Invisible Ties

Chapter 32

Yarne's ears twitched.

As a Taguel, his hearing was much more sensitive than that of the humans he had spent his life around; contrary to Morgan's belief, they were not just for show. The rest of the future-children knew this, so when Laurent noticed his comrade looking off into the distance with his head tilted, he knew something was amiss.

"Yarne?" the young mage asked. "What do you hear?"

The Taguel's nose twitched in a very lagomorphic fashion.

"Yarne?" Laurent tried again.

Usually his friend was much more expedient in his responses.

"I thought I heard…" he said, obviously straining to hear.

The Taguel shook his head.

"It's no good. I can't make anything out over the fighting behind us. B-but I thought I heard women screaming."

Laurent nodded, making a note in his ledger. This was most vexing news indeed.

Robin panted, standing doubled-over the bodies of the Valmese Knights that had been in his way.

"There's… there's no end to them," he gasped, glancing up as another squad came running down the staircase before him.

Beside him Chrom grimaced, readying his divine blade Falchion.

"Shepherds! Forward!"

Robin hung back as the other soldiers and warriors rushed forward, Tharja and Miriel reaching his side as he began to gather mana for a spell.

They had been pushing into what they thought would have been the throne room for at least half an hour now, but Robin had once again miscalculated. Of course, in a fortress the size of a small city, the throne room would be a huge, tiered room that was almost like a miniature fortress in its own right.

The 'Throne Room' brought to mind visions of Chengshi's tiered city steps, but in a straight line rather than being cut into the mountain. The path was at least ten meters wide, columns supporting an arched roof above them with delicate-looking stained glass skylights spaced at regular intervals. Busts, statues and paintings sat in alcoves at regular intervals along the Throne Room path, an ostentatious show of power for whoever was approaching the room at the end of the path.

According to the intel that Seiko and her spy network had gathered there was no other way in or out of the Throne Room proper aside from a small secret door that would have been impractical to move troops through. This just left the Shepherds the option of charging up the steps through the Valmese Honour Guard, tier by tier.

And every bloody tier has at least three or four squads of soldiers on them, Robin lamented as the Shepherds crashed into the next squad barring their path.

The tiers themselves were as big as the anteroom that Shield team was holding as their extraction point, but without diverging pathways or entrances to the rest of the fortress. It was a straight path to their goal, up the stairs and through the enemy soldiers.

For half an hour wave after wave of the Valmese Empire's finest had been throwing themselves at the Shepherds, and their progress was finally beginning to slow.

With the combined effort of the three spellcasters the currently encroaching Knights were swept to the side with a devastating wind spell, and the Shepherds rushed up to the next tier.

"Form a line!" Robin called in a hoarse voice, his head spinning.

Chrom took up the call, organizing a front.

"Form a line! Armour up front! I said armour, Vaike, not bone-headed stubbornness!"

The axeman huffed and took up a position in the line anyway.

For all their hardships, morale among the Shepherds was still high.

Robin grimaced as another squad of heavily armoured soldiers appeared above them, and Virion, Noire and Lon'qu set about delaying them with a torrent of deadly arrows.

He noted absently that the Feroxi swordsman was quite the shot with his borrowed bow, obviously one of Virion's spares; where he had found the time to practice with his constant fencing training Robin wasn't sure, though; to be honest, the tactician didn't really care at that point.

They couldn't keep up this pace for much longer. Wounds were starting to pile up, and Lissa, Sumia and Libra were being pushed to their limits trying to keep up with the demand for their skills. Robin was beginning to regret leaving Maribelle with the Shield team, but it couldn't be helped.

How much further does this stupid staircase go? Robin wondered, watching as the Shepherds advanced to the next tier in tight formation.

And why is it always staircases!?

His limbs felt like they were encased in lead; his masterfully crafted silver breastplate was little more than added weight to him now, and Robin grunted as he adjusted it, a wild plan popping into his mind.

Can I trust myself that this isn't suicide? Robin wondered, yanking on the straps of his breastplate and letting it fall away with a dull clatter.

"Robin, what in Naga's name…?" was as far as Virion got before the tactician took a deep breath.

"Panne! Lon'qu! Chrom! Frederick!" he shouted at the top of his lungs, rotating his arms and neck and feeling much lighter.

"With me! Arrow formation! Frederick, take the tip!"

A few questioning stares met Robin's proposal, but Chrom grinned and nodded once he remembered what 'Arrow formation' was for.

"Cut right to their heart, eh?" the Prince asked with a lopsided grin. "I like that idea."

The other three names he called pulled back from the front, the holes they left quickly being filled by the others.

"Ready?" Robin asked them, receiving answering nods.

"Virion, keep things together for us," the tactician said over his shoulder.

"But of course," the archer said, flicking a lock of hair over his shoulder and beaming a confident grin.

"Miriel, Henry, Ricken," Robin said. "Make us an opening."

The three mages nodded and concentrated their efforts, a magical conflagration creating an opening in the line of encroaching red-armoured figures. The other Shepherds stepped to the side, giving the small wedge-shaped team space.

"Charge!" Chrom roared, and Frederick took off like a shot, axe swinging back and forth as he barrelled through the first of the Valmese.

Robin and Chrom were directly behind him, slashing and spinning, feeding off of Frederick's momentum as they raced through the Valmese and broke their line. Panne and Lon'qu followed, tearing with claws and dancing between foes in a red mist created by precision swordsmanship, handling any soldiers Robin and Chrom missed.

The other Shepherds let out a lusty roar, following the 'arrow team' into the breach and sweeping aside the Valmese defence.

That's what Robin had created the arrow formation for; to break lines on a smaller scale, just like this one. It was another formation that he hadn't actually put to use before, but it was pleasing to see it working out. It was a dangerous, last resort sort of tactic; a small group charging headlong into the enemy, breaking their lines and putting themselves in a position that could easily end with them being surrounded. He would never trust it to the regular army, of course, but he knew the strengths and weaknesses of every Shepherd; he knew that the team he'd picked would have no problem keeping pace with Frederick as the machine-of-a-Knight powered forward.

They crashed into another squad, barely slowing as Frederick led with his shoulder and simply bowled over those in his way. Surprised faces met them as the other four whirled, tore and stabbed their way forward behind the Knight Commander, the rest of the Shepherds not far behind.

This continued for at least three more tiers, Valmese men falling before the momentum and crippling might of the best of the Shepherds, until at last they emerged out onto the top tier before a massive sealed doorway, with no further Valmese men in sight.

Robin looked back, seeing that the Shepherds were still charging after them, only two tiers back while the Valmese soldiers beneath them milled about in a confused daze, such was the force of the 'Arrow team's' charge.

