Robin had a spring in his step as he walked alongside Anna’s wagon, Chon’sin’s capital at his back and the further expanse of the northern mountain trail ahead of him. A grin broke out on his face as he thought of what was waiting for him; a vacation. An honest to Naga, bona fide vacation, even if it was only for a few days. Alone in the mountains, only the road and a few pesky Risen between him and relaxation with his daughter, his friends and the woman he loved.
“This isn’t a vacation,” Lucina reminded him when she saw the face he was making, dampening his spirits a little.
“Not with that attitude it’s not,” Robin winked, the spring returning to his step.
He was at the head of a small column of Shepherds, leading it with Lucina in Chrom’s absence while the Exalt kept going with the peace talks. In fact, the only other non-time travelling Shepherds besides himself were Tharja and Anna. Anna for the use of her wagon and connections (apparently she had a cousin operating in the area), and Tharja, currently riding next to the plucky merchant, because trying to get her to stop following Robin was like trying to tell a bird not to fly. Tiki had joined them, too, at Say’ri’s request; apparently the Voice of Naga was constantly being pestered and had been shut up in the shrine in Chon’sin since they’d gotten back. It had been a mission in itself, sneaking her out, but the way she was relaxing with the others made all the effort worth it.
“Robin, this is a serious mission,” Lucina said. “It’s not a va-”
“Is it safe yet? Are we out of the capital?” Flavia asked, poking her head out of the back of Anna’s wagon and cutting Lucina off mid-rant.
“Khan… Flavia?” the Ylissean Princess asked, her query clear in her voice as the older woman hopped down from the wagon and fell in with the rest of the Shepherds. “What… you’re supposed to be at the peace talks!”
“Food poisoning,” Flavia answered with a shrug and a serious face. “I’m afraid I’m just not used to the strange food they serve over here, and I’m completely bedridden. I’d say it’ll probably last… oh, the whole week.”
“And you thought I was the bad one?” Robin asked before he and Flavia burst into laughter, the Khan supporting herself on Robin’s shoulder as they both doubled over.
“What’s so funny… Khan Flavia!” Morgan exclaimed, coming around from the other side of the wagon with Owain and Yarne in tow. “I thought you had to stay for the summit?”
“Food poisoning,” Robin said with a wink, still chuckling.
“That’s genius!” Morgan shouted, before catching a glimpse of Lucina’s disapproving glare.
“I, uh, I mean that’s terrible, Khan Flavia!” Morgan corrected herself hastily.
“Oh don’t be such prudes,” Flavia said with a lazy wave. “I’ve left specific instructions that until I’m ‘better’ Chrom speaks for both of our nations. Besides, I always have more fun when I follow this crazy sod around anyway!”
She said the last part leaning on Robin again, the tactician sagging under the weight of her and her armour.
“Alright, watch the coat,” he chuckled, flicking her arm off his shoulders.
“This has the makings of an epic tale of heroism and… and…” Owain started, overcome with his excitement. “I can’t believe that not one, but two heroes are joining our quest! I must stay my sword hand! Come Morgan, we must convene the Justice Cabal immediately!”
Morgan laughed as Owain pulled on her coat, offering her father a wave as she was led away to where Cynthia was leading her pegasus by the reins.
“You’re not going to follow them?” Robin asked Yarne, who watched their progress.
“I can hear every word Owain and Cynthia are shouting at each other from here just fine,” the half-Taguel muttered, absently stroking his ears.
Robin grinned, walking backwards as he watched the Shepherds spread out across the road behind them. Owain, Morgan and Cynthia, the infamous ‘Justice Cabal’ were coming up with some outlandish narrative for their current’ quest’; Robin’s smile widened when he saw Morgan burst out laughing again, simply the carefree young girl she was meant to be, with no world to save and only a hot spring town to visit with her friends. Noire and Severa chatted quietly, while Inigo and Brady pestered Gerome, who was leading Minerva by the reins as well, and Nah and Laurent took the rare opportunity and pestered Tiki with questions about Manakete lore. They looked for all the world like a group of tourists; spirits were high, and everyone save Gerome wore a smile on their face, even the usually dour Brady. The only person that wouldn’t leave the Capital with them was Kjelle, who insisted her training with her mother was more important, even after Sully had practically ordered her to go.
It had been Robin’s idea, taking the time travellers on this mission; by all accounts they had never had a vacation before. That thought was so sad it had kept Robin up the previous night as he made plans to entertain the time-travellers given his sparse knowledge on the area, and he’d vowed to let them relax a little before they all returned to Ylisse.
He felt a little bad about ditching the other Shepherds, but once he’d subtly and quietly explained his reasoning for wanting to give all the future children top priority for this trip they had marvelled at his genius. Well, they’d gone along with his hair-brained scheme at the very least, which was close enough in his mind.
However, Lucina wasn’t wrong when she had said that it wasn’t a vacation. It was a mission to eradicate the Risen, and one that Robin would take seriously; he would even ensure that the Risen were properly destroyed by observing the area for the next few days, just to be sure. Just because he was so dedicated to his work.
“Lighten up a little, Princess,” Flavia said loudly. “Live a little! We’re going to a Hot Spring town! This is a vacation, or about as close as we’re going to get! You should be excited! Look, all your friends sure as hell are!”
Lucina cast a glance over her shoulder, looking at the way the other future children were all relaxed and carrying on, and let out a sigh.
“Perhaps once the Risen are defeated…” she muttered in defeat.
Robin grinned, sharing a wink with Flavia. That was one less enemy they would have to fight for their vacation now.
“Holy jeez it is freezing!” Robin complained as he jogged through the tents of the small camp they had set up that evening towards the fire burning a small way away.
