Invisible Ties

Chapter 48

“Yes! Onwards, operation Code Bloodleaf!” Owain shouted, charging headlong into a knot of Risen.

“Dammit, Owain, we talked about this!” Robin called, following the excitable boy and leaving Lucina and Severa standing rearguard alone. “Wait, dammit! If you get killed your father’ll kill me! Then your mother will revive me and kill me again! Wait!”

The redhead girl huffed, crossing her arms.

“Idiots,” she muttered, watching as Robin flailed around like a fool trying to avoid Owain’s excessively theatrical fighting style.

The Risen were proving to be a little more of a challenge than they had first suspected, and it didn’t help that no one could maintain focus for more than a few minutes at a time. Gerome and Yarne were busily chasing a monkey that had stolen the wyvern rider’s mask all over the springs, felling whatever got in their way; Laurent was pestering Inigo, the usually flamboyant boy wilting under the scientist’s continual questions; Tiki was attempting to fight and talk to Nah at the same time, and surprisingly doing both admirably well; Brady and Noire were watching the battle, dumbfounded at how their allies could be so easily distracted; Flavia was carrying the battle almost single-handedly, tearing through the Risen like a woman possessed; Tharja and Anna were nowhere to be seen; and Morgan and Cynthia looked like they were in the middle of some great strategy meeting.

It looked like whatever plans Morgan had come up with were falling apart, but every few seconds the tactician would glance up, study everyone’s positions and nod with satisfaction before going back to talking to Cynthia. No doubt the girl had taken everyone’s behaviour and personalities into the equation when she’d been planning…

She cast a longing glance over the closest hot springs, watching the way the steam rose from their surfaces and wafted to the sky, the patterns that it made… she imagined herself soaking in one, a whole spring all to herself for as many hours as she wanted it…

All at once her fantasy was shattered when Owain cried out something foolish about ‘missing links’ at the top of his lungs, distracting her and bringing her crashing back to reality. She let out a sigh, closing her eyes for a moment to stave off the inevitable migraine she got whenever Owain was around.

“Was that a good sigh or a bad sigh, Severa?” Lucina asked, apparently in a particularly good mood.

“I was just caught up in watching the steam rise off of the pools. It's mesmerizing,” Severa admitted, crossing her arms and glaring at Owain. “Until someone distracted me…”

“It really is beautiful,” Lucina agreed, taking a moment to glance at the pools before going back to watching the battle.

“Brings up all sorts of memories...” Severa admitted, watching the way that Robin and Owain were battling the Risen. “I don't need to tell you of all people that most of them from the future aren't happy ones.”

“Yes,” Lucina agreed sombrely.

Severa stopped to think for a moment, scratching absently at the cord around her neck that held her mother’s ring; her precious keepsake.

“When we arrived in this time, my first thought was wow, our parents had it easy,” she admitted after a moment. “I mean, just look at all they have. We grew up on the tales of their struggles, but old war stories are always embellished.”

Lucina remained silent, waiting for the other girl to continue.

“But then I took a closer look and saw them working harder than we ever did. They're even more amazing than the stories make them out to be.”

“I agree completely,” Lucina said with a slight slouch to her shoulders, watching the way Robin balanced his sword-fighting and magecraft without a thought in battle; and he was only one example of the extraordinary skills of their parent’s generation. “We still have so far to go before we can call ourselves their equals. Each day, I'm reminded that we're still just children.”

Severa snorted derisively. “Excuse me? What are you babbling about? You don't count; you're an exception to the rule.”


Severa rolled her eyes, before listing off Lucina’s good points on her fingers. “You're freakishly strong, smart, and charismatic, not to mention strikingly beautiful. But I guess that's just good breeding for you.”

Lucina’s face went red as the Princess waved her hands. “Oh, I-I’m hardly… uh…”

“And modest, too,” Severa groaned. “No wonder Robin can barely keep his hands off you. Just stop already.”

Lucina looked down in embarrassment, and the conversation between the two girls stopped for a few moments.

“Just between us,” Lucina said eventually, “there are times when I really struggle.”

Severa blinked a few times before answering, letting the Princess’ confession sink in.

“What? Really?”

“Of course,” Lucina sighed. “Any boons aside, the Exalt's bloodline brings with it a crushing weight. Not a day goes by that I do not flinch under the weight of others' expectations. Or still worse, my own.”

Severa sniffed, crossing her arms again. “Huh. Even the mighty Lucina has her moments of doubt.”

“I'm only human,” the blue-haired princess chuckled. “Still, I try my best to see my lineage as an opportunity. To do good; to make change. Heh, that's something I inherited from my father, as much as the blood we share.”

“The resemblance is apparent,” Severa snickered. “I wonder if that optimism isn't the real legacy of the exalted line, though.”

“Perhaps,” Lucina shrugged, smiling. “I would be proud if it were so.”

Their brief moment was interrupted when Morgan shouted out for Lucina to move up with Owain, who had once again raced ahead, leaving Severa and Robin to stand rearguard. The redhead sighed again as she moved up, looking left and right at the springs, and hesitating when she spotted a sign with writing she could actually read on it.

Therapeutic skin treatment bath? I have to try this one!

She wafted some of the steam towards her, letting out a happy sigh as the scents of minerals and salts reached her nose.

“Mmm, this steam feels incredible!” she muttered blissfully. “And it's good for the complexion? This place is too good to be true.”

“Severa, what are you doing?” Robin panted, suddenly behind her. “We’re… supposed to be moving… up…”

“Ooh, perfect timing, Robin!” she said, spinning as a thought struck her. “Check out this spring. Its waters are supposed to work miracles for your skin!”

“Oh really?” Robin deadpanned, still breathing heavily.

Severa took a better look at him; he was soaked, not to mention dirty and sweaty, panting and red in the face. Obviously he was just another name on the list of people that couldn’t keep up with Owain like she could.

“Yup!” the redhead chirped, smiling broadly. “Just one soak, and you'll be smooth as a baby's butt! You should give it a try, Robin; you look like you could use it. Here, I'll waft some of this steam at you.”

“Er, thanks, Severa, but this isn't really the time,” Robin coughed, trying to wave the steam out of his face. “We're sort of, you know, busy right now, aren’t we?”

“Oh, a few minutes won't hurt anyone,” Severa said distractedly, spinning back to the spring and crossing the few steps to the water. “Besides, I don't see any Risen around.”

“Uh-huh,” Robin muttered, following her. “That does usually mean they’re hiding. You can spend as long as you like in the baths after this. Try to focus for now.”

Severa winced involuntarily, suddenly glad her back was to Robin; that was the exact same tone he’d always taken in the future with her when she’d been being selfish. But the water was right there, and it was calling to her!

“Gawds! All right, all right. Fine,” she sighed, glancing over her shoulder with the same pleading look he’d always fallen for in the future. “Can I at least dip my hand in for a minute? It's colder than you'd think out here, and my grip is starting to suffer...”

The tactician rolled his eyes, turning away. “Fine. Whatever. Just don’t fall in.”

“Woo! Hot spring, here I come!” Severa cheered, tossing her sword to Robin, who managed to catch it haphazardly as she dipped her hand in the spring. “Wooow, it's sooo waaarm! Aaah, I can't get over how good it feels! Oh, my achy knuckles! My poor joints have never felt better! I feel alive again!”

