Invisible Ties

Chapter 55

Morgan looked around quickly as Anna scrambled to the fireside, Nergal and Draco both looking rather nonplussed at the thought of having to fight. Or at least Nergal looked nonplussed. Draco was as unreadable as ever to the Grandmaster.

The young Grandmaster reached up, stroking her cheek lightly where the arrow had passed by it as she processed the fact she was still whole, her brain a little slow to catch up.

“Morgan!” Donnel called out, snapping her attention back to the Risen encircling them outside the ring of firelight.

“Form… form a circle around the fire!” she ordered over the grunting and moaning of the creatures. “Nergal, Draco; can you fight?”

Draco answered by letting out a low growl, pulling another arrow out from beneath his cloak and firing it into the night, rewarded with the death-scream of another of the Risen.

“I would take that as a yes,” Nergal said with a grin, flipping his spellbook open and beginning to draw complex figures in the air with barely a glance.

“Anna, stay close to Donny,” Morgan instructed, readying her own sword. “Watch each-other’s backs, okay?”

Donnel nodded, turning away from her, trusting the younger girl to watch their backs. Anna looked a little more apprehensive, eyes darting about before taking a deep breath to calm her nerves, grip tightening around her own weapon’s hilt; an ornate short-sword rather than her usual longer one, no doubt something she’d been hoping to sell.

“Here they come!” Nergal warned, the sounds of crashing in the forest all around them growing as the Risen began to charge.

Morgan grit her teeth, darting out to meet the Risen with her sword held up, trusting the others to watch her flanks. Draco’s bow beat a steady rhythm, and the sounds of small magical explosions began to ring out behind Morgan as Nergal joined the fray. Donnel shouted wordlessly as he and Anna stood their ground, the merchant desperately trying to cover the more combat-experienced soldier’s wounded side as he struck out one-handed at their attackers.

Morgan skidded to a halt, flipping her sword around above her head and bending her knees in the ‘Jodan’ stance her mother had taught her, sliding one foot forward slightly and slashing downwards, through the first of the Risen and using that momentum to spin through the pack behind it, striking out laterally and causing a miniature whirlwind of dust and purple ashes as she took out basically the whole pack around her.

These are too weak to be an assassination party, Morgan thought, calming a little. These are only on par with the wandering Risen like Cherche was talking about… nothing we can’t handle.

She turned to see Draco covering Donnel and Anna’s flank as they struggled through the Risen before them, Nergal holding his own against the Risen pressing in on his side in an impressive show of magical skill, a determined frown on his thin face.

Morgan took all this in in barely a second, deciding that Draco and the other two could hold the Risen on that side; Draco was proving adept at driving the creatures back almost as fast as they could leap out of the darkness, his dark-fletched arrows and slender hands flying almost faster than Morgan’s eyes could follow. Nergal, however, looked like he was having trouble; Dark Magic was known to be slow; powerful, but slow to cast and easy to avoid. Fortunately the Risen seemed almost mindless in their haste to descend on the travellers, and many ran directly into the path of the mage as he cast wide area of effect spells, altering simple flux spells and driving the creatures off to one side.

Morgan tore into the creatures, Nergal letting out a relieved sigh as she gave the beleaguered mage a chance to catch his breath.

She twisted and whirled through the stances her mother had taught her, combining them with Lon’qu’s signature swordplay she had learned second-hand from her father to devastating effect. Soon she was ankle-deep in swirling purple mist, trying not to trip on discarded weapons as she backpedalled.

“Morgan! Get down!” Nergal shouted, waving his hands through a complex Dark Magic circle.

“Devastation!” his voice rang out clearly. “I call to the abyss! Take these creatures to the darkness!”

The ashes that littered the ground began to swirl, a knee-high purple cloud beginning to form as Morgan watched on in pure shock.

“Jormung!” the thin mage roared, his spell complete.

Dark, luminescent forms rose up out of the ash much the same way Morgan’s Verrine spell worked, but these forms were almost shapeless and in much greater numbers than her spell had been able to create. They surrounded the five travellers, pushing the Risen horde around them to the ground and slowly, methodically dismembering the creatures while the three Shepherds watched in awe. Draco sniffed, lowering his bow impassively and seemingly unimpressed.

Nergal panted, sagging as his spell dissipated. A cool wind blew through the silent roadside, stirring up the ashes on the ground in the brief calm.

“That was… impressive…” Anna managed to murmur as Donnel eyed the two strangers with a renewed guardedness.

“Anna, Donny, pack up our gear,” Morgan said, snapping out of her shock quicker than last time. “We need to move. Draco, can you help them?”

The quiet archer nodded once, stowing his bow back beneath his cloak, giving her a glimpse of tight black leathers in the firelight as he did so, and moving to assist the others cleaning up the camp and Anna’s scattered wares.

“You said you were a Mage, not a Dark Mage,” Morgan said, rounding on the exhausted man barely standing behind her.

“I fail to see the difference,” Nergal gasped, reaching shakily for his waterskin.

“Look, it makes a difference to me,” Morgan groaned, pinching the bridge of her nose in frustration. “We need to get out of here right now, but we’re not done talking about this. Understand?”

Nergal nodded mutely as the young Grandmaster turned away, moving to help the others break camp while the exhausted mage regained his composure.

Robin shivered, resisting the urge to sneeze as he sat cross-legged and wearing nothing but his smallclothes on the sand of the night-time Plegian desertscape as part of his ‘training’.

“Calm the mind,” he repeated, eyes closed and teeth chattering. “F-find my cen…centre. I can… do this…”

He took another shuddering breath, exhaling and creating a small cloud of vapour in front of his face. He’d been meditating for hours in the freezing northern desert, his father once again dragging him away from his books on another training excursion. It was late in the year, and according to his mother anywhere else on the continent it would be snowing. He was supposed to be learning how to cast under adverse circumstances, not freezing his butt to the rock he was sitting on…

Robin concentrated, feeling his mana well up and a subtle warmth starting to spread to his limbs-

“Argh!” he sighed as a fresh wave of shivers, closer to convulsions, struck him and he desperately hugged his chest, trying to maintain some of the warmth he’d just felt.

It was impossible. He was going to freeze to death, all because of his father’s crazy expectations. It wasn’t fair… he’d never even managed to beat his mother at the tactical simulation game they played together…

A sound like a whip-crack rang out, Robin perking up but not turning. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, preparing for the inevitable.

“You’re weak!” his father spat from behind him, the sound of crunching footsteps approaching. “Concentrate! Or you will die! I am not saving you this time!”

Robin shuddered again as the footsteps stopped just behind him, this time not from the cold.