Now they would simply have to… have…

Robin swayed, shaking his head and forcing himself to focus, his breathing coming out in ragged gasps as his hands shook.

He might have pushed himself a little too hard, but they still had to assault the remaining Valmese troops on the tier beneath Arrow team, catching them in a classic pincer movement that-

Robin's vision clouded, his breath catching in his throat as he struggled to stay upright. He couldn't think straight…


Robin's vision went black, his legs collapsing beneath him as he fell to the floor.



"Get up!"


Robin, can you hear me!?

Wake up! Come on!

"Come on you mad bastard, wake up!" Chrom shouted, slapping Robin in the face.

"I can't win this war without you! Wake your lazy arse up!"

Robin's eyes snapped open, a familiar blue-haired visage hovering over him.

"Oh gods…" he managed, sitting up and holding a hand to his head as the room spun around him.

"How does Sumia stand waking up to that face every morning?" Robin asked in a tired voice without thinking.

Chrom blinked a few times before letting out a relieved sigh and chuckling.

"You're fine," he said, grabbing the other man under one arm and hauling him up.

Robin glanced around. A multitude of worried faces looked on, but the majority of the Shepherds were busily tending to the wounded or preparing to assault the Throne Room proper, just beyond the great sealed doors.

How long was I out for?

Looking around Robin saw that Cordelia and Sumia's faces were among the number watching him closely, and Tharja looked like she was about to pounce on him. Virion was sneaking looks at him as he directed the distribution of the replacement weapons for the ones damaged or lost during the fighting, his long silver-blue hair flicking every time he turned. Even Frederick was watching with a mixture of curiosity and worry, a strange expression for the normally stoic man's face.

With a start Robin realized that Say'ri was watching him with the same look of concern on her face as the others before their eyes met and her usual cold mask snapped back into place, the princess from Chon'sin quickly looking away.

"What the hell were you thinking, taking off your armour," Cordelia asked as she, Sumia and Tharja closed in on him.

"He is fine," Tharja droned in her usual low monotone, giving him a questioning glance from beneath her ebon bangs.

Robin nodded, backing up her declaration that he was okay with a wordless grunt. Of course, her gaze also said that she was going to tear him a new one for making her worry once the battle was over, but Robin had been expecting that.

"I don't see any wounds," Sumia said, gently moving Robin's coat to one side as Chrom supported him.

"I'm fine," Robin said, his head spinning again. "Just… used too much mana."

"That's not true and you know it…"

"Again!?" Chrom asked, carefully releasing the tactician's arm and making sure he could stand on his own. "You have got to get better at gauging that. I can't have my tactician dropping dead every time he uses one-too-many spells."

Robin nodded mutely, trying to ignore the feeling of biting insects crawling beneath his skin.

"Stop fighting me, Robin," the voice whispered in his ear.

"I'm fine, guys," he repeated, doing his best to sound convincing. "I just needed a quick power nap. Now I'm good as new."

Chrom sighed.

"We need to take a brief rest here to take care of the wounded and resupply; get some rest. I'll come and find you when it's time to move on."

"And I think this time, Henry can break down the door," Chrom added over his shoulder with a smirk as he strode towards Virion and Frederick.

Cordelia gave him a strange look, before asking "Are you sure you're okay?"

Robin nodded, giving the others the thumbs up gesture and doing his best to smile reassuringly at Cordelia and Sumia as the two Pegasus knights returned to making ready; such was the burden of fighting with such light lances, they broke easily and the women constantly had to replace them.

Once he was sure no one was watching Robin let himself sag, his shoulders hunching as he let out a deep sigh.

Another presence was suddenly at his side, supporting him from the back and leading him towards the stairs.

"You can't fool me of all people," Tharja said in a low, disapproving voice. "If you want to work yourself to the point where you drop then that's your prerogative, but you can't lie and say you're okay."

"Fine," Robin admitted with a sigh. "I just need a break, that's all."

Tharja sat him down on the top step, giving him a penetrating glance. She stared at him for a few seconds, and just as Robin began to feel a little of the old discomfort from their previous relationship in Plegia the Dark Mage broke eye contact.

"Wait here," she said in a tone brokering no disagreement as she spun and began striding away in a flash of swaying black coat and hair. "I'll be right back."

Robin sighed and let his head droop, focusing on his breathing, trying to gather his thoughts.

"You're slipping. Maybe you should just sit the rest of the assault out?" his interior voice whispered in a mocking fashion.

Shut up, Robin ordered. I don't need you or your help.

"You're weak, Robin. I can do this better than you ever could. Get out of my way."

Robin gripped the sides of his head, willing the voice to be silent as his head throbbed. The voice had changed suddenly. It had gone from a whisper to a growl, from being a suggestion to an order that he was having trouble disobeying.

"Here," a voice not belonging to Tharja said gently.

Robin glanced up, grateful for the distraction, his gaze following his proffered sword up to a white armoured arm holding it out to him.

"You… dropped this," Say'ri said in a small voice.

"Thanks," Robin muttered, taking the blade and inspecting it with a wave of guilt.

The once beautiful blade was nicked and scratched almost beyond recognition. Robin had been neglecting it for some time, and it was beginning to show. The steel seemed dull, and he had no doubt that the sword would break soon.

Say'ri cleared her throat awkwardly, and Robin stood to sheathe the sword.

"I am glad… you are not injured," Say'ri said, not meeting Robin's eyes.

"Could've fooled me," the voice whispered in his head. "This is where she tries to get back into our good books…"

Shut up!

"And when our back is turned she sticks a knife in it!"

I said. Shut. Up.

"Er… thanks," Robin mumbled, preoccupied with his interior argument.

They stood like that for a few moments, neither knowing what to say or do next.

Robin regretted the way things had gone with Say'ri, to be honest. He missed having her as a friend. He hadn't meant to hurt her the way he had, but he was severely lacking in any experience with relationships due to his amnesia, and had panicked and…

Why am I thinking about this now? He wondered as Say'ri shifted awkwardly.

"You two are so disgustingly awkward," the voice spat, becoming hard again.

Robin wanted to say something, but what could he say? 'Hey, sorry you were four months too late getting into my life to become my lover, better luck next time?' That would go down really well.

He wasn't mad at Say'ri… and here she was attempting to mend the bridges and actually talk to him without glaring again for the first time since they had left Valm Harbour, and all Robin could do was shuffle and mumble awkwardly.

"Pathetic," the voice in his head spat. "What did she ever see in you to begin with?"

He could at least apologize for the other night. That was as good a place as any to start.