“Uh-huh… sure,” Robin deadpanned, obviously not caring. “You sound like an old man.”

“Who cares?” Severa sighed, soaking her sword hand. “It's not like there's anyone around but you to hear me.”

“And what, pray tell, is that supposed to mean?” Robin grumbled, frowning. “C’mon, we’ve got Risen to slay! Let’s get a move-on!”

Severa reluctantly pulled her hand out of the water, vowing to revisit this particular spring later. Her eyes fell on her hand, and she let out a surprised shriek.

“What's wrong?!” Robin asked, suddenly between her and the spring and wielding a sword in each hand. “Risen lurking in the water?! I told you they were hiding!”

“My hand is so smooth!” Severa practically squealed.

“What?” Robin asked, his stance dropping as he spun to stare at the young woman.

“So smooth!” Sever repeated, stroking the light pink skin with her fingertips. “My hand! Look! I just soaked the right one, and my left hasn't touched the water. Look how rosy my weapon hand is! How perfectly soft and supple it's become!”

“Brilliant,” Robin groaned, rolling his eyes and holding Severa’s sword out for her. “Not worth the heart attack you just gave me, but great. Though it's hardly a miracle for hot water to improve circulation and rinse away dirt.”

Severa ignored the tactician, her gaze switching between the springs and her hand. “If a quick dip of the fingers does this much, just imagine a full-body soak...”

“Severa, no,” Robin said firmly, moving between her and the springs again. “Please don't jump in. Please, please don't jump in. Don't. Do. It.”

She remained silent, staring longingly at the spring over the tactician’s shoulder.

“Severa!” Robin called out, waving her sword’s hilt beneath her nose to get her attention.

“Hwuh?!” she exclaimed, jumping a little as once again her fantasy was brought crashing down. “O-oh... Robin. D-don't be silly. I would never dream of jumping in fully clothed! Sure, I want my skin looking beautiful, but not at the expense of my clothes! Anyway, we'd better get back to the fight. Don't make me leave you behind!”

The redhead made to leave, moving to snatch her sword out of Robin’s hand but stopping when he didn’t release the weapon.

“Robin, what…”

She stopped; the idiotic grin on his face couldn’t possibly mean anything good.

“Hold on, Severa; care to explain that engraving?” he asked, indicating to the name carved on her sword’s hilt with a nod of his head.

Her face instantly changed to the colour of her hair before she glowered at Robin, taking the sword and advancing on him blade-first.

“If you say a word to anyone they’ll find you floating face-down in one of these springs, understand?” she threatened.

Robin nodded, clearly doing his best not to burst into laughter as he held his hands up in surrender.

“Of… of course… Severa…” he snickered. “Not a soul. And I certainly won’t tell Ow-AIII!”

His mocking was cut off when Severa lashed out with her foot, kicking him backwards into the spring.

“I deserved that,” he spluttered as he broke the surface, shaking the hair from his face and sending drops flying everywhere as Severa marched away.

Lucina jogged carefully through the slick pathways between springs, trying to figure out where Owain disappeared to and skidding to a halt when she heard his voice cry out.

“Why am I even telling you this!?”

She crept forward a little, peering around the corner of one of the many small buildings dotting the bath-grounds and spotting Laurent and Owain talking over a small book in the mage’s hands.

“Yet another of the many disturbing questions this document raises…” Laurent was saying.

Lucina withdrew; as long as Owain was out of trouble and not flinging himself at Risen on his own, she would allow him a brief reprieve. The sound of familiar maniacal laughter drew the Princess’ attention, and she found herself climbing to the top of a small pile of boulders that Noire was perched on, cackling like her mother usually did as she fired arrows into the largest knots of the Risen.

“Writhe before me!” the timid archer shouted at the Risen retreating from her ferocious barrage. “Though death may overlook you, I shall not! The toll for despoiling these springs shall be paid in blood and pain! Now, come! Crash against me and be dashed like waves against the rocky shore!”

Lucina found herself agreeing with the archer’s sentiments. “You're absolutely right, Noire. The people here won't be safe until the Risen are gone. Let’s finish them off quickly!”

“Aye, justice is ever swift as it is implacable, and these maggots have been judged!” Noire cried, loosing another barrage and driving the Risen back into the mist before Lucina could act. “Let them now face their rightful sentence at my hand! Blood and thunder! Also, I have a question!”

“Sure,” Lucina said, hesitating before leaping off the pile of rocks. “What is it?”

“Why does it never seem to faze you when I snap?” Noire asked, back to her usual timid self as she anxiously wrung her hands around her bow.

“Snap? I'm sorry, I didn't realize,” Lucina said apologetically, cocking her head curiously. “I must not have been paying attention.”

“No, I mean...” Noire insisted, struggling for the right words. “You didn't notice anything, I don't know, different about me? When I get mad, I'm...a little scary. I speak differently. I'm basically a different person.”

Lucina blinked a few times uncomprehendingly. Sure, Noire was eccentric at times, but no more so than Owain or Gerome or Kjelle or anyone else. She wasn’t scary in the least.

“I’m sorry, Noire, I’m not following you,” she admitted after a moment.

“You don't...” Noire stammered, going a little pale and making Lucina worry she was about to have another anaemic attack. “Wait, you really don't know what I'm talking about?!”

“You're you, Noire,” Lucina said soothingly, still being a little confused by the girl’s behaviour. “Who else would you be? I'm afraid I have absolutely no idea what you mean.”

The raven-tressed girl let out a little squeak, backing away. “It’s not natural!”

With that perplexing statement she spun and leapt gracefully down to the ground, before taking off in the direction of the next vantage point she could use.

“Wha— Noire?!” Lucina called after her. “Where are you going? And be careful running! The ground is slick; you could fall!”

Lucina’s attention was suddenly stolen when she heard the sounds of high-pitched squealing and laughing, gaze falling on Cynthia and Morgan up to their knees in a shallow spring and splashing each other.

“Oh for the love of…” Lucina muttered, hopping off the rocks and making for the duo. “They should know better than to be playing at a time like now.”

Across the buildings, Robin had seen the same scene, and was heading at the same speed to remind the two girls exactly what they were supposed to be doing here.

Cynthia sighed dejectedly as she sat atop her pegasus next to Morgan, the tactician surveying the battlefield.

“I still don’t know why they had to yell at us like that,” she moaned.

“Well, I suppose we might have gotten just a teensy bit out of hand...” Morgan said distractedly, sending out a small fire spell to distract the Risen closing in on Flavia’s back. “Not that we can really be blamed, this being our first time at a hot spring and all. But I guess I can kinda, sort, maaaybe see where they were coming from.”

“Oh, don't be ridiculous,” Cynthia argued. “That was just a bit of innocent fun! All we did is barely touch the water and make a few little ripples.”

“At first, maybe…” Morgan chuckled.

“All right, granted, then we started splashing each other a little,” Cynthia admitted. “And then kind of a lot, and then we were both completely soaked.”

“Along with everyone near us,” Morgan laughed. “In retrospect, that was probably where we crossed the line. Laurent and Nah didn’t really look impressed.”

“Oh, they were having fun too. You could see it in their faces!” Cynthia insisted.

“Well, yes...” Morgan agreed. “But I don't think the fact that we dragged them into our fun was the issue. It was probably more of a ‘let's take care of the murderous undead first’ sort of thing.”

