“It is with great pride an honour that I present to Exalt Chrom the First of Ylisse, the Liberator of Valm, the gemstone Vert, treasure of Chon’sin! For generations it has been the charge of the royal family to safeguard this relic until the time to return it to the exalted bloodline of Anri came, and that time is nigh. Along with this stone I also entrust to him our hopes for the future…”
“Where’s Robin?” Lissa hissed to Lon’qu as the quiet swordsman stepped into line next to her, Say’ri’s speech continuing unhindered.
The tall man shrugged; he knew exactly where Robin was, but it was hardly something for him to bring up in the middle of an important diplomatic ceremony considering his wife’s volatile temper.
Chrom stood on the stage, flanked by Frederick and Cordelia in all their finery as Queen Say’ri presented him with one of the Fire Emblem’s sacred gemstones on behalf of the peoples of Valm. Flavia would be next, presenting Gules. It was a historic occasion, one that Robin wasn’t supposed to be missing. Every important political figure had gathered, along with what seemed like half of the continent’s population, to see this historic day and send the Shepherds off.
Lissa was fuming; she had personally dragged the tactician from the room he and the others had set up as their operations centre that morning, demanding that he clean himself up and be on time for a change, to which he had responded with an affirmative. That he wasn’t here didn’t bode well for his future, especially given Lon’qu’s wife’s love of practical jokes and the small space they were all going to be sharing very, very soon.
“Khan Flavia?” Say’ri said on the stage, finally finished with her speech and stepping back as the Khan snorted herself awake where she had slouched in her chair and stood.
“Er… right. Sorry. Here, catch,” she yawned, tossing a small gem to Chrom. “It’s Gules. Apparently Basilio had it and hid it from everyone, including me. Don’t drop it or lose it; that’s the national treasure of Regna Ferox and I want it back when you’re done with it.”
With that she sat back down, leaving a perplexed Chrom blinking, cradling the precious stone, and an irritated Say’ri standing in the limbo between the podium and her seat; she hadn’t even made it back to her seat in the time it took Flavia to throw Gules at Chrom and fall back into her own seat, arms resting behind her head and a wicked grin on her face.
Robin was missing some serious political fun here. But, Lon’qu thought with an evil grin, he was surely paying for it.
“How long can this thing hold a grudge!?”
“I don’t know! Keep runnin!”
“Father this is most absurd! Why… why are we being chased like this!?”
Robin, Vaike and Laurent dashed through the streets of Port Ferox, the three men running in terror from the vengeful spectre of Sully’s war-horse. Robin didn’t know what Vaike had done to anger the creature again; he didn’t know how Laurent had wound up involved; all he knew was that as he was heading for the parade grounds outside the city like he’d promised Lissa, he’d had the misfortune of stumbling across the chase and being swept up in it.
“Because you’re father’s a perverted idiot!” Robin laughed as they ran.
“Why do you find this amusing!?” Laurent cried, one hand holding his huge hat to his head while the other desperately pumped in time with his legs.
“Least all’a that trainin’s being put to use!” Vaike laughed, slapping his son on the shoulder as the trio came out onto the docks.
“You just had to piss it off again, didn’t you?” Robin laughed as they vaulted a low stack of barrels. “You couldn’t let sleeping dogs lie, could you?”
“Aw c’mon,” Vaike grinned. “Yer havin fun!”
A loud snort from much closer than Robin was comfortable with signified that their pursuer hadn’t given up yet.
“It’s just running endorphins!” Robin reasoned, letting out another laugh as they put on an extra burst of speed. “I’ll be pissed off when we’re not about to be trampled! Keep up, Laurent! That thing’s got a worse temper than its master does!”
“This is most unpleasant!” the mage shouted dismally as they were forced up the ramp into the Dragon’s Claw, the horse stopping at the foot of the boarding ramp and giving a satisfied snort.
Robin resisted the urge to retch as he leaned over the railing at the back of the Dragon’s Claw, watching the land mass of Valm receding in the distance. The Plegian flagship would once again be his home for the better part of four months, and he had thought that he was prepared for it, but apparently seasickness didn’t go away so easily.
Now that Sully’s horse was safely below decks where it couldn’t chase him, and Lissa had finished yelling at him for breaking his promise, he was free to lounge about and stew in his sea-sickness.
“Oh Naga please just kill me now,” Morgan said from the deck not far from Robin’s feet where she was curled up over a bucket.
“Buck up kiddo,” Robin groaned. “We’ve got a long way to go.”
“Ugh, don’t tell me that,” Morgan groaned back. “I’m tempted to just throw myself over the railing and be done with it already.”
“We’re not even out of sight of the land yet,” Robin chuckled.
The younger tactician let out a piteous whine, curling up on the deck.
“I’ll head below decks and see if I can find something to take our minds off of the voyage,” Robin offered, pushing himself up and valiantly attempting to keep his breakfast down. “I get the feeling you and I are going to get very, very good at chess by the time we get home.”
“As excited at the prospect of finally seeing home again for the first time, I still feel like dying!” Morgan called melodramatically after Robin as he descended the small staircase to the main deck. “And look for checkers! I hate chess!”
A lot of the Shepherds were milling about, unhappy at the prospect of being cooped up in the tiny ship again for the entire voyage, but restless at the thought of finally going home again after so long away. He glanced up, Huginn and Henry’s flock of ravens all perched on the rigging, watching the land receding in much the same way Robin had been. He gave Noire a little wave where she was lugging a crate full of her mother’s spell reagents around, dropping one side and catching it with her knee when she released her hold to wave back. Frederick was jumping up and down, leading a rather large group of Shepherds in star-jumps as Robin passed, glaring at the tactician for shirking his training regime, but not losing count. Yarne was up the front, huffing like he’d run a marathon as he struggled to keep up. The white-haired tactician bumped into Vaike at the top of the stairs, already swinging his weighted training axe around to stave off boredom rather than training with the others.
“How’s the sea-sick club?” the shirtless axeman asked with a snicker.
