Invisible Ties

Chapter 59

Algol glanced around the liberated Grimleal camp, wiping the sweat from his brow with the back of his gauntlet. The fighting had been fierce, but as few as they were his men were the Plegian Royal Guard. They were the best, and they had made him proud this day.

The girl, Sahiri, had done well to keep up with them, even if she was barely standing anymore.

“That was… fun…” she panted, leaning heavily on her spear. “Let’s… let’s go another few rounds.”

Algol let out a dry chuckle.

“I applaud your enthusiasm, child, but perhaps you should rest.”

Sahiri nodded and collapsed backwards, sitting down heavily on the ground near the edge of the central clearing of the camp.

All around him men were moving, carrying crates of food and barrels of water; moving the wounded and tending their injuries. It was a victory, but it didn’t feel like one.

Algol had already stationed men on the hastily erected watchtowers around the camp’s perimeter, while others were busy taking stock of what supplies were in the camp or watching the prisoners. He glanced at one of the rickety wooden towers and frowned; built in a hurry with little or no regard to the safety of the soldiers manning them. Was this how far his beloved Plegia had fallen? Had they simply become murderers with no regard for the lives of their countrymen?

He couldn’t believe that. He refused to.

Looking up the Guard Captain found himself surprised to note that the sky was darkening, and thick black clouds had begun to gather.

“Looks like rain,” he commented absently.

Sahiri glanced upwards, doing a double-take before climbing back to her feet.

“That’s not right…” she muttered, staring at the sky.

Algol looked over to the girl, a blast of wind buffeting them and shaking the tents and towers.

“I-I just mean… well, it’s not right,” she stammered when she realised the Captain wanted her to elaborate. “I mean, I’ve lived in this area my whole life, and I would know if it was going to rain today. You can smell it. The animals start to act differently. This is… unnatural.”

“The end of the world?” Algol muttered under his breath, repeating what Adri had said to him at the Palace.

Lighting cracked in the sky, followed by booming thunder a few seconds later. Algol put it up to either coincidence or his imagination that it seemed to be coming from directly above the Sanctum of Grima.

Algol’s attention snapped back to reality when one of the men on the tower started to shout for his attention.

“Captain! Sir! You… you better come see this!”

The shout had come from… Amir, over on the westernmost tower. He was a good soldier, a little young, but tough and smart. He wouldn’t be raising the alarm unless it was important.

Algol took off without hesitation, his regal cape snapping in the strange wind behind him. Sahiri hesitated a moment, unsure what she should be doing, before racing after him.

A few of the others had already gathered at the edge of the camp, looking curiously out across the desert sand and trying to see what Amir had spotted. Algol brushed by them, beginning to climb up the ladder to the small platform that the other Guard was standing on.

“What is it, Amir?” he asked, the words dying in his throat as he reached the platform.

From this vantage he could see over the first of the dunes, out into the desert. He could see the shapes of hundreds, maybe even thousands, of bodies all shuffling drunkenly towards them in one giant press.

“Are they… are they soldiers?” the younger guard asked, a note of fear in his voice.

Algol grunted, reaching into his pocket for the small cylinder that let him see off into the distance that the Ylisseans had given him and holding it up to his eye.

“They’re civilians,” Algol said after a moment.

The people out in the sands were villagers from the surrounding area. They stopped just behind the last of the dunes, standing still and staring up at the Dragon’s Table plateau with no expression on any of their face. Algol panned the little cylinder from side to side; everywhere he looked he saw people standing with blank expressions on their faces as far as he could see. Thousands…

“Sir?” Amir asked, watching the crowd. “What’s… going on?”

“I have no idea,” he admitted, pressing the cylinder into the younger man’s hands.

“Use this, keep a close watch on them. It looks like they’re just standing there, but I want to know if any of them so much as twitch. Understood?”

Amir nodded, putting the wrong end of the cylinder to his face and making a confused expression. Algol snickered, taking the cylinder, turning it around and putting it back to the other man’s face.

“Ah. Wow. Those Ylisseans really have something for everything,” Amir commented appreciatively as he began to pan back and forth over the crowd.

As soon as Algol’s feet touched the ground he came face to face with a very anxious looking Sahiri; behind her were the rest of the Royal Guards that had gathered, similar expressions on their faces.

He didn’t know what to tell them.

Robin glanced up at the towering building above him, reluctantly leading the Shepherds towards it alongside Chrom and Lucina. The Dragon’s Table temple, the Sanctum of Grima, made Robin’s stomach churn. He didn’t want to be here. This was the absolute last place he wanted to be.

This is where they lost. This is where Chrom died. This is where the world ended.

He had been here before. He knew it well, and he knew that this was the end.

All of these thoughts rose unbidden into Robin’s mind the second he set foot on the first of the stairs leading to the entrance, and he stopped. His heart jumped into his throat and his stomach roiled.

He shouldn’t be here. None of them should be. They were all going to die if they-

Robin closed his eyes, willing his doubts silent and taking a few deep breaths. He clenched his fists, shaking his head as he strode up the stairs and ignored the worried or suspicious looks that the others were shooting him.

Everything was in place. He had done everything in his power, everything he could conceivably think of, to be here. There were a few unknowns thrown into the mix, but there was nothing else for it; nothing was going to get done with him standing there looking like an idiot at the bottom of the stairs. He just had to trust in his plans and trust in the others, and things would hopefully work out the way they always did.

The temple loomed above them, easily the size of the Plegian Castle, perhaps even the Palace in Ylisstol. From a distance the scale was deceptive; the temple was giant, obviously not originally made with humans in mind. Faded, weather-worn gothic architecture greeted them, leering gargoyles in the shape of sinister six-eyed dragons glowering down at them from every ledge and corner. Robin noticed that the stairs were worn in the centre by generations of passing feet, and the stench of eldritch fell magic hung heavily in the air, making the hairs on the back of the tactician’s neck stand on end.

“Are you alright, Robin?” Chrom asked quietly, coming up alongside the tactician as they climbed the stairs.

The white-haired man started at the question, realising he’d stopped walking again. Apparently he’d been displaying his emotions clear on his face without meaning to, as well. That wasn’t like him…

“Peachy,” Robin deadpanned, quirking a brow at the Exalt and coming to a stop again.

“Maybe I should just stay out here,” Robin suggested weakly. “You know, watch the exit? Someone needs to act rearguard and-”

“Not likely,” Severa growled behind him, nudging him between the shoulders with her sheathed sword. “Keep walking.”

Chrom shrugged and grinned at the exasperated tactician, the others laughing a little at his expense. Severa shot robin a glare as she stepped around him, making sure he knew that he wasn’t getting out of this.

Robin let out another sigh, deflating a little as the Shepherds began to march past him up the stairs, each giving him encouraging nods or threatening looks much like Severa had. All the remaining Shepherds were here to fight, excluding Owain, Inigo, Libra and Noire, who had all been ordered to return to the camp that Algol was holding to guard Aversa. The Knights had all left their mounts behind, as had the fliers, much to Gerome’s displeasure. But there wasn’t enough space to properly make use of horses, pegasai or wyverns in the temple, so they were on foot.

“Frederick!” Robin shouted suddenly. “Front and centre!”

The Knight Commander hesitated a moment before coming over to where Robin and Chrom were.

“Yes, tactician?” Frederick ground out, clearly not impressed at being spoken to so brusquely.

“Remember that promise you made to me?” Robin asked seriously.

“Robin, you can’t seriously-” Chrom began before Frederick cut him off.

“I do.”

“Good,” Robin said, beginning to climb the stairs again. “Stick to me like a bad smell and keep that promise in mind.”

The Knight Commander mutely nodded, following after Robin. Chrom sighed exasperatedly before joining them.

“I really don’t think that will be necessary,” the Exalt said.

Robin shrugged. “Better safe than sorry. I’ll resist with everything I’ve got, but there are too many people involved here to take any chances.”

“You have a duty to protect them as well,” Robin added, his gaze falling on Lucina’s back a little way ahead of them on the staircase.

Chrom followed the tactician’s gaze and broke into a small grin.