“Hmm. Okay, that one's a fair point,” Cynthia agreed. “But still, that's no reason to gang up on us! There's only one thing for it, Morgan. As soon as the fighting is done, we'll play the mother of all pranks on them!”

“Oh, I like where this is going,” Morgan grinned, her eyes never leaving the battlefield.

“Oh yes,” Cynthia said, rubbing her hands together expectantly. “And with my heroic charisma and your brain for strategy, it'll be a cinch! I call it Project Prankmaster Extreme!”

Morgan snorted. “How exactly does your charisma figure in to coming up with a plan?”

“It just does!” Cynthia said with a wink. “It’s the most important part! C’mon, everything’s going okay, stop tacticianing for a few minutes and help me come up with something!”

“I would…” Morgan said, a slight feeling of unease nagging at the back of her mind as she surveyed the battlefield. “But I can’t help but think this is going too easily.”

“Oh! Oh! That’s such an epic line!” Cynthia cried. “Why didn’t you tell me you were going to say it!? I could have come up with something too!”

Morgan rolled her eyes. “Sorry; next time I get a bad feeling I’ll be sure to let you know in advance. C’mon, I have a plan and I need you and your valiant steed for it.”

“I get chills when you say that,” Cynthia said, shuddering over-exaggeratedly.

“Why does everyone keep saying that to me?” Morgan laughed, climbing up into the saddle behind her friend.

“I swear…” Robin muttered, shaking his head as he and Lucina went to scout the western side of the springs. “First Severa kicks me into the springs, now this. These kids will be the death of me. How were things faring over on the eastern side?”

“Mostly done,” Lucina said with a soft smile. “At this rate, we'll be finished before supper. Plenty of time for these newlyweds to enjoy their evening.”

“Excellent,” Robin sighed, pushing the hair back from his face. “I'm sure they'll appreciate it. As will all the old couples who evacuated with them, I'm sure.”

“Heh, yes, it did seem as though the average visitor here was... more mature,” Lucina chuckled, relaxing a little. “I think it's sweet, seeing couples who have shared so many years together.”

Robin sighed, resting the flat edge of his long sword over his shoulder as they walked.

“I hope we're still sneaking off on little trips like that when we're old and grey,” he admitted.

Lucina deflated a little, looking away from Robin. “Yes…”

The tactician perked up, glancing back at Lucina as her pace slowed.

“What’s wrong?”

“Do you suppose we'll really be able to stay together that long?” Lucina asked, giving vent to the doubts that still clung to her heart.

“Uh… yeah, I fully intended to,” Robin said, scratching his head. “If this is about me not proposing I was going to put it off until after-”

“No, it’s not that,” Lucina cut him off, steeling herself for what she had to say. “Once peace is won, I'll have to try to return to my own time… Even if that turns out to be impossible, though, I can't remain by my father's side. But you're his tactician. His chief advisor. I don't see how our paths won't part...”

“Oh, come on, Lucina, not this again,” Robin groaned. “I thought we were past this song and dance.”

“I've been charged with saving the world above all else,” she pressed on. “If, Naga forbid, I should ever have to choose between you and that mission... I couldn't allow my heart to turn me from what must be done. What right do I have to be with you when I cannot put you first?”

“You have every right,” Robin said, stepping closer. “I knew I was signing on for all of that without you telling me. Has this honestly still been bugging you?”

Lucina nodded.

“What did I say?” Robin said, his voice and tone dropping to a gentle, soothing tone. “Back in Valm I swore I’d follow you back to the future if I had to, and I meant it. And I know for a fact Chrom won’t just let you disappear. I always swore I would support you with everything I had so you could fulfil your duty, and I know your father is the same.”

“But…” she tried to protest, cutting off when Robin’s hand reached out and stroked her cheek.

“It's all right, Lucina,” he said soothingly. “No matter what you choose, or where you go, I'll be right there by your side. I promise you again, here and now. I'll stay with you and support you for all my life. And even then! If I'm killed, I'll find a way to come back. Just like last time! I’m sure I can pull that trick off again! Er… maybe.”

“Don’t promise such things,” Lucina muttered, her own hand reaching up to rest on Robin’s and hold it closer to her.

“Hey, it's the job of a crack tactician to work miracles, isn't it? To do the impossible?” Robin said brightly. “I’d be a sorry tactician if I stopped doing so now.”

“But…” Lucina managed, taking one look at the innocent smile on Robin’s face and bursting into laughter.

“Hey, I was being serious,” Robin said with a frown, dropping his hand as Lucina clenched her sides, doubling over with laughter.

“No, it's just...” she managed, stopping to take a deep breath and compose herself. “You're just so desperate to cheer me up. It's sweet. I fear I have a tendency to dwell on the negative and imagine the worst. I'm fortunate to have been blessed with such a legendarily optimistic partner.”

“Heh… er, you’re welcome?” Robin said, rubbing the back of his head.

“Thank you, Robin,” the Princess said, straightening and beginning to walk again. “I feel a weight has been lifted from me.”

“Lucina,” Robin called out, stopping her by taking her hand.

“Yes?” she asked, a quizzical look on her face. “What is it?”

“I meant what I said,” Robin said with a serious look on his face, his hand tightening reassuringly around her own. “I'll do anything it takes to see that your future is a happy one. I just... need you to know that.”

“I know, Robin. I-” was as far as she got before she found herself being pulled backwards into Robin’s embrace, eyes widening momentarily in surprise before she briefly let herself melt into him when he pressed his lips to hers.

“Robin, this is hardly the time,” she said breathlessly, pulling back from him after a few moments.

“I know,” Robin sighed, arms still wrapped around her waist. “I'm sorry, I couldn’t help it. No... You know what? No, I'm not sorry. I needed to share how I felt, and that was the only way I could adequately convey my feelings. It may not be very befitting a tactician to lose control like that, but I'm a man first. I honestly think tactician ranks about fourth or fifth on the list, to be honest.”

“Just don't let the others see you,” she said playfully, reaching up and planting another lighter kiss on his lips as he went pale.

“Oh gods,” he moaned, stepping back and looking around them. “I didn't even think... Do you think they might have?! Severa’d never live it down, and Morgan-”

“I'm kidding, dear,” Lucina laughed. “It was only for a moment. No one saw… And I'm glad you did it. I am a woman first, after all. And your way of sharing your feelings was very... effective. Though I may require a repeat performance once the battle's over.”

“In the mixed bath, right?” Robin asked hopefully.

“Yes, Robin,” Lucina half-laughed, half-sighed. “In the mixed bath.”

“Yes!” he cried, pumping his fist excitedly in the air before racing off. “Run and hide while you can, Risen scum! I’m motivated now!”

Lucina let out an involuntary laugh as Robin raced off, joining up with Flavia and Owain as they charged ahead.

“Yes!” Owain cried in the distance. “Operation Bloodleaf Shadowstalker is nigh!”

Lucina allowed herself another moment of peace before growing sombre again.

“Forgive me, Robin,” she muttered sadly, watching him leave with the others. “Until this war is won, I cannot put you above all else. But I hope you understand how precious you are to me. I don't say it nearly enough... But I love you with all my heart. I would consider myself the luckiest woman alive were I able to grow old with you. You're the dearest thing to me in this world, and my greatest reason to save it... My one and only love...”

Robin skidded around a corner, still full of the insane energy that came from looking forward to something so much, and almost collided with Severa, having to drop to the wet ground and slide on his hip to avoid taking her out.

