Invisible Ties

Chapter 4

The creatures from the forest were everywhere… axes and blades bloody as they butchered their way through the Ylissean army, nothing stopping them. Snarling mouths emerged from under half-masks, ropes of drool hanging from their misaligned jaws as they worked their way through the helpless soldiers, rendered almost catatonic with fear. There was no more choice; they had to retreat.

Robin turned to sound the retreat when he saw, assaulting them from the rear, a horde of giant, angry looking wolves tearing into the back ranks, the archers and mages powerless against such creatures. Each wolf was easily the size of a horse, jaws removing heads and limbs each time they closed as bodies flew through the air in showers of gore, the screaming becoming more than the tactician could bear.

He looked around desperately, trying to find Chrom or Lissa or anyone in the press of bodies, only to realise he was alone. Robin had been separated from the other Shepherds by the carnage wrought by the creatures, and now he was alone.

Much to Robin’s confusion the wolves began bounding straight past him, ignoring the Ylisseans now and moving towards the creatures, where they stooped low, allowing the dark creatures to mount them like horses. The big creature that had stomped on his chest in the forest, now sitting atop a wolf the size of a wyvern glared at him, red eyes full of hate, causing the air to freeze in his lungs.

With slow, deliberate movements the creature began to undo the straps at the back of his mask, the wolf snarling and bounding forward. With little more than a twitch the massive wolf had Robin pinned, the creature atop it grinning down at him, its misshapen lips the only thing visible of its face beneath the mask hanging off its head. Those lips separated in a macabre smile, dead gums holding sharpened fangs into the jaw as the mouth descended for Robin’s throat.

Robin couldn’t breathe…

He couldn’t BREATHE!

“Gwah!” Robin exclaimed, launching himself out of bed, reaching for his sword. “Wolves! Monsters! Monsters riding wolves!”

Wait… Robin thought, realising he was still in the Shepherds’ barracks.

“Lissa!? What the…?”

With a groan he relaxed, realising Lissa was doubled over in laughter beside his bed. The girl was laughing so hard she had collapsed into the small chair beside his cot, holding her side as tears of mirth gathered at the corners of her eyes. Her laugher died down a little, giving her time to sigh and open her eyes. The moment her gaze fell on the scowling Robin her laughter began anew.

“Are you done yet?” Robin deadpanned, quirking one brow.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” she gasped between laughs. “But you looked so peaceful in your sleep, and your nose… I couldn’t help myself!”

Robin considered unsheathing the rapier anyway but doubted that Chrom would look kindly on his Tactician murdering the princess of the realm, so instead he set the sword down and set about preparing for the day. Which consisted of putting on his coat and making sure his spellbook was in its pouch.

Lissa was still doubled over and laughing hysterically as she left the room, Vaike and Kellam sticking their heads in to see what was so funny, being greeted by a glowering Robin as the tactician stuffed his few meagre belongings into his pouch.

“Ah, she got you too, huh?” Vaike said, nodding sagely.

“At least there were no frogs this time,” Kellam sighed, shivering slightly in his armour.

“Frogs?” Robin asked curiously before changing his mind. “Forget it, I really doubt I want to know.”

“Good call,” Vaike muttered, shivering himself.

“Come on, breakfast is ready,” Kellam said, prompting Robin into a flurry of movement at the prospect of food and leaving the two men standing alone in the room.

Robin yawned, hitching his new pack further up on his back. It was still early in the morning, and the sun had just crested the horizon and begun to heat the world, much to his chagrin. Nightmares and rude awakenings aside, he felt rather refreshed having slept in a regular bed for the first time in his memory.

The Shepherds had been kind enough to provide him with the things he’d need for the journey in a pack identical to the ones everyone else was carrying, too; dried foods and a waterskin, a bed roll, a small kit to fix his clothes if they got ripped or torn, and a plethora of other little things that would make his life easier on the road. Robin honestly just assumed it was so no one else would have to share, though.

Maybe I should look at getting some lighter clothes or something he thought, looking down at the heavy dark coat he was wearing. Nobody else seemed to be complaining about the heat though, so Robin decided to quietly acquire some new clothes when they reached the next town.

