Invisible Ties

Chapter 35

Yen’fay resisted the urge to choke on the mist and smoke hanging over the battlefield; the Ylissean tactician was a shrewd one, being able to turn their disadvantage of being cornered by superior numbers into an advantage by utilizing the unique terrain of the volcanic area.

He could already see some of the conscripted soldiers beginning to slow and tire from the heat, and many were choking on the smoke. Visibility was low, and their charge had quickly slowed to marching speed; Ylisse definitely held the upper hand here.

Yen’fay was prepared to die, and he would not sell his life cheaply by any means, but he had gravely underestimated his opponents, and his men were little more than farmers and herdsmen in armour, not true warriors like their enemy. They were scared, but they still outnumbered the Ylisseans ten to one. Even the vaunted Ylissean tactician’s plans would fall against a continuous press of bodies.

“Lancers, move up!” Yen’fay called, trying to organize his men into something resembling a line. “Archers behind! Damn you all, must I fight this battle myself!?”

The men hastened to obey, forming a line in front of him and taking up proper formation far, far too slowly for Yen’fay’s liking. But they were moving, squad commanders shouting orders and slapping helmets, kicking at rears and otherwise bullying the men into something resembling a coherent line.

Without warning three shadows fell from the sky in amongst his barely-formed left flank.

Three mounted women, two riding pegasi and one atop a much larger wyvern, lashed out with various weapons, and before Yen’fay or the squad commanders could order a counter-attack with the archers two more much larger forms dropped from the sky over the unsuspecting archer squads, crushing many underfoot, flames exploding from reptilian maws before the five fliers were gone in a gust of wind, stirring up the smoke without dissipating it.

“Regroup!” Yen’fay desperately called, shoving men toward the reeling left-flank and ignoring the cries of the burnt support units.

“Regroup! Fill the gaps, form a line! Healers, tend to the wounded archers! Now, damn you!”

The priests, pilgrims that had been pressed into service in Walhart’s army that was sorely in need of those with knowledge of any arcane art, let alone healing, hastened to obey; they moved fast, fear for their lives and the lives of the other men making them forget their circumstances for the present and focus on the task at hand.

Any second now Ylisseans would start assaulting the left flank, destroying it and he needed the archers in case…

“Shepherds!” a strong, noble voice called from the right flank. “Attack!”

Yen’fay spun, his eyes widening as heavily armoured soldiers began to assault the untouched right flank, led by a tall man in white and blue armour wielding a huge lance like it weighed little more than a stick of bamboo.

Six or seven other soldiers were with him, although in the smoke it was hard to tell exactly how many.

Yen’fay watched a nimble, green-armoured man weave through the line wielding a longsword in a style he’d never witnessed before, a muscular crimson-armoured woman just behind him swinging and stabbing, a lance in each hand, with ferociousness akin to berserk fury. A man in much heavier orange-rimmed white armour took a glancing blow for another man who was practically unprotected, leaning aside and using his fist to clobber the soldier that had attacked him while the man he’d saved leapt forward, bringing an axe down in a fluid motion and ignoring the small wounds being inflicted on him as he did.

“Surviving archers, target the right flank!” Yen’fay called.

So far barely more than ten soldiers had almost broken his line! Scores of red-armoured Valmese bodies already littered the scorched earth, but if he could halt the Ylissean forward momentum for just a moment he could reorganize his lines and drive them back. The Ylissean Knights were monstrous, true masters of the battlefield that strode across his line like it was barely there, but they had to have more units waiting to strike in the smoke behind them.

Glancing over his shoulder Yen’fay cursed, seeing the men on the left flank milling about in a confused daze as they tried desperately to reform the lines around the few remaining squad leaders desperately trying to organize them.

“For Robin!” a strangely flanged voice called from the smoke before the left flank, and this time two creatures resembling giant rabbits burst forth, rending and tearing at his men with teeth and claws in a display of ferociousness completely at odds with the gentle creatures they resembled.

More shadows were emerging from the smoke behind the rabbit-creatures and the Knights assaulting his right flank, but the men quaking before him in the centre remained untouched. Three shapes darted overhead, spears raining down on the left flank as two pegasi and a wyvern made another pass.

Arrows began to rain down on the healers trying to get his archer unit back into the fight, indiscriminately striking down the priests and wounded archers alike. The sheer volume of arrows spoke of a unit at least the size his own had been before those damned manaketes, at least that’s what Yen’fay assumed had assaulted his rear, had gotten to it.

The wind shifted, blowing some of the smoke clear and giving Yen’fay a view of a blue-silver haired man and a younger, black-haired girl both pointing their bows and firing arrows so fast it was almost as if they were strumming an instrument from atop their position on a small mound of rocks some way back from the front.

Two archers!? Yen’fay realized, watching the hail of deadly arrows in astonishment. Two archers caused all this!?

Shadows fell across his centre line as the manaketes made another pass, raining down fire on the previously unmolested central unit and scattering some of the squads of sword-wielding men.

“Stand your ground, dammit!” Yen’fay barked. “You are men of the Imperial army! Act like it!”

As if to punctuate Yen’fay’s shouting small balls of black fire began to fly through the central unit, detonating at random and causing more havoc among the already reeling soldiers; glancing up Yen’fay caught sight of a bewitching beauty with long ebon tresses, her coat and hair flapping in the wind of a magical updraft as she set about dismantling his line single-handedly, her eyes blazing white with potent magical energy.

“Forward!” Yen’fay cried desperately, realizing that his only chance lay in retaking the initiative and rallying the terrified men around him with force of will alone, meaning to assault in the direction of the woman.

The Ylisseans were monsters, of that he no longer held any doubt; Yen’fay’s force outnumbered them ten to one, and yet they were still being taken apart. He had yet to see a single Ylissean so much as falter, let alone fall.

As the central unit began to move forward ahead of him Yen’fay watched as a blue-haired man, who judging from the description that had been given to him was the Ylissean leader, leapt forward from the smoke, a familiar-looking sword-wielding girl in a large black coat at his side as they assaulted Yen’fay’s central line with only the black-haired mage as backup.

“What manner of monsters are these soldiers?” Yen’fay whispered, watching the Ylissean leader and his much younger comrade tear through his men with barely any effort.

Retreat, Yen’fay realized, the word forming on his lips. That’s our only recourse now; but I cannot retreat from this… I must make things right.

The choice was taken away from him regardless; a wall of magical flames roared up from behind his force, unseen mages penning his scattered army in with the Ylissean force.

Yen’fay looked around, his face a cold mask, watching as the army of conscripts was slain before him as the Ylisseans hacked away with a singular, bloody purpose.

Just as he was preparing to engage the Ylissean General a familiar voice that chilled his very soul rang out in a tone he’d never heard from his gentle sister before.

“Yen’fay!” Say’ri roared, crossing the battlefield like a white wisp of smoke she moved so gracefully, striking out with the old sword their father had given her as if it were an extension of her very self.

“Monster! I cannot let you live! Draw your blade, and let it sing your final words!”

I had hoped she would not take the field this day… It’s time, Yen’fay thought, oddly calm in the face of his death. My redemption is finally at hand.

Morgan knelt behind the same rock as Prince Chrom, sword in hand and spells running through her head as they listened to the other teams launch their attacks.

From what she’d seen Yen’fay was moving about a third of his army towards the Shepherds at the base of the volcano, while another third was sent off after Liung and Roark and the last were being kept in reserve.

It was really too bad for him that her plan was to box his soldiers in with the Shepherds and cut off any hope of reinforcement or retreat.