“Er, hi Robin,” she muttered quietly as Robin rose to his feet, waving Flavia and Owain onwards while he spoke to Severa. “Do you… have anything I can use to dry off with?”

“Karma,” Robin said, crossing his arms and grinning. “Did you actually-”

“No I did not!” Severa shouted, stomping her foot for emphasis. “Show me the girl who wants to leap into a pool fully clothed! ...I slipped. A pack of Risen flanked me out of nowhere, I got startled, and I slipped...”

“Well, I'm glad you're only soaked, then,” Robin said, still grinning as he began rummaging around his seemingly bottomless pouch. “Hold on, I still have a spare towel from when somebody kicked me into the springs.”

“That'd be great, thanks,” Severa grudgingly muttered.

And please,” she added menacingly. “I left the lot of them floating face-down in the water. Trust me, I made sure they got what they deserved.”

“Well, better them than me,” Robin laughed, handing her the fluffy cream-coloured towel he’d been carrying around, just in case.

“Amazing, aren't I?” Severa asked, beginning to dry off her hair and letting out a sigh. “But if I'm going to fall into a spring, it could at least be one good for my skin... Instead, I wound up dunked in a pool meant to help backaches and stiff shoulders! Between that and my pruned fingers, I feel like an old lady...”

Robin snorted. “Weren’t you complaining about stiff knuckle-joints before? Ah, this is all so ridiculous.”

“It is, isn't it?” Severa giggled.

“Totally...completely...” she sniffled, suddenly doing an emotional about-face. “R-ridicu... lous... Oh, gods...”

The redhead let out another sniffle before bursting into tears right in front of a very perplexed tactician.

“Uh… Severa?” Robin asked. “What’s the matter? Are you wounded!?”

“No!” she bawled. “I’m… I’m just so… so happy!”

Robin almost fell over with the ridiculousness of her statement. “Huh?”

“I mean, think about it,” Severa said with a final sniffle, drying her eyes on the towel. “We're fighting off hordes of monsters, yet we're cracking up over a silly spring? There was never any laughing like this in the future. Ever. I like to think I haven't gone totally soft since coming to this era, but still... Back then, you always had to wonder if you wouldn't be better off dead. Every time a battle ended, you knew there was nothing but more bleakness ahead. There was never any talk about ‘after this battle’ or ‘after the war’.”

“Hence why I organised this little mission,” Robin muttered.

“But here, we're all abuzz about what fun plans we have waiting for us, you know?” she went on heedless. “Soaking in the springs... Taking in the sights... Going shopping for souvenirs... It seems so unreal. We didn't dare to dream about that sort of thing back in our time. But it's waiting for us. Actual free time. No one to bury. No new battle to prepare for. It's ours to do whatever we want with, even if just for a few days. And that idea just... It made me so happy, I...”

Robin sighed as the girl began to sniffle again, being reminded of a similar scene with her mother after they’d first met. Following a paternal instinct Robin didn’t know he’d had until recently he stepped forward, giving the girl a light hug.

“Life has thrown so much at you, Severa, but look at you,” he said into the top of her head as, for once, she accepted the physical contact. “You're still standing strong. After all that hard work and perseverance, I'd say you've earned one heck of a day off.”

“I... I should hope so...” she sniffled, stepping back after a moment and trying to regain her composure. “All right, it's settled, then. After this, I'm headed straight to that bath, and I'm not leaving till I'm positively aglow!”

“There’s the Severa we all know and tolerate,” Robin laughed. “Though I'd say you're already glowing pretty bright as it is.”

“Wha—?!” she exclaimed, blushing. “C-cut that out... You don't need to make stuff up...”

“You’re the one that took a dunk in the springs,” Robin laughed. “I just call ‘em like I see ‘em.”

“W-well, flattery will get you nowhere!” Severa huffed, doing her best to hide her embarrassment as she flung the towel back at Robin. “Anyway, here's your cloth back. No more time for chatter. I want as much time in those springs as possible!”

“Alright, alright,” Robin laughed, folding the towel and tucking it back in his pouch. “Just be careful, okay? Lucina’s back that way, why don’t you go and keep her safe?”

“Alright, I will,” Severa said standoffishly.

“And… thank you… for before…” she added, her voice little more than a whisper.

“What was that?” Robin asked, clearly just baiting her.

“I said thank you f-for the stupid towel, of course!” Severa shouted, waving a finger in Robin’s face. “Don't think for a minute it's because you called me radiant or let me cry at you. This and that are completely separate!”

With that she spun, stomping off in the direction Robin had said Lucina was in, leaving Robin standing and grinning to himself as he marvelled once again at how easy it was to fluster her.

Lucina walked through the winding paths between the springs, on the lookout for any of the Risen that the advance parties may have missed. Familiar laughter sang out, making the Princess stop and look upwards. There, perched on the roof of one of the bath-houses, was Noire, still firing relentlessly at the Risen. Making up her mind to do something about their earlier conversation in the current lull, Lucina sheathed Falchion and set about climbing up to the other girl.

“Noire, can we talk?” Lucina asked, climbing up onto the low roof of one of the bath houses with the girl, who let out a squeak and almost dropped her bow in surprise.

“Wh-what about?” she stammered. “And why do you look so contrite?”

“I’m sorry about before,” Lucina said seriously. “I only realised after you left that you'd been upset.”

“Oh,” the archer said, blinking a few times. “Er, yes, well... It's certainly nothing you need to apologize for. It's no fault of yours that I went berserk... It's kind of a habit. Or... defining trait. I'm the one who should apologize.”

“Not at all,” Lucina assured her. “I should have been more observant. I just assumed you were your usual happy self and everything was fine... I'm afraid I'm terrible at picking up on it when people around me are perturbed. Apparently I get it from my father.”

“Er, I...I don't know whether ‘perturbed’ really covers it in my case...” Noire stammered. “But you've always been that way. You only see the good in people. Even when they get angry, or make mistakes, you're the first to forgive them...”

Lucina stopped to blink a few times, thinking about what her friend had just said.

“Am I really?” she asked after a moment. “I… I’ve never really thought of myself in that way.”

“Of course not,” Noire giggled, a rare smile brightening her face. “That's part of what makes it so wonderful. You forgive people unconsciously, without the thought even crossing your mind.”

“Well, I can't say I've ever noticed...” Lucina admitted before shrugging. “But if I'm doing something that helps you, I'm not about to complain.”

“You are,” Noire said with an empathetic nod. “Thank you, Lucina. And don't ever change.”

“My pleasure,” she said with a smile. “And I wouldn't worry about changing. If I'm not even aware of what I'm doing, I'm not likely to stop anytime soon!”

“Lucina? What in Naga’s name are you doing up there?” Severa called from the ground. “C’mon! Morgan wants us to head up the middle!”

“Go ahead,” Noire said when Lucina gave her a questioning glance. “I can do more damage from up here with my bow.”

The Princess nodded, slipping back down to the ground as Noire began to laugh and shout again, just like she normally did.

“It never ceases to astound me how she does that,” Severa muttered as they began to walk, weapons in hand, up the path Morgan had chosen for them.

“Yes,” Lucina agreed, watching the arrows flying overhead. “But that’s just Noire for you.”

They walked on in silence for a few more minutes, warily scanning everything going on around them, before Severa broke the silence with a large sigh.

