Invisible Ties

Chapter 57

Robin was running… but he was always running. This was a dream, just like all the others, but knowing that didn’t change things. He ran through a desert, the sand whipping by him fast enough to shred the flesh from his bones as he leapt over dunes as tall as buildings without breaking stride. Eventually he came out to the badlands in the south, not hesitating for a moment as he continued to charge ahead full force, his breath coming out in jagged gasps.

He couldn’t keep running like this forever; he couldn’t keep this pace up. It was killing him.

Yet still the tactician ran.

He ran until finally he neared his destination, a towering temple that radiated darkness like a great purple cloud around it, the feeling becoming a physical haze that coated everything.

Without slowing, without even thinking, he leapt, crashing through the great wooden doors to the temple as if they were sheets of paper, finally, finally skidding to a stop.

“Damn you! Damn you both!”

Three familiar figures fought, two facing off against the third as they fought to alter fate, but… something was different.

It should have been Robin fighting beside the blue-haired Exalt swinging the ornate great-sword two handed, but instead an older woman with long, flowing brown hair cascading over the shoulders of her black coat spun beside him, throwing powerful lightning spells at Validar as if they were the sparks that apprentice mages created to practice.

“Chrom!” she shouted, turning towards a stunned Robin for a brief moment, her face obscured by the blast of dark magic from their foe.

Robin watched her fall, watched Chrom fell Validar before rushing to her side, all the while unable to move.

“Hey! Hey, stay with me!” Chrom was shouting, holding the woman close.

Suddenly Robin began to move, and with a familiar sense of terror he realised that he wasn’t in control any more.

“R-Robin,” the woman muttered weakly, her face obscured by her long hair.

Chrom tilted his head to one side curiously, eyes never leaving the woman as Robin snuck up behind them, unable to even shout out in warning.

“What? Who’s Robin? A-”

The Prince’s words cut off as Robin’s hand descended, slicing through armour and flesh as easily as a master-crafted sword would in a shower of blood and gore. The woman beneath Chrom’s corpse stirred as Robin cast the cadaver aside, raising his hand again, still dripping with his best friend’s blood. He could hear laughing in the distance, a low, booming laugh that made his skin crawl as he stared down at his next victim.

She finally looked up at him, two familiar eyes staring up from underneath a sheet of hair.

“Fight him,” she pleaded. “You can do it. I… I know you can, Robin.”

His hand began to descend, an anguished cry finally escaping Robin’s lips as he-

Robin gasped, flying out of his bedroll as if it were on fire, coated in sweat and shaking.

Outside the only illumination was from the lamps, so it was still early in the morning.

He was in the camp.He was safe. No one was dead, and just to make sure he checked his hand to ensure that there was no blood on it. He was clean; all that was on his hand was the damnable mark of Grima, sitting there and mocking him the way it always did.

Robin let out a shuddering sigh, running a hand through his long white hair.

There’s a reason I don’t try to sleep any more… he thought bitterly, looking at his hand again before wrapping it around Tharja’s little charm hanging from his neck.

Dammit, Virion, Robin thought with another, calmer sigh. Where the hell are you? I could really use some good tea right about now.

A few hours later Robin lay flush to the ground and shivering, resisting the urge to yawn from another restless night, the pre-dawn light making the desert temperatures lower than he had been expecting as he vigilantly watched the Plegian outpost for movement.

However, he corrected himself glancing over his shoulder at the squad of black-armoured forms crouched not far from him in the shadows of the dune, it would have been more correct to think of them as ‘Grimleal’ outposts rather than specifically Plegian. Mustafa’s resistance movement incorporated remnants of the Plegian army from all corners of the dry country, brave men and women that had stepped up to defend their nation from a genocidal madman.

He slowly wriggled backwards, trusting Lon’qu and Severa, who was turning out to be quite adept at a scouting role under the dour Feroxi’s tutorship despite her brightly coloured hair and his lingering aversion to the fairer sex, to watch the base for their signal, using his beautiful handmade lance, a gift from Cordelia to fight mounted soldiers in Valm, as a makeshift balance stick as he slid.

The squad of Plegians, apparently a group of veteran soldiers from the capital that had shown up at the village a day before the Shepherds had, were bunched tightly together, twenty men waiting in formation in ornate black plates. Robin recognized their leader as the head of the Royal Guard that had been defeated by Frederick, and while he spent most of the time they had travelled casting the Knight Commander dirty looks he had thus-far remained silent on the matter. Sahiri had also been assigned to liaise with the Shepherds, rounding out the Plegian squad with her simpler armour and weapons, and looking incredibly nervous and out of sorts surrounded by so many veterans.

The rest of the Shepherds were waiting around the way they usually did, and it gave Robin a strange sense of nostalgia to see them like this again back in Plegia.

Chrom and Lucina were busy talking with Frederick and Cordelia about their charge, going over Robin’s plans and making sure everyone had them memorized. He didn’t want to interrupt that and suffer one of Frederick’s annoyed glares again, so instead he opted to get to know his countrymen better. Besides, it looked like Frederick was on a roll again.

The Knight Commander had objected vehemently to involving Plegian troops in their plan until Robin had pointed out if they didn’t that they would have to split the Shepherds further. That had shut him up pretty quickly; apparently Frederick wasn’t happy with the fact that he didn’t have complete control any more. Not that Robin wanted the control…

“Hi there,” he said in a low voice, sidling up to the Plegian Captain, bouncing his lance on one shoulder.

The balding man looked up at him curiously, nodding a hesitant greeting.

“So… you’re the Prince,” the man said slowly.

Robin chuckled, rubbing the back of his head.

“Apparently. I am an amnesiac, though, so it could all be a load of bull. In any case, I prefer to think of myself as one of Ylisse’s tacticians. Just call me Robin.”

“I am Captain Algol,” the other man said, offering his hand before indicating behind him. “And this is what’s left of the Royal Guard.”

“Hi guys!” Robin said enthusiastically, waving at the hushed Plegians after shaking Algol’s hand. “I look forward to working with you, and sorry about trying to kill so many of you before!”

A few snickers broke out amongst the Guards, but for the most part Robin was greeted by confused stares. Of course Sahiri was the one chuckling the loudest up the back, a hand clamped over her mouth to try and hush the laughter.

“Is he really related to the King?” the tactician heard one of the Guards further back whisper.

“He doesn’t act like the King…” another whispered.

“Isn’t he the one that led Ylisse with the Exalt three years ago?” one near the back, an older man, asked.