Just as Robin looked up to apologize for his behaviour lately Tharja reappeared, her usual glare directed at Say'ri as she stepped up next to Robin.

"Greetings Lady Say'ri," Tharja said in her iciest tone of voice.

"Greetings," Say'ri nodded back, before turning back to Robin.

"You should take better care of your weapon," she said quickly, before turning on her heel and striding off.

Before Robin could speak Tharja had grabbed his hair, roughly forcing his head back and mouth open as she poured quite possibly the foulest tasting elixir he had ever drank down his throat.

Coughing and spluttering Robin tried not to retch.

"What did you just make me drink!?" he shouted animatedly, eyes wide.

Tharja chuckled, corking the empty vial and stowing it away beneath her voluminous cloak.

"If I told you, you wouldn't drink it," she said with an evil grin. "Do you feel better yet?"

"I…" Robin started, before coming up short.

He felt lighter, but in a different way than he had when he was charging through the servant quarters with Dagger team. The burning bloodlust beneath his flesh still remained, but it was muted, as if being blocked. The crawling, burning sensation beneath his skin was abating as well; again not disappearing entirely, but calming. Most importantly, the voice had instantly fallen silent in a burst of outraged surprise.

"What did you make me drink?" Robin asked in wonder as he looked at his hands.

They weren't shaking. His breathing was slow. His head was clear, and his vision was widening to its usual spectrum.

Tharja nodded as if satisfied.

"It's a remedy. Put it that way. I'll explain the rest later when you're not likely to throw it back up."

"You do not do much to instil confidence," Robin deadpanned.

But he grinned as he spoke. He couldn't help it. He felt great.

For the first time in a long time he felt like himself again.

It wasn't the same physical revitalization that he felt when he had taken Gregor's secret concoction, rather his spirit felt a little lighter.

"I warn you though, it won't last long," Tharja explained, producing four more vials. "Take these, but only use them if you have to. The remedy isn't exactly good for you."

"I'm not even going to ask," Robin said, pocketing most of the vials and holding one up to inspect in the light.

It genuinely looked like black ink, threads of red interspersed throughout the thick, brackish liquid.

"Thank you, Tharja," Robin said. "I should be getting back to Chrom and Frederick."

Robin jogged off, a new-found spring in his step.

As he turned he missed Tharja's face falling as she watched the tactician's retreating form. In the place of her usual scowl the Dark Mage wore a look completely alien to her beautiful face.

She was afraid.

Severa grunted, hitching Morgan higher up on her back.

Stupid Morgan, passing out and making me carry her…

She had been running through the fortress for half an hour now, completely unwilling to admit that in her panic she had taken a wrong turn and gotten lost somewhere in the sub-levels.

Dammit, Lucina… she thought bitterly. If you die before I can get back to save you, I'll kill you myself!

Morgan moaned weakly from her back, making Severa pick up her pace despite the burning in her legs.

Gods, what does this girl eat!? She weighs a ton!

Fortunately none of the Resistance traitors had followed her so far, and she hadn't run into any more Valmese forces, either; if her luck held out she'd be able to get Morgan out and to a healer and get back to Lucina soon.

Just hold on… please… Both of you…

"Hey! You there!"

Severa cursed, trying to drop Morgan as gently as she could and drawing her sword in one swift motion.

Arrayed before her was a group of four Resistance soldiers wearing the same style armour that their would-be kidnappers had been wearing.

They relaxed, obviously underestimating Severa and invoking her ire as they chuckled and made lewd, suggestive comments in their native language.

"You boys just made the last mistake of your worthless lives," the redhead growled, launching herself at the Resistance soldiers, her twin-tails fluttering behind her like blood-red streamers.

As the Resistance traitors finally realized their mistake Severa was already in amongst them, bringing her sword up to impale one of the men. She spun, pulling her blade free with the momentum and slashed horizontally across the unprotected neck of the next closest man, before continuing her spin and lashing out with a high roundhouse kick that snapped the head of the third man to the side, dropping him like a sack of dirt.

The fourth man, evidently their leader, tried to rush in with his own sword, which Severa caught on hers a moment before she brought her knee up to the man's groin with a devilish grin on her face.

She stepped back as the man let out a squeak and fell to his knees.

The whole exchange had lasted little more than a few seconds.

"Toldja," she said as she drove her sword through his breastplate.

Breathing heavily now, Severa brushed a few loose strands of hair out of her face and sheathed her sword, returning to where Morgan was slumped against the wall of the passageway.

"Come on, Morgan," Severa said more to herself than the unconscious girl as she lifted her dead weight back onto her back and started walking again.

"I hate to admit it, but I think we're lost."

Robin bounced on his toes, waiting while Henry gathered the requisite amount of mana to blast the huge doors down.

"What did Tharja feed you?" Chrom asked with a dry chuckle.

"Apparently I wouldn't have wanted to know," Robin said absently, glancing around and trying to commit every detail he could to memory. "We better do this fast, though; I can already feel it wearing off."

Chrom gave a nod, signalling for Henry to blow the door.

With a loud crack a bolt of lightning danced from the smiling white-haired man's extended palm to the middle of the door, disintegrating the lock and leaving a small, smoking hole. With a casual backhanded wave he sent a light wind spell into the now unsecured doors, forcing them open with a loud smash.

"I could have done that," Robin muttered dejectedly as the Shepherds began to cautiously advance towards the Throne Room.

The tactician hesitated a moment, his hand resting on his stomach as it roiled violently.

I don't think I'll be able to keep that elixir down, Robin realized, trying to force some water down his throat quickly while he advanced in the second rank.

At least that bloody voice finally shut up.

The throne room was huge, big enough to make Robin wonder just how big Walhart's actual palace was. A giant arched roof was held up by columns, glittering chandeliers hanging beneath open skylights, bouncing the light making it seem like the entire room was bathed in golden sunlight.

The beauty of the view was marred by the hundreds of Valmese soldiers, standing shoulder to shoulder before the raised throne.

"Girls, if you would be so kind?" Robin asked, motioning with a lazy wave over his shoulder.

Nowi and Nah hopped forward, finally having space to transform again.

With a giggle that seemed very un-dragon-like, Nowi charged into the huge space first, blocking the light from above in her shifted form as she breathed magical green flames onto the assembled soldiers.

Nah hesitated, before taking a deep breath and silently emulating her mother.

While it was easy to forget that Nowi was in fact a millennium old dragon, Nah was exactly as she appeared; still just a girl. For all that, though, she still fought to keep pace with her mother as she slapped one of the chandeliers with her tail, razor sharp shards of glass raining down on the Valmese men beneath it.