It would take careful timing on everyone’s part, not just the group leaders. There were smaller ‘reaction’ teams that would have to wait and watch, striking from the cover of the smoke when the time was right.

The flying team circled around, and Morgan heard Frederick call his team’s charge.

Lady Cordelia and Lady Sumia, along with Nowi, Nah and Lady Cherche came to rest near Chrom and Morgan, Nowi and Nah panting heavily as they shifted back into their human forms; Nah seemed especially out of sorts as she doubled over, resting her hands on her knees.

“Take five, girls,” Morgan said to the two manaketes.

“Ladies, make ready for another pass,” Morgan instructed to the three mounted Shepherds, who all nodded and readied their weapons. “Left flank, as soon as Panne and Yarne engage.”

The two Taguel would be in amongst the Valmese faster than the other Shepherds, and it was pointless to try and rein them in at a time like this; especially Panne, who looked like she had been about to bite the arm off of Gaius as he had attempted to console her earlier.

Dammit, Morgan, focus! She urged herself as her mind slipped backwards to the source of everyone’s pain.

Morgan’s attention was diverted from internally berating herself as Cordelia urged her mount back into the sky first, Sumia and Cherche both following soon after.

“What about us?” Nowi asked.

She was like a completely different person as she stood waiting for orders; no play, no snide remarks… she was a soldier at this moment, mourning the loss of another friend.

“As soon as Nah catches her breath make another pass over the centre line, try and soften them up a little for Prince Chrom and myself,” she said.

Nowi nodded and went off to where Nah was drinking greedily from a waterskin, preparing to make their attack.

Panne’s shout of ‘for Robin’ echoed out, and the sounds of battle increased.

Morgan winced a little and her grip tightened on her sword, but otherwise she said nothing.

When she returned to where Prince Chrom was waiting the two manaketes were already transforming, preparing to make their second attack. Morgan caught the repeated sounds of bows firing and factored in the fact that Noire and Virion had engaged; a little earlier than she had been expecting, but Virion never acted without purpose, so he’d have a good reason.

“Alright Prince Chrom,” she said, glancing around the rock they were behind. “We’re next.”

She looked up, meeting the Prince’s gaze; he had a strange, pained look on his face, but said nothing, nodding and rising to his feet.

Morgan glanced up and back as a wall of flames spread across the opening to the small valley they’d set their trap in; unfortunately Miriel, Henry and the other mages would all be forced to maintain the spell, effectively removing them from the battle.

Well, Morgan thought, watching as Tharja strode past them, her eyes glowing with incandescent concentrated mana. Most of the mages, anyway.

She stood off to the side some way, opposite to the direction of the boulder Virion and Noire were using as a sighting platform through the smoke, and began casting.

Morgan could feel a huge amount of mana being collected, and as she watched Tharja waved her elegant hands, fist sized balls of black flames darting out and detonating among the Valmese forces.

Morgan noticed Chrom’s expression darken and jaw tighten as he watched Tharja work, but he shifted his attention back as he realized their turn had come.

“Stay close to me, Morgan,” he said without turning around. “I always trusted your father to watch my back. Those are some pretty big shoes to fill, but…”

Chrom looked over his shoulder as he went to step around the rock they were using as cover.

“I know you’ll do fine,” he said with a sad smile.

Morgan nodded resolutely, and the duo charged towards the Valmese line.

Chrom roared wordlessly, venting his rage and frustration as they neared the terrified Valmese soldiers, Morgan emulating him as they tore into the line of men like a blade through warm butter.

The line buckled around the two Shepherds, Chrom becoming an unstoppable force of nature as his sword darted left and right, up and down, blazing with blue fire the entire time. Morgan did her best to keep pace, but had to keep pausing to check the Shepherds’ positions and progress, and she quickly fell behind, relying on quick spells when she did to thin the soldiers crowding the Prince’s flanks.

Tharja had completed her incredibly destructive Dark Magic, and had returned to casting the smaller, but no less effective, nature-based spells she used when she was tired. Panne’s group had caught up with her, and they were making good progress on the left flank, while Frederick’s team had reduced the right flank to ribbons. Arrows continued to rain down from Virion and Noire, but now that they had the enemy’s location committed to memory they constantly moved along the front line at a safe distance, striking indiscriminately with deadly accurate shots. Lady Cordelia and the other fliers circled above them, causing havoc every time they threw a spear or swooped down, taking turns and randomizing the places they attacked, never striking the same place twice.

And among all of the carnage, while Morgan had hung back to survey and make sure her plan went smoothly she caught sight of the enemy general, her Uncle Yen’fay, standing his ground and calmly watching the battle unfold, occasionally shifting his head to one side and barking an order. She could only liken him to an immovable rock being battered by a fierce storm.

Before Morgan could point the General out to Prince Chrom a white blur sped by her, racing toward Yen’fay.

“Yen’fay!” her mother roared, crossing the space in the blink of an eye. “Monster! I cannot let you live! Draw your blade, and let it sing your final words!”

Chrom ran forward as fast as his legs could carry him at the Valmese line.

He roared incoherently, bringing Falchion up as the blade blazed with blue fire from within. The red-armoured men at the front actually began to retreat a few steps, bumping their comrades behind as they did so in the face of the Prince of Ylisse’s wrath.

Falchion cut through the air in a wide circle, a trail of blood following in its wake as Chrom spun amongst the closely-packed front line, forcing his way further in and hacking laterally with his sword as he did.

He glanced back, noting with some satisfaction that Morgan was keeping pace with him in the melee, but the girl kept glancing up at the rest of the battle, looking over the Shepherds the way another tactician used to.

The way her father would have.

Chrom roared again, redoubling his efforts and trying to banish the painful thoughts. There would be time enough for mourning later.

He glared around him, closing with the next knot of soldiers faster than they could react and leaving Morgan behind as she surveyed the field.

Chrom spun and twisted, avoiding haphazard reprisals to his brutal charge and taking the unit apart man by man until he was surrounded by bodies, ready to move on to the next as random spells created space around him thanks to the efforts of his new tactician.

He stopped suddenly as a white-armoured form darted in front of him, angling for a soldier wearing a black head-dress desperately trying to marshal some form of resistance.

The whole battlefield seemed to stop to watch as the woman charging at Yen’fay shouted her challenge, Chrom included.

Yen’fay recoiled from his sister’s wrath, bringing Amatsu up as fast as he could to fend off the ferocious strength of her maddened blows.

They separated, Yen’fay taking a few steps back to open space between them and gauge his opponent. The battlefield faded to nothing, the sounds of his men dying becoming a dull roar in the back of his mind as they faced each other.

She was here…

With a wordless growl of pure rage and hate Say’ri launched another blistering offensive, striking with more speed than Yen’fay could counter and breaking through his guard more than once, her blade bouncing off of his thicker armour.

Say’ri hesitated at the last moment, though, and Yen’fay hopped out of her range again as the woman held her side, breathing raggedly. She was already wounded, and yet she had chosen to cross blades with him? He’d always been the superior swordsman, always; why would she put herself at risk like this?

All he had to do was wait for the wound to take its toll. She would get tired, and very soon at this rate…

He didn’t want that. His redemption demanded a fair fight when Say’ri was at her full strength, not while she was wounded. He wanted, no, needed, her to strike him down without hesitation, but honour demanded could not simply let her.

“You are wounded,” Yen’fay said, his voice as carefully expressionless as his face.

“Silence!” Say’ri screamed, her voice breaking.