Another crack rang out as his father slapped his head to one side from behind, the young man’s vision blurring for a moment as he righted himself.

“Again!” his father snarled. “You have a great destiny to live up to, boy! I won’t tolerate failure!”

Robin grit his teeth, concentrating again. Instead of finding his centre, though, he concentrated on the burning hate he was fostering at that moment, feeling his mana surge uncontrollably with the raw emotions before spiralling out of control and leaving him panting and still cold.

“Again!” his father snapped. “And again and again until you get it or you freeze to death!”

Robin grimaced as the footfalls receded, his father no doubt returning to the warm tent he had set up, just to taunt Robin. This, too, was apparently part of his training. Mental adversity built powerful mages, apparently.

But he didn’t want to be a mage.

He wanted to learn swordplay and tactics from his mother. He wanted to help people the way she had, not sit in some dusty church library and transcribe ancient scrolls.

He felt the familiar sensation of his mana warming in his chest again as he thought of time spent with his mother; discussing tactics, fencing training, studying and coming up with his own tactics while she watched over him…

The spell grew almost instantly, Robin sighing with relief as for a moment he was warm again. His grip on the spell slipped, however, when he realised that he couldn’t remember what his mother actually looked like.

The young tactician, for he couldn’t think of himself as anything but, opened his eyes, a confident smirk on his face.

He wasn’t going to give his bastard father the satisfaction of freezing to death. He would use the memories of what his mother had taught him, not his father, as the catalyst for the spell.

He would-

“If the boy won’t suffice, we will merely find another. Fortunately, there is another suitable candidate this time…”

Robin snorted, jerking awake and instantly regretting it as the crink in his neck made its presence known to him.

“Ow-ow-ow-ow-ow…” he muttered, massaging his neck as he sat up at his table.

What the hell was that dream? He wondered, leaning his head from side to side. Are they usually so… vivid?

The strange dream was already fading into his memory, but his face still hurt like he had actually been slapped. Feeling a little silly as he did so he turned, glancing around his darkened tent to make sure nobody was standing behind him. Darkness greeted him, accompanied by the sounds of the night guard, Vaike judging from the sound of the heavy footfalls, marching lazily by his tent and Lucina’s calm, gentle sleeping breaths from behind him.

Robin couldn’t help but grin as his gaze settled on her sleeping form. She had refused to leave his side, even after he had started working. Of course, she had done her best to assist him, but Robin worked so fast the best she could really do was pass him notes when he needed them; trying to understand his leaps of logic and the way his thought process worked had wound up giving her a headache. She had still done her best, though, and wound up crashing a few hours after nightfall. Robin hadn’t noticed at first, so absorbed with the work that he was.

Lon’qu had personally gone scouting, reporting that not only had Plegia lied to them about the state of their army before the Valm Campaign and rather than being in disarray it was almost as large as it had been under Gangrel’s command, but said army was also between them and the Dragon’s Table, covering every possible approach.

Robin didn’t want to risk Morgan’s safety by calling in the Ylissean Army just yet, either; not until he was sure it was absolutely necessary. Not to mention, judging from the report they had received from Ylisstol, she had her own hands full right now.

She’ll be fine, Robin told himself with a small sigh. She’s the Grandmaster now. She has the entire Army, not to mention both of the Knight Orders at her beck and call. She’s safer than I am right now. So why can’t I shake this weird feeling that something bad is happening?

Letting out a soft yawn Robin flicked the small oil candle that had burned out, the wick lighting from his spell as he recommenced working.

Well, I’m awake now, he reasoned, forcibly turning away from Lucina and the urge to simply curl up next to her.

There was, once again, a lot to do, and not a lot of time to do it in.

He could worry about weird dreams later.

The sound of bodies crashing through the light mountain forest broke the idyllic night time stillness as five cloaked figures hurried through it, the one in the lead forging forward with a small flame dancing above her outstretched hand.

Morgan was panting heavily when she finally called a stop in a small clearing not far from the creek that had run along the road. They had followed the creek up the mountain off of the winding road in an attempt to lose the Risen that may or may not even be following them now; Morgan didn’t care, she wasn’t taking the risk.

“What… have we gotten… ourselves dragged into…?” Nergal gasped, collapsing near the feet of the ever-stoic Draco, the archer barely even breathing heavily.

Not that she or the others were doing much better; Anna was exhausted from the fight and foolishly insisting on not abandoning her wares even after the attack, sitting on the ground hunched forward. Donnel was faring a little better, but his balance was off because of his inability to use his wounded arm, and he was evidently having a tough time adjusting.

“Donny, can you set up a small fire?” Morgan asked once they had all caught their breath.

“Yeah,” the soldier groaned, climbing back to his feet. “Yeah, no problem. Jus’ give me a sec…”

“So we’re safe here… right?” Anna asked, huddling up with her heavy pack.

Morgan shrugged.

“Safer than we would be on the road. We should still keep watch, tonight, though.”

She glanced over her shoulder at Nergal, still panting while Draco seemingly stood vigil over the man. Nergal’s hood had long since fallen back, revealing a slim and somewhat pointy face perfectly matching the rest of the skinny mage, his features seeming to have an almost stereotypical paternal quality about them; but Draco’s hood stayed perfectly in place, still covering the top half of his face in mysterious shadows. Even during the fight and their flight through the woods the hood hadn’t budged.

“What about you two?” she asked, making the panting mage glance up at her.

“Safety in numbers,” Nergal managed after a few seconds, running a hand over his dark hair. “If you would allow it, that is. Draco is good, but I don’t think even he could take all of those creatures at once if they attack again. No offense, old friend.”

The archer’s from deepened a little, but he remained silent.

“Of course we’d allow it!” Anna chirped from the ground. “You paid in advance, and I’m a merchant, not a crook. We’ll get you safely to Jagen, or I’m not an Anna!”

“Okay, so I guess that answers that. Do you two have some provisions?” Morgan asked, rolling her eyes. “We left our dinner behind and-”

“Actually,” Anna cut in, holding up the pot full of cold stew. “It was bad enough I had to leave the cooking gear behind, but… This pot was expensive. I couldn’t just leave it…”

The others looked at the red-head for a moment, before all bursting into laughter. Minus Draco, who just quirked his head a little.

“That explains why you were moving so slowly,” Morgan chuckled, wiping a tear from her eye. “Well, maybe this isn’t turning out quite as bad as I thought it was.”

Later that evening Morgan sat with her back to the fire in a position that had Anna and Donnel behind her, but she could still watch the majority of their surroundings and the two strangers with relative ease.