“It is getting closer to winter, and we are in the mountains,” Inigo pointed out, sipping from a steaming mug.
“I don’t like it,” Robin grumbled, wrapping his blanket around his shoulders like the rest of the Shepherds sitting around the fire and joining them. “I’ll be happy when we’re back in Ylisse; at this rate at least we’ll be at sea for most of the winter where-”
“All we’ll have to deal with are biting winds and horrible chill without any ground underneath us,” Severa cut Robin off from across the fire, similarly wrapped up in her own blanket.
“She’s got you there dad,” Morgan grinned cheekily as the other Shepherds began to laugh.
To Robin’s dismay even Tharja chuckled a little.
“You kids are getting a little mouthy,” Robin grunted indignantly. “Someone oughta smack you around a little; remind you all whose boss.”
“I’d like to see you try, old man,” Severa huffed, turning her nose up to him with a derisive sniff.
“If it weren’t so cold out…” the tactician muttered, backing down and glaring at the redhead as he bundled himself up tighter. “And I’m not that old in this timeline…”
“Hold on, I’ll go get Brady,” Inigo offered, moving to stand.
“Why?” Robin asked, having a good idea of what the pretty-boy was about to say.
“To heal that awful burn,” he said with a wicked grin, making the rest of the campsite erupt into laughter.
“Nice one!” Anna laughed, giving Inigo a hi-five as he returned to his seat looking a little too pleased with himself.
Robin glared at Morgan, teetering dangerously as she laughed herself hoarse next to Yarne.
“S-sorry… dad!” she managed to gasp between bouts of laughter, wiping tears from her eyes. “But you have to admit, that was a good one.”
“Alright, alright,” Robin shouted above the raucous sounds of the younger Shepherds carrying on. “My ego can only take so much of a beating in one day. I’m going to bed. Owain, take first watch. Everyone else, we move out at dawn.”
“Of course, master!” Owain shouted, sitting up straight and attempting valiantly to stifle his laughter.
Someone remind me why I thought putting all these kids in one place was a good idea? Robin grumbled internally as he shuffled towards his tent.
Apparently he had conveniently forgotten that the future children had all grown up together; Robin, being the loudest of the four outside their group of time-travellers, would of course have been ganged up on, even if only in jest. And of course Anna and Tharja were still pretty peeved at him, so they’d get in on it…
“Thank Naga Lucina went to bed early,” Robin muttered, ducking into his small tent.
They had forgone the usual tents that the Shepherds used, instead bringing seven smaller two-person tents that would usually be used by a scouting regiment or something similar. They were rough, ugly patches of canvas, but so far the only person to turn up their nose was Tharja; perhaps this was still a level above what the kids had been forced to endure in the future? Tiki had simply been ecstatic about the novelty of camping out again after so many millennia, and Flavia was no doubt used to roughing it with far less. It also didn’t help the sour Dark Mage’s mood that the tents did nothing to muffle the noises and speech from inside them; Robin could hear just about everything going on around him, and wondered how he’d get to sleep at all in this position.
Shoulda set up further away… he thought, cringing as Severa began berating her tent-mate for taking up so much space in hushed whispers.
Anna was sleeping in her wagon, while Tharja was bunking up with her daughter and that damnable bird that followed her around everywhere. Robin had no idea who he’d get stuck with; the others all automatically paired up with barely a thought. Cynthia had gone straight for Lucina, Brady and Gerome had inexplicably begun setting up a tent together, Inigo had gone through what almost looked like a ritual of being rejected by every girl in the group… It looked rehearsed almost, the way the kids had acted.
Robin sighed, expecting Owain to burst through the tents canvas at any second, proclaiming that they would be sharing. He’d much rather be sharing with Lucina, but that seemed to be something that wouldn’t be happening any time soon. He’d caught her eye as Cynthia had led her away, tent slung over one shoulder, and liked to think he saw a similar feeling in her gaze, but…
The tactician perked up when small, light footfalls completely at odds with Owain’s heavy and sure pace stopped just outside his tent, making his heart jump into his throat as his imagination went wild.
There are only two people in this camp that walk around like that, and…
“Dad? Are you decent?” Morgan asked brightly, dashing Robin’s hopes instantly.
“Yeah,” he groaned, flopping face-down onto his bedroll.
Morgan stepped hesitantly into the tent, blanket wrapped around her shoulders and hugging her bedroll to her chest.
“Wanna be tent-buddies?” she asked with a huge smile on her face.
Robin rolled over and blinked a few times.
“Uh… sure?” he managed after a moment.
“You don’t sound very sure,” Morgan pointed out, her expression dropping a little.
“No, no, don’t get me wrong,” Robin said quickly, wary of hurting his daughter’s feelings. “It’s just that… well… I thought you’d be spending time with your friends rather than me, or trying to discretely share a tent with Yarn… Oh gods, forget I said anything. Sit. Sleep here. Be my tent-buddy.”
Morgan burst out laughing as she spread out her own bedroll.
“That’s not a bad idea,” she chuckled, flopping down and bundling up with the roll and her extra blanket. “But we haven’t spent a lot of time together lately, and I can spend all the time I want with Yarne because he doesn’t have any time-consuming duties like we do. So I’m making it my mission to remedy that on this trip! We’re going to do everything together! Besides, we are friends, aren’t we? I’m putting this vacation to good use! I’ve even made plans!”
“It’s a mission, not a vacation,” Inigo called out as he passed by the tent, making both Robin and Morgan burst into renewed laughter.
“Urgh, damn these paper-thin tents,” Robin sighed as he lay back, holding his stomach with one hand as he wiped a tear out of his eye with the other.
“We’ll just have to stay at the inn when we get to the springs,” Morgan theorized. “We will need a secure base of operations, anyway…”
“Kid, I like the way you think,” Robin said with a grin.
