“Well? What do we do?”
Urgh. This seems… oddly familiar…
“What do you mean?”
Wait. Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.
“Well we can’t just leave him here!”
This is… this is a joke, right? A bad joke!? Right!?
“Screw ‘im, I say. Poor sod’s probly brain dead after all that anyways.”
Wait… what? Hold on a second. That’s… new. Isn’t this a dream? Aren’t I dead and remembering?
“But noble heroes cannot leave a wounded man to die an ignoble death like this! My sword hand twitches at the very prospect of such insult!”
That boy is unnecessarily loud.
“Cram the sword hand already- hey, wait!”
Oh gods, what now!?
Robin’s eyes flew open as a familiar weight landed on his chest, a large black bird perched on top of him cawing very, very loudly right in his face. He forced himself up into a sitting position in surprise, wincing and grabbing at bruised and bandaged ribs as he did.
Glancing up a little he met the eyes of the four… no, five people standing before him and blinked a few times. Six? Six people? He couldn’t be sure, his vision was still swimming…
“Uh…” Robin mumbled, swatting absently as Huginn made his way to his usual spot on the tactician’s shoulder. “Hi there.”
Robin blinked a few times in confusion, telling himself to remain calm as he took stock of his surroundings.
He was in a tent somewhere. Surrounded by strange people he’d never met before.
Not the strangest thing to ever happen to a man who spent most of his time recently with his unborn daughter from the future, but still up there on the scales.
“So…” Robin said, drawing out the word as he glanced at the faces staring at him.
“Someone wanna explain to me what’s going on?”
“Hark, noble warrior!” a blonde man in familiar looking clothes said loudly, oozing excitement. “My noble compatriots and I happen to be scouting Fortress Steiger, in hopes of-”
“We found you passed out and half-dead in the river downstream from Steiger,” a pretty-boy with pale pink hair that was almost blonde said, before grinning at the outraged blonde man.
“What? You were taking too long.”
“My sword hand twitches at such insult…” the blonde main growled, shuddering in rage that Robin was pretty sure wasn’t real as his hand genuinely twitched where he held it before his face.
“Inigo!” the blonde man roared, throwing out his hand to point in the pretty-boy’s face. “I challenge you to-”
Sword-hand was cut off again when a shorter man in black robes knocked him in the back of the head with a healing staff. The shorter man was… wait, he wasn’t shorter, he was actually taller than the others, just hunched over. The hunched priest had a scar over his left eye and short dark hair, giving him a menacing aura as he glowered at sword-hand.
“Can the sword-hand, Owain,” the robed man grunted.
“Thank you, Brady,” Inigo said with a grin that Robin had no doubt would have left most women swooning.
“Okay, somebody please start from the top,” Robin said over the people around him, wincing a little from pain in his ribs as he scooted up higher in the cot he was lying atop. “Please?”
A girl in armour reminiscent of a Ylissean Pegasus Knight stepped forward, her hair tied in pig-tails and the same colour as Lucina’s. In fact, she sort of resembled the Princess…
“We found you wounded, like Inigo said,” the girl said quickly. “Brady over there healed you, and we brought you back here, assuming you were a Ylissean soldier. Plus, you had…”
She pulled a familiar hilt out from behind her back.
“This gripped in your hand so tight it took three of us to pry it out.”
Robin’s heart broke when he saw what had become of his once-beautiful rapier; the hilt was beaten and the guard was bent in two different places, the blade of the sword snapped off in a jagged edge about a third of the way up.
Chrom’s gonna kill me, Robin groaned internally, gingerly taking the broken sword from the girl.
“Thanks,” Robin mumbled, looking at the sword in his lap.
“So!?” the girl said, leaning in close and resting her hands on the edge of Robin’s cot, radiating excitement.
“Are you him!?” she asked, still speaking quickly. “Are you… Robin? The tactician?”
“Who wants to know?” Robin asked suspiciously, hand tightening on the grip of the broken rapier; the edge still looked sharp enough for him to fight his way out if he had to…
“Sit now and listen to the tale of Owain, scion of heroes and saviour of-” Owain began with a flourish before Inigo cut him off at the same time Brady knocked him with the end of his staff again.
“Do you know Lucina?” Inigo asked without preamble. “Because if you do then it cuts the explaining down considerably.”
Robin relaxed, breathing out a sigh and trying to hide the way his cheeks flushed from just hearing her name.
“Maybe,” Robin said, looking away from the group to hide his reaction.
“So you’ve seen her!?” the girl asked excitedly, talking Robin’s hands in hers. “You know where my sister is!?”
Robin’s jaw dropped as he looked back at the girl, Huginn crowing softly in irritation at the sudden movement.
“Sister?” he repeated slowly.
“Yeah!” the girl, apparently Lucina’s sister, said excitedly. “Surely she’s mentioned her sister Cynthia?”
Robin barked out a laugh.
“Sorry, but if I want her to tell me anything about the future it usually involves me poking and prodding at her a week in advance. Usually with pointy sticks. I don’t know who any of you are.”
“Makes sense,” Inigo said thoughtfully as he rubbed his chin, Cynthia’s face falling.