One of the sticks in the dying fire cracked, sending a small cloud of embers floating into the air and making the Grandmaster jump a little.

Morgan sighed when she realised she was just overreacting, rubbing her head and turning to stare back into the forest. She was on edge, and she wasn’t sure why; they had been expecting to be attacked, that’s why they’d avoided using the main passes through the mountains. Nergal and Draco seemed to be mostly harmless, too. So what was bothering her?

It was as if every fibre in her being screamed ‘run’ to her at the top if their lungs.

“Little jumpy, aren’t we?” a voice asked from a little way away.

Morgan glanced up, seeing Nergal lying on his side, head propped up on his elbow, looking at her curiously. She was surprised to note his skin was darker than she thought it was before, now that she got a good look at his face in the firelight.

“Yeah, I guess,” Morgan agreed quietly.

“You know, you’re pretty skilled for someone so young,” Nergal said quietly as he sat up and scooted closer to her. “It was impressive seeing the way you handled those creatures. You’re really something with that sword.”

“I’ve had a lot of practice,” she admitted, eyes never leaving the forest around them.

“It’s sad that someone so young could say something so cold with a straight face,” Nergal sighed.

The strange older mage perked up, leaning over to glance at Morgan.

“It’s also sad that one so young is so brutally scarred,” he added in a shocked tone.

Morgan went instantly red, pulling her coat closed around her to hide the magical burn scars on her neck and shoulder she’d gotten courtesy of the late Valmese Tactician Excellus. Usually people around her had the tact not to mention them, so she had all but forgotten about them, but suddenly her teenage-body-image complex kicked in in full force again.

“Shut up,” she growled, doing her best to remain focused on keeping watch. “Are all people where you’re from so clueless? Or are just particularly good at pressing other people’s buttons?”

“Oh, sorry,” Nergal said quickly, trailing off. “I didn’t realise… I… er… sorry…”

Morgan sighed, releasing the tight grip she had about her collar. “Forget about it. They just remind me… of a time I failed. A time I got people hurt.”

Nergal nodded sagely.

“We all bear scars like that, though, don’t we?” he asked with a sad chuckle. “You just wear yours on your flesh. Most of us wear them deeper. The Grimleal teach that we should be ashamed and proud of our scars at the same time; ashamed that we were bested, yet proud that we survived.”

The Grandmaster cast the older man a glance out of the corner of her eye.

“Sorry, pay me no mind,” he said, laughing what he’d just said off. “I’m just rambling, now.”

“You mentioned your son earlier,” she pointed out softly after a moment of indecision. “And your Granddaughter, too. I assume it has something to do with that?”

Nergal chuckled a little. “Yeah. But it’s… personal.”

“I won’t pry, then,” Morgan said.

They sat in silence for a few moments, Morgan continuing to scan the forest as the other mage stared off into space. Just as she thought he must have nodded off sitting up he spoke again.

“You remind me of my son, you know.” he said quietly.

“Not that I’m saying you’re masculine or anything,” he added quickly, laughing at his own faux-pas, “I’m just saying you carry yourself the same way he did. You have the same confidence. The same… drive. He got that from his mother, not from me. Your father is a good man to have raised such a strong young woman.”

Yeah, not that I can remember most of him doing it, Morgan thought with melancholy.

“Sorry,” Nergal laughed when the girl remained silent. “I know I have a tendency to ramble. I hope I didn’t offend you, especially after you saved my hide back there with those creatures.”

“Risen,” Morgan said, making the older man quirk his head to one side curiously.

“They’re called Risen,” she elaborated. “And you didn’t offend me. I’m just… it’s been a long time since I’ve been in charge of a mission. I’m just a little on edge because my last one didn’t go so well.”

That’s not true, she realised quickly, falling silent again. Dad put me in charge at the Hot Springs, and that went fine. So… why do I feel like there are ants crawling up my spine?

“You know, I tend to gloss over the ‘Dark Magic’ thing because it puts people off,” Nergal said in the lull in conversation. “But here you sit, still talking to a strange old coot that cast a spell that would make children run away screaming. That says a lot for you.”

“My Aunt’s a Dark Mage,” Morgan chuckled, adding “well; she’s not really my Aunt by blood, but she’s as close as family. So does that make you Plegian?”

“It does,” Nergal sighed. “Although to be honest I feel a tad disconnected from my homeland lately. Hence why I decided to try and find my family; they’re supposedly in Ylisse somewhere, and I thought I’d start in the east and work my way back.”

“So does that mean you don’t like the new king?” Morgan asked.

“Who, Validar?” Nergal snorted. “He’s not a king, he’s the old head of the Grimleal. He only stepped in to stop a power-vacuum, and now he can’t find someone else worthy to take over.”

“You talk like you know him personally,” Morgan pointed out, her hand subtly shifting to her sword’s hilt in the shadows.

“Every Dark Mage knows every other one,” Nergal sighed. “I probably know your Aunt, too, or at least someone in her family. It’s a small fraternity, plagued by greed and self-importance. Another reason I’m not too cut up about leaving Plegia at the moment. All the political manoeuvring tends to get in the way of my research.”

Morgan nodded, letting her hand drop back to where it had been resting before. It was interesting to get a first-hand account of the state of the neighbouring country rather than reading it on reports. It offered perspective she now realised she had been lacking. She would admit that she was beginning to see the Plegians as individuals now, rather than one singular whole.

“So then do you know a woman named Tharja?” Morgan asked conversationally as they watched the night.

“Tharja… Tharja…” Nergal muttered, rolling the name over his tongue a few times in thought. “About your height, long black hair, exceedingly well-endowed? Never smiles unless she’s about to stab something?”

“Yeah, that’s her.”

“I’ve met her in passing a few times; we both served in the Royal Guard together. I know her father quite well. He’s a deranged madman; no right to have raised children. I always hoped she turned out a little more well-rounded than he did.”

“Well, she is… eccentric,” Morgan snickered.

“Yes, but that is mostly par for the course among Dark Mages,” Nergal said, joining in her laughter.

Once they calmed again Nergal glanced over at the young Grandmaster.

“So are you?” he asked curiously.

“Am I what?”

“I don’t mean to offend you by asking this, but are you a Dark Mage, too?” Nergal asked somewhat timidly. “You have the same aura… the same resonance about you. I don’t mean to pry… but…”

Morgan glanced at the man, shocked by the question.

“I’ve… never really thought about it,” she admitted hesitantly. “I mean, I can use Dark Magic, even if I prefer not to. That spell you used was similar to one I came up with a few months ago, but using Dark Magic leaves… a bad taste in my mouth. I’m a tactician, not a mage.”