“Green and pukey,” Robin deadpanned, holding the ship’s railing for balance. “If you go and check it out, bring a spare bucket or something; we’re operating at capacity already. And put on a shirt or something before you get burned.”
“I think I’m pretty happy down here, thanks,” he laughed, going back to swinging his axe around. “And teach don’t get burned! Teach burns the sun!”
Robin shook his head as he passed, amazed that the man could find such enjoyment out of simply training, even after their brisk ‘morning jog’. He brushed by knots of crew that were busy doing whatever it was sailors did on the sea, and managed to catch Sumia as she tripped over some loose rigging spread out on the deck, all before ducking low and descending into the dim confines of the ship’s interior.
He sighed, rubbing the back of his head and looking behind him at the kitchen area, the phantom of a smiling old man in ratty leather armour up to his elbows in dishwater appearing and fading as Robin glanced over the space.
“Morning, Robin!” Nowi called happily from behind him, bouncing up and down as Nah followed her mother in a much more subdued fashion. “Watcha doin? Wanna play?”
“Me?” he asked with a grin, glad for the distraction. “I’m looking for something. But Morgan’s up on the aft deck curled up around a bucket and in dire need of a distraction; go play with her.”
“Right!” the young-seeming manakete cheered, doing a swift about-face and dashing up the stairs.
“You not going to follow her?” he asked Nah curiously.
“It’s a small ship,” the actually-young half-manakete answered, sitting down at one of the long tables in the galley and pulling out one of Laurent’s hand-written tomes. “What’s the worst she could do?”
Robin let out a slight laugh, wary of putting too much strain on his upset stomach, and gave the manakete girl’s shoulder a friendly squeeze as he passed her, ducking below openings and angling for his cabin at the back of the ship. If memory served there was still that old checkerboard in the trunk in his cabin, unless someone had moved it while the ship had been in use…
The tactician finally reached his destination, hand reaching out for the door of the closet-sized cabin that would once again be his home for the coming months, pushing it open with a gentle nudge.
“What the hell…?” he muttered, stepping into the alien room.
The walls were covered in bright tapestries featuring Chon’sin style artwork and letters, and a set of ornate Chon’sin katana were sitting on the small nightstand/table next to a familiar lacquered white chest-plate. His meagre possessions that couldn’t be strapped to his body were in a box just beside the door, the beautiful lance that Cordelia had given him leaning next to it.
“Excellent timing,” a voice Robin had thought he wouldn’t hear again for a long, long time said from behind him. “You can take your trash away from my cabin now.”
“This was my cabin!” Robin shouted, rounding on Say’ri. “Why is it full of your crap!?”
“Fie, tactician, isn’t it obvious? Because this is now my cabin,” the Queen of Chon’sin answered frostily. “I’ve already organised it with Lord Chrom at this vessel’s captain. Now if you would be so kind as to move, you’re blocking my path.”
“What happened to that little thing called leading your nation?” Robin asked in a flat tone.
“I believe saving the world is slightly more important,” Say’ri answered without skipping a beat. “I left Seiko and Keiji in charge, and will return once the Dark Dragon’s threat has been dealt with. Besides, I must safeguard the gemstone Vert; it is one of Chon’sin’s greatest national treasures, after all, right up there with that priceless antique sword you obviously didn’t think I’d noticed you openly flaunting everywhere you go.”
“I’m not giving it back,” Robin said petulantly, taking Sol from his shoulder and holding the sword close to his chest protectively.
“Then I shall not be returning your cabin. Good day.”
A vein above robin’s brow twitched as the woman stepped past him, closing the cabin’s door in his face.
“This isn’t over!” Robin shouted, bending to retrieve the little box and lance. “Not by a long shot! And why couldn’t you have sent Seiko and Keiji instead!? At least I know they’ll listen to me!”
I am so not getting that cabin back, Robin lamented internally, moving to take one of the few free hammocks left. It’s going to be a long couple of months.
“I’ll be damned if I’m giving up my room in the palace!” he shouted, turning to walk backwards and grunting when he walked back-of-the-head-first into the low bulkhead that separated the crew section from the cabins.
I am so glad no one saw this horrible defeat, Robin thought dismally, picking one of the hammocks and upending his little crate into the footlocker beneath it with a sigh.
Is it really so wrong of me to hope that she would have stayed in Chon’sin?
Shadows danced from the candlelight illuminating Grima’s Sanctum, the most holy part of the Grimleal Church at the Dragon’s Table in Plegia. It was here that Validar had relocated his seat of power to, claiming that the Church and the State must become one entity to finally resolve the many issues left in the wake of the last, utterly disastrous war with Ylisse.
The tall, slim man held out a hand and ran it along one of the railings circling the room’s overlooking balcony as he walked around it idly; he often came here when he had nothing better to do. It was here in the sanctum that Grima’s power was strongest, it was here that the Deadlords had been summoned, and it was here where he had been reborn at his lord’s will after cheating death. He felt a certain affinity with the dark magic lingering in the Sanctum, and it calmed him.
His other hand dwelled in his voluminous robe’s pocket, fingers delicately running over the perfect orb contained within; it was his treasure, his ace in the hole.
“My lord?” one of the young acolytes serving at the great Church said, bowing deeply. “There is a… a…”
“I know,” Validar said, his voice a harsh whisper, irritated at being interrupted when he was thinking. “Show them in.”
The acolyte backed away, still bowing low enough that his journeyman Dark Mage robes brushed the floor, before turning and racing to do his master’s bidding. The acolytes were all that remained of the Church’s original contingent of priests, the majority of the more powerful me being used as either vessels or sacrifices for the Deadlords that were prowling the land now, doing their master’s bidding just as Validar did.
The acolyte returned in a manner of moments, sweating and nervous as he led two cloaked and hooded strangers onto the balcony. He bowed low again, before backing away to wait at the door until he was called for, just out of earshot.
“What news?” Validar asked without preamble.