The manaketes circled playfully in the air, ignoring the arrows and minor spells being shot up at them. It looked like Nowi's constant search for fun was beginning to infect Nah.

"First rank, kneel!" Chrom shouted, dropping to one knee as the rest of the front line emulated him.

Robin, Tharja, Henry, Miriel, Ricken, Virion and Noire all let loose at once, decimating the remainder of the front line of Valmese men.

Arrows flew like rain from the two Ylissean archers, while spells from opposing elements collided and sent off chain reactions, doing more damage than their original forms ever could have achieved; just as Robin had planned it.

"Forward!" Chrom roared, and the kneeling front line charged, weapons held ready.

The Throne Room echoed with a wordless war cry as the Shepherds collided with the still reeling Valmese, Chrom at the forefront with Frederick at his side.

Frederick? Robin thought in confusion. Where's Lucina?

He glanced around, about to ask for confirmation about the Princess' whereabouts when another wave of nausea stuck him, making him gag as his gorge rose. He could feel the elixir being forced back up.

"Robin, what are you doing!?" Cordelia asked.

The tactician shook his head, swallowing a few times and darting forward; he was beginning to fall behind again.

He skidded to a halt just behind where the fighting was thickest, scanning the battlefield with practiced eyes.


A slim woman in gear reminiscent of Lucina's, but coloured a dark red rather than her regal blue, strode forward with a thin sword in one hand.

Her blonde hair fluttered beneath an ornate golden head-dress as she held aloft an intricate-looking staff with her other hand.

Valmese men that had fallen to the side, too wounded to fight lifted themselves back up as their wounds closed, hands wrapping around bloody weapons as they surged to protect their General.

"Come, Dogs of Ylisse!" Pheros shouted in a surprisingly strong voice. "Come and face the Right Hand of the Conqueror! General Pheros will be your death!"

Chrom spotted her about the same time as Robin did, and darted forward to trade blows with her.

"There's the General," Robin called. "Regroup on Chrom! Keep the other enemies off of him!"

The Shepherds responded immediately, closing in about the Prince as he duelled and danced with Pheros. The freshly healed Valmese men had the same idea, moving forward to clash with the Shepherds as the two leaders duelled.

"Into them!" Robin called, motioning the Shepherds forward. "Protect Chrom! Protect… Pro…"

Robin was about to dart back into the fray when his stomach protested a third time and he involuntarily dropped to his knees.

"How. Dare. You?" the voice in his head thundered as Robin doubled over, gagging.

The tactician threw up, a sticky, inky black substance coating the floor beneath him. Tharja's remedy had been more liquid than the sludge coating the floor, though...

"How dare you try to silence me with cheap potions!?"

The pounding in his head returned, and Robin let out a scream as his flesh burned beneath his skin with the intensity of the sun.

"I will make you suffer for your insolence!"

A few of the Shepherds turned to help Robin, Lissa and Cordelia at their core, but without thinking he violently shoved them back, the wind-in-his-ears sensation returning and reducing his world to a dull roar as his vision seemed to crystalize.

Everything came into focus as he looked up; he could see the beads of sweat on Virion's neck from twenty meters away; he could count the individual hairs swaying as Cordelia struggled to regain her balance; he could see the imperfections in the seemingly perfect bright red armour of the Valmese Honour Guard.

What's… what's happening?

"You can't escape me, Robin," the voice warned, spitting his name out like a curse, painfully clear above all other sounds in the roaring.

He felt his tired muscles all tense and release a few times as if something were testing them. His exhaustion slipped away as he felt Dark Magic flood into his body, healing torn and tired limbs and forcing him back to full alertness.

"In fact…"

The tactician lurched to his feet and took a few steps, mana coalescing around him as his coat dropped to the floor behind him, the new shirt he had bought in Chengshi beginning to smoke and burn as familiar symbols appeared beneath Robin's flesh.

What are you doing!? Robin pleaded. Stop! Stop damn you!

The other vials of Tharja's remedy flew through the air, torn from Robin's coat pocket with a violent wind spell. They danced above his outstretched hand in a circular motion for a moment, surrounded by a dark purple light, before his fist closed and the vials shattered, the contents splattering to the ground.

"I'm going to have a little fun while you're incapacitated."

Robin felt a strange burning in his eyes as they flooded with Dark Magic, his usually kind brown eyes becoming the same soulless, black orbs that he had seen on the Hierophant in Plegia.

The other Shepherds began to shy away from Robin, not truly understanding what was happening as their tactician began to laugh.

Chrom ducked low, spinning beneath the staff that had just passed through the space his head had previously occupied.

Pheros fought like a demon, darting from side to side before striking with her sword or ornate staff, barely encumbered by her thick ceremonial regalia.

She was faster than he was, there was no contest there, but he was stronger, and she couldn't parry any of his attacks for fear of his heavier sword and superior strength breaking hers.

They separated a moment, eyeing each other and breathing heavily as the battle raged around them.

"You fight well, Prince Chrom," Pheros complimented with a nod. "You have earned my respect, at the very least."

"Well in that case why don't we stop fighting and try to talk about this?" Chrom asked with a grin as the two leaders began circling each other.

"I cannot do that, my Prince," Pheros said, dead seriously. "I have been charged by my Lord to hold this Fortress. You would deny me my duty."

"It was worth a try," Chrom said with a shrug, darting back in and striking with a flurry of blows almost faster than the naked eye could follow.

Pheros caught the first two on the thick metal shaft of her staff, sidestepping the third and spinning behind Chrom to go on the offensive again. The Prince stepped forward as he spun, bringing Falchion up as Pheros' sword struck for his throat.

The blades clashed and sparks flew, and the two stepped back again.

"You truly are skilled, my Prince," Pheros said as they started circling again. "Lord Walhart would find you a great ally. All you would need to do is kneel. He would allow you to remain lord of your own domain, so long as you swore your fealty to him."

Righteous anger began burning inside Chrom's chest.

"I am the rightful Exalt of Ylisse," he said as Falchion began to shine with blue power. "I will not bend my knee to any man, nor give my subjects willingly to the tyrannical rule of another."

He rushed forward again, striking downwards from up high. Pheros caught the glowing blade between her sword and her staff, forming an 'x' above her head with them.

"But he is not merely a man, Prince Chrom," Pheros said, her voice strained as she struggled against Chrom's superior strength. "Emperor Walhart has long ago left his humanity aside for the betterment of all of us!"

She kicked out and Chrom's knee buckled, forcing him to roll to the side as Pheros brought both her staff and sword down.

Almost as an afterthought the blonde woman raised her staff casually, a healing light enveloping her troops again and motivating them to fight all the harder for her.