“It’s your fault!” she roared, charging in again and forcing Yen’fay to remain on the defensive. “He’s dead because of you! They all are! Mother and father, too! I name you coward! Craven! Traitor!”

Yen’fay fell back, her verbal assault stinging as it hit its mark; but she wasn’t saying anything he hadn’t already come to realize himself.

Yen’fay spotted an opening, and silently put his sister on the defensive, taking long, elegant swipes with the tip of his longer sword to put some space back between them.

Realizing she was losing ground Say’ri pushed back relentlessly and the two siblings traded blows, neither giving up ground to the other as sparks flew from their clashing swords.

After five blows in quick succession Yen’fay struck low on Say’ri’s wounded side, where she was just a fraction too slow to block, and scored a deep wound on her unprotected leg.

She staggered back and he let her go, opening space between them as she glared at Yen’fay with undisguised disgust and loathing.

“Brother,” she said, calming a little. “I won't ask you why... We are well beyond that point now. I will speak it plain: I cannot forgive you, and neither can I let you live.”

“I've asked you for nothing, Sister, least of all your forgiveness.”

Yen’fay was surprised his voice didn’t break as he said that. He wanted nothing more than her forgiveness.

I do not need to ask for what I seek, though. I know you will be my death, sister.

“But you will have my justice, like it or no!” Say’ri roared, roughly tearing a strip from her skirt and tying it around her leg wound.

“You, who stood by in silence while everyone around you suffered! While villages were razed and fields burned, you watched but said nothing... When Father and Mother were murdered—you said nothing! Nothing, before you ran to the arms of the one man responsible for all of it! Your silence was deafening. Maddening. Even now...have you nothing to say?!”

Yen’fay was struck silent by her accusations; every word of it cut him to the very bone because every word was true. His grip tightened on Amatsu, his father’s sword.

He held his tongue; to try and excuse his actions would heap more shame upon his already tarnished honour, so he said nothing.

“Damn you, Yen’fay,” Say’ri said in a broken tone, looking away from him. “You’ve cost me everything.”

The fire returned to her eyes as her gaze snapped back up and she rushed forward.

“You will die here by my blade!” she promised, slashing high. “You will take no more!”

Yen’fay countered, the hate in her glare breaking his heart.

They continued to trade blows, Yen’fay actively ignoring the openings her wounded, tired swordsmanship left him. She was more than just wounded physically, though; he had to wonder at what had happened to her to break her spirit so, she who had turned her back on her family and homeland to defend her ideals with her head held high.

Who did she refer to besides their parents that he had stolen from her?

Had he truly caused this? Had his weakness and fear for her life caused this result?

He had gone to Walhart to protect her from the assassins that had killed their parents; he’d tried so hard to shield her from everything, and yet still she’d chosen to fight against him.

Across the battlefield, out of the corner of his eye he noticed a quick flash of a black coat, and in his distraction he turned his head, eyes widening as he stared at a younger version of Say’ri wearing strange, outlandish clothes, watching their duel. She even had the same sword…

Yen’fay hesitated for a split second as his mind wandered, jumping a little as fire exploded in his chest.

He looked down, Say’ri’s sword buried almost to the hilt in his chest-plate.

She glared up at him defiantly, no remorse for having killed her last living family member.

Amatsu fell from nerveless fingers, clattering loudly on the burning stone beneath their feet.

Perhaps… not her last kin after all, he thought, looking again at the girl in the black coat.

Yen’fay looked back into the eyes of his sister and smiled, reaching up a trembling, blood-coated hand to stroke her face.

“You have grown… so strong… sister…” he gasped, his hand falling away.

Say’ri gnashed her teeth together, forcing her sword deeper into his chest as she growled before looking away.

“Do you… do you mock me!?” she said, her voice wavering. “I’ve seen your best swordplay, brother; that wasn’t it.”

Say’ri tore her sword free, and Yen’fay sank to his knees, blood bubbling to his lips and leaking out of his armour, even as he grasped at the hole in the front.

“Why did you go easy on me?” she asked in a genuinely curious tone.

Did I? He wondered absently as darkness began to gather at the corners of his vision. Did I pull my blows, unaware I was doing it? It would be just like you to make me do such a thing without even thinking, dearest sister…

“What I could not tell you in life... I say with my death...” Yen’fay gasped instead, still smiling up as Say’ri knelt in front of him.

“Yen’fay,” she said, reaching out her hands to his wound uncertainly.

He caught them, feeling her strong, thin fingers in his own one final time.

“You have found...strong comrades... I no longer need fear for you... I die... in peace...”

Tears started to fall down Say’ri’s cheeks as his hands went limp, falling to his sides.

I am sorry, sister, he thought, no longer able to speak. Even in my last moments I cause you pain… Please, lead our people better than I did.

“Yen'fay, wait!” Say’ri shouted, grabbing him by the shoulders and holding him up as he swayed, strength leaving him as the darkness closed in.

“What do you mean?” she pleaded. “Why?! Don't leave me with more silence - not this time! Yen'fay!”

I love, you, sister. I’m sorry.

Chrom watched as the siblings faced off, resulting in Yen’fay’s death.

Where Say’ri had come from during the fight he wasn’t sure; he had thought to spare her the pain of having to fight her own brother, but…

Weapons hit the ground as Valmese men closest to the Prince gave up, the last of the fight leaving them as they watched their general die.

“Shepherds!” Chrom called out, specifically in Frederick’s direction. “Secure the prisoners! No man is to be harmed as long as they surrender unconditionally.”

Some of the Valmese men around him actually sagged to the ground with relief, and as one the rest of them threw down their weapons, the sound echoing in the small valley. With no more need of it the mages maintaining both the wall of flames and the smoke cover were finally able to let the spells finish, and the air instantly started to clear.

The Valmese began to group together under Frederick’s watchful glare, hands on their heads as they sat in a large knot in the middle of the empty space.

The Shepherds began to return to where the healers were waiting with Jake and Olivia, some looking quite beaten up, in Vaike’s case, but all moving under their own power. Still, a melancholy hung over all of them as they reassembled, leaving the Knights to watch over the unresisting prisoners.

Chrom looked around, his gaze stopping when he realized that Morgan was standing away from everyone else, unmoving since her mother’s duel with Yen’fay had started. He debated going over and trying to lead the girl away, but hesitated.

Now that battle was over he wasn’t sure he could face Morgan.

Chrom sighed, watching as Virion appeared next to Morgan, taking the girl by the arm.

“Come,” he said gently, steering her away from where Say’ri still knelt by her brother. “We should leave her grieve in peace.”

Morgan nodded numbly, looking down. Chrom nodded his thanks to the archer as they drew nearer. Virion grinned and winked at the Prince, before his face grew sombre again.

He glanced over to Noire, back to shuddering and trying to hide behind her bow as she hesitantly approached the group, watching Morgan with concern. Her dual personalities had concerned Chrom at first, but the other future children never mentioned it and it definitely made things more interesting around camp, so he’d chosen to leave her be.

Her eyes briefly met Chrom’s and he gave her a tired smile and an encouraging nod, and she rushed to help Virion with Morgan, latching on to the other girl’s side.

“Our victory is secured,” Virion said, his voice much flatter than his usual flamboyant tones as he left Morgan with Noire. “Yen’fay has fallen.”

Morgan winced a little at his words, clinging tighter to the archer girl’s arm.

“Well then let’s tend the wounded,” Chrom said tiredly. “We need to-”

Everyone spun, facing to where the Valmese prisoners were being herded when an explosion scattered the surrendered soldiers, flames devouring the entire area. Frederick, the closest Shepherd to the blast, was thrown back several feet, landing heavily while the other Knights were simply bowled over by the blast.

