“Robin? What are you doing?” a woman giggled, making the young tactician-in-training glance up from his book.
“I wanna finish this chapter,” the boy said excitedly from beneath a mop of messy dark hair.
A tall, lean woman with long straight hair walked over, lovingly ruffling his hair before grabbing him in a tight hug.
“What did I tell you?” she asked over the boy’s laughter. “You can only squeeze so much into your head in a day before it can’t take any more. Take a break, come have some dinner. We’re all waiting for you. A tactician can’t think on an empty stomach, right?”
“Right, mom!” Robin said excitedly, leaping up and following his mother out of the room, clinging to the cuff of her long black coat as they went.
But… as Robin walked he realised something was wrong.
The boy looked up, directly into his mother’s face, but he couldn’t make it out.
All he could see was glowing red eyes and needle-sharp teeth.
“Robin? What’s the matter?” she asked as he stopped, staring aghast at her and backing away.
“M-mom…” the boy muttered, terrified.
“Mom!” Robin shouted, throwing himself forward in his bed, his bare chest glistening with sweat and his amulet swinging wildly around his neck.
“Er… no. It’s… Olivia,” a timid voice said from his side, making him glance up.
Olivia was standing there, looking away and blushing furiously.
“I… uh, F-Frederick sent me t-to… that is… I mean…” she stammered.
Robin blinked a few times before pulling his blanket up to cover his bare torso.
“I’m covered now,” he chuckled, running a hand through his damp hair and pushing it back from his face.
“News came in,” Olivia said, sneaking a glance at the tactician but still beet-red. “Chrom’s called another meeting. At… at the barracks this time. I’msorryIdidn’tmeantowatchyousleeping!”
With that perplexing, shouted apology the timid pink-haired dancer fled the room, leaving Robin alone and laughing at the spectacle. He calmed, his tired mind going back to the dream he’d just been having.
Was that a memory, or my imagination? He wondered, looking over to his coat hanging from the hook on the wall next to Sol. I thought I didn’t have any memories from childhood. Must’ve just been a bad dream.
He stood, yawning and stretching before lightly scratching at the rapidly healing burns on his chest beneath the little amulet. He stole a quick glance at himself in the mirror hanging near his coat, wincing when he saw the horrible rat’s nest that was his snow-white hair.
“I cannot let Tiki see me like this,” he thought with a shudder, dragging his fingers through the mess in a vain attempt to neaten it, his dream already being forgotten as he began tugging at his hair.
“Wait,” Robin wondered out loud, stopping. “Why are we meeting in the barracks?”
Chrom sat in one of the chairs around the small table in the old Shepherd barracks, looking up with a fond smile at the carving Robin had made in the rafters as he turned a small shield-shaped trinket over in his hands a few times.
The Fire Emblem, the treasure of House Ylisse and the key to stopping Grima’s resurrection also known as the ‘Shield of Seals’, was deceptively small for something so powerful and important, only the size of an average shield. The Emblem’s burnished surface gleamed with the four gemstones they had already recovered as Chrom held it up and looked at it in the light; Argent, Gules, Azure, and Vert. He was proficient at fighting with sword and shield, although he did prefer the power and control he got from wielding Falchion with two hands.
“Ooh, fancy,” Robin said, stepping into the barracks. “Now I can see why everyone wanted to get their hands on it. Imagine how pretty Gangrel would have looked wearing that with his… yellow… ruffles.”
The tactician snorted with laughter before calming.
“Sorry, I couldn’t say that with a straight face,” he said, crossing the room and sitting down across from Chrom.
“Yes, Gangrel would have looked quite odd wearing this,” Chrom chuckled, looking back down at the shield and running his fingers over the empty socket that Sable would sit in.
“Are you sure it’s a good idea to use it in battle, though?” Robin asked, glancing at the priceless artefact.
“It’s what it was made for,” Chrom explained. “It’s no different from using Falchion in battle.”
“Which you have done a lot lately,” Robin snickered, leaning back in his chair.
Chrom nodded agreement, looking back down at the shield in his hands and letting out a soft sigh.
“Ah, I know that face...” Robin grinned. “’Duelling with unpleasant thoughts’, are we? I thought that was my bit.”
Chrom let out another, quieter laugh.
“You know me well, Robin.”
“Well you don’t follow a man around for the entirety of your memory, organizing his troops, running his army and doing all his dirty work for him without getting to know him a little. Ah, with all due respect milord.”
“You meant absolutely no respect in that statement and you know it,” Chrom laughed, joined quickly by Robin.
“No, but it’s not generally a good idea to irritate your ruler.”
“You know I’m just Chrom to you.”
“Sure,” Robin shrugged. “But we both know you can’t be ‘just Chrom’ in front of the men. Or the citizens. And I can’t be ‘just Robin’ anymore because of you, thank you very much.”
“Are the perks really not worth it?” Chrom asked with a raised brow.
“Well… I get to sleep in your castle, eat your fancy food and… I’m not going to finish that thought in case I get punched, but I’m sure you know where I was going with that one. So I guess yeah, yeah it is worth it.”
Chrom burst out in laughter again before quieting, staring wistfully up at the carving Robin had made. The pause dragged on, making Robin decide to take a different approach.
“Hey,” Robin said, getting Chrom’s attention again. “Remember when Lissa first brought me here? When I met all the Shepherds? And Sumia fell flat on her face right in front of me? Gods I thought she’d killed herself!”
“I do remember,” Chrom said with a distant smile. “Although I will admit I was a little preoccupied at the time.”