“We both do,” he said, clapping a hand on Robin’s shoulder. “Now stop being so pessimistic. You’re the single most stubborn person I know; Validar won’t be able to control you again. You have to fight him no matter what it takes, no matter the cost.”

“Well that was the plan,” Robin muttered, just loud enough for Chrom to hear.

The interior of the Sanctum honestly wasn’t much different from the exterior, in Robin’s mind. More delicately-gilded columns, more gargoyles, more ‘mark of Grima’ symbols everywhere… he had to give the Grimleal credit; when they committed to something they didn’t mess around, even something as seemingly unimportant as decoration.

The Outer Sanctum was a strange curved shape with staircases at either ends of the room, no doubt leading up to some sort of gallery overlooking the Inner Sanctum. Robin considered sending Laurent and Tharja up to make use of the higher vantage point, but he had no way of knowing what would be waiting for them up there.

According to the information Aversa had given them the temple was separated into three distinct spheres; the rear temple storage area, where the priests and mages that lived there slept and stored their tools; the outer sanctum, where the faithful that had made the pilgrimage to the temple were allowed to pray surrounded by the lesser relics of the faith; and the inner sanctum, the most holy ground of the Grimleal church. The grounds had been deserted, and from what Robin could see the outer sanctum was much the same.

He cast a questioning glance at Lon’qu, the expert hunter holding up his hand for silence. The entire group stopped while he cocked his head to one side, listening intently.

“Nothing,” he said at last. “It’s empty.”

“I smell a trap,” Robin sighed.

“Shall we go and spring it, then?” Chrom asked, drawing Falchion confidently and resting it on his shoulder.

“Well, why the hell not? We’ve come this far…” Robin asked, drawing Sol from over his own shoulder, the red-tinged blade shining slightly in the weak light of the dim sanctum.

The Outer Sanctum was empty. The grounds had been empty. The only logical conclusion was that Validar and whatever other enemies he could conjure up for them were waiting in the Inner Sanctum, behind the great double-doors in the middle of the curved wall before them.

The feeling of lingering dread that was eating away at Robin continued to grow the closer he got to the Inner Sanctum.

“What do you want to bet that Validar’s waiting right there on the other side of these doors?” Robin asked when they finally reached the doors.

“I doubt he’ll make things that easy for us,” the Exalt chuckled, stopping beside the tactician and reaching a hand out, running his fingers along the smooth wood of the nearest door.

They were huge, so big that the ship that they had sailed to Valm on would easily be able to cruise right through them with space to spare. The only way to get them open would be to have Robin and Tharja both cast wind spells and hope to blow them open.

“I’m not taking chances,” Robin said, the lingering aura of Dark Magic in the temple beginning to give him a headache.

“Shepherds, take up positions!” he called over his shoulder. “Tharja, I need your help opening these doors. Blow ‘em off the hinges if you can and then fall back; let’s make an entrance.”

The sound of armoured boots echoed in the empty space as the Shepherds took up their positions, Robin, Chrom, Lucina and Tharja at their head.

“Are you okay?” she asked quietly, pointedly looking at his chest where she knew his amulet would be hanging.

“Well, I’m not about to spontaneously combust,” he chuckled back. “It’s not even hot yet. I’ll take that as a good sign.”

The beautiful Dark Mage gave Robin one last worried glance before she nodded and took up her place beside him, the two sandwiched between the blue-haired Ylissean royals as they began to cast. With a deafening boom and a resounding crash the giant doors flew inwards, landing atop more empty stonework as they fell and creating a cloud of dust as effective as any smokescreen in the dim Sanctum.

Chrom didn’t even have to give the order to advance. Tharja instantly fell back to the rear of the group, her face going paler than usual as a look of fear crossed it. The Shepherds moved in as a unit, slowly advancing into the Sanctum before the dust from the doors had even settled. The Inner Sanctum was much as the Outer one had been; an empty space occupied by a few columns and an old, blood-stained altar up the other end. A few torches spread more weak light on the space, playing with the shadows in the cloud of dust.

Robin nearly faltered when the flood of fell magic escaped the Inner Sanctum. It was like a physical entity, a wave of static, coiling and wrapping around them and strangling him. He could almost see tendrils outlined in the dust cloud, but every time he tried to look at them directly they vanished.

The other thing that he noticed was the chanting.

“What the hell is that?” Robin heard Sully mutter from one of the flanks.

“A spell,” Tharja whispered. “A very… gods…”

Robin’s head whipped around as he heard the woman curse.

“He can’t be…” she muttered, her hands falling to her sides as she looked up in the clearing smoke.

“Oh, but I am, traitor,” a voice rang out from the other side of the Sanctum.

Validar strode forward, stepping down from the altar at the other end of the room, Morgan at his side. Apart from the two of them and the Shepherds the Sanctum was deserted; Robin couldn’t even tell where the chanting was coming from. As Morgan stepped forward Robin heard a sharp intake of breath from behind him, no doubt coming from Say’ri.

There, sitting ensconced on the altar behind them, was the completed Fire Emblem.

“Glorious, isn’t it?” Validar hissed as the Shepherds came to a halt, holding his arms out and spinning as if to take in his victory. “Can you not feel it? The birth of a God is imminent! You could have had a part in this tale, but instead you chose death!”

“Called it,” Robin muttered to Chrom. “He’s standing right there.”

“Validar!” Chrom called out, ignoring Robin’s weak gloating and holding Falchion pointing at the sorcerer in challenge.

Validar looked skinnier than ever, with great dark circles beneath his eyes; a far cry from the creature they had seen only a few hours before. Even Morgan, Robin noticed with a spike of anxiety, looked worse for wear; pale and drawn as if she hadn’t slept in days. It must have been the fell energy in the air, sucking the life out of them.

“Ah, the Exalted one!” Validar sneered sarcastically. “Come to witness the glorious culmination of your failure? How nice. How will you struggle against your fate this time? I hold the Fire Emblem, and the Table is set for a feast! I will give rise to the glorious Grima! I will usher in a new age with my own hands and you are powerless to stop me!”

“You will destroy the world!” Chrom snarled, stepping forward a little. “Lucina has seen it! The children have come here to escape that fate! To stop it from coming to be!”

“Then I pray that today lives up to their nightmares!” Validar cackled, his eyes going wide as he held his hands outstretched. “Did you think your vaunted ‘Awakening’ was only for the blood of Naga!? I will use it and his blood to bring my lord back to this world! I will use all of Plegia itself!”

“He’s nuts,” Robin muttered in warning, resting Sol on his shoulder. “Don’t even listen to his rambling. We should just kill him, Chrom.”

“By all means, son,” Validar laughed. “Kill me if you wish! My only task was to create the perfect vessel for Grima, and with you here I have succeeded in that goal!”

“Crap,” Robin groaned as realisation set in. “I knew I should have stayed outside.”

“Take heart,” Frederick growled from a little way behind him. “Do not give up hope. We are not beaten yet.”

Robin grinned at the unexpected support from the Knight, stepping forward to stand with Chrom.

“So I’m the vessel, am I?” he asked as condescendingly as he could.

Validar simply laughed louder, as if this were the funniest thing he had ever seen.

“You ken quickly, son,” the sorcerer chortled. “That’s my boy.”

“I am not your boy!” Robin snarled, the unexpected shout making some of the Shepherds jump. “I’ll die before I serve Grima, and I’ll make damn sure I take you to hell with me!”

“You carry my blood, boy,” Validar said, his voice becoming a purr. “We carry the blood of the Fell Dragon in our veins, but it is not enough. My father wasn’t worthy, and neither was his father. Even I was unworthy of Grima’s greatest gift. If your damnable mother hadn’t been seized by weakness and fear and stolen you away ten years ago I could have made you perfect! Do you have any idea what it took to make you the man you are? How much work I put into crafting the perfect vessel for him?”

“So then why did you try so hard to kill me so many times!?” Robin shouted.