The Shepherds were following the North Road leading out of Ylisstol, the same one that Chrom, Lissa and Frederick had led him along from Southtown the previous day. The scenery was idyllic, almost like an oil painting of some archaic garden. The fields were thick and lush, small animals flitted to and fro in the grass, and the whole squad seemed to be in high spirits, the goofy smile not having left Chrom’s face since they had left the city; there was a man that clearly loved his homeland.

Sully and Fredrick were scouting ahead, and Robin walked with Lissa, Sumia and Chrom. Virion and Vaike were following them, bickering light-heartedly over tastes in wine; a lost cause when one was arguing with a person of the opinion ‘if it’s alcoholic, I’ll drink it’, but Robin didn’t want to spoil their fun. Kellam seemed to be forgotten, but followed the group all the same.

Vaike was carrying a decent sized axe over one shoulder, and Sumia had opted to bring a thin lance that she could wield easier than the heavier ones favoured by Sully and Fredrick. Kellam, when Robin remembered he was there, was also carrying a lance, but a much heavier one than Sumia or even Fredrick and Sully were carrying, along with an old and battered kite-shield as thick as Robin’s arm.

They were maybe an hour from the city when Robin heard shouting from behind them.

“Wait! Wait for me!”

The group stopped and turned. The knight in green armour from the palace was running towards them, leading his horse by the reins.

“Wait!” He huffed, finally reaching the others. “Why… Why am I last… To learn about… this mission? I ran… all the way here!”

“Vaike was supposed to tell you last night,” Lissa told the knight, offering him a waterskin.

Chrom turned to Vaike, frowning. “Did you forget to tell Stahl when we were moving out?”

Vaike crossed his arms. “The Vaike never forgets. I just don’t always remember ‘sall.”

Chrom rolled his eyes as Lissa giggled quietly.

“Well, you’re here now,” he said to Stahl. “Mount up and go on ahead to find Fredrick and Sully. They’d probably appreciate the extra set of eyes.”

Nodding once the young knight mounted his horse and kicked it into a fast trot as the rest of the unmounted group began moving again.

“Chrom?” Robin asked when he was sure Stahl couldn’t hear them.

“Yes, Robin?”

“Why didn’t he just ride his horse here?”

Chrom, Lissa and Sumia all laughed.

“He’s a little airheaded,” Chrom admitted. “But good with a sword; and quite the chef, too.”

“Well it’s nice to know I won’t starve,” Robin said drolly, to more laughter from the others.

The morning was growing late by the time Fredrick came galloping back down along the road in a great plume of dust, Robin noting, miraculously or through some strange witchcraft, that none of the dust was clinging to the knight’s armour.

“Milord! Risen block the path ahead!” Frederick called out as soon as he was within earshot.

The others cursed, readying weapons and leaving Robin dumbstruck as to what was going on. He could guess from the simple fact that weapons were being drawn, but just to be on the safe side…

“Risen?” he asked, looking curiously to Chrom.

“That’s what we decided to call the creatures we fought in the forest during the council,” Chrom explained quickly. “Probably the only thing everyone agreed on during the whole damned council, too. So, Tactician? What’s our plan of attack?”

Robin thought for a moment, trying valiantly not to grin at his new title and failing miserably at it.

“What are their numbers and troop disposition? What kind of soldiers are we looking at?” he asked, looking up at the mounted Fredrick who had come to a stop next to Chrom.

“They are similar to the creatures we fought yesterday,” Fredrick reported. “Maybe two dozen, congregated mostly on the road. Light infantry, no heavy armour or archers I could see.”

Robin absorbed this with a nod, his brows furrowing as he came up with a plan almost immediately.

“Our group will come up along the road,” he explained. “You, Sully and Stahl wait for us to engage off to the side of the road, and then hit them in a flanking manoeuvre. Don’t let them tie you down, though; stay mobile and keep up the pressure. If they’re anything like what we fought yesterday they won’t even see it coming.”

Fredrick glanced at Chrom, who nodded his consent to Robin’s plan, before kicking turning his horse about and galloping back to the other knights.

“Right,” Robin said, dropping his pack. “Chrom? You and Vaike are the first line. Virion and I will be the second; your job is to keep them off us. Sumia? You and Lissa are rearguard; you make sure if anything gets past us that they don’t get to Lissa.”

A chorus of acknowledgments went around as everyone readied their weapons. Robin couldn’t help but think he was forgetting something, but before he could pinpoint the feeling Vaike spoke up, distracting him.