“You know,” Robin said in a softer tone. “Apart from waking up in a field and being marched across the countryside by a trio of armed total strangers, in a way that was my first memory. It’s definitely my first good memory.”
Chrom let out a small laugh. “If only all of our memories had been so joyful.”
“I know...” Robin sighed, leaning back again. “So much needless bloodshed. So many days of pain and doubt and fighting. But there was good in it all, for all of us. We’ve all done so much, grown so much. We would have never made it without you there to guide us, you know.”
“Funny,” Chrom drolled. “I was just about to say the same thing to you.”
“Okay, so I wanted to say ‘without me to guide us’ as well, but I thought a little humility might be called for right about now,” Robin shrugged.
“You truly are an ass,” Chrom laughed, giving Robin’s arm a light punch. “But humility does not suit you in the least.”
“I guess we’re just doomed to drag this world kicking and screaming to a peaceful future together, huh?” Robin asked.
“Of course,” Chrom agreed, clapping a hand on the tactician’s shoulder. “And I can’t do it without you.”
“I know,” Robin said, growing silent for a few moments before glancing up at Chrom mischievously. “You’re not about to propose to me, are you? Because you have a wife, and I don’t share.”
“You are such an ass!” Chrom repeated, punching the tactician again as they both burst into laughter.
“It won’t be long now,” Chrom sighed once they stopped laughing. “One of Frederick’s scouts returned with news already; we’re just waiting for the Commander to finish his debriefing. And I've been reading more about the Awakening ritual.”
“Wow, things must really be getting serious if you’re doing your own research,” Robin snickered.
“Didn’t you just say something about not irritating your ruler?” Chrom chuckled before growing serious again. “It seems that whoever attempts the rite must brave Naga's fire in a literal sense. If both body and spirit survive the agony, they are blessed with the dragon's power. Otherwise, the candidate… dies.”
“Eh, dying’s not that bad,” Robin said offhandly, his joke being drowned out by another voice coming from the stable’s doorway.
“What?! No! Er, that is... Father, must you attempt this?” Lucina asked sheepishly as she stepped into the barracks.
“Eavesdropping, young lady?” Chrom asked with an amused smirk.
“Forgive me, Father,” Lucina said, wilting a little. “I didn't intend to... I came to speak with you, but I couldn't find the right moment and…”
“Then I beat you here,” Robin said with a wink when she trailed off.
“It's all right, Lucina,” Chrom assured her. “And yes, I'll be all right, too. I will withstand Naga's fire. I'm sure of it.”
“Are you kidding?” Robin laughed. “The amount of times you’ve been set on fire in the last couple of years you should be used to it by now!”
“Yes, and who’s fault were most of those times?” Chrom deadpanned, glaring at the tactician.
Robin cleared his throat, squirming a little in his chair.
“That pot attacked me and you know it,” he mumbled. “It wasn’t my fault you were standing so close to the cooking fire. Or that your cape caught fire. I helped you put it out, let it go already. You set me on fire with that grill the next evening anyway.”
“And that,” Chrom said, glancing up at his daughter, “Is why Robin and I are no longer allowed near the mess tent while the others are cooking.”
A moment of silence passed before the Exalt and tactician burst into laughter again, Lucina looking on mystified as both men practically fell out of their chairs.
“King Validar has extended an invitation,” Frederick reported. “One of my riders was flagged down near the Plegian-Ylissean border and given this news. He says Plegia has been guarding Sable, and now he wishes to return it to you.”
“Trap,” Robin stated once the Knight Commander finished.
“Trap,” Morgan echoed, sharing a smile with her father.
Chrom let out a sigh, running a hand down his face. “Anything else?”
“They sent word to me, specifically, milord,” Frederick answered. “They must have caught wind of my search, and I don’t like that... In any case, Validar asks that you visit him in person, that he might formally present it. Perhaps needless to say, milord, but I am inclined to agree with our tacticians on this matter. It is most definitely a trap.”
“Wow,” Robin muttered to Virion. “Twice in one lifetime. I’m shocked.”
The archer snickered, earning a dirty look from his wife.
The Shepherds were all gathered, those that were present in the capital and could still walk, anyway. Panne had been moved to a special room set aside in the palace with Donnel, where they were both recovering under Lissa’s watchful eye, Gaius never once having left his wife’s side for a moment. Kellam was still holding down the fort in Themis, even if Maribelle had arrived in Ylisstol alone and irate the previous evening. The rest of the Shepherds were leaning, sitting or standing around the barracks, crammed into the small space and listening to Frederick’s report.
“As do I, Frederick the Wary. As do I,” Chrom sighed. “At best, it's selfish political manoeuvring at a time when the world can ill afford it. At worst, our run-in with those Risen last visit was no accident... And then there’s these… ‘Deadlord’ creatures that have attacked us twice now. But we will meet with him. Send word at once.”
“Milord, are you...certain that's wise?” Frederick asked uncertainly.
“Trap?” Robin repeated, waving his hands in the air for emphasis. “Trap?”
“No, Frederick, but we haven't time to be certain,” Chrom said. “And yes, Robin, I know it’s probably a trap.”
“Then allow me to get a pre-emptive ‘I told you so’ in while I prepare some reactionary strategies,” the tactician sighed.
“My sister never refused a diplomatic gesture, no matter how foul smelling,” Chrom declared. “If he doesn't give us the stone, he may at least reveal where it is.”
“And if he does have it?” Robin asked.
“We take it,” Chrom said with a shrug.
“And if he doesn’t want to share?” Robin persisted.
Chrom answered by raising his eyebrow at Robin, earning a couple of laughs as the tactician sighed again.
“I still do not like this, milord,” Frederick repeated himself.
