An endless sea of red-armoured figures were marching along the main road leading north to the Imperial Capital at Lord Walhart’s summons; the fact that Steiger, as well as the majority of the Southern and Central armies had been wiped out had made not only the military commanders nervous, but apparently Walhart himself; hence why the entirety of his remaining forces were being consolidated.
And unfortunately it was one Corporal Tomas’ job to oversee the checkpoint that the soldiers all had to pass through on this arterial route from the southlands to the central region.
Tomas had a single squad of conscripts with which to hold the checkpoint, meaning that passage was slow-going for the irritable and impatient soldiers and even worse for their officers. None of the higher ranking men seemed to take kindly to a Corporal giving them orders, but Walhart’s edict had been copied and was being displayed at every gate, so most of them kept quiet.
For weeks he’d been forced to preside over this sopping wet, mud-stained hell hole of a posting, but soon his rotation would be over and he’d get to head north with the rest of the soldiers.
Thoughts of the warm bed waiting for him at the capital swirled about his head as he made his daily inspection of the gates, watching as his men checked papers and issued new traveling permits for the squads and regiments passing through. Every so often they got a few fragmented groups of survivors from the Southern or Central armies, shell-shocked and wounded men that could barely walk, let alone speak, who were given top priority in passage and often bumped to the front of whatever cue they found themselves in.
Tomas hesitated, noticing one of the Privates waving him over, seemingly confused by the papers he was holding.
The Corporal approached, mentally preparing himself to have to shout-down another over-zealous commander that couldn’t be bothered reading the edicts plastered everywhere. He took a good long look at the red-armoured men standing to one side while the Private went through their papers; a squad of ten, their Sergeant an older man with scruffy blue hair that was mostly hidden by his helm, a great broadsword slung over his shoulder. A younger man with shoulder-length white hair stood by his side holding a stack of papers and books, no doubt the Sergeant’s ensign. Out of the others no one was really attention-grabbing or strange. They seemed to be an ordinary squad, dirty and tattered from travelling by foot in the rain-soaked countryside for so long, but an otherwise boringly normal group of nine men and one woman.
“What’s the problem?” Tomas asked without preamble.
“Sir, these papers all appear to be in order,” the Private said in a low voice. “But the command codes are outdated.”
Tomas nodded, turning to face the Sergeant.
“Name, rank and posting, sir.”
“Sergeant Nasu, Fortress Steiger outriders, sir,” the Sergeant answered, snapping to attention.
“Steiger?” Tomas asked curiously. “I thought the outriders were all wiped out?”
“Admittedly, our mounts were killed during the battle, as well as most of our unit. We’re all that’s left after those monstrous Ylisseans got to us. We’ve been hiking for nearly a week now, sir.”
Tomas nodded, satisfied. Their papers were outdated because they’d been travelling through the wilderness all this time, not to mention the place they would normally have gotten their new orders from was gone entirely. Considering what they’d already been through Tomas decided he’d show a little compassion and hurry the screening process along a little for them.
“Give them a pass and wave them through,” Tomas told the Private. “These poor bastards have been through enough without us making their lives more difficult.”
The Private nodded, quickly filling out the necessary travel permits and handing them over to the Sergeant, who in turn gave them to the ensign for safe-keeping. He waved his men through, before nodding to Tomas and following them.
“Thank you, Corporal,” the ensign said in a pleasant voice. “Much obliged. Enjoy the rest of your day.”
Tomas nodded, smiling a little.
“Well I’ll be damned,” he muttered as the next group arrived for processing. “A polite soldier. I really have seen everything now.”
“I can’t believe that worked,” Robin said as soon as they were out of sight of the checkpoint, pulling off his borrowed helm and shaking his hair loose.
“It was your idea,” Tiki said, doing the same, her emerald tresses falling like a green waterfall now that they were free of their red-armoured cage.
“I didn’t think it would actually work though,” Robin said, looking over his shoulder just to be safe. “I mean I know it’s been working for the last few days, but I thought for sure someone would recognize Naga’s Voice or a former General.”
Priam snorted as he pulled his own helm off, tossing it to one of the resistance soldiers that was with them.
“I was a general of the Central Army,” he explained. “That man was a Northern Army soldier, probably sent down here to fill the gaps left when Steiger and its troops were destroyed. There was no way he’d have known who I was.”
“I’m with Robin,” Inigo said, joining their conversation but leaving his helm in place. “I thought we were goners.”
