Gerome and Cynthia hurried after Robin as he strode boldly through the Ylissean ranks, shouting orders as he went, the discarded sword he’d found still sitting against his shoulder, the soldiers not being shouted at and rushing to obey his orders gaping at the seemingly returned from the dead tactician as he passed.
“You lot, why are you standing around!? Get to the front and form ranks!”
“You and you; go to the infirmary and assist any way you can in getting the men back on their feet. Now!”
“Take the third archer regiment to the south and circle around to the east; I want them in a flanking position when the two armies meet. Tell the lieutenant not to worry about being undefended; I’ll send the Pegasus Knights after them as soon as possible.”
“Somebody please tell me where they hid my bloody coat!?”
He did all this and more as he walked, never breaking stride while the two younger time-travellers struggled to keep pace.
“This is a new side of Robin,” Cynthia whispered to Gerome, who grunted and nodded imperceptibly.
So far they had only seen the free-spirited tactician that drank all night and jumped off the back of flying pegasi, but now that he was actually in his element, commanding men and putting the brilliant tactics he was known for into action, Cynthia wasn’t afraid to admit she was a little awed by the sheer force of presence he exuded as he marched through the camp shouting down men easily twice his size.
Robin barged into the grandest looking tent past a steady stream of runners and adjutants, ignoring the stunned looks from the men on guard duty.
“Why are you just standing around!?” Robin asked the two men at the tent’s entrance, who instantly snapped to attention. “Get your arses to the frontlines! Now!”
“Sir!” the two guards cried in unison before sprinting off.
Cynthia and Gerome didn’t even have a chance to react before Robin ducked into the tent, doggedly following after the man.
“Somebody give me tactical!” Robin called over the clamour inside the tent that died away instantly with his appearance.
Three men, obviously the leaders of the various factions that made up the Ylissean League, looked at Robin with varying mixes of emotion before falling utterly silent.
“I thought the Exalt might have taken a blow to the head when he told us who was taking over,” a one-eyed knight admitted as he passed a small stack of papers to Robin. “But it’s really you, isn’t it?”
“Yup,” Robin muttered, leafing through the papers without looking up.
“You look well for dead,” a local man with a long, thin moustache remarked in a deep voice.
“Thanks,” Robin said, glancing up with a grin. “It’s good to be back Lord Liung; Duke Roark. Er… you I don’t know. Hi there.”
The man in question, well-built with long black hair tied up in a tight top-knot, wearing shiny black armour that clearly wasn’t made from metal, bowed slightly. His eyes never left the three strangers interrupting their war council, and his hand never left the hilt of his sword.
“I am Keiji,” he said in thickly accented common. “I am second to Queen Say’ri of Chon’sin.”
“So she got a promotion…” Robin muttered, moving to lean over the map dominating the large table in the centre of the tent. “Where is she now?”
A vein above Keiji’s eyebrow pulsed, obviously not impressed about the off-hand manner his Queen was spoken of in, but he responded without any hostility in his voice.
“Out on the front lines. She insisted that she fight.”
Robin nodded, still studying the markings of troop positions and movements on the map before sighing. If the current markings were anything to go by the Valmese forces were scattered and reeling; the low-level officers had taken control of their individual regiments and there was little to no unit cohesion; they were simply falling back towards the capital. Robin had been worried about nothing. Without Walhart or one of his Generals at their head, the Valmese Imperial army were dead in the water. Without their reinforcements it looked like the Ylissean League wouldn’t have any problems finishing the war.
“Morgan did so well I didn’t even need to stay out here,” he said with a proud smile. “But what’s say we play clean-up anyway, gentlemen?”
Liung grinned ferally while Roark rolled out his neck and stretched his calves a little. Keiji didn’t look as confident as they did, though.
“We will just charge blindly back into the enemy?” he asked.
“Pretty much,” Robin said with a shrug. “Somebody come and find me once the men are ready to move; I’m going to find my coat.”
“There you are!” Flavia shouted as she jogged across the Shepherd lines, Inigo, Owain and Brady in tow. “Back for less than fifteen minutes and already running the show again? I must have you!”
Robin cringed at her ineloquent wording as he spun on his heel to face the little troupe as the Ylissean League continued their hectic preparations around them.
“How’d your walk go, Khan Flavia?” he asked with a distinct smirk, choosing to ignore her little comment at present.
Flavia returned the tactician’s smirk as she stopped before him, the three young men at her back practically falling over with exhaustion, panting and leaning on each other for support.
“Our little diversionary ‘walk’ went well!” she said happily. “Next to no casualties, thanks to the priest…”
Flavia turned, her smirk turning evil as she witnessed the state of the three boys.
“Ah, young men,” she said to Cynthia with a wink before bursting into laughter. “Eager to begin, quick to finish, eh? Oh well, they’ll build up more stamina as they get more experience!”