“She was adamant we not speak any more than absolutely necessary to have our warnings taken seriously. She wouldn’t have wanted to mention unnecessary things like family or that junk.”
Owain, quiet for a change, put a comforting hand on Cynthia’s shoulder as the girl let out a pitiful sniffle.
“So you’re all from the future too?” Robin asked, looking around the room.
He jumped a little, disturbing Huginn again as his eyes settled on a black armoured man wearing a matching black mask leaning on a post at the back of the tent, watching him intently. A black armoured man with very familiar blue-silver hair.
“Yup,” Brady said, beginning to poke at Robin’s bandaged torso. “Now hold still, will ya? I wanna give ya the once-over before I set ya loose.”
“Er… okay,” Robin said as he let the brusque healer do his work.
“You were so beaten up we weren’t even sure it was you to begin with,” Cynthia said quickly, her earlier mood already restored.
“And, well… the older kids all talk about you having brown hair, so that confused us too. But you have father’s sword, or what’s left of it, so you have to be Robin! Right!?”
“Yes, I’m Robin,” he said with a tired grin. “You’ve got the right guy.”
Something she said stuck in Robin’s mind.
“Wait, back up,” the tactician said. “I do have brown hair, though.”
“Er… no you don’t,” Inigo said, raising a perfect eyebrow.
Robin blinked a few times before he reached up and brought a few strands of hair from the side of his head before his eyes.
White. His hair was white.
He grabbed a handful of hair from the top of his head, suddenly glad that he’d never gone ahead with that haircut and bringing it towards his face.
“Why the hell is my hair white!?” Robin shouted, his eyes going wide.
Robin pulled the plain linen shirt over his head, looking around the tent again and hoping his coat would materialize out of thin air.
That’s not the only thing that’s missing right now, though, Robin thought, calling out inside his head again.
Hello? Anyone there? Anyone else, I mean… I’m starting to feel kinda stupid talking to myself like this! Mister evil… voice… thing? Hell-o!?
The voice had been utterly silent since he’d awoken, which considering Robin had almost gotten them killed not that long ago was very surprising.
Maybe I’m just concussed and he’s taking a nap, Robin thought while habitually running a hand through his hair, disturbed at how strange he felt being left alone with his thoughts as he sat back on the cot behind him.
He reached out, picking up the familiar weight of his spellbook, feeling it in his hands, letting the familiar magical sensations wash over him as the book responded to his touch, a mental index of the spells within it leaping to the fore of his mind ready to be cast.
It was a familiar and welcome feeling hanging from his belt in its usual pouch, and once again it was all he had left. He didn’t even have his coat this time.
Robin sat back down, sighing and running a hand through his hair.
Back at step one…
He was alone among strangers for the second time in his life; granted, they were the children of some of his closest friends, but the detachment he felt from the world around him would take some adjusting to. Again.
Physically, he felt like he’d been pulled through the eye of a needle; everything ached, and sharp pains still shot from his side where Brady had said he’d practically rebuilt his ribs from scratch. The list of physical injuries he’d suffered was so extensive he was surprised he was still alive, let alone up and moving. Brady was truly a gifted healer to have done this much himself.
Robin held out his hand, looking at the dark purple lines making up the six-eyed sigil of the Grimleal on the back of his hand.
So it hasn’t faded this time, he thought with some disappointment.
It’s so ugly.
The mark itself didn’t bother him, it’s what the others would say when they saw it that did; it was a reminder of what he was capable of, but also served as a reminder for what he’d done.
What I’ve done… Robin thought, leaning back and stretching out his arms to hold him up, ignoring the protests of his aching shoulders.
Everyone was most likely convinced he was dead.
That was going to take some explaining. He’d have to get back to the Shepherds as soon as he could, take whatever punishment that Chrom could dish up for his actions in Steiger, then try and sort out the mess with Say’ri; for some reason he just wasn’t comfortable with her hating him, and then make sure Morgan and Lucina were alright.
Morgan was stronger than she gave herself credit for; she’d be okay while he was gone. The thought of her being sad that he was ‘dead’ still broke his heart, but he had confidence she could hold things together while he was absent.
Robin tried to fight it, but a goofy smile broke out on his face just thinking about her.
He slapped his cheeks lightly a few times to try and regain some composure before continuing his train of thought.
Out of all the Shepherds she had lost the most once already; Robin’s confession of his feelings definitely could have come at a better time.
It had taken so long to get her to come out of her shell, and in doing so Robin had set her up for an even bigger fall than before.
Of all the stupid things… he berated himself, why did I promise no one else would die? Maybe there’s a loophole in verbal contract rules that says I can get away with ‘dying’ if I’m one of the parties that made the contract…
She was strong on the outside, true, but the brief flashes he’d seen of the woman beneath the cold exterior, while some of his most treasured memories to date, hinted that she would be suffering the most out of anyone else.
He let out another sigh, adding it to the list of problems to deal with when he made it back. Most likely with five more Shepherds in tow, now.
The tactician rose, Huginn hopping into his usual spot as Robin moved, stretching out his arms a little as he stepped out of the tent.