“To harden you!” Validar snapped, his face becoming a manic snarl. “To force you to grow, to become more powerful! Powerful enough to contain the Fell Dragon’s essence! You were too weak the first time we tried, but look at you now! You defeated Gangrel’s best with a single squad of soldiers and no memories! You led a force of nothing against the Conqueror’s army of millions and were triumphant! You even conquered death itself, spitting in the eye of nature to come back to life! I even fragmented your very mind before you left for Valm, and you just put it back together! You’re just barely clinging to your humanity as it is, and I’ve never been prouder of you, son! It’s time to let go! Become the Dark Dragon and realize your destiny!”

“Shut up!” Robin screamed. “Shut up, shut up, shut up! I will not be your pawn!”

“You don’t have a choice,” Validar purred. “His soul already slumbers within you. And now the time for your Awakening is at hand!”

Validar gestured over his shoulder, and black flames shot up around the Fire Emblem on the altar. The ground began to shake, and the chanting above them reached a fevered pitch.

Robin shook his head, his expression growing stony as he stepped past Chrom and adopted a ready stance.

“I know I’ve said this to you before, but…” Robin growled at Validar, gripping Sol tightly in a low guard.

“Make me.”

Algol was leafing through the documents that had been in the Grimleal Camp Commander’s tent when the call came down to him. The civilians out in the dunes hadn’t moved, and from what they could tell Mustafa and the rest of the Resistance were still holding against the Grimleal forces to the north-east, so all had been quiet until now.

“Captain!” Amir shouted from the tower he was still keeping watch on. “Captain! Hurry! It’s the civilians!”

Algol raced through the camp, marvelling at just how quickly the weather had turned foul as rain pelted down on his bald pate and wind whipped at his cape. It was dark as night as he raced through the camp and up the ladder to Amir’s position.

As he got closer he could hear it. Chanting. Rhythmic syllables and notes, timed to an imaginary drum-beat that Algol could feel beneath his feet in the earth, but not hear.

“What?” he asked, snatching the spyglass and looking out over the dunes. “What are they doing?”

“I have no idea, sir,” Amir admitted, holding on to one of the logs jutting up randomly at the edge of the platform. “I can’t even tell what they’re saying. It’s not in any of the local dialects, or anything I’ve heard before...”

Algol panned across the civilians, barely visible in the downpour. A flash of lighting shredded the sky, lighting the dunes. In the brief flash Algol saw the glint of steel pressed up against the throat of every single man, woman and child in the dunes.

“No!” he shouted, shoving the spyglass back into Amir’s hands and sliding down the ladder, his boots kicking up a splash as he landed on the sodden earth.

“Guard, assemble! Go to the dunes! Stop the civilians!”

“It’s too late,” a girl’s voice sobbed from behind him.

Algol spun, spotting Sahiri not far away. He froze as he noticed the dagger clutched in her shaking hands. After all, he realized with a sinking feeling; she was local, too.

“I can hear him,” she whispered, her eyes wide as rain washed down her face. “In my mind… he… he says he needs our lives… our souls… he… he…”

“Sahiri,” Algol said, stepping forward with his hands held up in a calming motion. “Put down the knife, child. Please.”

“I… want to… but I can’t!” she managed to gasp through gritted teeth, stumbling backwards.

The Guards milled around behind Algol, confused and lost. In the distance the chanting grew to a fevered pitch.

“Sahiri!” Algol snapped. “Put down the knife!”

She looked up at the Guard Captain, her face taking on an apologetic look as she grimaced.

“I can hear him… inside my head,” she whispered, collapsing to her knees in the rain. “He needs our… our lives to sustain him… we are to b-be the feast at his table…”

The small knife fell to the muddy ground from Sahiri’s nerveless fingers as Amir let out a wordless and terrified shout from above them. Algol looked up to the dunes. The chanting had stopped.

“It’s too late,” she sobbed, looking pleadingly up at the dark sky. “We’re all already dead.”

“By the gods,” he whispered. “What has Validar done?”

Robin felt a strange rush of energy as he faced Validar, as if someone had poured a bucket of icy water over his head. He felt it running through him, though, rather than over him, and in his soul he felt something dormant painfully beginning to stir.

A strange red light flashed above the Inner Sanctum from hidden galleries, the Shepherds all looking up in shock and confusion as the light coalesced into an orb of solid mana above the altar.

All except for Tharja.

“No!” she screamed, her eyes wide and disbelieving. “No! What have you done!?”

“Silence, traitor!” Validar snarled. “The Table was set! The feast has begun!”

Robin swallowed a strange sense of unease as he clenched and unclenched his hand a few times, feeling the strange energy flowing through him. He felt stronger, faster and more alert than he had in a long time, but it was an unnatural high; nothing was given freely, not even in the world of magic, and Robin dreaded the answer to the question he was about to ask.

“What’s he done, Tharja?” Robin asked, turning slowly and looking up at the light emanating from the galleries. “Tharja, what’s he done!?”

“The souls of more than half of Plegia…” she whispered, revulsion evident on her face. “He’s… harvested them. They’re all dead. He’s using them as an energy source for his spell!”

“What!?” Chrom roared, turning to face the madman that had orchestrated the event.

“That’s… there are no words for how evil that is!” Lucina cried in outrage.

Even Morgan, standing silently behind her new master, looked revolted by this turn of events, not even trying to hide it as she edged away from Validar.

Robin was forced to agree with them, but he couldn’t get his mouth to work.

“You may have killed me in some future past, but with the power of the Dragon’s Table flowing through me I am unstoppable!” Validar announced, throwing his arms wide again.

The sorcerer’s eyes blazed with magic, electricity dancing along his limbs as he threw his head back and laughed to the ceiling. The souls he had harvested were being absorbed, but something was off. A lot more energy than Validar was absorbing was still swirling around the room wasted, a good portion of it seeking Robin automatically.

“This time I am not alone, either!” the sorcerer added, smiling over at the silent Morgan.

“Monster!” Chrom shouted. “We will still stop you! Right Robin!?”

Chrom looked back when the tactician remained silent.

“Robin?” he asked quietly.

Smoke rose from the talisman on Robin’s chest, the tactician’s legs shaking as his free hand clenched and unclenched and his teeth ground together. The tendons on his neck stood out like steel cables, and his shoulders began to shake with resistance.

“Robin, stay with me!” Chrom shouted desperately, grabbing his friend by the shoulder. “You’re not beholden to this fiend! You can fight it! We’ve all seen how strong you are! Show him what you’re capable of!”

“Please, Robin,” Lucina begged. “Please fight him. Please!”

Behind him, Frederick hefted his axe with a sad expression on his face, a few of the Shepherds nearby giving the Knight Commander shocked looks.

Robin clenched his fist as tight as he could, his nails digging into his palm until blood began to drip to the stone floor. He was actually managing to fight it, but… gods it hurt.

“Heh… your father’s courage, but your mother’s judgement,” Validar laughed as Robin struggled.

“I will… not… yield!” Robin ground out through clenched teeth, waging a war against the impulses in his mind.

“Enough!” Validar snapped, his mood mercurially shifting. “Your sorry display ill befits the master’s vessel! And you, Exalt! Your sad poem sounds lovely, but you will not alter destiny! Morgan!”

The younger tactician raised her hand, and then Chrom saw the floor as Robin tackled him from behind. A mad vortex of green wind magic sprung up between Chrom and Robin and the rest of the Shepherds, forcing them back while the two men had nowhere to go but forward. Lucina was actually thrown from her feet as she tried to rush to Robin and Chrom, sliding along the smooth stonework of the floor a few feet before coming to a stop.

“You wish to test fate?” Validar sneered, shrugging off his heavy robes as he contemptuously eyed Robin and spread his arms in challenge. “You wish to fight destiny? Then come, boy! Show me what you’ve got! I am right here! After all, there is no damage I can do to your body that the Fell Dragon cannot heal!”

With another red flash of light from the galleries above an opaque purple barrier sprung to life between the Shepherds and their leaders. However, with that flash of light the pressure in Robin’s head ceased all at once, leaving his mind once again his own. Validar grinned at him, and Robin realised he was being challenged by his father one last time.

Letting me have my mind back is the last mistake he’s ever going to make, Robin thought, gritting his teeth and swallowing, climbing off of Chrom and giving the bigger man a hand to get up.