“Don't worry, Frederick,” Chrom chuckled. “I'm not walking into this blindly. I’ll have more than half of the Shepherds at my back, and we will make certain everyone is armed to the teeth.”
“Then the Fire Emblem, milord - you ought at least leave it behind,” Frederick urged him.
“Yeah, I can’t believe I’m actually agreeing with him, but Frederick’s right,” Robin added.
“We can protect it here no problem!” Morgan piped up. “I’ve already got the Royal Guard running double shifts, so the castle’s not getting much more secure.”
“Unless that's what Validar expects,” Chrom pointed out. “And he comes to steal it with my best men away. No, it's safest with me, for now. We'll learn the truth of Validar's motive soon enough.”
“Yes, when he gets up on his soapbox and starts giving us the evil ‘give me the Fire Emblem’ speech like everyone else seems to do everywhere we go,” Robin said with resignation in his voice. “I would like to go on record as stating I am against this.”
“Noted,” Chrom chuckled. “Anyone else? No? Then make your preparations and assemble before the city gates; we march within the hour.”
“Virion,” Robin called out, stopping the archer as they walked out of the barracks and back towards the palace.
The archer glanced over his shoulder curiously, stopping when Robin indicated they move out of the path of the others.
“Yes?” Virion asked when they reached the shadow of one of the armouries for the regular army. “I have much to prepare if we are to leave within the hour.”
“You’re not coming with us, either,” Robin said, cutting straight to the point.
“I… what?” Virion asked, befuddled. “I was under the assumption I was on the mission team, though.”
“You are,” Robin explained. “But I have a much, much more important mission for you, and with everything that’s been going on lately you’re the only one I trust to do it. Do you understand?”
Virion nodded automatically. “Of course, Robin. I’ll do anything you need.”
“Good,” Robin said, taking the gaudy ring he’d taken from Excellus in Valm off of his finger and handing it to the archer. “Now take this and listen very, very carefully, because believe me when I say you don’t want to get this wrong.”
The sun was setting in the Plegian capital by the time Validar and Aversa arrived; not that they had travelled in the traditional sense, but teleporting in using the tool that their master had fashioned for Validar to appear inside the Palace's main hall.
Aversa resisted the urge to retch, her stomach roiling from the teleportation spell while Validar merely lowered his hand, the ring carved from a fragment of bone taken directly from the great corpse the castle was built upon still glowing a little with excess energy as the magic circles around the duo faded.
"Algol!" Validar shouted, ignoring Aversa's discomfort. "Attend me this instant!"
The captain of the guards, resplendent in his shining black armour and wine-red cape, approached quickly, flanked by two armed guards to form the King's honour guard. Captain Algol was an older man, his short brown hair receding from his brow and his face split by a wicked scar across his right eye. He frowned at being disrespectfully spoken to; even Gangrel had known that in reality it was Algol that controlled the palace, not the King.
"Yes, your highness?" he said stiffly, bowing to Validar as his two guards fell in behind the King and his servant.
"You are to make ready to receive the Ylissean Prince," Validar stated, already moving towards the private quarters he'd set up down in the cellars.
"Of course milord," Algol replied distastefully, falling into step with him.
"I meant now, Captain," Validar ground out, leaving Algol to stand and glare at the King's back as he strode off. "No survivors, if your men can handle it."
"That disrespectful, arrogant…" Algol growled under his breath as he began walking for the guardhouse and his men's quarters.
The King had made his intentions quite clear in his earlier correspondence through the Lady Aversa; the Ylisseans were still the nation of Plegia's enemy, and their Prince was the enemy's leader. It didn't sit well with Algol, luring a proud warrior like the Prince into a trap like this, but his King had given a command and he was honour-bound to follow it.
"Algol," a deep baritone voice called quietly, making the Guard Captain hesitate as he stepped into the covered walkway between the castle and the guardhouse.
"Mustafa?" the Captain asked curiously. "What… what are you doing here? You should be at your posting in the Midmire."
"As far as the rest of the army is concerned, I still am," the big man said, stepping forward into the light from the torches and taking his hood off of a bald head, still as imposing as ever as he favoured his old friend with a sad smile.
"But I had great need to speak to you," he added, a sad smile appearing on his face.
"About what?" Algol asked suspiciously.
"Not here," the General said, conspiratorially.
Algol was left to roll his eyes when his old friend didn't explain himself.
"Very well," the Captain relented. "But we can't go to the Guardhouse. I assume since you're here in secret you won't want the other guards to see you. Follow me."
The Guard Captain led the other man off the walkway and through the Castle gardens that had long since dried up and died, bringing them to the shack that the old gardeners had lived in before being relocated to the Dragon's Table like the rest of the majority of the palace staff.
"In here," Algol whispered, ushering the bigger man in.
He stepped in without hesitation, having to duck low beneath the door frame to enter before Algol followed, closing the door behind them and leaving them in almost pitch black, a few lines of light from the torches outside entering cracks in the walls and providing an ethereal feel to the clandestine meeting.
"What's the meaning of this, Mustafa?" Algol asked again. "You know deserting your post is punishable by death. We could get away with this kind of thing when we were young, but we're not any more. There are consequences now."
"None of us are young anymore," Mustafa said wistfully before growing serious again. "The King is here, is he not?"
"Aye," Algol ground out, still smarting at being treated so disrespectfully by the sorcerer. "And the Ylissean Prince is due to arrive in the next couple of days. What of it?"
"Then I'm not too late," he said hopefully.
"Algol, listen to me," Mustafa added seriously, gripping the smaller man by the shoulders.