“Does it really matter right now?” the Guard next to the older man sighed.

“The enemy of my enemy is my ally, right?” the older man groaned, looking away.

“So…” Robin said, drawing the word out. “Your men seem pretty comfortable following Ylissean orders.”

Algol frowned at the tactician.

“We’re here to defend our homeland,” the Captain reasoned. “I’ve spent long enough blinded by pride and hate. There are more important things at stake now than our former grievances; if Ylisseans are the ones that will save the world, then I’ll gladly follow their orders.”

“Besides,” Algol said with a shrug as he turned away slightly. “Mustafa said you’re Validar’s son; the Prince of Plegia. Wouldn’t that make them ‘Plegian orders’?”

Robin’s eyes widened a little as he plastered a rather convincing fake smile on his face.

“You’re absolutely right,” he lied through his teeth. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and check on the Shepherds.”

“By your leave, milord,” Algol said, bowing his head respectfully slow enough that Robin knew he was meant to see the smirk on his face.

Robin walked away calmly, heading for the back ranks where Tiki was busy talking aerial tactics with Cynthia and Nah, but inside he was panicking.

I’m not Plegian! I’m not, dammit! I don’t want to be Plegian!

He glanced up just in time to see Chrom’s little impromptu meeting break up and the four Shepherds separate, Frederick making to walk back to where the other Knights were waiting with their horses with a particularly sour look on his face.

It doesn’t take a genius to guess what they were just talking about, Robin thought to himself, eager for a distraction and deciding to make sure there were no threats to his carefully laid plans.

“Frederick,” Robin called out, halting the man mid-stride.

With a cold expression the Knight Commander turned to regard Robin.

“What is it, Tactician?”

“I need to know you’re going to follow my orders,” Robin said plainly, his patience with the Knight wearing thin as the two men stared each other down.

“I will follow milord’s orders,” Frederick said, his face never changing expression. “And I will follow my oaths to the Exalt and to Ylisse. I believe you have enough Plegian followers to make up-”

“Alright, enough already,” Robin snapped in a harsh whisper, leaning closer to the bigger man. “Four years. Four years we’ve worked together, fought together, served Ylisse together, and all of a sudden I’m public enemy number one? What is your issue?”

“My issue,” Frederick rumbled quietly, leaning over Robin threateningly, “is that you assaulted my lord. My issue is that you have never once shown any authority due respect. My issue is that you gave the Fire Emblem to our enemy.”

“Frederick, that wasn’t me and you know it!”

The Knight spun, pointing at Severa still on the dune.

“Do you see that girl?” he asked, his voice still low. “This fight became personal the moment she called me ‘father’. They have all suffered enough, and I will not let it happen again. Even if I have to end you to ensure it.”

“I have a daughter, too,” Robin reminded him weakly.

“Then let me ask you, tactician,” Frederick said, staring into Robin’s eyes. “If our positions were reversed, would you be acting any differently?”

Robin had to stop himself from instantly blurting out ‘yes’. That was a loaded question, but he knew the honest answer. His head dropped as he realised what his answer was.

“I would be less of a pain about it, but no,” he admitted after a few seconds. “I wouldn’t even bring you onto the field.”

“I will follow your orders up until the point they interfere with my duty, or my lord’s safety,” Frederick muttered, stepping past Robin and stopping again.

“For what it’s worth, though,” he added in a softer tone over his shoulder. “I truly hope we manage to stop Validar and shake his hold over you, Robin. You have done much for Ylisse and… I would not see you dead in this fashion.”

“Keep your eye on me, Frederick,” Robin said, looking away from the Knight again. “You made a promise; I expect you to keep it.”

Frederick nodded, turning away and heading for the other waiting Knights. Sully and Kjelle, who had found that she could actually ride now, gave him a loaded stare, but Frederick brought their attention back to the matter at hand. The tactician remained standing there, staring at the sand for another few moments, lost in thought. Unconsciously his hand snuck up, gripping the new amulet Tharja had crafted for him; he hoped to whatever deities were listening that it worked better than the last one.

“That looked… tense,” Yarne said, coming up behind Robin. “Everything okay?”

“Peachy,” Robin answered without skipping a beat, clapping a hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “Just hammering out some final tactical details. You ready to go, Bunny? You’re in the front with the big kids today.”

“Great, it’s catching,” the half-Taguel muttered darkly about the nickname Morgan had given him as Robin chuckled.

“Are the preparations complete?”

Aversa glanced up from the scroll she was reading, the latest report of the Ylisseans’ movements, at the gruff question. The towering Deadlord Mus was addressing her, already knowing full-well that they had taken care of everything already.

The Deadlords must be nervous, she realised, before wondering if they could even feel emotions like anxiety any more.

“Yes,” she answered, rolling up the scroll. “All the wards are in place, and even if the fool Mustafa destroyed a number of the circles we still have more than enough for the ritual.”

Mus nodded, his ash-grey countenance relaxing ever-so-slightly.

Aversa was sitting in the Outer Sanctum of the Dragon’s Table, waiting for Validar and the Master to finish whatever it was they were doing with the new pet inside. Across from her, on the other side of the great doors leading to the Inner Sanctum, the domain of her Master, sat the largest congregation of Dark Mages she had ever seen. The Outer Sanctum was huge, and easily accommodated the three-hundred plus Dark Mages as they idly waited, discussing spells or research and waiting for whatever it was they had been summoned for so they could return to their various works. They didn’t even seem to care about the malicious presence radiating from the Inner Sanctum as Grima’s power grew.

“We have news that the Ylisseans are on the move,” she said to the Deadlord as she gracefully stood.

Robin thought he was so clever, using the Resistance in a two-pronged assault; he thought that he could out-smart her by using the Resistance that had ‘supposedly’ hidden from her sight all this time. Did he and Mustafa really think that she wouldn’t notice two-thousand men running around the desert?

“Excellent,” Mus muttered to himself, tapping his lance on the floor twice. “I have grown weary of waiting. I long for my spear to taste the flesh of man again.”

“Just remember who gives the orders and you will,” Aversa snapped, looking over the other assembled Deadlords.

This was the first time since they had been summoned that she had seen them all in one place; standing or sitting idly behind her, readying weapons or flicking through spellbooks. It was a distinctly human scene, made all the more eerie by their ash-coloured skin, glowing eyes and wicked-looking weapons fashioned from black steel.