“We have to swap notes, then!” Nergal said quickly. “I’ve been looking for ways to improve my Jormung spell!”

The thin man leaned over, quickly pulling out his spellbook and an old quill with an ecstatic look on his face.

Morgan chuckled.

A scholar indeed, she thought to herself, reaching for her own spellbook.

Chrom glanced up from the table he was eating breakfast with the rest of his family at as a commotion at the tent’s entrance drew everyone’s attention.

“I told you I have food in my tent!” Robin was saying in his usual, over-animated way as Chrom’s eldest time-travelling daughter dragged him. “I don’t need to eat! I need to work!”

“You have two choices,” Lucina told the struggling tactician outside, dragging him by the scruff into the mess tent. “You can come into this tent quietly, eat, and return to work; or I can knock you out, drag you into this tent, force food down your throat and-”

“Okay, okay!” Robin called out, righting himself and shaking her hand off.

“You know one day you’ll thank me for all this meticulous planning,” Robin grumbled as he stepped into the tent. “And by the way, you made a scene and everyone’s staring at us now.”

Chrom burst out laughing as he heard a strangled groan from his daughter outside, watching as Robin’s face turned into a satisfied smirk. Cynthia snorted next to him, doing her best not to laugh, while Lon’qu looked completely oblivious to what was going on.

“Master! Over here!” Owain shouted, unnecessarily, across the small tent.

“Yes, Owain, he sees us,” Chrom chuckled as the Tactician started heading over to the table, a furiously blushing Lucina in tow.

The mess tent, the old mess tent that they used to cart around as Shepherds, rather than the larger one they had used while they marched with the army, was full to bursting, even considering the fact that a good third of their number was either on guard duty or scouting missions. A few glares, mostly from the knights, followed Robin as he crossed the room despite what Chrom had said yesterday, but to the tactician’s credit he just shrugged them off, smiling and waving good morning to everyone.

“Mornin’,” Robin yawned as he sank down at the small table, Lucina at his side.

“Good morning Robin, Lucina,” Chrom greeted.

Lon’qu grunted a greeting, still absorbed in whatever strange Feroxi breakfast concoction he had in his bowl.

“Morning Lucy!” Cynthia chimed, before glancing at Robin and becoming a little more subdued. “Good morning Robin.”

“Yes, yes, good morning,” Robin said, yawning again. “Owain! Your master hungers!”

The blonde boy was on his feet instantly, darting to where the food that Nah and Severa had prepared was still sitting.

“And bring some back for Lucina, too!” Robin added, snickering a little.

“It never ceases to amaze me how you do that,” Lon’qu muttered, watching his usually uncontrollable son tending to the tactician hand and foot.

“I would appreciate you not treating my cousin as a slave,” Lucina deadpanned, glaring sideways at the tactician.

“What?” Robin asked innocently. “I told him to get you some, too.”

Lucina sighed and rolled her eyes. “Because that makes it so much better…”

“Owain!” Cynthia called. “Grab me another roll, please?”

“See?” Robin laughed when Lucina glared at her sister. “She gets it.”

Chrom chuckled along with the tactician, stopping when the man turned his head.

“Robin, why are you missing such a big chunk of hair?”

The other man stopped, reaching up tenderly and feeling the small bald patch near his temple.

“Was it really that big…?” he wondered out loud, further perplexing the Exalt.

Before Chrom could continue his questioning, however, Owain had returned, turning the table into the giant free-for-all breakfast usually became around the tactician.

Miles away in the Plegian Palace, Algol, the Captain of the Royal Guard that had been bested by the Ylissean Knight Commander, let out a strangled groan, consciousness finally returning to him and making him wish he’d just died as pain flooded his senses. He slowly opened his eyes, registering the familiar ceiling of the Palace’s sanatorium, torchlight flickering on the view in the windowless chamber. Sitting up Algol winced, holding a hand to the bandages covering his bare torso, wondering how exactly he had survived.

He noticed the pitcher of water sitting on the small table next to his bed and, taking a deep drink from it to quench his parched throat, found the liquid to be tepid.

“How long have I been down here?” he wondered out loud, looking at the rows of empty beds around him.

Standing unsteadily the Guard Captain made his way to the chamber’s entrance, finding no sign of the Mages and Sorcerers that would usually be tending the room. Unlike Ylisse, who trained priests and clerics to be healers, the role of Plegian healers was more often than not given to the country’s Dark Mages.

Grunting with effort the weakened Captain dragged himself up the stairs to the main floor of the palace by the railing, panting and coated in sweat by the time he reached the top, his wound aching and throbbing.

“Where is everyone?” he asked out loud, greeted by silence and emptiness.

The Palace had been running on a skeleton crew for some time now, but there should still have been servants, guards, mages and clerks moving around, going about the daily maintenance of the nation.

The palace was empty. The torches weren’t lit, and sand had drifted in from the desert outside to form small piles in the corners, a daily struggle to prevent for the dedicated team of cleaners. The sand hadn’t pile up that high yet, though; meaning it had only been two or three days at the most since the Ylisseans had evaded Validar’s trap.

“Hello?” Algol called out, shuffling further into the main hall.

“Hello!?” he called out again, beginning to cough from his exertions.

“Yes, yes, I’m coming,” a familiar voice called out irritatedly from the direction of the kitchens.

A thin man wearing the robes of a senior ranking Dark Mage bustled into the hall, an irritated scowl on his face beneath his skull-cap as he noticed the Captain standing hunched over in the middle of the desolate hall.

“Ah. I was wondering when you would finally awaken,” he said, crossing to Algol.

“Adri?” Algol groaned as the Dark Mage helped him back towards the kitchens. “What’s going on?”

“It’s… complicated,” the mage said as they entered the warm kitchen. “Suffice to say the Palace has been abandoned in favour of another seat of power.”

The mage had, like most of the Dark Mages, served a period of time in the Royal Guard under Algol’s command. There were very few among the Dark Mages Algol didn’t know by name, and it was slightly comforting to have one of the less insane ones be the person to meet him.

Adri sat him down at the long servant’s table in the middle of the kitchen, producing a steaming mug of broth.

“Drink this,” he instructed. “It will help you recover your strength faster. Now hold still while I change your bandages.”

“In the kitchen?” Algol asked as the other man set to work. “Isn’t that a little… unhygienic?”

“There is no one left to care,” Adri sighed, dropping the soiled bandages onto the floor.

Algol chose to remain silent, allowing the mage to work and drinking the weak broth, already starting to feel a little better.