“Again, Severa?” Lucina asked over her shoulder.

“More like still,” the other girl admitted. “Mostly I've decided to stop bothering to hide it around you.”

“Hide what?” Lucina asked, turning to face her.

“You're not the only one with insecurities,” Severa said bitterly, looking away. “Or a full-blown inferiority complex...”

“What?” Lucina asked, shocked at this turn of events. “Why should you feel inferior? You're Cordelia's daughter. She's hailed as a genius, and those doing the hailing are impressive enough as it is. No daughter of hers has any cause to feel inadequate.”

“Yes, I'm quite familiar with my mother's talents, thanks,” Severa snapped, before taking a deep breath. “That's just the problem. I failed to inherit any of them. I try and I try, and still I feel I'm just barely keeping up. But I can't even get anyone to acknowledge my effort, either. Whatever I do, it's because I'm the great Cordelia's daughter. That's how it's always been. Oh, sure, swans are all beauty and grace above the water's surface. Nobody bothers to notice they're flailing their legs like mad just to keep afloat...”

“In the old story, it's the little swan that has the most trouble seeing how beautiful it is,” Lucina pointed out.

“Yup, that's me!” Severa exclaimed, throwing her hand in the air for emphasis. “An ugly duckling! Except that I'm not going to magically grow up to be like my mother...”

“I'm sorry. I didn't mean... That was thoughtless of me,” Lucina quickly back-peddled.

“No, it's fine,” Severa went on. “You're right. Anyway, now you know. That's all I needed, was for one person to-”

“No. If I'm the only one who knows, let me be the first to say this,” Lucina said, cutting her friend off and spinning her by the shoulder so they were face to face. “Severa, your strength is a product of your own hard work and dedication. Cordelia is an amazing woman, but you have a light in you wholly distinct from hers. I've seen it with my own eyes time and again in battles we've fought, past and future. I'm sure the others have as well. And I hope they can see where the credit for that lies.”

“Lucina...” Severa muttered, blinking a few times with a shocked look on her face, before she relaxed and smiled. “Thank you. It feels good to hear that, especially from you. I feel... vindicated. Would you maybe want to do this again sometime? Talk, I mean. Just us two? We can unload all of our pent-up complaints about our perfect parents!”

“What?!” Lucina exclaimed, suddenly at a loss again. “I...I don't have any complaints about mine...”

“Then you’re doing it wrong,” Severa sighed, rolling her eyes and back to her usual self. “Well, whatever. You can sit there and listen to me, then. I've got enough for the both of us!”

Lucina smiled. “Oh, I don’t doubt it.”

“All right, let's hurry up and get through this battle!” Severa declared, hefting her sword and starting off down the path again. “Then it's into the bath for some girl talk!”

“Indeed,” Lucina agreed, blushing a little behind her friend’s back as she thought of what waited after the battle. “Off to the baths…”

“This whole day has just been one touching scene after another for you, hasn’t it?” Flavia asked playfully as she, Robin and Owain stepped forward carefully.

“Yeah? So?” Robin asked defensively. “You want a hug too?”

Flavia snorted, bouncing her sword on her shoulder guard a few times before speaking; apparently she’d seen him comforting Severa before, and was now more interested in mocking him than killing Risen, which was a big deal for her.

“Robin, we don’t hug in Regna Ferox,” she said, waggling her eyebrows suggestively. “What we do up in the north is much dirtier, and much, much more fun.”

“There are children present!” Robin cried, clamping his hands over a heavily blushing Owain’s ears for emphasis as the Khan burst into laughter.

“I did not need to hear that,” Owain muttered, a blank look on his scarlet face.

“You’ve gotta grow up sometime, kid!” Flavia chuckled. “Why one time I… Robin? Why are we stopping?”

The tactician had stopped; staring at a small shrine nestled against a blank stone wall carved from the edge of the mountain, signifying the very back of the springs.

“This is it,” Robin muttered, looking around. “This is the very back corner… but where are the… Risen?”

He looked around, eyes narrowing as he scanned the surroundings. He didn’t have any trouble picking out where the others were, even between the buildings in the compound and through the steam, but everywhere he looked he couldn’t spot any Risen. Which could only mean…

“Ambush!” Robin cried, raising his weapon as Owain dropped, hands grabbing him around the ankles as a hellish masked visage raised out of the water, dragging him towards the spring it was hiding in.

All around them the Risen were rising up from the springs, dripping and growling, snorting and chanting ‘kill’ over and over as they methodically climbed out of the springs.

“Kill them!” Robin shrieked, a scene from Northern Regna Ferox replaying in his mind as he danced away from the edge of the spring he’d been standing next to and the grasping hands coming out of it. “Kill them with fire!”

“You’re the mage! You do it!” Flavia grunted, gripping Owain by the arm with one hand and swinging her sword with the other, arresting his slide and fighting off the Risen at the same time.

Robin was about to snap back with a witty rejoinder before he had to duck, spinning away from the black bladed sword that was trying to kill him. When he rose he felt his heart freeze in his chest; standing before him, water running off her leather armour and roughly hewn clothes reminiscent of the clothes the Chon’sin soldiers wore, was the first maskless Risen Robin had ever seen.

“Robin…” she hissed, her hate-filled voice whispering past needle-like teeth, a black tongue licking at her lips as she readied her sword.

“Hi there,” he said, waggling his fingers in a lazy wave. “Have we met? I’m sorry but I’m in the middle of some-WHOAH!”

Robin found himself being pushed back again as the Risen woman slashed again and again, showing much more skill and coordination than her mindless counterparts, or even the other Chieftains he had fought so far. He noted that she looked mostly human, too; her limbs weren’t distended like the other Risen’s all were, and her form seemed to be pretty well whole.

“What in Naga’s name are you?” he asked, her blade bouncing off of Sol as he finally dug his heels in.

“Grima’s name,” she corrected him with a cruel smirk. “And… Deadlord. Your death.”

Robin grunted, putting all his weight into throwing her off his sword and back a few steps, giving him space to rally and adopt a proper stance.

“So you can talk, huh? Well I’m sorry, but death and I have an… understanding,” he shrugged, readying Sol in a two-handed grip. “I’ll be happy to send you to her, though. Give her my regards when you get to the afterlife. Come on. Let’s dance.”

Robin winced, feeling the back of his head flare with a headache he’d forgotten at the same time the amulet around his chest burned with heat.

The Risen growled, launching herself at Robin and forcing him back with relentless blows that took all of his effort just to parry. He couldn’t even keep his sword up long enough to counter-attack; she was like quicksilver, her weapon everywhere at once. A few times Robin felt the blade bounce off his coat, but even then she just redoubled her efforts, forcing Robin back to the shrine and away from where the other Shepherds were fighting.

“Master!” Owain called out, trying to reach Robin as he hacked his way through a horde of Risen still coming out of the water.

“Robin!” Flavia called, doing her best to do the same at the younger man’s side.

Robin grunted with effort, pushing back as their blades locked; she would have been two-thirds the size of him, and yet struck with the same strength as Chrom did! He swung high, and she ducked beneath the blade, spinning and landing a heavy kick with the top of her foot to Robin’s midsection, driving the air out of his lungs. He struck back by driving the butt of his sword’s hilt into her shoulder, but the creature shrugged the blow off as if he’d merely tickled her, going back to her dance-like sweeping blows. Robin groaned, back on the defensive again. Just as he saw Simia’s sword finally bypass his defences and flash towards his face a blast of dark energy hit her in the side, taking her by surprise and throwing her to the side away from Robin. Her flailing sword caught the bridge of Robin’s nose, though, carving a furrow across the front of his face and the bridge of his nose.