“Morning, Robin. The morning air is bracing, isn’t it?” Lucina commented brightly as they set out the next morning, trailing Anna’s wagon in much the same way they had the previous day.
Robin grumbled an affirmative, pulling his coat tighter around his shoulders and marvelling at the fact that there weren’t any puffs of vapour coming out of his face. It was still early, and it was cold, but as much as he wanted to deny it there was definitely still a ‘mission’ aspect to this trip, so they could hardly take their time. Plus the sooner they got to the little town the sooner they could rout the enemy and the sooner Robin could relax.
“So how’d you sleep last night?” he asked conversationally as he strolled along the road in the wake of Anna’s cart with Lucina.
“Well,” she answered. “Although there was some strange commotion a few tents away that kept me awake.”
“Er… yeah,” Robin mumbled.
Of course Owain actually had shown up to his tent the previous evening expecting to find Robin in need of a tent-partner, only to come face to face with Morgan’s smiling countenance. This sent him into a spiral of depressing monologues he’d delivered right outside Robin’s tent about how cruel fate was to separate them so until Severa had emerged from her own tent and beaned the boy on the head, effectively silencing him and potentially knocking him out cold.
Not that Robin had particularly cared; he had been trying to sleep, after all.
“Your family is weird,” Robin sighed, rubbing the back of his head and wondering what he had done to earn a ‘sidekick’ like Owain.
“Says the pot to the kettle,” Lucina laughed, pointing behind them where Morgan was making stupid faces to Cynthia’s pegasus, while the younger Princess watched and giggled.
“What in Naga’s…?” Robin muttered, his brow creasing in confusion at his daughter’s behaviour before he waved a hand through the air. “Whatever. I don’t care. You win, we’re all weird. Normal is overrated anyway.”
Lucina smiled wistfully as they walked, as if recalling an old memory. For his part, Robin rested his hands behind his head and looked at the road around them. It didn’t look like it would have been pretty like the roads around Ylisstol were at any point, but the winter chill had caused all the plats to die or begin hibernating. Higher up on the mountains Robin could see sparse evergreens, clinging doggedly to the rocky terrain, but apart from that everything was coated in different shades of brown, and being so used to the vividness of life on the eastern continent that was prevalent even in the dead of winter it made Robin a little depressed, making him sigh.
“This place is so desolate and boring,” he complained as they continued walking. “Everything’s one colour. At least in winter in Ylisse and Regna Ferox there were all kinds of different colours! Greens, blues, and the beautiful white powder peppering everything, making every other colour so alive and vibrant!”
Lucina shook her head, her smile dropping a little.
“This land is still alive, it is merely sleeping; holding its breath for spring to come. You can feel it in the air and in the ground beneath your boots. There’s life here, even if it is monochromatic. Not even the land was spared in the future. Everything was… dust. Sand and desolation.”
Robin winced, desperately trying to think of some way to change the topic.
“But even against brown the other colours stand out, I guess,” the tactician sighed theatrically.
Lucina glanced up at Robin, cocking her head to one side the way her mother often did.
“I’m just thinking it makes certain shades of blue exceedingly alluring,” Robin said with a grin and a wink.
The princess blinked a few times, glancing down at her newly mended familiar blue outfit.
“That seems like it was an awfully long way to go for a compliment,” she stated.
“Hey, I’m meant to be a master tactician,” Robin chuckled. “It would reflect badly on my intelligence if I simply out and said ‘my, Lucina, you look ravishing today’.”
Her eyes widened momentarily, and Robin spotted a slight blush creeping to her cheeks as she glanced away.
“Such idle flattery does seem to be beneath you,” Lucina muttered.
“Idle? I think not, fair maiden,” Robin declared, adopting his best Virion impersonation-voice. “Why the very sun itself pales beside your beauty, and hides its shame behind the clouds! I myself am awed by your utter radiance, and though I wish to shield my eyes I cannot bring myself to look away…”
“Now you’ve just been spending too much time around Sir Virion,” Lucina muttered, seeing right through him.
“True,” Robin laughed, stepping a little closer to her. “But your face is the same colour as Severa’s hair, so I think that means it worked.”
“Yes… well…” Lucina muttered, before shouting tore Robin’s attention away.
“Robin!” Flavia was calling, her arm wrapped around Morgan’s shoulders and holding the girl in a tight hug as she approached. “I no longer need your services as Tactician! I’m taking this one instead! She’s much cuter, although lacks your foul mouth and crude sense of humour! But I can fix those faults with a little time and a lot of ale!”
“Dad… save… me…!” Morgan managed to groan as Flavia let out another loud laugh.
“Isn’t it cute that she thinks she can get away from me?” the older woman practically roared, releasing Morgan and giving her a hard slap on the back, making Robin wince; he knew pretty well the dangers of Feroxi ‘camaraderie’.
“Pretty sure if the kid’s going anywhere Say’ri already has her ear-marked,” Robin chuckled, cursing the lack of privacy at present as Lucina laughed along with him.
“Dad, look! Snow!” Morgan cried, racing ahead with her arms held out, laughing innocently as she reached out for the falling flakes.
“Pfft, that ain’t snow,” Flavia snorted. “Come to Regna Ferox, then you’ll see snow.”
“I’ve been to Regna Ferox in winter, and all I saw was white,” Tharja muttered as she passed, moving to sit with Noire while carrying two steaming mugs in a surprisingly maternal picture.
Robin grinned as he watched a few of the other more spirited Shepherds join in Morgan’s fun, trying to catch the first snowflakes in the twilight while the others made camp. Flavia smiled a little as she watched them with Robin, shaking her head as the younger Shepherds played.