The young Pegasus Knight blinked absently as Flavia’s joke, much to Robin’s relief, went right over her head. Fortunately the boys in question also misunderstood, or else were too wiped-out to object to Flavia’s crude sense of humour. Funnily enough, out of the corner of his eye, Robin could have sworn he saw Gerome duck his head and cough, a slight pinkish tint showing up just beneath his mask.
“Anyway,” the tactician said after clearing his throat awkwardly. “I’m planning to lead part of the counter-offensive against the Imperial forces in about fifteen minutes. Up for another round?”
Flavia grinned ferally as she beat a fist on her armoured chest.
“Just try to leave us behind!”
Inigo, Owain and Brady collectively groaned as they realized that she was including them in her declaration.
“Naga just kill me now,” Inigo muttered as he struggled to pick Owain and Brady up off the ground by their scruffs.
“Owain Dark shall not be pawed at!” the blonde swordsman grunted, flailing around weakly. “Release me or face the wrath of my… my invincible sword hand!”
“Cram… the… sword… hand… already…” Brady gasped, falling back to his knees the second Inigo released his robes. “That woman… those Feroxi… they ain’t human!”
Robin turned to Gerome and Cynthia as Flavia practically skipped off back towards her soldiers to ready them for the next charge.
“Maybe you’d better help these three recover a little,” Robin said before beelining directly for the storage wagons at the rear of the army, ignoring any potential protests or even questions.
He still had time, and there was something he needed.
Cooking utensils, blacksmithing tools and other various miscellanea went flying out of Olivia’s cart as Robin dived headfirst into the back of it, acting on the third-hand information that someone might have seen his coat in there somewhere.
“It would be nice if Olivia learned to keep this stupid thing tidy,” Robin muttered, crawling beneath a stack of camp tables that were usually set up in the mess hall at night.
He had already torn Anna’s wagon apart, something he would probably have to apologize to the plucky red-haired merchant about later, and found absolutely nothing. If it wasn’t in Olivia’s wagon then the only other thing he could think of was that it was in someone’s tent or something, and even by narrowing down the list of suspects to people he was close to he still didn’t have time to search them all in the five minutes he had left. With a sigh Robin gave in and succumbed to the realization he’d have to go into battle without his beloved coat once again as he climbed down from the back of Olivia’s now much messier wagon.
“It has to be around here somewhere,” Robin muttered, picking up the long sword he’d ‘acquired’ on the battlefield earlier, now safely encased in a spare sheath, just a little too big for the beautiful weapon, that had been lying around.
“They wouldn’t just… hm?”
Robin looked up slightly as the familiar sound of flapping wings descended on his head, Huginn landing lightly atop his hair before bending down and cawing softly in Robin’s face.
“I was wondering where you went,” Robin said as he reached up to stroke the large black raven known as Huginn’s neck.
The bird cawed again and Robin jumped a little as something hit him square in the back, not hard enough to knock him down or even make him stumble, but hard enough to startle him. He glanced over his shoulder, seeing a flash of familiar black hair and the sparkle of the golden head-dress that kept it in place.
“What’s the point of having a tactician – no, two tacticians – when no one listens to them anyway?” he asked softly as the back of his tunic was bunched between two small fists more suited for a scholar than a soldier.
“So,” Robin asked casually as he turned around, the figure before him taking a tentative step back. “Why aren’t you with the others?”
Tharja looked up at him with one perfect eyebrow quirked slightly upwards, a face far removed from the usual glare or scornful expression she gave out, but still silently asking Robin if he was stupid.
“Okay, okay,” the tactician said, holding his hands up in surrender. “Stupid question. It’s good to see you again, Tharja.”
The dark mage smiled radiantly up at him for a second before her face dropped.
“We all thought you were dead,” she said hesitantly, looking back down and bunching herself up under her robes in a way she only seemed to do in front of him when she was nervous; it was something that, to Robin’s knowledge, no one else had yet to witness and worked to remind him just how incredibly cute his close friend could be. “Then I get this bird descending on me from out of nowhere and… he tells me that… that you’re…”
Robin sighed, pulling the strangely fragile dark mage into a warm embrace. First Lucina and now Tharja; apparently coming back from the dead made everyone act out of character. The mage went rigid at first, the shock of Robin actually instigating physical contact between the two so rare that she was momentarily at a loss before she relaxed and let her cheek rest against his chest.
“You know technically I was dead,” he said into the shorter woman’s hair. “At least, I think I was dead. I’m not entirely sure. It’s… complicated. I was quasi-dead? Ah never mind.”
“But you’ve come back,” Tharja said hopefully without looking up, her grip tightening again.
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean you can start stalking me again,” Robin said jokingly, taking a step back as Huginn cawed from the top of his head, flexing his toes and slightly digging his talons into Robin’s head.
“Yes I know you’re still here,” Robin said irritatedly, reaching up and ruffling the feathers on the bird’s neck with one finger.