“I have not forgotten my Lord’s instructions,” Mus rumbled, his voice like distant thunder and his glowing eyes narrowing in Aversa’s direction. “Nor have any of the Deadlords. We follow your lead for this battle, girl. Those were our orders. Stop childishly asserting your dominance and trust that we will carry out the master’s will.”

The Sorceress seethed at being spoken to in such a manner, made all the worse by the snickers coming from some of the other more vocal Deadlords, but her scathing retort was cut off when the doors to the Inner Sanctum flew outwards.

“Rejoice, my children!” the cloaked and cowled Hierophant cried, his voice echoing around the silent sanctum.

Validar and another cloaked figure were at his sides, the Sorcerer grinning madly while the third figure looked at the ground, it’s visible hand wrapped tightly around the hilt of its sword as it visibly flinched at the volume of their master’s joyous statement.

“The end has come!”

As one the Deadlords rose, soundlessly moving out from the outer Sanctum and towards the plateau that would be their battleground. Validar’s smile increased as he and the stranger strode forward past the Hierophant, Aversa falling in with them as they passed her.

Try as she might, though, she couldn’t feel the same level of excitement as her master, though. She felt oddly hollow.

Aversa attributed the feeling to not having defeated Robin yet, a problem that would soon be solved.

She glanced over at the new pet, the girl’s piercing blue eyes boring into Aversa’s own.

“What?” the older sorceress snarled.

“Nothing at all,” the girl responded in a bored deadpan, looking back down.

Mustafa stretched his arms and rotated his shoulders as he strode boldly through the open terrain leading up to the furthest Grimleal outpost from the Dragon’s Table. Behind marched the entirety of the soldiers that were still loyal to the Plegian people that they had sworn to protect, nearly two-thousand men and women at arms that were willing to lay down their lives to give the Ylisseans the chance they needed to stop the madness.

“Men and women of Plegia!” Mustafa roared over his shoulder, holding his axe high as they advanced. “There can be no mercy for our foes! They have lost sight of themselves and fallen under Validar’s sway! If we do not take a stand here, then many more will perish in flames! For Plegia! For our homes! For the people!”

“For the people!” the soldiers cried out in unison, surging forwards around Mustafa.

The Grimleal outpost housed maybe a thousand soldiers; their role was to simply get the Grimleal attention and draw their forces away from the rest of the outposts. Mustafa didn’t like the idea of wasting his men’s’ lives as a distraction like this, but there was really no other option. The Ylisseans needed the opening.

As he drew nearer to the outpost the sounds of the first of his soldiers falling upon the unsuspecting Grimleal rang out, and he drew his massive axe from over his shoulder.

“Get their attention!” he roared above the sounds of battle. “Hit and fade, just like we practiced! Reinforcements are not going to be far away!”

Mustafa was glad to see his men attempting for the most part to disable their opponents rather than kill them, but it was unavoidable given the circumstances. Blood would be spilled on both sides this day.

The imposing General hung back from the majority of the battle, occasionally striking down the overzealous Grimleal soldiers that faced him with the flat of his axe as he kept watch for any signs of the enemy reinforcements.

The outposts were only small, though, and soon the Plegian forces had control of the first one, the enemy either dead or subdued.

“Pull back!” Mustafa roared, holding his axe high.

In the distance he could make out the torches of the rest of the Grimleal forces surging to protect the outpost.

“Back to the dunes! Carry the wounded and make ready to strike again!”

“They’re beginning to move,” Lon’qu whispered, watching the soldiers in the distance begin to rush east where Mustafa was attacking.

Robin nodded, sliding back down the dune as he placed his own spyglass back in his pouch, retrieving his lance from where he’d left it sitting. The sun was beginning to rise now and they were running a little bit behind schedule, but it didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

The Plegian outpost they were going to push through, the western-most one, was situated on the badlands outside the desert, the hard-packed and barren soil making the perfect setting for the plan to overtake the outpost.

“First wave!” Chrom shouted, holding Falchion high from his seat behind Frederick on the Knight Commander’s strong warhorse. “With me!”

All of the mounted and flying Shepherds darted out of the cover of the low sand dunes, Chrom and Frederick leading the charge.

“Second wave, make ready,” Robin ordered. “Let them put some distance between us.”

Robin watched as the Grimleal forces began to panic, not expecting an assault on two fronts after sending the majority of the soldiers to the east to deal with Mustafa.

“Now!” he shouted just as Frederick’s charge smashed through the enemy camp.

The Knights tore through the enemy camp, weapons flashing and barely slowing. From above those that could fly attacked with spears or dragons breath, easily keeping pace with their land-locked counterparts. In barely a few seconds the Knights had cracked the outpost wide open. Chrom slipped gracefully from the back of Frederick’s horse, just as Inigo from the back of Kjelle’s and Vaike from the back of Sully’s, all three men beginning to lay into the Grimleal around them and causing further distraction as the Knights powered on. A madly grinning Vaike kicked a brazier into a nearby tent, the entire thing going up in a manner of seconds in the dry desert air.

He was taking Robin’s instruction of ‘cause some anarchy’ a little too literally.

“Forward!” Lon’qu roared, urging the others forward.

Forty-odd pairs of feet closed the gap quickly, the Plegian Guards led by Algol taking the tip of the spearhead with the Shepherds close behind. The purpose of the Plegians would be to hold their exit in the remains of the outpost once the Shepherds passed through it, giving Robin one less thing to worry about if things went pear-shaped and they needed to retreat.

“For the Prince!” Algol roared, the cry being echoed by the other Royal Guard as they spread out into the camp.

Robin visibly winced at the cry, but he wasn’t about to lower morale by causing a scene.

“Algol, hold this outpost no matter what!” Robin shouted to the man before he disappeared into the camp, his only response being a brief nod before the Guard Captain disappeared sword-first around the back of a tent. The twenty Royal Guard were apparently more than a match for the conscripts left to defend the outpost, so Robin wasn’t worried.

“The rest of you, don’t stop!” he ordered to the jogging Shepherds. “Close the gap with Chrom and the others!”

“Took you long enough, ‘Prince’ Robin,” Chrom laughed as he joined the tactician at the head of the group.

“Call me that again and I’ll find out what spell Miriel used to force Vaike to hold his axe for an entire week straight,” Robin deadpanned.

Chrom and the other Shepherds around them burst out laughing as they ran, Vaike dropping his axe again in the process. Spirits were high, and Robin could feel his own hope rising. They were presenting a united front despite Validar’s attempts to undermine their cohesion; his worries had been unfounded after all.