The Valmese men weren’t so lucky, many being reduced to ashes almost instantly as those on the periphery frantically tried to smother the magical flames licking at their flesh.

“Fools!” a high-pitched voice roared from above the canyon. “Emperor Walhart does not tolerate failure!”

Another blast of flames flew down, finishing off the Valmese soldiers still standing and knocking Chrom and many of the others off their feet.

Say’ri was suddenly beside Chrom, pulling him up and looking around the tops of the valley.

“Excellus!” she shouted, her voice hoarse but strong. “Show yourself and I will grant you a swift end!”

There was a bright flash of light, and appearing within a golden magical circle was a short, greasy looking man that Chrom knew only by reputation.

Excellus ran a fat tongue over his lips before he spoke.

“Oh?” he said excitedly, as if he were speaking to an old friend he had not seen in a long time. “A swift end like you granted your dear brother? Ah, but what an end that was!”

Excellus laughed as Virion released three arrows in quick succession, all of them deflecting off of a golden magical field before he continued his mocking tirade.

“I managed to get a good view of your fight,” Excellus chuckled as he stepped closer, the barrier moving with him as he ignored the archer’s efforts. “Did you see the grief etched on his face? The mixture of pain and longing in his eyes? He had become such an accomplished actor, but in the end that was all too real!”

Excellus began to chortle, before giving in and laughing fully in Say’ri’s face, before sighing like he’d just savoured a particularly tasty meal.

“It was truly magnificent that you cut him down, never knowing how he truly felt. Or… why he bent his knee to my lord.”

“Loathsome toad!” Say’ri raged, striking futilely at the barrier surrounding Excellus. “What do you know of my brother!? Tell me!”

Chrom grit his teeth at Excellus’ bearing, trying to figure out a plan of attack. Morgan watched on, obviously doing the same while instinctively shielding Noire from the confrontation; the fire had returned to the other girl’s eyes, though, and she stood close to her friend with an arrow nocked and ready. Virion did the same near Chrom, edging further away and trying to get a better angle on the Valmese tactician.

How such a man can call himself by the same title that Robin had inspired so much respect and trust in... Chrom thought indignantly, his fist tightening on Falchion’s grip.

Excellus continued to laugh, even when Say’ri stepped away from the barrier, her shoulders heaving with exhausted gasps as she glared at the man.

“Oh, I’d say I know a little more than you, Princess,” Excellus taunted. “But I’d watch my mouth were I you. I am honouring Yen’fay’s sacrifice by not killing you right now, but even I have my limits.”

“What do you mean ‘sacrifice’?” Say’ri asked, freezing in place as his words sunk in.

A chill passed through Chrom at Excellus’ words, and he finally understood why Yen’fay had split his forces, advancing with the conscripts rather than his vanguard.

“Say’ri, don’t listen to-” Chrom tried to say, reaching for the woman’s arm, his speech being cut off as Excellus burst out laughing again.

“Oopsie! Did I spill the beans!?” He giggled hysterically. “I’m so sorry, I promised your dear brother I’d never tell-”

“Explain yourself, snake!” Say’ri shouted, striking again at Excellus’ barrier.

“Give up, Princess; you cannot harm me,” Excellus said, his face growing cold as the false cheer finally dropped. “You live only by my good graces right now, so show some respect you ungrateful harlot!”

The rage on Say’ri’s face intensified as she drew back her sword to strike again, only to hesitate at what Excellus said next.

“I could have killed you dozens of times over the last few years,” he purred. “Valm Harbour… Chengshi… the Capital… even in your precious Chon’sin! I’ve always, always been one step away from ramming the knife in your ribs, woman; were it not for Yen’fay’s… ‘conditions’ of his service to the Empire.”

Say’ri reeled, falling back a few steps before Morgan caught her, glaring daggers at the other tactician.

“N-no…” Say’ri gasped. “You lie!”

“Oh? Did Yen’fay not groan out the truth as you pierced his heart?” Excellus whispered to her, drawing closer. “No, I suppose not. He always was a quiet one; and so honourable, don’t you think?”

Say’ri trembled, her eyes wide as the full realization of what she’d done fell upon her. Excellus didn’t relent though; the sick bastard was obviously enjoying himself.

“Yet he swallowed his pride and bent his knee to another, casting aside his vaunted honour to serve my lord. All for the sake of his beloved kin…”

“No…” Say’ri begged, closing her eyes tightly and facing away.

“He did it for you, Princess,” Excellus said with relish.

“Silence!” Say’ri shrieked, falling to her knees in Morgan’s protective embrace. “Liar! You lie!”

Excellus scoffed. “No, I’m actually telling the truth, which I do admit is a rare treat, so were I you I would shut up and enjoy it.”

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I feel so much better with that off my chest!” he added after a tense moment’s silence, laughing and spinning away from Say’ri to face Chrom like some grotesque dancer.

“Prince Chrom, I take it? Your little rag-tag group is exhausted from that fight, no? What if I told you that just outside this valley are nearly a thousand of our dear, departed Yen’fay’s finest soldiers, merely waiting for my order to advance, hrm? I could save you from them, though… all you would have to do is serve me! What do you say?”

Chrom opened his mouth, about to tell the tactician that the Shepherds would fight him and whatever he threw at them to the death, but his words never got the chance to leave his mouth before three lightning bolts struck Excellus’ barrier in quick succession, throwing up a thick cloud of smoke as the golden glow finally winked out.

“I would say,” Tharja said, her tone more menacing than Chrom had ever heard before, eyes blazing with mana as she lowered her outstretched hand from just behind him. “That you should start running now, toad.”

The smoke settled in a matter of seconds, Excellus quaking in a circle of thick burns on the ground around him, his jaw hanging slack as all the confidence he had had earlier disappeared instantly.

A golden light flashed again, but Virion had wasted no time and let loose three arrows at once.

Excellus disappeared as the arrows buried themselves in the ground where he had been standing.

“Damn him!” Chrom roared. “Shepherds! Prepare for imminent assault! Form ranks around me!”

He noticed Frederick among the press of Shepherds pushing to create a line, his clothes and armour scorched black. Chrom couldn’t tell from this distance if he was wounded, but he moved easily enough, so the Prince let his retainer be.

“I hope I did not overstep my bounds, Prince Chrom,” Tharja said with a light bow.

Chrom shook his head as the other Shepherds that were still mobile began to crowd around him, grinning at the Dark Mage.

“No, that was much more eloquent than what I was about to say,” he told her with a chuckle. “Good work, Tharja.”

The Dark Mage nodded, stepping away and retreating a few more feet so she’d be out of the way during the fight. But… after so many spells, shouldn’t she have been exhausted? How was she still capable of fighting?

Chrom put it out of his mind as he watched Morgan haul her mother to her feet.

“I am fine,” Say’ri said, stepping back from her daughter and trying to hide the tears falling from her eyes.

“Mother, enough already!” Morgan pleaded. “You’ve done enough today! Please, just-”

“Say’ri,” Chrom said, cutting Morgan off and stepping in close to the two women. “Are you sure?”

The woman in white armour nodded while Morgan gaped at the Prince in astonishment.

“Then stay close to me in this fight, both of you,” Chrom ordered, turning and moving to where the line was forming.

Chrom took a few steps, halting when he realized Virion was kneeling in the circle that had been Excellus’ barrier until Tharja had broken through it.

“Virion?” Chrom called.

The archer glanced up, grinning as he rose, holding two arrows between his fingers.