"We cannot follow Validar's orders any longer. He means to drive Plegia and the very world to ruin, and he means to use all of us to do it."
"You speak of sedition," Algol said slowly, frowning as he batted the larger man's hands off his shoulders and stepped back. "Of betraying our oaths to serve the realm."
"Algol," Mustafa urged. "You know I wouldn't come to you to make this warning lightly. But all the signs are there; all the evidence points to the King being a monster that will use this nation and grind it to the dust beneath his boot unless we unite the forces still willing to fight for our freedom."
"Spare me your metaphors, Mustafa!" Algol snapped. "You were always the one for theatrics and over-exaggeration. What proof do you have?"
"Well, we've been destroying them as we find them," Mustafa said hesitantly.
Algol let out a harsh laugh, shaking his head.
"Magic wards and spell circles," Mustafa tried to explain in a low voice. "Parts of a larger spell, a powerful curse, one designed to-"
"Enough," Algol growled, cutting the other man off. "Enough of this madness. Leave the capital and return to your posting, Mustafa. For the bond we once held I will overlook this… this temporary lapse in judgement, but I serve the Throne of Plegia, no matter who sits on it, and nothing will make me forsake my oath."
The Guard Captain threw the door to the shack open, stepping out into the night and glancing back at the man, shadows dancing in the recesses of his face and giving him a sinister countenance before turning and striding back to the Guardhouse.
His men needed a leader, and he wouldn't shirk his duties. Not now. Not ever.
Back in the shack Mustafa brought a hand to his brow, letting out a sad sigh.
"Yet another blinded by their oaths to a chair," the General muttered.
"Dammit, Algol," Mustafa groaned. "Why couldn't you listen to reason? That man will be the death of us all."
The harsh desert sun beat down mercilessly on Robin’s head, making the tactician pine for the frozen forests of Regna Ferox again, something he had sworn would never happen after so long wandering around them. They had been travelling for nearly a week, taking into the account the brief break they had taken in Themis to gather supplies and argue with Roark about Maribelle coming with them before setting out again. Now they were nearing the Plegian capital, thankfully travelling by the road through the desert this time rather than sneaking through the badlands.
The group had separated not that long ago into a ‘vanguard’ and ‘rearguard’ formation that Robin had come up with during the march; he, Chrom, Lucina, Frederick, Cordelia and Libra were the vanguards meeting with Validar in the palace while Lon’qu led the rest of the team, consisting of Sully, Vaike, Stahl, Maribelle, Henry, Tharja and the remainder of the future children with the exception of Morgan, in the rapid-response rearguard.
Much to Robin’s chagrin he had been forced to allow Tharja to place a scrying hex on him so she could keep them in sight and decide whether or not the vanguards needed rescuing. At which point Lon’qu and the others would storm the palace.
Robin scratched irritably at the small welt on his arm, a side-effect of the hex.
“This is a bad idea,” Robin groaned for the hundredth time, glancing at the Fire Emblem strapped to Chrom’s off-hand.
“Give it a rest already,” Chrom chuckled over his shoulder.
“This was your plan, after all,” Cordelia added.
The Wing Commander had left her pegasus in Cynthia’s care while Frederick had left his warhorse with Lon’qu, both proceeding on foot with the others.
“Well you said we couldn’t go in loud,” Robin grumbled as the six Shepherds strode heedlessly towards the palace above Grima’s colossal skeleton.
“Is that thing creeping anyone else out?” Robin asked, eyeing the giant skull staring at them with six empty eye-sockets. “Because that thing’s creeping me out.”
“Try not to look at it,” Libra advised, his tone as calm and melodious as ever as he smiled and shifted his grip on his axe.
“Or better yet, stop talking for five minutes,” Frederick grunted from the front of the group with Chrom.
“That’s harsh, man,” Robin called to the Knight Commander as he matched his pace with Lucina at the back of the procession.
The Princess was silently staring at the skull, much the same way Robin had been her hand tightening on the Parallel Falchion’s hilt.
“What’s up?” Robin asked curiously.
“That great skull,” she explained. “I saw it once before, when my Aunt Emmeryn was sentenced to die. Even then it reminded me of... him...”
“Yes,” Lucina sighed, finally looking away from the skull. “Grima, the fell dragon. A cataclysmic war ushered his return... It's said he fed on the souls of the fallen before turning upon the living... Whether these are his true bones or just an effigy, I cannot say. But I know this: we cannot let that monster come back to life.”
Robin looked back at the skull, feeling a weak pulse of heat in the amulet around his neck that he attributed to the desert heat and an over-active imagination as he stared into the empty eye-sockets.
“We'll stop him, Lucina,” Robin assured her, putting a comforting hand around her shoulders. “I promise. The future can be changed. You've proven it already. And with all of us together, we can turn the course of history. Besides, you know how seriously I take my promises. He’s as good as dust.”
“I want to believe that, Robin,” she muttered, reaching up and gripping his hand in her own as they walked. “I truly do.”
They walked along like this for a time, drifting a little further back from the others as their pace slowed, simply enjoying the fleeting moment of contact. After four months with little else to do but spend all day, every day in each other’s company out of the necessity borne from being confined to such a small ship (not that either of them had complained) Robin had been a little shocked when he’d been thrust head-first back into the world of planning and research that had apparently consumed his life before Valm.
It was immediately disheartening to the tactician that they couldn’t spend as much time together.
Robin had wound up practically slapping himself when he’d thought about just how nervous Lucina must have been now that they were coming up to the final confrontation with Plegia to avert her dire future. Even then, though, he’d still been buried under rosters and reports, and while they were on the road they hadn’t had a moment’s privacy.