He could see Lucina desperately beating on the other side of the barrier, no sound from the far side reaching them. Frederick was obviously shouting orders as Risen began to appear out of thin air or climb up from hidden staircases, the Shepherds reforming their ranks to face the new threat. Robin let out a groan, his shoulders slumping as he spotted Sol on the ground just outside of the barrier.

Chrom could see Lucina’s eyes widen on the other side of the barrier as she redoubled her efforts, beginning to strike the wall of red light with her sword before Frederick grabbed her shoulder, spinning her around and forcing her into position with the other Shepherds. The Knight Commander gave Chrom a quick nod before he was forced to put all of his attention into warding off the encroaching Risen.

“So,” Robin said, rolling out his neck and drawing his dagger from its sheathe on the small of his back. “One crazy mage and one mind-controlled Morgan? Piece of cake, right?”

Chrom couldn’t help but grin.

“You thought it so easy you even decided to give them a handicap?” the Exalt asked, nodding at the dagger in Robin’s hand.

“What can I say? I like a challenge,” the tactician shrugged as both men turned to face their foes.

“This is it,” Chrom breathed. “This is our final battle! Now let’s kill this bastard and be done with it!”

“You take Morgan,” Robin muttered, his glare never leaving Validar’s. “Try to be gentle.”

Robin looked back at Chrom suddenly, assaulted by an overwhelming sense of deja-vu as the Exalt nodded confidently, flexing his fingers on the handle of his sword. His head snapped around as Validar began to speak, leaning over the altar and drawing a jagged ritual sword from behind it as Morgan drew her own blade.

“As long as the barrier stands none of your precious ‘friends’ can reach us,” the sorcerer sneered, adopting the same stance Robin had favoured before he had learned from Lon’qu and Chrom.

“You will face your fate alone!”

Lucina struggled to control her breathing as she fell into line between Severa and Vaike, resisting the urge to look over her shoulder. Robin and her father were the two single-best warriors in the Shepherds, perhaps in the world; Validar thought he had trapped them in there away from their allies, but the truth of the matter was he’d mistakenly trapped himself in there with them.

She just had to keep telling herself that; there was no other option. Robin and Chrom would defeat Validar, rescue Morgan and save the world.

That’s all there was to it.

So why did she feel so anxious?

“Awright, line up!” Vaike was shouting at the Risen, brandishing his axe. “Teach’s got enough axe for all’a ya, so no pushin’!”

“I wish I had his confidence,” Yarne shakily admitted in a small voice, the young half-Taguel swallowing and mustering his courage.

“I think he’s just taken too many blows to the head,” Severa snorted, readying her own sword.

Lucina was forced to grin a little at the familiar banter, but the expression didn’t last as she looked out over their foes.

The Risen that were shambling towards the Shepherds were the regular variety, the masked and hooded ghouls that were weak yet outnumbered them easily five-to-one. None of the surviving Deadlords were present, which concerned the Princess, yet at the same time made her feel immense relief. They would have to track the monsters down eventually, however it would be easier to take them one by one rather than try to face them in the cramped confines of the Sanctum.

Frederick stepped forward, clearly taking command. He wasn’t the keen tactical mind that Robin or Morgan were, but he hadn’t been promoted to Knight Commander for nothing; he had been watching Robin carefully for the past few years, and often participated actively during the strategy sessions. Lucina had no doubt that with him in command they could beat back the Risen, but whether they could do it fast enough to help her father and Robin…

“Shepherds!” Frederick shouted. “Form a line and prepare for glory! Advance on my signal! Keep the formation tight and remember that we fight to defend our Lord and our Kingdom! For Ylisse!”

“For Ylisse!” the Shepherds all echoed at the tops of their lungs, even the usually quiet Gerome and Tharja.

The Risen took this challenge as their cue to charge, increasing the rate of their shuffling and racing up to the line. Tharja lashed out, purple flames dancing along the front ranks of the Risen and causing many of them to explode into ashes almost instantly. Laurent joined her, and soon the two mages had opened a large space between the Shepherds and their enemies.

Laurent sagged, the young mage breathing heavily and still exhausted from the battle with the Deadlords. Tharja continued to cast smaller spells, targeting those Risen with bows or trowing weapons, but even she was clearly still spent.

“Armour, form a line! First rank forward!” Frederick bellowed, hefting his greatsword and opting to use one of Robin’s favoured strategies. “Second rank, prepare to leapfrog!”

Sully, Stahl, Kjelle, Lucina, Gerome, Severa and Vaike all surged forward, forming a line shoulder to shoulder. The Risen, undaunted by the magical attack that had decimated their front ranks, raced forward and came to a crashing halt when they met the Shepherds.

“Oh baby, come and get it!” Sully growled, swinging an axe in one hand while she stabbed with one of Stahl’s spare short-swords with her other.

Stahl just grinned and shook his head at his wife’s bravado, circling his own sword in a figure-eight and decapitating two of the Risen with the movement as Kjelle silently ran one of the creatures through with her lance.

“Hold firm!” Frederick shouted.

The moaning, inexorable tide of Risen was brought to a grinding halt when they met the blades of the Shepherds, Lucina alone cutting through at least four of the Risen in short order. Gerome seemed a little unsure, fighting on foot and sweeping his axe back and forth in great arcs as if he were still atop Minerva, but Vaike’s obvious enthusiasm more than made up for the other man’s shortcomings, the bare-chested warrior leaping and rolling through the Risen press, striking out like a man possessed as he whirled and laughed in the Risen’s masked faces. Severa just calmly watched Lucina’s flank, striking down anything that came within reach.

“Advance!” Frederick shouted once a gap had been made, thanks mostly to Vaike’s over-enthusiasm.

Cordelia, Cynthia, Say’ri and Yarne leapt into the space, their lighter armour making them faster than the others as they rushed the staggered Risen. Yarne exceeded Vaike’s battle-lust, moving like furry lightning as he tore through the Risen before him. Cordelia and Cynthia moved in concert, one ducking forward and lashing out with their lance before swapping with the other, a common foot-tactic for Pegasus Knights that had been de-mounted. Say’ri was a whirlwind of death, one sword in each hand as she ripped through the Risen horde.

None of the Risen could stand against the Shepherds, and dozens had fallen by now, but still they came on.

“Prepare to fall back!” Frederick shouted, striking down a few of the Risen that got past the lighter second rank.

The second rank retreated, passing through the heavier units before they bunched together again. The Risen barely slowed, wading through the spreading ashes of their fallen comrades to continue their attack.

“Is there no end to these things!?” Severa growled in exasperation as they took up their positions again.

“Perhaps I might be able to provide some respite,” Tiki offered from behind them a moment before a huge shadow fell over them.

“Back! Frederick shouted. “Give her some room! Watch the flames!”

With a blistering blast of heat the ancient manakete blew the majority of the Risen away before reverting to her human form. However even for all the intense strength of the Voice of Naga Lucina watched as more Risen climbed out of the staircases or leapt down from the overhead galleries, heedless of their own fates.

“There really is no end to them,” she heard Nah mutter from Tiki’s side.

“Stand firm!” Frederick ordered. “We will prevail!”

“Robin why do you insist on these games?” Validar asked, lazily slashing through the space that his had been in seconds ago.

“Why delay the inevitable? Besides, have you not considered what would happen should I fall? The followers of Naga will spurn you and Morgan both now that the truth has been revealed. Kill me, and you will incur the wrath of the Grimleal as well, not to mention all of Plegia! Have you forgotten I am King, boy!? Would you truly choose to be so utterly alone!?”

Robin growled in response, backpedalling and holding his dagger up at chest-height.

Validar was scrawny to the point where it looked like a strong breeze would knock him down, but he was a demon with a blade; it was easy to see who had taught Robin how to wield the weapon at first, and while his newfound skills and experience far out-classed the sorcerer there was only so much he could do with nothing but his dagger. Every time he began to cast a spell he felt the mana frustratingly wrestled from his control by some other force, adding it to the growing orb of red magic still hovering above the altar. He was still being energised by the life-force of the Plegians Validar had sacrificed, but he couldn’t put that energy to use beyond the physical thanks to the sorcerer’s interference.