“The Ylisseans return,” a dry, rasping voice said from the taller of the two figures. “They will be in Ylisstol in… less than a week.”
Validar nodded, taking this information in.
“And what do you think we should do about that, Simia?” he asked, his tone almost bored.
Feminine hands the pale grey colour of dead flesh reached up and flipped the hood back from a harsh, angular face of the same colour, twin red eyes regarding Validar like burning coals in a firepit as the Deadlord glowered at him.
“Kill them on the road,” she stated. “Slaughter them before… they can hide behind their stone walls and guards. Use the Grimleal.”
Validar nodded in contemplation. In truth he had already considered doing just that, but had chosen a different tactic instead at Aversa’s suggestion.
“Ah, Simia,” he breathed, fingers with black nails as sharp as blades on them reaching out to stroke her pale cheek. “Were it so easy. I cannot act against them in the open yet. There will be more than enough time for that later. This is why I called for the two of you now.”
He dropped his hand, ignoring the look of contempt on the Deadlord’s face as she glared at him, unable to act against her master’s orders and kill the presumptuous man. Validar couldn’t help but assert his superiority as her master’s chosen agent, and it infuriated her.
“I would ask what Porcus thinks,” Validar chuckled darkly, glancing at the other figure. “But I think I already have a pretty good idea of what he would say.”
The second cowled figure looked up, a face similar to Simia’s with glowing red eyes staring out from beneath his cowl. However where Simia had been given the gift of speech, Porcus had rough stitching keeping his lips firmly closed as he gripped the daggers beneath his cloak, kneading them expectantly.
“Go,” Validar said, his feigned cheer dropping as cool indifference set in. “Take a squad of Risen and kill the Exalt and the Royal Family. Quietly, if possible. If not… well, it will hardly matter, will it?”
“And the tactician?” Simia hissed expectantly.
“Do as you please,” Validar said, waving a hand over his shoulder dismissively as he began to walk away. “If he dies now then he isn’t worthy after all.”
Porcus let out a low, wordless snort from his nose, drawing Validar’s attention back.
“Oh, but where are my manners? You must be hungry after your journey. By all means, go ahead and feed before you head out again.”
Porcus glanced up at Simia, the taller Deadlord letting out a derisive snort before crossing her arms and turning away. With the sound of tearing thread and flesh Porcus turned to the acolyte still standing and waiting for orders.
The boy looked up as the Deadlord approached, quaking and breaking out into a sweat as he beheld the creature’s smiling face for the first time in the candle-lit gloom. The acolyte’s tortured scream echoed through the entire Sanctum, along with the sounds of tearing, cracking and slurping as Porcus tended to his meal, Simia looking on and waiting for him to finish disinterestedly.
A chill spring wind blew through the grounds of Ylisstol castle, rustling the trees in the garden and making the staff shiver as they went about their duties. For nearly a year life had gone on as usual, uneventful as the young princess grew older and Cullen watched over her like an aging hawk.
The former Knight Commander, currently named ‘Lord Steward’ in his master’s absence, let out a small sigh as he leaned on the low wall surrounding the palace cook’s veggie patch in the back corner of the gardens, watching the new recruits running spear and lance unit drills as he cradled a steaming mug in his hands.
It was his opinion that he was getting too old for this lifestyle; when he had retired two years ago and joined the Ylissean council as the new Hierarch he had been looking forward to a little rest. Not that he would ever give voice to these thoughts; he had loyally served three generations of House Ylisse as a knight, and he would continue to do so as long as he was needed. But three generations was a long time to continue to fight, and he was tired.
The last year of peace had seemingly come from Naga’s grace itself; uninterrupted economic growth from trade with Regna Ferox and limited dealings with the recovering Plegia had been complimented by the fact that even bandits were becoming rarer now; probably due in no small part to the way that Frederick and Cordelia had burned across the countryside slaying bandits like wheat before the scythe.
Cullen smiled proudly as he imagined his old students leading a deadly charge across a field like he had taught them; it was a source of pride few ever got to feel, watching their old squires grow up to become commanders of the entire Order, and one that this old warhorse was humbled to get to feel. His students had long ago surpassed what he or even the late Commander Phila had been capable of.
However they were currently across the sea, fighting to ensure their home’s safety as he was left to tend the recruits and watch over the infant Princess, Lucina, who would one day, Naga willing, be learning from him as well.
He would be lying if he said he didn’t look forward to getting to serve his fourth generation of Ylissean royalty in a more advisory role…
He glanced up as the drill sergeant began to shout at some of the slower recruits; being a soldier wasn’t an easy life, something that Cullen knew from experience, but it was rewarding knowing that you were protecting the people you cared about, and that was enough for him. It was a fact he tried to pass on to every generation of recruits and squires he had trained; not just a lesson of war but a lesson of life, and one that Prince Chrom had taken to heart since the first time he gripped a training sword.
He let out a soft chuckle as the drill sergeant booted one of the slowest of the lot in the rear for motivation, not ashamed to admit he’d kicked a fair few recruits in his day, too.
He glanced up lazily as another recruit, one of the men that had been manning the castle gates if he wasn’t mistaken, came running up to him.
“Milord,” the youth said, saluting smartly. “We’ve just received word from the City Guard, sir. It’s the Prince! He’s returned!”
Cullen smiled broadly under his beard as the recruits running drills stopped, even the drill sergeant looking to him for orders.
“Well, what are you standing around for?” he shouted. “Spread the word! We have heroes to welcome home!”
Robin resisted the urge to groan as they entered sight of the city gates and he beheld what was waiting for them.
“Is it just me, or did the whole city turn out for this?” Cynthia asked excitedly as she led her pegasus by the reins.
“Looks like,” Chrom chuckled, placing a hand on his younger daughter’s shoulder. “They’re here to thank the brave heroes for saving them from the foreign invaders, after all.”
The younger blue-haired girl’s eyes lit up as she smiled back at her cousin where he was walking with his own parents.
“Owain! We’re heroes! We did it!”