“I got him,” Virion said triumphantly, twirling the two arrows between his fingers before slipping them back into his almost-empty quiver. “I shot three, and there’s only two here. I got the wastrel.”

Chrom nodded with a satisfied grin, beginning to move again as the archer headed to where Tharja and Noire were setting up; he could see Jake rushing out with more arrows for them, and a big waterskin no doubt courtesy of Olivia.

As he walked he could hear the sounds of two pairs of boots following him.

Good, he thought. This is their fight, too. Say’ri needs to see this through to the end, or it will break her. As for Morgan… well, she’s strong like her father. She’ll be alright.

Excellus stumbled as he rematerialized just outside of the small camp that the Chon’sin soldiers had set up outside the Demon’s Ingle, gripping the shaft of the arrow buried in his shoulder.

The blasted Ylisseans had actually broken through the magic of Walhart’s ancient relic-ring and wounded him…

It was unthinkable!

He stumbled into the camp, glaring around as the soldiers eyed him silently and unmoving.

“Well are you all going to sit there or is someone going to get me a healer!?” Excellus shrieked, his rage building as none of the grey and red armoured soldiers moved to assist him.

One of them, Yen’fay’s lieutenant, stepped forward.

“Our General,” he said slowly. “What has become of him?”

“The fool is dead!” Excellus roared, falling to his knees as he pulled at the arrow buried in his flesh.

By the gods it hurt…

“I see,” the lieutenant said softly, turning away from Excellus.

“Somebody kill the tactician,” the lieutenant added in his native tongue, probably unaware that Excellus spoke it, waving dismissively over his shoulder. “His head will make a fine peace offering for our new Queen.”

Now the soldiers began to move, slowly advancing on Excellus as they drew their weapons.

What? Excellus thought, eyes wide with panic as he looked around him.

What what what what WHAT!?

The pudgy tactician paled as they stepped closer, willing the ring to take him away, anywhere far, far away from them…

In a blinding flash, Excellus was gone.

Keiji spun around, cursing in his own language.

“You should have moved faster!” he shouted to the nearest men. “He’s gotten away!”

“Peace, Keiji,” a feminine voice said from near his shoulder. “Lady Say’ri would not have been won over by such barbarous means, anyway. She is peaceful at her core.”

Keiji nodded, not surprised by his cousin’s sudden appearance and taking a calming breath.

“Sei'ko, I want you marching at the front with me,” he said to the master spy that had contacted him after the destruction of Fortress Steiger.

It was good that she was still alive; Keiji had been unsettled by the prospect of informing his Aunt and Uncle that he’d let their daughter perish in the war, opposing Chon’sin, no less; and he was quite fond of her, which was why he had risked his life harbouring her after the explosion at Fortress Steiger.

“Me?” she laughed as the soldiers around them returned to their stations. “That’s a little different than what I normally do…”

“We are not actually marching,” Keiji explained as four other men, the leaders of the four main divisions, strode up behind them.

“We, Yen’fay’s Lieutenants, will go to the Ylisseans.”

He turned to face the Demon’s Ingle.

“And we will throw ourselves on the mercy of our new Queen,” Keiji added quietly.

“No prisoners!” Liung roared over the heads of his men, scouring any trace of the red-armoured force that had assaulted them from the land.

The King of Chengshi thrust his spear into the back of the Valmese soldier he’d just knocked to the ground, looking up when one of his men called to him.

“Lord! The men of Chon’sin are on the move!”

Liung spat onto the grass near his feet before pulling his spear out and jogging up the edge of the low valley they’d set up in to get a better view.

The Valmese men had blundered right into Liung’s superior positions with nearly two-thousand men; the King of Chengshi had chosen only five-hundred of his best men to mount the rearguard with him.

The Valmese men had never stood a chance, Liung thought with a dark grin.

His men were dirty, and they were tired, but still they were the masters of combat with the weapons of their choice, trained from early childhood to handle the weapons. They were his honour-guard, and had slaughtered the Valmese men foolish enough to step foot into the valley behind the Ylissean League.

Liung squinted in the afternoon sun, shading his eyes as he tried to see what the scout had.

The King let his hand slowly drop before he nodded and turned away.

“Lord, shall we prepare to engage?” the scout asked eagerly.

“No,” Liung said, thinking fondly of his fallen friend, Yen’fay. “They do not march to war, lad. This has nothing to do with us. Tend to the wounded and see to the dead. Rout the enemy and leave their corpses to rot.”

Chrom watched suspiciously as five armoured figures and one smaller, lighter figure strode towards the waiting Shepherds.

None of them held weapons in their hands, but all were still armed and armoured. However their armour was more ornate then an average soldier’s, denoting them as at least mid-ranking officers.

“We come on behalf of the forces of Chon’sin!” the man in the lead, the afternoon sun glinting off his red and grey polished lacquer armour, the same style as Say’ri’s called as they approached.

The woman in question stirred as the Chon’sin soldiers stopped about twenty meters away from the Shepherds, eying them curiously from over Chrom’s shoulder.

“We come to surrender to the Ylissean League on the condition we first be allowed to speak to the Lady Say’ri, Princess of Chon’sin!”

Say’ri pushed forward, limping a little on her wounded leg as she stepped out. With only a moment’s hesitation Chrom and Morgan followed her.

“I am the Lady Say’ri,” she said in a regal voice, reminding Chrom once again that he wasn’t the only royalty in the Shepherds anymore.

The five men looked at her for a moment, as if to be sure of her identity before the man in the lead nodded and dropped to his knees, legs tucked beneath his body and prostrating himself before them. As one the four other soldiers followed suit, their brows practically touching the stone beneath them they were bowed so low.

“Lady Say’ri, we ask your forgiveness and your mercy,” the lead man said without looking up.

Chrom and Morgan both gaped, mouths wide open as Say’ri looked at the men, unsure how to proceed.

“What…?” she asked, hesitating.

Her gaze met that of the woman standing behind the prostrate soldiers, and Sei'ko gave her a little smile and wave, nodding towards the soldiers encouragingly.

“I am Keiji, my lady,” the lead man said. “I was Yen’fay’s second, and my lord bid me serve you after his death.”

The other four men repeated this phrase, replacing Keiji’s name and rank with their own while Say’ri watched on dumbstruck.

“We are all sworn to serve at your will, my Lady,” Keiji said, finally sitting up. “If it is your will, we are prepared to offer our lives as payment for betraying our honour and our homeland.”

Keiji looked up at her expectantly, his hand resting on the hilt of a dagger on his belt.

“That will not be necessary,” Say’ri said after a moment.

“Then… you will accept our sworn service?” Keiji asked hopefully.

“I… will,” Say’ri said hesitantly.

“Then I speak for all soldiers of Chon’sin when I say that we swear to serve you until death, Lady Say’ri, Queen of Chon’sin.”

“That was… unexpected,” Chrom said as he leaned on the map table in the command tent.

“True, but a powerful boon nonetheless,” Virion said, tapping a finger to his chin in thought.

“Indeed,” Liung agreed, glancing around at the tired faces. “The soldiers of Chon’sin are great warriors, not mere conscripts like the bulk of Walhart’s armies. They have honed their martial skills to an art-form, seeking perfection on the field of battle.”

“And now their armies are ours,” Morgan said, making a few notes on a paper.

“Still seems a little too good to be true,” Roark muttered, forever playing the Devil’s advocate.

Chrom nodded again, stifling a yawn.