“I’m sorry I’ve been so busy lately,” he apologised, suddenly deciding now was as good a time as any.
Lucina glanced up at him curiously as his grip about her shoulders tightened.
“I’ve just been thinking,” Robin went on. “We haven’t spent any time together, and I feel like I’m neglecting you a little.”
Lucina snickered a little, wrapping her other arm around Robin’s waist.
“You worry too much, Robin,” she told him. “I know how busy you’ve been of late. Just knowing I’m in your thoughts is enough for now.”
Robin smiled, placing a light kiss on the side of her head.
“You know we could spend more time together if you helped out a little like Morgan and Virion do,” he suggested.
Lucina burst into laughter, breaking away from their embrace and practically doubling over as her shoulders heaved.
“Nice try, but I would rather wait,” she chuckled as they hurried to catch up with the others, now looking back at them curiously.
“Damn,” the tactician sighed theatrically and eliciting more laughter from the Princess. “So close to offloading more paperwork.”
Robin resisted the urge to laugh out loud as they were led through the Plegian Castle, first through the lavish entry-hall and then through the high-ceilinged Great Hall, doing his best not to look at the horribly hidden armed guards or make faces at them just to be spiteful. They were obviously trying hard, and Robin didn’t particularly want to make them any madder if things went as far south as he expected them to. But it was really hard for him not to, and he liked to think a testament to his willpower that he managed to abstain from so much as a chuckle.
The guard that was guiding them ushered him, Chrom and Lucina into a large meeting room not far from the entrance, just off the back of the main hall and down a hallway while Frederick, Libra and Cordelia were waiting out in the main hall. The silent guard bowed, excusing himself and leaving the three Ylisseans alone in the room to wait.
Now that they were alone again Robin let out a quiet snicker he could no longer contain, covering his mouth with his hands in a vain attempt to muffle the laugh.
“Trouble?” Chrom asked under his breath.
“What, you didn’t see all those guards trying to hide behind curtains and in dark rooms?” Robin muttered back with a huge grin on his face.
“So it is a trap,” Lucina whispered, her hand going to Falchion’s hilt while she glanced around warily.
“Don’t freak out and tip our hand just yet,” Robin told her. “Oh, and Chrom?”
“I told you so.”
“You don’t get two!” the Exalt whispered, swatting at his tactician as the two men tried to desperately hush their laughter in the face of the footsteps echoing down the hallway.
Lucina merely rolled her eyes at their childish behaviour as both men cleared their throats and straightened their clothes. Chrom was back to wearing his lighter training gear, Robin had left his breastplate, the only actual armour he had, in Ylisse with Morgan, and Lucina had foregone her delicate silver armour as well. If they were attacked by the entire Plegian Royal Guard, Frederick, Libra and Cordelia would be stuck taking the brunt of the assault until the others arrived.
Validar and Aversa stepped into the room, the sensation of familiarity instantly blossoming in Robin’s mind before he quashed it, focusing instead on glaring at the tall, rake-thin man smiling deceivingly at them and the buxom dark beauty behind him.
“Well met, milords,” Aversa said, her voice thick like honey as she bowed.
“Ah, Prince Chrom!” Validar said jovially, throwing his arms wide welcomingly as he stepped into the room behind the woman. “It is so good to see you well after your victory in Valm! Stories have already reached us of your army’s exploits, and I must admit to being impressed.”
I can’t tell why, but for some reason I know he’s full of crap, Robin thought, watching the Plegian man’s entrance. To anyone else it would have seemed genuine, but to Robin it just seemed like an act.
“It’s actually ‘Exalt’ Chrom now,” the blue haired man corrected the Plegian King.
“Ah, so it is,” Validar said with a toothy smile, recovering quickly after being thrown off a little. “Then we must celebrate! Please, sit! Drink with us!”
“I’m sorry, King Validar, but I am in a hurry,” Chrom said in a neutral tone. “I believe there was something you were looking to give to me.”
“My, my! No time for courtesy, milord?” Validar chuckled, picking up a wine glass and holding it out for Aversa to fill.
“Such impatience...” he went on after taking a long sip of the rich, blood-red liquid. “I had thought to make a celebration out of it, a coming together of our two great nations! Do you really want it that badly? This concerns me. The Gemstones and the Fire Emblem can be...treacherous artefacts. A fact Plegia and the Grimleal sadly know all too well.”
“Sadly?” Lucina repeated, stepping forward and speaking for the first time. “You speak ill of when the first exalt used them against the fell dragon?”
Validar’s eyes widened for a moment when he finally seemed to register Lucina’s presence before his mask dropped, his smile turning icy as his eyes hardened and he set the glass he was holding back down on the table, smiling coldly at Lucina.
“Yes I do, intruder,” he spat viciously.
“Intruder?” Lucina echoed, taken aback by Validar’s abrupt change in personality.
Chrom blinked a few times too, but Robin suddenly felt more at ease, crossing his arms, sinking to a hip and glaring at the two Plegians.
Yup, he thought. This seems more familiar.
“You are not supposed to be here, girl,” the Plegian king hissed dangerously, taking a few steps towards the Princess. “You must be destroyed!”
“Watch your tone, Validar,” Chrom growled, stepping between his daughter and the Plegian king and putting a restraining hand on the taller man’s shoulder. “I will not have a member of the Ylissean Royalty spoken to in such a fashion, not even by you.”
Aversa gave Robin a cold smile and a wink, and suddenly the tactician knew without knowing that things were about to get messy.
“Give me the Fire Emblem...” Validar growled, shoving Chrom back a few steps with one hand to his chest in a surprising show of strength. “Give it to me!”