“Humans are such weak, pathetic creatures!” Validar went on, sweeping his sword back and forth a few times lazily. “Your bonds with them will only blind you! You are destined for a greater purpose! The greatest purpose! You are to be a god!”

“Not your god,” Robin replied, stepping back and crouching into a ready stance. “Not today. Not ever.”

He dashed forward, stabbing out for Validar’s heart. The sorcerer smiled at him, sidestepping and forcing Robin to turn his lunge into a tumble. He spun, catching Validar’s black ceremonial sword on his silver dagger’s blade, turning his father’s blow to the side and driving his shoulder up into the skinny man’s stomach. Validar staggered backwards, coughing and spluttering as he tried to suck in breath, caught unaware by Robin’s brutal underhanded tactics. The older man was obviously a fencer, not a warrior; he didn’t think of a battle as anything besides sword-on-sword like a duel.

“I’m kicking your arse with a measly dagger, father,” Robin mocked, spinning and slashing at Validar. “That’s pretty weak-sauce for the ‘King’ of Plegia.”

He spun twice, slashing at Validar’s throat and missing before taking a gamble and using a spinning kick-flip he’d practiced a little with Lon’qu. Validar had managed to block the dagger strikes, but was unprepared for such an athletic physical attack as Robin practically spun upside down in the air, his foot connecting solidly with the sorcerer’s cheek and throwing him to the ground in a heap.

In the background Robin could hear the continuous clashing of steel as Morgan and Chrom duelled, the younger tactician keeping Chrom at bay by combining her swordsmanship and magic. Every time Chrom appeared to gain the upper hand Morgan would throw him off-balance with a quick spell, forcing the Exalt back. Chrom was obviously holding back, but Morgan had already landed a number of light blows and he was beginning to get desperate.

Robin looked back as Validar spat black blood onto the stones of the Sanctum, glaring up while a small trail leaked from the corner of his mouth and down his dagger-sharp chin.

“Well done, boy,” he growled, his eyes beginning to take on a familiar red glow as he slowly climbed back to his feet.

Robin let out a cold laugh at the sight.

“Oh? This makes so much sense!” he chortled. “You’re not even alive, are you!?”

Validar snarled, lunging forward again. Robin was ready for him and let the sword pass beneath his arm, giving him the opening to bring his elbow down on Validar’s sword hand. He added a knee to the older man’s ribs for good measure, forcing him back again as his black sword clattered to the ground.

“We really did kill you in Ylisstol, didn’t we?” Robin went on, kicking the sword up and catching it in his off-hand, pointing it at the unarmed Validar’s chest.

“You’re a Risen, aren’t you father?”

Validar straightened, smiling disarmingly at Robin again.

“Well done, boy,” he said, his skin paling as his eyes took on the familiar red glow of a Risen. “It took you long enough to figure it out, but I am no mere Risen. I am the fourteenth of the Deadlords, the most powerful in service to Grima!”

“Yeah, they all seem to think that,” Robin chuckled, twirling the sword as he started to circle Validar. “And I already suspected it, to be honest. How else could you have come back to life after we put you in the ground? Hell, I watched them bury you.”

“As perceptive as ever, boy,” Validar chuckled, his voice becoming a barely recognizable raspy whisper. “You get that from your mother, you know. I almost feel bad about killing her when I see you like this. You look just like-”

Robin felt something inside him snap and cut the rest of the sorcerer’s statement off, roaring and charging with both weapons. Validar danced between the storm of enraged blows, Robin managing to do little more than shred the man’s clothes. It was obvious that now that he wasn’t hiding his identity Validar had gained a significant boost to his power; Robin judged that he needed to pull back and come up with a better strategy for dealing with him before…

Without warning Validar’s hand shot out like lightning, hitting Robin square in the chest and sending him flying through the air. He absently noted the stunned looks on Morgan and Chrom’s faces as he passed between them before hitting the far wall. The tactician let out a weak cough as he settled at the base of the wall, already feeling the blood pool in his mouth as broken ribs ground in his back.

“Ow,” he managed to groan, looking back up.

“Robin!” Chrom shouted, moving to rush to the tactician’s side.

Chrom fell, though, when Morgan brought the hilt of her sword down hard on the Exalt’s back between his shoulder-blades, where his armour was weakest. She raised her sword to deliver the final blow, not an ounce of hesitation in her posture, but held back when Validar started to laugh again.

“Come now, dear granddaughter,” the mad sorcerer chuckled. “This is meant to be Robin’s fate, is it not?”

Morgan nodded, slowly lowering her sword and staring pointedly at her father with cold eyes. Chrom made a move to get up, staggering when Morgan brought her heel down on his back without even looking at him.

“Robin, come,” the Validar-Risen offered, holding his hand out to the tactician. “Seize your destiny. Become the god you were always meant to be.”

“Like I said,” he laughed weakly. “Make me.”

Validar clicked his tongue, shaking his head sadly.

“I see you still require some more motivation,” he said lightly, bending to retrieve the black sword Robin had stolen from him during their fight and subsequently dropped when he’d been sent flying.

Morgan kicked out at Chrom’s head, stunning the Exalt as he tried to rise again. She stepped back as Validar advanced, once more holding the ritual sword.

“Let’s see if your screams won’t make Robin reconsider,” Validar whispered to Chrom, holding his sword high. “Maybe he’ll have enough compassion to put you out of your misery when I’m done with you!”

Chrom looked up, his eyes meeting Robin’s for a brief moment. To the Exalt’s surprise Robin was smiling, and gave him a quick wink.

Validar lunged, his blade coming down and stopping just short of Chrom’s exposed back. His glowing red eyes widened as his arms went slack, dropping to reveal the tip of Morgan’s sword protruding from his chest. The sound of Validar’s sword clattering to the ground was deafening in the silence that followed.

“I may be your granddaughter,” Morgan growled in his ear. “But I’m just as stubborn as my father.”

Validar started to roar, raw dark magic flaring around his empty fist as he moved to strike Morgan down. His blow barely even started before he flew backwards again, a bright flash of a Thoron spell tearing right through him and leaving a gaping, smoking hole in his chest as he fell to the floor.

“Checkmate,” Robin grinned, his raised hand falling to his side again.

“Robin!” Chrom called out again, leaping to his feet and dashing over to his fallen friend.

“Father!” Morgan cried out, following suit.

They both skidded to their knees at his side, Robin’s weak laughter turning into a coughing fit as more blood trickled down his chin.

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” he said, waving them both off as he moved to get up.

He fell back against the wall with a pained hiss, gripping his ribs with one hand.

“On… second thought… Chrom, give me a hand here,” he added with a tired grin.

The Exalt nodded, draping one of Robin’s arms over his shoulders and supporting him as the three of them got back to their feet. Chrom stepped back from Morgan, however, eying her warily as he gripped Falchion.

“Lord Chrom I’m so sorry I had to make it look convincing and I really didn’t want to hurt you and thank you for not impaling me on Falchion I’m so sorry I never meant to hurt anyone!” Morgan said, her words tumbling out in one breath.

“She’s fine,” Robin said, smiling at his daughter as she stopped to take a deep breath.

“You’re sure?” Chrom asked, raising his eyebrow at the tactician.

“Remember what she said out in the ruins?” Robin chuckled, coughing again a few times.

“Death from above,” he explained, wiping the blood from his chin with the back of his hand when the coughing stopped. “That’s what I shouted when I saved you all from Walhart, remember? That was her signal.”

“Really?” Chrom asked, the surprise evident on his face.

“I’m so glad you caught that, dad!” Morgan sighed. “I was really hoping you would, but I needed to send the signal without being too obvious.”

“So he wasn’t controlling your mind?” Chrom asked, head quirking slightly.

Morgan smiled embarrassedly, reaching into her shirt and holding up a small amulet on a leather cord; the same amulet that Tharja had taken from Noire and given to Morgan to hold onto while the other girl ‘toughened up’. An amulet that looked almost exactly like the one Robin was wearing.

