Invisible Ties

Chapter 53

A huge, heavy axe hit the door again and again, wearing it down and cutting deep through the thick wood with each blow. The axe’s wielder, an imposing, bearded Risen snarling and growling with every blow howled in success as he finally broke through the door, moving to see where his quarry had gotten to.

Grinning, Tigris resumed his assault on the blocked door, snarling and slavering as he caught sight of his prey.

The Plegian guards shied away from the Deadlord singlehandedly beating down a door that ten of them hadn’t been able to move an inch, eyeing the Risen with undisguised terror.

“Cowards!” Aversa spat as she stepped through them, shoving a few of the cowering men out of her path. “Get out of my way! Move, damn you!”

Curse that smug bastard Robin, she growled in her head, standing a small way back from the Risen still tearing through the door at an alarming rate.

He may have amnesia, but that doesn’t stop him from rubbing his superiority in my face, does it? He’ll pay for that, I swear it.

The dark-skinned woman ground her teeth, fists clenching as she waited for Tigris to finish his attack on the door.

Validar had teleported off without her, and was already no doubt on his way to the Dragon’s Table while she was still standing here, surrounded by simpering morons and unstable Risen obsessed with destruction.

She considered simply killing the Guards for their incompetence, the way Validar would have, but a sound from behind her caught her attention and made her turn, forestalling that thought. One of the guards was lying on the floor, whimpering pathetically as he clutched at what looked like a foot-long shard of glass or ice sticking out of his mid-section, the men around him desperately trying to administer first aid before he bled out. Aversa had read that stomach wounds, unless healed magically, were often fatal. The guard didn’t stand much chance, considering all of the royal priests were dark mages, and already at the Dragon’s Table to boot.

He gave a pitiful shriek as one of the other men yanked the shard from his stomach, bunching up a rag and trying to stop the bleeding with it.

“Hey, eyes on me!” the guard said forcefully as the man suffering on the ground began to gasp, his gaze becoming unfocused. “Stay with me! You’ll be fine, you just have to stay awake, you understand me? Stay with me!”

The wounded guard nodded, breathing in short gasps and trying to remain calm. That was about all that Aversa could stomach. Drawing her dagger she began stomping over to the small knot of men, all of them looking up in shock and backing away when she loomed over the two on the ground.

“You,” she said to the man that had been administering first aid. “Move.”

He did so reluctantly, shuffling to the side as Aversa sunk down to take his place.

“You, hold still,” she told the wounded man in the same tone of voice as he began quaking in fear.

Without warning her dagger flashed out, cutting a small gash in the unwounded man’s arm and making him recoil, hissing in pain. Casting a small hex she honestly hadn’t used since learning so many years ago, Aversa drew the life energy from the unwounded man and used it to heal the other’s stomach wound, roughly placing her hand over the puncture in his stomach. It was a simple twist on the common Nosferatu spell, nothing special, but the way that the eyes of the Guards widened again one would think she had just grown a second head.

“Get him out of here,” she spat once she was finished, rising back to her feet and wiping her hand and dagger clean on the unwounded man’s shoulder.

“My… my lady, thank you,” the wounded Guard muttered as his friends lifted him and carried him out of the hall; he would be exhausted and still sore for a while, but his life was no longer in danger.

Aversa resisted the urge to sneer at the guards as they carried the other man away. She had just been sick of listening to him whine; that was all. Plegia was experiencing a shortage of man-power, so of course she hadn’t killed him. It would have been a waste.

Aversa’s hand darted out, grabbing the shoulder of one of the slower guards.

“Go to the stables,” she ordered him. “Tell the riders to prepare to give chase.”

“Y-yes, milady,” he stammered before darting off in the opposite direction.

“The rest of you form up on me! As soon as that door’s down we’re going through it and killing anything not wearing black on the other side!” she ordered, the other Guards milling about snapping to attention and moving to follow her orders.

The woman’s head snapped up as rough laughter reached her ears, her gaze narrowing as Tigris guffawed at her show of weakness in healing the wounded Guard.

“Didn’t I order you to break down that door!?” Aversa snapped, her mouth a hard line on her beautiful face. “Get to it before I take that shard and stick it in you, instead!”

Tigris grunted, swinging his axe a few more times, and they were through.

Aversa realised as she clambered over the fallen pillar that she was too late, though; apart from the corpses of Algol and his guards the hall was empty. The Guard Captain let out a weak groan as Aversa drew closer and she sighed, drawing her dagger and preparing her Nosferatu spell again.

Waste not, want not, as the saying went, and Algol was worth quite a bit more than some nameless guard.

With an irritated sigh Aversa knelt down next to the Captain, indicating one of the other Guards come over and assist her.

She glanced up as the terrified man shuffled over, glaring at Tigris.

“Send word to Equus and the others,” Aversa practically spat out. “Run the Ylisseans down. No survivors. I want Robin’s head on a platter.”

The hulking Risen chuckled again before bounding off into the night, leaving Aversa to play cleric while Robin escaped her once again.

Tigris slowed as he entered the darkened stable, none of the lamps or torches lit as a matter of taste for the Deadlords within. Tigris slowed in front of three mounted forms, bunched closely together and sitting astride horses as black as midnight with the same glowing red eyes as their masters.

Equus, the Deadlord second only to Mus in power that Tigris had been sent to find glanced over lazily as the axe-wielding Risen waltzed into his domain, clicking his forked tongue in annoyance.

He didn’t need to know what Tigris wanted; he already did. Of course the useless humans had allowed the master’s target to escape; the noble horseman had expected no less. Tigris merely pointed in the direction that the target had fled in, and Equus nodded.

Bovis, the mounted bowman, and Anguilla, the sage of horses, looked to their leader expectantly.

Bovis looked as passive as he always did, calmly waiting beneath his dark grey traveller’s coat, a longbow slung over his mount’s saddle and his curved, single-edged sword strapped to his hip. Anguilla, however, had opted to dress more in line with the current trends among mages, having appropriated a local gold-edged black cloak from somewhere. His light steel armour beneath it made him look more than intimidating to the humans, but the constant cruel sneer his face presented was what truly froze hearts upon seeing him.