“Okay, I’ve wasted enough time here, we should get ba-” was as far as Robin got, intending to suggest they head back to the front lines together before he realized that Tharja was holding something out to him.
He stared down at the small black parcel for a moment before reaching out with trembling hands, everything else fading to background noise as his fingertips touched the worn surface, gingerly at first, as if afraid it would disappear if he exerted too much force, before gently taking the bundle and letting gravity unfold it. Slowly, as if to savour the sensation, and ignoring the impatient bird still digging its talons into his scalp, Robin pulled his coat on again.
Laughter burst forth from the tactician as he felt the familiar weight settle on his shoulders, making him jump up and down with glee, Huginn simply bobbing up and down with his movements. In his excitement Robin rushed over to Tharja and planted a kiss on her cheek before grabbing her by the wrist and dragging her with him.
“Back to the frontlines!” Robin announced, pointing forward with his new sword, cutting an incredibly strange figure wearing a black coat over Imperial Valmese officer’s fatigues and red gauntlets, dragging a heavily blushing dark mage by the hand with a large black bird on his head like a living, feathered hat.
But that unique strangeness was, in a word, Robin. A Robin that had been absent for months from the lives of those he loved.
And now he was officially back.
Excellus was shuddering, trembling with rage and sick to his stomach as he watched all of his carefully laid plans falling apart around him.
“Why?” he growled, knuckles white as the gripped the stone parapets overlooking the soldiers still on the battlefield that the fool Cervantes was slated to lead now that Walhart had withdrawn.
Cervantes! Over the Emperor’s own tactician!? It was beyond insulting!
His gaze travelled over the soldiers and further back to the orderly ranks of the Dynast soldiers and Imperial conscripts sitting and watching the fighting unfolding.
“Why aren’t they attacking!?” he hissed.
They were supposed to be attacking Walhart’s men and the Ylissean League alike. His master plan was stalled and he couldn’t tell why! Perhaps the Ylisseans had somehow gotten to them; made a bigger threat, promised to let them live if they stood idly by and did nothing. But that hinged on the Ylisseans actually winning this battle and defeating Walhart. As much as Excellus hated the Emperor, he had to admit that the man was undefeatable on the battlefield.
Spitting and cursing under his breath Excellus descended from the parapets, jowls rippling and calling out to the Imperial Guard squad captains that were waiting patiently at the bottom of the steps for him.
“You and you! Gather your men and follow me. We’ll intercept Walhart at the palace!”
“Sir!” the two captains shouted, saluting smartly before running to do their master’s bidding.
These two captains would spread the word and the entirety of the Imperial Guard, the Capital’s dedicated army, would be assembled to meet Walhart and his damnable Honour Guard at the palace steps, where the final stage of his cunning coup-de-grace would be enacted. The Imperial Guard answered to him and him alone; they were loyal to Excellus first and foremost and would follow him to hell and back; especially since he had promised to do horrible, horrible things to their loved ones if they disobeyed him. If he stood at their fore and ordered the death of the Emperor they wouldn’t even hesitate. Fear was a powerful tool, one he never hesitated to wield like a weapon.
Excellus would order the Imperial Guard to kill Walhart as a traitor to Valm, coming up with some cockamamie story about the Emperor’s treachery, and once he was dead the tactician would be free to personally assume command of the entire Imperial army. With his superior knowledge and tactical brilliance the Ylissean League would fall before him. Without the vaunted Ylissean tactician their efforts were all be for naught. Excellus’ plans were foolproof! Years of careful planning, more than a decade in the making, were finally coming to fruition!
He licked his lips at the prospect as he ran pudgy fingers over the magical gems socketed into the ring on his left hand, the one that allowed him to teleport.
Soon everything would fall back into place, and the entire world would be his. Not that insane gorilla Walhart’s; not that bleeding-heart Exalt from Ylisse’s; not that whore-Queen from Chon’sin, Say’ri’s; no one else’s! His and his alone!
Giggling stupidly at the prospect of unlimited power now, finally within his grasp Excellus drew the archaic spell tome out of his robes, holding it close as he descended to the palace grounds beneath him with a spring in his step and his head held high.
The Imperial Guard were forming ranks quickly and efficiently in the palace grounds as he stepped onto them. Walhart would march up the steps and straight into them and he’d…
“Excellus!” a booming voice that would send lesser men into quivering piles of gelatine called out. “Where are you, worm!? You have a defence to plan!”
Excellus swallowed his excitement and settled for a small smug smile as he crossed the palace grounds in front of the Imperial Guard. That the grounds themselves, made up of perfectly manicured lawns and gardens, could hold the thousand men in the Guard and also the surviving crowd of Walhart’s Honour Guard spoke volumes of just how big they were.
Excellus noticed as Walhart charged up the steps to the palace grounds that he looked rougher than the tactician had ever seen before; his armour was dirty, and his cape was torn. His face was bruised and bloody, and it looked like his nose had been broken.