“Frederick, keep the knights and hang back as rear-guard! Maribelle, stay with them!” Robin called out as they charged past the waiting mounted Shepherds.

“Cordelia, Tiki! Take the others and give me aerial recon! Do not engage under any circumstances, understand?”

“Right!” Cordelia nodded, kicking her mount into the sky as Tiki transformed into her draconian form, Cynthia, Gerome and Nah following the two women.

“You heard the man!” Frederick shouted to the other knights as Maribelle and her own mount slipped seamlessly into formation with them. “Form up! Prepare to leapfrog!”

“You seem confident,” Lucina pointed out to Robin as they started to run again.

“Confidence has nothing to do with it,” Robin said with a feral grin. “Today I am the master of my own destiny. Validar and Grima can shove it.”

“Damn straight!” Vaike whooped loudly.

“Master! My sword hand twitches!” Owain shouted gleefully.

“Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!” Henry chanted from Tharja’s side, looking a little paler than usual.

“Bring it on!” Brady called from the back of the group, holding his staff up like a lance.

“Time to end this,” Chrom said, taking the lead of the charge, falchion outstretched. “For our future!”

At the top of the small road leading to the plateau called the Dragon’s Table Robin hesitated, allowing the other Shepherds to rush past him as he looked out over the sparse badlands arrayed before him. The wind kicked up his coat a little as he inspected the Plegian and Grimleal positions, his spyglass pressed to his face as he planted his lance in the hard earth.

Just below them Frederick was leading the Knights and mounted Shepherds in a coordinated rear-guard with Cordelia, making Robin relax a little when he realised that not much was going to get by a line like that. The tactician snickered a little to himself; even from this distance Frederick looked grumpy.

Off in the distance Mustafa was leading the Plegians in a game of cat and mouse with the Grimleal forces among the low dunes and outlying badlands in the east, making use of impressive levels of unit cohesion and knowledge of the local terrain to run rings around the enemy, but Robin could already tell they wouldn’t last much longer at this rate; a few hours at best. Mustafa’s forces were holding back, hesitant to kill their countrymen while the Grimleal forces had all the subtlety of rabid dogs. Some were already slipping by the Plegians, Cordelia and Frederick’s rear-guard moving to intercept them. Black-armoured forms littered the ground, both Grimleal and Plegian-

“Robin!” Chrom called, snapping the tactician out of his reverie. “We need to keep moving!”

The tactician nodded, slipping his spyglass back into his pouch and moving past the other Shepherds to catch up to Chrom.

“Mustafa’s not going to hold,” Robin reported as they started running again. “Worst case scenario, we need to be prepared to fight our way back to Algol’s position.”

“And what’s the best case?” Chrom asked, facing directly ahead.

“We all die and don’t have to worry about it,” the tactician shrugged, grinning.

The Exalt snorted a few times, his own face breaking out in a smile at the gallows-humour before both men grew serious again.

In the distance Robin could make out the crags of the small peaks surrounding Grima’s Sanctum, the temple itself nestled between them to the point where only the tallest of its towers peaked over their tops. It made Robin shudder to think just what was waiting for him there.

His hand tensed a little around the haft of his lance, the weapon’s firm weight a comforting one.

He could feel the presence, the resonance, of something ancient and evil beyond anything he’d ever encountered before. It was like a horde of Risen all sitting on top of each other and it made Robin want to vomit in terror. But he wasn’t about to go down without a fight. He wasn’t going to make this easy for Grima or Validar, no matter what they threw at him.

The Shepherds came up to a small set of ruins, little more than the remainders of a few low walls and some columns, a few of which still stood upright but most of which were lying on the ground.

A familiar pricking in the back of Robin’s mind made his eyes widen as he dug in his heels and skidded to a halt.

“Hold!” he cried, levelling his lance in the direction of the temple.

To their credit not one of the Shepherds hesitated, levelling their own weapons and closing ranks around him. Cold laughter echoed around the ruins, the Shepherds glancing around anxiously for the source while Robin rolled his eyes.

“Enough with the theatrics! Just come out so we can get this over with!” Robin shouted into the emptiness around them.

“So hasty,” Validar’s voice chided after a brief moment of silence. “The wheat does not goad the farmer into reaping it, nor does the pig the butcher into slaughtering it. For-”

“Yeah, yeah, we’re weak and pathetic and you’re not,” Robin roared. “We get it. We’ve done this song and dance before. Let’s. Get. This. Over. With.”

A flash from outside the low ruins marked the arrival of three human forms and one larger one behind them, Validar frowning in front of Aversa and a third cloaked and hooded figure.

“There was a time your insolence amused me,” he snapped at Robin, apparently ignoring the twenty Shepherds with weapons trained in his direction. “That time has passed. Your useless gnawing at my plans has ceased to amuse me. Now only death awaits you.”

“I’m shakin’,” Vaike muttered sarcastically from Robin’s side, a confident grin on his face making a few of the others chuckle.

Robin grinned along with them but didn’t respond, intent on studying the third figure with Validar and Aversa. It might have been one of the Deadlords, but from this distance it looked like it was wearing the same style coat as he was; the Hierophant, most likely, whatever he was. The figure would die like all the rest, all in due time.

“Validar!” Chrom called, stepping forward.

“Fools! Do you know where you've come?” the Plegian King snarled. “You would seek to end this magnificence? You would seek to deny a god!?”

“With our dying breaths!” Chrom replied, holding Falchion up.

“How apt, my dear boy; we already know how this story ends,” Validar chuckled, his voice becoming silken yet still carrying to them. “You and I both! And yet you rush here... are you so eager to meet the fell dragon yourself? Or perhaps your own fatal destiny, you would have that realized first?”

“To hell with your destiny. We'll write a new ending,” Chrom declared proudly, shooting Robin an encouraging nod.

“So now you believe you can change fate?” Validar laughed dismissively. “And here I thought your exalted sister had illusions of grandeur.”

“We already have!” Chrom insisted, Robin watching his fist tighten at the mention of his sister’s name.

“Your victory over sad little Gangrel?” Validar sneered. “Or perhaps Walhart's defeat? Those were meant to happen. They were preordained. You are just another fool in motley, capering on the stage, with no idea who stands behind the scenes orchestrating everything! This day has been years, decades in the making!”

“That doesn’t matter!” Chrom roared. “We will end your schemes here and now! Nothing will stand in our way!”

Even from this distance Robin could see the evil smile spread on Validar’s face.

“Nothing, you say?” Validar laughed, his low voice carrying.