It had been a long day, and evening had finally fallen. This impromptu war council was the last thing they would be doing before he retired for some well-earned rest. Say’ri had gone with the Chon’sin soldiers intending to organize them to fall in with the rest of the Ylissean League, although Chrom suspected that she likely wished to bury her grief in work.

It had been a day of great loss for all the Shepherds, and their grief was finally starting to catch up with them.

“If that is all, my Lords, I shall take my leave,” Virion said, bowing with a flourish. “I find myself in desperate need of rest. I bid you all good even.”

Chrom nodded, and the archer left the tent. He had been fairly stoic throughout the day’s events, especially considering how close to Robin he had been, and had earned his rest.

“I’ll organize the guard roster for the camp tonight,” Roark said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Since Knight-Commander Frederick is incapacitated.”

The Duke nodded and took his leave, off to find the lesser tacticians among the Ylissean force and sort out a rough duty roster.

Frederick had been a little scorched by Excellus’ attack, but was otherwise fine. The burns to his face had been healed without leaving a single scar, but he was physically exhausted by the ordeal and Lissa had been quite firm in her orders that he take proper rest. Chrom had no doubt that he was in his tent buffing his burnt chest plate back to its usual lustre instead.

“Your men were truly indispensable in protecting our troops today, Lord Liung,” Chrom said gratefully. “If you wish to you may retire. I would say you’ve earned some rest.”

“Haven’t we all, lad,” Liung said, casting a glance in Morgan’s direction.

The young tactician was still scribbling away undaunted at the papers around her, occasionally pausing and consulting the maps and troop rosters spread out on the table as she worked.

News had spread about Robin’s demise, and rather than celebrate their hard-won victory this day, the entire army was mourning the well-liked tactician’s loss.

“You should get some rest as well, Prince Chrom,” Liung said kindly. “A ruler needs his rest, and I say this from ample experience.”

Chrom nodded.

“Of course. My next stop is my tent; I may swing by the mess first, though. A ruler can’t fight on an empty stomach.”

Liung nodded, casting one final glance at Morgan before leaving.

As far as the King of Chengshi was concerned Morgan was nothing more than Robin’s apprentice, but the bond between the two was plain to see if you watched them for more than thirty seconds, and as stoic as the warrior King tried to be he had truly liked Robin. That he was worried for the man’s apprentice spoke well of his compassion as a ruler, making Chrom feel that his decision to reach out to the man had been well placed.

“Come on, Morgan,” Chrom said, rising from the table.

“I’m almost done,” she said absently, not looking up from her work.

If he were dealing with Robin Chrom might have simply taken the writing implement out of the tactician’s hand, thrown him over his shoulder and forced him back into his tent. But Morgan wasn’t her father, and Chrom was still unsure about how to deal with her.

“Of course,” Chrom said quietly. “Just… don’t stay in here all night. I need you well rested, after all.”

“Yes, Prince Chrom,” Morgan said, glancing up and giving him a small smile. “Pleasant dreams.”

Chrom left the tent with an odd feeling in his gut; something was bothering him, something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Something Morgan had said…

Chrom ruminated on this question the entire way to the mess tent.

Virion stood alone, tense and unmoving in the tent he shared with Cherche, his bow gripped tightly in one trembling hand. He had already removed the belts and equipment that he usually wore, piling them all on the small table off to one side of the tent.

He grit his teeth, scrunching his eyes closed and willing himself to be calm.

But as he realized he was alone for the first time that day the dam holding his emotions in check broke, and everything he’d supressed came flooding to the fore.

With and anguished cry he hurled his bow to the floor of the tent, his precious weapon thudding dully and bouncing off into the corner of the small space.

His breath coming out in ragged gasps the archer leaned against the table, his head hanging low as he fought back his grief.

With another wordless shout Virion threw his arms out and swept the equipment off the table in one brutal movement, pounding his fists onto the thin wooden surface over and over, shouting with pain and loss every time his fists hit the table.

He spun, lashing out at the nearest of the two chairs in the tent with his foot and sending the small piece of furniture flying across the space, before finally calming and falling to his knees.

“Dammit Robin,” the noble archer sobbed, his head hanging so low his chin brushed his chest. “Of all of us… why you?”

Warm hands that smelt of wyvern hide wrapped gently around his shoulders, slipping around him as Cherche embraced him from behind, the way she always did.

“Do you feel better now, Lord Virion?” she asked in a quiet voice.

Virion made a strangled half-laugh, half-sob as he reached up, wrapping both of his betrothed’s hands in one of his.

“No,” he admitted. “I merely have bruised knuckles and a mess to clean up now.”

Cherche sighed into his shoulder as she held him.

“I should have been there with him,” Virion said after a long silence, his voice thick. “He needed me to watch his back, the way I always did, but I wasn’t there, and-”

Now he’s dead. Virion couldn’t say the words.

Cherche gently shushed Virion, stroking his head in a comforting manner as he quietly grieved for the loss of someone that had been closer than family to him.

Tharja swayed a little as she approached her tent, catching herself before anyone noticed.

She’d pushed herself a lot harder than she’d intended after cursing herself with Vengeance, and now her body was paying the price; it was quite possible that she was presently dying.

That was the curse of Vengeance; it lent incredible power to the person afflicted by the curse, but at the cost of draining their life-force years at a time in exchange.

And Tharja had been using it constantly for the entire afternoon.

But, she thought as she swept aside the tent’s flaps and strode in, she couldn’t die yet. Not until every Valmese soldier was dead, and had suffered for robbing the world of such a great man.

Her fists clenched unconsciously as she looked around the tent with an empty gaze.

She went to take another step, but her exhausted legs gave way beneath her and she fell forward, landing hard on her hands and knees as she began to violently cough up blood onto the floor of her tent.

She fought to remain conscious, telling herself that Robin would have been strong enough to handle something like this…

“Good gracious,” a familiar voice said as thin, cool hands lifted her up, bringing her towards her cot.

“I don’t know who cursed you, but they did a real good job,” Henry said as he carefully laid Tharja down.

“What are… you…?” Tharja managed to groan, intending to ask the man why he was here.

Henry ignored her, carefully inspecting her hand; the one she had used to trigger the curse. A deep red line crossed the other two scars on her palm, and Tharja realized for the first time that she didn’t want anyone else looking at those scars.

Henry frowned for a second before his smile returned, carefully and almost intimately running the tips of his fingers over the welts.

“Aw, did you cast Vengeance while I wasn’t around to watch? I always wanted to see how that spell worked. You know, without killing myself in the process.”

He chuckled a little to himself as he stood and began rifling through Tharja’s reagents, taking a few pinches of powder from various jars and holding them in the palm of his hand.

Tharja went to protest at the invasion of her personal space, but could only manage a weak moan before she began to cough violently again, more blood flying from her mouth and making a mess on her chin.

“I may have to work fast,” Henry said, more to himself than to her, as he gently dabbed the corner of a cloth at the blood coating her chin. “Looks like you’re fading faster!”

Henry chuckled again as he brought his ceremonial dagger out from behind his back, holding it up above Tharja. She gasped in surprise as he ran the blade across his own palm, through the small mound of reagents, the powders mixing with his blood in his palm.

“Ouchies!” Henry giggled, his smile growing wider. “Yeesh, that smarts!”

Tharja watched bewildered as he took her wounded hand in his own, before she felt a powerful curse binding the two wounds magically together. In an instant she felt better, stronger, as the curse worked its magic.

After a few moments Henry sank back, their hands coming apart as the man fell to the floor, laughing tiredly.

“I hope that worked,” he chuckled. “Cause I literally don’t have another one of those in me.”