Good, the tactician thought with relish. Let the idiot suffer for his stupidity.
Excellus strode out boldly, holding his head high and grinning toothily as he faced down the Emperor that was nearly three times his size and the moustache with an idiot stuck to it that was his last surviving general. Even Cervantes was there! Excellus couldn’t have asked for a better chance.
“I don’t think so, Walhart,” Excellus spat, chortling the whole time. “You see, this is… a change in management.”
“A what?” Cervantes asked, looking back and forth between his Emperor and Excellus in confusion; a look that was almost as sweet as sugar to Excellus.
“I’m taking control of this Empire, here and now,” Excellus purred, savouring every word. “Imperial Guard! Kill these traitors in the name of the Empire!”
Walhart stopped, his face going still as he blinked uncomprehendingly at his tactician’s words. This was it! The tactician closed his eyes and tilted his head back slightly, basking in his final moment of triumph…
A moment that was spoiled when Walhart burst out laughing.
“I think not, tactician,” Walhart laughed right in Excellus’ face. “In fact if you get on your knees right now and beg to let you serve me, I may look on this as an elaborate joke and grant your wish. By sending you to the frontlines with Cervantes to prove your loyalty to me, of course.”
Excellus spluttered, his face instantly going red. How dare he? He, who was cornered and now only living by Excellus’ good graces, talk down to him!? In this situation where Walhart had absolutely no power, and his life hinged on Excellus’ very word, the bastard was still mocking him! Still talking down to him! Excellus had had enough.
“Imperial Guard!” Excellus raged, a cruel smile crossing his features. “Kill the traitors to your Empire!”
He’d tried to give Walhart a chance; he’d tried to be reasonable, but rabid dogs needed to be put down…
Excellus blinked. Nothing was happening.
A cold knot formed in the tactician’s stomach as he looked over his shoulder at rows of men standing perfectly at attention, staring straight ahead and ignoring his orders. None of them would meet his eyes.
“You don’t get it, do you, worm?” Walhart growled, his voice low and dangerous as he advanced on Excellus. “I am the Empire.”
Excellus began to shake. No… not again… these were his Imperial Guard. His! They were supposed to be loyal to him, not to the gorilla! Why… why did this keep happening to him?
A shadow descended over Excellus, and the tactician trembled as he looked up into Walhart’s cold, unseeing eyes. For the first time ever it felt like the Emperor was actually looking at him.
“Did you really think I was so blind,” Walhart continued to growl. “That I wouldn’t see your little schemes, Excellus?”
The smaller man involuntarily stepped back, the way Walhart said his name sending chills down his spine.
“Whom do you serve!?” Walhart roared over Excellus’ head, momentarily ignoring the tactician.
“We serve the heart of our Empire, Lord Walhart,” the thousand Imperial Guard soldiers chanted in unison, dropping to one knee with practiced motions.
Excellus stared at them with wide eyes. He couldn’t believe it. He wouldn’t believe it. First that fool Yen’fay turned all of the Southern Army against him, then the Dynasts and Conscripts ignored his orders, and now the Imperial Guard, his personal soldiers handpicked to be easily manipulated and therefore loyal to him, turned away from him. How… how could this happen?
“You see now?” Walhart chuckled as if reading his mind. “You never truly had any real power. You are weak, Excellus. Beneath me. I saw through your machinations from the very beginning, and I let you continue because they amused me. But you have now overstepped your boundaries. I will grant you the honour of a quick death by my hand for all your ‘service’ to the Empire.”
Excellus’ tome fell to the ground from nerveless fingers as he reeled, holding a despairing hand to his brow in an attempt to rally and come up with something to get him out of this.
“Cervantes. Your sword,” Walhart said, ignoring Excellus utterly.
No… no, he wouldn’t die here. Not like this. He could escape and start again, worm his way into a minor noble’s army and build him up, much the same way he had for Walhart…
“No!” Excellus shrieked, golden energy flaring about him. “You will pay for this, Walhart! All of you! You will all pay with your blood! I swear it!”
“Curse him! Somebody kill him!” Walhart roared as he realized what Excellus was doing.
With a final laugh at the foolishness of the Imperial soldiers and the folly of their vaunted ‘honour’, the tactician disappeared from the palace grounds in a flash of magical energy.
He would simply start again. Nothing would stand in his way.
Walhart stood still as a statue, still holding Cervantes’ sword in one fist and glaring in the direction that Excellus had just escaped from. The men around him stood silently, awaiting orders in fear that Excellus’ delusions had condemned them to death along with him, but the Emperor made no move towards them.
“Milord?” Cervantes asked at last. “Should we not prepare a search party and-”
“No,” Walhart snorted. “He is not worth our time. When he shows his face again, we will kill him. Until then prepare our remaining forces for the counterattack against the League.”