The five future children that had been there when he’d awoken were waiting for him out in the camp, intent on taking him to see the ‘True Resistance’s’ leader.
Apparently this group had sprung up while Say’ri was trying to unite the Valmese Dynasts, blissfully unaware that Walhart’s tactician was watching her every move and constantly had assassins in place until recently. The leader of this resistance group had taken the opportunity to gather as many skilled, veteran warriors as he could and form a secret cell while the Empire’s attention was diverted, putting together a force of about a thousand men.
Or so the leader had told Inigo, anyway.
Robin would have to meet the man and judge him himself.
As soon as Robin set foot outside the tent Huginn took flight as the tactician was knocked to the ground, being crushed by something very, very heavy. And scaly.
“No, Minerva!” the man in the black mask called out, speaking for the first time as Robin was tackled by the excited wyvern. “He’s not an enemy!”
Robin laughed a little as the wyvern ran her rough tongue over his face much the way a dog would. He responded by scratching behind her scaled crest the way Cherche had taught him to, and the creature let out a light croon and shudder of pleasure.
“I assume you’ve come from the future, too?” Robin asked the large reptilian form still sitting on top of him.
Judging by the scars covering her sides and the tattered flesh between the webs of her wings she hadn’t had an easy time in the future; Cherche would probably flip if she saw her beloved Minerva in this state.
The wyvern crooned again, laying her head on his chest and forcing the air out of the tactician’s lungs.
“Alright, it’s good to see you too, now off! Off, I say!” Robin called, laughing while trying to shove the much larger creature off of him.
When he finally climbed back to his feet all of the future children were watching him with astonished looks on their faces.
“What?” Robin asked with a shrug, running his hand over Minerva’s crest again while the large reptilian creature shook her haunches and stretched out her wings. “She likes to be pampered.”
“That ornery lizard won’t let anyone ‘sides Gerome go near her,” Brady muttered, shaking his head. “And you’re cuddling her like a freakin’ puppy.”
“Minerva…” the man in black armour muttered, watching as Robin set about giving her crest a thorough scratch, the tactician making the same baby-talk at her that Cherche always did.
“Who’s a pweddy wyvern!?” Robin asked her, momentarily forgetting where he was. “Who’s a pweddy wyvern!? You is! Yes you is! Scratch-a-scratch-a-scratch! You like that? Yes you do!”
The wyvern’s tail thumped down a few times in pleasure, kicking up clouds of dust.
“Yeesh,” Inigo muttered to Cynthia. “If that’s how Minerva reacts I can’t wait to see how your pegasus goes when she sees him.”
“This proves it!” Cynthia exclaimed. “No one but the hero-tactician Robin could tame a beast like Minerva!”
“She’s not a beast,” Robin and Gerome said in tandem, their tones very different.
Gerome sounded offended; Robin just kept the same tone he’d been muttering to the wyvern in, scratching beneath her scaled jaw.
“Okay, don’t we have someplace we gotta be?” Brady huffed impatiently.
“Truly such magnificent skill in taming animals is a heroic trait worthy of song and legend!” Owain said excitedly as he followed Robin once they started moving again.
“I vow to learn from you, master Robin! Teach me, oh hero of the forgotten past!”
“Er… maybe later,” Robin replied, pushing Owain’s face away from his own.
Apparently the boy wasn’t big on personal space.
They passed through rows of deserted tents, giving Robin the impression of a ghost town or something similar. Occasionally in the distance he made out shapes passing between tents, but never managed to get a good look at them as he passed. Sounds carried, too; occasional clanking of armour, light talking or laughter and even the occasional cough reached Robin’s ears, but he still didn’t manage to make visual contact on any other soldiers.
Inigo led the group, now consisting of Robin, the five future children and the future version of Minerva, to another tent just like all the rest, rapping the backs of his knuckles against the thick canvas a few times before a deep voice called out from within.
The future children all filed in, and Minerva crooned sadly when she realized she wouldn’t fit in the tent. Robin reached back to give her one final scratch before stepping into the tent last while Inigo held the flap up for him.
His first impression was of the Ylissean command tents he’d spent countless hours in over the years; maps were strewn about tables, with various other bits and pieces Robin recognized as rosters, troop deployment information and the like sitting atop them.
His second impression was an armoury; sitting to one side of the bench was a suit of ornate blue and silver armour, worn looking but obviously well-maintained. Around the suit were all the blacksmithing tools one would need to repair it, as well as clumps of raw materials that might be necessary in said repairs.
The tent’s owner, a tired-looking middle-aged man with blue hair a shade darker than Chrom or Lucina’s and a thick coat of stubble on his narrow face glanced up from whatever report he was reading in one hand, his other sitting casually on the ancient-looking sword leaning against the cot he rested on.
“Children, I see your ward is awake,” he said in a disinterested fashion.
“Indeed, sir Priam,” Inigo said, bowing slightly.
“He’s him!” Cynthia added excitedly. “It’s really him! He’s Robin! The great hero!”
Why does she keep calling me that? Robin wondered as he was dragged forward by the excitable girl, seriously doubting her relation to Lucina at present.
Priam glanced up at Robin, no doubt unremarkable looking as he stood there wearing plain clothes with a broken sword tucked into his belt.