"Once, I followed your exalted sister, you know," Pheros said idly as the two combatants eyed each other. "I made the pilgrimage all the way to Ylisstol, just to hear her speak. I, too, grew up worshiping Naga and the Earth Mother."

"And you abandoned your faith," Chrom spat, forcing himself back to his feet.

She was truly deserving of her station and title based on martial prowess alone, of that he no longer had any doubt.

"I have no use for invisible spirits any longer," Pheros growled, taking the offensive and forcing Chrom back.

"I serve a god among men now. Emperor Walhart will do what no religion ever could-unite all people."

"He will unite them in fear!" Chrom argued, parrying her lightning fast blows. "He will unite them when they grow tired of his tyranny and scream enough! The people will unite against him, Pheros! They already have! Look with your own eyes! Think damn you!"

"Thinking plays no part in it. In words and deeds, a great leader takes hold of the heart, not the mind. I remember you sister possessing that self-same gift for inspiring others. Doubtless many still cling to the power of her poetry. But I have found a greater voice..."

Chrom was forced to roll again as Pheros brought her staff down, hard, on his armoured shoulder.

"We can unite the people in peace!" Chrom shouted, dashing back in under Pheros' guard and bringing the hilt of his sword up into her chin.

The General stumbled back a step, holding her weapons out before her defensively as she spat blood onto the stones at their feet.

"Under Lord Walhart there would be peace!" she snarled, wiping her chin clean with the back of her hand.

Chrom's response died in his throat when a ball of black fire appeared between the two of them.

They both stopped to look at it dumbfounded a moment, neither knowing what to expect from the small, fist sized flame. As Chrom looked up he could see that all around the other Valmese groups more of the balls were present, floating in mid-air at about chest height.

The fighting throughout the cavernous Throne Room ground to a halt, confused muttering beginning to spread through the space.

Chrom's eyes widened when he heard something he'd never thought possible.

"Prince Chrom, get away!" Tharja shrieked, her usually soft, scornful tone one of panic.

"Get away from the spell!"

Chrom met Pheros' gaze across the gap between them before his world was enveloped in an expanding black fireball.

Robin was forced to watch, his control stripped from him completely, as whatever had been residing in his head for the last few months forcibly took control of his body.

A deep, blood red magic circle of pure energy formed around Robin's booted feet as the smell of burnt fabric reached his nose.

With a sound of annoyance the voice used Robin's hand to absently reach up and tore the ruined shirt from his chest, tatters of fine cloth falling to the circle and igniting as if dropped into a fire pit.

A vortex of tainted, purple wind magic sprung up around him, keeping the others from reaching and distracting the voice's control.

He didn't have to look to know that his body was once again covered in the purple swirling concentric rings of Dark Magic burning beneath his pale skin. As the voice waved his hand and sent small black orbs of flame flying out in every direction Robin realized that the six-eyed symbol on the back of his hand had returned.

He got the feeling it wasn't going to fade away again this time.

"Robin, stop this madness!" Virion desperately shouted, fighting against the magical vortex swirling around the tactician.

"Robin!" Cordelia called, her face pale as she shielded Lissa.

I… I can't…

The voice burst out laughing, the cruel sound completely alien to Robin's mouth.

"Get away from the spell!" Tharja shrieked in the distance to the other Shepherds.

Robin realized that the voice wasn't discriminating; everywhere there were Valmese soldiers there were orbs of black fire, wether Shepherds were there or not.

What are you doing!? Robin pleaded desperately. Stop! Stop, damn you!

His face twisted into a cruel smile as the voice indicated upwards.

A conflagration the likes of which Robin had never witnessed before exploded through the room. Henry, Tharja and Miriel struggled to put up magical barriers, Libra and Ricken adding to their power to protect the majority of the Shepherds, but the Valmese weren't as lucky.

Red armoured forms were thrown about like rag-dolls, and Pheros herself barely got a barrier up in time to prevent herself from being burnt to a crisp.

"He's lost 'is mind…" Robin heard Donnel mutter in the ensuing silence.

It's not me! Robin desperately wanted to scream.

The voice began to laugh again, a sick, insane sound as it used Robin's body, throwing him forward and stooping to pick up a sword in each hand, Robin's rapier sitting forgotten in its sheath at his hip.

"Come, dogs of Valm!" the voice roared from Robin's mouth, copying Pheros' earlier speech in a deranged, mocking tone. "Come and face Ylisse's tactician! Find your end at the sword of the Right Hand of the Exalt! Know despair that makes Naga herself weep!"

You bastard, Robin sobbed inside his own head. You monster. You didn't want to be silenced!? You just signed your own death warrant!

The voice laughed as Robin's body danced between Valmese soldiers, striking with a level of skill far surpassing either Chrom or Lon'qu's swordsmanship, the most talented warriors in the Shepherds. His form whirled and spun, leaving a red mist in his wake and the burning after-images of the lines of Dark power criss-crossing his torso.

The Valmese soldiers began to panic as the Voice led Robin's body through them, killing and maiming as he went. Nothing even came close to touching the tactician's form as he swung a two-handed sword in each fist like they were daggers.

Scores fell before his rampage as the Voice laughed gleefully, carving through the Valmese Honour Guard like they were new recruits.

At last Robin's form began to slow, his black eyes locking on the Voice's obvious target through the melee.

General Pheros stood proud and tall, black smudges covering her face, her regal cape scorched and ruined and her armour covered in burns.

The blonde General threw her staff to the side, adopting a two-handed grip on her sword.

A feral grin broke out on Robin's features as the two swords dropped to the floor and his hands clasped around the hilt of his once-beautiful rapier.

"What manner of hell-spawned creature are you!?" she spat, charging towards Robin with her sword held in both hands.

Robin's out of control body effortlessly blocked Pheros' blows as she struck with speed and precision that would have caused even Chrom pause.

No, Robin pleaded to her silently. Get away! Get far away! Get away before he-

"I'll tear you apart with my bare hands!" the Voice snarled, knocking her sword to the side one-handed with the smallest of efforts as Robin's free hand snapped up, his fist closing around her neck like a vice.

Pheros' face changed from one of righteous fury to shock as she was lifted off the ground, a moment before Robin's body slammed her down onto her back, cracking the stone beneath her and shaking the Throne Room.

"Such a shame to waste such beauty," the Voice purred, drawing back and pointing Robin's sword at the General's heart.

"Oh well. Now you die."

Before Robin's form could deliver the killing blow he was tackled from the side by a blue blur, crashing heavily to the stone floor and cracking his head hard against it.

"Get away!" Chrom shouted to a dazed Pheros as she struggled to pull herself up.

"Go! Run!"

