the girl by the shoulder and making her take a few steps forward. "Wake up Morgan! We need to go now!"
She glanced around as she began running; the Cavalry were behind them, circling around now. If they were fast, they could probably make it to the Ylissean lines before the Valmese got the chance to reach them again.
When did that happen? She wondered, turning and pumping her legs as fast as she could. It's like I blinked and missed the whole battle.
Morgan cast a glance over her shoulder, her eyes brimming with tears when she saw the sheer amount of leather-clad Feroxi corpses they were leaving behind. All around her trackers were carrying the wounded, and as she watched Libra cast a powerful healing spell around the small group, some of the worse wounded quieting as they were carried.
She wiped frantically at her face with a sleeve, eyes narrowing as she caught a glimpse of Lee's men in the distance, re-joining the Ylissean formation.
Magic crackled off her clenched fists, the air around her warping and sizzling as the raw magic turned to heat. She skidded to a halt, snarling and raising a hand towards the cavalry in the distance as her other wrapped around the spine of her spellbook for casting support.
I really hope I get this one right…
"Oh mighty Earth, open up in rage and hoist up your flames!"
The ground beneath the Feroxi rent and split, magma and flames shooting up around them.
Morgan quickly lost control of the powerful spell, though, too untrained to marshal it for very long.
"That was impressive, but we need to keep going," Lari said, half grabbing and half dragging the sagging tactician.
Say'ri looked on with a shocked expression, surveying the destruction the young woman had wrought.
As she fell into step with Lari, still half dragging Morgan, the tactician looked around and realized that they were at the back of the group; the rest had gone on quite a way ahead.
Robin charged through the army the opposite way that they were facing, roughly shoving the archers in his way to get by them, snarling at anyone that questioned his motivation. A thick air of magic crackled around him, doing wonders to clear a path.
"Robin, calm down and think rationally," Virion tried again from behind him. "I'm sure Morgan simply ordered him on ahead! Robin!"
No, Robin thought. Not when the Chengshi scouts were the only ones in actual armour. She would have formed a line, not scattered.
"He abandoned your daughter to die," the voice purred in his mind.
"He abandoned my daughter to die!" Robin roared, a blast of wind magic clearing a space when he found the scout captain.
The thin man looked terrified when Robin stepped up to him, backpedalling as the tactician got right in his face.
"Report, scout captain," Robin growled dangerously, gripping the rim of his chest-plate and dragging him face to snarling-face.
"T-tactician M-Morgan ordered us ahead," he stuttered, flinching from Robin's wrath. "She… she said to retreat!"
"Liar!" Robin roared, releasing his armour and striking the scout's face with a vicious backhand.
"You broke ranks!" he continued as the man fell to the ground, drawing mana to his clenched fist. "Do you know what the penalty for deserting your post is, scout captain!?"
Robin raised his fist, lightning coalescing around it as the voice in his head practically squealed with glee.
"Vengeance! Turn that swine into ashes!" the voice giggled gleefully.
"And what did you just do!?" Virion shouted, spinning Robin by the shoulder, his spell dissipating instantly.
Before the tactician could answer he was slapped in the face by, of all things, Virion's glove.
"Look!" the archer shouted, pointing over the cowering scout captain. "They're still trying to make it back! We can still save them, but you need to get your head in the right place! Focus!"
Robin nodded, taking a deep breath before glaring down at Lee, still staring up at him with wide eyes.
"You and I aren't done yet," Robin warned.
"Kill him! Kill him, damn you!"
What happened to staying quiet!?
The voice responded by making a low, animalistic growl of pure frustration in his head, a headache flaring to life behind his eyes and making the tactician sway and reach out for Virion's shoulder to steady himself.
"Robin!?" the archer asked worriedly, reaching out and holding him up.
"I'm fine," he muttered. "Signal Frederick. Sound the charge for the Knights. Rout the enemy cavalry."
Virion nodded, snatching the horn from one of the signallers and beginning to blow.
Robin spun as Lee suddenly screamed in pain, doubled up on the ground as he vomited all over the boots of the men around him. Robin's gaze drifted further back before he spotted Tharja, her black coat swaying as she retracted her arm, a dangerous scowl on her delicate features as she stalked by the Chengshi scouts.
"That's my daughter out there, too," she said fiercely over her shoulder to the scout captain.
"Pray that Robin gets to you before I do when this is over, coward, as I will make hell look like a vacation spot when I am done with you."