“You are Robin?” Priam asked in a quiet tone. “Of Ylisse?”
“I am,” Robin said, standing up straight and feeling like a piece of meat being eyed down by a predator.
“Children, I would speak with Robin alone,” Priam said dismissively, tossing the report onto a pile of similar looking papers.
The others all stiffened, before wordlessly filing out. Cynthia and Owain both cast lingering gazes on Robin as they left, no doubt worried for their ‘hero’.
Once they were gone Priam cleared his throat.
“You were at Steiger,” he said without preamble.
“Then you will know what happened to it?”
I blew it up, Robin thought guiltily.
“Yes,” he repeated instead.
“I knew General Pheros,” Priam said, never breaking eye contact with the tactician. “I assume it’s safe to assume she is dead?”
“By my own hand,” he added, making it clear in his tone that he wasn’t bragging.
“I see,” Priam said.
“She and I had been friends for a very long time,” Priam explained, running a hand through his scruffy blue hair. “Before my defection. Since before she left the path of the priestess for that of the warrior. Did you know that?”
“I don’t even know who you are,” Robin said truthfully. “All I know is your name. I didn’t even know about your resistance until… well, now.”
Priam smiled as if he’d been complimented.
“That’s the way we intended it. Let me introduce myself properly then. I am Priam, leader of the True Valmese resistance movement and former General of the Imperial army.”
Robin blinked a few times.
“I’m sorry, but did you say General?” Robin asked, leaning forward a little.
“Okay then,” Robin mumbled. “Just… wanted to make sure.”
“I’d like to know exactly how Fortress Steiger was destroyed,” Priam said.
Robin hesitated a moment, before going into a very brief explanation of events up to his destruction of the fortress.
“I see…” Priam said stroking his chin in thought.
Robin remained silent, vividly recalling the entire ordeal.
“Is he telling the truth, my Lady?” Priam said over his shoulder.
Robin blinked in surprise as a second flap was lifted, and a familiar green-haired form stepped into the tent.
“I sense no deception in his story,” Tiki said as she straightened next to Priam, as half-asleep looking as ever.
“Hello again, Robin,” she said with a warm smile. “I’m glad to find you well. Your new look suits you.”
“I miss my coat,” Robin grumbled before he could stop himself.
Tiki blinked a few times before laughing, her chuckles a musical and soothing sound.
“Yes, you were oddly attached to that garment, if I recall,” she said, still giggling a little. “Sir Priam, perhaps you may have something he could replace it with for the time being?”
Priam nodded absently, looking off into the distance.
“Can I ask you something, sir Priam?” Robin asked.
“It’s just Priam, but go on,” the other man interjected.
“Why haven’t you approached the Ylissean League yet?” Robin asked. “If you have an army of veteran soldiers, even a small one, you could make a huge amount of difference in the war against Walhart for us. So… why haven’t you-”
“I was certain he would have destroyed you by now,” Priam said casually. “The Imperial army was much more ruthless when he led it personally. Since he broke it into three separate armies productivity seems to have decreased.”
“Which has made your cause easier,” Tiki reminded him.
Priam nodded again.
“Besides, I have no interest in bending my knee to another,” Priam added. “Walhart and I were equals in all but name; I was never treated as a subordinate until he hired that tactician.”
“Excellus?” Robin asked quickly.
“Yes,” Priam spat, making a sour face. “The worm drove Walhart apart from his men, making him out to be an omnipotent figure. ‘Good for morale’ he said. ‘Pointless hero worship’ I said. After the third attempted assassination I went to Walhart, but he wouldn’t see me. Excellus had poisoned him against me, so I left.”
Robin nodded, digesting the unexpected story. He was sure there was more to it than that, but realized that he’d been lucky to even get that much out of the man.
“So what are you doing here, Lady Tiki?” Robin asked the Voice of Naga in the ensuing silence.
“I was captured by Walhart’s forces almost as soon as I separated from your League at the Mila Tree,” she explained. “When I was being moved to Fortress Steiger sir Priam rescued me and brought me to his camp. I have lingered, waiting for a chance to rejoin the League for some time now.”
Well, that explains why the other Dynasts never even gave us a chance…
Tiki cast Priam a pointed look, and Robin realized she’d been trying to convince the resistance leader to go with her.
“Well, I’m glad you’re okay,” Robin said. “And thank you for your hospitality, sir Priam. But my comrades and I will take our leave as soon as we can for the League’s last known position.”
Wherever that may be, Robin added internally, not entirely sure himself.
Priam nodded once, remaining silent.
“Wanna come with us?” Robin asked.
Priam glanced up at him. “I’m sorry?”
“Do you. Want to. Come with us?” Robin repeated, a big smile on his face. “We could use the help.”
“Yours is a hopeless cause,” Priam said flatly.
“And fighting a resistance against a one-million man army with a thousand isn’t?”
Priam snorted. “Perhaps. But we’re smart about our fight, tactician. We don’t throw ourselves into the jaws of the beast without any thought of the consequences.”