“Show a little faith, boy,” one of Priam’s soldiers said with a grin, nudging Inigo’s ribs with his elbow as he passed. “He’s a hero-tactician, ain’t he?”
Robin groaned and rolled his eyes; ever since Cynthia and Owain had taken to calling him that it had spread throughout the Resistance like a plague, and now everyone was calling him the ‘Hero-Tactician of Ylisse’. It was flattering, but really, really annoying at the same time.
Robin had gone with his initial plan once Priam had announced he would follow Tiki and fight against Walhart with the Ylissean League, due in no small part to Robin’s name-dropping of Lord Liung, Duke Virion and Lady Say’ri; all of whom were apparently greatly respected by the resistance leader. Even if Virion was an outcast from his own land for failing to protect it from Walhart and Say’ri had been offered up as a sacrificial lamb so that he could build his Resistance in secrecy. But Robin wasn’t about to look a thousand veteran gift-horses in the mouths.
Since the announcement Robin and Priam had worked diligently at forging phony papers to get them past the various gates and checkpoints that had been set up while the rest of the Resistance had gone about painting their armour red and preparing to travel. Even Tiki had opted to travel by foot with them, rather than bypass the checkpoints with Cynthia, Owain, Brady and Gerome, all of whom were flying on Minerva and Cynthia’s pegasus. Inigo had drawn the short straw, and had been forced to hoof it with the rest of them, but Tiki could have transformed at any time and flown with the others; instead she had borrowed a suit of overly-large Valmese armour and walked with Priam’s group. With a lot more cheer than Robin felt strictly necessary, but he wasn’t about to rain on her parade; apparently being somewhat of a religious idol meant that she didn’t get out often. It was interesting, though, how quickly she swapped back and forth between ‘holy-maiden voice of Naga’ and the carefree woman that she projected most of the time she was around Robin.
“Hey Tiki,” Robin asked casually as they walked. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”
The manakete nodded, indicating Robin continue as she clasped her hands behind her back, practically skipping along the road.
“Well, it’s about what you were saying before,” Robin explained. “About me resembling the Hero-King Marth. Isn’t Chrom a direct descendant of Marth?”
“I believe so,” Tiki answered. “I’d need to take another look at him now that I’m awake just to be sure, but I’m rather confident he is.”
“So therefore wouldn’t logic dictate that he would resemble King Marth more than I do?”
Tiki ‘hrmed’, looking up and letting her long green pony-tail cascade down her red-armoured back.
“Perhaps because Chrom is not like Marth,” she explained after some thought. “He is much more direct, and committed to what he believes is right. Chrom might more resemble a different ancestor, from the age I was born in. Another great man in their line, from a thousand years before Marth... but the Marth of my time was wise and fair, and won hearts with his kindness.”
“Er… okay,” Robin said, a little lost. “So I don’t look like him, then.”
Tiki giggled, skipping forward a few steps to stand in front of Robin and walk backwards.
“No. I was referring to your soul. An aura of kindness and goodness surrounds you, Robin. Just as it did wise King Marth.”
“Well, that is... most flattering,” Robin mumbled, looking away and blushing from the unexpected compliment. “I honestly don't know what to say.”
Tiki smiled, tilting her head to one side. “What was that, Mar-Mar?”
Robin’s blush intensified as an eyebrow shot up.
Tiki’s eyes went wide and she clapped her delicate hands to her mouth in shock.
“Ah! Forgive me! I was in habit of calling Marth by that name... it must have slipped out by mistake. Gracious, the resemblance is so uncanny; it's making me forget what millennium it is!”
Robin snickered unintentionally, making Tiki blush.
“My apologies,” she muttered, looking down at her feet as Robin drew alongside her.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, draping an arm across her armoured shoulders. “But don’t let Owain hear you call me that. I’m sure he’d have a fit. Something along the lines of ‘but it is I, Owain, scion of legend and hero of the future that is of Marth’s line, not the lowly tactician, hero though he may be!’”
Tiki laughed heartily as Robin’s arm dropped and he struck a pose, imitating Owain almost perfectly.
“It’s scary how well you do that,” Inigo muttered.
“There should only be a few more groups to pass through after us,” Robin chuckled, growing serious again as he held his arm up reflexively, Huginn making a graceful landing, spoiling the image by cawing loudly in Robin’s face.
Priam nodded and gave a few concise hand gestures to his men, who automatically started marching to the designated meeting-place.