Pheros nodded once, scrambling to get to the secret exit, shouting for any surviving soldiers to follow her as she limped heavily, one arm hanging useless at her side. Out of the hundred or so that had crowded into the Throne Room to face the Shepherds less than ten managed to heed her call.

Robin's world spun as the Voice slipped, its hold waning.

You son of a bitch, Robin roared inside his head, seizing control again. Get out of my body!

And with that statement the voice gave a final victorious laugh, ceding control back to Robin just in time for the tactician to feel the full force of Chrom's fist slamming into his face and shattering his nose.

"Have you lost your mind!?" Chrom roared, wrapping a gauntleted hand around Robin's throat and dragging him bodily back to his feet.

Robin stumbled, the magic that had been sustaining his exhausted body beginning to dissipate and leaving him almost unconscious as he struggled to stand while the symbols covering his bare torso began to fade.

His muscles burned and his limbs felt like lead as he spat blood from his ruined nose onto the floor.

"Look what you've wrought!" Chrom roared, forcing the tactician to look around the Throne Room.

Piles of Valmese corpses lay strewn about, most burned by Robin's initial spell, but a fair amount practically in pieces from his sword-swinging rampage.

The tactician finally looked properly at Chrom. His armour was ruined, scorched black and melted; patches of his clothes were burned through, blackened flesh showing through beneath.

"Chrom… I…" Robin started, looking around in shock.

Before he could finish the Prince laid him flat again, the sound of his fist breaking Robin's jaw echoing around the silent room.

"Chrom, that's enough!" Sumia called, rushing forward and grabbing one of her husband's arms to pull him back.

The blue haired Prince seemed to visibly deflate as his wife clung to him, nodding once as she released him.

"You put us all in danger. You… you blasphemed against Naga. You almost killed my sister. Thank Naga Morgan wasn't here to see that," Chrom hissed as he turned and walked away.

Robin tried to sit back up; realizing blood was starting to pool in his mouth, when Sumia roughly pushed him back down.

"Hold still while I heal you," Sumia said flatly, barely even looking at Robin as she set to work with her staff.

Robin lay there silently as Sumia worked, unable to speak or even move his rapidly swelling jaw. She had improved greatly since Plegia, though, and soon Robin's face returned to its original dimensions.

"Thanks Su-" was as far as Robin got before she abruptly stood up and walked away.

Robin blinked, still looking around dazed and confused. It felt like what had just happened, what the voice had forced him to do, had been a dream; like it hadn't really happened.

With wide eyes the tactician looked around the blood-soaked Throne Room, his breath catching when he realized what he'd been forced to do.

Tentatively, he pulled himself to his feet, surveying the destruction he had caused.

"Robin?" Tharja asked from behind him, her voice small.

The tactician spun back again, tears gathering in his eyes.

Arrayed before him were his closest friends. Tharja, Virion and Cordelia. A few steps behind Virion was Cherche, watching Robin like she would jump him if he tried to hurt Virion.

Beyond her…

Say'ri watched openly, not even trying to hide her concern as she obviously debated approaching him with the others.

"This… this wasn't me," he pleaded under their accusing gazes.

He felt numb… he could barely move, barely think.

"I know," Tharja said simply, approaching and gently wrapping his coat around his shoulders.

"I knew it the second you took of your coat," Virion said with a weak smile.

Cordelia cautiously stepped forward, watching Robin intently.

"This was… just like in Plegia?" she asked.

"Similar," Robin responded numbly, slipping into his coat properly.

Cordelia nodded once, closing the distance between them and wrapping Robin in a warm embrace.

The tactician made a strangled choking noise as her armour plates ground into him, but she released him just as quickly.

"I am glad you are unharmed."

"We should…" Robin said, swaying a little. "We should catch up with the others."

A chorus of affirmatives answered him, and they slowly began to head in the direction the rest of the Shepherds had taken.

"Rooooooobiiiiiiiin," the voice sang in a hushed whisper, making the tactician stop suddenly as his eyes went wide with fear.

"I win. I broke you. They'll never look at you the same again."

For the second time that day he fell to his knees, coating the floor around him with the contents of his stomach.

"I'm all you've got left."

"There we go," Virion said, sitting Robin down on a crate in the anteroom at the base of the Throne Room stairway.

He hadn't been able to walk on his own, so Virion had offered to help.

Patting him once reassuringly on the shoulder the archer moved to consult with Frederick on the next step of their plan; the women had already rushed ahead, needed for other duties. There was still a war to fight, after all.

Robin's mana was exhausted, his muscles burned, and his head swam with regret now that he had had a chance to let his mind catch up to what he'd done.

How did I even manage that? Robin thought, mind flashing back to the conversation with Validar in Plegia.

Robin registered that Flavia and Basilio had joined them at some point, both dirty and obviously fresh from battle as they crowded around Chrom.

"We have a problem, milord," a scout was saying to Chrom. "It's the Resistance forces. They… they came out of nowhere, and instead of linking with our units, they backed the Valmese forces and forced our own back!"

"No," Say'ri whispered from his shoulder. "It can't be."

When did she get behind me!? Robin thought with more alarm than was probably necessary.

Chrom cursed, looking up at the woman.

"Words cannot express my regret and my shame," she said darkly. "I finally succeeded in uniting the Resistance, but only against us."

"Walhart's army and Yen'fay's army have all but destroyed our northern and southern forces!" a second scout reported in a panicked tone. "Most of Lord Liung's force has turned coat and is siding with the Empire! He's on his way here with the remainder of his loyal forces now, mostly the Lancer units!"

"Liung had a hundred thousand men!" Chrom shouted. "Are you telling me they all betrayed him!?"

The scout shrunk away from the Prince, nodding assent.

"The Emperor obviously had more troops," Basilio sighed.

"Or perhaps better trained or better equipped," Flavia added.

"Where are the armies now!?" Chrom shouted.

"Marching towards this fortress," the first scout said, bravely stepping forward. "It is only a matter of time until they reach us, a few hours at best."

Basilio sighed loudly, running a hand across his bald head.

"So much for fortune favouring the bold… This war was lost before it even began."

"Even after everything we have yet to even dent their Empire," Chrom growled.

"We need to leave," Robin rasped, his mind running with tactics.

Flavia and Basilio both caught sight of his blood-stained appearance at the same time.

"Gods, Robin," Flavia groaned. "What did you do, roll around in their corpses?"

"Don't you look every bit the warrior today!?" Basilio said with a hearty laugh.

Robin ignored them, looking directly at Chrom.

"Chrom, we need to get away from here, right now," he said again. "The fortress is still crawling with Valmese soldiers, and we can't possibly pull all our forces inside in time. We have to retreat."