The Shepherds chuckled as, for once, the loud blonde boy was speechless as he looked over the assembled crowd.
Robin chose this moment to try and sneak away, not one for crowds or adoration. He was just about past the periphery of the group, too, when a meaty hand grabbed the scruff of his coat, stopping him dead and dragging him back.
“I believe milord wanted you to march at the front with him,” Frederick said in a dull monotone, dragging Robin back to the head of the column.
“Thought you could get away, huh?” Chrom laughed as the tactician indignantly straightened his coat after the Knight Commander released him.
“Apparently I need to try harder next time,” Robin grumbled, frowning at where Severa and Cordelia were snickering as Frederick returned to them, having witnessed the entire ordeal.
“Oh just deal with it,” Chrom laughed, throwing an arm around the other man’s shoulders. “This is more your victory than anyone else’s. You’re the genius tactician that led us to victory!”
“I believe my daughter might disagree with that statement,” Robin muttered under his breath.
“Don’t be such a killjoy,” Chrom guffawed, releasing the man. “Now be happy and march with your family. Don’t make me make it an order!”
Not quite ‘my family’ yet, but if I mention that it’ll just start Sumia off on another wedding trip, Robin thought bleakly as he fell back into line beside Lucina.
“I told you it wouldn’t work,” she chuckled at him. “Father wants to share this victory.”
“So let him share it with the others,” Robin grumped. “All I did was the paperwork.”
“Don’t sell yourself short like that. We wouldn’t have won without you and Morgan leading us.”
Robin’s head perked up as a thought occurred to him.
“And yes, he will notice if you try to substitute yourself with Morgan,” Lucina laughed.
Robin’s face fell and he let out a sigh.
It had been a long, uneventful voyage back to Ylisse from Valm, full of nothing but training and boredom for most of the Shepherds. Robin had held chess tournaments, had been partaking in Frederick’s insane fitness regime just to stave off the boredom, and had even caught up on his writings that detailed the exploits of the Shepherds in case he lost his memory again. He had also spent much time with Chrom, Lucina and Lon’qu mastering his new sword; the two men had helped him to perfect his technique with his old rapier, so he assumed they would want to help again, and he’d been looking for any excuse to spend more time with Lucina, so it had worked out perfectly. Robin had no doubt that if push came to shove he’d have no problem going blow to blow with just about anything now, insane conquering emperors and evil dark dragons included.
He was in better shape now than he had been when they left, both physically and mentally; the scars of the war against Valm had healed, including the one caused by the Risen Deadlord’s cursed blade across the bridge of his nose, and while he still feared that the damnable voice would return, it had so far been silent.
And still he had been too lazy to get someone to cut his hair.
The one upside of the long, long, long voyage had been the opportunity to get to know the newer Shepherds better, and to grow closer to Lucina. He was now certain that Owain was insane, Severa wasn’t as cold as she wanted everyone to believe, Tiki was secretly almost as childish as Nowi, Say’ri really did hate him now, Brady was in dire need of a father figure, Inigo would flirt with anything that moved (as shown by his hilarious experiment to put Laurent in a dress and parade him in front of a drunken Inigo), Cynthia was a very dangerous young woman when her sister’s honour was involved, Gerome was wholly lacking in the personality department, and Morgan and Lucina got along a little bit too well for his peace of mind.
The sound of his daughter and Lucina giggling to each other as he walked by, completely in the dark about what they were discussing but positive it was about him, still haunted his dreams…
Robin glanced over his shoulder, spotting Morgan marching along with her mother, the woman that time dictated that Robin was supposed to have been with, Say’ri smiling a little as she chatted with her daughter.
Of course, Morgan had been smart enough to ask Olivia to cut her hair, and once again it hung to just above her shoulders.
“Do you think I should have gotten a haircut?” Robin asked absently as they came closer to the city gates and the cheering crowd.
“Why? Are you all of a sudden nervous about your appearance in front of the crowd?” Lucina asked playfully.
“No,” Robin answered. “At least I don’t think I am… How do you deal with yours being so long?”
“I brush it.”
Robin let out an involuntary shudder.
Never again, he thought as he recalled the time a certain ancient manakete had nearly torn his head off with a brush.
Any other opportunity for further conversation was lost when they entered the gates and the crowd let out a roar that shook the eaves of the buildings lining the colonnade.
The tactician glanced up to where Huginn and the rest of Henry’s flock were circling, thinking he’d rather be a bird right now; birds didn’t have to do this boring political crap. All Robin wanted was to go back to his seat in the Royal Library already.
It’s going to be a long day, Robin thought with resignation as he waved and smiled at the crowd, doing his best to hide how he really felt.
“Shepherds! Soldiers of Ylisse! Brothers in arms and friends dearest to my heart! Tomorrow we once again begin the preparations to face the darkness that would consume this world! Let us remember those that could not be here tonight to celebrate with us and mourn them! But tonight… tonight we drink and celebrate our hard-fought victory!”
“To victory!” hundreds of voices shouted, holding up mugs of ale as Chrom said his piece, his own tankard held high above his head.
The Exalt had extended an open invitation to those soldiers that had served in the League to join the festivities at the Ylissean Palace, and the banquet hall and grounds were packed to bursting as they drank and sang and danced to their victory. Robin wasn’t afraid to admit it made him feel more than a little claustrophobic as he threaded his way through the throngs of people.
It appeared that most of the soldiers remembered him as having brown hair, though, so he passed ignored and unmolested as he carried two mugs of ale above his head in an attempt not to spill them all over himself the way he had with the previous two.
“It’s going to take me forever to get the smell of ale out of my coat…” he muttered under his breath as he threaded his way through the groups.