“Ow, dammit!” he cursed, backing away from the reeling Risen.

Simia rose bonelessly to her feet, her head twisting at odd angles and eying the new threat behind Robin.

“Thanks, Tharja,” he muttered over his shoulder.

“Nope, wrong! But thanks for playing!” Morgan said cheerfully, stepping forward with her spellbook open and dark magic still crackling around her outstretched hand.

Robin’s face dropped as he registered his daughter effortlessly using dark magic as Cynthia kicked her pegasus back into the sky before his attention was brought back to the snarling Risen charging towards him and his daughter. The tactician brought up his weapon, readying himself for another round with the demonic creature when she skidded to a stop, a confused look crossing her face.

He watched as she reached down to her sword’s blade, where some of Robin’s blood was still on it, and dabbed at the red liquid with the tips of pointed, taloned fingers, bringing them close to her face.

“Okay, if she eats that I’m going to puke,” Morgan gagged, her spell momentarily fizzling out.

The Risen leader sniffed, a look of doubt crossing her features.

“I think this has gone on just about long enough,” Robin grunted, throwing himself forward sword-first.

The Risen creature had completely dropped her guard, but managed to get her sword up in time to manage avoiding being skewered; Robin forced the blades down one-handed and struck with all his weight in a vicious king-hit to the side of the Risen’s head, dropping her like a sack of stones.

“Ow, ow, ow, ow,” he moaned, shaking out his bruised hand.

“Dad!” Morgan exclaimed, rushing to his side. “You’re bleeding! What the hell is that thing? Are you-”

“No, what the hell is that?” Robin asked, cutting Morgan off and pointing at the open page of her spellbook.

“It’s… it’s Flux,” she explained confusedly. “It’s a simple spell Auntie Tharja taught me. Why is that important? Your face is-”

“You are not to use Dark Magic again,” Robin said, cutting her off again as he stepped in close, trying to get his point across. “It’s not… not safe right now. Just… trust me.”

Morgan swallowed and nodded, clapping her spellbook closed without asking any further questions.

“Yes, dad,” she muttered as he turned away. “Sorry.”

“I’ll explain later,” Robin sighed, turning back to the Risen lying unconscious on the ground. “Thanks for the assist, by the way. That was good thinking, striking from above.”

“Apparently I’m not the first person to come up with it,” Morgan chuckled.

“Yeah, I’m sure Cynthia’d love to tell you all about it,” Robin chuckled, squatting down next to the fallen Risen. “Don’t you have a battle to finish? I’ve got this one.”

Morgan nodded, spinning on her heel and leaving Robin alone with the creature as she rushed to finish giving last minute orders now that the Risen leader was dealt with.

Robin glanced around for a moment before wincing and gripping the searing talisman beneath his shirt with his fist. Shaking his head he reached out and grabbed the Risen by the hair, pulling her head up and slapping her hard across the face.

“Wake up,” he grunted, dropping her head.

She started, moving to get up before she noticed Robin’s sword across her throat.

“Ah-ah-ah,” he tutted. “Not so fast. I’m not going to kill you, but in return you’re going to go back to your master and deliver a message for me: it doesn’t matter what he sends out after me, be it more like you, or four-armed tree-freaks, or conquering Emperors or whatever; I’ll beat them all. And I’m coming for him next. You go and tell him that. If you understand, nod.”

The creature stared up at him for a moment, the seconds stretching out as it stared at him, making the tactician’s stomach do back-flips just from looking at the thing, before she nodded understanding.

“Good,” he said, standing and stepping back. “The next time I see you, I’ll kill you. Get lost.”

The Risen woman rose slowly, staring at Robin the whole time with undisguised curiosity.

“Simia,” it said at last. “Name is… Simia.”

“I don’t care,” Robin growled. “Go before I change my mind.”

“I look forward… to killing you…” Simia hissed, smiling before she turned and ran from the springs, stooping to pick up her sword as she passed it.

Robin spat, wiping the blood from his face with the back of his hand and wondering just what in the hell he was thinking letting her go.

He turned, striding back towards where the other Shepherds were still fighting. He spotted Brady’s black cloth robes and angled for the priest, thinking he’d get the wound across his face taken care of before it left a scar.

“It… It ain’t healin’,” Brady said after a moment, his voice shocked. “I… nothin’ I do’s doin’ nothin’!”

“What do you mean?” Lucina asked, suddenly above Robin with the crass priest. “It is just a scratch! It should be child’s play to-”

“It’s a curse,” Tharja said, entering the room.

The three looked up, eying the Dark Mage with Noire and Morgan in tow.

“And just where the hell have you been all afternoon?” Robin asked, quirking a brow and regretting it when his face stung with the movement.

They were in one of the private rooms that Anna-two had said the Shepherds could use as they saw fit, Robin lying on a futon while Brady and Lucina hovered above him, trying to heal the wound on his face. The others had all fared pretty well, but Robin had insisted they receive treatment first for the small wounds that peppered the group.

“Following orders,” Tharja said, shrugging off her robes and passing them to Noire as she crossed the room. “Your daughter ordered me to defend the inn, so I did. Now hold still.”

Robin squeaked as Tharja knelt down, leaning almost uncomfortably close to him as she held the sides of his face and inspected the wound. If he hadn’t been able to sense the subtle channelling of magic she was working at the same time Robin would have thrown her off without a second thought, but she was inspecting his wound, so he grit his teeth and bared it. Without looking her hand snaked down Robin’s jaw and drew the talisman out of his shirt, flexing her fingers around it a few times before dropping it and drawing back.

“Yup,” she said, rising as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. “Just as I thought. You were cut by a cursed blade.”

“A… a what?” Robin managed, tucking the amulet back beneath his shirt and trying to hide his embarrassment.

“A cursed weapon. I almost didn’t need the ritual to tell,” Tharja explained, putting her heavy robes back on. “It won’t heal with magic. In fact it’s amazing the bleeding’s even stopped at all, really. You must have amazing magic resistance.”

“Or your little trinket’s working,” Robin muttered, gingerly rubbing the wound on his face.

“At least it will heal,” Tharja said. “It will still leave a scar, though. Be grateful. Usually it would just keep bleeding until you dropped dead.”

“Joy, another scar to add to the collection,” Robin grumbled. “Well, thank you for that. If everyone could please exit my room so I can change…”

“Of course,” Tharja said with her usual evil grin, leaving in a wave of black fabric.

“Morgan,” Tharja added, nodding at Robin. “I need to speak to you. About the dangers of using Dark Magic.”

Robin glanced up, nodding encouragingly to his daughter.

“I’m fine, Morgan,” he said. “It’s just a scratch. And thanks, Tharja; I owe you one!”

Morgan nodded again, crossing the space and giving Robin a quick hug before following Tharja and Noire.

“Well, at least I know me skills ain’t the issue,” Brady sighed as he stood. “Just don’t pick at it an ya should be right.”

“Thanks,” Robin groaned, standing and stretching. “Get some rest and enjoy the springs; I’d say you’ve earned it.”