Tharja sat up, bringing her feet to the floor of the tent as she regarded Henry, clenching and unclenching her completely healed hand.

“What did you just do to me?” she asked, genuinely curious. She’d never seen a curse like that before…

“You used up your entire lifespan with that Vengeance curse, right? So I gave you about half of my life,” Henry said offhandly as he inspected the way the blood was trickling down his wrist. “Someone as obsessed with death as I am doesn’t need that much life, anyway!”

Henry started giggling again as he finally wrapped a cloth around his wounded hand, looking up at Tharja and growing serious for the first time since she’d met him.

“But I gave that to you on the condition that you don’t use a Vengeance curse again, got it? Unless I’m dead. Then you can avenge me. Ooh, and Noire too! No, wait, I’ll avenge Noire.”

“Henry… you…” Tharja said, at a loss for words.

“Why did you do that?” she finally managed.

Henry smiled wide and shrugged, splaying his hands out behind him as he leaned back.

“Because I love you, stupid!” he said with a laugh. “Why else?”

Tharja blinked a few times, looking at the smiling man sitting before her with open eyes for the first time. He said he loved her, and gave her half of his life without expecting anything in return. He’d done that for her, who had never been anything but cold and callous towards him…

What a fool she’d been.

Tharja moved forward, coming to her knees in front of Henry’s smiling face and pressing her lips to his.

Henry wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her closer to him as their kiss deepened, before pulling away with a sad smile on his face.

“You know I’m not him, right?” he said with a rueful chuckle.

Tharja reached up to stroke Henry’s cheek with her newly healed hand.

“I don’t want him.”

Not like that. Not anymore. Please… help me forget.

Henry nodded and grinned, apparently satisfied with her answer as he leaned forward, their lips meeting again with a passion and hunger she hadn’t known Henry had possessed.

Frederick grunted as he worked at the groove just under the chest-plate of his armour by candlelight, trying to get a stubborn patch of soot to come off the white plate. He’d been buffing and polishing for hours now, ever since the Princess had ordered him to rest in his tent and forbade him from doing any of his usual duties for fear of his health, but he’d finally-

A rustling outside of his small, spartan tent made him look up quickly, barking out “Who’s there!?” in his drill instructor voice as one hand reached for his sword.

There was a surprised squeak from outside the tent, before a small hand drew his tent flap back and a red-haired figure stepped hesitantly inside the dimly lit tent.

At first he thought that Cordelia had come to check up on him, which would have been a welcome distraction that momentarily made his heart beat faster at the thought of, but instead the meek-acting woman before him was…

“Severa?” Frederick asked Cordelia’s daughter as she moved her weight from foot to foot nervously. “What’s the matter? Why were you outside my tent so late at night?”

Perhaps Cordelia had been too busy to come to check on him herself and sent her daughter instead; that would be fine, but Severa was acting very different to the way he had seen her usually acting in the camp.

“I… heard you were wounded today,” she said hesitantly, her voice small.

“It was barely a flesh wound,” Frederick said, drawing his bare torso up in the candlelight. “See? Not even a scar.”

True, he had been hurt quite seriously internally by the force of the explosive spell, but she didn’t need to know that, and neither did Cordelia.

Severa nodded, not looking at him. She was acting very strangely.

“Alright,” she said quickly, making to exit without meeting his eyes or even looking up. “I’ll let you rest, then, Knight-Commander, sir-”

“Wait,” Frederick called out, making the girl freeze in place. “Why did you come to my tent?”

Severa fidgeted again, puffing out her cheeks and trying to look indignant without looking at him.

“I had heard you were wounded,” she said, putting on the ‘I don’t care about you’ act that Frederick had become familiar with, watching her around the camp.

“A lot of Shepherds were wounded today,” Frederick pointed out, reaching for a shirt. “Did you go to see all of them, too?”

Severa deflated instantly, her act being crushed under Frederick’s logic as the Knight Commander hid his torso beneath plain white cloth.

“Er… no…” Severa admitted, wringing her hands together.

Frederick’s eyes went wide as a suspicion he’d held repressed deep within his heart came back to the fore.

“So I’m the only one you’ve come to check on, then?” he asked her.

“N-no,” Severa admitted. “I went to check on… on mother as well.”

Frederick nodded. “So what makes me special?”

Severa didn’t respond.

“Severa,” Frederick asked, moving his breastplate to the side and spinning to face her, deciding to just ask her directly; if he was wrong, he’d just apologize to her and then Cordelia in the morning, but if he was right…

“Am I your father?”

The red haired girl jerked as if struck, nodding once without looking up after a moment’s consideration.

Frederick let out a breath that he felt like he’d been holding for years.

“Why don’t you sit down?” he offered, trying to sound as gentle as he could; a tough task for someone so used to barking orders over the noise of a battlefield.

Severa shuffled over, sitting silently on the ground in front of him.

“Why didn’t you tell me when you first arrived?” Frederick asked curiously after a moment’s awkward silence.

“Are… are you mad I didn’t?” Severa asked instead of answering.

Frederick shook his head. “No, I’m sure you had a good reason. I’m merely curious now.”

“Well, you and mother… aren’t together yet, are you?” she asked. “I didn’t want you to… feel obligated to be with her… for my sake.”

Frederick shook his head, his mind going back to the night of Price Chrom’s wedding when they had spent the entire evening talking alone, and to the various other times they had spent together over the years…

“No, not yet,” Frederick repeated, reaching behind him to his footlocker. “I suppose if I’m going to share this secret with anyone, it may as well be you.”

Frederick retrieved the small ring he’d carried with him everywhere for nearly a year now, working up his courage and waiting for the right time to propose properly, as a Knight should.

“I was going to ask her once the war was over,” Frederick admitted.

Severa’s eyes widened, taking the ring in a trembling hand as she reached her other one to the thin chain around her neck, drawing something on the end of it from beneath her top.

In her other hand, hanging off the chain, was an exact copy of the ring Frederick was showing her.

The Knight Commander let out a tired chuckle as he took his ring back.

“This spoils the surprise for me, doesn’t it?” he said with wry amusement, wrapping the precious ring back in its velvet sheet and placing it safely back in his footlocker.

“Let’s just keep this between you and me, though; I’d hate to spoil the surprise for…”

Frederick’s sentence cut off when he looked back to Severa; she was finally looking up at him, tears streaming down her cheeks.

“Daddy!” she cried, throwing herself across the space and latching onto Frederick’s chest, bawling into it and repeating the word over and over.

Frederick was a little lost at first, not used to physical contact off of a battlefield, but he adjusted quickly and began comfortingly rubbing her back.

He sat up, holding his head and groaning.

"Where am I?" Robin asked himself looking around at the dunes of sand spread out around him in every direction.

It was night, but a full moon shed more than enough light through the cloudless sky for the tactician to see by. Not that it helped; he didn't even know there were deserts in Valm, let alone where they were.

He turned in a slow circle, unease growing.

This wasn't right… he had just been on the walls of Fortress Steiger, fighting alone to save Lucina and the others, to give them enough time to escape…

All he could see in every direction was sand dunes; no rocks, no shrubs, just the uniform dunes, as far as the eye could see.

"You're dead," a voice said from behind him. "Or close enough to come here, anyway."

Robin spun. He had just looked behind himself, and no one had been there.

"You!?" he asked quickly, hand dropping to a sword he already knew wouldn't be there. "What do you want!?"

He tried gathering mana for a spell, but nothing happened. No sword. No magic…

"You can relax," the cowled figure said in a calm voice, drawing the hood away from his face. "I'm only here as a guide."