“Enough!” Robin shouted. “Enough of your lies! Enough of your games! We came here to kill you, not to talk!”

“You aren't listening,” Aversa spoke up, stepping forward to stand at her master’s side. “All of this, every word and action, has been orchestrated... Gangrel and his family held the Exalt in contempt, yes, so Validar and I used them. In life and death. The king's demise and constant war with Ylisse, not to mention border disputes with Regna Ferox, threw Plegia into a slow-building chaos. It drove the people to Grima, and now their life force and rancor can be laid before the fell dragon en masse. It is called the Table for a reason, you naive little pawns. It is where Grima feeds! The Grimleal have gladly offered themselves to him for ages eternal. Even now, they pray for his return... Today the Table overflows with bounty, and their prayers will be answered!”

“Yeah, right, like we’re going to let that happen,” Robin snorted, stepping forward and raising his lance.

“How could anyone give their life willingly to that... thing?” Lucina muttered. “That monster!?”

“I will stop you!” Chrom swore, moving to stand with Robin and Lucina. “We will stop Grima!”

“So you say, yet the end is inevitable,” Validar taunted as the third figure stepped forward. “Even those closest to you have already seen the error of their ways when faced with Grima’s glory. Isn’t that right, my dearest granddaughter?”

The cowled figure lowered her hood, and Morgan stared impassively out across the Shepherds from between Validar and Aversa with a small frown crinkling her brow, the same one she got whenever she paused during chess to study her enemy’s positions.

Robin’s jaw dropped at the same time his hand went slack, his spear hitting the ground in tandem with Say’ri’s hushed curse as she pushed forward.

“What have you done to her!?” the queen of Chon’sin screamed.

“Nothing she did not accept herself,” Validar answered.

“He speaks the truth, mother,” Morgan called out, her strangely level voice clear and carrying. “We cannot stand against Grima and hope to survive. Your actions invite calamity! If we serve him we will be spared his wrath!”

Say’ri stood facing her daughter at Robin’s side, hurt and betrayal clear on her features as she struggled to take in the scene before her. Most of the Shepherds had similar expressions. Severa looked lost, looking back and forth between Robin and Morgan; Owain seemed to be trying to figure out what her master-plan was; Brady and Gerome both looked away; Lucina grit her teeth, remaining silent.

“Morgan, no…” Yarne muttered, his voice thick.

Morgan’s face didn’t even twitch as her friends and family reeled at her betrayal.

Something inside Robin snapped, and he didn’t even try to stop it as rage bubbled to the fore.

“You bastard!” he roared, stepping forward as raw magic began cracking around his hands trembling in outrage as he stared down Validar. “How dare you!? How dare you!? I’ll tear you limb from limb with my bare hands! When I finish with you the hell I send you to will be a relief!”

Chrom reached out, dragging Robin back before he could advance too far.

“Robin, calm down! I need you thinking rationally!”

“Father, please!” Morgan shouted, her voice never changing from the emotionless droll. “You’re an intelligent man; see reason! This is what we were born for! What you were born for! To deny this is to deny a part of yourself! We will all certainly face death from above if-”

“Enough!” Robin shouted as his jaw twitched, turning his rage on Morgan who visibly recoiled in fear from her father’s wrath as he shook Chrom’s grip off and stared with hard eyes at his daughter.

“How did you think we would react!? After everything I’ve told you, everything he’s done… this is your choice!? You had better be damn-well prepared for the consequences, Morgan.”

The girl’s head lowered, her shoulders quivering as she finally began to show emotion again. Robin took a deep, calming breath, compartmentalizing and beginning to adjust the tactics in his head.

“I would say that they need some time to come to terms with your decision, my dear,” Validar purred, laying a hand on Morgan’s shoulder. “Aversa, keep them busy. But do not harm Robin.”

“Yes, yes,” the sorceress said flippantly as she turned and climbed atop the midnight-black steed standing patiently behind them. “I won’t do anything to harm daddy’s little boy.”

“Father!” Morgan called out, her own voice cold now. “I’ll be waiting for you at the Table!”

Robin’s gaze snapped up, Say’ri calling her daughter’s name a final time as Morgan and Validar disappeared in a flash of light, Validar’s smug face burning itself into Robin’s memory, his jaw twitching again.

Aversa grinned superiorly at them from atop her mount, the horse rearing up and unleashing a pair of magnificent black wings. In another flash she was surrounded by powerful-looking Risen, the likes of which Robin had seen before. Even if he hadn’t recognized Simia in the press he could still feel the malign presence they gave off, concentrated now that Grima’s return was so close.

“Are those…” Chrom managed to mutter, Robin nodding in answer.

“The Deadlords,” the tactician ground out, sheathing his sword and bending to retrieve his lance. “And they feel stronger than before. This is… well, problematic to say the least.”

“Did you plan for this?” Chrom asked as the rest of the Shepherds stepped forward, taking up their positions again.

“No, but I’m working on one,” Robin admitted, bouncing his lance on one shoulder and calmly studying the Deadlords as they spread out before Aversa, his features set in a scowl.

The four horse-mounted Deadlords peeled off from the rest, charging around to attack from the Shepherd’s flank. Robin barely spared them a second glance, still glaring at Aversa.

“Robin, we don’t have a lot of time here,” Chrom urged.

“I’m thinking,” the tactician muttered. “Got it. Everyone, listen closely.”

He pointed directly at Aversa with the tip of his lance, baring his teeth in a savage snarl.

“She’s mine. Say’ri, you’re with me. Stick close and cover my flank.”

His lance shifted to the biggest of the Risen, moving right down the centre of the ruins at a steady march with a confident set to its features.

“Chrom, Lucina, take the big one. Cover each other and remember we can’t heal the wounds they give us, so be careful.”

“Right,” Chrom said, stepping forward with Falchion at the ready.

“Follow your own advice,” Lucina muttered, leaning over to give Robin a quick kiss on the cheek before following her father.

“Vaike, Lon’qu, Inigo! Take the big one there,” the tactician growled, his lance pointing to the shirtless, muscle-bound warrior covered in scars and wielding an axe easily big enough to cleave any of the Shepherds in half with one blow.

“On it,” Lon’qu replied, beginning to move.

Vaike let out a deafening warcry, swinging his axe around his head and darting forward, Inigo following with a dubious expression at the other man’s actions.

Robin’s lance moved to point at the axe-wielding woman in bastardised cleric’s robes towards the back of the group. “Libra, Severa, Owain; take her down.”