“Ain’t we all,” the priest said over his shoulder as he left.

Robin let out a breath, glancing up as he realised he still wasn’t alone.

“Er… everything okay, Lucina?” he asked cautiously as she glared at him.

“Yes,” she said, crossing her arms. “Far be it from me to question how two old friends act together, even while inspecting magically inflicted wounds.”

“What? Tharja?” Robin asked, looking back towards the door. “That was still unusual, even for her. I think it has something to do with this stupid amulet she’s making me wear… waiiiit a minute.”

Lucina’s gaze narrowed as Robin broke out into a grin.

“Are you jealous, by any chance?”

Lucina snorted, looking away. “Not at all.”

“Aw, that’s so cute!” Robin laughed crossing the room. “You’re totally jealous!”

“And if I was?” Lucina asked, doing her best not to look at Robin.

“Then I’d take you by the hands…” he said, uncrossing her arms gently and taking both of her hands. “And I would lean in close, and whisper in your ear that no other woman even registers to me anymore. You’re the only one I think about. Period.”

Lucina let out an involuntary shudder as she stepped up to Robin, pressing herself against him.

“I think that might work,” she sighed into his shoulder.

“We had quite a rough day today,” Robin said, wrapping his arms around her back and speaking into the top of her head. “Why don’t we both get cleaned up and have that bath?”

“That sounds… perfect.”

“Okay; I’ll meet you there in about twenty minutes.”

“Hey, Morgan!” Yarne called out, rushing through the tight hallways of the inn to catch up with the trio of women walking down towards the room Tharja had claimed. “I had a great idea! Are you busy right now?”

The younger tactician spun on her heel, her face lighting up when she spotted her boyfriend.

“Yarne!” she exclaimed happily before sobering. “Uh… yeah, I kinda…”

“Just go,” Tharja sighed. “We can have this talk later.”

Morgan nodded, giving Noire a wink as the two women walked away.

“So?” she asked, turning on the half-Taguel. “What’s this brilliant plan, and isn’t that usually my bit?”

“Do you know they have mixed baths here?” Yarne said excitedly.

“Mixed?” Morgan asked curiously. “What… what do they mix them with?”

“Not like that!” Yarne chuckled. “I mean we can totally have a bath together!”

Morgan burst out laughing. “You just want someone to clean your fur.”

“No, I wanted to spend time with my girlfriend before we get back to Chon’sin and she has to go all ‘super-tactician’ on me again,” Yarne grumbled, crossing his arms. “I thought it was a good idea, anyway.”

“Oh, it’s a good idea,” Morgan whispered, reaching up to kiss him on the cheek. “And it’s very daring of you to suggest it. But you do realise my father’s room is riiiiiiiight there?”

Yarne actually jumped, backing away instinctively. “Do you… t-think he heard me?”

“Well, you’re still standing there, so I’d say no. Why don’t we both get changed and meet at this bath? Which one is it?”

Yarne nodded, all of his earlier confidence utterly gone.

“The… uh… third one on the end…”

“Is… is it worth risking my life for?” he muttered as he watched Morgan disappear to her own room.

He started, slapping himself in the face to gather up his resolve.

“Of course it is!”

“What’s going… on?” Robin asked a few minutes later, coming down the stairs into the lobby of the inn where a commotion was taking place.

“Dad!” Morgan squealed, jumping up and down in a new yukata. “Look, look! Aren’t they gorgeous!? Anna said we can wear them the entire time we’re here!”

Robin looked around; half of the Shepherds were wearing the traditional clothes, while the others were obviously lined up and waiting to try their own on. All of the robes seemed to be of high quality, but what Robin really wanted to ask about was…

“Why is your hair purple?” he asked, moving to pinch the bridge of his nose and thinking better of it.

“Isn’t it pretty?” Morgan asked, doing a spin and making her newly coloured hair sway out with the yukata. “Anna has an elixir that temporarily changes hair colour to match out yukatas!”

Robin had to admit the effect was striking on Morgan and the others that had taken the extra step; most of them were still their natural hair colour, including Cynthia and Nah while they laughed together about how beautiful their new clothes were and Laurent, studying the way the belts held the robes closed; Owain was already shouting about how his hair was now ‘Twilight Gloaming’ in colour while some of the others inspected it.

“Ooh, it looks great on you, Severa! Come on, let's get back outside!” Anna-two called out, stepping back and allowing an embarrassed-looking Severa to step out of the small changing room.

“H-hey, take it easy, would you? What's with all the pushing?!” she huffed, trying not to smile excitedly as she stepped out before the others. “Fine, we're outside. Are you happy? ...So what's the verdict? Yay? Nay?”

Robin had to blink a few times to recognize her; her usual fiery hair colour had been replaced by the same deep colouring Owain and Morgan currently sported, matching her yukata in a way that made Robin almost forget he was meant to be meeting Lucina.

“Yay, for sure,” he said, supressing a snicker as her face went even redder.

“Ohmygods, you look amazing!” Cynthia practically screamed, latching on to Severa and turning to Anna-two. “Me next! Me next!”

“Actually, why don’t we see Robin’s transformation?” Severa growled, glaring at the tactician.

Morgan’s face lit up as she latched on to her father’s arm.

“Oh! Oh! Let me choose his yukata! I saw one on there that would look amazing with his hair!”

“Let me do his hair,” Tiki laughed, suddenly at Robin’s other side, grabbing him by the other arm and dragging along with Morgan. “It was so much fun last time!”

The tactician desperately dug his heels in, arresting his forward progress until something bumped him in the back, forcing him forwards again.

“Have fun,” Flavia laughed as he glanced over his shoulder to see who would betray him so.

Oh gods, Robin thought as he was dragged by a gaggle of women towards the changing room.

“Easy! Easy on the coat! Morgan, Tiki, easy! I’ll get you for this, Severa, I swear it!”

Robin glanced around himself, checking to make sure no one else was around before he ducked into the furthest mixed bath from the others. He felt a little strange without his coat on, walking around instead in the yukata that had basically been forced on him, but at least it would be easier to slip out of when he got to the bath.

At least Inigo had been being forced into the room next, much to the usually confident boy’s terror.

“Those girls are really taking the whole ‘dress up’ thing seriously,” Robin muttered, shuddering as he recalled having the majority of his clothes yanked off.

At the very least he’d been able to keep them from dying his hair; he didn’t trust elixirs that he hadn’t brewed himself just as a matter of habit, and the one they had tried to pour on his head had smelled pretty suspicious.

Even after all that I’m still early, Robin thought to himself, stepping into the mixed bath house he was supposed to be meeting Lucina in, an excited grin rising unbidden to his face.

I know! I’ll get in and surprise her when she gets here! Oh, this is turning into the best day ever!

Quickly slipping out of the yukata that the girls had just taken so much time stuffing him into Robin carefully folded it and set it aside on the shelves provided with the towel he’d been carrying before slipping into the hot spring.

“Wow,” he muttered, sinking up to his chin and letting out a contented sigh. “This is… actually really nice… Best. Day. Ever.”

Yarne glanced around furtively as he snuck through the hot-spring grounds that were steadily beginning to fill with people again now that the danger was passed. People utterly ignored him as he slipped through the steamy paths, making for the bath house he was supposed to meet Morgan at.