“Wait,” the axeman said, dread in his voice. “Where’s my axe?”

“Vaike, now is not the time for jokes!” Chrom growled, rounding on the shirtless man.

“I’m not joking! I had it here a second ago…”

“Is he serious?” Robin asked Sumia, watching Vaike fumble around his person comically, looking for the weapon. “He’s… actually serious!”

“How many times does this make it?” Sumia asked, her voice half groan, half sigh.

“I wondered what manner of ignoramus would mislay their weapon,” a new voice said from behind the group. “Now I know.”

Robin watched as a new woman wearing glasses and the robes and wide-brimmed pointy hat of a Ylissean mage stepped forward and shoved the axe into Vaike’s arms, frowning severely at him, a look Robin wasn’t afraid to admit would have given him chills if it were directed at him. He noticed she was also breathing slightly heavily, too, meaning she had hurried to catch them. And, like most mages, probably wasn’t in the best of shape.

“Next time I shall use a permanent affixation spell to bind it your hands,” she added, her frown actually deepening.

“Miriel!” Lissa squeaked excitedly, cutting through the grim atmosphere. “I was wondering when you would catch up.”

“Good timing, though,” Chrom said, shooting a stern look at Vaike. “We were just about to engage the enemy.”

“Excellent!” Miriel said, clapping her hands together. “I have been looking forward to studying this new ‘Risen’ threat.”

“Study them after we kill them,” Robin told the woman. “Here, you’re a mage, right? Fall in line next to me.”

Miriel nodded as they all settled into the formation Robin had decided on, the mage easily sliding into position between Virion and Robin. Judging from the way she was keeping her distance from the archer she, too, was familiar with his chronic flirtatious behaviour. Virion, not dissuaded in the least, still gave her a charming wink and a confident grin as the knot of people started to move in formation.

“Risen this far along the North Road doesn’t bode well,” Chrom said to Robin over his shoulder as they advanced. “They’ve been sighted in the farmlands to the East, as well; but there was supposed to be a group of soldiers patrolling this area.”

“Well, they probably just missed them,” Robin reasoned. “If it was a small group then it wouldn’t surprise me. We can at least make sure that this group doesn’t harm anyone.”

Chrom nodded his agreement, satisfied with Robin’s response.

It didn’t take long for them to come across the Risen, passing where the knights were sitting in wait, just behind some thick bushes; there was indeed about two dozen spread out across the wide road just as Frederick had reported, all almost identical to the ones they had fought the other day. Leather armour covered the creatures’ sallow flesh, and carved leather masks shaped like faces frozen in rage obscured their heads and faces, leaving only glowing red slits for them to see out of. They were milling about uncertainly, though; Robin realised there wasn’t one the size of the Risen that had stepped on him. Perhaps they needed to be close to one of the big ones to operate at full efficiency like some sort of strange hive-mind? Robin filed this information away for later use and experimentation, compartmentalizing and focusing on the task at hand.

“Let’s not waste time, shall we?” Virion asked, readying an arrow and raising his bow.

“Indeed,” Miriel said, pulling a spellbook that looked much nicer than Robin’s tattered old tome from her robes.

“Agreed,” Chrom said with grim conviction in his voice. “Shepherds! Attack!”

Chrom and Vaike surged forward, Vaike whooping in excitement. The risen spotted them immediately, and seemed to instinctively rise to meet this new threat.

Virion began firing arrows, and Robin sent a combination of fire-anima spells he had been looking at the previous night flying into their midst, being rewarded with a string of fireballs blossoming amongst the thickest concentration of Risen, leather-clad bodies flying left and right through the air at his display of power, many simply dissipating to smoke mid-flight.

“Wow,” Robin heard Sumia gasp from the rear at his show of magical superiority.

“Very good form,” Miriel commented dryly, before casting a spell of her own.

With a few muttered words, a flick of her wrist and a spinning motion from her hand a miniature tornado sprung up amongst the risen, throwing more than half of them from their feet and launching a few high into the air, landing with sickening crunches before they dissipated into the now familiar black fog.

Chrom and Vaike whooped battle-cries as they surged in amongst the creatures, making it impossible to cast larger spells without hitting them. Miriel switched to a sort of ‘wind-blade’ spell, green light coalescing and splitting apart risen wherever it hit in concentrated blasts of air, Robin falling back on the lightning spell that had served him well so far. He simply flexed his fingers, muttering the word ‘thunder’ and blue-white bolts of lightning jumped from his hand to leave scorched craters on the Risen he pointed at.