An arrow sailed past Robin’s cheek, the tactician clicking his tongue as he followed its trajectory back to the helmeted sniper that had climbed atop one of the low ruins.

“Noire, make a pin-cushion out of him,” Robin ordered. “Yarne, watch her back and don’t get shot.”

“What!?” the boy shouted dismayed. “I thought you said I’d be in the front with you, Robin! Just because Morgan-”

“The plans changed!” Robin snapped. “I didn’t plan on this and I’m making things up as I go, so don’t make it harder for me and just do as I say! The faster we do this, the faster we can rescue Morgan!”

“Right,” the half-Taguel nodded, visibly forcing himself to focus on the battle and not whatever had happened to the other tactician.

Noire let out a cackle, loosing an arrow and forcing the Risen sniper into cover. She was already moving again as she started to fire further arrows, Yarne on her tail.

“Blood and thunder! Flee from my wrath, craven! Death comes for you!”

“Laurent, take the mage!” Robin shouted over the battle starting around them. “Brady, stick with him! Tharja, Henry, take the other mage! Alternate to keep them off-guard, understand?”

“What about the horsemen!?” Laurent asked, watching as they grew closer.

Robin was about to reply, his words cut off by a shouting voice he’d honestly never been so happy to hear before.

“Pick a god and pray!” Frederick snarled, leading Sully, Stahl and Kjelle in a wedge out of nowhere against the horsemen and halting their charge dead, crashing into them with a sound like a thunderclap and almost throwing the lighter of the Risen horsemen from his own mount, such was the ferocity of their charge. Maribelle was a small way behind them, the noble-born healer from Themis peeling off, making for where Robin and the mages were standing while the other three knights forced the riders away from the Shepherds rear-ranks.

“Cordelia and the others are mopping up the last of the brutes on the plains,” she reported quickly before wheeling her mount around and rushing back to help the Knights as they led the Deadlord riders on a chase in the opposite direction.

“Good enough for you?” Robin asked Laurent.

“Indeed,” the mage answered, moving up with Brady, Tharja and Henry to engage the mages.

Once again Robin noticed just how strained Henry looked, but Tharja was going to be at his side, and that fact put his mind at ease some. She was fiercely loyal and protective once she got attached to someone, so he told himself not to worry and to focus on getting through the Risen and the woman blocking his path.

It didn’t matter that Aversa was his sister. She and Validar had done something to Morgan, and he would go through her without a second thought.

“Robin…” Say’ri said, her voice oddly weak as she approached him.

“Come on,” he said softly, glancing back at the woman that, in another time, would have been his wife. “That bitch wanted to make this personal? She just got her wish. Don’t worry. We have to go and get our daughter back, right?”

Say’ri stared at him for a second, a stricken look on her face before her eyes hardened and her grip tightened around her sword.

“Verily,” she agreed as they began to jog to where Aversa and Simia were waiting.

Vaike let out an excited whoop as he and Lon’qu closed with the big Risen-thing closing on them like a charging bull, its head lowered and eyes glinting as it swung its axe two-handed.

Like quicksilver the Feroxi swordsman slipped around the Risen as its axe clashed with Vaike’s, the force of the blow knocking the Shepherd backwards a good three feet. Inigo filled the gap, the pretty-boy spinning and riposting with the grace of a dancer as he skipped around the Risen’s guard. Lon’qu took advantage of the creature’s distraction, striking at its unprotected back with all his strength before retreating when the creature spun.

Vaike’s eyes widened; Lon’qu had hit it with all his might, and there was barely a scratch on the creature’s broad back.

“What’re hitting it with, the flat of yer sword!?” Vaike called out as the three Shepherds circled the Risen warily. “Let Teach show ya how it’s done!”

The Risen began to chuckle as Vaike darted forward, his axe held low as he charged. The laughing was grating, like nails on a chalk-board, but he ignored it and wound himself up, all his muscles tensing as he neared the perfect point…

With a mighty bellow Vaike threw himself into the air and spun, bringing his axe down with all the centrifugal force that Miriel had ever taught him about and actually forcing the Risen’s own guard down. Lon’qu and Inigo were on it in a second, their own blades flashing as Lon’qu went for its exposed flank and Inigo went for its throat.

With more deep laughter, and much to Vaike’s astonishment, the Risen yanked its axe back up from where he was holding it down, lashing out with one foot to the axeman’s stomach and knocking him back again. The Risen spun, smashing Inigo aside, the flat of its axe making a startling cracking sound as it crashed into his head and snapped him around. Lon’qu growled as he struck with his teeth bared, burying the tip of his sword in the creature’s side before a casual backhand sent him tumbling through the air after Vaike.

“So… that’s how it’s done… huh?” Lon’qu panted as the two men climbed unsteadily back to their feet.

“Just thought you’d need… a chance to catch your breath,” Vaike shot back, breathing just as heavily.

Inigo was lying still on the ground behind the Risen, its attention wholly focused on the two older Shepherds; the boy’s chest was still rising and falling, though, so he could wait until they weren’t about to be eaten by a deranged Risen monster.

“Keep it off’a the kid,” Vaike said, gripping his axe tightly in two hands.

Lon’qu nodded, slipping into one of his more dangerous sword-stances.

The Risen continued to laugh as it stretched out its neck, completely ignoring the puncture wound in its side weeping purple ichor so dark it was almost black. Lon’qu had stabbed it halfway up his blade; most of its organs should have been hit by that attack. It shouldn’t have been able to move, much less keep laughing at them.

Vaike hated to admit it, but it looked like they were a bit out of their depth against this thing.

The Ylissean axeman just grinned, Lon’qu copying him as they stared down the Risen.

“How many times did we complain in Valm that there wasn’t any good fighting to be had?” Vaike asked casually as the two men started to walk slowly back towards the advancing Risen.

“You go high,” Lon’qu said with a smirk. “I’ll go low.’

Vaike grinned and nodded, roaring again as he darted forward with his axe held above his head. The Risen’s laughter turned into an answering roar, bringing its own weapon up to fend of Vaike’s blow. Lon’qu used the opening, darting low and spinning, his sword cutting four long gashes on the Risen’s flank before both men retreated.

“Oh baby! That’s what Teach likes ta see!” Vaike shouted, pumping his fist as the Risen swayed a little.

“We’re not done,” Lon’qu warned.

Vaike grinned; he couldn’t help it. The Feroxi swordsman sounded more excited than he had since the first war with Plegia. They were both having the time of their lives, fighting for their lives.

With that strange thought floating through his head, Vaike and Lon’qu darted forward again.