The Emperor tossed his General’s sword back to him before stomping off towards the palace. Cervantes caught the sword, chuckling under his breath as his hands closed around the hilt. In his anger Walhart had squeezed the handle of the weapon too hard and bent it slightly.
Without any prompting the Imperial Guard parted before Walhart and his surviving Honour Guard, heads bowed low so as not to provoke their leader any further.
Cervantes sighed, the sound being muffled into non-existence by his moustache before he drew himself up to his full height.
“Right, boys!” he hollered. “Form up! We have a capital to defend!”
Robin hummed tunelessly as he resisted the urge to skip to the frontlines, sword slung casually over one shoulder as he walked with Tharja on his heels. Huginn had made the short jump from Robin’s head to his master’s shoulder, and now warily eyed the surrounding soldiers. The others were standing in a knot near the front lines, just behind the initial line of sword and lance-wielding Ylisseans. Gerome and Cynthia stood patiently by their mounts, while Owain, Inigo and Brady warily eyed Flavia who was shouting orders to her Feroxi soldiers a short distance away.
Something was bothering Robin, though… something in the corner of his mind, something important that he felt he really shouldn’t have forgotten…
Flavia, sword casually resting on her shoulder as always, turned to face him as she noticed his approach, barking one last list of commands to her men before stepping forward to meet with him and the young Shepherds.
“It’s about time you showed up,” she said with a grin. “I was starting to think that I’d… hold on, did you seriously make us wait just to find your coat?”
“Yes, and with it I can conquer the world!” Robin exclaimed. “What’s the status of our enemy?”
Flavia shook her head before answering.
“Well, they’re beginning to form ranks again. Priam’s forces are in position, and the Ylissean League is ready to attack, so…”
“You were just waiting on me,” Robin finished for her. “I’m touched that you were able to reign in your massive battle-lust for my sake, Flavia. This is serious personal growth for you.”
“Just shut up and lead the army,” the woman in red grunted, a smile on her face.
Robin chuckled, bouncing his own sheathe resting on his shoulder a few times as he looked over the assembled soldiers and warriors.
“Alright,” the tactician said, turning to the others. “Gerome, Cynthia; I want you flying with the Pegasus Knights. Their ranks are a little thin considering half of them just went with the Shepherds.”
“Right!” Cynthia said excitedly, snapping to attention while Gerome just silently nodded next to her before they both climbed atop their mounts and flew towards the back ranks where the Pegasus Knights were busily preparing.
“There’s not really much for us to do,” Robin said as he looked to the others. “No real strategy to be had here. Roark, Liung and the other guy have things well in hand, so for morale’s sake I thought I’d give them this easy win. We’re just along for the ride.”
“Is that a note of bitterness in your voice at being left out?” Flavia asked playfully.
Robin snorted, waving a hand through the air. “I’m dead, remember? I don’t feel bitterness. It’s been a tough road for them. They need this victory more than I do.”
“More than the triumphant return of a hero?” Flavia chuckled. “Well, it’s your call. You’re in charge of this section of the line, so whenever you’re ready.”
Robin nodded. “We’ll wait for Liung and Roark to signal that their ready. Then we’ll just follow them in.”
Flavia cleared her throat, crossing her arms and glaring at Robin a little.
“Of course if we outrun them, we outrun them,” the tactician amended with a shrug.
“That’s more like it!” Flavia shouted, holding her sword in the air as she walked back to her men, beginning to shout orders and encouragement again.
“You two stay with me,” Robin said to Inigo and Owain. “Brady, you stick with Tharja in the rear. This probably won’t take very long, but-”
Robin’s speech was interrupted when horns blared and the lines began to move, Flavia whooping excitedly and pushing to the front of her men. The tactician sighed and began to follow her.
“Try to keep pace with her before she gets herself killed,” he ordered.
Inigo and Owain both echoed Robin’s sigh as they fell in with him, Brady and Tharja following close behind.
Say’ri stood at the front of the Chon’sin soldiers as they waited for the orders to advance on the last of Walhart’s forces before the Capital. She was content to allow Keiji to do his job in her stead, planning and relaying her desires to the other leaders. She was no military leader; she was a warrior. Even Chrom had Morgan, and before her Robin, so Say’ri felt no guilt over her decision. She led better from the front anyway; among her people that had suffered for so long because she and her brother could not agree on the best way to lead them.
Forcing the dark thoughts back into the recesses of her mind Say’ri tightened her grip on her sword, resisting the urge to pace back and forth as she waited and simply stood, glaring out at the distant enemy.
It looked like they were starting to regroup; the men had better hurry and decide on their course of action, or Say’ri would lead her soldiers ahead, tactics be damned.
A familiar shuffling next to her marked the arrival of her eyes and ears in the camp.
“What news?” she asked Seiko dully, eyes never leaving the field.