They had broken for dinner again early at Flavia’s warning about the potential of snow; they were starting to get pretty high into the mountains, and Robin didn’t want to run the risk of someone slipping and falling on ice or snow in the dark. Much to Robin’s chagrin the tents had been set up even closer than the previous night, meaning that he wouldn’t get any sleep listening to Inigo’s snoring. Again. Or sleeping anywhere even remotely near Lucina. Again.
“Well, I’m going to go and see if that scary merchant lady has any wine hidden away anywhere,” Flavia said, grunting as she slapped her thighs and rose.
“Oh? Wine now?” Robin asked. “What happened to ale?”
“I’m lowering my standards,” the Khan answered with a sad sigh. “Chances are better for me finding wine than ale.”
“Sure, whatever, ditch me,” Robin moaned. “I’m happier alone anyway.”
“I’ll come back once I find booze, don’t worry,” Flavia laughed, giving Robin one of her patented death-back-slaps before bouncing off.
Robin watched her go and frowned; all of the Shepherds were wearing warmer clothes and using their blankets like cloaks at camp, and Flavia was still wandering around in her usual sleeveless armour and shorts.
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, but the people of Regna Ferox can’t possibly be human. Which… would really explain a lot about Owain, come to think about it, Robin thought to himself as he looked over the Shepherds sitting around the large fire Laurent had set with Brady and Nah’s help.
Everyone was relaxing and having a good time, something that Robin was content to simply watch and enjoy at the moment. His eyes lingered on Lucina as she talked happily with Tiki about little things, both women occasionally laughing at something one or the other said, and unbidden he felt his face break into a smile.
“You two sicken me, you know that?” Sever huffed, sinking down into the seat that Flavia had just vacated.
“I beg your pardon?” Robin asked, head snapping around.
“You and Lucina,” Severa explained, rolling her eyes. “You two are so lovey-dovey while we travel… it’s so gross.”
“Be nice, or I’ll see to it you bunk with Owain for the rest of the trip,” Robin warned in a low tone, crossing his arms and looking away. “All we’ve been doing is talking. That’s hardly ‘lovey-dovey’. You want lovey-dovey, go watch your parents for half an hour.”
Severa let out a sigh.
“You know it’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen her this happy,” the redheaded girl said after a moment’s hesitation. “So even if it makes me want to puke… I’m… happy for you two. We all are. Or something… whatever!”
“That would explain why it’s so cold…” Robin said absently without missing a beat. “Hell’s finally frozen over.”
“Bite me, I’m not trying to be serious right now or anything,” Severa practically snarled.
As she tried to rise Robin chuckled and wrapped an arm around her shoulders in a quick side hug.
“I know,” he said. “Beneath your prickly, sarcastic exterior you’re a real softie. Thanks, Severa. It’s nice to know that you approve of the incredibly weird circumstances of my relationship.”
“Alright then,” the redhead mumbled. “You’re welcome. Now stop hugging me.”
Robin released the girl, snickering as he watched her straighten her clothes with an embarrassed and uncomfortable look on her face.
“Mother never said anything about you being a hugger…” she muttered, flipping a strand of red hair over her shoulder before huffing a final time and making some excuse before disappearing into the crowd of tents.
That girl is so easy to fluster, Robin thought, watching her go as his thoughts finally caught up with him. Wait… ‘we all are’? What the hell did she mean by that!? Oh gods, who else knows!? Does Chrom know!? Oh gods, I’m going to die!
“Flavia!” Robin called out in a panic, rising to run after the red-clad Khan and making a few of the others look in his direction curiously. “Hurry up with that wine! Robin needs a drink! Right bloody now!”
The next morning Robin leaned against the back of Anna’s cart while Flavia snored loudly within it, the tactician moaning and rubbing the heels of his hands into his temples to assuage his pounding hangover. Because, of course, Flavia had found the wine, and of course, they had drank the whole bottle and the three subsequent ones between the two of them.
Flavia must have opened a credit account with Anna to get us that much booze, Robin thought, attempting to calm his woozy stomach as he noticed his daughter approaching.
“Rough night?” Morgan asked chirpily as she jumped up beside him, sitting on the ledge of the cart and swinging her legs lazily.
“You shared a tent with me, you should know,” the older tactician muttered, making Morgan laugh.
“You’re lucky I’m not at an impressionable age, Dad,” she chided with a huge grin on her face, handing him a waterskin.
Robin groaned, feeling his stomach revolt as he tried to put something in it, even just plain old water. It had been a long time since he’d had a full-body hangover, and once again he found himself silently swearing never to drink again.
“Looks like the others are taking their time getting ready,” Morgan observed as the other younger Shepherds laughed and carried on while they packed up the camp in their cold weather gear, doing their best not to stray too far from the fire. “We might end up being here for a while.”
Robin’s head snapped up as fast as he could make it go in his current state, sluggishly taking in the positions of the others as his daughter continued to swing her legs.
He spotted Lucina, struggling to frown and not laugh as Cynthia slipped in the snow while they were trying to dismantle their tent, dropping her end and unravelling the whole thing. Robin couldn’t help but smile again as he watched them, hangover suddenly briefly forgotten, but it made him think of something he’d been putting off for far too long instead.
No time like the present, he thought, wishing he’d had the foresight not to drink himself into a coma the previous night. I have to do this sooner or later. May as well be now, while the mood’s good. Oh gods… please take it well…
“So…” he started, drawing out the word and getting Morgan’s attention.
Her head perked up from where she was watching the others, no doubt looking for Yarne.
“I’m going to tell you something important, but I need you to keep it quiet,” he managed to say, nerves getting the better of him as he trailed off.
“If it’s about you and Lucina, I already figured it out,” Morgan said brightly, bringing Robin’s mind to a screeching halt.