“In a few hours you should try eating something solid,” Adri instructed, tightening the bandages around Algol’s chest before tying them off. “Until then try not to over-exert yourself. You’ve been unconscious for nearly three days.”

“What happened?” Algol asked, placing his empty mug on the table and staring right at the mage next to him. “I need details, Adri.”

The mage sighed.

“King Validar’s plan to get the Fire Emblem was successful,” he said, spitting out the other man’s title like a curse. “He relocated to the Sanctum of Grima at the Dragon’s Table, taking the entire palace staff with him. You were left to die, but apparently the lady Aversa has a soft heart. She healed you, and your men brought you downstairs to rest.”

“Where are my men now?” Algol asked. “They should have been at their posts…”

“Gone, most of them,” Adri explained. “Validar took all those under his sway with him. There are a handful that stayed here in the palace; they were going into town for some supplies.”

“You said ‘under his sway’…” Algol said, trailing off and dreading what he was about to be told.

“Come now, don’t tell me you’ve forgotten what Mustafa said already?” Adri admonished. “We are being used, Algol. The entire Plegian Army. The entire fraternity of Dark Mages. The entire nation of Plegia. We are pawns to Validar’s schemes. And now you see that he has set them into motion while you were… sleeping. Those few men remaining here are the ones still loyal to the people. And to you.”

Algol groaned, replaying the conversation he’d had with Mustafa a few days ago in his head.

“You speak of sedition, of betraying our oaths to serve the realm.”

“You were always the one for theatrics and over-exaggeration. What proof do you have?”

“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 proof was staring my in the face the entire time. I was just too blinded by my pride…” Algol muttered, sinking his face into his hands.

“Yes, Mustafa said as much,” Adri commented, taking a bite out of one of the apples sitting on the countertop. “It’s not too late though.”

“How is it not too late?” Algol asked, defeat heavy in his voice. “My men have been taken by that… usurper. All I have left are a handful; the Royal Guard were never numerous to begin with. What would you have me do?”

“Go to the Midmire,” Adri said, leaning in close. “Take those still loyal to our people with you. Join Mustafa’s resistance, and save the men that were stolen from you. Save the entire nation!”

“Okay, enough with the tough sell,” Algol sighed. “What other choice do I have? Sit here and wait, or become a seditionist? Neither choice seems particularly appealing.”

“That’s your decision to make, not mine,” Adri said, tossing his apple core to the garbage. “But you’ll be making the journey on your own. I need to return to the Table, and soon.”

Algol perked up. “The Dragon’s Table?”

“No, that one beneath your elbows,” Adri drolled. “Of course I mean the Dragon’s Table. Validar is consolidating his power. Every Dark Mage is being called there. I am already running late thanks to your sorry carcass.”

“Well excuse me,” Algol huffed, downing the last of his broth.

“I’ve never been gladder that my dearest niece left the fraternity, to be honest,” Adri murmured, his gaze taking on the far-away quality of someone thinking painful thoughts as he crossed his arms and gazed into space.

“Before you go, answer me one thing,” Algol requested. “Mustafa mentioned ‘magic circles’. What is Validar planning?”

Adri glanced up at the Guard Captain, his face deadly serious.

“The end of the world, my friend. He’s going to bring about the apocalypse. Did Mustafa not mention that part? I told him to mention that part.”

Morgan groaned, waking on the hard-packed earth of the forest floor and sitting up, brushing at her face and realising she had some dry leaves stuck to it. It took her a few seconds longer than usual to wake properly, a strange occurrence considering she usually woke like a switch being flicked; she just put it up to the excitement from the previous night.

Blinking a few times she looked around, stifling a yawn as she stretched her arms above her head. Nergal and Draco were curled up on the opposite side of the fire to her and Anna, Donnel acting as a buffer between the two groups where he could watch the surroundings and the strangers at the same time.

Morgan relented and yawned, running a hand through her hair as she stood and shuffled over to Donnel, straightening her coat in the process. It was almost dawn; it wouldn’t hurt to wake the others up and start preparing to move.

“Morning, Donny,” she murmured, walking right up to the soldier.

Donnel didn’t as much as grunt in acknowledgement, staring straight ahead and working his mouth soundlessly.

“Donny?” she asked again, glancing down at him.

He was staring into space, eyes unfocussed and his face slack, lost within himself.

“Donny!” Morgan tried again, giving him a little shake.

“Sure thing, Ma,” he muttered blinking and looking up.

“M-Miss Morgan!” he corrected himself, blushing hard. “Oh… uh, g’morning! I… uh… oh geez… The Commander’d tan my hide for spacin’ out on guard duty like that…”

“Don’t worry about it,” Morgan said. “Are you okay, though?”

“Yeah,” Donnel groaned, running a hand down his face. “I’m fine. Just… I dunno. It was weird. All’a sudden I saw my Ma, and she’s tellin’ me to be a good boy like when I was a kid…”

Morgan knelt down next to Donnel, looking at his eyes.

“Did you get hit in the head while we were fighting last night?” she asked seriously, checking his pupils. “You should have said something earlier, Donny…”

“Nah, not a scratch,” the young soldier answered, rubbing the back of his head. “Ain’t it the darndest thing…”

“Just take it easy,” Morgan told him. “Let me know right away if it happens again.”

Donnel snickered a little at being ordered around by someone younger than him, but agreed all the same, moving to wake Nergal and Draco while Morgan went back to wake Anna.

“Hey… Anna?” Morgan whispered, shaking the redhead awake.

“Money?” Anna snorted, sitting up in a flash.

“No, just Morgan,” the Grandmaster grinned.

“Ah. Morning,” the bleary-eyed merchant mumbled, yawning. “Time to open shop already?”

“If by ‘open shop’ you mean ‘keep moving towards Jagen’ then yes, yes it is,” the younger woman laughed, before growing serious again and leaning closer.

“Hey, do me a favour,” Morgan whispered, checking to make sure Donnel’s back was still turned. “Keep an eye on Donny today, okay? He’s… a little out of it.”

Anna nodded, glancing around her to where the soldier was nudging Nergal awake, Draco already on his feet and looking away from them.

“So if we go north we should be able to skirt the first big mountain and come out back on the path… and then… go over the other mountains!” Morgan said, walking slowly along with the map in front of her face.

“Right, well, you lead, we’ll follow,” Nergal said from the back of the little procession with Draco.

“We’ll be fine!” Morgan assured them, stuffing the map back in her pouch and picking her pace up again. “I mean, even if we’re attacked by Risen again we’ll be fine! You saw how easy we took them out last night, so… no problems!”