“You’re mad!” Lucina shouted, drawing the Parallel Falchion. “This is a declaration of war!”
“I will only ask one last time,” Validar warned in a low tone, stepping backwards out of range of the Ylisseans’ swords. “Give me the Emblem. Now!”
“Never,” Chrom swore, his own hand dropping to the sword at his hip.
Robin took a few steps back, presenting a united front with the two Royals.
“Then it is to be war!” Validar roared, throwing his hands out wide again. “Guards! Kill them and bring me the Emblem from their corpses!”
“Just as we thought,” Chrom growled, drawing Falchion as the two Plegians retreated further.
Aversa and Validar eyed the door behind them expectantly as booted feet began running up the hallway outside, Robin’s eyes meeting the cool grey orbs of the woman standing behind the obviously-insane Plegian king. This time it was he that gave her a little grin and a wink.
The door behind the Ylisseans flew open, revealing…
“Robin! Lord Chrom! We have to go now, follow me!” Cordelia shouted, levelling her lance at Aversa and Validar who looked on, utterly shocked.
From the hallway Robin could hear the sound of Frederick doing what he did best alongside Libra, smashing their way through any and all opposition with nothing but sword and axe, shouting war-cries of “For Ylisse!” or “In Naga’s name!” with every second swing.
Robin stuck out his tongue and threw a couple of rude hand gestures at Aversa as he stepped backwards out the door, not entirely sure why he was provoking the seething woman, but feeling like it was the natural thing to do given the circumstances.
“Robin, focus!” Chrom shouted from up the hallway with Lucina, already halfway to Frederick. “Gloat later! We have to escape!”
“Yeah, right,” the tactician mumbled, breaking into a run with Cordelia as he drew Sol from over his shoulder.
“Just like old times, eh?” Cordelia asked as they rounded the corner, running past the carnage Frederick had already wreaked amongst the guards.
“Yes, this is starting to seem distressingly familiar,” Robin laughed as they finally caught up with the others just behind the door to the main hall.
“If you two are just about done chatting,” Frederick grunted disapprovingly.
“By all means, lead on,” Robin suggested.
Frederick shook his head as he and Chrom burst through the door together, the six Ylisseans dashing out into the main hall and directly into a squad of Plegian Guards running the other way without slowing. With a lusty roar Frederick barrelled into them, scattering the men and proceeding, Robin looking to Chrom for direction while Frederick continued down the hall unfazed, the Exalt shrugging before taking off after the Knight again.
“Make for the exit!” Chrom shouted. “Don’t get separated! Get out and get to the others!”
Robin caught a flash of movement from the great doors to the entry-hall, silently cursing as he saw the glinting of black armour.
“Down!” he shouted suddenly, throwing himself and Cordelia behind one of the pillars lining the hall as a hail of arrows landed where the group had been running.
“Thanks,” she muttered as Robin climbed off of her.
“No problem,” he grinned back, glancing around the side of the pillar to make sure the others were safe.
“Any time now, Robin!” Chrom shouted from a few pillars ahead where he and Libra were ducking, the majority of the arrows flying in their direction.
“Yeah, yeah,” Robin chuckled under his breath, reaching for his spellbook.
He slipped back behind the pillar, flipping through the pages until he found the spell he was looking for, one of the few in the book he didn’t know by memory, and started casting, muttering the chants under his breath and channelling the mana in the air. Blazing white wards appeared around Robin’s hand as he made complicated and delicate lines in the air, mana beginning to pool.
“What’s taking so long!?” Frederick shouted, making Robin wince a little as his hold on the complex spell slipped a little.
“Er… Robin?” Cordelia asked anxiously.
“Remember that big flashy ice spell I used the last time we were here? The one I wasn’t finished working on yet?” he asked with a grin, clapping his book closed and raising his gloved hand as the wards he had been drawing became rings of power, dancing around it in faster and faster circles.
“I finally finished it. I call it ‘Fimbulvetr’.”
Slipping his spellbook back into his pouch as he moved, Robin spun and positioned himself back out in the hall, raising his hands and gesturing at the Guards up the other end of the hall. There was a sound of crackling in the air as light-blue shards of ice formed and flew towards the black-armoured Plegians, propelled by an icy wind with the same speed and force as an arrow shot from a longbow. The shards embedded themselves along the hall as well as the Plegians, a lot more missing than Robin would have liked but still forcing them back into cover.
The tactician blinked a few times when his spell was finished, patting himself down quickly and making ice crystals fly off his coat.
“Huh. That’s the first time I’ve used that spell and not been dying.”
“Congratulations, now move before the Guards decide to change that!” Cordelia urged him, grabbing his arm and dragging him forwards as the Shepherds started running again.
They ran past the still reeling bowmen lying in cover in fear of Robin’s spell, the six Ylisseans glaring discouragingly at the men as they passed. Except for Robin, who was still grinning like a madman at the success of his spell; he’d exhausted his mana more than once trying to perfect that particular spell with Miriel and Ricken on the way back from Valm, and it looked like all that work of shooting ice-arrows into the ocean and creating miniature icebergs had paid off.
The small group pounded into the entry hall, skidding to a halt when the great double-doors behind them slammed closed with a flick of Robin’s hand and a small wind spell. For good measurement Robin sent a lightning bolt into the closest pillar, bringing the heavy stone down before the door.
That’ll slow em down for a while, he thought with satisfaction, turning and walking into Chrom’s back.
“Trap?” Chrom asked breathlessly, breathing heavily.