With an expectant smirk Equus dug his heels into his mount’s sides, the cry it let out akin to the death-knell of mortal men as the trio sped out of the stables faster than any mortal creatures ever could, the six sets of glowing red eyes becoming blurred lines in the dark. As they went more forms materialised out of the darkness, pounding hooves multiplying until a legion of masked-ones were following the Three Riders as they burned across the sands.

Tigris watched them go with envy, debating trying to run after them, but deciding against it when he heard a sniffling sound from behind him. Turning the Deadlord beheld the Guard that the master’s pet’s pet had dispatched to order the three riders to make ready. Judging from the state of the man grovelling on the ground and trying to hold his insides actually inside of him, blood running from empty eye-sockets as he shuffled about the ground weakly, Equus hadn’t taken well to being ordered around by a human.

With a grin and a dark chuckle Tigris set upon the man, finishing what his brother had started and basking in the terrified screams of agony as he fed.

Lucina pumped her legs, willing herself to simply focus on the task of running and escape from the Plegian castle; fortunately it was built separate from the capital, a vast stretch of desert between the two, so the Shepherds weren’t being forced to dodge civilians. However this also raised the issue of not having any cover to use, so they had to keep running.

Just keep running, Lucina told herself, looking back and forth between her unconscious father bouncing on Frederick’s shoulder like a sack of grain and her unconscious lover laid across Cordelia’s shoulders in a ‘fire-man’ carry.

Don’t think about it. Keep running. There’ll be time enough to throw around blame later. Keep running.

“Where the hell are the others!?” Frederick shouted as they sped through the desert. “What was the point of the hex if they don’t know we need help!?”

“I don’t know!” Libra answered, doing his best to heal Chrom’s wounds and keep running at the same time.

Lucina glanced over her shoulder back at the Castle, silently cursing as a column of dust rising into the night sky announced the fact that they were being pursued.

“We’re being followed!” she shouted in warning.

Frederick glanced back, cursing much louder than Lucina had.

“There’s a lot more than we can handle, even if the others catch up!” he said, his pace increasing.

“That’s not true!” Libra said, giving up on healing and readying his axe instead. “Tharja, Laurent and Henry can keep them off us and we can escape! Do not give up hope yet!”

“I am far from giving up, priest,” Frederick growled. “I am just being pragmatic.”

Libra shook his head as they all ran, hanging back with Lucina so that the two were between the pursuers and the two Knights carrying the wounded men.

“If it comes to it we may have to slow them down, Princess,” the priest said. “Can I count on you to fight with a clear head?”

Lucina cast the priest a sidelong glance; his features were unusually hard as he ran alongside her, his soft smile and easy, approachable bearing that had made him so popular as a preacher during the war were gone, replaced by the cold warrior he became when the need arose.

“I will manage,” she said tersely, looking away from the man.

It wasn’t a lie; she could push her emotions down if the need arose and become a warrior. She had done so numerous times in the past. It was a life skill that had become a necessity in her forsaken future; one couldn’t go to pieces when a comrade fell to the Risen, or else they would often soon follow.

Libra nodded his understanding, glancing over his shoulder again. The Risen were gaining fast; they could already make out the individual riders, and the three figures leading the mounted legion.

“Are those… Deadlords?” Lucina asked, a rare quaver in her voice.

“I pray to Naga we don’t find out,” the priest muttered as the four Shepherds picked up their pace.

Equus grinned savagely as he pushed his mount faster and faster, the beast practically frothing at the mouth as he whipped it into a frenzy. They were gaining of the Ylisseans, but that was to be expected when he gave chase to something; there was nothing in the world that could out-run Equus.

He could see them panicking; he could see the Knights carrying the unconscious two pumping their legs as hard as they could, trying to outrun the inevitable; he watched the other, unburdened two looking back, weapons ready and judging when would be the best time to stop to make their last stand.

It would do them no good, though. Equus had summoned the majority of the masked ones, Risen that had proven adept at handling the shadow steeds their master conjured up for them, their faces hidden by either dark leather masks or full-faced helms; a thousand riders bearing a multitude of different weapons, not to mention the other two Deadlords riding at his back.

He wouldn’t stop with these paltry four, though; he would continue to ride, to run down the other Ylisseans that thought they were so cleverly hidden over the ridge to their south, and then they would continue on to the Ylissean homeland, killing everything in their path.

It would be glorious, and Equus’ victory started now.

He raised his lance, pale moonlight reflecting off of the black tip as he closed with the blue-haired woman, preparing to bring his lance down and flying through the air.

The Deadlord had to stop and think.

Flying through the air? That wasn’t how this usually went. There was supposed to have been the slight resistance of his lance, his beloved Gungnir, cutting through weak flesh and bouncing along bone, not this emptiness that he was feeling.

At once his confusion turned to rage as he fell into the sand, hard enough to crack his armour plates. Equus stood, roaring in outrage at having been unseated, the denial dying on his black lips as he beheld the power of a god at work.

Lighting and fire fell from the sky, torrents of green wind tearing his Riders apart as he watched. Golden bolts of power crashed to the desert sands, scattering his Risen as flames licked at those still mounted, their speed doing nothing to save them.

He had been thrown clear, but as he watched he spotted his mount writhing in agony as flames ate away at it, finally dissolving into the dust they all came from as its pain ceased.

Equus looked around for the source of such magnificent destruction, expecting to see an entire army of mages; surely none but an army of spellcasters could pull this off to such a degree!

There, up on the ridge, Equus spotted someone.

A lone woman, wearing the robes of a Dark Mage similar to the ones Anguilla wore, was standing with her hand outstretched, obviously muttering words of power as her ebon hair and cloak were blown about in the backdraft. A he watched, two more mages joined her, pooling their power and all-but annihilating his force single-handedly.

Equus’ burning eyes met those of the Dark Mage, a cold smile appearing on the woman’s face before she turned and disappeared in a flourish of black cape, leaving only dust and discarded weapons in her wake as the other two followed, leaving Equus to issue commands to regroup.

His great charge would have to wait.

He had to kill the woman first.

“Hah!” the young girl crowed. “I win again!”

“Yeah,” Robin sulked. “But you’re mean to your men.”

“Father says some losses are acceptable,” the girl sneered, a superior smirk on her face as they reset the board.

“Mother says that all life is important, and that no one should have to die,” Robin argued. “That’s our job as tacticians, to make sure everyone gets home safe!”

Robin looked up, on the verge of frustrated tears.