“He was at first, but lost focus when you guys showed up on the plateau,” Morgan explained. “His hold was never really that strong over me to begin with, not like the other guy’s, but I had to take the opportunity while I could…”

“See? She’s fine,” Robin repeated, briefly holding up his own amulet. “We planned for this. I had a feeling he’d go after Morgan if the two of us were separated, and it looks like I was right on the money. Good call, honey. I might actually have killed Chrom if you hadn’t intervened.”

“Gee, thanks,” the Exalt deadpanned.

“Hey, I’m not about to lie to you about how close we just came to losing,” Robin huffed. “I’ll have you know it was my perfect predictions and flawless planning that saved your blue-haired-butt, so-”

“Okay, enough patting yourself on the back,” Chrom said with a grin, offloading Robin on to his daughter’s shoulder. “I’m sure the others will do enough of that for you once we get back to camp. And now both of you have kicked me in the head and I’m beginning to sense a trend forming here.”

“Argh!” Robin hissed, holding his ribs again as he was jostled. “I am not a sack of flour, dammit! Be more gentle or you’ll get a second kick!”

Robin hissed again when Morgan wrapped her arms around his chest, a slight squeak following as she buried her head in his shoulder.

“Dad, I’m so sorry!” she sniffled. “I… Donny… and… and Anna… they…”

Robin sighed, gently rubbing his daughter’s back. He’d been expecting this outcome from the beginning, of course, but…

“It’s okay. We’ll talk about it later,” he said quietly, breaking the embrace and standing on his own.

He took a few shaky steps towards the barrier, where he could see the other Shepherds fighting desperately against a seemingly endless horde of Risen on the other side.

“Come on,” Chrom said, stepping in front of Robin. “We need to figure out how to get this barrier down.”

“It should have dissipated when Validar died,” Morgan said thoughtfully, sheathing her sword and taking a closer look at the barrier. “Maybe one of the Dark Mages is still maintaining it himself…?”

Robin’s eyes went wide as he turned to look at the sorcerer’s corpse. It was still lying there, inky black blood spreading around it slowly in a wide pool. But… he was a Risen now. If he were dead he would have…

Robin’s warning never made it past his lips as he stumbled towards Chrom, his knuckles turning white on his dagger’s hilt.

“Robin?” Chrom asked. “Why are you-”

Chrom never finished his question, Robin moving faster than ever and burying the beautiful silver dagger in the Exalt’s chest, just like in his dream so long ago. The blue-haired man grunted, blinking a few times as his hand came to a rest on Robin’s shoulder.

“R-obin…” he managed to gasp before falling to his knees.

Robin stepped backwards, horrified at the sight of his dagger protruding from the gap between Chrom’s armour plates.

Morgan stared, stunned, wordless horror writ on her face as Robin fell to his own knees.

“I don’t blame you,” Chrom managed to mutter, a smile crossing his features. “This… this wasn’t your fault… promise… you’ll take the others… and… and flee…”

The Exalt of Ylisse closed his eyes and slumped to one side, the impact of his armoured shoulder hitting the stone floor like the tolling of a bell in the sudden silence. Robin noted that at some point Validar had lowered the barrier, probably to allow the Shepherds to see this turn of events.

The Risen backed away from the Shepherds, stepping back into the shadows and waiting for further orders from their leader. Validar sat up, apparently ignoring the gaping hole in his chest below his heart from Robin’s spell as he climbed back to his feet.

A uniformly shocked expression spread through the Shepherds, mouths hanging open as they gaped at the corpse of their Exalt. No one moved, afraid to break the spell that had fallen over the silent hall.

“No…” Lucina whispered finally, her sword dragging against the ground from nerveless fingers as she drunkenly staggered towards Robin.

“No… No!” she said, her voice growing in volume and desperation until she dropped Falchion and gripped the sides of her head and screamed.

“No! Father, no!”

“With the power of the gemstones and the Table at my command my magic knows no bounds!” he announced, walking to stand over the catatonic Robin and Chrom’s corpse. “Robin is powerless to resist me. Do you all see now!? Your human bonds are nothing in the face of Grima’s might! Submit and be consumed! It is folly to fight destiny!”

Stunned shouts of denial began to come from the Shepherds, along with the sounds of clattering weapons or armoured knees striking the floor.

Lucina fell to her own hands and knees in despair, her head hanging low as she shut her eyes tight and willed herself to wake up form this nightmare.

“This isn’t happening…” she said, shaking her head from side to side. “We were supposed to change this! Everything I have done is… worthless!”

“The hell it was!” a deep voice shouted from the galleries.

“Now!” Robin shouted, grinning up at Validar.

A confused look passed over the Risen sorcerer’s face before it changed to one of outraged pain as throwing axes and arrows began to rain down on him from one of the high galleries above them.

“Don’t you put any stock in his ‘destiny’ bull-shit!” the deep voice called out as Validar backpedalled.

There was a familiar flash of light from a teleportation spell, and when it cleared three figures were standing between the Shepherds and Validar.

“Mercy, this stupid ring is difficult to use,” Virion groaned, slouching as his hand dropped, Excellus’ magic ring still glowing on his index finger.

“Let the dead whine about their fate,” Khan Basilio said, holding himself up proudly and resting his huge axe on one shoulder.

He turned and winked over his shoulder at the grief-stricken Lucina.

“As long as I still draw breath, I’ll keep on fighting! That’s what life is all about!” he announced, turning back to face Validar with a mad grin on his face.

“Khan… Basilio?” Lucina asked, shocked.

“The one and only!” he laughed, thumping a fist on his bare chest.

“Later!” Robin shouted desperately. “Take down Validar! Hack him up if you have to! Kill him now!”

“Hack him up?” Khan Flavia, repeated, a feral grin spreading across her own face as she readied her sword. “Robin, I think you just made me fall in love with you.”

Validar’s shocked expression changed back to one of rage as his glowing eyes flared brighter.

“This does not matter!” he roared at Basilio. “You merely changed the method of your demise! I will end you here and now myself!”

“Try it, snake-eyes,” Basilio scoffed. “You’re no Walhart. You’re not as strong, or as clever.”

The big Khan’s face took on a glint of mischief as he grinned at the sorcerer.

“For instance,” he said as if sharing the funniest secret in the world. “You still don’t realise you’ve been tricked.”

Validar’s pale grey face dropped a few more shades when Robin darted up, racing past him faster than he could react. Without hesitating for a moment Robin dove into the flames around the Emblem, snatching it up and standing proudly as his body was wreathed by a fiery black halo.

“You know,” he said, dropping his ‘too wounded to walk’ act. “An Awakening only works with all five gemstones.”

With deft movements he popped the gemstone Gules out of the socket and dropped it to the altar before bringing his heel down on it and shattering it. All at once the dark flames went out, but the red mana-orb remained hovering above his head.

“Here, Chrom! This belongs to you!” Robin called out, throwing the Emblem through the air.

The ‘dead’ Exalt reached up and caught the spinning shield, a furious expression on his face aimed at Validar as he strapped the Fire Emblem back into its rightful position on his arm.

“Validar,” Chrom growled, climbing back to his feet and glaring spitefully at the Deadlord. “Anything can change! Your end has come!”

Validar clicked his tongue, a vortex of dark energy appearing in the hole in his chest and closing the wound as the red orb above Robin began to dim a little. With a flash Validar teleported safely behind his Risen at the other end of the Sanctum.

“Don’t let him escape!” Robin shouted, stepping down from the altar.

“That’s my line, boy!” the Validar Deadlord sneered, holding a hand up in the air. “You cannot kill me when I have the life-force of an entire nation at my hands!”

He maintained this pose a moment before looking up at his empty hand in confusion. His gaze snapped to the orb that was still hanging, its light dulling further as seconds passed.

“Yeah, about that?” Morgan shouted, stepping forward and holding up her finger. “Those magic circles only work when all of them are complete! You’ll be lucky to collect half of what you just harvested! That energy is meant to feed Grima! You can’t use something not intended for you without those seals, can you?!”

On the end of her waggling finger was dried red paint from the circle she had disrupted earlier.