“Apparently I’m not the only one that wanted to walk,” Tiki chuckled as Huginn nipped at Robin’s ear, clearly displeased.
“Gah! You’re as bad as your master! Leave me alone already!” Robin pleaded, his cries falling on deaf ears as Huginn ruffled his feathers and got comfortable.
Inigo drew alongside the duo as they followed Priam, curiously glancing at the bird.
“What’s with the crow?” he asked after a few moments. “There was never any bird in the stories they told about you. So… what’s the deal?”
“He’s Tharja’s familiar,” Robin deadpanned, ignoring the chuckling from Tiki as Huginn cawed again. “And he’s as overly-attached to me as his master is.”
Huginn made another irritated squawk as Robin weakly batted him away from his ear before reaching up and carefully attaching a rolled-up piece of paper to the bird’s foot with a string.
“Okay, go play carrier pigeon now,” Robin instructed the bird as he hopped back to the tactician’s arm. “Deliver that to Cynthia. You remember her? She looks like a cross between Sumia and Lucina. Go find her.”
Cawing once Huginn leapt into the air, circled the group twice and was gone to deliver news of their safe infiltration to the rest of the Resistance.
“At least he follows orders,” Inigo said with a grin.
“Yeah,” Robin replied, rolling his eyes. “Now if only I could get his master to do the same…”
A few moments of peace passed before Inigo spoke again.
“Say Robin…” he said, resting his hands behind his head lazily as he walked.
“What’s up?” Robin asked. “Did you need something?”
“No, it's nothing like that. I just figured it wouldn't kill me to spend time with the fellas once in a while.”
“Uh huh,” Robin deadpanned. “You mean instead of chasing girls hither and yon? Yes, I'd say taking a break once in a while is definitely healthy.”
Since they’d started travelling again the small group had passed through a number of towns, and even made the effort to stay at the inns and in the barns in said towns to match the appearance of retreating soldiers. Inigo had barely spent any time ‘resting’, instead choosing to chase skirts in a fashion that would have made a younger Virion proud. Robin resolved to keep the young man not only away from Morgan, but Virion as well. Just in case he was a bad influence; the thought of one of his friends being fed to his wife’s wyvern made Robin… uncomfortable.
“Oh!” Inigo said excitedly. “Speaking of healthy, did you try that vegetable cantina in the last town? You would not believe how cute the serving wench was!”
“You're taking a break from chasing girls, to talk to me about...chasing girls?”
“She actually blushed when I said hello. Talk about sweet? I could bottle that! You can't tell me you wouldn't want to share a cup of tea with a lady like that? Plus if she's blushing, that usually means she's interested!”
Inigo let out a low growl, waggling his eyebrows suggestively. Robin merely rolled his eyes; but he knew if he didn’t give the boy what he wanted, Inigo would never leave him alone.
“So what happened next?” Robin asked disinterestedly, scanning the horizon. “Did you have that cup of tea?”
“Alas, she dashed my hopes. I asked when her shift ended, and she said ‘after your bedtime!’ Ha! But what a wit!”
“She must get many such requests,” Robin reasoned. “Perhaps she's simply tired of them.”
“Or perhaps I just need to ask with more confidence! Ladies love confidence.”
“Sure. Whatever. I have to admit to being impressed, though; not a whole lot slows you down, does it?”
“I can't waste time moping about one rejection when so many ladies remain! Still, thanks for cheering me on, Robin!”
Inigo chuckled and hopped forward a few steps to fall in line with some more of the Resistance soldiers, leaving Robin to walk alone for a time.
“Huh,” he muttered, watching Inigo naturally interject himself into the other men’s conversation with a strange sinking feeling. “Is that what I was doing?”
For the last few days it had been like nothing at all had changed; he was still working for the war effort, he was still coming up with daring plans and crafty tactics, and he was still surrounded by friends he trusted implicitly. But something about it felt hollow.
He missed the Shepherds. He missed Chrom, and Tharja and Virion. He missed Morgan like an amputated limb; not having her constant cheerful outlook around to balance out his own snarky cynicism was taking some getting used to. Hell, in a twisted way he also missed the Voice that had occupied his head with him a little.