“Mother, tell her…” he pleaded to the woman watching them play.

The older woman shook her head kindly. Robin started as he realised he still couldn’t make out her face. The girl sitting across from him in mage apprentice robes was clear as day and infuriatingly familiar, but he couldn’t see his mother’s face no matter how hard he tried or what angle he looked at her from.

“You’re both right,” the older woman said. “Some losses are unavoidable during war.”

“Hah! See?” the younger girl laughed triumphantly.

“But you were still wrong too, (why can’t I hear her name?),” Robin’s mother said, almost sadly.

“Toldja so!” Robin said excitedly.

“As tacticians we balance life and death in our hands,” she said, picking up the Robin’s commander and (I know who she is, why can’t I recognize her!?)’s commander pieces. “We have to admit to ourselves that not everyone is going to get home. But we have to make sure as many as possible do. Do you both understand me?”

Robin and (argh, this is driving me nuts!) both nodded as the older woman placed the pieces back on the board, lovingly ruffling both child’s hair.

“Now play again,” she instructed. “Robin, be a little braver. Aversa, show a little more restraint.”

“Aversa?” Robin repeated, looking up at the girl across from him with wide eyes.

“What?” she asked, a frown on her face. “Are you going to make the first move or are you too scared to?”

Robin blinked at the girl, at least ten years younger but still possessing the same furrow in her brow when she frowned, and the same colour hair, the same cruel glint in her eyes…

He glanced up at his mother, unable to make out her features but still sure she was smiling.

The young tactician glanced down at the board, blinking another few times as the pieces shifted and changed, becoming oddly familiar figures…

The leader of his Pegasus Knights suddenly had red hair…

His axeman wasn’t wearing a shirt…

His commander was a man with dark blue hair, now…

Robin shook his head, carefully reaching out and making his first move, pushing a green-armoured cavalryman forward.

“I’m not going to lose,” Robin promised, looking up at Aversa defiantly.

“Get him on the bed,” Maribelle ordered, already rolling up her sleeves as Cordelia stepped into the well-lit tent.

The Wing Commander did as she was bid; laying the still-unresponsive body of the tactician down on the cot that Maribelle had set out as gently as she could.

As soon as their mysterious saviour had dealt with the Risen chasing them Libra had raced ahead to prepare separate healing spaces for both Robin and Chrom, Lucina sticking with them until they arrived at the quickly unfolding Shepherd camp in the shade of the ridge the old mage had attacked from. The Princess had stood, lost and confused as Robin and Chrom were brought to separate tents; Libra had surmised it would be better to separate them until some answers were gleaned, and Cordelia had silently agreed with the priest.

She was a little worried about Lucina; there’s no way that this would be easy for the girl, but Robin needed her attention more, right now. As a Pegasus Knight she had the same training as a low-level cleric, and could even use a healing staff if she had to; she could be of assistance to Maribelle while Brady was helping Libra with Chrom, who for all intents and purposes was a higher-level priority than the tactician.

Cordelia resisted the urge to sigh as she began to scrub her own hands next to Maribelle; her defiance in the face of what her husband thought their duty was would no doubt be an issue later, but it could wait until Robin was safe. There was no way she would have been able to just stand there and watch Frederick strike a defenceless man down for any reason; the fact that he was apparently capable of such a senseless act sent chills down Cordelia’s spine, but she pushed all that aside to focus on helping Robin for now.

Looking down at the tactician Cordelia involuntarily winced. He was a mess, coated in blood to the point that his white shirt had been dyed red, all of it his own. Red liquid was still seeping from his nose and ears, and when Maribelle checked his pupils his eyes had been bloodshot to the point of matching his shirt. He hadn’t made a sound, not even a groan, as she’d carried him across her armoured shoulders, which bode ill of his state considering how he reacted from simple hugs.

“We need to get his coat off and check for wounds,” Maribelle said, picking Robin up slightly. “Take his coat off; we’ll just cut the shirt away.”

Cordelia stepped forward, doing as she was told and pulling the coat from his back, then using Robin’s own dagger to cut his shirt down the middle and expose his torso.

The dagger clattered to the ground, Cordelia gasping as she stepped back.

“What in Naga’s name…?” Maribelle whispered, carefully pulling the torn shirt away from his flesh.

All across Robin’s chest and stomach, and no doubt spreading up to his shoulders and back, circles and lines like something out of a spellbook pulsated under his skin, dark purple lines like corrupt veins criss-crossing his flesh and pulsating as if alive. Cordelia felt sick just looking at them; there was something utterly wrong about the symbols, and it made her want to look away, to run from the tent and get Frederick, letting him have his way and ending the tactician, even though she knew it was just her mind playing tricks on her.

Robin was a kind and gentle man; this… filth was some kind of spell. It wasn’t his fault.

As she watched the lines squirmed and moved, wriggling across Robin’s chest into a different configuration, the unconscious man letting out a low moan as they did.

“What happened to him?” Maribelle asked urgently, having a similar reaction to Cordelia before stepping back forward. “I can’t treat him unless you tell me what happened! What did this to him!?”

“It is the fell-dragon’s power given physical form, and I would not touch it were I you,” a familiar voice said as the tent-flaps were drawn back again.

Tharja strode in, covered in dust from their rescue of the others on the ridge and obviously exhausted to the point of dropping, but holding herself up on sheer willpower and moving to Robin’s side.

“Explain this,” Maribelle ordered. “And more importantly, explain how you know this-”

“Not important,” the Dark Mage muttered, shooing her away. “But if it really bothers you my tutelage in the Dark Artes was very… thorough. And this is ancient magic. The best I can hope to do is seal it before it consumes him. They tried and failed to do it subtly once already; this is… this is a mess. It’s almost insulting to a mage to have to look at this travesty.”

“What do you mean?” Cordelia asked as Maribelle seethed at being so abruptly dismissed.

“I need you to go to my tent,” Tharja said without looking up, fingers lingering on the burns on Robin’s chest. “Noire should be near there. Tell her I need my hexing kit and my tools. She’ll know where they are.”

Cordelia blinked a few times, glancing first at Maribelle and then at Tharja before back to Robin. None of them looked like they had any idea what was going on, so she hesitated.

“There’s nothing you can do for him now except get my tools!” Tharja snapped, still looking down at Robin.