Vaike was currently holding a crowd of at least a hundred men enraptured as he told tales of the Shepherds’ (mostly his) heroism on the frontlines; Frederick was busy grilling the officers that had been in charge of the garrison force left behind for every scrap of detail on everything that had happened while they’d been gone, his usual shadow Donnel absent as the boy had chosen to head home to his island in the south as soon as the arrival parade had ended; knots of Shepherds were laughing and drinking, as were the soldiers that had survived the war. The atmosphere was great, and even Robin’s grumpiness at being made to stand at attention next to Chrom while he had addressed the Ylissean masses was starting to abate.
“Here you are,” Robin said, finally reaching his destination, one of the many tables lining the palace grounds holding the celebration.
“Thanks!” Morgan said eagerly, taking the mug in both hands and starting to drink.
“Go easy,” Robin warned, taking a sip from his own. “Chrom broke out the good stuff tonight, so it might be a good idea to pace yourself.”
Morgan gave her answer by way of a belch, making Robin roll his eyes and think that she’d spent too much time around the Feroxi; one blonde-haired, red-armoured Feroxi obsessed with securing Robin’s services in particular.
“Where’s your mother?” Robin asked curiously, scanning the grounds and seeing just about everyone else present.
“She said she wanted to get some rest,” Morgan said, seemingly enraptured by the contents of her mug. “Get used to her new room, that kind of thing.”
Robin quirked a brow, reminding himself that Say’ri was being housed in the palace’s guest wing, not in fact his room in the Royal Apartments like he had feared.
The tactician sighed and leaned against the small table, watching the festivities and letting his mind wander. Tomorrow their attempts to halt Grima’s resurrection started in earnest; they would be sending riders out in every direction, led by Frederick of course, to track down the last of the missing gemstones; Sable. His part would be to do exactly what he had been doing before; study, come up with tactics, and ensure the remainder of the army was ready.
The rest of the Shepherds would be…
“Eureka,” Robin said suddenly, perking up.
Morgan glanced up curiously, her father looking over at her in a new light.
“I’m not going to like this, am I?” she asked, edging away from him and attempting to hide behind her mug.
“That actually seems like a good idea,” Chrom said thoughtfully.
“Really?” Morgan asked, her tone implying that she thought otherwise.
“Sure,” the Exalt said off-handedly. “Robin’s going to be busy with the entire Ylissean Army; the Shepherds need a new tactician, and I think he’s got the right of it asking you.”
Robin beamed at his daughter, hand resting on her shoulder as he told his plan to Chrom and the rest of the Shepherds at the table the Royal Family was occupying.
“I’m with m’brother,” Lissa slurred, leaning heavily on Lon’qu’s shoulder. “Morgan’s… great! She should do all the thinky-thinky for us now…”
Lon’qu nodded once in agreement, holding his wife up as unobtrusively as he could; it was pretty clear that she was still a lightweight.
“I agree, too,” Sumia said, bouncing the small bundle in her arms as she spoke. “It would be nice to know we’re in good hands while Robin’s busy.”
Since they had gotten back Sumia had barely put the younger Lucina, this timeline’s Lucina, down, holding on to her for dear life through absolutely everything since the end of the small parade. Robin guessed that it couldn’t have been easy for her to be away from her infant daughter for so long, even if she had been spending time with the time-travelling adult version.
“Any objections?” Chrom asked, looking over to where Cynthia and Owain looked about fit to burst next to the older Lucina.
“None!” Cynthia cried, throwing a hand in the air.
“It is fate!” Owain said, emulating her pose. “The Justice Cabal is triumphant!”
Lucina shook her head at her sister and cousin’s antics before turning and smiling at Morgan.
“I guess it’s unanimous then,” she said apologetically.
“Yay,” Morgan said, a strained smile on her face.
“Oh it’s not as bad as your father makes it out to be all the time,” Chrom said, turning to laugh in Robin’s direction. “Right Ro… bin…? Where’d he go?”
Everyone perked up, looking around for the suddenly absent tactician.
“He… used me as bait…” Morgan said, clenching her fists as a vein throbbed on her forehead. “He used me as bait so he could leave the party early!”
The entire table burst out laughing at Morgan’s realization, leaving the girl to sigh and sink into a chair near her friends, cursing the fact her father was so crafty.
The walls of Ylisstol were operating on a skeleton watch, every available man attending the celebrations either drinking or making sure that things didn’t get out of hand. However, Robin had come up with a patrol schedule that made sure the towers were constantly manned, and the patrols passed at irregular intervals so that no one would be able to sneak over them.
This made no difference to Porcus as he dug his fingers and the short blades on the tips of his boots into the cracks between the stones of the tower, glowing red eyes staring upwards at the firelight from the torches above him.
Like a spider he scaled the wall, never hesitating to search for hand or foot-holds as his leather armour slid soundlessly across the stone surface, instinctively knowing where to position himself to hide from light or prying eyes.
That was what he was. Porcus was shadows incarnate; he was silent death that dwelled in the night unseen, moving like a cold wind from target to target. All the Deadlords were darkness made manifest, but only Porcus clung to the darkness like a shroud; only Porcus knew the dark’s secrets, and how best to utilize them for maximum efficiency in his tasks.
His acute senses picked up the footfalls of the patrolling guard, and with barely a thought the Deadlord threw himself up the wall five meters, gripping the lip and pulling himself over it, dagger already in hand.
His lips, once more stitched together after his meal in Plegia, straining at the cord holding them closed as he grinned, driving one of his daggers deep into the guard’s neck and tossing him over the edge of the wall without a sound, without a single drop of blood falling on the stones beneath their feet.
The Deadlord ignored the soft crunch of the body hitting the ground, the signal to Simia and the nameless ones with her that it was safe to scale the wall here, as he scanned the closest tower, suddenly overcome with bloodlust. He’d been watching the guards and their patrol for hours now, and as crafty as the one that had come up with the irregular schedule was, there was still a pattern if one knew where to look; and Porcus knew that he had exactly seven minutes before the next patrol arrived on this section of wall.
That was plenty of time to go and tear apart the guards in the tower, and then be back to lead Simia and the others to the palace.
Porcus grinned again, starting off at the tower he’d been eyeing. There were only three men inside, and he needed the warm-up.