“It’s too early for your optimism,” Anna, apparently not much of a morning person, grumbled from next to Donnel, palm held to her forehead as she glared forward.

“Don’ mind her,” the soldier laughed, slapping the merchant on the back. “Lead on, Grandmaster.”

Morgan gave a laugh, leading the small troupe through the forest. They made good time, even though much of the path Morgan led them on was uphill, only stopping twice for Nergal, who was apparently not in the best of shape, to rest and again for lunch. They didn’t have far to go; they would be able to reach the path again by nightfall, and if they followed the path uninterrupted then they would reach Jagen the by evening the day after next.

Morning turned to noon and then to afternoon before Morgan began to feel the familiar pricking at the back of her mind again. Stopping abruptly she turned around, looking at the gaps between the trees before checking their position against the sun shining merrily through the leaves above them, completely oblivious to the young woman’s sense of forboding.

“Morgan?” Donnel asked, his hand already gripping his sheathed sword.

“It’s just…” Morgan muttered, shaking her head. “I had a feeling. I…”

“Perhaps we should take another rest?” Nergal suggested breathlessly. “I mean we have been moving at a steady pace since lunch.”

Morgan nodded slowly, running her hand slowly through her hair as she looked around them again.

“Sure,” she mumbled, dropping her pack.

The older sorcerer sunk gratefully to the ground, letting out a low groan as he did so, Anna doing the same not far from him. Draco moved to stand protectively by his companion’s side, leaving Donnel and Morgan standing and looking into the trees.

“Stay here,” Morgan said under her breath, taking a few steps into the forest.

Donnel nodded, moving to wait with Anna.

“Where’re you off to?” Nergal asked curiously.

“Secret ladies business,” she answered over her shoulder, grinning when the mage blanched and looked away.

“Forget I asked,” he responded, putting his hands up and pointedly staring back down the slope they had been walking up.

Morgan chuckled walking deeper into the forest away from the others, her cheery exterior becoming stony after a few steps.

I’m not imagining this feeling, she assured herself, her hand drifting to rest on her sword’s hilt as she stepped out of sight of the others.

Something felt off. She couldn’t tell what, but something was wrong. It was the same feeling she’d gotten when the enemy adapted to her tactics, or when she had walked into a trap… or that one time she had accidentally walked in on her father and Lucina on the voyage back to Ylisse. It was a negative charge shooting up and down her spine, a sour smell in the air.

She had been on edge since they had stopped the previous evening, but for some reason the feeling had only grown as they had progressed further into the mountains away from the paths.

Morgan stopped, glancing around. She could hear the wind whistling through the trees, she could hear the leaves rustling and the branches creaking, and she could hear the birds…

Where are the birds? She wondered, spinning around in a circle and drawing her sword.

“Morgan,” a chillingly familiar voice called out to her.

Morgan spun on her heel, bringing her sword up in a flash. She had just looked behind her; there was no way…

“No way…” she breathed, lowering her sword. “Dad?”

Her father stepped forward, moving branches out of his path with an easy grin on his face.

“Morgan,” he repeated, his mouth not moving as he strode forward, empty hands held up at his sides to show he was unarmed.

“Dad, what are you…” she started, catching herself.

His hair was brown; her father had white hair now. She looked a little closer at the man, stepping back at the same pace he advanced. His face was lined, aged; he was older than her father. The resemblance was uncanny, though. She shook her head; this was wrong. Something was wrong.

“Stay back,” Morgan warned, an edge of steel in her voice as she held her sword out, the tip coming to a stop at her father’s doppelganger’s throat and halting the man’s advance.

“I don’t know who you are, or why you look like my father, but I won’t hesitate to cut you down unless you explain yourself right now.”

“You don’t recognize your own father?” the man asked, his voice eerily echoing around the inside of Morgan’s head as his mouth remained closed.

“You’re not my father,” she growled, increasing the pressure against the man’s neck. “Say it again and I’ll run you through without so much as blinking.”

“Try it,” the doppelganger taunted.

Morgan growled, going to pull her sword back and smash him in the head with the back of the blade; she really wasn’t in the mood to play games with a stranger, even one that looked remarkably like her father. But as she went to launch her attack Morgan found herself unable to do so.

“Do you see?” the doppelganger laughed, stepping around her static weapon slowly.

“I control you. As my father controlled me. Submit, and become a part of a greater destiny the likes of which you cannot imagine.”

Morgan found herself unable to respond, her mouth not moving at her will. Her mind reeled, though, and she began to panic.

What the hell is going on!? She screamed internally.

“You breathe because I will it,” the doppelganger said, his voice like silk as he reached up and gently stroked her cheek, sending chills up her spine and making her stomach rebel. “You live because I will it. Do you understand? Speak. Speak your submission.”

“Shove it up your arse!” Morgan snarled, suddenly able to talk again yet still unable to move. “As soon as I get free I’m going to take this sword and shove it sideways up your-”

A headache, more like a migraine or a blow to the head from Vaike’s axe, assailed the Grandmaster as the doppelganger frowned, clicking his tongue in annoyance and stepping backwards into the trees again. Warm liquid began to run from Morgan’s nose, blood dripping from her chin onto her shirt.

“I see you still require convincing,” the doppelganger chuckled, his voice fading. “I admit, I am glad that you have such spirit. It makes breaking you that much more fun. Don’t die just yet. Do play nicely with Lepus, though. My dearest. Little. Daughter.”

The pressure faded from Morgan’s mind, and suddenly she found herself on the forest floor, struggling to stay on her knees rather than fall flat on her face, shaking and panting.

She looked up, wiping the blood off of her face with the cuff of her coat, eyes widening as she threw herself backwards away from the axe descending on her head. The young Grandmaster drew herself up unsteadily, still winded.

Staring her down was what could only be one of the Deadlords; a grey-skinned, serious faced woman glaring at her with glowing red eyes under a haggard mop of hair the colour of bleached straw, holding a wicked, black-headed axe similar to the one Lissa had been training with lately in both hands. She wore a similar robe and armour plates to Libra, a mockery of a priest’s raiment in black and blood-red, her cruel, sneering smile revealing pointed fangs.

“Tactician,” she whispered, her voice like the rustling of the leaves above them.

“No,” Morgan growled, circling her sword and sliding one foot forward slightly, coming into a ready stance. “I’m the Grandmaster, you undead bitch. Get it right.”

With a wordless warcry Morgan threw herself forward, the Deadlord Lepus moving to meet her. Their weapons collided, Morgan somehow stopping the black axe’s arc dead, her arms practically going instantly numb from the impact.