The Risen sniffed a few times, bringing its axe down near Lon’qu to defend its unwounded side, giving Vaike the opportunity to land a heavy kick to its injured ribs.

The axeman grinned as the Risen reeled again. He knew exactly what the creature’s weakness was; it was one that he had spent the majority of his life trying to overcome. The Risen was slow. An axe was a heavy weapon, and most that wielded them chose to focus on brute force strength to be their defence, but Vaike had seen that style fail all too often. He was no Lon’qu, but he was still faster than most other axemen.

Whirling, he lashed out with his favoured weapon, the blade of the axe biting deep into the Risen’s throat. With another rasping chuckle the creature fell to one knee, Lon’qu already waiting behind it. With one sweeping blow the swordsman separated the creature’s head from its shoulders in a shower of fine purple ashes.

Yarne watched as the manic Noire ducked and dodged around the arrows being shot from the Risen archer, moving with incredible precision as she darted from cover to cover, appearing only to fire another volley before ducking again.

Such was his awe at her grace and speed that a few times she wound up leaving him behind, forcing him to run to keep pace.

It was something he was out of his depth with; a running long-range battle was something he had never had to deal with before. Noire was as focused as he’d ever seen her while they had been fighting in the future, shooting with all the precision and skill of a master twice her age.

The Risen archer would rise to get a shot off, and Noire would already be there, the arrow already leaving her bow while she was ducking to her next position while the Risen ducked to avoid her shot. Their enemy already had a number of gouges along the smooth metal of his strange cyclopean helmet, but both Noire and Yarne had taken a few near misses of their own. Noire’s clothes were tattered in places, and a few tufts of Yarne’s fur were missing, but neither side had successfully drawn blood yet.

But where the Risen’s expression had barely changed, Noire was getting tired. A few times now Yarne had dragged her back into cover to avoid being trampled by the running-battle between the Knights and the mounted Risen circling and winding through the ruins, or thrown her flat to avoid the spells flying around at random as the mages duelled.

The ruins were quickly falling apart, and Noire and Yarne were running out of cover to use.

“This isn’t w-working!” Noire complained, panting with her back to the remains of a low wall about a meter wide as Yarne tumbled in beside her.

A line of arrows were suddenly sticking out of the dusty earth where Yarne had been a moment ago, making him swallow nervously.

The Risen was good… He couldn’t help but wonder how Morgan would deal with this, though.

“We need to bait him,” Yarne said suddenly, inspiration striking him like a lightning bolt.

The Taguel peeked over the low wall, ducking back down as three dark-fletched arrows buried themselves into the old stones in front of him.

“He’s waiting for us to move,” Yarne said quickly. “If I leap out it’ll draw his attention, then you nail him!”

“Yarne, that’s a-” Noire started to say, cut off when the half-Taguel shifted and hopped into space, charging directly at the Risen.

“Yarne!” Noire shouted, emerging from cover a second later with her bow at the ready.

An arrow whizzed by her ear, forcing her back down. She ducked just enough to hide a little, watching as a smile came to the Risen’s lips and she realized he’d been waiting for them to take this tactic. He nocked an arrow almost faster than her eyes could follow, aiming directly for Yarne as the Taguel dug his heels in, desperately trying to change direction. Yarne closed his eyes, waiting for the inevitable as he skidded forwards…

The shot never came, and when he opened his eyes he saw the Knights racing into the distance after the Risen riders, Frederick raising his lance again as it trailed black ichor in the air behind it.

Before either of the time-travelling Shepherds could count their blessings that they had been saved by good timing magical explosions lit up the sky to the western side of the ruins, and Noire’s pale face lost a few more shades of colour.

“Mother!” she screamed, bolting in the direction of the explosions.

“Noire!” Yarne shouted, shaking his head and recovering from the shock of staring down a loaded bow. “We should at least make sure it’s dead! W-wait for me, Noire!”

Chrom led with the tip of his sword, stabbing upwards as Lucina came in low, her own blade bouncing off of the Deadlord’s thick stomach armour. The big creature laughed, swinging his lance in a wide arc and driving both Ylisseans back, smiling at them predatorily.

“I am Mus, tiny-ones,” he rasped as Chrom and Lucina both took a moment to catch their breath. “Know that among the Deadlords I am the oldest, and I am the first of all the Lord Grima’s servants. Take pride in that fact as I strike you down.”

“Does this remind you of when we fought Walhart, too?” Chrom asked, shooting a grin at his daughter.

“Indeed,” Lucina nodded. “But the difference is Walhart was actually intimidating.”

“Insolence!” Mus roared, suddenly between the two Ylisseans, lance flashing at Chrom’s midsection.

The Exalt turned the blow to the side, bringing his forehead down on the Deadlord’s nose and instantly regretting it when stars flashed before his eyes. Lucina let out a wordless cry of her own, striking from a high-guard with her own Falchion, the sacred weapon digging a gouge in the Deadlord’s armour but otherwise not harming it as Chrom backpedalled a little, Lucina on Mus’ opposite side.

That headbutt would have shattered a normal foe’s nose, but Mus didn’t even flinch. All Chrom had to show from his brutal assault was a headache and a forming bruise on his face.

“What the hell is this thing made out of?” Chrom wondered, readying his sword again and blinking his vision clear.

They had been trading blows with the hulking monster of a Risen since the battle had started, neither side gaining or giving ground. The others were running and fighting, moving fluidly as their foes tried various tactics, crossing each-others paths, and Chrom and Lucina had barely moved.

It was beginning to feel like they had been fighting all-out for an eternity, but in reality it had only been maybe fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes of trading blows with an immovable mountain of armour and lance.

Mus looked up into the distance, distracted and frowning at something Chrom couldn’t see.

Not being one to question an opportunity the Exalt darted forward again, swinging Falchion in a great over-head arch, intending to bring it down on the Deadlord’s head. Sparks flashed as Mus brought his lance up with a single hand, effortlessly swatting Chrom’s strike aside without even looking.

“I have no time for your games,” Mus said, his voice strangely regal for such a dark creature.

Lucina attempted to attack, too, being struck by the base of the Deadlord’s spear almost as an afterthought as the hulking creature turned. The Princess collapsed, coughing and gagging, holding her stomach as Chrom moved to stand over her until she recovered.

“Consider yourselves lucky, Shepherds,” Mus growled, holding his empty hand out before him. “This day you faced death and lived to tell of it.”

With a flash centred around his hand, Mus disappeared.