"Did you take a blow to your head!?" Flavia shouted. "We're surrounded, boy!"

Robin lifted himself off the crate Virion had sat him down on, taking a moment to steady himself as he strode towards the leaders.

"And when Walhart and Yen'fay get here we'll be trapped for certain," he explained. "I'll say it again; we need to go, and we need to go now."

"He's right," Say'ri said hopefully when Chrom remained silent. "The dynasts outside betray us only in fear of the Empire. They will only offer token resistance without their masters watching."

"We can't keep running forever," Chrom said finally. "If we retreat now, how do we turn the tide?"

"By striking at either Walhart or Yen'fay before they combine their armies," Robin said, the thought occurring to him suddenly.

"Either one seems a death sentence," Chrom said bitterly, not making eye contact with Robin. "One would be on us before we finished with the other."

"Which is why we attack both," Robin said with a little energy returning to him as the plan formed in his head.

It was a long shot, but…

"Our army is in tatters and you want me to divide it by half again!?" Chrom shouted, closing the distance between himself and the tactician.

"I didn't say by half," Robin said calmly, preparing to have his nose broken again. "Do you still trust me or not?"

Chrom stepped back, glaring at Robin as he crossed his arms.

"Well?" the Prince asked. "I'm waiting."

Robin nodded.

"You lead the Shepherds and the majority of the army against Yen'fay," Robin explained quickly, weakness nipping at his consciousness as he spoke. "While a small diversionary force engages Walhart's army to keep them busy."

"That's suicide," Flavia pointed out.

"A smaller force!?" Basilio burst out, much more animatedly than his female counterpart. "We couldn't defeat the man if we had triple our number, and you want to send a smaller force against him?"

"Not defeat," Robin elaborated, growing annoyed. "I said distract; engage and disengage repeatedly, not getting bogged down in heavy fighting."

Basilio went quiet, obviously deep in thought.

"The smaller force would face our most dangerous mission yet," Chrom said. "It would need a leader with experience in such tactics, possessing unparalleled bravery and skill…"

"Alright already," Basilio cut in, laughing heartily. "You don't have to ask twice! You'll embarrass me if you don't lay off with the compliments!"

"Are you up for it?" Robin asked the bald man with a nod and a grin.

He knew that if anyone could pull off such an insane plan, Khan Basilio could.

"I'm being serious, lad," Basilio said with a grin. "I'll make preparations and be off!"

"Well, good luck," Robin said with a tired grin.

"You can't!" Laurent said suddenly, coming forward and barring the big man's way.

"Laurent, what…?" Chrom started before the thin mage began speaking again.

"I cannot allow you to go!" Laurent warned. "Khan Basilio, if you face Walhart today you will perish! I know this for a certainty!"

"H-he's right!" Yarne stammered, backing his friend up.

"Laurent, Yarne, what are you talking about?" Robin asked, his tired mind trying to figure out what was going on.

"In the future Khan Basilio is slain by Walhart this day," the mage explained. "I would usually allow Lucina to interfere like this, but her absence forces me to."

Robin glanced around, not seeing Lucina, Morgan or Severa among the Shepherds watching them.

Where are they? Robin wondered, fear growing in his stomach.

"Walhart himself, you say?" Basilio said, adopting Robin's thinking pose before bursting out laughing.

"Yes, I'd say that would be a worthy death!"

"We must make plans to change this course," Laurent insisted, looking to Robin.

"All I needed to know," Basilio said, clapping a hand on Laurent's shoulder and giving Yarne a grateful nod. "Thank you, lads. I'll take matters from here."

"You can't honestly still be planning to-" Laurent started, being cut off by Basilio's booming voice.

"I heard you the first time, boy," he said. "But we don't have time for another plan. I'll simply avoid Walhart on the field. Trust me, lad; you don't grow this old and handsome without learning how to avoid trouble."

No one else dies…

"Wait," Robin said, holding a hand to his forehead and scrunching his eyes. "I'll come up with something better… just give me a second. Some ornery blue-haired bastard sucker-punched me and now I can't think straight…"

"We don't have time," Flavia agreed. "The oaf'll be fine; he'll have me there to keep an eye on him."

"Like hell!" Basilio growled, rounding on the woman. "You're reigning Khan!"

"So you can't order me not to come!" Flavia shouted back, poking Basilio hard in the shoulder. "You're now responsible for the lives of both Khans! So I dare you to die now!"

They glared at each other for another moment, and just as Robin thought a fist-fight would break out Basilio stepped back, gripping his stomach and bursting into laughter.

"All right, all right," he said. "You can come, too, if you must steal my glory so badly."

"You can't!" Yarne insisted in a meek voice. "The future-"

"Can kiss my big brown Feroxi arse!" Basilio laughed. "I fully intend to outlive all of you sprogs! Just you watch me!"

With a wave Basilio was gone, Flavia following after him.

No one else dies…

"We need to move," Robin said numbly.

Chrom nodded and the other Shepherds began to file out towards the entrance to the fortress where the rest of the army was gathering.

Chrom stopped the tactician with a hand on his chest.

"We're going to have a very long, very frank conversation about what just happened once we're safe," Chrom said, his voice low and dangerous. "But I need to know right now if you're going to lose it like that again."

Robin shook his head, smiling sadly.

"No, Chrom," he said truthfully. "I can barely stand. You don't have to worry about a repeat performance of that… whatever that was."

"You know damn well what that was, and you know even better that once I get some rest you won't be able to stop me."

Chrom nodded, still frowning.

"Good. Fall in and make ready. We march at the head of the army."

Robin nodded as Chrom strode away, swaying a little as his strength faltered.

All of a sudden a thought occurred to him. The ghost of a plan forming in the back of his mind…

"Basilio! Flavia! Wait!"

Severa struggled forward, her breath coming out in ragged gasps as she forced one foot in front of the other.

She… she was almost there.

She recognized the surrounding area; she was near the main corridor that Sword team had assaulted from.

"Hold… hold on, Morgan," Severa muttered, desperately wishing that she could wipe the sweat from her eyes.

She'd fought her way through two more Valmese patrols since her initial encounter. She was exhausted, hungry, wounded, but she was so close now.

She drew to a silent halt as armoured forms passed in front of her.

After a few seconds comprehension dawned on her face, and with a half-laugh half-sob she cried out "Hey! Somebody! Anybody! Help!"

Robin was so busy concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other he didn't even realize he was outside until his forward progress was halted with a hand on his chest, lest he get run over by the mounted Knights riding by.

"Thanks," Robin mumbled, finally looking up.