Cordelia started, dashing out of the tent and calling for Noire, silently praying that the Dark Mage could actually save their friend.

Robin panted, wiping sweat out of his eyes as he stared at the board. He was actually physically exhausted from the beating he was taking, Aversa calmly and coldly obliterating his forces, completely un-fazed by the losses she was taking. At this point all Robin had left was a few motley pieces; his commander, some knights, a few warriors wielding various weapons… all his infantry were gone, all his cavalry were tied up on the opposite side of the board, and all his pieces were in danger.

“Not so good at this now, are you?” she taunted as Robin’s mother watched on silently. “You look tired, dear brother. Why don’t you rest? It would be for the best. You may be able to put up some paltry resistance if your mind were fresh.”

The journeyman tactician sagged. He was defeated. There was no way out of this mess he’d gotten himself into. His sister was right. She was always right, and he could never beat her anyway. His breathing slowed as his vision began to narrow, endless darkness reaching out for him, silently promising peace if he just closed his eyes and…

Robin shook the doubts from his head, a promise he couldn’t recall spurring him on. He couldn’t remember it, but he knew it was important, and he knew that it hadn’t been fulfilled yet.

A tactician never gave up; a tactician never admitted defeat; there was always a way out, a strategic retreat, or a flanking manoeuvre.

“That’s right, honey,” Robin’s mother cooed. “Don’t give up yet. You can still come back.”

“He’s lost!” Aversa snarled, twin pinpricks of red light appearing in her pupils. “He lost before he even started! It’s his fate!”

Robin’s head snapped up at the familiar words, a spell around him coming undone and peeling away layer by layer like sheets of gauze. He was no longer the child, sitting there with his mother and his sister, playing a strategic game in the cosy study.

He was a man now; a full-grown man that had experienced all life had to offer in only a few short years.

He wasn’t in the study anymore; he stood atop a great fortress wall, surrounded by red-armoured wraiths and staring down his foe, empty handed atop the site of his greatest victory and his most bitter defeat at Fortress Steiger in Valm.

He no longer faced his ‘sister’, but rather Validar, his father. He faced his father as he truly was now, with blazing red eyes, dead grey skin and fangs almost as long as Robin’s fingers protruding from his mouth.

“You are lost, boy,” Validar sneered, repeating what Aversa had said to him. “Accept your fate.”

He was right. Robin should just kneel. He should just sleep, let it be done. He’d worked so hard lately, now he’d earned a rest.

A deep, grinding laugh from somewhere behind Robin startled him, making his eyes go wide and causing him to wonder just what in the world he had been thinking!?

Robin’s fists tightened, his gaze dropping before snapping back up, his dagger suddenly in his hand.

It was an endless cycle. He could fight it all he wanted, but as long as he or Validar yet lived, the latter could control him. Robin’s hand tightened to the point his knuckles went white, drawing himself up to his full height, holding himself proudly.

“I am Robin of Ylisse!” he cried at the top of his lungs. “I denounce you, father, and your precious destiny! I defy you!”

With all his strength he plunged the dagger into his own heart as Validar watched, a look of utter astonishment crossing the sorcerer’s twisted features.

“I challenge my fate!” Robin roared, falling to his knees. “I will not be controlled by you, or by anyone! My life is my own!”

Validar let out a wordless, enraged scream of frustration as Robin fell. As he hit the stones, he glanced up, catching a glimpse of an older woman in a black coat, smiling proudly at him as a great fanged maw closed around her.

With a pained gasp Robin opened his eyes, immediately coughing as he felt liquid in his throat.

“Easy,” someone soothed, helping him roll onto his side so he could spit the blood out of his mouth. “Easy, Robin. You had us worried there.”

The tactician’s vision began to clear as he was lowered back onto the cot, blinking a few times and making out the faces of Maribelle, Cordelia and Tharja looking down at him.

“I’m… getting kinda s-sick of waking up with people looking down… down at me,” he managed to rasp, grinning a little when the anxious faces all faded from the women’s countenances.

“Welcome back,” Tharja said softly, laying a hand on his shoulder.

“Someone wanna explain to me… what happened?” Robin asked, wincing as he tried to sit up.

“Don’t move just yet,” Tharja said in a tired voice. “Just sit and recover. Your mind was fragmented; there was hardly anything left. I have done what I can, but it will take time for what was left to come back to you.”

“Who…?” Robin asked, looking around and catching a glimpse of Noire in the corner as well.

“It’s just us,” Cordelia said softly and reassuringly.

Before Robin could ask further questions Maribelle was above him, holding his eyes wide and checking his mouth and nose.

“You are unbelievable,” she growled under her breath as she yanked on his ear to turn his head and look inside of it. “That you, a mere commoner, would deign to make me worry so… Six hours we’ve slaved over your carcass, and not a word of thanks!”

“Ow! Geez, Maribelle, work on your bedside manner!” Robin groaned, weakly trying to swat her away. “Thank you already, thank you! Wait. Did you say six… hours…?”

As his hand passed his field of vision he froze, his eyes widening.

His glove was off, but the Grimleal mark wasn’t alone on his hand. Dark lines went all the way up his arm, as far as his restricted vision would allow him to see.

“Robin, we need you to remain calm,” Cordelia said, laying her own hand on the shoulder opposite the one Tharja’s was still resting on as Robin’s head snapped around, looking himself over as he began to hyperventilate.

The tactician looked down, a terrified cry rising and dying on his lips as he beheld the magic circles on his flesh.

“What…?” he went to ask, stopping as the memories began flooding back to him.

He had fallen under Validar’s control and attacked Chrom, giving up the Fire Emblem to the servant of the dark dragon they were trying to destroy. Nothing more, nothing less. He had doomed them all, all because he had been too weak to stop his father’s control.

Damn, Robin thought. He really is my father, isn’t he?

The tactician fell back, going limp.

“How’s Chrom?” he asked in a toneless voice, staring up vacantly.

“He’s… fine…” Cordelia said awkwardly.

“A serious concussion, a shattered jaw and a fractured skull, from what Brady says,” Tharja said mercilessly. “He’s already on the mend and was trying to beat down the tent to see you while we were working earlier.”

Yeah, I wonder why, Robin thought fatalistically.

Maribelle and Cordelia both looked about ready to throttle the Dark Mage, but Robin let out a sigh, forestalling them.

“And the others?”