“Okay, so I’ll admit that my plans have faced a few setbacks,” Robin said. “Okay, a lot of setbacks, but we’ve got a real chance at beating him. All we have to do is strike while the iron is hot! He’ll still be reeling from the loss of Steiger; once the League gets some momentum back-”
“The Ylissean League is currently being run to ground by General Yen’fay’s southern army,” Priam said, cutting Robin off. “And without their tactician, I’d say the League doesn’t stand much chance against him.”
“That’s where you’d be wrong,” Robin said in a rush of pride. “They’ll have the second best tactician on the continent running their army now. Yen’fay doesn’t stand a chance.”
Priam raised an eyebrow but didn’t inquire further.
“Actually,” Tiki interjected, “I was hoping that you and the others would do me a small favour first.”
“Of course!” Robin said without thinking. “Anything for the Voice of Naga!”
“I am beginning to regret this decision,” Robin gasped, trudging along the mountain path behind Tiki.
Tiki merely chuckled and continued walking without looking back.
Behind Robin the future children that he had woken up to followed silently, apparently over-awed to be getting to work with him; or in Brady’s case just as out of breath as he was.
And then there was Gerome, who apparently only spoke when spoken to. Or grunted, really. He wasn’t much of a talker, unlike his father. Robin found himself reasoning that he must take after his mother in that regard, because he definitely couldn’t ever manage to shut Virion up.
Robin frustratedly adjusted the collar of the ankle-length brown leather duster that Priam had given him; it was of superior quality, as befitting a piece of a former Valmese General’s wardrobe, but it wasn’t his coat. And it didn’t have a hood. And the shoulders were a little tight.
It just wasn’t his coat.
Robin resisted the urge to grumble again; why was it whenever someone asked for his help or sent him on a dangerous mission, it involved stairs? Or mountains? Or…
Tiki stopped suddenly in front of him, glancing back down the side of the mountain they had been climbing.
“We are being pursued,” she said with a far-away quality to her voice.
“Of course we are,” Robin said, throwing up a hand in exasperation. “Because this day was just going so well for me beforehand.”
“You know, for a legendary hero you sure complain a lot,” Inigo said, nudging Robin in the ribs with his elbow when he came alongside him.
“And for the son of a priest and… well, your mother you sure talk a lot,” Robin deadpanned back.
“It’s part of my charm,” Inigo said with a wink before he passed Robin and the tactician realized that the group was moving again.
That boy is dangerous, Robin thought, vowing to keep him far, far away from Morgan.
Robin sighed and pushed his tired legs to keep walking; he wasn’t entirely healed after the incident at Steiger, which was absolutely no surprise, but he’d fought on through worse.
At least he didn’t have annoying voices in his head second-guessing everything he did anymore. Well, for now anyway.
Two shadows passed over the group as Cynthia and Gerome made another pass over them, circling around mid-air as they continued scouting the path for the small group. Cynthia was apparently in possession of her late-mother’s pegasus, which wasn’t surprising considering the animals quite often lived twice or three times as long as the average human. The beast had been dirty and seemed a little wilder than it was in the present, reminding Robin of when he’d first laid eyes on it on the road to Regna Ferox so long ago, but Cynthia seemed to know exactly how to coax it into action the way her mother did.
They were wandering around the Valmese countryside, specifically on the frigid side of some nameless mountain half a day to the east of the Resistance’s camp, where Tiki would be able to meditate and regain her incredible power.
“So what’s following us?” Robin asked, picking up his pace to come alongside the ancient manakete.
Tiki smiled up at Robin, reminding him that while she was over ten thousand years old she was still ethereally beautiful.
“I’m not actually sure,” she admitted.
“Risen,” Inigo called out.
“How can you be sure?” Robin asked over his shoulder.
“With us, it’s always Risen,” the younger swordsman said with a shrug.
“Sir Priam was speaking of strange creatures that had been attacking local villages,” Tiki said. “They could have been these ‘Risen’ you speak of.”
“It is a possibility,” Robin said, silently worried that the taint of the dark dragon was spreading.
“Fear not, Lady Tiki!” Owain said excitedly. And loudly. “For Robin, most heroic of all tacticians in the history of Ylisse comes to your aid, with his pupil Owain, Scion of Legend at his side!”
“Wouldn’t that make ya his sidekick?” Brady snickered, Inigo quickly joining in.
“I am his pupil!” Owain insisted. “Now cease these insults, or I shall unleash the full wrath of my sword-hand upon you!”
“Sure thing,” Inigo said lightly. “Whatever the sidekick wants, right?”
Owain spluttered, obviously about to launch into a very long, very loud tirade in his own theatrical and entirely impractical speech pattern.
“Actually,” Robin said, cutting the boy off. “I haven’t agreed for him to be either yet.”
Owain visibly deflated as they walked, staying silent for a few minutes before perking back up.
“And so it seems that Owain, Scion of Legend must earn his place at the hero-tactician’s side!” he said aloud to no one in particular, devolving into another rant about how he would crush his enemies and earn Robin’s respect.
“Is he always like that?” Robin discretely asked Inigo as Owain began shouting about his sword-hand.
Inigo sighed and dropped his head a little as Brady bonked the third boy on the head, cutting him off mid-rant.