“Ylisseans!” a balding man in a cape and ornate black armour, obviously the Guard Captain or someone similar, shouted from his position barring the gate with at least twenty other men. “Surrender and your ends will be quick and painless!”
“Trap,” Robin sighed, glancing around the Ylissean Exalt and cracking his knuckles.
He knew I’d box us in like this… Robin thought, re-evaluating Validar’s cunning.
“Can you use that spell again?” Chrom asked under his breath as the two groups squared off, waiting to see who would make the first move.
Robin took a deep breath, calming his mind and mentally taking stock of what he still could or couldn’t do before shaking his head slowly.
“Not if I want to cast any other spells. We should probably hold off unless absolutely necessary. Just in case.”
Chrom nodded. “So it’s the old fashioned way, then?”
“I guess so,” Robin shrugged, holding Sol up challengingly in one hand.
“Counter-proposal!” Robin shouted back to the Plegians, conjuring a small flame above his opposite hand for emphasis. “Get out of our way, and we don’t raze your castle to the ground!”
“We weren’t going to anyway,” Chrom hissed.
“They don’t need to know that!” Robin whispered back.
The Plegians began whispering amongst themselves, falling silent when the Guard Captain strode forward, unclasping his cape and letting it fall to the ground as he adopted a ready-stance, axe held low.
“I think we’ll take our chances!” he called back as the other Guards fell in at his side.
“So much for diplomacy,” Robin sighed, throwing the fireball he’d conjured at one of the guards on the periphery, setting the man’s clothes alight and effectively removing him from the battle as he stumbled around, screaming and desperately patting at the flames enveloping him.
“It doesn’t matter,” Chrom said. “Everyone stick close and form up; arrow formation. Frederick-”
“Take the tip,” the Knight said, stepping forward. “I know how this works by now, milord. Stay behind me.”
“He’s getting mouthy,” Robin pointed out as he stepped to Frederick’s side, Chrom opposite him and Lucina behind him.
“I’ll berate him later,” Chrom laughed. “Shepherds! Forward!”
Frederick shot forward like a hound loosed from its chain, bellowing a challenge and swinging his sword in wide arcs to intimidate the guards in his path. A few actually stepped back, fear of the charging warriors that had just returned from a great victory in a far-off land getting the better of them. The Captain stood firm, though, stopping Frederick’s charge by meeting the Knight’s sword with his axe and forcing the other six to spread out and crash into the rest of the guards.
“I am Algol, Captain of the Plegian Guard!” the balding man roared as he traded blows with Frederick. “On my honour none shall leave this place alive!”
Robin resisted the urge to toss a quip in the man’s direction, spinning and slashing with Sol with a grace he hadn’t possessed even before he’d been injured in Valm. The other Shepherds, too, fought with a new ferocity, making short work of the Plegians while Frederick cut down their Captain.
Algol fell backwards, the guard’s gleaming black chest-plate cloven almost in two by Frederick’s mighty strikes, landing on the ground with a wet thud and coughing violently.
“Forget him! Move!” Chrom called, urging the others on to the exit again. “The exit’s right there! Go!”
They all dashed towards their freedom again, Robin hesitating after only a few steps as a familiar sensation prickled in the back of his mind.
“Stop!” he shouted, just in time for Chrom to skid to a halt at his friend’s warning on the edge of a bright magic circle on the floor, the talisman around the tactician’s neck suddenly searing flesh and fabric alike.
Validar stepped out of the teleportation spell, smiling confidently as he raised his hand and sent a bolt of dark magic directly into Chrom’s chest. Thanks to Robin’s warning the Exalt managed to dodge to the side in time, taking the hit on his shoulder but still being knocked to the ground.
“Run all you like,” Validar taunted. “You can’t escape fate!”
Validar raised his other hand, indicating at the other Shepherds and scattering them; Cordelia, Lucina, Libra and Frederick each ducking behind whatever cover they could as dark spells exploded around them, shards of wood and stone flying around the room at Validar’s display of destructive power.
But in the middle of the maelstrom Robin stood frozen, unable to move as the shards bounced harmlessly off his coat, smoke beginning to rise from his chest as the trinket Tharja had given him burned hotter than it ever had before.
“Father! Robin!” Lucina called desperately, Validar lazily tossing another spell at the pillar she was hiding behind, forcing her to duck away again.
“The Fire Emblem,” Validar repeated, stepping towards Chrom. “Give it freely, or it will be taken.”
“Just try it,” the Exalt snarled, holding his injured arm close to his chest as he pointed Falchion at Validar, kicking away from the sorcerer and back towards Robin.
The tactician stood, still frozen and unable to even speak as he struggled against the invisible chains holding him.
Validar let out a harsh laugh, his gaze falling on Robin.
“I don’t have to do anything. Do I, Robin?”
Take it. Take the Emblem. Take it now.
Do it. It’s your destiny. You know it.
Suck a lemon, nut-job. Do your own dirty work.
Oh… where did this defiance come from? Did I not plant the seed of greatness in your mind before Valm? You should be begging me to allow you to ascend!
That was you!? I knew I wasn’t crazy! You’re just as nuts as everyone else we’ve fought!
How did you manage to overcome the curse, I wonder? I suppose it doesn’t matter anyway; you will cease to be, all the same.
Yeah, good luck with that. Not so easy, is it?
Take. The. Emblem. Now!
Robin let out a strangled groan as the pressure inside his head nearly tripled, his whole body convulsing as blood started leaking from his nose, the conversation taking place inside his head at lightning speed.
Validar chuckled, reaching towards Robin’s throat and pulling the little amulet out of his shirt by the leather cord.