But probably most of all he missed Lucina. He missed getting to see her at breakfast as she carefully ate in a manner befitting a princess, an endearing trait considering they were technically at march most times and even Sumia and Maribelle were starting to slip in their table-manners; instead he was settling for watching Owain and Inigo scorf down their food like they’d never eaten before. He missed catching glimpses of her during the day and feeling a little calmer just knowing she was around, knowing that she was still watching over everyone. He missed getting to talk to her before they turned in for the night; well, before she turned in and he spent a few more hours perusing the strategy tomes that were carted around everywhere for him. But those few extra hours had been bearable because he knew he’d see her again at breakfast.
Robin was worried about them all; how were they doing without him? Was Morgan coping alright being the sole tactician now? What about the others? How broken was Lucina by his ‘death’?
He felt guilty for having so much fun with Tiki and Priam’s resistance, but it was honestly almost like he was taking a break from work. The Resistance, with the addition of the five Shepherds, numbered just under a thousand men at arms. Granted, those thousand men were mostly veteran soldiers that had served closely with Priam for at least a decade or other long-service warriors from the Central or Southern armies, but it was still a drop in the bucket organization-wise compared to the Ylissean League. While the League was full of highly motivated and not inexperienced men Priam’s Resistance was like having an entire army of Shepherds; they all knew their roles and carried them out flawlessly like a choreographed dance or a well-oiled machine. It was truly awe-inspiring.
“Robin? Earth to Robin!” Inigo was saying, waving his hand in front of the tactician’s face.
Robin spluttered, looking around quickly and realizing he’d zoned out; he didn’t even recognize the area they were standing in anymore.
“What’s… er… how long was I out for?” he asked sheepishly.
“You’ve been following along for about three hours completely dead to the world,” Inigo said with a chuckle.
“It’s an important part of the job, being able to run tactical scenarios in your head at any time,” Robin said, hastily coming up with an excuse.
“Uh-huh,” Inigo said, obviously not convinced. “Whatever. Your carrier pigeon’s back.”
Robin glanced over to Tiki, who was currently holding and stroking Huginn, who appeared to be enraptured by the manakete’s ministrations.
“Huginn!” Robin called, holding out his arm.
The bird glanced up lazily, before flapping over to the tactician and holding out its leg.
Robin deftly removed the new message, stroking Huginn a couple of times himself and telling the bird to go and find something to eat, sending him soaring towards the forest a little way away from the road. Robin’s eyes scanned the message, growing wide as he read.
“Well?” Priam said, appearing at the tactician’s shoulder. “What is it?”
“Yeah, don’t keep us in suspense!” Tiki chimed in.
Robin grinned, a feral smile he only used when something so good happened that it would completely tip the scales of battle, or indeed an entire campaign, in his own favour.
“The others have come across some of my friends,” he answered, his smile growing.
Morgan blinked a few times, willing her tired eyes to focus as she stared at the maps arrayed before her. The command tent was as busy as it usually was, save for one or two little details; the biggest of which was Morgan standing in her father’s place next to Chrom.
“If we just follow the road we’ll cut down on travel time,” Morgan thought out loud, checking some notes on the scout reports Chrom had received earlier that day. “But according to the Trackers we’d run the risk of alerting the Imperial army that we’re on the move again.”
So far, by luck or divine providence, they’d managed to pass through the Southern Valmese lowlands without incident, the entire army moving quickly during the light and resting without fires at night. They were travelling light and really beginning to push the soldiers’ endurance, but they no longer had any options. They needed to strike before Walhart managed to consolidate all of his forces, and with the fresh soldiers from the Chon’sin army to take the front lines they finally had a fighting chance; but every moment they delayed was a moment that Walhart’s defences grew stronger. There was no other options; they had to strike now, before Walhart closed himself into his capital. The Ylissean League wasn’t equipped for an extended siege. If it came down to that, they would have to admit defeat, return to Valm Harbour and await the reinforcements from Regna Ferox which were still at least two months away before they could launch another assault.
Keiji, her mother’s General and leader of the Chon’sin army, rubbed his chin in thought.
“We could always cut through this thin forest here,” he said, indicating to the spot on the map. “These maps are actually quite old; the forest would be quite simple to traverse these days if one knows the path; fortunately a number of my men are from this area.”
Morgan nodded, unconsciously running a hand through her hair as she made some mental calculations.
“That would expedite our progress immeasurably,” Laurent said, scratching away at the book balanced on one of his arms. “In fact, if my calculations are correct, it could perhaps save us an entire day of travel.”
“If the forest is passable,” Frederick grumbled, forever playing the pessimist.
Chrom looked to Morgan, who nodded.