“Pretty much, yes,” Inigo sighed.
Tiki began to chuckle quietly again, listening silently to their conversation; that was two things she seemed to be doing a lot of, listening and laughing.
I’m glad my life had become a source of such amusement, Robin sarcastically thought to himself.
They stepped into a small glen at the top of the mountain, and for Robin it was like stepping into another world, one of perpetual spring.
“Wow,” he breathed, looking around at the verdant meadow and the copious flowers around a single, central altar.
“It’s so peaceful,” he muttered, basking in the warm sunlight.
“The air is so sweet here,” Inigo said happily. “It’s calming, isn’t it?”
Brady grunted his agreement, shuffling forward toward the altar.
“These are the Divine Dragon Grounds,” Tiki explained. “Here I will be able to recover the power lost to me during my slumber.”
“Okay, you do that,” Cynthia said with a big yawn. “I might just flop down and take a nap beside you!”
“Tempting,” Inigo said, eying the soft grass and earth beneath them.
“Oh no ya don’t,” Brady growled. “We’re on guard duty!”
“But it’s like magic it’s so nice here!” Cynthia protested. “Right Robin?”
Robin raised an eyebrow.
“Er… it just looks nice,” he admitted. “It feels like everywhere else to me, to be honest.”
“It is said that the Divine Dragon Naga once called this place home,” Tiki went on as the group proceeded to the altar.
“Here I may meditate and commune with the Divine Dragon, asking for her blessing. I will need you all to protect me until I am finished.”
Inigo bowed foppishly. “Of course, milady.”
“We’ll keep a lookout,” Robin assured her as she climbed up onto the stone altar.
“I know you will, Robin,” she said, favouring him with another warm smile before closing her eyes and sinking into a deep trance.
Robin waved his open hand before her face a few times before turning to address the others.
“Gerome, I want you on the perimeter,” he instructed, falling into old habits. “Keep circling around; I want to know the second you see movement on the mountain below us.”
The dark armoured man nodded, climbing back onto Minerva and urging her into the sky.
“The rest of us will stay close to Tiki, keeping a watch on the two paths to the glen,” Robin continued. “Owain and Inigo will watch the eastern path, while Cynthia and I keep watch on the western one. Brady, I want you at the ready to treat any wounds. Any questions?”
“Why can’t I be paired up with you?” Owain asked dejectedly.
“Why do I have to be paired up with Owain?” Inigo parroted.
“Because I said so,” Robin deadpanned. “Now take your positions.”
The two swordsmen spun on their heels, stomping over to the eastern gateway overlooking the glen.
“Brady, maybe you better go with them and keep them from tearing each other apart,” Robin sighed.
The priest nodded, wordlessly following after the two, leaving Robin and Cynthia to walk over to the entrance they had just come through, Gerome wheeling overhead as Cynthia followed the tactician, leading her mount by the reins.
“They’re actually good friends, you know,” Cynthia said after a moment. “That’s why they fight so much. They’re practically brothers in a sense.”
Robin nodded his understanding, glancing over his shoulder to where Brady could be seen animatedly telling the other two off while Owain and Inigo rubbed at their heads.
“What about Brady?” Robin asked curiously.
“He’s their keeper,” Cynthia said with a laugh.
Robin grinned in response to her laughter. She had her mother’s easy smile and mannerisms, but she had her father’s regal bearing. Where the puppy-like tendency to get over-excited came from was anyone’s guess, but she wasn’t at all like Lucina in that regard.
Which was one of the reasons Robin had paired himself up with her.
“Can I ask you something?” Robin asked as they reached the pathway, cold air buffeting at them from the mountainside.
“Sure!” Cynthia chirped, stroking the neck of her pegasus as they idly waited for something to come and try to kill them.
“You said you were Lucina’s sister, right?”
“Yeah! What, you don’t see the family resemblance? I’ll admit, I am the pretty one…”
Robin chuckled. “That’s not what I meant. I wanted to know what she was like in the future.”
Cynthia nodded, sobering a little as her hand paused on her pegasus’ neck mid-stroke.
“She was… serious,” Cynthia said after a moment. “Almost to the point she was severe. But the fate of everyone was resting on her shoulders, so we couldn’t blame her. She did enough of that herself…”
The younger girl added the last line so quietly Robin had almost missed it.
“But she was a great leader, and saved a lot of lives!” Cynthia said, perking back up. “If any one of us was worthy of the title ‘hero’ it was her! She constantly gave everything she had for the survivors, fighting with all her strength and ruling them with all of her compassion. It was inspiring to be around her.”
Robin nodded. She sounded just like Chrom, in a sense.
“She’s… here with the Shepherds now, right?” Cynthia asked hesitantly.
“Yeah,” Robin nodded. “So are all the others. Including my daughter, Morgan.”
“Morgan’s here!?” Cynthia practically shouted, grabbing Robin by the shoulders. “What happened to her!? How’d she get here!? Was she okay!?”
“Easy!” Robin said, shaking her hands off his shoulders. “One thing at a time!”
Cynthia stepped back, looking up at Robin expectantly.