Robin grinned a little as she came up to him. He could see Virion trying not to smile as he listened for the response signal from the Ylissean Knights.
"I assume you have a plan?" she asked, her scowl softening a little as she reached the tactician.
Robin nodded, grinning savagely.
"Yeah, and you're going to love it."
Morgan panted as she struggled to keep pace with Lari and Say'ri; the cavalry were pretty well breathing down their necks again, reminding Morgan that if she hadn't lost her temper and stopped to use up all of her mana that Lari and Say'ri would already be safe.
She stumbled, her foot catching against something she had missed in the debris of the battlefield they were sprinting across, and she fell forward, landing hard and cracking her chin.
Her vision swam as someone pulled her up.
She made out Say'ri, dragging her up one-handed as she held her sword out with the other, Lari kneeling and loosing arrows as fast as he could draw them with a determined set to his masculine features.
She looked up, their destination of Fortress Steiger looming in the distance.
We were… so close, Morgan thought with a sob as the hoof-beats of the cavalry grew to a deafening crescendo.
She was thrown to the side again as Say'ri threw her clear before rolling herself. She let out a loud curse when one of the Valmese spears hit her side. Morgan lost sight of Lari as they were overtaken by Valmese cavalry.
She continued to roll, coming up to her feet in a crouch, hooves stamping down where she had been lying prone a second ago.
"Morgan!" Say'ri screamed desperately, her voice breaking. "Get away from my daughter, you bastards!"
Morgan dove forward again, a long-bladed spear swishing through the space her head had been occupying a moment ago. She landed awkwardly, though, and lost her footing, falling to her shoulder and rolling onto her back.
The red-armoured figure reared up, poised to strike again now that Morgan was vulnerable.
She closed her eyes tightly, expecting to feel pain.
A loud sound like the heavens tearing open forced her eyes back open. She looked up at where the Valmese Knight had been about to impale her; he was simply gone, a black scorch mark all that remained of him.
In fact, as Morgan sat up she could see that the Valmese force had been driven away from her and Say'ri in a rough circle of scorch-marks, all around them.
A horn sounded, and the Valmese cavalry reared and tried to escape; they surged around the two women and fled away in the direction of the fortress, opening Morgan's view of the rest of the battlefield as a legion of Ylissean Knights crashed across it, aiming directly for the retreating Valmese cavalry.
"For Ylisse!" Frederick roared, standing in his saddle and brandishing an ornate lance as he led the charge.
The knights zoomed right by them, not even sparing the women a glance.
Morgan climbed shakily to her feet, only to be bodily tackled by Say'ri in a tight hug.
"By the ancestors I thought I had lost you!" she cried, holding Morgan tightly.
"What…" Morgan said, her head being pressed to Say'ri's armoured shoulder.
Morgan's eyes grew wide as she finally saw the sword sitting at the woman's hip.
"Mother?" she asked, drawing back from the white-armoured woman.
Say'ri nodded, tears gathering in her eyes as Morgan threw herself back into her mother's arms, relieved tears of her own streaming down her face.
"Wait," the young tactician sniffed, pulling away from Say'ri again. "Where's Lari?"
Robin sprinted across the battlefield, vaulting over the piles of detritus and dodging around those he couldn't jump; Tharja had collapsed after their combined spell, her mana all but spent. Virion was trying to keep pace with the frantic tactician, but for all Robin's exhaustion he had to make sure Morgan was okay.
He had to.
Nothing else mattered.
The Knights were in pursuit of the Valmese cavalry, driving them back towards the city-sized Fortress; the Dragon's Teeth tactic had worked, and the Ylissean League was once again advancing on Fortress Steiger.
None of that mattered at the moment though; not while Morgan was still in danger.
Robin's blood ran cold when he heard the unmistakable sound of his daughter wailing in distress and he put on an extra burst of speed, rounding a hill and skidding to a stop.
Morgan was kneeling over the trampled body of a Feroxi tracker, distraught as Say'ri held her, trying to comfort the clearly inconsolable girl.
The princess from Chon'sin looked up at Robin, tears in her own eyes as she glanced back down to the body.
Robin recognized him from camp. The Tracker Lari lay dead next to the two women, trampled by the enemy cavalry.
The tactician swayed, falling to his own knees next to Say'ri and Morgan as Virion finally caught up with him.
"Oh gods..." Virion moaned, coming to a stop next to the tactician.
They had been too late after all.