“Something’s got the camp in an uproar,” the spy answered immediately. “No one’s really sure what it is, but…”
“What?” Say’ri asked curtly when her spy trailed off.
“Well the general consensus is that Keiji is unimpressed that the Exalt of Ylisse left someone else in charge of the assault,” Seiko answered simply.
Say’ri resisted the urge to sigh. It wasn’t surprising; Keiji was an exemplary soldier and a fine officer, but he was old-fashioned. Any perceived slight to his irrefutable honour couldn’t be ignored. But that was one of the things that set him apart; it was one of the things that made him trustworthy. He couldn’t be bought, and Say’ri was desperately trying to surround herself with more people like that as quickly as she could. Seiko chief among them.
“Keiji just likes to complain,” Say’ri said, looking at her chief spy and friend for a moment. “Go meet him on his way back; tell him once this war is over I’ve decided to promote him to General. That should cheer him up.”
“A fine choice, my Queen,” Seiko said with a bow before chuckling lightly. “He will have to come up with a second part of his name if you make him into noble. That could be troublesome; he’s hardly the most creative man in the army.”
“But he is trustworthy,” Say’ri said, giving voice to her earlier thoughts.
“Indeed, my Queen. I will go and relay your message.”
“Find out who was left in charge, too. I find myself curious.”
Bowing low Seiko disappeared almost instantly into the press of bodies around them. She wouldn’t be a good spy if she stuck out in a crowd, but the way she always seemed to know exactly how to do it still unnerved Say’ri a little. Fortunately, Seiko was another trustworthy person.
Say’ri found herself hoping that whoever Chrom had appointed as leader for the assault didn’t step on Keiji’s toes too much, or there was likely to be bloodshed before the fighting even started.
A horn sounded to the south of her army’s position, and Say’ri found herself instantly clear of all unnecessary thoughts as battle loomed again.
Robin hung back while the Feroxi around him leapt into the fray with almost reckless abandon, overwhelming the section of Valmese line before them with Flavia at their head. Inigo and Owain seemed to be incredibly grateful for Robin’s more subdued pace, but considering the Feroxi fighting style Brady was still being worked to the bone. A series of large explosions ripped through the Valmese line, marking another spell from the dark beauty at their backs as Tharja waved her hands through the air. At some point Huginn had disappeared again; no doubt picking through the leftovers in the mess tent or something like that.
At some point the Ylissean advance had split; without Robin or Chrom overseeing the movements the armies had separated into their usual groups, and usually this would present a serious problem. However the enemy was demoralized and their force was fragmented; the Feroxi had been rolling over the Valmese in their way, while in the distance Robin could make out the Roark-led Ylissean forces doing much the same. It was almost disappointing in a way that an enemy as powerful as Valm had been was reduced to this state; the loyal soldiers dying in droves while their leaders sat in fear behind the walls of the castle and the reinforcements sat and watched from a distance, waiting to see who won.
“Come on, keep up!” Flavia called back to them, waving her sword in the air to get Robin’s attention and snapping him out of his reverie.
Inigo actually shuddered at her enthusiasm. “I know there’s a culture difference here, but I’ve never met a woman that terrified me so much.”
Robin found himself silently agreeing as he began walking towards the front again, but a flash of red and black from atop a banner-pole above the heads of the Valmese men caught his attention, making him curse and break out into a run.
“Flavia, consolidate your men around us! Call them back!” he shouted urgently.
To her credit Flavia only hesitated a moment before taking up the call in her warriors’ native tongue, urging them to fall back and form up around her.
“What is it?” Owain asked excitedly. “Is some foul monster approaching that only I, Owain Dark can destroy with my holy blade?”
“If you want him, you can have him,” Robin snickered as the heavily armoured General shoved his way through his soldiers, a retinue of dismounted knights at his back carrying weapons that looked almost as large as Robin was tall.
The tactician turned toward the closest Feroxi warrior, considering they didn’t have dedicated runners, and grabbed him by the shoulder to get his attention.
“Run to the leaders of the other groups,” he said urgently. “Tell them there are reinforcements coming from within the Capital. Tell them we need reinforcements here. Go, quickly!”
The Feroxi man looked confused for a moment before nodding sullenly and taking off at a run; no warrior wanted to miss the battle, but this was more important, and the Feroxi were all smart enough to know that.
“Tharja, get ready to cause some dissention,” he said quickly, the Dark Mage nodding and beginning to ready her spell.
The Feroxi had pulled back and formed something resembling a line, a huge achievement considering the way they usually fought. Of course there were still some men holding bows out in the front, but considering how fast they had responded Robin wasn’t about to nit-pick.
Trumpets sounded from the Valmese lines as they reformed, fresh troops in more ornate armour taking to the front against the Feroxi horde. Shining red plates reflected the weakening afternoon sun, glinting off of polished weapons as the soldiers faced Flavia’s troops in perfectly ordered rows. From the safety of the rear of the first row came a bellowing laugh that under normal circumstances would have sounded jovial. The voice was coming from the shorter, round looking man with the huge moustache standing beneath the standard.