Validar let out a wordless howl of outrage when he realised the scope of the deception against him, the Risen around him responding and charging back into the Shepherds with renewed vigour.

“Come on, oaf!” Flavia shouted gleefully as she raced to join the Shepherds. “We have to follow our tactician’s orders and kill that Deadlord! Keep up! You coming, Ruffles?”

“I am an archer, woman,” Virion said exasperatedly, readying his bow. “An. Archer. We’ve been over this. You go and charge, I shall kill things from here; far, far away from axes and swords and blood and… ick.”

The two Khans laughed as they raced off, already making bets on how many Risen they could slay, leaving Chrom, Robin, Virion and Lucina standing alone as Maribelle rushed over to them, the rest of the Shepherds resuming their fight against the Risen.

“Father…” Lucina said in a quivering voice, stepping up to him.

With a grimace Chrom pulled Robin’s dagger out of his armour and handed it back to the tactician, the tip glinting with the tiniest amount of the bigger man’s blood.

“How did you know my armour would stop it?” he asked the smaller man.

“Lucky guess?” Robin shrugged, choosing not to mention the time he’d snuck into Chrom’s tent and measured the thickest part of his armour. “Thanks for actually playing dead, by the way. Very convincing. You actually had me worried there.”

“Father!” Lucina repeated, wrapping her arms around Chrom’s neck in a desperate hug.

Robin flinched when he caught sight of Lucina’s ‘we’re going to talk about this later’ glare from over her father’s shoulder.

I know Chrom wasn’t wearing the armour in my first dream, but… Maybe I shouldn’t have taken such a big gamble with his life… Robin realized, scratching his cheek and grinning apologetically.

“This all seems ludicrously complicated,” Maribelle muttered as she approached and began to heal Chrom’s wounds.

“I’ll explain my master plan later,” Robin chuckled. “After we kill Validar.”

“Good to see you got the hang of that ring,” he added, turning to Virion. “You didn’t have any trouble with it?”

The archer paused from shooting a hail of deadly-accurate arrows at the Risen across the Sanctum long enough to give Robin an annoyed look before returning to his grim task.

“If you do not count teleporting myself face-first into a tree and then into the middle of a lake, then no, I had no problems at all,” he drolled, shooting a continuous stream of arrows. “I told you I had not studied magic since my youth. I am no mage, and yet you forced this task upon me regardless. But I cannot fail, for I am still the archest of archers, after all! Your trust was, as always, well placed my friend!”

“And you are still annoying,” Maribelle snapped, finishing with Chrom and moving on to Robin’s wounds.

“I must find a better position,” Virion said, ignoring Maribelle’s remark and lowering his bow as he peered around at the melee ensuing in the Inner Sanctum.

Almost as an afterthought he tugged the jewelled ring off his hand, tossing it to Robin over his shoulder.

“I believe you will find more use for this than me,” he said casually before racing off to get around the Risen and attack from their flank.

“You planned all of this?” Lucina asked, awed. “All of this?”

Robin took a moment to grin as he felt his strength returning thanks to Maribelle’s healing magic. He’d kept a lot of his plan close to his chest, to the point that even Chrom hadn’t been in on much of it; there would be a lot of explaining to do later, but for now he would bask in their imminent victory. Validar was faltering; his Risen were being slaughtered, thanks in no small part to Basilio and Flavia tearing through them like Stahl at a buffet; they could do this. There was no doubt in Robin’s mind.

“Of course,” he said with a soft smile, reaching out to stroke the princess’ cheek. “I’m a tactician, after all. I’m sorry if we scared you. I promise I’ll make it up to you.”

Lucina reached up, resting her hand on Robin’s.

“You will definitely be getting a very stern talking to later,” she said, her voice halfway between a laugh and a sob of relief.

“Now who wants to teleport with me right on top of Validar?” Robin asked lightly as the two separated again.

“Me! Me!” Morgan chirped excitedly, throwing her hand in the air.

“By all means, lead the charge,” Chrom laughed, gripping Falchion and turning to face the battle.

“Are you coming?” he asked Lucina.

She nodded as she took hold of Robin’s arm. Morgan reached out, her hand coming to rest on his shoulder. Chrom turned and placed his hand on the tactician’s other shoulder.

“Get back to the others and keep your head down,” Robin said to Maribelle. “This won’t take long. Unless, of course, you want to come with us?”

The noble-born healer scoffed at Robin’s offer, turning her nose up at the suggestion as she smoothed her pink, frilled riding clothes.

“I would not wish to steal the heroic death you all so desperately seem to constantly seek,” she said, obviously trying to hide the smile on her face by turning away.

Robin laughed, channelling his mana through the ring, its bejewelled weight familiar on his hand again after so long. There was a brief moment of disorienting weightlessness before they exploded into the centre of the Risen horde, just in front of Validar. The Deadlord’s face became shocked again as Robin glared up at him.

“Keep the Risen off me!” he shouted, darting forward and drawing his dagger again. “Validar’s mine!”

“Right!” Morgan shouted, throwing the Risen around her off their feet with a wind spell aimed at the ground while Chrom and Lucina wordlessly started hacking at the surprised Risen, clearing a large space around them almost immediately with terrifying precision.

Robin darted forward, shrugging off Validar’s desperate attempts at flux spells as they dissipated against his coat.

With a defiant roar the tactician crashed into the Deadlord, plunging his dagger into the space its black heart was supposed to be in and bringing them tumbling to the ground. He punched out with his empty hand, repeatedly striking the stunned Risen’s face before he drew back, slashing out and cutting Validar’s throat in one smooth motion. A sudden burst of raw magic threw Robin backwards, but he somehow managed to awkwardly land upright as Validar crawled back to his feet.

“Why?” Validar gasped, needing to physically hold his throat closed to talk. “Why would… you squander your birthright? Robin… my… son…”

He was finished; Robin could see it, and Validar knew it. This was just him stalling for time.

“Take your birthright and shove it!” Robin shouted, dashing back into the tall Risen and striking again.

He managed to land three good hits, black blood practically coating his arm when he pulled it away. Validar’s hands reached out as Robin moved to retreat again, but the tactician changed direction suddenly and knocked them aside as he brought his forehead crashing down on the Risen’s nose, kicking out at his knee and dropping the creature to the ground.

“Stay dead this time, father,” Robin said breathlessly before he lashed out with his dagger.

Screaming with each blow, Robin began hacking at Validar’s neck until the Risen’s head was separated from its body and both finally turned to ash in his hands. As one the Risen faltered, looking around now that their leader was gone. Their reinforcements stopped, too, and the Shepherds made short work of the remaining creatures with the two Feroxi Khans at their head.

“Did… did we do it?” Robin asked, looking around cautiously as the last of Validar-Risen ashes scattered in the chamber. “Did we win? Can I finally relax now?”

“We did it!” Chrom cried, holding Falchion high in celebration as he laughed. “We actually did it! We altered fate!”

Cheering erupted from all of the Shepherds and congratulations began to be passed around, mostly focused on Basilio as he raucously reunited with the others, Flavia at his side the entire time smiling proudly. Morgan sagged, falling to her knees in relief. She glanced up just as a brown blur crashed into her, Yarne practically driving them back across the Sanctum with the force of his hug. Say’ri wasn’t far behind the half-Taguel, racing forward and grabbing both of the younger Shepherds in her own tight embrace as she cast her dignified image she tried so hard to project momentarily away. Chrom was still celebrating as loud as he could while he waded into the Shepherds, leaving Robin to sag himself and run a tired hand through his hair.

“We did it…” he heard muttered from behind him.

Turning he saw Lucina, staring into space with an exhausted smile on her face.

“We actually did it…” she said, swaying a little.

Robin reached out, silently catching her and pulling her close to his chest. She looked up at him as he rested his chin on the top of her head, a smile of his own playing out on his face.

“You may have altered the course of history, but not its destination.”

Lucina pulled back and looked up at Robin in confusion at his cold tone.

“That wasn’t me,” he said, eyes darting about in confusion.

A bright flash of light from yet another teleportation spell in front of the altar caught everyone’s attention. There, standing before the altar and bathed in the blood-red light of the mana still floating above it, was the second Robin with brown hair instead of white.