“Alright,” Chrom said decisively. “Sir Keiji, gather those men you spoke of. Frederick, speak to the Feroxi and have them assemble the freshest trackers they can to go with them and map us a path. Everyone else, prepare to pass through the forest.”
A chorus of affirmatives sounded, heralding the end of the strategy meeting as the commanders all hurried off to prepare for their respective duties, leaving Morgan alone hovering over the maps, running scenarios in her head.
What if we’re attacked in the trees? I’ll have to have the fliers doing recon for the main group... But what if they’re spotted? Maybe I can use the mages to create a cloud-screen for them to hide in… But if the spell is sensed by enemy mages then-
“Morgan?” a soft voice called to her.
She glanced up, tired eyes burning with protest, to see Yarne standing at the entrance to the tent with a strange look on his face.
“Er… you… look like hell,” he said hesitantly. “Maybe you should, I don’t know, uh, take this chance to take a nap or something while the scouts are running recon?”
Morgan shook her head. “I can’t. Not until this plan is airtight.”
Yarne frowned, shaking his head a little and sending his ears flopping about.
“Not good enough,” he said, obviously mustering his courage. “You need to rest. Either you go now, or… or…”
Morgan raised an eyebrow at her friend as he stuttered.
“Or I’ll go get Severa, and she’ll help me make you!” he finished, his initial bravery evaporating.
“Yarne…” Morgan started, her gaze snapping up to glare at the Taguel before she caught herself.
Had she really been about to bark at Yarne just because he was worried about her? Maybe she really did need a rest…
The young tactician took a deep breath and began to chuckle, before forcing herself to relax a little and losing her grip, bursting into laughter as the Taguel blinked a few times in confusion.
“Yeah, okay,” she relented at last. “But you have to wake me the second that anything changes, okay?”
Yarne nodded, standing up straight and offering her his arm.
“Then please allow me to accompany you to your tent,” he said haltingly.
Morgan chuckled again. “Afraid I’ll slip away and go back to work?”
Yarne nodded. “You said it, not me.”
“Then perhaps you’ll have to stay with me until I fall asleep, just to be sure,” Morgan said tiredly, latching onto Yarne’s arm and leaning heavily against him, practically passing out as the Taguel led her to her tent.
Flavia rolled out her neck, pacing around the small tent she’d been detained in and wishing for the hundredth time that they hadn’t taken her sword. Her right hand clenched and unclenched, clutching at air and instinctively looking for the haft of the weapon she’d carried around everywhere for nearly two decades.
Sitting down with a huff she glanced up to the small gap between the tent flaps, eying the red armoured forms outside it, each wielding a heavy spear and standing at attention as they waited for their leader to come to see her. No doubt she’d have no problem taking them, but it was the hundreds of other Valmese soldiers that were beyond them that gave her pause; not to mention they effectively had the rest of her men held hostage.
She had been told once she’d been separated from the warriors that had stood with her and Basilio against Walhart that they would remain unharmed, and even receive medical attention while they were being held; just so long as she behaved herself.
“By the gods I miss my sword,” Flavia moaned, running her hands through her messy hair exasperatedly.
They were supposed to have met up with the rest of the Ylissean League days ago; instead she had been forced to slow her group’s pace so that the wounded weren’t put under too much strain.
And of course she’d wound up getting lost in the unfamiliar Valmese terrain. There was too much green; she wasn’t used to it! Everything in Regna Ferox was covered in snow most of the year, so she could be excused for having trouble with the new surroundings now that she was effectively on her own leading the entire Regna Ferox army.
She was starting to miss Raimi; the woman, cold as the biting wind at her posting on the Longfort, would have had no trouble stepping up to lead the remains of the Feroxi forces alongside her, tattered as they were. It would be a long time before the army recovered properly, even taking into consideration the warriors still at sea on the troop transports crossing from Port Ferox. By her reckoning there would still be at least a month before they arrived, but by then the Ylissean League may already be destroyed.
Flavia looked up lazily as a Valmese soldier entered the tent, bearing a tray of fresh fruits and water.
“The Commander thought you might be hungry, Khan Flavia,” he said in a pleasant tone. “Please, help yourself.”
With a bow the man retreated, leaving Flavia alone with the two guards outside again.
“It’s as if they think no one’s ever tried to poison me before,” she muttered, reaching out and taking hold of an apple from the bowl on the tray.