Robin nodded, staring into his own face for the second time in his life.

Only this face had the endless black orbs of someone infused with Dark Magic for eyes, just like Plegia's Hierophant.

Robin didn't hesitate. He crossed the distance between them and put all of his anger, frustration and rage into a single punch, laying the copy of himself out on the sand before him.

The copy, no doubt the voice in his head, fell flat on his back. It looked up at him and laughed in the same way it always did.

"Feel better now?"

"I should kill you with my bare hands," Robin snarled.

"If it were that easy you would have done it by now," the copy said, suddenly behind him.

Robin whirled, taking a few steps back.

"What the hell are you!?"

"You," the reflection said in an almost bored tone, ignoring the thin line of blood leaking from the corner of its mouth as it smiled evilly. "Or at least a part of you. The part you don't want to admit you have; the dark side that the ladies seem to love so much. Hence the eyes."

"Okay, well go away then."

I spend too much time talking to myself as it is, Robin added mentally.

"Believe me, I would if I could. If I go away you're stuck here, and so am I. There's no me without you and vice versa, comprende?"

Robin groaned, holding a hand to his head.

"This is making my head hurt."

"No, the concussion is making your head hurt. Once we wake up you might not want to go back to sleep for a little while."

"I think you mean 'if' we wake up," Robin sighed. "Okay, so you're my guide. Then guide me. Where are we going?"

"Nowhere," the reflection said, turning in a slow circle with his arms outstretched. "Everywhere. The question is where do you want to go?"

Robin kicked at the sand beneath his feet.

"Are you messing with me right now?"

"Why would I lie?" the other him asked seriously. "What would I gain? I already said I don't exist without you."

"For all I know, you could be lying," Robin pointed out.

"Touché, but you don't have much choice but to believe me right now."

Robin sighed. "So what are you?" He asked curiously again. "You've been giving me bad advice and making me do bad things for months now. Since the war started. What the hell are you, and why are you in my head?"

"I'm you, genius," the voice answered with a cruel smirk.

"You know what I mean," Robin groaned, rolling his eyes. "And don't tell me you're just my dark side. I don't buy that crap."

"Fine, you want the truth?" the reflection asked, throwing his arms out wide. "I don't know either. All of a sudden I'm a spectator to your pansy-ass awkwardness, and every time I try to get free I get the mental equivalent of being bitch slapped back into place,or drugged. I'm still rather upset about that one, actually. But I digress; if I knew what I was, I'd know how to get the hell out of your head!"

"So where does all the super-dark-power junk come from then?"

The reflection shrugged.

"I honestly don't know. Or care. Power is like money; it's there to be spent, and you seem to have access to a lot of it."

"So where are we then?" Robin asked, frustration beginning to grow.

"The simple answer is nowhere," the reflection said with a wink, mercurially shifting moods again. "This is the space in your mind between life and death. We're teetering on the edge, and our body is just waiting to see what we decide to do from here."

The reflection's smile finally dropped as he looked down.

"We're hurt pretty… pretty badly, in all honesty."

"You know that and you don't know what you really are?"

"Nobody's perfect; least of all us."

"Okay… What about the others? Are they safe?"

The reflection let out a low laugh.

"I think we both know who you want to ask about. That cute little blue-haired Princess you're so hung up on…"

Robin crossed the space between them, grabbing his reflection's collar and hauling him close.

"Is she okay or not?" he hissed into the soulless black orbs.

"Heh. You're really fixated on the girl, aren't you? You know, you can't hide anything from me. I live in your head, remember? It's almost a little creepy…"

"Tell me!" Robin roared in his reflection's face.

"She's fine. They all are. Although… everyone got a nice long look at that kiss on the parapets. I'm sure her father is going to absolutely love that. Your best friend's daughter? Oh, this is going to be rich."

Robin groaned, shoving his laughing reflection away as he turned.

Maybe it'd be better if I did just die before Chrom gets his hands on me…

"Ah-ah-ah," the reflection chided. "That's simply no fun at all."

"I didn't say anything, though," Robin said irritatedly.

The reflection just looked at Robin with his brows raised and his arms crossed.

"Right," the tactician muttered, running a hand through his hair. "We're the same person…"

"Well, not quite, but we share a mind… We share our power."

"Whatever!" Robin snapped, rounding on the reflection. "So if you're not going to let me die, how do I get back!?"

"Simple," the reflection said with a light grin, holding his arms out. "Embrace me."

Robin scoffed.

"You'll bring me back in exchange for a hug?"

"No you dunce. Accept me as a part of you. Stop trying to hide from me; from the part of us you can't escape from. I am you, you are me. Accept that, and I can send us back. Accept that fact, and the power we wield whenever I gain control becomes accessible all the time. You stop second-guessing yourself all the time and get the power to save your Princess, and I stop getting treated like a cancer you can cut out of your soul. Accept me, and we go back to the happy, snarky bastard the others all know and love, together. You don't have to get rid of me, and I don't have to escape. We both win."

"Really?" Robin asked. "All that power and none of the loss of control? What's the catch?"

"No catch. I just want to kill things."

"Aaaaaand there's the catch."

"A guy's gotta have a hobby," the reflection said with a wink and a grin.

"The war's not going to last forever," Robin pointed out.

"But you're a soldier," the voice said, repeating his earlier thoughts on the matter. "You'll always have to fight. You'll always have to kill, and I want front row seats."

Robin groaned, letting himself fall to a sitting position on the sand.

"I don't know," he said hesitantly. "Where does all that power come from? Why can you channel it like that? We wiped Steiger off the face of the continent for Naga's sake!"

"Don't overthink it," the reflection said. "I want to kill, maim and slaughter, but I'm willing to put up with your insufferable morals. Be a man and put up with a little healthy bloodlust every now and then."

Robin reached down, running his hands through the fine sand beneath him, letting it fall through his fingers and back to the desert. There was no wind, so it simply fell downwards between his legs.

How could he trust a being that didn't even know what it was?

He scoffed at the hypocrisy of the question. How had Chrom trusted him when he had no memories, either?

The tactician shook his head.

He wasn't done yet. He couldn't die. He still had to make sure Morgan was unharmed. He still had to see Lucina again, even if it meant Chrom breaking his jaw a second time.

He had a war to win, a world to save, and more importantly he had a promise to keep.

No one else dies.

"How do we do this?" Robin asked, coming to a decision and looking up.

The moon-lit desert around him was empty again.

You just did. But I give you fair warning; this is going to hurt; quite a bit, actually. Try not to scream like a bitch. It demeans us both.

With a deep gasp preceding a terrible, blood-curdling scream of pain as broken bones ground together under seared flesh, Robin awoke, his eyes bulging wide as pain flooded his senses.

He screamed again as rough hands dragged him from the river he laid on the bank of, half submerged in, the sand and rocks like shards of glass beneath his broken body.

I should have just let myself die! He thought with a pained grimace, his vision clouding as his head lolled back and unconsciousness took him.

A world away, sitting on a throne of bones in Plegia, the Hierophant allowed himself a small smile, his dead, black eyes twinkling in the torch-lit night as he began to laugh.

It was dark…

He was in a dark place that he couldn’t get out of.

But he couldn’t stay there; he still had work to do.

So many things left undone. So many fights unfought; he couldn’t leave those things for the others to finish for him!

He stirred, forcing himself to remember.

A… fortress wall. An uncountable enemy, and a final, last ditch gambit.

A blue haired beauty, their lips parting as he whispered goodbye…

He remembered it all, and slowly his mind awoke.

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.