“Nothing serious,” Tharja reported. “From what I saw I’m surprised you all fared so well. I… already removed the scrying hex.”

“Thank you,” Robin said in a small voice.

“We also had to relocate,” Tharja went on. “We’re closer to the border now, a safe distance away from the Plegian Capital. We haven’t seen any sign of any pursuit yet, but the Knights are reconnoitring by land and air to make sure we have plenty of warning if they do come after us.”

Why would they bother when they already have what they want? Robin thought fatalistically.

“Looks like someone’s been paying attention,” he chuckled dryly instead, making the Dark Mage blush and look down.

“I-I-I just did wh-what you or Virion would have… done,” she said shyly, once again making Robin wonder why he was the only one that could get a rise out of her like that.

“So what happens n-” Robin began, being cut off from the sound of shouting outside the tent.

“I can hear him! I know he’s awake and I know they’re done! Dammit, Frederick, get off of me! I need to see if he’s okay!”

“Milord, he tried to kill you! He gave the Fire Emblem to our enemy!”

“Damn you, Frederick, as your Exalt I order you to get the hell off of me and shut your damn mouth!”

Robin looked up at the women leaning over him as they exchanged glances.

“I will stall them until you get dressed,” Cordelia said, a hard edge to her voice as she moved to the tent’s entrance.

“I’ll go with you,” Noire offered shakily, apparently in a hurry to be anywhere else, stepping to the tent entrance with the Wing Commander.

“Those two could be the best of friends if they just mellowed out a little,” Robin chuckled, sitting up slowly and taking a good look at his torso.

During the two other times the marks had shown up he hadn’t really gotten a good look at them; he’d been out in the dark the first time, and the marks had faded almost immediately afterwards. The second time he’d been a little too pre-occupied with rescuing Lucina to even notice when they’d faded, but this time it didn’t look like they were going anywhere.

“Don’t worry, they’ll fade eventually,” Tharja muttered from above him. “But it may take a little while this time. A couple of days at worst. His hold on you isn’t quite that strong yet.”

“Are you reading my mind now, too?” Robin asked, the question coming out a little harsher than he’d intended.

Tharja shook her head sadly. Maribelle was busying herself cleaning up the small tent, which included, apparently, a lot of Robin’s blood everywhere.

“No, but you’re staring down at your chest. It wasn’t hard to guess.”

Robin grunted noncommittally, running a hand over his chest and stopping when he found the new amulet around his neck.

“You lost the other one,” Tharja explained. “I had to make you a new one. This one should be more powerful, but I would prefer it if we didn’t have to test it.”

“How do you know all of this?” Robin asked in a tired voice.

“Yes, I am curious about that as well,” Maribelle said over her shoulder.

Tharja shuffled awkwardly, looking around the tent a little as if looking for an escape before sighing.

“My family is-” she began.

They all looked up as voices raised outside of the tent again, Chrom shouting something and Frederick shouting even louder, the noise all blending together as Robin struggled to get his sluggish thoughts into motion again.

“I can’t deal with this right now,” Robin groaned, burying his face in his hands. “I don’t even know what’s going on in my own head! How am I…?”

Cordelia’s supporting me here, but… Gods, I kicked Chrom in the face! He trusted me and I attacked him like that. I stole the Fire Emblem and gave it to… How can I face him now? And Lucina… gods she must think me a monster now. Maybe I am.

The Dark Mage placed a hand on the stricken tactician’s shoulder, interrupting his self-loathing and indicating the bare canvas at the back of the tent with a nod, before nodding to the dagger on the belt hanging up with his coat, and finally winking before turning to Maribelle.

Tharja waggled her fingers a little, and Maribelle froze in place.

“Did you just hex our healer?” Robin asked, glancing up at Tharja.

“Yes, and she can still hear everything we’re saying,” the Dark Mage said, her voice strained. “If you’re going to go, do it now. She’s… surprisingly resistant to my spells.”

Cynthia let out a loud yawn as she walked through the rough camp that they had thrown up the previous night, glancing around as she blinked bleary, sleep deprived eyes trying to make out what was going on over by the medical tents. It looked like her father and a few of the others were arguing right outside of Robin’s tent.

That was no good; he’d been wounded, and their shouting was probably disturbing his rest.

So far everyone had been tight-lipped about what had happened in the Plegian Castle; all that she knew for certain was that the Fire Emblem had been stolen and that her father and Robin had returned on the verge of death.

Her father had been tended to quickly, much to her relief, and had been up and about not long after they initially regrouped, but Robin had still been out like a light when they’d picked up camp and relocated to a more secure location, Lady Cordelia carrying him across her saddle as they fled through the desert. A few times Lon’qu had led small groups to fight off the sporadic Plegian and Risen pursuers, but apart from that they’d escaped without incident.

Lucina had barely said a word once they’d set up camp, hardly acknowledging her questions before slinking off somewhere with a look of death on her face, making Cynthia even more worried.

“What-ho, cousin!” Owain shouted cheerily, coming up behind her. “Why would one of my fated companions have such a look of dismay on her face? We have yet to taste the bitterness of defeat! There is still hope! The mighty hero-tactician shall awaken and we will march upon Plegia and save the world! I know it, for the Justice Cabal marches with him!”

Cynthia snickered. Owain had been pacing relentlessly in worry of his ‘master’, constantly sneaking looks into Robin’s tent to see if he’d woken or not before Lady Tharja had noticed him and threatened to curse him to never be able to speak again; the blonde boy’s words were probably more to assuage his own fears than hers.

“You’re right, Owain,” she said with much more conviction than she felt.

“Although I’m worried about Luce,” he admitted, his theatrical manner slipping as he sagged a little.

Cynthia quirked a brow in his direction; he only dropped the weird way he spoke when he was really worried or really depressed about something. Not that Cynthia wasn’t worried about her sister, either, but seeing Owain like this, her little cousin a year younger than she was that had always followed her around like a lost puppy when they were kids, always made her want to cheer him up.

“Okay, so where is she?” Cynthia said excitedly, forcing herself to perk up a little for his sake. “We’ll find her, debrief her on behalf of the Justice Cabal, and then put a plan into motion!”

Owain blinked a few times before grinning a little, his spark reigniting.

“Yes! I last spotted our most Exalted cousin in the command tent! Let us be off! Operation Hellswrath Revenge awaits!”