Giving it a cursory sniff Flavia was surprised to find she couldn’t actually smell any poison. She took a tentative bite, expecting to feel the stab of toxins flooding through her body at any moment, surprise growing as she sat there staring at the apple in her hand.
“This… this is actually pretty good,” she said, digging in with gusto.
Apparently they wanted her alive. For what, she didn’t presently care; she was hungry, and there was food present. That’s all that mattered. The rest could wait.
“It’s getting kind of tense in those meetings,” Chrom said, rolling out his shoulders as he walked with Sumia outside of the hastily-erected camp that the Ylissean League had prepared.
“I should imagine so, dear,” she replied. “We are in a dire situation at present.”
“This? This isn’t dire, this is just a minor hiccup. We’ll be back to where we should be in no time with Morgan leading us,” The Prince said cheerily. “What I meant was there seems to be some animosity between some of the groups in the League.”
Or at least their leaders, Chrom mentally added, recalling the way that Liung and Say’ri had argued over troop positions, not to mention the way that the newly crowned Queen of Chon’sin had glared occasionally at some of the Ylisseans.
“We are a group of many united from different backgrounds and cultures,” Sumia mused. “It wouldn’t be surprising.”
Before Chrom could respond his arms automatically moved to catch his wife as she stumbled and tripped, saving her from falling face-first on the small path they were travelling on.
“Been a while since that’s happened,” Chrom remarked as he helped her stand straight again. “Didn’t we get you new boots not that long ago?”
“Oh hush you,” Sumia said, blushing as she swatted her husband’s hands away. “Oh Naga I hope none of the troops saw that. What would they say if they saw their Queen trip and fall on her face?”
Chrom stopped walking, looking down at the ground.
“Queen, huh?” he muttered to himself, recalling the thoughts that had been circling around his head ever since his conversation with Morgan in the command tent a few days ago.
“Chrom?” Sumia asked, looking back worriedly.
“Hm? Oh, sorry dear. Just daydreaming.”
He jogged the few steps to catch up to her, grabbing one of her hands in his.
“How long has it been since we just walked like this?” he asked, his grip tightening slightly.
Sumia let out a soft sigh. “Well, we are technically at war. The ambiance of walking through the countryside is ruined by clanking armour and the thought of thousands of soldiers standing behind us.”
Despite himself Chrom couldn’t help glancing over his shoulder to make sure no one was watching them, which made Sumia laugh.
“Relax, honey,” Sumia said, wrapping herself around his arm. “I’m sure the men have better things to do than ogle Prince Chrom while he spends some alone-time with his wife.”
Chrom felt a confusing internal twinge again at her words, just like when he’d been talking to Morgan…
“Father?” a voice called from behind them, interrupting his thoughts.
Chrom turned, Sumia still hanging on his arm, to look at Lucina standing behind them in her new armour. She was still wearing the spare set of clothes she had been forced to borrow from Severa, a white blouse and tan pants, but over top of them was a suit of silver armour very similar to his own, and her tattered red-lined blue cape resting over her shoulders, with her future Falchion strapped to her hip.
“The scouts are returning,” she said in a carefully neutral voice, her face showing no expression. “Sir Frederick requested I come and find you. I will see you at the command tent.”
Without another word she was gone again, leaving Chrom and Sumia blinking at her retreating form.
“I suppose we’d best head back,” Chrom sighed, beginning to walk back towards the camp.
Sumia continued to hold onto Chrom’s arm, silently matching his pace as they headed back.
“It’s like she’s closed back in on herself,” she said after a few minutes.
Chrom nodded, knowing exactly what his wife meant. In the last few days Lucina had closed herself off, returning to the aloof and distant woman she’d been when she had first started travelling with the Shepherds. In many ways she was almost as far reverted as the Marth persona she had set up when she’d first arrived in their time; nothing anyone was saying or doing was getting through to her. All she was doing was training and preparing for war. She wasn’t relaxing and she wasn’t grieving; Chrom was worried she would burn out, but he had no idea how to approach the subject with her. Sumia had tried, but had apparently been shrugged off almost as callously as if she were a well-meaning stranger.
“How did you get through to her last time?” Sumia asked, obviously thinking along the same lines.
Chrom let out a much deeper sigh than he had in the last few days.
“It was actually Robin,” he admitted quietly. “He’s the one that pulled her out of her rut.”
“Oh,” was all Sumia said.
They didn’t speak for the remainder of the walk back to the camp, but neither did they separate until just before Chrom stepped into the command tent.