“What… how… I… we…” he managed to stammer, mouth hanging open and making Morgan laugh again. “Who told you? Was it Severa? Cynthia? Or did Yarne over-hear something? That bunny-eared little… I’ll really kill him this time!”
Across the camp Yarne’s instinctive danger-sense kicked into overdrive, his head perking up and his nose twitching as he tried to locate the source of the threat.
“Dad,” Morgan giggled, pointing to herself. “Tactician, remember? I’m just as smart as you are. It was pretty obvious, actually. When you told me that you and mom wouldn’t be… well, the pieces all just kinda fell into place.”
“Did I raise you to be so smug? Because you’re coming across as really smug.” Robin asked, crossing his arms before growing serious again. “Well? What do you think then?”
Morgan shrugged, her perpetually swinging legs stopping for a moment before starting back up again.
“Honestly, at first I was kinda weirded out,” she admitted. “I mean, she’s technically, what, twenty-five-ish years younger than you? Not to mention one of my best friends, and the daughter of your best friend…”
“Sure, if you look at a calendar,” Robin grumbled. “And she and I are both aware of how weird it is, so you can stop harping on that point…”
“I know, I know; we’re all about the same age because of the time-travel,” Morgan placated. “But… I dunno. You know how I can kinda tell who was important to me before I lost my memories? Well she ranks right up there with you, mom and Yarne. So I’m glad you’re both happy is the point I’m trying to make. I’m not about to start calling her ‘mom’, because that would put the weirdness up on a whole new level, but I am happy for the two of you. I’ve had time to think about it, after all.”
“Go ahead, keep rubbing that one in,” Robin said, rolling his eyes.
“Well you two haven’t exactly been subtle,” Morgan laughed. “I’m just saying, the way she acted after you ‘died’ makes a whole lot more sense now. Besides, you two are soooooo cute together! And now I’ll be kinda related to Owain and Cynthia, too!”
“Whoa, slow down there,” Robin said.
“I know, I know, I’m getting ahead of myself,” Morgan sighed. “It’s just so exciting! I woke up with absolutely no memories and now I have this great big family!”
“Yes, and now I just have to figure out how to break it to my best friend that I’m dating his daughter,” Robin groaned, making Morgan burst out laughing again.
“Well I can’t help you there,” she managed after a few seconds of hysterical giggling. “You’re on your own with him and that big, scary sword of his.”
“You’re right,” Robin said, nodding and being grateful that this particular talk had gone so smoothly; once again, he had severely underestimated his daughter’s maturity.
“I need time to come up with a plan. Therefore,” he added, climbing up into the wagon past his daughter to join the snoring Khan. “You’re in charge now. The mission’s yours, keep everyone alive, and get us all home safe, yadda-yadda-yadda. Wake me when we get where we’re going.”
“Oh no!” Morgan shouted, her voice still tinged with laughter as she grabbed the hem of her father’s coat and tried to pull him out of the cart. “You’re just trying to shirk your duties ‘cause you’re hung-over! Get back out here! Daaaaaaaaaaaad! I’ll sic Auntie Tharja on you! Don’t think I won’t!”
Morgan knelt down, brushing her fingers over the loose dirt and snow that made up the mountain road with a serious look on her face.
“It’s hard to tell with all the snow and wind, but I’d say they passed through here,” she said, standing. “Recently, too. In the last few days, at least.”
“I agree,” Robin nodded, holding his chin in his hand while Huginn perched happily on his shoulder, the bird’s beady black eyes studiously watching everything. “What’s our next course of action?”
Morgan blinked at her father a few times uncomprehendingly.
“Aren’t… you were serious about me leading the team?” she asked after a second. “I thought you were just joking.”
The older tactician chuckled before walking away and speaking over his shoulder. “I’m on vacation, so it’s your problem now, Tactician Morgan. I’ll be waiting with the others once you’ve come up with a plan. Or… you know, in the cart. Sleeping. Just… yeah.”
The girl sighed, running a hand through her hair. It was pretty obvious what he was doing; she’d been rattled by the war with Valm and had told him as much, and now he was using this mission as an excuse to build her confidence again. It was pretty plain to see, and on one hand she was grateful for his worry, but on the other she was disappointed that she had to work. She’d been expecting a vacation, too, even after all of the talk of this being an actual mission. Although if this turned into another catastrophe she doubted she’d ever be able to lead a mission again, let alone an army…
She sighed, crouching down to inspect the tracks again. They had come across a patch of softer dirt and loose shale on the mountain path on the leeward side of a small peak mostly hidden from the wind and elements, and clear as day for those that knew what they were looking for were the tracks of at least a couple of dozen Risen.
It should be an easy fight, considering the numbers the footprints hinted too. All she’d have to do is set up a line, have the support units in the back and Gerome and Cynthia flying cover and the Risen would be easy pickings. Of course there was always the off-chance more had shown up from some other direction, so she should also plan for that contingency, perhaps utilizing Khan Flavia’s experience and ferocious fighting skills to lead a smaller flanking group…
While Morgan wrestled with the options circling around in her head she was startled by the sound of soft, hesitant footfalls from behind her.
“Morgan?” Yarne asked hesitantly. “Everything… okay?”
“Just planning,” she muttered, running her fingertips gingerly across the edge of the footprints in the frozen dirt. “Trying to come up with a foolproof strategy. Not that one exists…”
“So there are Risen in the mountains?” the half-Taguel asked after a brief awkward pause.
“Looks like,” Morgan nodded, rising to her feet. “And my father’s decided to go into vacation mode and make me come up with the strategy.”
As if to punctuate her statement the duo looked over to Anna’s wagon where Robin and Tiki were laughing heartily and making a ruckus, much to Huginn’s irritation. The raven cawed loudly in Robin’s ear, earning more laughter from Tiki while he struggled to get a hand on the retreating bird.