The three knights came from the western side of the road at this point, Fredrick leading as Sully stabbed and swiped her lance, Stahl gracefully spinning his long-bladed sword, Risen falling around him. With the aid of the knights the Shepherds soon overpowered the Risen, leaving the road empty save the weapons the otherworldly creatures dropped and the piles of ashes dissipating on the wind.

“Well, at least that was easier than last time,” Robin said, approaching Chrom.

The prince was, fortunately, unharmed, as was almost everyone else, but Vaike was sitting impatiently on a rock next to the road, waiting while Lissa admistered to a scratch he’d taken across the chest.

Who goes into battle half-naked, anyway? Robin thought, watching as Vaike began flexing his arm muscles when the other man realized he had an audience. Never mind; I don’t need an answer to that.

Sumia and Miriel were crowding around the corpse of a risen lying face down on the road that hadn’t dissipated yet, Miriel crouching next to it while Sumia leaned on her lance, watching on.

“It was,” Chrom agreed, looking around as he rested Falchion against his shoulder. “Maybe they’re not as tough as we thought?”

“Or maybe we’re just awake this time?” Robin snickered.

“Yes, there is that option, too,” Chrom admitted, chuckling. “I just hope the other scouting parties have as little trouble with them. I admit I am worried that we haven’t come across the patrol yet.”

“I’m sure they’re fine,” Robin said, waving his hand nonchalantly. “We should probably get moving again before-”

Before Robin could finish he was cut off by a shriek from Miriel; the fallen Risen she had been studying had grabbed hold of her ankle, a large, wicked looking knife in its other hand as it pulled itself towards her.

“Unhand me!” she screamed, kicking at its head with her free foot.

Chrom and Robin both moved at the same time, drawing their swords and running over. Miriel shrieked again as she lost her balance and fell backwards, the Risen growling triumphantly as it dragged itself closer to the mage. Before Chrom and Robin could close the distance Sumia snarled and lifted her lance, stabbing downward between the Risen’s shoulders. The creature let out a final groan before dropping the knife and going limp before dissipating like the rest had, much to Miriel’s evident relief.

“Am I the only one that thinks it’s creepy when they do that?” Robin asked as Chrom knelt next to where Miriel was sitting, looking at the spot where the risen had been.

“Are you alright?” Chrom asked Miriel, ignoring Robin’s question.

The others came cunning up, weapons drawn.

Miriel sighed, standing. “I was hoping to study it a while longer, but I suppose it cannot be helped.”

“She’s fine,” Vaike said, rolling his eyes.

Chrom stood, turning to Sumia.

“Not ready for the front lines, huh?”

Sumia blushed, mumbling something unintelligible.

Robin groaned, turning to Vaike. “How far back along the road did we drop our packs?”

“Not very,” Vaike said, pointing. “Look, they’re right there.”

Robin spun, eying the packs suspiciously. There they were, not five meters away, on the side of the road in a neat pile, even though Robin specifically remembered dropping them half a mile up the road.

“I thought that since I wasn’t necessary to the battle plan that I’d carry everyone’s packs,” Kellam said from behind Robin, making the smaller man jump a foot in the air.

“Waugh! Kellam! Don’t do that!” he shouted, whirling. “And, uh… Sorry, I guess I forgot you were with us. Next time, just speak up, and I’ll make sure you’re included.”

Kellam sighed. “It’s okay, this happens all the time. Thanks, though; I’ll shout and wave my arms to get your attention if I have to.”

Robin nodded, satisfied. He would have to put some serious time aside to figure out how Kellam went so easily unnoticed.

It only took another half hour for them to come across the scouting group that was supposed to be patrolling the North Road, and in an instant, the good mood that had been present among the Shepherds that morning vanished. Robin had suspected something was amiss when he had spotted the knights had been sitting at rest atop their horses, waiting for the others to catch up to them, rather than staying at their proscribed distance ahead.

“It was a massacre,” Fredrick said forlornly as Robin and Chrom finally reached him.