He had slipped out the back of the inn as Robin had been being stuffed into the changing room by about four different women, including Morgan; as much as he would have liked to admire her new hair-colour and outfit he didn’t want to run the risk of being the next one on the ‘dress-up’ list, so he’d snuck out.

The Taguel snickered to himself; it wasn’t as if he wouldn’t get a chance to take a very good look at her all too soon, anyway… All he had to do was make sure nobody saw him going to the mixed bath. No doubt his mother wouldn’t approve. And Robin would fillet him on the spot…

Totally worth it, he kept repeating in his head. Totally worth it…

Yarne hesitated as Laurent and Nah walked by, both wearing yukatas and carrying what looked like the mage’s chemical experimentation kit. Judging from the huge smile on his face he was indeed about to do some experimenting on whatever was in the water at the hot springs. Nah hurried along beside him, smiling up at him happily and making the half-Taguel wonder just how long the mage could remain oblivious.

Shaking his head and moving on once the duo had passed, Yarne ducked beneath the shadows cast by the small garden next to his objective, taking one last look around, heart beating in his throat as he slipped into the building, already slipping out of his clothes.

She would be here any second now, and he’d dodged every objective in his path…

“Totally worth it,” he muttered, silently slipping out of his clothes and into the water, barely even disturbing the surface.

Morgan skipped as she stepped out of the inn, heading towards the bath Yarne had told her about with a towel slung over her shoulder, humming tunelessly to herself; the day had started out questionable, but now she only had to look forward to a nice warm bath, a hot meal and a soft, fluffy bed.

And an even softer, fluffier half-Taguel to share it all with…

Morgan giggled to herself as she stepped out into the hot-spring area, stopping just shy of walking into Lucina, outfitted much the same way she currently was.

“Oh! Hi Luce!” Morgan said awkwardly, her thoughts seizing up. “You look great! Er… what’s… up?”

“N-nothing!” Lucina answered quickly. “I was… merely going to take a… private bath!”

“What a coincidence,” Morgan said, an awkward smile crossing her face as a bad feeling settled in the pit of her stomach.

“Indeed,” Lucina nodded.

They stared at each other a moment longer before Morgan cleared her throat. “Well… see you at dinner.”

“Yes… dinner,” Lucina agreed, both women beginning to walk.

In the exact same direction.

Alright Morgan, calm down, the young tactician told herself, staring straight ahead as Lucina did the exact same. There are a lot of private baths over in that direction; she’s just going to veer off… any second now. Any… second… now. Veer. Veer! Veeeeeeer!

Both women took the exact same turns, followed the exact same path, and came to a stop before the exact same building, their awkwardness growing the entire time.

“So…” Morgan muttered, blushing. “The mixed bath, huh?”

Lucina nodded. “I… do believe we had thought to use it in private, but I’m sure he will not… object to your presence…”

“He?” Morgan asked, spinning quickly. “You mean… but I was coming here with…”

Both women’s eyes went wide, and the spun at the same time to face the building with abject horror in their eyes.

Robin sighed, leaning back against the warm stones at the edge of the spring and allowing his whole body to relax, feeling the stress melt right off of him…

He perked up when something disturbed the water. He couldn’t be sure through the thick cloud of steam, but he could make out a thin, strong form sink into the water.

That’s her there! Robin thought gleefully.

“Hey,” he whispered, moving deeper into the water.

The shadow in the steam stopped, looking in his direction before moving in his direction.

“Took you long enough to…” Robin said, stopping when he came face to face with...


“Robin!?” the half-Taguel shouted, ducking to cover himself in the water. “What’re you… you’re not Morg…an… Oh gods…”

A vein began pulsing above Robin’s brow as he glared down at the cowering boy.

“Oh gods, I’ll be extinct! You’re condemning an entire race to death for just doing what you were!”

“Yeah, with my daughter! C’mere so I can drown you in this bath! Worst! Day! Ever!”

“Totally not worth it! Totally not worth it!”

Lucina and Morgan stood, listening to the commotion from inside the bath-house as the two men found each other.

“Well, so much for that idea…” Morgan sighed.

“Indeed,” Lucina agreed.

“Want to go and use one of the women’s baths instead?” Morgan suggested. “I think it might be dangerous to try going in there right now.”

“I agree,” Lucina sighed. “Well, lead on.”

They managed to get a few steps before Owain came running up to them, out of breath and grinning happily.

“Greetings, girls!” he said. “Has my master come this way, perchance?”

Morgan grinned, indicating to the bath house over her shoulder.

“Many thanks!” the usually-blonde boy said, dashing off towards the bath house. “If you see the others, tell them that I found him!”

“Others?” Morgan and Lucina repeated, their question being answered a moment later as a small crowd, led by Flavia and Inigo rushed up in Owain’s wake.

“That way,” Morgan laughed, pointing to the bath-house.

Robin sighed, holding a hand to his head as he lay on his back staring up at the roof of his room, back in his normal clothes as he rested atop his futon.

In the end just about every other male member of their group had shown up to the bath, even some of the bolder women led, of course, by Khan Flavia; everyone except for Lucina.

It had been wild, and it had been fun, just… a different brand of fun than he had been looking forward to, and now he was simply lying there, waiting for someone to call out that dinner was ready.

Damn that Taguel… Robin thought, glaring up at the ceiling. I’m sure she heard me trying to kill him… I swear, next time I’ll get him…

He could maybe wrangle one more day for them to relax here, but after that they would have to start heading back. Back to reality… back to a lack of privacy… to rosters and work and no free time to spend with anyone.

Robin sighed.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow we can spend time together. It’s good for her to spend time with her friends, though. Remind everyone we’re two separate people. Oh gods I still have to tell her parents…

Robin didn’t even twitch when one of the Anna’s called out that their meal was ready, deciding he wasn’t hungry and that he’d rather lay in the dark, sulking like a child.

Gah! Dammit! Three cheers for lost opportunities! Robin thought, pulling the pillow out from beneath his head and laying it on his face.

The sound of rushing footfalls going by his door as the others clamoured for the meals faded, leaving Robin alone with his thoughts again.

I’m hungry after all… he thought with a sigh, sitting up at the same time someone knocked on his door.

“Come in,” Robin called, lighting the candle in the corner of the room with a flick of his finger; he didn’t need anyone actually knowing he was sitting in the dark sulking, after all.

Robin glanced up as his door opened and closed quickly, blinking a few times until he finally recognised the woman standing by the door.

“Lucina?” he asked uncertainly.

Not only was her hair down, but also… purple. Coupled with the beautiful blue-and-white yukata she was wearing it was enough to render Robin speechless. Not that she didn’t do that to him normally, but this was different. She looked astounding.

“You are not going to eat?” she asked, walking slowly across the room.

“Uh, no; I was going to skip dinner,” Robin said.

At least I was still deciding if I was going to skip dinner or not, he added mentally, deciding to leave that part out.

“I missed the chance to show you this look this afternoon,” Lucina said, spinning as she walked by him, giving the tactician a good eye-full.

“It’s a… uh, good look for you,” Robin managed lamely, his eyes glued to the woman.

“I’m glad you like it,” Lucina chuckled, passing him and moving towards the candle, kneeling down to the small light source.

“And I’m glad you don’t want to eat just yet. I had some plans to make up for missing out on the bath,” she added, blowing out the candle.

Robin blinked a few times in the darkness until he felt a presence at his side, his face breaking out into a new smile.

“Best. Day. Ever.”

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