They crossed the small camp quickly, dodging about other Shepherds going about duties or simply milling about, trying to kill time until their leaders returned to duty; Lon’qu had organized some semblance of a quick guard roster, but a lot of the others were just sitting on their hands while their entire command structure was tied up. The other Knights were out patrolling, and so were Gerome and Nah, but somehow Cynthia had been overlooked, making it obvious that Robin hadn’t done the roster this time.

The command tent had been left a mess once Lon’qu and Tharja had finished in it, and that hadn’t changed much as the two Ylissean royals entered. The only difference now was Lucina, going over the maps and reports like a woman possessed, tossing them to one side once she was finished with them and moving on to more.

“Hey, Lucy!” Cynthia called cheerily as they entered. “Watcha up to?”

Lucina glanced up for a moment, her eyes hollow with bags beneath them as she regarded her sister and cousin.

“I am attempting to figure out the first step we should take in retaking the Fire Emblem,” she said quietly, her voice devoid of emotion as she looked back down at the maps. “Validar would have gone directly to the Dragon’s Table. I am trying to find the best way to approach it.”

“Isn’t that… something you should leave for Robin?” Cynthia asked cautiously.

Their relationship was no secret, not any more thanks to a cramped boat and bored soldiers with little else to talk about, but the way Lucina physically flinched and accidently bunched up the maps in her hands made Cynthia’s disquiet grow.

She and Owain shared a glance, the blonde boy shrugging.

“So… what have you got?” he asked hesitantly, shuffling over to glance at the maps.

“I don’t know,” Lucina said at length. “I… I’ve been staring at these maps all night and I… I just…”

“Lucy, what’s wrong?” Cynthia asked, her anxiety growing further as she reached out and put a comforting hand on her sister’s arm.

Owain remained silent, choosing to put a comforting hand on the older girl’s shoulder, too.

The Princess looked up at the other two, a pained expression on her face before she took a deep breath, the mask sliding back into place.

“Tell me,” she asked, her voice carefully level. “Do either of you remember anything about Robin? I mean the Robin from our time, not the… man here with us now.”

Cynthia blinked a few times at the unexpected question, exchanging another glance with Owain before clearing her throat.

“I don’t really remember much of him at all,” she admitted. “We were young and he was one of the first… to die. Along with Father. I remember him being a constant presence, though. He was always there, and he really did love us like an uncle.”

“Even if he never smiled,” Owain added with a chuckle. “The way he constantly glowered you would think he was being held prisoner.”

Lucina nodded, her shoulders sagging a little.

“Mother told me stories,” Owain added quietly. “She used to tell me about the great and grumpy hero-tactician, who would do anything to make sure that his allies made it home alive and complain about it to them the entire way.”

“He really was a hero,” Cynthia said, leaning back against the table. “He did whatever it took to see victory. He never let anything stop him; nothing. He was almost ruthless, but that’s what we needed at the time, right? That’s the Robin I remember from when we were kids. But Lucy, what happened in Plegia? No one’s saying anything. What did that to him?”

Lucina nodded slowly.

“He did it to himself,” she said, her voice barely a whisper.

“Thank you both,” she added, her voice strong again as she stood straight, apparently coming to a decision as she picked up Falchion from where it rested against the side of the table and strapping it back to her hip.

“I know what path I must take now. I will trust the two of you in finding our path to the Dragon’s Table. Make it… suitably heroic.”

Cynthia’s eyes shined as she looked up at her sister.

“Of course, Lucy!” she cried as Lucina departed the tent. “We’ll make sure we look like the greatest heroes the world’s ever seen! Right, Owain!?”

She looked over to her cousin, staring after Lucina as she left.


The blonde man glanced up, a worried expression on his face.

“Why would she need her sword in camp?” he asked seriously. “I mean, even I don’t carry any of mine around with me in camp. Anymore, that is.”

Cynthia thought for a moment, forcing herself to remain serious as the memory of Chrom berating his nephew for carrying six swords around camp with him all the time rose to her mind.

“Well, it is Falchion,” she reasoned. “Maybe she just wanted to take it back to her tent.”

“I hope that’s it,” Owain muttered, looking at the papers spread out over the large table for a few seconds before scratching the back of his head.

“Uh… do you know how to read a map?” he asked.

Cynthia started, eyes widening a little.

“Kinda?” she said unsurely, picking up one of the maps and holding it up, tilting it in various directions. “We always had Roark or Lucina to do it for us before… how hard can it be? I’m sure between the two of us we can figure it out!”

Robin panted, doubling over and resting his hands on his knees as he stopped in the middle of a field, an old tree not far from him. They really were close to the border again; long, dry grass reached up past his knees, and in the near distance he could see the mountains that separated Themis and Ylisse from Plegia.

He sighed, straightening and running a hand over his bare chest, the dark purple marks still now, but not having faded yet.

He had escaped from the tent with barely a backwards glance, stopping only long enough to cut a hole in the back with his dagger and grab his coat, intending to just find someplace to sort himself out. He just needed time to think before everyone was on top of him again, even if running made him look guilty.

Besides; he was guilty.

There were no ifs, ands or buts about it. He’d handed the Fire Emblem over, and even if he hadn’t been under his own power it had still been his hands that had committed that betrayal. He wore his sins plain to see, all over his bare chest in the form of the dark Grimleal marks covering his body.

How hard had he struggled against his father’s mental control, all for a headache and one hell of a nosebleed?

Robin thanked Naga that he’d been facing away from Lucina at the time. He didn’t think he’d be able to cope with the look of betrayal that had no doubt been on her face.

Oh gods, he lamented, sinking to sit on a rock and burying his face in his hands. What have I done?

He should have been able to see the signs. By Naga, why hadn’t he paid more attention!?

The dream he’d been having when Chrom and Lissa had found him made perfect sense now. Even the dagger looked familiar in his gloved hand, glinting softly in the pre-dawn light as he turned it over.

It had been staring him in the face this entire time and Robin had simply been too absorbed in himself to face the truth. The Grimleal mark on his hand that appeared whenever he had used dark magic; the fact that a magical arte that took years of dedicated training to learn even the basics for came so unnervingly easy to him; the insane losses of control, the lust for violence during the war for Valm.

It all hinted at the bigger picture Robin had been too afraid to see.