“You’ve gotta be kidding,” Robin muttered, protectively tightening his hold on Lucina. “How did we forget about this guy? At least we can tell the two of us apart now…”

“You!” Chrom shouted, pushing back through the Shepherds to stand in the open. “What do you mean, Hierophant?”

The man with Robin’s face chuckled, shrugging off the heavy robes to reveal a bare, horribly scarred torso, the same lines that covered the tactician’s body when he lost control actually carved into the Hierophant’s flesh.

“It is written that the Exalt dies here by Robin’s hands!” the other Robin declared, holding his hands up. “Are these not ‘Robin’s hands’?”

The Hierophant gestured, sending an arc of lighting magic directly at Chrom. Robin was already moving, sending his own arc out to cancel the spells out in a spectacular aerial explosion.

“Who are you!?” Robin asked, reluctantly releasing his hold on Lucina.

“I am Robin,” the Hierophant said, his eyes taking on the manic light of madness. “I am the Robin that became the husband of Say’ri, the Robin that became the father of Morgan and the Robin that was chief tactician of Ylisse. I am the Robin that murdered my best friend in cold blood and became the Fell Dragon in the name of destiny! I am what you are meant to be!”

The Hierophant’s hand snapped up, pointing at Lucina.

“When ‘Marth’ chose to come back in time, I came with her,” he laughed, grinning manically as his head lolled to one side.

“Well, I’m not you in this timeline!” Robin said, drawing his dagger and cursing his stupidity for not retrieving his sword sooner. “See? White hair. Much more fashionable.”

The Hierophant let out a sigh, as if a particularly thick student was causing him trouble.

“I can be so daft sometimes,” he chuckled. “It’s really quite simple, actually. I’m still you. The only difference is the decisions we’ve made along the way. Those vivid dreams you have are our memories. We share those memories because we share the same heart. Grima’s heart.”

“So why don’t I have any memories of my own, then?” Robin asked. “Why am I getting them all second-hand from you?”

“Your memory begins the day I entered this world, yes?” the Hierophant asked. “That’s because I intended for us to unite then and there, for me to cast off this worn old shell and become young again. You see, the timeline is wrong here; this day was not supposed to happen for at least another ten years, when I am older and tired. But you… you were young, at the height of our power. I could not resist. In hindsight, it may not have been the best idea I ever had. Your heart was too weak to contain Grima’s power, and the shock wiped your memories clean. Hence our attempts to harden you over the last few years, and I must say they have been quite successful. Even pushing up the war in Valm worked perfectly; Validar was correct to force you to harden your mind by fragmenting it, too. He created the perfect killer; the perfect vessel for Grima.”

The Hierophant began to laugh. “And none too soon! After all, we are on a tight schedule. I had no choice but to step in every now and then to ensure our existence, like resurrecting our fool of a father after his botched assassination attempt of the Exalt.”

“Thank you for answering the mystery of why I don’t have any memories,” Robin said lightly, raising his hand slowly and deliberately. “Now, be a good… me, and die.”

Robin sent an Mjlonir spell arcing out towards the Hierophant, the other man simply brushing it aside to create a great crater in the corner of the Sanctum.

“Now was that really necessary?” the Hierophant asked in a disapproving parental tone. “Really. I was such a hot-head in my youth. This is making me feel nostalgic.”

“Gods I’m annoying,” Robin groaned, looking to Chrom. “How exactly do you put up with me?”

The Hierophant laughed at the stunned expression on Chrom’s face before turning back to Robin.

“Well, as fun as it is trying to provoke each other, we may as well skip to the part where you become Grima and kill everyone.”

“Pass,” Robin said without skipping a beat.

“Come now, young-me,” the Hierophant chided. “We have only to accept Grima’s power and we can become as one. We can reclaim your memories and my glory, and we-”

“Yeah, I’ma stop you right there and just let you know, old-me, that I’ve already had this conversation with myself once in this timeline,” Robin said, turning away from the Hierophant. “Pass. Now leave or die. Your choice. Personally, I want you to choose ‘die’. I had enough scars without you carving yourself up like a big ugly turkey, and it’s kinda gross to look at.”

Silence reigned in the Sanctum for a moment that seemed to last an age, the Shepherds collectively holding their breath until one of the Robins spoke.

“Strange. You were supposed to choose godhood over your pathetic band of servants,” the Hierophant said softly as if trying to make sense of events, reaching up and stroking his chin in a very ‘Robin’ motion. “Perhaps I was a little too hands-off as a guide for you… Ah, well. I suppose if you will not claim the sacrifice laid out to you at the Dragon’s Table…”

Robin decided he had had enough, spinning with his dagger in his hand as he prepared to throw it into the Hierophant’s heart with everything he had.

“I shall relieve my own glory days and claim it for myself!” the Hierophant announced, climbing backwards up onto the altar.

Robin faltered, cursing and sheathing his dagger as the red mana began to fall down on the Hierophant like raindrops, disappearing into his scarred flesh as the lines began to writhe and pulse beneath his skin, his eyes starting to shine with the same red luminescence that the fading red mana-orb had.

“Oh boy, this day just goes from bad to worse,” Robin muttered under his breath, darting out to grab Sol where he had dropped it before running back to the Shepherds.

“Run! Run away!” he shouted as the ground started to shake. “Aren’t you lot listening!? We’ve lost! Go! Move!”

“Make for the entrance!” Chrom shouted, catching on and whipping the Shepherds into an explosion of desperate motion. “Move! For the love of Naga, run!”

The shaking intensified, dust beginning to rain down from the roof as the stones above the stones were dislodged. A few of the Shepherds stumbled, the others righting them and continuing to run.

“Ah, this brings me back!” the Hierophant laughed. “The Fell Dragon and I are one again! And though my journey through time has diminished my power, I claim this offering as my own!”

An intense purple light began to shine behind the Shepherds as they ran, the Hierophant’s laughter following them the whole way out of the Temple.

“I. Am. Grima!” the Hierophant declared, his voice taking on a distinct otherworldliness.

Up in the galleries, staring down at the altar as he leaned heavily against the stone railing, Adri let out a sad sigh. All around him the Dark Mages had collapsed from the strain of harvesting so much life-energy and maintaining the barrier and the mana-orb for so long, many having suffered strokes or aneurisms and simply dropped dead on the spot. The strongest of them were still too drained to escape the destruction of the temple as the ceiling began to cave in on them. With one last glance at his niece as she escaped alongside the Ylissean tactician he smiled, the dark purple light from the Fell Dragon’s Awakening blinding him.

“Best of luck, Shepherds,” he managed to whisper before the railing beneath him crumbled and he fell into the dark light.

“Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap, oh crap,” Robin chanted as he ran, practically dragging an exhausted Tharja with him as they exited the temple.

Chrom and Lucina were just ahead of them, the other Shepherds spread out across the road.

“Make for the camp!” Chrom shouted. “Go! Watch each-other’s backs and run!”

Robin and Tharja spun, coming to a halt and watching as a torrent of fell magic shot into the dark and cloudy sky, lightning beginning to strike all around the temple. Chrom tackled Lucina out of the path of one bolt, both of the Ylissean royals rolling safely out of danger as the other Shepherds heedlessly raced into the distance.

“This is bad, isn’t it?” Robin muttered, staring up into the clouds as the torrent stopped.

“It is the end…” Tharja muttered, despair creeping into her voice. “It’s him… it’s Grima…”

Grima’s gargantuan form descended through the clouds, his wingspan blocking out the skies as he landed, his massive fore-claw crushing the Dragon’s Table Temple. A set of six baleful red, draconian eyes glared out across the land as his great horned head turned to survey his surroundings. Lifting his head high, Grima let out a horrible cry, the very earth shaking beneath the Shepherds’ feet.

“Run away!” Robin shouted, lifting Tharja up and physically carrying the exhausted mage from the destruction of the Temple.

“It’s him…” Lucina breathed as Chrom dragged her to her feet. “It’s the demon that destroyed my world…”

“Grima has returned!” she cried before Chrom dragged her away.

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