Morgan stood with her mother, Yarne having woken her a quarter of an hour ago when the scouts had returned, watching as the Chon’sin soldiers marched towards the woods. The men and women in lacquered armour were going to traverse the forest first, leaving a clear trail for the rest of the army to follow; all told nearly a hundred thousand troops had been mustered from the remnants of Yen’fay’s southern army, all placed squarely under the control of Say’ri. It had been a blessing none of them had been expecting, but Morgan had made plans making use of the fact that the new soldiers’ were fresh and hadn’t been doing anything more than marching for the last month, placing them at the forefront of the battle lines where they could do the most good. Quite frankly Morgan was at a loss as to where the soldiers actually came from, but she wasn’t about to look a hundred-thousand gift horses in the mouth; it was a significant amount of Walhart’s army that had defected, and now that their ranks had been replenished they could once again stand against him. Unfortunately they weren’t as heavily armoured as the soldiers from Ylisse or Chengshi, but they were highly skilled and determined to prove their worth to their new Queen.
Wait. Does that make me a princess? Morgan wondered, her quill stopping its perpetual motion as the thought popped into her head.
That’s every little girl’s dream. Too bad I’m too busy to be excited about it right now, she lamented, her quill picking momentum back up.
Well, okay; I’ll get a little excited, Morgan thought, grinning as she worked.
“There is a pleasing sight I have not seen for some time,” Say’ri commented from Morgan’s side.
The young tactician looked up curiously, blinking at her mother and wondering what she’d missed now in her current sleep-deprived state.
“You were smiling,” Say’ri said gently, looking down at her shorter daughter.
Morgan felt a blush creeping up to her ears. “No I wasn’t.”
“Fie, child,” Say’ri said, flipping her hair back. “You cannot hide these things from your mother. What was it that made you smile so?”
Morgan’s blush intensified as she shuffled away a few steps.
“Nothing. I was thinking… about work.”
“I do not think so,” Say’ri said, following her. “Come now; allow your dear old mother the pleasure of knowing what makes you happy.”
“You’re not that much older than me in this timeline,” Morgan muttered defensively, turning away from Say’ri.
Morgan glanced up, seeing an escape from this embarrassing line of questioning when the advance group of the Shepherds that would be accompanying the Chon’sin soldiers, made entirely from the future children, walked into her view.
“I should really go with the others,” Morgan said quickly, stuffing her papers and quill into her pouch. “I’ll see you at dinner tonight, okay mom? Stay safe.”
With that Morgan bolted towards the others, shouting “Lucina! Guys! Wait up!”
She caught the small group quickly, panting a little from pushing her exhausted body just by jogging, and fell into step with Severa and Yarne, just behind Lucina and Noire.
“Great timing,” Morgan muttered.
“So you do still like us,” Severa huffed, crossing her arms at Morgan. “I was starting to think you’d found better ways to spend your time.”
“Hey, I’m the tactician now,” Morgan said defensively. “If I’m not busy, you’ll wind up dead!”
“Morbid much?” Yarne snickered, bumping his shoulder against Morgan’s. “It’s good to see you back among the rank and file, though.”
Morgan hesitated, realizing that Lucina had stopped a few steps ahead of her.
“Er… Lucina?” Noire asked hesitantly. “Is everything…”
“It’s nothing,” the Princess said quickly, beginning to walk again at a quicker pace.
Morgan looked over in the direction that Lucina had been, her gaze squarely falling on where her mother was glaring daggers at Lucina’s retreating form.
What’s that all about? Morgan wondered silently, taking a few hesitant steps while watching her mother before she was forced to face ahead.
Morgan crouched low behind the fallen tree next to one of the advance scouts from the Chon’sin group, a man in dark blue armour whose name she hadn’t learned yet, as they watched the squad of red-armoured Imperial Valmese advancing from the cover of the forest.
It had taken half of the day, but they had finally emerged from the forest to the sprawling farmlands and pastoral fields that surrounded Walhart’s seat of power in the Valmese Capital. They had been thorough in their travelling to mark a safe path through the forest; one that was wide enough for the wagons to pass through, but narrow enough that the overhanging trees would cover the majority of it. Apparently the Imperial Valmese had yet to extend their patrols to the forest, settling instead for patrolling its borders; no doubt because their forces were stretched so thin.
“We can take ‘em,” Severa insisted, sword already in hand.