I’m the reason the world ends, he thought, a low moan escaping his throat. I’m the reason Grima returns. I’m the reason that Lucina and the others have suffered so much. I have to be. It makes too much sense.

Robin realised he would probably be doing the world a great favour if he took the knife and stuck it in his chest, just like in his dream. There wouldn’t even be any resistance; Jake may not seem like it, but the scruffy blacksmith was a master artisan, and the dagger was sharp enough for the tactician to shave with. Stabbing himself in the heart would be as simple as cutting through warm butter.

He had sworn that nobody else would die. He’d sworn to protect them all, but he couldn’t protect them from himself when his mind wasn’t even his own. He couldn’t protect anyone from Validar if he could control Robin’s mind.

What if he makes me hurt Lucina? Robin wondered, shuddering at the thought. Or Morgan? Gods, what if he can control Morgan, too!?

The thought of his daughter with the same markings covering her body as his, writing in pain as she struggled to resist the maniac torturing her from inside her own head made his knuckles tighten on the hilt of his dagger. Experimentally he prodded the weapon against his bare flesh, his hand always stopping him before he could break the skin, a weak flare of familiar magical resonance tickling his sixth sense every time he prodded.

Dammit, Tharja, Robin thought bitterly. You would curse me to not be able to kill myself.

A sound from behind him made the tactician spin, his hand holding the dagger dropping and moving behind his back a little as he relaxed.

“Lucina,” he said, moving to face her.

The blue-haired woman he had sworn to protect with his last breath stopped, staring at his open coat with wide eyes. Robin didn’t try to hide the marks still on his skin; there was no point. She’d seen what he’d done. This was part of his penance.

“As you can see, there are some… side effects to my little episode in the Castle,” Robin said sadly, waving his free hand in front of his chest.

“What are you doing out here?” she asked quietly.

“Sitting,” Robin shrugged. “Thinking. I’m… thinking.”

“With your dagger in your hand?” Lucina asked, glancing at the knife sitting on Robin’s lap.

Robin let out a weak chuckle.

“You know I come up with my best ideas on the battlefield.”

Lucina was quiet for a moment, ignoring the tactician’s weak joke before moving to stand directly in front of him.

“What happened back there?” she asked seriously.

“That?” Robin asked, looking up at her. “That’s what I was talking about. In Valm, something similar happened in Steiger, but I couldn’t resist it. I’m starting to be able to fight it, build up a resistance but… Not fast enough, it appears.”

Lucina nodded slowly.

“And Validar?” she asked.

“Most definitely my father,” Robin sighed, running a hand over his face.

When the sorcerer had been in his head it had felt oddly familiar at first, stirring more memories Robin couldn’t actually recall. It had felt like something that had happened often in the past, Validar’s mind actually showing a little parental pride when he’d fought so hard against his control, an emotion that Robin only recognized from feeling it himself when he looked at Morgan. There wasn’t any doubt about his heritage any more. More of the gaps in his past were being filled in, and Robin found the answers he was finding to be less than the happy memories he’d been hoping for.

Gods, I have a sister, too, he realized with a sigh.

“Robin?” Lucina asked, making him look up.

“Sorry, kinda started drifting there,” he muttered without standing. “Thinking about… family I apparently have. Not pleasant thoughts.”

Lucina was quiet a moment, looking down at the tactician with a slight frown. The moment stretched out, until Robin had enough of being stared at.

“Sorry, did you need something?” Robin asked with a little more venom than he intended to, glancing up at the Princess.

Lucina’s brow quirked a little.

“Could he do it again?” she asked.

“Huh?” Robin asked, his tired mind beginning to grow irritated.

“Validar,” Lucina repeated. “Could he control you again?”

“Probably,” Robin sighed.

“And he could make you do just about anything?”

“He could probably even make me kill Morgan, if that’s what you’re asking. Or you. Or… Chrom. Well. Shit.”

Robin burst into laughter, Lucina taking a sharp breath as all the pieces fell into place in the tactician’s mind.

“Seriously!?” Robin laughed, almost falling off the rock he was perched on as he held his sides, the dagger falling away forgotten and landing in the dirt. “Are you kidding me!? I kill Chrom!? That’s… that’s… freaking hilarious!”

He’d already come to that conclusion before, but hearing him admit it from his own mouth and having Lucina all but confirm it… It was just too funny.

“This is not a laughing matter!” Lucina roared, drawing Falchion.

“No, think about it,” Robing chuckled, standing and holding his hands up placatingly. “The Exalt’s time-travelling daughter falls in love with what not only turns out to be the Plegian Crown Prince, but a sleeper-agent that’s been lying dormant for nearly half a decade to boot! It’s… it’s like something out of one of Cordelia’s tacky romance stories!”

“Robin, this is serious!” Lucina pleaded, her grip tightening around Falchion’s hilt to the point it creaked. “How can we trust you now? How can I trust you!?”

“You know how those stories usually end, right?” the tactician asked, pointedly ignoring the pleading look on the woman’s face. “Tragedy makes for better endings, after all.”

“Robin…” Lucina growled. “Answer my questions. Please. Show me we can still trust you. Show me that I don’t have to… to…”

The rest of her plea went unspoken as they both glanced down at the sword in her fist. Robin held up his hands apologetically.

“Unless someone sticks an arrow in Validar’s head in the near future, I don’t think you can trust me,” he said honestly. “I don’t know how far his ‘control range’ is. Besides, he has one of those fancy teleporting rings, so he could strike at any time. We both know what has to happen now, right?”

Lucina looked down, trembling a little, a quaver in her voice when she spoke next.

“How can you be so calm about this?” she asked. “You… you end the world. It’s by your hand that my future comes to ruin! You, the man I love, will destroy everything I hold dear. How can you just laugh that off!?”

“Because if I wasn’t laughing, I’d be curled up on the ground weeping,” Robin answered her, waving the dagger around as his voice rose. “You saw what I was trying to do before you got here. Some nosy Dark Mage cursed me so that I couldn’t. You think I want to kill my best friend!? It won’t just be him this time, either! Validar will make me go through all of you to get to him and he will laugh as I die inside doing it!”

Lucina glared up at him.