Oh crap, she thought, snarling outwardly but quailing inside. I… I can’t take her alone! I have to get back to the others before she kills me!

She stepped back, allowing Lepus’ arc to whoosh past her, spinning and putting all her weight behind a downwards slash, slipping by the Deadlord as she dodged and starting to run.

If I can get back to the others we’ll be able to take her with numbers, Morgan thought, desperately racing through the trees and ducking beneath branches.

As she darted past trees and through the low shrubs scattered about the forest Morgan realised she was panicking; that was the very last thing that she should be doing at a time like this, but she couldn’t help it. Everything was just too much to take, and now a Deadlord was after her? Too much…

She exploded back out into the small clearing the others were resting in, panting and holding her sword up as she spun, waiting for Lepus to follow.

“Up!” Morgan screamed. “We’re under attack!”

They all reacted instantly; Donnel was on his feet, his sling instantly being torn off as he winced and took his sword in a two-handed grip; Anna was at his side, a short-sword in one hand and a carving knife she’d been sharpening while she waited in her other; Draco instantly had his bow up, scoping the area for targets, and Nergal was already flipping through his spellbook.

After a few seconds of silence Morgan dropped her guard, looking around in confusion.

“She was… she was right behind me!” she panted, stepping back from the trees and spinning around.

“Morgan?” Donnel asked, eying her curiously.

“We need to move,” the Grandmaster ordered, ignoring the soldier and grabbing her pack before starting off again. “We’re not safe here. In this forest, at all. We find the path and follow it until we get out of these mountains. We go all night if we have to! No more stops! C’mon! Move!”

“Hey, wait up!” Anna called after her, the others all hurrying to collect their own packs and keep up with the panicked woman.

“We can’t wait!” Morgan shouted, stopping to look back at them, still glancing all around her. “We’re being chased by a Deadlord!”

Anna and Donnel went silent, paling and redoubling their efforts to catch up with her while Nergal raised a brow.

“Er… Deadlord?” the mage asked curiously, approaching slower with Draco on his heels.

“Remember those creatures that attacked us last night?” Morgan asked, trying to make her point as quickly as possible. “Like them, but much, much stronger. They make wounds that can’t be healed magically, and I don’t think that all of us put together can take her. We. Need. To. Move.”

Nergal blinked a few times before nodding, hurrying to keep pace with the Shepherds.

Morgan was still panting, now drenched with sweat as well when they finally came upon the path that evening, just as the sun was starting to set and the sky was alive with brilliant hues of purple and orange, the dying rays of the sun flashing through gaps between the trees.

Morgan looked around her, seeing enemies in every shadow and behind every tree in her mind’s eye. She could feel the Deadlord breathing down her neck; she could still feel the doppelganger’s touch on her face, still feel his voice in her mind. It was enough to drive her mad if she thought about it too long. So she had kept running.

They had run almost non-stop for the remainder of the afternoon, only stopping once briefly when Nergal had tripped and landed flat on his face. They were exhausted, but being tired was better than facing what was behind them in the forest.

Dad’s ten times the swordsman I am, and he just barely fought that Deadlord in Chon’sin to a standstill… Morgan thought. There’s no way in hell we’d be able to take her alone, not with Donny wounded. I think we lost her, though. I… I don’t care anymore, I can’t keep running!

“Alright, take a breather,” Morgan said, grip tightening on her sword even as she said it.

The others all practically collapsed, all except Draco, and began to suck their waterskins dry. Morgan remained on guard, though; even after all the distance they had put between them and the Deadlord and whatever the creature wearing her father’s face was, she still felt anxious. She still felt like they were in danger.

“Where are they?” Morgan asked herself out loud, looking over her shoulder before spinning in a slow circle. “They wouldn’t give up that fast… not if they sent a Deadlord… where are they?”

“Child, you’re winding yourself up,” Nergal said kindly. “We are safe for the moment; take a moment to collect yourself.”

Morgan flinched, taking a deep breath before nodding and sheathing her sword. The older mage was right; she needed to take a moment to clear her thoughts, drink some water and recover. She had been going full tilt since the attack that afternoon, and now she needed to take stock of the situation.

Dad wouldn’t panic, she told herself, taking a deep drink from her waterskin. Okay, he might panic horribly and run around in little circles for a while, but he’d get it together. Calm down. Find your centre. Breathe in… and out… Okay. We need to keep moving; we’ll still keep going all night, but we’ll go at a slower pace in case we’re attacked again. We can’t keep running indefinitely, especially not Donny and Nergal; Donny’s wounded, and Nergal’s not fit enough…

Morgan cupped her chin in thought, placing the waterskin back as she looked at the forest floor, momentarily lost in thought.

But if that guy with Dad’s face comes back and freezes me again we’re toast. Well, I’m toast. But the others won’t leave me, so they’d get caught up. The only answer is that we have to keep moving. When in doubt, stick with the first idea you come up with.

Morgan nodded, coming to a decision.

“Alright, guys,” she said, hitching her pack higher up her back. “We’re going to keep moving all night; we need to keep on putting distance between us and them, so we’re going to soldier on. We need to keep going.”

“Actually, I would say we’ve come far enough now,” Nergal said from behind her, his voice suddenly haughty and cold.

Morgan turned slowly, looking at where the others were staring at her coldly and impassively.

“Guys?” she asked in a small voice.

Her eyes went wider and she took a few trembling steps back as the Deadlord seemingly materialised amongst the trees behind the others, calmly stepping forwards to join them and glowering at her.

“Look out behind you!” Morgan shrieked, drawing her sword and starting forward, intent on protecting her friends until they were ready and could help her beat down the-

Nergal let out a cold laugh, smiling up at Lepus.

“So kind of you to join us, dear Lepus,” the mage said to the Deadlord before turning back to grin at Morgan.

“A-Anna?” she asked in a small, quaking voice. “Donny? Get… get away from her…”

The other two Shepherds didn’t even blink; they sat staring up at her, their faces cold masks and their eyes devoid of all intelligence. The only person moving now was Draco as he tore off his cloak, throwing it to one side and revealing a strange steel helmet that covered the entire top half of his head, a single cyclopean lens glowing from within with red light as he stared at Morgan, bow in hand and an arrow nocked. He wasn’t pointing it at her, but he held it ready all the same.

“As you can see, you are outnumbered ‘Grandmaster’,” Nergal chuckled, standing. “I’ve grown weary of this farce. Throw down your weapons and submit, or the Shepherds die.”

Morgan shook her head, stepping backwards quickly and stumbling, falling down on her back in her terror.

“What did you do to them!?” she shouted at the mage, pointing at the two motionless Shepherds sitting by the Deadlord’s side.