“It would be unnecessary,” Morgan replied in a hushed tone. “Stay down and wait for them to-”
“For Ylisse!” Lucina thundered, rising above the log they were behind with Falchion held high. “Attack!”
Severa shrugged at Morgan as she followed Lucina, a transformed Yarne darting out as Noire popped up, already nocking one of her distinctively fletched arrows.
“Dammit,” Morgan cursed as the Chon’sin soldiers around her looked to her for confirmation on Lucina’s order.
“Go!” she shouted, moving to stand next to Noire and already beginning to cast a lightning spell. “Assist the Shepherds! Rout the enemy!”
The Chon’sin soldiers roared as one, a hundred men exploding from the trees and quickly closing the gap between the forest and the Valmese patrol. The unsuspecting patrol never stood a chance, and was wiped out in a manner of minutes with thankfully few League casualties.
Morgan and Noire stepped out of the forest, heading down to where Lucina and the others were waiting a little way away from the battlefield while the soldiers picked through the patrol’s bodies. Morgan stopped, looking to where the Chon’sin men were lining up their own dead, Noire hovering at her shoulder.
“How many?” she asked the nearest man.
“Only seven, ma’am,” he replied with a smart salute.
Morgan nodded, catching sight of familiar dark blue armour among the dead. She hadn’t even learned his name…
“Prepare to take them with us,” she said. “We can’t leave any evidence we were here; not yet. Noire, go get the arrows you shot. Don’t leave any traces. I don’t want the Valmese to know this was us.”
“But… who else would it be?” Noire asked hesitantly.
“The countryside is littered with bandit groups and dissidents that would like nothing more than to kill anything wearing red armour, ma’am,” the Chon’sin soldier supplied helpfully. “We’ve been careful about our movements so far; it’s fairly likely that this attack will be attributed to them instead.”
“I don’t want to take any chances, though,” Morgan said, beginning to walk towards where Lucina and Severa were talking while Yarne sat patiently beside them, still not having reverted to his human form.
“Is anyone wounded?” Morgan asked as she approached, looking back and forth between Severa and Yarne.
The Taguel shook his large head, his whiskers twitching.
“Good,” Morgan said. “Can you two go and help Noire collect her arrows? I don’t want to leave any clues as to who did this.”
“Sure, we’ll do all the grunt-work while you two stand around,” Severa said lightly, grinning a little as she and Yarne headed back to the battlefield.
Morgan turned to look at Lucina.
“It was a flawless victory,” Lucina said as soon as Severa and Yarne were out of earshot. “Low casualties, high efficiency; the Chon’sin soldiers are highly skilled.”
“This was unnecessary,” Morgan said, looking over the piled dead. “We didn’t need to engage, Luce.”
“The Valmese are our enemies, Morgan,” Lucina said coldly. “If our roles had been reversed they wouldn’t have hesitated. It was my decision to make and I made it.”
“Without consulting the tactician travelling with you?” Morgan asked, spinning on her heel. “You and the others went charging into the fight without a backwards glance. What if something went wrong? You’re supposed to consult with the tactician, dammit! What’s the point of even having me here if no one’s going to listen to me!?”
Lucina looked up at Morgan, eyes wide with surprise.
“Er, sorry,” Morgan said quickly. “I didn’t mean to snap. I’m just…”
“It’s okay,” Lucina said, the mask falling back into place. “I should have consulted with you. Let’s just… finish up here and head back.”
Morgan nodded, watching as her friend walked away.
“What’s wrong with you lately, Luce?” Morgan muttered more to herself than anyone else.
Flavia glanced up when the sound of approaching footsteps reached her ears, straining her senses to try and get an accurate number of incoming persons. She had been alone in the tent most of the day, but she no longer felt like she was being held prisoner. The soldiers that had attended to her were nothing but polite and courteous, perhaps even more so than her own men were. They had brought her food and drink when she had requested it, given her privacy when she’d needed to relieve herself, and even recently returned her sword to her.
At least three pairs of feet were approaching now; perhaps more but Flavia couldn’t be certain. There was definitely one woman among them though, and someone who’s gait sounded oddly familiar.
A man, obviously the leader judging from the way the guards were bowing to him, drew back the tent flaps to allow entry to…
“Lady Tiki? Robin? What are you doing – wait, what the hell happened to your hair?”
Robin chuckled, running a hand through his white hair as he stepped into the tent.
“Hello Khan Flavia. Fancy meeting you here.”