Ten soldiers and their mounts lay dead where they had been felled, horrendous wounds inflicted on them. Pegasi had been shot from the sky by archers and set upon by the over-eager Risen. Evidence of fallen Risen pervaded as well, and Robin suddenly understood why the group they had fought had been so weak; their leader had fallen fighting the patrol and the remainder had indeed been leaderless, giving weight to his earlier theory.

Stahl looked sick, Robin noticed, his face almost the same colour as his armour. Sully looked like she would explode into violence any second, her knuckles white from clenching her lance as her facial muscles twitched. Lissa gasped as the others gathered, and Vaike cursed. Chrom sighed as well, his fist tightening in helpless frustration around Falchion’s hilt.

“Gather the bodies off the road and prepare a pyre,” he ordered. “We don’t have time to dig graves for them, but I’ll be damned if I leave the bodies here for the carrion. A pyre is the best we can do.”

The others, Robin included, wordlessly set about the grim task. The tactician watched from the corner of his eye as Chrom picked his way through the field, checking hopelessly for survivors with a silent and haunted-looking Lissa. Robin shook his head. What kind of creatures could do this to another? The Risen were less than animals; they really were monsters.

Chrom cried out in surprise, and Robin’s hand dropped instantly to the hilt of his rapier before relaxing again.

Chrom had actually found a survivor, but not a human one. One of the wounded pegasai was rearing up, panicked, foam collecting at the corners of its mouth and eyes wild. The Prince was holding its reins, trying to calm the beast, shouting “whoa, girl! whoa!” to little avail.

“Damn it, Chrom!” Robin called out, approaching. “Be careful! If that thing kicks you…”

Sumia beat him to the wounded pegasus, though, and deftly took the reins from Chrom, who stepped back a few paces.

“Sumia, be careful! The beast is crazed!” Chrom warned her.

“It’s okay,” she said back calmly, eyes never leaving those of the pegasus. “I can handle this.”

The pegasus resisted at first, trying to yank the reins away, but it calmed after a moment, and Sumia rested her hand against its neck. “Shh… Easy girl. It’s okay now.”

“Okay, I’m impressed,” Robin said, crossing his arms. “How did she do that?”

“I guess I just have a way with animals,” Sumia said, smiling over her shoulder.

“That’s really incredible,” Chrom commented, slowly coming closer and patting the pegasus’ muzzle.

They continued gathering up the bodies of the fallen soldiers as Lissa and Sumia cared for the pegasus, and before long had a decent sized pyre prepared.

“I wish we could care for them properly,” Chrom muttered to Robin soberly, kneeling next to the body of the commander. “This man… I knew him. He was one of Cullen’s Lieutenants; his name was Orson. He has… had a wife and child.”

Robin shook his head sadly. How did one deal with something like this? He had no memories to fall back on, no idea of how to behave in a situation like this one. Grief was a foreign concept to him. Of course, it was one he understood academically, and he was even sure that at one point in his life he would have felt the emotion; but how was he supposed to react to this? Robin steeled himself, opting to be the cold voice of reason for Chrom.

“You said yourself,” Robin muttered back, resting a hand on the Prince’s shoulder, “This is the best we can do. We’ve already stayed longer than I would have liked.”

Chrom sighed and nodded, standing and with a quick spell Robin lit the pyre. The dried branches and wood the others had collected from the nearby forest caught instantly, and Miriel cast a quick second spell, ensuring that the wood would burn twice as long as normal.

A few heads bowed in silent prayer, Fredrick’s among them, before Chrom called for them to move out again.

“Will the pegasus be able to travel with us?” Chrom asked Sumia.

Lissa was sitting on the ground close by, eating some of the dried fruit they had packed; apparently healing magics were just as taxing as combat magic, Robin mused, close on Chrom’s heels. He wasn’t letting the other man out of his sight for the near future, if for no other reason than to make sure he was okay. Robin was also interested in the emotional response the Captain had felt, though.

“Not quite yet,” Sumia said, stroking the creature’s broad neck. “But given a little more time she’ll be good as new, and she can carry the two of us to catch up.”

“We can make time to wait for you,” Chrom said, pointedly ignoring the look Robin gave him that said otherwise.

“It’s okay, Captain,” Sumia said smiling bashfully. “Every moment we linger puts Ylisse in further danger; go on ahead, we can catch up.”

Chrom nodded. “Alright. But promise me you’ll be careful; there’s no telling how many more risen are lurking in the countryside.”