“A simple suggestion spell,” Nergal laughed. “A little hypnosis. Do not worry, I haven’t harmed them. Yet. For the famous Ylissean Shepherds you truly are a trusting bunch. Off on an important mission and yet you offer to guide two total strangers for coin? You should have at least had two people with us at all times, child. A suggestion spell only takes a matter of seconds to implement.”

Nergal grinned, his face turning predatory. Morgan watched as a haze was lifted from her eyes; Nergal wasn’t a kind-looking scholar, his face was all harsh angles and lines, and he suddenly held himself straight with superiority he hadn’t possessed before. She glanced over at Draco, the archer’s skin suddenly the same ash-grey colour as Lepus’.

“You’re a Deadlord, too?” Morgan asked him in a small voice.

The archer nodded once, slowly and deliberately.

“Draco,” he repeated in a soft tone, his single eye-piece boring into her. “Hunter… of the black arrow. Fifth Deadlord.”

“That’s the most I’ve ever heard him speak,” Nergal chuckled. “I wasn’t lying when I said he wasn’t the most talkative. He must like you.”

“And you?” Morgan asked in a cold voice, taking in her surroundings and trying to buy time. “Is everything you told me a lie, too?”

I need to get away… to regroup, Morgan thought, eyes settling on Anna and Donnel. Whatever he’s done to Anna and Donny I can’t undo if I’m fighting two Deadlords at once… Keep him talking, buy some time. Wait for the right moment…

“No, everything I told you was quite true,” Nergal laughed. “Even needing to finish that spell; you saved me years of research, girl, and for that I thank you. Well… all was truth except for my name.”

He turned, throwing off his heavy travelling cloak to reveal Dark Mage robes covered in vile Grimleal iconography that hurt Morgan’s eyes to look at too closely.

“I am Validar,” he said in a proud voice, his head high. “I am King of Plegia and first among the Grimleal and the servants of the Dark Dragon himself. And I spoke truth when I said I was seeking my granddaughter. Tell me, did your father never mention your lineage?”

Morgan shook her head, turning over into a runner’s start and taking off like a shot, only to fall flat on her face when her foot wouldn’t budge. She looked back down at it, a black arrow pinning the hem of her coat to the ground; her supposedly impenetrable, magically enhanced coat that could even turn most blows from a sword, pierced by a single arrow.

“Ah, youth. Always in such a hurry,” Validar said, walking slowly over to Morgan and punctuating the last word by driving his boot into her ribs.

Morgan coughed as she was lifted off the ground, curling up on her side in a ball when she landed and feeling despair begin to set in.

“Oh, don’t give up just yet,” Validar laughed. “We haven’t even gotten to the best part.”

Morgan glanced up at the cruel, angular face as it smiled down at her, leaning closer.

“I am your father’s father,” he whispered into her ear. “And when you are born in this timeline, I will be your grandfather. Making you, dearest Morgan, the granddaughter I was looking for.”

“I did lie about not knowing where you were, though,” he added in a normal tone, leaning back and rising to his feet.

“You are just as trusting and naïve as your father,” he added, kicking her in the ribs again before bending and tearing the sword out of her hand.

Morgan coughed, curling up tighter as Validar strode away.

“Leave…” she coughed. “Leave the others… alone…”

Validar glanced over his shoulder, resting her sword on it at the same time.

“Oh?” he asked, moving over to stand between the other two Shepherds. “These two?”

He stopped in front of Anna, flipping Morgan’s sword around and holding it to her throat, smiling over his shoulder.

“No…” Morgan moaned, rising to her knees.

Validar grinned, throwing the sword backwards to the ground between them.

“You can rest easy, child,” he chuckled. “I am not going to kill them. I need them to deliver a message for me. An… invitation for your father.”

Morgan sagged with relief. At his gesture the two Shepherds rose to their feet, standing and waiting for orders.

“Actually,” Validar said, tapping one finger against his chin. “You only really need one person to deliver a message, right?”

Before Morgan could respond or do anything else Validar’s hand flashed out, a purple light surrounding it as he buried the appendage in Donnel’s chest, bypassing the armour he wore and making the soldier gasp. For a brief moment the light returned to his eyes and his gaze locked with Morgan’s.

“Donny!” she screamed, her voice shrill as Validar tore the young man’s heart out of his chest with a wet, sucking sound, leaving the body to fall to the ground in a bloody heap.

Validar laughed, holding the organ up in the dying sunlight like a trophy, his gaze turning over to Draco as Donnel twitched a few times before lying still.

“Didn’t you miss him when you went hunting?” he asked the Deadlord in a mocking fashion.

Draco answered by growling and spitting a glob of black phlegm off to the side.

“Here,” Validar said, bored already as he tossed Donnel’s heart to the archer Deadlord.

Draco caught the organ one-handed and brought it to his face.

“No,” Morgan whimpered, looking back and forth between the corpse of her friend and the Deadlord holding his heart. “No… no, no, no!”

This isn’t happening… not again. Not now…

After giving the organ a sniff Draco took a bite out of the heart, like someone would an apple.

“I’ll kill you!” Morgan roared, rolling forward to grab her sword and bringing it up under Validar’s chin.

She stopped, frozen again, her sword pressed to the man’s neck as he eyed her with one perfectly shaped brow raised.

“Oh? Will you now?” he asked, casually batting her sword aside. “Tell me; if I controlled your father, and you have the same curse, what is to stop me controlling you?”

Morgan let out a strangled growl of frustration, her teeth clenching so hard in her mouth she was afraid one would crack.

“You!” Validar shouted, turning his back on the Grandmaster and looking at Anna.

“You will remember nothing of this,” he said in an authoritative tone. “Your party were attacked by Risen and the soldier was killed. They took the tactician. You barely escaped with your life. Go now to your original destination. Stop for nothing.”

Anna nodded, her eyes clearing a little as she turned and dropped her heavy pack, beginning to sprint in the direction of Jagen.

“Make her story more believable,” Validar purred to Draco.

The quiet archer, done now with his gory meal, nodded, his blood-stained chin and lips making Morgan want to vomit. In one smooth movement Draco brought his bow up and loosed an arrow, hitting Anna square in the flank. The merchant stumbled, almost falling before righting herself and continuing to run.

Leaving Morgan alone with the evil mage and the two Deadlords.

Validar flicked his wrist lazily and Morgan fell to her knees, the pressure in her head rising to an unbearable level. As her vision clouded her last sight was of Donny’s shocked expression staring up at the sky.

I’m sorry, Donny, she thought as her world went black. I’m so sorry.

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