“At last we meet, tactician of Ylisse!” the Valmese General called out as Robin shouldered his way to the front, standing beside Flavia. “I was beginning to think that we would never get the chance after you disappeared, but here you are, hale and hearty! Come! Let us do battle like true men of honour!”
Robin looked over to Flavia, who grinned and shrugged, kneading the grip of her favoured sword. Robin nodded back, a thought occurring to him making him raise a hand directly above his head, palm upwards.
“Sorry,” he called over the space between the two armies, green flames beginning to crackle in his palm as he mentally changed the fire spell he was casting a little. “Maybe next lifetime.”
A jet of green flames danced up from Robin’s hand, harmlessly flying upwards before dissipating. The Valmese men across from them looked confused at first, before growing nervous when nothing happened. A minute passed as tension in the Valmese ranks began to grow waiting for something to happen, and then a second. Just as they began to mutter amongst themselves a shadow descended over them accompanied by a magnificent roar as Tiki fell upon the orderly ranks in all her gargantuan draconic glory.
“I was hoping she’d get the hint,” Robin muttered to Flavia, who seemed so excited she looked fit to burst, eyes wide and mouth twisted upwards in a huge, toothy smile.
Shouting a Feroxi warcry the red-armoured leader jumped forward again, her men following behind her as they rushed to where Tiki was literally sweeping aside the Imperial troops. Flavia’s charge easily broke the distracted Imperial front ranks before cutting deep into their formations, Tiki towering above them roaring and crushing men underfoot, or simply blasting gouts of fire at the men gathered around her feet.
“Should… should we help them?” Inigo asked hesitantly as the Feroxi rushed forwards around them in a screaming mass of leather armour and flailing weapons.
“Have at it,” Robin said dismissively with a wave of his hand. “Don’t let me stop you.”
Owain clenched a fist before his face, trembling as he closed his eyes before shouting and holding his sword aloft.
“By the Sacred Stones, wait for Owain!” he roared before joining the charge.
Inigo’s shoulders drooped as he flung his head backwards, sighing to the heavens.
“Dammit, Owain, wait for me!” he called after his friend, running to catch up.
Robin glanced up as he cleaned the blood off of his new sword; he had sworn to treat this one better than he had the ruined remains of Chrom’s royal rapier that were still tucked into his belt. There was something strange off in the distance, about halfway to the foothills over near where the Valmese conscripts were standing idly.
“What’s up?” Tiki asked curiously, sidling up beside Robin and bumping his shoulder with hers.
“Hrm? Oh, nothing,” the tactician mumbled, sheathing his sword. “Just distracted. What were you saying?”
“I was saying that I haven’t seen Priam since the battle started. I’m getting worried.”
Robin scoffed. “About Priam? He’s probably the safest one out of all of us right now; I wouldn’t be surprised if he fought his way to the castle and slapped Walhart off the throne singlehandedly.”
The battle was winding down now; while the Feroxi warriors being led by Flavia chased down the last elements of the Imperial forces they had been fighting against while across the field the rest of the Ylissean League did much the same. It had turned into a complete route once Priam’s Resistance soldiers had hit the Imperials, so much so that the archer unit Robin had sent out to the flank had barely fired a single volley. Now Cynthia was seething at being left out of the action while Owain regaled her and Gerome with tales of his exploits during the battle. Tiki had withdrawn from the fight at some point, and had joined Tharja in being his second shadow as they kept the Imperial forces off of Brady while he worked. The young priest was still busily healing the Feroxi wounded despite how exhausted he no doubt was.
Robin’s head snapped around, glaring off into the distance as the familiar sensation moved again, this time towards the foothills themselves.
“Robin?” Cynthia asked curiously, noticing him staring into the distance. “What is it?”
The other younger Shepherds all looked over to him curiously, even Tharja and Tiki showing some concern for his behaviour. All at once the strange sensation Robin was having clicked in his memory, and making an instant decision Robin spun, grabbing the reins of Cynthia’s pegasus from her hands and swung up into the saddle, kicking it into the air in one smooth movement.
“Wha- Robin, what in Naga’s name are you doing!?” Inigo called after him.
“Robin!” Cynthia screamed after him.
He didn’t hear them; he was too focused on the sensation he’d only felt a few times before, the sensation of displacement and tearing that he’d only experienced when Excellus had teleported into Liung’s throne room in Chengshi. It wasn’t something he would forget, though.
Excellus was trying to get to the Conscripts or the Dynasts. That, or he was trying to escape on his own since the battle out here had so obviously gone in Ylisse’s favour. The second option seemed more true to the cowardly tactician’s character.