Sumia smiled like Chrom had given her early Christmas presents. “As you command, sir.”

Robin rolled his eyes behind Chrom’s back, Lissa giggling as he did.

Hopeless he thought without malice. Two days and all I’ve seen from these two is them dancing around the mutual attraction. Well, I guess this is another thing I have no memories of my own of… Maybe I should be paying attention?

And was it Robin’s imagination, or did the pegasus roll its eyes, too?

Despite Chrom’s prediction of more risen being in the area the Shepherds were unmolested by the time they reached the base of the mountains separating Regna Ferox and Ylisse. The road had narrowed and sloped upwards for the last few hours, the air growing cooler as they travelled. Halfway up the winding mountain path when everyone’s breath was misting in front of them and dark clouds above threatened snow, Robin was suddenly glad he’d kept the coat.

Cloaks were taken out of packs and wrapped around shoulders, Vaike gallantly persisting without until the snow started to fall and Chrom practically forced the other man to don his cloak. “If the Teach were to freeze to death, who would instruct the new recruits?” Chrom asked, refusing to go another step until Vaike bundled up. The tanned man grumbled about his own manliness being enough to keep the cold at bay, but acquiesced all the same.

Snow kept falling into the afternoon as they made their way up the mountain, before they came across possibly the largest building Robin had ever seen.

“That is… big,” he said at length, marvelling at the sheer size of the fort that greeted them.

Tall stone walls stretched off in both directions, disappearing into the horizon, and a heavy gate of iron was set in the wall barring their path. Harsh looking men with spears stood atop the wall, watching their progress. They wore a mixture of leather and steel armour and were all mismatched, but moved like men that were used to working together. As the Shepherds drew nearer one of the men on the wall retreated from sight, probably going to fetch the master of the keep.

“The Longfort,” Chrom explained in a puff of white breath. “It stretches from coast to coast, the remainder of a time when the Feroxi and Ylisseans weren’t such close allies. The Feroxi still man it out of a sense of pride, though.”

“Will they let us pass?”

“As soon as I tell them who I am we shouldn’t have a problem.”

“Remember, milord,” Fredrick said, “We are representatives of Ylisse. Our actions reflect upon the Exalt and our country as a whole. Be patient and let diplomacy play out.”

Chrom rolled his eyes.

“So everyone on their best behaviour!” Fredrick called out to the rest of the group.

“Perhaps you had just remain silent,” Virion said to Vaike as the Shepherds approached the huge gate.

Vaike’s reaction was an impressive belch he pointedly directed at the archer, who visibly paled. “Vulgar.”

“Milord, I believe the Feroxi guard are mobilizing,” Fredrick warned in a low voice.

Robin had noticed, too; men similar to the ones he had seen on their approach were atop the gate, readying lances, while behind the gate a startlingly large amount of soldiers seemed to be gathering with no discernible air of tactics; they just crowded into the gatehouse, weapons held ready.

The Shepherds stood a few meters back from the gate as Chrom stepped forward.

In his best regal voice he announced “I am Prince Chrom of Ylisse, and I seek audience with the Khan of Regna Ferox! I request safe passage!”

There was a flurry of activity atop the gate, before the soldiers Robin had seen earlier reappeared at the lip, spears held ready and poised to throw, aimed at Chrom.

There was a flurry of action amongst the Shepherds, too, as weapons were readied, Robin among them, drawing Chrom’s rapier and holding it in a one-handed low guard, his other hand resting on his spell book.

The great Iron Gate drew upwards as a woman wearing the first full set of steel armour Robin had seen amongst the Feroxi stepped forward. Unlike the Ylissean women Robin had seen, the Feroxi woman was plain in comparison, with short-shorn straw coloured hair and harsh features obviously born of a lifetime of hard weather and combat. Her armour was as weathered as her face, bare metal plates over thick chainmail, a heavy lance held one-handed balanced over her shoulder.

“I am Raimi,” she said in a thick accent. “I command the gate of the North Road. Turn back now, brigand, and I will not cause you harm.”

Chrom actually reeled as if struck, Robin noted, and he watched as the Prince lost his composure.

“Brigand? I am the Prince of Ylisse! I’ve come seeking Regna Ferox’s aid in a war against…!”