“Well, I’m right behind you, whatever you choose to do,” Yarne said confidently, placing a comforting hand on Morgan’s shoulder and bringing her attention back to the task at hand.
“Thanks, Bunny,” she muttered, stepping into his chest and wrapping her arms around him quickly.
Before Yarne could react they both jumped as someone shouted “Ew, public-display-of-affection! Gross!” behind them to the laughter of the rest of the Shepherds.
Morgan spun, poking her tongue at her father as his hands dropped from where they had been cupped around his mouth to shout, and giving Yarne a pat on the chest.
“C’mon, that was just the distraction I needed to get my head in the right place,” she said as she began walking back to the others. “I’ve got a plan. Or I’m starting to get one, anyway…”
“I get chills when you say that,” Yarne said as he followed her.
“Good chills or bad chills?” Morgan asked playfully.
“I haven’t decided yet,” he deadpanned, rolling his eyes.
Morgan chuckled and shook her head as they jogged back to where the others were waiting, arriving just in time to watch as Robin flopped down in the back of Anna’s wagon, disturbing Flavia and earning him a lethal kick to his ribs, much to the combined delight of Anna and Tharja.
“Er… okay everyone, listen up,” Morgan called, getting the group’s attention. “We’ve found tracks that are most likely from the Risen, so here’s the new marching order; Gerome, Cynthia, I want you two flying recon about twenty meters around us; Yarne will take Owain and Severa and-”
“Hold, my fateful companion!” Owain called, striding forward and striking his favourite pose hiding half his face with his hand. “I was led to believe that I would be taking orders from none but my master for this journey! A mystic quest such as this must be presided over by-”
“Severa, slap Owain in the back of the head!” Robin called out, his voice muffled by the thick canvas of Anna’s wagon.
The redhead did so, almost gleefully, cutting Owain off mid-rant and making the others chuckle a little.
“Everyone follows Morgan’s orders!” Robin called out. “I’m too hungo… I mean, I’m evaluating your strengths and teamwork. From here. Face-down. Just… do what she says. Or I’ll sic the bird on you!”
Huginn cawed for emphasis from where he was perched atop Anna’s wagon.
“Lazy as ever,” Severa muttered, rolling her eyes.
“Nay, my lady!” Owain objected. “A hero must maintain his strength!”
“Trust me, he’s just hungover,” Tiki sighed, shaking her head and smiling; she’d partaken a little with the other two the previous night, too, but nowhere near the extent Robin and Flavia had.
Most of the others began to chat amongst themselves, too, and Morgan was brought up short; they never acted like this with the rest of the army, so she didn’t know how to react. Her confidence began to wane as she watched the crowd begin to relax further, before Lucina stepped forward.
“Alright people, we have marching orders, so let’s move out!” Lucina called, rallying the others as Morgan watched on, slightly put out that they would be so easily distracted. “Scouts, form up and get a head start! You know who you are; Morgan said your name not five minutes ago! The rest of you, prepare for combat!”
The younger Shepherds all hastened to obey their former leader, Cynthia and Gerome taking to the air while Severa and Owain joined Yarne as foot-scouts, the redhead grumbling about being teamed up with Owain under her breath the whole time.
“Thanks, Luce,” the younger tactician said softly as the Princess passed her.
“No problem,” the blue haired woman said with a slight smile. “You just need to let them know who’s boss.”
Morgan nodded, feeling a little better as she fell in with the others.
“That is one of the most beautiful towns I’ve ever seen. Ever. Like… painting picturesque right there. It’s the perfect place for an epic showdown! We have to hurry, destiny’s waiting for us down there!”
“And all at once you’ve lost me,” Morgan chuckled as Cynthia went off on another ‘Owain-tangent’ as they were becoming known.
However she did agree with the bubbly younger princess’ opinion on the town they were looking at from the mountain path; it was a beautiful and delicate looking village, looking almost as if it had grown there with the trees and other natural surrounds. Steam hung over the village in great sheets from the springs surrounding it, making Morgan wonder how anyone managed to dry laundry. It would be perfect if there were actually signs of people moving around, rather than the shambling figures of Risen.
Noire let out a soft whimper as she tried to hide behind her bow, surveying the town.
“It’s overrun,” Brady muttered, eying what was to have been their vacation spot full of Risen. “The people’re all gone!”
“The people are probably just hiding,” Anna said helpfully from the driver’s seat of her cart. “My cousin’s still down there, though, I guarantee that! She’d never leave her store, not without one hell of a fight!”
Morgan nodded, hoping the merchant was right.
“Forward; maintain tight formation and use the steam for cover! Someone please wake my father and Flavia,” Morgan called over her shoulder as the small convoy began to descend towards the town.
Tharja didn’t say anything, simply gesturing over her shoulder and sending a few weak lightning spells into the bed of the wagon, causing surprised yelps and a loud thud when Robin fell face-first out of the back of the wagon.
“Graceful as ever, master!” Owain practically cheered as Robin climbed to his feet and dusted himself off.
“Weren’t you in the advance party?” Robin grumbled, checking to make sure his nose wasn’t bleeding.
“Nay! The lady Morgan hath decreed we all march together henceforth!”
“Lovely…” Robin muttered.
“Come!” Owain cried, brandishing his sword and racing ahead. “Forward!”
“Owain!” Morgan called after the boy exasperatedly as he raced by. “Dammit, Owain, what happened to ‘tight formation’!? Get your skinny butt back in line!”
Down in the town, shrouded in the perpetual mist from the springs and surrounded by shambling Risen stood a lone figure, watching everything still as a statue. The figure, female in appearance, glanced up as something caught its senses, glowing red eyes in a slate-grey face blinking a few times as a thin, harsh line of a mouth curved upwards in a vicious smile.