Either way, he couldn’t let Excellus get away. If he got to the other Valmese forces and bullied them into action the League would be in danger. If he escaped… well, Robin wouldn’t let him either way. Cynthia’s tired pegasus whinnied irritatedly as the tactician dug his heels into its sides, urging it to move faster. He was covering ground fast, but he didn’t know how long the ring Excellus used to teleport took to recharge – it couldn’t take more than a few minutes. After less than five minutes of flight he was over the foothills, squinting in the harsh afternoon sunlight as he tried to spot his quarry.
There, Robin thought victoriously, pulling the reins and angling the pegasus downwards.
He came in low, a very surprised looking Excellus ducking low beneath the pegasus’ hooves as Robin zoomed over top of him, coming to a landing and leaping from the beast’s back a few meters away. As he began walking forward Robin unsheathed his new sword, glaring at the other tactician.
“You,” Excellus hissed, recoiling defensively.
“Me,” Robin said, stopping in front of the pudgy man and resting the long sword over his shoulder.
“Why do you have Sol? Never mind; it doesn’t matter. Stand aside,” Excellus said in a trembling voice. “I no longer hold any loyalty to that mad dog Walhart. You no longer have any reason to wish me harm.”
“No reason?” Robin scoffed, filing away what was apparently the name of his new sword for later reflection. “Are you insane? Every time I looked you were in the background pulling the strings. As far as I’m concerned this entire war is your responsibility.”
Excellus shook his head, beginning to sweat in the face of Robin’s cold rage. “No, I merely created Walhart’s tactics. This was his war.”
“And the threats and bribery? The abject cruelty towards the Dynasts and villagers? Were they his will as well? Doesn’t really seem like something a ‘noble conqueror’ would do.”
“What do you want from me, Robin?” Excellus exploded, cracks beginning to show in his usual personality and mannerisms as his eyes bulged and spittle flew from his mouth. “The last ten years of my life, all of my careful planning, everything has all gone to waste! What do you want from me!? What else could you possibly want from me!?”
“Atonement,” Robin said, glaring coldly into Excellus’ eyes and taking a step forward. “You’re going to make up for your crimes. You can come back with me and face trial…”
Excellus started laughing, cutting Robin off. He sighed internally as he realized it was the same laugh that Gangrel had had; the laugh of one whose mind had completely gone to madness.
“No, I don’t think that really works for me,” Excellus cackled, holding his hand out for the teleporting spell that would see him beyond Robin’s grasp.
The Ylissean tactician was faster though, the sword in his hand coming down before Excellus’ spell could be completed, golden energy dissipating into the air as a fat hand fell to the ground at their feet, severed at the wrist.
Excellus shrieked with wide eyes as he fell to his knees, holding the stump of his arm close to his chest and staring aghast at the hand on the ground between him and Robin, still glowing with the golden residue of the unused teleportation spell in a slowly spreading pool of blood.
“What… what are you doing!? Are you mad!? My hand!” Excellus shrieked, rocking back and forth.
“Please,” he begged, eyes snapping up to Robin, still standing above him with sword in hand. “Please, it wasn’t my fault! Walhart… he, he made me do everything! So that he wouldn’t get his own hands… dirty! I… I didn’t have a choice! Please don’t kill me!”
“You’re lying,” Robin said coldly, glaring down at Excellus.
“Please don’t kill me,” the other tactician pleaded, crawling away from Robin on his elbows. “I… I can do good! I’m a tactician, just like you! You know what we can do if-”
“We are nothing alike!” Robin roared, advancing on the retreating Excellus as he shouted. “You use your knowledge to cause others harm! To kill and murder, all for your own gain! It’s monsters like you that give the title ‘tactician’ a bad name!”
“And you’ll kill me for that?” Excellus giggled, beginning to go pale as his wrist continued to bleed. “For a difference in ideology? Be-because I use my… talents differently to you? Hardly seems… like something that the mighty… Ylissean tactician would do…”
Robin stopped, thinking for a moment. Could he actually kill the other tactician like this? He wasn’t a murderer, and he had no desire to sink to Excellus’ level.
“You’re right,” he said, looking away and lowering his sword. “I won’t kill you for that.”
“You’ll always fight… you’ll always kill…”
The words popped unbidden into his mind, but not like before. They were only a memory, but they were right nonetheless; and the man squirming at Robin’s feet was the same.
No one else dies…
Excellus began to giggle manically again, climbing up to his knees and making to stand up before Robin lashed out, the tip of his boot connecting with Excellus’ face with a sickening slap. The other tactician landed hard, struggling to rise and slipping in the widening pool beneath him, managing to turn over and face Robin.
“You were right. We are alike,” Robin admitted sadly before hardening his heart.
“And that’s why I know you won’t stop hurting other people. You’ve already hurt my daughter, and the woman I love,” he growled, standing above the other man with his sword raised.
“Please,” the other tactician begged one final time.
“I’ll see you in hell, Excellus.”