“She has amnesia,” Robin explained. “Kinda a family trait, apparently. All she remembers from the future is me and snippets of Tharja. And apparently that Yarne’s nickname was ‘Bunny’ when he was younger. Apart from that all her tactical and combat knowledge is still there and she’s been fighting alongside us since we got to Valm.”
Cynthia was practically bursting with excitement now.
“Alright!” she said, throwing out her fist. “First we take care of this, then we drag sir Priam’s resistance-leading butt to the Shepherds! No more distractions! The Justice Cabal will live again!”
“I like your enthusiasm,” Robin laughed, choosing not to address the question of what exactly the ‘Justice Cabal’ was.
They quieted for a time, a friendly silence settling over the duo, before Cynthia broke it again.
“So why’d you wanna know about my sister?” she asked slyly. “Got a crush?”
Robin blushed, grinning to himself as he looked away. “I don’t kiss and tell.”
Cynthia’s jaw dropped, and Robin was saved by what was no doubt going to be a brutal tongue-lashing when Gerome dropped from the sky.
“Risen at the west gate,” he said emotionlessly, waiting for further orders.
That really didn’t take long, Robin thought as his mind switched over to tactician mode.
“Gerome, stay here and watch the east gate,” Robin said quickly. “Shout out if you see more coming up this way. Cynthia, get over there and back the boys up. I’ll be right behind you, but don’t get tied down; if something happens and Gerome needs backup you’re the first call.”
“Right,” the blue haired princess replied, swinging up into her saddle and kicking the pegasus into the air, her earlier excitable attitude gone, giving way to cool professionalism.
There’s the Lucina-influence, Robin thought as Cynthia kicked her mount into a faster flight.
Gerome nodded as Robin passed, taking up a position blocking the gate with Minerva’s bulk.
The tactician ran across the glen, sparing a glance at Tiki, who was still meditating peacefully as he passed.
He could already hear the moans of the risen over Owain and Inigo’s shouted challenges, and steel met steel in the beautiful glen. Cynthia swooped in low, Risen being knocked flying from her brutal pass while she brought her mount around in the air, brandishing her lance and preparing to make another pass.
That was about the point where Robin passed Brady, waiting calmly some ways back from the fight so that he’d be out of his comrades’ way but still close enough to offer his healing magic if necessary.
Inigo and Owain were holding the gate like true professionals, creating a two-man wall of swords that none of the Risen could pass while Cynthia swooped in like a bird of prey, clearing the Risen and knocking them off the narrow eastern path.
Robin hesitated, just out of reach of the two boys and realizing that he didn’t actually have a sword any more.
He shrugged, pulling out his spellbook and flipping to a well-worn page, running his hand down the surface of the paper and feeling the mana starting to pool.
“Step back, boys,” Robin called as he began casting a small elthunder spell that would clear a little space for them.
Owain and Inigo nodded, falling back a little and creating a gap as Robin lifted his hand, but… something was off.
Too much mana was pooling.
Robin realized this in a detached sort of way as lightning began dancing on his outstretched hand. He didn’t even have time to shout a warning to the boys, instead focusing all of his concentration on making the spell as narrow as possible.
With a flash of light like the sun had fallen to earth and a sound like the gods stomping on his head Robin was thrown backwards several feet by the force of his own spell.
When he looked back up, head still spinning, Owain and Inigo were back to holding the gate, but no more Risen were pressing them.
A smoking line had been gouged into the path beneath them, the spell having scattered the Risen in its path that it didn’t reduce to ashes outright.
Brady and Cynthia looked at Robin with wide eyes and slack jaws as he clenched and unclenched his hand, still lying on his back. No doubt Owain and Inigo, their backs turned as they watched the gate, wore similar expressions, too.
Well, Robin reasoned, glancing over at Tiki, she did say this was the Divine Dragon’s home at one point. Perhaps I accidentally tapped into some residual mana or something? Not the weirdest thing to happen to me so far today.
Robin climbed to his feet, dusting himself off and stretching out his neck.
They’d better stop looking at me like that soon, he thought, trying to hide a snicker as the future children gaped at him. Or I’m going to laugh so hard they’ll have to carry me back to camp.
“Is everyone okay over there?” Robin called out.
“Yeah!” Inigo answered, recovering faster than the others. “But, uh, the Risen are regrouping. Owain and I shouldn’t have any trouble with these, so go check on Gerome!”
“Before ya blow us all up,” Robin caught Brady muttering.
Robin burst out laughing, wiping tears from his eyes as he held his bruised sides.
“Such apocalyptic power…” Owain marvelled, kicking at the furrow in the ground left by Robin’s spell.
“That was just an elthunder!” Robin called out cheerily as he started walking backwards to Gerome’s position. “You wait til I pull out the big guns!”
Let’s not mention that the only reason that happened was the ambiance here… Robin thought, his grin not abating as he turned.
The tactician’s high spirits were dampened somewhat when Minerva cried out and he looked up to see Gerome fighting off a pack of Risen from the wyvern’s back with precise swings of the long halberd he carried with him, Minerva lashing out with her tail and fore-claws in time with his strikes.
“He almost makes Cherche look like an amateur,” Robin muttered, breaking into a run as Cynthia zipped overhead, little more than a blue and white streak to Robin’s eye.