“Sim…ia…” one of the shambling Risen muttered from behind it’s mask, hefting an axe and looking around expectantly as the rest of the Risen began to coalesce, forming around the lone figure.
The creature known only as Simia, the ninth of the twelve Deadlords, creatures ranked first among all of the Fell Dragon’s many servants, and first among the swordsmen of the Risen, smiled again as she silently nodded.
“Kill…” the Risen around her started to chant. “Kill…”
Simia raised her own sword, long weapon in the fashion of Chon’sin made from steel so dark it was almost black, pointing it up to the mountain path where their prey were descending.
“Kill the tactician,” she rasped, his quiet voice like dry leaves on a stone path moved by wind as her head lolled back a little, her feral smile exposing horrid, distended fangs stained by human blood.
“Kill… kill…” the Risen chanted, moving to their positions as Simia strode confidently towards the back of the hot-springs, moving with a grace and poise that the other Risen never showed.
It had been a long time since she had been summoned… Millennia, if not longer…
Finally she would taste the flesh of man again. She had waited long enough, and her patience had paid off; her prey had come to her.
“Kill… kill Robin… kill…”
The inhabitants of this pathetic town had done nothing to quench her appetite, and in the end she’d simply begun ignoring them. As long as they didn’t interfere, they weren’t even worth killing. She would turn the others loose on the village once the tactician was dead, but until then the villagers were providing perfect bait.
“Kill… kill… kill…”
Simia resisted the urge to join in with the chanting. She was… excited. She hadn’t felt this sensation in a long, long time. She was excited about killing the tactician.
She wanted to kill Robin… she needed to kill the man, to tear his flesh and drink his blood…
Simia threw her head back, roaring loud enough to shake the panels of the buildings around her, the shout being echoed by the others around her.
“Kill Robin!” she roared, giving in to her temptation. “Kill the tactician!”
The chanting went on as Simia took up her position waiting at the back of the springs, kneading the grip of her sword expectantly. The plan that the master’s servants had given her was foolproof…
“Kill… kill Robin… kill…”
“Soon…” Simia hissed, running a black tongue over her dry lips in anticipation.
Oh, this is going to end badly, Robin thought as he took his first steps into the town, side by side with Tiki, Owain and Flavia.
His hangover was getting worse from all the physical activity, and now his head was pounding in time with the beating of his heart, making him wish he’d held off on vacationing until the actual vacation had started. He held a hand to his head, telling himself that this was just a hangover and ignoring the familiar sensation flooding the back of his mind. Giving his head a shake the sensation faded, leaving Robin wondering if it was just his imagination that Tharja’s little charm felt a little warm against his chest.
The Risen had vanished as soon as they had started moving down towards the town, showing cohesion and intelligence that obviously meant there was a Chieftain close by coordinating their efforts. Fortunately Morgan knew that she would need to kill it fast, and Cynthia and Gerome were already scouting for the creature.
“Head towards Anna’s cousin’s Inn,” Morgan ordered, her voice low in the eerie silence. “We’ll secure that point first and start clearing the town building by building if we have to.”
Now that they had made contact, if only visual, with the enemy the young Shepherds had fallen back on a lifetime of habits and become the hardened soldiers they, in fact, were once again.
Even Owain was being miraculously silent, which was starting to worry Robin a little if he were honest.
They reached the inn with no further encounters, the silence starting to put Robin on edge.
“Stay here,” Morgan ordered to the majority of Shepherds as she, Robin and Anna moved to investigate the inn with their weapons in hand, a large two-story building made in the local style that would have easily housed all of the Shepherds, present and future.
“Hello?” Morgan called out tentatively as they stepped into the lobby.
“Oh, welcome!” A perfect copy of Anna, but with dark purple hair rather than Anna’s red hair and wearing a yukata like the locals most likely did, shouted cheerfully as she appeared suddenly from behind the counter, making the trio jump. “You must be the Ylisseans. I have your reservation right here. Has your whole party arrived, or are you still waiting on a few?”
“Hello, cousin!” Anna practically shouted, rushing forward to embrace her clone.
“Anna! It’s so good to see you! I was hoping you’d come after I got your message!”
The two women laughed happily as Morgan and Robin stood dumbfounded. Robin cleared his throat as the two started talking profit and loss for the Anna-clone’s inn, knowing that if he didn’t intervene now he’d never get them to shut up.
“Er… hi,” he said lamely. “I noticed you have a slight… Risen problem?”
“What, those weird masked things that are hogging my springs?” the Anna-clone said angrily. “You bet they’re a problem! They didn’t even pay the cover charge!”
“Are the villagers safe?” Robin sighed, getting the distinct impression the two women were not just similar in appearance.
“Yeah, and are you okay, Anna?” Anna asked, rounding on her cousin again.
“Oh, I’m fine!” she said, waving a hand dismissively before flexing a bicep. “I can still swing a lance around, just like in the old travelling days!”
“Okay, that’s all fine and dandy,” Robin said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “But did she just call you ‘Anna’?”
“Of course,” both Annas said in perfect sync.
“Forget it,” Robin muttered, shaking his head and taking a few steps away. “I don’t care. I just… I’m still so hung-over I just don’t care…”
“Er… how are the villagers?” Morgan asked, taking up the slack where her father left off.
“Oh, they’re all holed up in the bigger houses,” Anna of the hot spring town explained. “For some weird reason the Risen-thingies are only attacking us if we provoke them, but I’ve got an inn-full of tourists that’ve come just to see these springs, and now they’re shut up inside! Hey, those creatures are bad for business. If you lot can clear them out, I’ll put you all up for three nights, free of charge; VIP treatment, yukata rental and all!”