A few hours later and Robin dropped to the floor of the Shepherds’ barracks, sheathing his dagger and dusting his hands off. He’d missed the entire party, or the part he was willing to attend anyway, but it was totally worth it in the end.
“There. All done.”
He looked up at the naked rafters of the rough building that so many of his closest friends called home at where he’d just finished his work.
In script as careful and presentable as he could make it he’d carved ‘In loving memory of the mercenary Gregor, who gave his life so that we could all see victory.’ He’d even gone so far as to carve a little border around it, so it looked almost like a plaque dedicated to the old mercenary. It was rather well done, if he did say so himself.
Robin sat in a chair, still looking up at his handiwork, suddenly overcome with melancholy.
He drew his dagger out again, turning it over and over in his hands and admiring Jake’s handiwork. The weapon had once been the beautiful rapier that Chrom had given him at the very start of their journey, back when all he’d had was less than a week’s worth of memories, a hand-written spellbook and a ratty old coat. He’d broken it in the fight at Fortress Steiger in Valm, and carried the hilt around with him in the hopes something could be done with it. In a way it almost symbolized his own breaking and reforging; leading up to Steiger he’d been a complete mess, cursed and alienated from everyone he cared about, mentally and physically broken. Now things were finally back to normal, even if he was a different person. A different person, and a different weapon.
Robin snickered a little, sliding the dagger back into its sheath and standing.
“So this is where you’ve been hiding,” a hard-edged voice said from the doorway.
Robin glanced over his shoulder, crossing his arms and staring back up at the carving.
“Hey, Panne. Were you looking for me?”
The Taguel woman nodded, padding over to stand with Robin and looking up at the carving with him.
“The others were some time ago, but I believe they gave up and retired for the evening. Is this a common practice among man-spawn?” she asked, her head tilted sideways in curiosity.
“Kinda,” Robin said. “We leave grave-markers, usually. When we bury the dead it serves as a mark of respect to the deceased. Sometimes separate plaques or monuments are dedicated, like the one I made here. I just figured… I dunno. I feel better thinking he’s watching over us.”
Panne nodded, thinking for a few moments.
“It was common belief among my people that once we die our spirits move on to inhabit other life; much in the same way our bodies feed the earth, our spirits feed new birth.”
“Reincarnation,” Robin said.
“I have heard it called such,” Panne agreed. “But we did not necessarily believe that it was only for our people. We believed all life did this, even plants and prey-animals.”
Robin nodded, his hand drifting to grip the small amulet beneath his shirt.
“So what do you believe?” he asked conversationally.
“I believe it is not worth worrying about until I die,” Panne answered immediately.
The tactician let out a short laugh. “Yeah, that does sound like your thought process, alright.”
“What of you?” the Taguel asked curiously, turning her head to face Robin. “What do you believe?”
He let out a sigh, running a hand through his hair and shrugging.
“If you would’ve asked me that a year ago I’d have been able to give you an answer,” he said apologetically. “Unfortunately when you get as close to death as I did things get a little… murky.”
Panne looked at him questioningly; despite the constant joking about it Robin hadn’t actually spoken about his near-death experience to anyone. Not even Morgan or Lucina. Naturally, those close to him were curious. Seeing the questioning look Panne was giving him Robin let out a sigh and leaned back against the closest chair.
“Look, all I remember is… nothing. I mean nothingness, an empty desert as far as I could see. I don’t know if it was death or something else, but… I dunno. I guess I sound pretty silly right now, huh?”
Panne shook her head, her long rabbit-ears swaying with the motion.
“I would say you would have a better understanding than most,” she said softly. “As close as we come to death every time we take the field, you are the only one to actually experience it.”
“I’m starting to think that’s why my hair’s white,” Robin commented offhandly. “Think about it; I got so close to dying that it scared the hell out of me and my hair turned white.”
“Is that a common human conception?” Panne asked, completely missing Robin’s lame attempt at a joke.
“It was meant to be a… never mind…” he muttered, holding his shirt open and fanning his chest a little.
“Is it just me, or is it really warm in here?” he asked irritatedly as an afterthought.
Panne shrugged. “I am finding the night air quite pleasant, actually.”
“Well then…” Robin began, stopping as his eyes went wide and his hand flew down his shirt.
It’s… warm… No. Oh no. Not now. This can’t be happening now!
“Panne, where’s Tharja?” Robin asked urgently.
“Her quarters?” the Taguel answered immediately, noticing the change in the tactician’s behaviour. “Robin what is the matter?”
“We need to get to her fast,” he said, moving to exit the barracks and suddenly praising the fact he’d left his sword in his room. “Don’t let me out of your sight. Make sure I go to Tharja no matter what, okay?”
“Robin, speak to me,” Panne urged, moving to keep pace with him. “What is happening?”
“Hopefully nothing,” Robin said as they broke into a brisk jog in the direction of the palace. “Hopefully I’m just being a magical hypochondriac. But if I’m wrong… Panne, don’t hesitate to take me down if I start acting weird.”
“You are already acting weird,” the Taguel woman growled, easily keeping pace with the tactician.
“Okay, weirder than normal,” Robin chuckled. “Just trust me; I’ll explain once we find Tharja.”
Robin was panting and out of breath by the time they reached the palace gates, the grounds silent and the revellers long since having followed Vaike’s lead and headed for the nearest taverns. Chrom had already warned the establishments this was coming, but had already offered to pay for any damages caused just in case.
Robin glanced around anxiously. There were no guards at their posts.
“Do you smell anything weird?” he asked over his shoulder.
“I cannot tell,” Panne grunted. “Too much lingering man-spawn scent; you could wave a carrot under my nose right now and I wouldn’t be able to smell it.”
“They probably all went out drinking,” he reasoned, starting to run again and slipping through one of the palace’s smaller side doors. “Frederick’s going to kick their arses in the morning. C’mon. We’ve gotta keep moving.”
“In the time we have been running you could easily have explained what’s going on,” the Taguel complained.