“Pah!” Raimi spat, levelling her lance to point at Chrom. “I see four Prince Chroms a week; you’re not even the most convincing I’ve seen this week! Last chance; withdraw, or I will order my men to attack!”

For the love of whatever god you worship, Chrom, Robin thought desperately, edging closer, fall back to our lines and we can rush the gatehouse if you really want! Just fall back!

“How dare you!?” Fredrick shouted, losing his own composure for the first time since Robin had met the knight. “Prince Chrom is royalty! How dare you speak to milord in such a manner!?”

“Sure, and I’m the Queen of Valm,” Raimi said, turning her back and waving her hand dismissively; which was obviously the signal the lancers atop the gate were waiting for, as four spears were hurled at Chrom with frightening speed.

Chrom looked up, quickly coming to the same conclusion Robin had; there was no way he would be able to dodge all four lances. A strange look of peace came over Chrom’s face as time seemed to slow down, and Robin became aware of everything happening at once. Chrom bowed his head, closing his eyes; Vaike and Fredrick were charging ahead, weapons forgotten in an attempt to shield Chrom from the lances; Miriel looked like she was trying to create a new spell on the spot to make the lances miss their intended target; Stahl looked on horrified, while Sully roared defiance, throwing her own lance at Raimi’s turned back and Virion nocked an arrow, intended for the same target.

Robin’s heart fell as he realised all of this was for naught, and Chrom would die; this knowledge didn’t stop him rushing forward, though. A shadow actually passed over the sun as this realization hit him, followed by another realisation the size of a speeding pegasus.

Robin looked up, and sure enough there was a pegasus swooping down. A woman in bronze coloured armour reached out and with what must have been extremely unpleasant force on her arm, yanked Chrom onto the beast as she passed.

“Sumia!” Robin cheered, holding his sword up in salute.

Time sped back up, and everything happened at once. The lancers atop the gatehouse began hurling lances at the pegasus, which was moving far too fast for them to hit; Fredrick gracefully reined his mount to a stop while Vaike skidded, spinning to watch Sumia’s progress; Raimi spun to see what went wrong, and Sully’s lance grazed her arm at the same time Virion’s arrow buried itself in her shoulder.

“Damn it!” Raimi roared, breaking the arrow haft with her free hand. “Fine! We’ll settle this the Feroxi way! If you can beat me, I will accept your story as truth! Come!”

Robin decided to nip the problem in the bud, and sent a wind spell at the furious woman’s legs, throwing them out from under her as he ran. Before she could rise past her knees, Robin closed the distance and held his rapier pressed against her neck.

The Shepherds and Feroxi guard both simultaneously stopped and stared in shock.

Chrom slipped from his undignified position across Sumia’s lap, something Robin realised he would have to tease the Prince about later, and approached. The Feroxi Guard looked on, confused, muttering amongst themselves.

Chrom drew Falchion, stabbing it into the ground in front of Raimi, who still knelt motionless with Robin’s sword at her throat.

“I’ll say it again,” Chrom growled, his voice low and dangerous. “I am Prince Chrom of Ylisse. The divine blade Falchion is my proof. Now you will allow my party safe passage to the Khan of Regna Ferox, or I’ll kill you myself and find someone else who will.”

To Robin’s astonishment the woman actually started to laugh.

“Yes, spoken just like a Feroxi!” she said when her laughter subsided. “Your man here is wicked fast; that alone is proof of your claims! Only royalty could employ such skilled fighters!”

Robin withdrew the sword, still holding it at the ready as Raimi rose, rubbing the red line Robin had left on her neck.

“Come,” she said, beckoning for them to follow her. “I’ll take you to the Khans personally as way of apology, milord.”

Chrom nodded, sheathing Falchion as the others grouped around them, weapons still in hand.

A thought hit Robin as they crossed under the gate.

“Where’s Lissa?” he asked Sumia.

The other woman’s stern face dropped to one of embarrassment.

“I should probably go back and get her, shouldn’t I? I had to let her off when we saw that the Feroxi were readying for battle. I’ll be right back!”

Chrom watched Sumia go, a wistful look on his face.

He comes within inches of death and still all he can think about is Sumia, Robin thought with a smile. It’s so cute it’s sickening.

“The squirt’s gonna be pissed we left her behind, isn’t she?” Vaike asked no one in particular.

Chrom sighed. “Yes. Be ready for it; she’ll be loud.”

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