Trinkets won’t stop me, Validar laughed in his mind, yanking the amulet off of Robin’s neck and tossing the little thing away, untroubled by the thing’s searing heat.
The tactician was instantly hit by a new wave of nausea and pain as he felt his resistance begin to crack.
I’ve tried to help you once already, boy, and you’ve thrown that back in my face. I’m done playing.
If that was helping, then I can’t wait to see you try to kill me.
We can do this the easy way, or the hard way. Take the Emblem.
No. I already told you no! Here’s a thought, why don’t you go ahead and suck my-
DO IT! TAKE IT NOW!
Chrom looked up as Robin doubled over, clutching at his head and screaming in agony as invisible needles pierced his mind from every angle.
“Robin!” Cordelia shrieked, attempting to get to the two men and being forced behind cover again by Validar’s magic again, the sorcerer clicking his tongue irritably as watermelon-sized chunk of stone exploded next to Cordelia’s head.
I’m not asking you, son. I’m telling you.
Robin reeled as the word ‘son’ echoed around his head, his tenuous control of his body snapping and his mind shattering.
With a surprised shout Chrom’s head snapped to the side as Robin drove his booted foot into it, the room going silent as Robin stumbled to the side and fell to the ground next to the Exalt, blood leaking from his face in alarming quantities now.
The Emblem… Validar purred in Robin’s mind, forcing the tactician back to his feet and shuffling over to the fallen Chrom, clutching at his broken nose.
“C-Chrom…” Robin groaned through clenched teeth. “I… I can’t… stop it… Please… stop… me…”
The Exalt looked up again as Robin fell to his knees, bringing his fist down on his friend’s jaw with all of the unnatural strength afforded by whatever darkness Validar was pouring into him.
“Robin, what are you doing!?” Lucina cried, ignoring Validar and stepping out of cover.
The sorcerer ignored her, though, smiling at Robin expectantly as the tactician began undoing the clasps keeping the Emblem secured to Chrom’s arm.
“Robin,” the Exalt murmured in confusion, silenced when Robin’s fist descended again, a sickening crack following the blow.
Stop! Robin pleaded in his mind as cruel laughter began to echo around the inside of his head. I’m begging you! Don’t do this! You’re condemning the entire world to death!
“I know,” Validar said as Robin rose jerkily back to a standing position, shuffling over to the man.
The others watched on horrified as the tactician handed their salvation over to Validar.
“Well done, my child,” Validar announced. “At last, the Fire Emblem belongs to me. And with my Gemstone, it will be complete!”
Robin let out a low growl, struggling to regain control.
“Now, to set the Table and perform the rite,” Validar muttered, completely forgetting Robin was there as he turned away and took a few steps.
“Va-li-dar…” Robin groaned, his muscles straining against invisible bonds with unimaginable mental fortitude, almost pushing himself to ruin in doing so.
The sorcerer looked back curiously, one brow arched at his son’s defiance.
“Give… give it back…” Robin ground out, fighting the pain surging through his entire body with each word. “G-give it… back. Or… y-you’ll… regret… it…”
The Plegian King let out a cold laugh, gesturing at Robin with one hand.
“Oh, I highly doubt that, son,” he chuckled.
Robin fell to his knees, released from the spell as Validar teleported away in a bright flash, circles fading as the room erupted into motion again.
“What… have I done?” Robin whispered as his consciousness ebbed, collapsing backwards with a thud next to Chrom.
“Father!” Lucina cried, skidding on her knees next to the Exalt.
Her hands danced over Chrom’s face and neck, blood coating much of his lower face from his broken nose and split lip. Libra appeared at her side, already holding a compact healing staff over the Exalt and channelling white magic as Lucina watched. Behind them the sound of boots coming to a stop rang out twice.
“Step away from the tactician, Cordelia,” Frederick growled.
Lucina looked up at the back of the Knight Commander in shock; he was standing between the bodies of Robin and Chrom, sword drawn and angled at Robin. In his path was Cordelia, her arms outstretched and a firm set to her beautiful features.
“It wasn’t his fault!” Cordelia said.
“He attacked the Exalt and may well have doomed us all!” Frederick snapped. “He’s a traitor! Stand aside and let justice be done!”
“His mind was not his own!” Cordelia urged, not moving an inch from her husband’s path. “This has happened before! He was not at fault!”
“It has happened before, and you know how that turned out! He almost killed us all! And you would take that chance again!?” Frederick shouted. “You would choose him over me!?”
Lucina watched, completely at a loss as the two highest military authorities in Ylisse glared at each other, Cordelia not budging from what she thought was right as Frederick stalwartly prepared to carry out what he saw as his duty.
And Lucina could only watch, torn between the conflicting emotions she felt.
She loved him… but he had just given away their only hope of victory…
Before the red-headed Knight could answer the accusing question a loud slamming sound came from the door Robin had barricaded. Lucina rose to her feet, looking back at the doors.
“We’re out of time,” Libra said, his usually calm voice hard and cold. “Frederick, take Chrom. Cordelia, take Robin. We’ll sort all of this out once we’re safe. Until then, move!”
The doors at the back of the hall splintered, the tops coming away from the stonework as black-bladed weapons began breaking through the thick wood. Glowing red eyes appeared in the breach for a moment, accompanied by an animalistic growl before the smashing continued, more and more of the door being torn away.
Cordelia bent down without any hesitation, lifting Robin and draping him across her shoulders, grabbing his sword and taking off for the open gate. Frederick did much the same with Chrom, hesitating only long enough to glare at Robin one last time.
“Lucina, we must go,” Libra urged, snapping her out of her reverie.
She nodded, and they ran as fast as they could into the night.