“Not really,” Robin said apologetically as he led them through the empty servant corridors, wincing every time the hot pendant struck his skin but afraid to take it off just in case. “Trust me, Tharja explains it much better than I do.”
Panne stopped as they reached the large staircase in the main hall, looking around warily. Robin made it about half way up the stairs before he realized she had stopped, looking back down expectantly.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, his tone strained as he tried to keep the burning hot amulet off his chest. “We haven’t got a lot of time here.”
“Those were the servant corridors, correct?”
“Then where were all the servants?”
Robin blinked, looking around. The hall was empty and the torches and lamps unlit. There should have been servants still moving about, cleaning up after the party, but everything was still.
“Something is very wrong here,” Robin said as Panne slowly moved to join him on the stairs. “Forget what I said earlier; I need you to go and make sure baby-Lucina is safe. I’ll find Tharja and find out what’s going on.”
Panne nodded without hesitating, leaning forward and shifting into her Taguel form, taking off like a shot down the abandoned corridors.
Please just let me be over-reacting, Robin begged internally as he reached the top of the stairs. Let the entire palace staff have gone out drinking with the others. Please, please, please…
The hairs on the back of the tactician’s neck rose, the amulet flaring with heat again demanding his attention.
Gritting his teeth and baring the pain, Robin drew his dagger and started edging down the hallway to the apartments he, Tharja and Virion occupied. Of course no there was no doubt that Henry and Cherche had moved in, too, but…
A sound caught Robin’s attention; less a sound and more a premonition of a sound, a light whisper of parting air. The tactician ducked without thinking, a darkened blade passing over his head and shearing through the hair too slow to follow his head.
“Assa-” was as far as his warning shout got before a booted foot found his ribs, forcing him back a few steps coughing and spluttering.
Two blood soaked Risen stood before him, appearing out of the shadows with cowls pulled low over their faces and menacing leather half-masks covering the lower halves of their faces.
I should have known this would happen, Robin thought with a sigh.
He grit his teeth again, darting forward with his dagger ready and knocking aside the blade of the first Risen. With a vicious kick he dislocated the creature’s knee, dancing around it to slash its neck open with his momentum and engage the other. He brought his open hand forward, the heel of his palm striking it square in the chest and forcing it back, giving Robin enough time to bring his dagger around and bury it in the Risen’s chest in a shower of purple ashes.
“Assassins!” Robin roared as loud as he could. “To arms! Risen in the palace! Ris-argh dammit!”
He was cut off again as a third Risen fell from the ceiling, landing on his back and knocking him to the floor in a tangle of limbs. The creature growled a low, menacing sound, obviously irritated that the surprise attack had been given away. An arrow appeared in its side, distracting it long enough for Robin to get his dagger up and ram it in the creature’s chest.
“I must still be drunk,” Virion complained, lowering his bow as the Risen straddling Robin dissipated. “I was aiming for its head.”
“Are you okay, Robin?” Cherche asked, her form-hugging chest-plate hanging loosely over her nightgown as she came to help him up, axe resting on one shoulder.
“I’m fine, go make sure the Princess is safe,” Robin said, patting the purple ashes and dust off the front of his coat.
“Which Princess?” Virion asked glibly, already moving with Cherche in the direction that Panne had.
“The one that can’t swing a sword yet, you dolt!” Robin called after him, earning a rude hand gesture in response.
Cynthia and older-Lucina will be fine, they can take care of themselves, but if the target is the royal family then the child is in serious danger. I was right to send Panne ahead. Dammit, how can Tharja and Henry still be sleeping through this!?
The sounds of sleeping people rousing and readying weapons began to grow as he strode down the hallway, intent on making sure that his Dark Mage friends were alright before circling around to the Exalt’s Chambers, his progress stopping dead as a familiar form stepped out from around the closest corner.
“Oh I knew it was a bad idea letting you go,” Robin moaned as the female shape drew her hood back, revealing the face of the Risen that had been haunting his dreams lately.
“On the plus side, I don’t have to come looking for you now,” he added, shaking his neck out. “No loose ends, right?”
The Risen woman, Simia she had called herself in Chon’sin, grinned and chuckled, her pointed teeth making Robin instantly nauseous as his amulet gave another pulse of heat.
“I like it… when my prey talks,” she hissed, holding up her black-bladed sword and tossing the cloak she had been hiding beneath aside as she began advancing on Robin.
“Yeah?” Robin asked, his pace increasing. “Just which one of us is the prey here, monster!?”
Robin ducked beneath her first swing to the right, bringing his empty left fist up right into the unprotected side of her torso where the armour didn’t cover. His knuckles caught on the edge, tearing the skin, but his blow was solid and he staggered her back. With the speed and skill born of months of nothing better to do than train with all of his weapons, Robin spun on the tips of his toes, bringing his leg into the back of the Risen’s knees and forcing her to a kneeling position with one swift kick.
She growled, bringing her sword around and almost catching Robin’s side, forcing him to retreat from the cursed blade; the black weapon was still an unknown, and for all Robin knew his coat wouldn’t be able to take a hit from it.
“You’ve improved,” Simia rasped, climbing back to her feet while Robin waited for an opening. “Good. More fun this way.”
“Can you even feel fun?” Robin asked goadingly.
The Risen’s superior grin faltered, and with a low roar she threw herself forward again.
Panne ran as fast as she could to follow Robin’s instructions; her instincts were screaming danger as loud as they could, and given the tactician’s strange behaviour she was inclined to agree with them.
She skidded around the corner, claws digging heedlessly into the beautiful carpets as she ran for the young Princess’ room. She didn’t actually know where it was, but the child had a unique scent like all humans did, and it wasn’t hard for her to zero in on it. There was another scent in the air with those of her companions, too; something unpleasant, like wet rot.