“Deal,” Robin said quickly, suddenly across the room and pumping her hand up and down vigorously.
Morgan and Anna rolled their eyes; at last, Robin had shown his true colours.
Robin ran a hand through his hair as he watched Morgan organizing the Shepherds into squads for the battle, hesitating and wincing when he found a particularly large knot towards the back. A few Shepherds, such as himself, Owain, Severa and Lucina would be hanging back as a rearguard, but the rest would all be moving ahead without restraint and pushing in on the Risen hiding in the springs. The rest were getting ready to lead a two-pronged attack, Morgan personally leading one group while Flavia led the other. Apparently the Khan couldn’t decide what she was more excited about, relaxing on her vacation or killing Risen on her vacation; she had even said as much as she’d passed Robin, a huge grin on her face as she’d stretched out her arms.
A few of the braver villagers and tourists had snuck out of their hiding places to speak to the Shepherds or see what was going on, and Lucina was currently talking with a couple not a lot older than he and she were. Most of Anna-two’s, as Robin had started to think of her, clients seemed to be elderly, though; apparently the springs were a hit with them because of their restorative qualities.
Lucina finished up with the villagers and tourists, urging them all to go back inside and hide until the danger had passed before coming to stand with Robin while they waited for the main parties to prepare.
“Beautiful place,” he said idly, trying to kill time with small-talk while Owain pestered Severa a small way off.
“It really is,” Lucina agreed. “Though I fear the view is marred by the Risen. We must see them slain and peace restored to this land at once.”
“Oh?” Robin asked with a wry grin on his face, giving Lucina a sideways glance. “Aren’t we sounding especially passionate all of a sudden? That eager to enjoy the springs, are you?”
“I won’t deny that’s a part of it,” Lucina admitted guiltily. “But that couple I was just speaking to…”
“Who, the newly-weds?” Robin asked, taking a stab in the dark and internally celebrating as Lucina nodded agreement.
“This was to be their first trip together,” she explained. “It was to be their honeymoon. I cannot abide letting their happy memories be sullied by these monsters. I... I know how I would feel in their position.”
“Hey, first we get married, then we go on a honeymoon,” Robin said, perking up a little. “But I see your point. We'd better get to work. Then it'll be our turn to make some happy memories.”
“Right!” Lucina agreed, smiling and making Robin’s heart melt.
Good gods I must be the luckiest man in the world… Robin thought as Lucina curiously looked off towards the springs.
“Oh, speaking of that couple...” she added after a moment. “I spoke to the husband briefly. He pointed to that building and mentioned a promise to go there with his wife later. What do you suppose it is?”
Robin followed her pointing finger back towards a fenced off building and sign behind the inn, squinting and trying to make out the unfamiliar local letters.
“I’m not a hundred percent; if you want an exact translation you’d have to ask Morgan.” Robin admitted. “But… I think the sign says it’s a mixed bath.”
“Oh?” Lucina asked innocently. “What do they mix it with?”
“Er, no...” Robin clarified, doing his best not to laugh. “It's not the water that's mixed, it's the clientele. A mixed bath is one that men and women can enter together.”
Oh gods what I would do to go into that bath with you, Robin said internally, turning to glance longingly at the mixed bath and letting his imagination momentarily run free.
“What?!” Lucina cried, her face going crimson. “Th-they have such a thing here?! I'm terribly sorry, Robin. I had no idea what I was asking!”
Shot down before I could even drop a hint.
“It’s alright,” Robin laughed instead, enjoying seeing the usually composed Princess so flustered. “You had no way of knowing.”
Lucina looked down embarrassedly, shuffling her feet a little as they waited for the rest of the Shepherds to prepare for their attack.
“Though,” she said in a low voice after a moment. “Now that the initial shock is past...do you have any interest in trying one?”
Until that point in his life if someone had asked Robin if he thought it possible to choke on his own tongue, he would have laughed them off; however now he found himself coughing and spluttering as, in his surprise, he did just that.
“E-excuse me!?” he gasped once the coughing fit subsided.
“I would not force you, of course,” Lucina added quickly. “I just thought we ought to do something here, you know? Seeing as you practically took us all hostage to make this ‘mission’ work. I'd like to have some happy memories of this place. Let's think on it after the combat's done, all right?”
“Of course,” Robin agreed, straightening and adjusting his coat and spinning on his heel.
“Morgan!” he shouted across the small compound they were preparing in. “Get your butts in gear! Twenty minutes to rout the Risen, do you understand me!? Go-go-go!”
“Yes, father!” she said quickly, whipping the others into a frenzy of last-minute armour checks and weapons tests.
“That’s my master,” Owain said, practically swooning while he and Severa crossed to stand with Robin and Lucina as the Princess chuckled and shook her head. “He’s always thinking of nothing but justice and righteousness! He is right! Saving the villagers here is our top priority and cannot be accomplished fast enough!”
“Yeah, I’m sure that’s exactly what he’s thinking about,” Severa muttered, crossing her arms and rolling her eyes while Robin did calf stretches waiting for the others to start, suddenly invigorated.
“Less talk, more prep!” the tactician ordered, moving on to stretching his arms out.
I’ll win this single-handedly if I have to, Robin thought, turning to glance at the mixed bath again. Please wait for me, my dear. I’ll be there soon enough… Maybe I should see Anna-two about making a reservation?
“Alright, everyone prepare to move up!” Morgan called out.
Gah! No time! Forget the reservation! Time to roll over these Risen and get on with my vacation!
Robin drew Sol from over his shoulder, the long blade glinting dangerously in the afternoon sun.
“Forward to our vacation!” Robin shouted in way of a battle-cry.