“Where… where did the creature…” Lucina gasped, struggling to rise again.

“Forget him,” Chrom said, shaking his head slightly. “Are you okay?”

“I’m… fine,” Lucina said, forcing herself to stand. “Come. We should help the others.”

Tharja hissed angrily as she deflected another spell from the Risen sorcerer, bolts of purple lightning meeting in the air above the ruins and cancelling each other out in an explosive blast. Henry was in front of Tharja instantly, shielding her from the blowback and preparing his own assault, a fire spell from the looks of things.

Tharja took a brief second to throw a distracting spell over at the other Risen mage duelling with the skinny kid in the big hat, a small blast of dark energy in the shape of a simple flux spell speeding off and detonating at the Risen’s feet, forcing it back a step and giving the kid the advantage.

Henry and Laurent were both adequate mages, but Henry was still wounded, Brady was a priest, and Laurent spent too much of his time doing paperwork and his father’s insane fitness training; Tharja was the only true combat mage out of the four of them, and while the gruff priest was taking some pressure off by healing the wounds they were receiving from rock shrapnel and magical blow-back, but Tharja was tiring of carrying the fight herself. The two Risen fought as if they had one mind, one purpose, which in all likelihood they did. They were servants of Grima, mindless creatures born of darkness only to feed on the living. She swore that she wouldn’t let them kill her or any of her friends here.

Taking the opportunity Henry’s spell presented she thrust out her hand, three separate Flux spells flying at the Risen sorcerer in short order, driving him back further and giving Henry the chance he needed to recover as the running-battle between the two sides’ mounted warriors passed between the two mage groups in a cloud of dust and cursing from Sully and Kjelle.

“What’s wrong with him?” Brady asked as the four magic users regrouped.

Henry was gasping, a weak chuckle coming out with every breath as he doubled over.

“I’m fine,” he managed, pushing himself back upright. “Just tired. C’mon, we’ve got Risen to kill!”

“You’ve bled through yer robes!” Brady shouted, dragging the other man back into cover.

Tharja clicked her tongue in annoyance as Henry lost his balance and dropped to one knee. She had to end this soon…

“You, make sure he stays down,” she said to Brady, before turning to Lauren. “You, come with me. I’m sick of playing with these two.”

“I’m coming… too!” Henry insisted, his shout becoming a cough that sent bloody spittle flying from his mouth.

“I told you that you should have stayed in Ylisse,” Tharja said coldly before turning and running from cover, Laurent hot on her trail.

She ignored Henry calling out to her, his voice being drowned out by the magical wind that nearly knocked her off her feet anyway. Laurent skidded to a halt behind her, one hand firmly holding his ridiculous hat in place as the other clutched his open spellbook for dear life.

“Distract them, don’t hold anything back,” Tharja ordered with a snarl, using her bare hands and her mana-flow to slap aside three fireballs shot from the Risen mage.

Laurent nodded as the magical wind died down, thrusting his hand out and beginning to chant as Tharja kept on the defensive, beginning to use smaller spells to detonate the larger enemy ones that kept flying in their direction.

“Vanquish the recurring darkness!” Laurent shouted, pushing his glasses back up his nose with one finger as a magic circle began to spin around his feet, his robes flapping around violently in the updraft caused by the mana being released. “Holy Flame! Exhaust this foe with your inferno!”

Tharja slapped another fireball that got too close off to one side just as Laurent thrust his own hand forward again, the circle beneath his feet disappearing as his spell took form.

“Rexflame!” the skinny mage shouted.

Angry red flames sprung up around the two Risen mages feet in a great circle, licking at their robes and slowly gathering in on them as Laurent maintained his spell. All at once the flames shot upwards, encircling the two Risen before coming crashing down on them again in a spinning storm of heat and flames so bright it hurt to look at. Once he was finished Laurent slumped to his knees, utterly spent.

Tharja barely saw any of it, already moving towards the two creatures in a flash of dark hair and billowing robes. They stood, burned and gasping for breath in what had been the epicentre of the spell, glaring balefully at the skinny mage that had been the source of their torment. As soon as the spell finished she was atop the first one, kicking out and knocking it to the dirt, straddling the creature and lashing out with a brutal strike to the jaw the way Robin had taught her to before summoning a flux, putting everything she had into it and forcing the over-charged spell into the creature’s face. With a violent jerk the Risen’s head exploded into purple ashes just before the rest of it did. Tharja allowed herself a savage grin as she turned to confront the Risen sorcerer.

Her victory was short-lived, though, as something smashed into her shoulder, sending her flying through the air. Tharja landed painfully, crying out as she slid and her injured shoulder ground against the dirt. The Risen sorcerer let out a savage roar, closer to one of pain and grief than of rage, its red eyes flashing dangerously as it loomed above Tharja. She couldn’t move her arm; every time she tried she felt something grind in her shoulder from the blow that made her grind her teeth.

Tharja cursed her own foolishness; she had jumped into the fray the way Robin would have, but she should have taken into account that she wasn’t anywhere near as fast as the tactician was. Henry was struggling to rise and come to her aid, coughing up blood as his efforts hurt him further; Laurent was struggling to rise, too, already casting from the way his lips were moving so fast they were a blur, but he’d still be too slow. A strange twinge in her chest struck Tharja as the Risen sorcerer snarled, lifting a hand ending in the purple haze of a Nosferatu spell that would probably suck her life right out of her.

She looked up at the Risen above her and realised, for the first time in her life, she was afraid of death.

The Risen’s arm was descending, the spell in its hand gathering momentum, but it jerked to the side, the creature spinning away from the prone mage with a pained shriek. As it spun Tharja saw three grey and white fletched arrows sticking out of its back, a fourth joining them as the Risen fell to its knees.

“Get away from my mother, monster!” Noire shrieked hysterically as she came into Tharja’s vision, panting and red in the face.

The girl’s aim was true, though, and she kept peppering the Risen with more and more arrows until the jerking form fell forward, collapsing into ashes with one final moan and a clattering of loose arrows.

“Mother!” Noire sobbed, narrowly beating Brady and a heavily limping Henry to her side.

“Stop crying,” Tharja ground out through clenched teeth as she forced herself to sit up.

“Hold still,” Brady sighed, readying his staff as Henry began to snicker, leaning heavily on Noire’s shoulder.

“She’s fine,” Henry sighed, leaning forward a little.

“She’s… fine…”

With a soft thud Henry fell forward, out cold.

“Father!?” Noire shouted, her voice so high-pitched it made Tharja wince.

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