Movement from the shadows around her caught the Taguel’s attention, but she ignored it, focused solely on protecting the child. She automatically ducked beneath a dagger swung at her throat as she passed the first of the risen brave enough to step out and face her, landing a vicious kick with her back foot as she passed it, throwing the creature back a good few meters. The next two attacked together, and again Panne barely slowed, throwing herself upwards and lashing out with her claws as she ran. One of them managed to score a small hit on her fore-limb, but it was light and she ignored it.
There, outside her destination, shadows were coming to life. A crowd of Risen, waiting for what appeared to be their leader, a grotesque, hunched creature with its mouth sewn shut, to open the princess’ door. He nodded forwards, and the group moved past him to meet Panne while it watched.
How they had gotten so deep into the palace without raising an alarm was beyond the Taguel, but it didn’t matter.
Baring her teeth in an intimidating snarl she plowed into the group of Risen, kicking up clouds of ash and dust with each one she felled. She cursed her haste in getting here, having left at least six at her back, but it had been necessary; the leader’s hand still hovered above the princess’ door-handle.
Panne let out a pained howl as a sword raked across her ribs, spinning and lashing out before ducking low in a roll that carried her clear of the group and face to face with the Risen leader, grinning despite the pain that would be caused by pulling on the thread holding its mouth closed as it finally dropped its hand from the door.
Panne ducked to the side, not even sure why she was before she realised that the Risen had moved, throwing itself forward faster than she could see. It turned slowly, twin black daggers twirling in its grip, regarding her with inscrutable eyes and smiling that damn smile as she beat down two more that came for her, crushing them with her claws.
The maskless Risen’s head snapped up as Cherche and Virion skidded around the corner behind Panne, the wyvern riding woman barely hesitating before readying her axe and charging the horde of Risen assassins while the archer shot arrow after arrow, both amusingly enough still in their pyjamas as they distracted the rest of the Risen.
The Risen leader snorted, his cocky grin turning to a frown as it once again lunged for the princess’ door.
“No!” Panne cried, doing the only thing she could think of to stop the creature and throwing herself forward, knocking it flat beneath her claws.
It let out another irritated snort, squirming and stabbing upwards into the Taguel’s chest from beneath as she raked her claw across its front.
Fire exploded in Panne’s chest, an involuntary scream echoing through the corridor as the creature plunged its other dagger in with the first, twisting them both.
Robin glanced up, panting and dripping with sweat as shouts and the sounds of battle began to echo from the direction Simia was stopping him from going.
“You have improved,” she repeated as the tactician crouched low, his dagger held at the ready the way Gaius had taught him.
“Get out of my way already,” Robin growled, moving to throw himself back into their duel but stopping at the last second.
An arc of purple lighting and a ball of dark energy raced past his head, blowing his hair all over the place and making Simia jump back. Robin took the opportunity, dashing forward and past her as she rallied.
“You two deal with this bitch!” Robin called over his shoulder as he rounded the corner.
Simia made to chase after him, stopping short when another blast of Dark Magic from a flux spell exploded in front of her.
“I’ve never seen one without the mask,” Henry said, grinning like a maniac as he held his own dagger out, magic lightning still dancing across his fingertips. “Think this one’ll bleed for me?”
“One way to find out,” Tharja deadpanned, readying another spell.
Robin resisted the urge to grin as he caught sight of Simia’s outraged face while he escaped, leaving her to the two Dark Mages that apparently had very good timing. He wasn’t far off now, and he needed to help the others protect the defenceless younger Lucina.
He rounded the last bend, almost skidding to a halt as he saw the level of the battle playing out before him; Panne had obviously torn right through the Risen ranks in an attempt to reach young Lucina’s room first, and was now squaring off with another unmasked Risen, no doubt just as strong as Simia was. He watched the creature’s gaze flick around when Virion and Cherche charged into the hallway from the other end before making a lunge for the door.
Panne shouted, throwing herself forward and bringing the Risen down in a delaying suicide move. The Taguel got a good hit in, but screamed when the Risen brought both daggers up.
Both daggers made from the same cursed metal as Simia’s sword.
“Panne!” Robin cried desperately as the other unmasked Risen tossed her aside, the Taguel reverting to her human form as she fell to the ground, curling up and attempting to stem the flow of blood from her wounds.
The Risen looked up at Robin’s shout, readying itself for his charge.
The tactician went berserk, all thoughts of defence gone as he saw his friend curled up and dying on the floor.
Roaring all his rage at once, the tactician threw himself through the air, bringing his dagger down with all his strength on the Risen. It dodged, and Robin turned his leap into a roll, coming up and kicking out blind. His booted foot caught the edge of the Risen’s leg, staggering it slightly. The creature still managed to bring its daggers down, tearing a hole in Robin’s pant leg while he drew it back from his kick. Both of its blades were low, so Robin brought his in at mid height to keep them there, smashing down in much the same way that he had brought Simia down back in Chon’sin. The blow caught the Risen’s shoulder, making it drop one of its daggers with an angry hiss as its arm went limp, pain blossoming in Robin’s hand from his broken knuckles, the burning of the amulet now forgotten.
Their daggers flashed almost faster than Robin could see, evenly matched as the tactician threw caution to the wind and struck again and again as fast and hard as he could, spinning and kicking, punching and striking with elbows now that the Risen was partially disarmed. With an irritated clicking sound the Risen jumped back, an arrow sticking fast in the wall behind where its head had just been.
Glaring balefully at Robin the entire time the creature backed away, disappearing into the shadows down the hallway he had just come out of, the last Robin saw of it being the twin burning embers of its eyes as it faded to black.
“We’ve got this one, tend to Panne!” Virion shouted, sprinting past him with Cherche in tow.
“We’ll find Lissa!” the pink haired wyvern rider added. “Try and staunch the bleeding!”
Robin didn’t need to be told twice, throwing his dagger aside as he skidded to his knees next to the Taguel, curled up in the foetal position and gripping her wounds tightly, a pained look on her face.
“Panne?” Robin asked, gently trying to move her into a position he could easily tend to her wounds.
“Panne!?” he repeated when he found her completely limp.