Robin repeated the steps from before, stopping just out of the way of Gerome and channelling a much, much weaker thunder spell.
“Gerome! Move!” he called as the mana pooled like before.
The man in black armour didn’t even respond, just kicking Minerva into the sky and opening the path for the Risen to come charging at Robin.
Even while he knew what to expect this time the sudden influx of mana was still a shock to his system, over-loading his sixth sense and making him tremble while he tried to consciously control it.
A blast of magical thunder much more akin to an Arcthunder spell shot out of Robin’s hand, jumping from Risen to Risen and leaving clouds of purple ashes in its wake.
Robin sighed as the enhanced mana-flow left him breathless, his hand tingling from the point of contact with the spell.
“Holy crap that is awesome,” he muttered with an excited grin on his face.
Just let any Risen come after him now; he was the master of Divine Dragon magic and none could stand before-
“Robin, look out!” Cynthia shouted in warning from above him.
Robin glanced up, casually pulling the broken rapier out of his belt and sidestepping the jumping Risen, slashing downwards as he did.
The blade was still razor-sharp, and bit into the creature’s back easily before it disappeared in a cloud of smoke.
He spun, holding the blade out and taking into consideration the greatly reduced reach as more Risen began to crowd the gate.
“A little help over here!” Inigo shouted from the other gate as he and Owain desperately fought off a renewed push by the horde of creatures.
Brady was behind them, healing wounds as fast as the Risen could inflict them, but the dark creatures seemed to be endless.
Just as Robin was beginning to entertain the idea of taking Tiki and throwing her over his shoulder so they could escape the manakete’s eyes fluttered open, and the glade was enveloped in green flames.
Robin braced for the sensation of being blown-up a second time as the flames raced outwards from the central altar, but when he opened his eyes they had simply passed him over and had created a neat ring around the edges of the small hollow.
Owain and Inigo sunk to the ground, breathing heavily as Brady leaned on his staff, eying the flames and the Risen stupid enough to throw themselves into the conflagration. Cynthia and Gerome both brought their mounts to rest close to Robin, looking in awe at the ancient and powerful magic.
“Ah,” Tiki sighed from the altar, slowly rising to her feet as she stretched her arms above her head like she’d just woken from a deep slumber. “That’s much better. I feel so much more refreshed now.”
She glanced up at Robin, grinning like a child.
“You all may want to move away from the perimeter a little.”
As Robin and the others complied Tiki began to transform.
Where the other two manaketes Robin was familiar with had dragon forms a little bigger than the largest wyvern he’d seen, Tiki grew… and grew… and continued growing until she could have swallowed Robin in one bite with space to spare.
Her arms and legs bent and shifted as her gossamer shroud blew upwards, becoming wings in a flash of green light and flames.
When she was done Robin could truly say he’d met a real dragon.
Holy crap she is huge, Robin thought, staring up at Tiki with wide eyes.
The Voice of Naga inhaled, taking a deep breath as if she were smelling a bed of flowers, before exhaling towards the eastern entrance where Inigo, Brady and Owain were scrambling away from the flames.
The Risen there had been scattered by Robin’s spell before; in the face of Tiki’s powers they were annihilated.
She turned her head on a long, graceful serpentine neck, repeating the process at the western gate and clearing the path they would have to use to descend the mountain.
And all at once the flames winked out of existence, leaving not so much as a scorched blade of grass, and Tiki walked towards Robin with a new spring in her step once again in her slight human form.
“That was fun!” she said happily, much more animated than Robin remembered her being.
“What in Naga’s name just happened?” Cynthia asked from the back of her pegasus, her voice small in the silence of the glen.
“Well, I tapped the mana of this place and might have gone a little overboard,” Tiki said with a playful wink. “My transformed state isn’t usually so big. Or pretty.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Robin said, clenching his hand and recalling the feel of transferring the ambient mana into his spells.
“I felt that, even through my meditative state,” Tiki said, bouncing a little as she stepped over to Robin.
“How’d you do that?” she asked, tilting her head and grinning. “Only manaketes should have been able to tap the power of this place. Do you have some dragon blood in you? I know the Princess over there does.”
Cynthia’s ashen face lit back up.
“I… do?” she asked, trembling like she was about to burst.
“We do?” Owain asked breathlessly. “Cousin, we really are Scions of Legend!”
Cynthia squealed as she and Owain jumped up and down, the conflict they had just fought in moments ago apparently now forgotten.
“Great, just what they needed,” Inigo mutter while he rolled his eyes. “An excuse to be weird.”
Brady guffawed next to the pretty-boy, leaning heavily on his staff.
Tiki looked up at Robin expectantly, obviously waiting for a reply.
Robin shrugged, tapping at his skull.
“Amnesia?” he said, smiling sadly. “Even if I did, I wouldn’t remember.”
Tiki nodded sagely before breaking out into another grin.
“Okay!” she said energetically. “Let’s go find your friends!”
“Can we at least fly back down!?” Robin called after her as she dashed past him for the glen’s western entrance.
“Tiki!? I’m still wounded here! Come on, don’t make me walk!”