“I can’t keep fighting it, Lucina,” Robin said, his tone softening, the tactician struggling against the urge to embrace her. “I’m tired. I can’t keep taking all these mental beatings. My mind is starting to fragment, as if I wasn’t air-headed enough before. I can feel it. He’s broken me twice now. I don’t think I’ll be able to fight it a third time.”

Lucina nodded sadly, her features set in a frown.

“Then my course is clear,” she said quietly, raising Falchion and pointing it at Robin’s chest where three of the dark lines criss-crossing him met over his heart.

“Took you long enough,” Robin snorted, shaking his head. “I thought I might have to hold up a sign that said ‘please kill me’ to get your attention. Just as dense as your father… And he’s a dumb as a stone, so that’s really saying something.”

“Robin…” Lucina said in a warning tone, but the tactician went on heedless.

“I guess it’s not surprising with your parents,” he said casually, every word like acid on his tongue. “With your air-headed mother and your dense-as-a-brick father I’m surprised you managed to do so well in the future. Congratulations, princess. You beat genetics. Too bad your sister and cousin didn’t.”

“Are you trying to make me angry!?” Lucina roared, snapping and stepping in close to Robin, holding Falchion at his throat now as she bunched his collar in one fist. “You doom us to oblivion and still you joke!? Still you mock my father!? My family!? The heroes that stood beside me when all others fled!?”

“I thought it might be easier for you if I pissed you off,” Robin admitted with a slight grin on his face, the exalted sword pressing against his neck a little harder as he closed his eyes. “Looks like it worked. I love you, Lucina. Make it quick.”

After a few seconds Robin realised he was still alive.

“Er… Lucina? Any day now,” he said, keeping his eyes closed. “C’mon, sweet-heart, before I kill everyone you love, please.”

The sword pressed against his throat started to tremble, making Robin sigh as he opened one eye.

“Dammit, woman, do I have to try to stab you before you… you…”

He trailed off and opened both eyes, looking at the tormented expression on Lucina’s face as she grit her teeth, struggling between her heart and duty, streaks from tears marring her beautiful face.

“I… I know I should…” she whispered, hiccupping as she fought back a sob. “I know you… don’t mean what you say… But… You… kill everyone. Everything… but you… you’re not the you that does that…”

“Stop grasping at straws and do it,” Robin said gently.

“I c-can’t…”

“Please, Lucina,” Robin begged.

“I can’t!” she cried, throwing the sword aside. “I love you, damn it!”

Robin felt his resistance crumble as he surged forward, taking her in his arms and holding the distraught woman as she sobbed. Robin stepped back when Lucina quieted after a few moments, shaking his head and bending to retrieve his dagger.

“I can’t force you to do this. I won’t. But I’m begging you, Lucina. Don’t let me hurt you again.”

Lucina continued to tremble as Robin walked over and wrapped his arms around her, burying her head in his shoulder again.

“You won’t,” she whispered. “I know you won’t. I trust you.”

Robin stepped back, shaking his head sadly.

“But I don’t trust me,” he said, holding up his dagger for her. “Please, Lucina.”

Lucina gulped and nodded shakily, reaching out a tentative hand for the weapon.

A rough hand grabbed Robin’s wrist before Lucina could reach the dagger, yanking the knife down and taking both of them by surprise as Chrom stepped right up into the tactician’s face between them, tearing the weapon from his grip in the process.

“I’d hit you, but that just never seems to get the point across,” the Exalt growled, glaring down at his friend.

“Father!?” Lucina cried in surprise.

Robin stared up at Chrom wordlessly, looking into eyes that held endless, depthless compassion as he stared disappointedly at him.

“What was this supposed to accomplish?” Chrom hissed dangerously. “Was this supposed to protect us? Is that what you thought?”

The Exalt threw the beautiful dagger to the ground at Robin’s feet.

“Or are you just trying to clear your own guilty conscience?”

“Chrom, I…” Robin started, trailing off.

The Exalt surged forward, grabbing Robin by the collar and hauling him close.

“We swore!” he roared in Robin’s face, the man’s usual benevolent and easy-going countenance replaced by wrath the likes of which Robin had never seen before.

“We swore to be two halves of a greater whole! We swore to drag this world kicking and screaming into a peaceful future! Together! Those were your words, not mine! And now you want to end it because of one mad-man’s spells!?”

Chrom pushed Robin back a few steps, staring at him with the hurt plain to see on his face.

“I can’t do this without you,” Chrom said truthfully.

“I tried to kill you!” Robin shouted in response. “He’s going to make me do it again! I’ve seen it in a vision! I am your death, Chrom!”

“I don’t believe that for a second,” the Exalt snorted. “You fought his control in Plegia. I saw it. Cordelia says you fought it the first time, too. You’ve never stopped fighting it, Robin.”

“Fighting it nearly killed me!” Robin argued. “And it didn’t amount to anything anyway! We still lost the Fire Emblem!”

“So get it back,” Chrom said.

Robin snorted. “Yeah, right. Like it’s that easy. We’ll just walk up to the Dragon’s Table, knock on the temple door and ask nicely.”

“Didn’t you come back from the dead to snatch victory out of the jaws of certain defeat?” Chrom asked him. “Wasn’t it you who, against all odds, led a motley group of soldiers and mercenaries against not just Plegia, but the entire Valmese army as well? And won?”

Robin nodded slowly.

“So where is that man!?” Chrom asked him, jabbing him in the chest with one finger. “Where’s the man the stood by my side and laughed in death’s face more times than I can count? Where is my brother in arms?”

“Where is my friend?” Chrom pleaded, his hand dropping.

“He’s…” Robin muttered, his gaze lowering and coming to rest on Lucina’s hopeful face.

Damn their eyes, Robin thought, glancing down at the ground. It’s like trying to argue with puppies. I can’t…

“Robin…” Lucina said tentatively, stepping forward.

“He’s tired and needs a meal,” Robin sighed at last, running a hand through his hair. “And a bath. And a fresh shirt. And another vacation. Somewhere tropical this time. But before any of that he needs to see a map, a pile of reports, and a duty roster.”

Chrom nodded approvingly, silent for a moment while Robin collected himself.

“’Dumb as a stone’, am I?” the Exalt asked, crossing his arms with a slight grin on his face.

Robin winced a little. “Just how long were you listening for?”

“Long enough,” Chrom chuckled, slapping the tactician in the back of the head.

“Ow! Dammit! What happened to not hitting me!?”

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