Much to his surprise it was Say'ri that had stopped him.

Say'ri smiled, but it was brittle.

After everything that had happened, she was helping him now?

Before Robin could ponder further on these events he spotted a group forming around one of the command tents. As he watched, Lissa and Maribelle pushed their way through the crowd.

"Let's see what's going on," Robin suggested, beginning to shuffle to the tent.

He stopped at the back of the crowd, Say'ri at his shoulder as he tried to peek over Donnel's. The young recruit spun and paled when he saw Robin, stepping to the side.

Confused, Robin watched as the other Shepherds spotted him and cleared a path to the tent for him and his shadow Say'ri.

Robin was about to ask what they all were doing, before the words died in his mouth.

Lissa, Maribelle and Libra were all leaning over Morgan, staffs held out and obviously feverishly working while Severa looked on, stoically trying not to cry at the sight. Chrom stood to one side, watching intently as Sumia tried to distractedly heal his own wounds.

Robin's world crumbled as he watched his daughter gasp for breath, writhing in pain as her wounds slowly closed.

He closed the distance instantly, tears streaming down his face as he wordlessly knelt by Morgan's side.

He reached out tentatively, gently taking her hand in both of his own, Say'ri at his shoulder looking utterly lost.

Her coat had been taken off and lay to one side; the clothes beneath were scorched and burned, melted to her flesh in places.

She moaned weakly as Robin took her hand, opening one eye and smiling at him.

"Hi dad. Hi mom," she rasped painfully through chapped lips, breaking out into a coughing fit.

"Try to lie still," Libra said soothingly, resting a hand on her forehead.

Robin watched the burns on her flesh slowly shrinking as the three healers worked.

"She'll be fine, Robin," Lissa said sympathetically. "Severa got her to us just in time."

Robin looked up at the girl, his fatigue forgotten.

"What happened," Robin demanded.

"We were lured into a trap by the Resistance," Severa said quickly. "It wasn't our fault! They said they needed help and Morgan couldn't resist and Lucina had to come and-"

"What!?" Chrom cried. "Where's Lucina now!?"

Severa looked up guiltily.

"She said she would be just behind us…"

Chrom's face went pale as he started walking back towards the fortress, Sumia standing stock still as she tried to process the information she had just heard.

"Chrom, where are you going?" Robin called to the man, the crowd of Shepherds suddenly remembering they all had somewhere else to be and dispersing.

"Where do you think!?" Chrom snarled over his shoulder.

Robin darted forward, catching Chrom's shoulder and fully expecting to be laid flat again.

"Dammit Chrom, stop and think for a second!" Robin shouted. "You can't leave the army now! They need you here to lead them against Yen'fay! And that fortress is literally crawling with Valmese soldiers that we missed! You can't fight them all!"

Chrom whirled, slapping the tactician's hand away.

"So I'm to just leave my daughter to the mercy of these monsters!?" Chrom shouted back. "I can't do that, Robin!"

Robin nodded.

"I know," he said, bringing his voice down. "Do you still trust me?"

"What does that have to do with-"

"Do. You. Still. Trust. Me?"

Chrom stopped to look Robin in the eye a moment.

Time stretched out as Say'ri, Severa, Morgan, Sumia and the three healers watched the tense encounter.

"I never stopped," Chrom admitted quietly.

"Then protect my daughter while I save yours," Robin said, clapping a hand on the Prince's armoured shoulder.

"You cannot be serious," Say'ri said from behind him.

"Robin, you said yourself you could barely stand," Chrom said.

Robin ignored them, turning to Severa.

"Can you lead me back to where they captured Lucina?" he asked the red-haired girl.

"Yeah… Of course I can," she said quickly, her old personality falling back into place.

"Then go find Lon'qu and Gaius and tell them to get over here," Robin said.

Severa nodded, taking off at a run, her earlier exhaustion forgotten.

"Robin…" Chrom began. "I can't let you-"

Robin cut him off, waving his hand.

"I made a promise," he said. "I made a promise that no one else would die. That no one else would get left behind. I'm not breaking it. Not now, not ever."

Chrom shook his head. "I can't fight this war without you."

"I know," Robin said. "As soon as Morgan's back on her feet she'll take my position until I get back. Until we all get back."

Chrom still looked unsure until Say'ri stepped forward.

"I will be with him the entire time, Prince Chrom," she said. "I know the fortress as well as any that live in its halls, and I will see your daughter returned to you safely."

Robin turned and gave the woman a confused look, but she avoided his gaze, instead staring directly at Chrom.

The Prince finally nodded.

"Alright," he said reluctantly before walking away in the direction of the command post. "Good luck."

Robin sighed with relief and sunk to a nearby crate.

"You should stay here with Morgan," Robin said quietly.

Say'ri shook her head, silently eyeing the tactician.

"Why are you so insistent on helping me?"

She stared down at Robin.

"I gave my reasons, tactician," she said in a level tone. "Excuse me. I must make ready."

Leaving Robin with more questions than answers Say'ri strode off in the direction of the supply convoy.

The tactician sighed and rose again, walking over to Morgan's side while the three healers still worked on her, Say'ri's behaviour being added to the list of enigmas that needed pondering.

"Dad," the girl said, her voice stronger than before already as she opened both eyes.

"Think you're up for another temporary promotion?" he asked, leaning down close to her and stroking her face with the back of his fingers.

"Sure," she mumbled. "'S long as you promise… it's only temporary."

Robin chuckled, kissing Morgan on the forehead.

"I promise."

He went to move away, but Morgan stopped him with a hand on his arm.

"Wait," she said, pointing over to her coat. "Breast… breast pocket… on the left…"

Robin followed her directions, reaching into the coat and wrapping his hand around a small glass vial.

"Think you can use that… more than me…" Morgan mumbled, closing her eyes again.

Robin held up the last two vials of Gregor's tonic, unstoppering one and downing it in a single gulp.

"Forgot how bad this stuff tasted," he muttered with a cough, depositing the other into his coat pocket.

Morgan laughed a little, before descending into another coughing fit.

"What… happened to your… shirt?"

"Take care of her," Robin said to the healers with a small laugh, who all nodded, too busy to reply properly.

Robin strode out to the small space before the tent as Severa returned, Lon'qu and Gaius in tow.

Say'ri showed up a moment later, handing Robin a plain cream shirt at least a size too big for him, which he accepted gratefully.

"What's up, bubbles?" Gaius asked.

He had been with Vaike's group and missed Robin's little episode; Lon'qu glared silently at the tactician, but nodded once, almost imperceptibly when their eyes met.

"We're going on a rescue mission," Robin said as he dropped his coat and pulled the shirt on.

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