Invisible Ties

Chapter 60

“Get the wounded into the tents!” Mustafa roared above the howling rain. “I want half of the men not assisting the wounded report to Captain Algol for orders looking for civilian survivors in the dunes! The rest of you take up positions around the camp and prepare for immediate departure! Move, damn you! Pack up everything that’s not tied down!”

The big man wiped the rainwater out of his eyes, glaring around at the black-armoured men scurrying to follow his instructions. In the last hour he had seen the size of his force almost triple after the Grimleal soldiers all suddenly came to their senses, throwing down their weapons and begging forgiveness, claiming that they had no control over themselves. Considering the spells he had tried to stop Validar from casting over the entire nation, he was inclined to believe the Grimleal. Half of them had apparently simultaneously committed suicide along with the civilians, too, if the scattered reports were to be believed. Validar’s spell had been far-reaching indeed, if he’d even targeted his own soldiers. Even some of Algol’s Honour Guard had been affected by the spell, too; nearly half of them had been set upon by tremendous migraines, and some of the Guard that had accompanied Validar from the capital had been among the number that had lost their lives to the sorcerer’s spell.

“You!” he shouted to the first junior officer he spotted. “Find whatever horses you can and start sending riders out to every village you can! I want to know just how far-reaching Validar’s damnable spell was!”

The officer sped off with a rushed “yes sir,” leaving Mustafa standing in the press of rushing soldiers reminding himself that he really only wanted to know just how many villages he’d been unable to save. He and Adri had been so thorough, checking every tiny speck on the map and every inch of the buildings…

“They’re here!” someone called out towards the rear of the camp. “The Shepherds are back!”

Mustafa shoved the nihilistic thoughts to the back of his mind as he shoved through the press of soldiers, shouldering his way through a particularly crowded area and coming alongside Algol.

“Don’t you lot have orders!?” the Guard Captain was shouting, a frown on his face as rainwater pattered off his balding pate. “Get to it! Disperse, damn you all! Disperse!”

Reluctantly most of the soldiers began to return to their assigned tasks, but many more still lingered.

“It’s a far-cry from working with the Royal Guard,” the balding man grumbled when he noticed Mustafa next to him. “They actually follow orders, not like these bloody conscripts.”

“They are farmers and merchants, old friend, not soldiers,” Mustafa reminded him.

Algol humphed dismissively, the Guard Captain crossing his arms and looking into the rain-drenched desert in the direction of the Dragon’s Table Plateau where the forms of the first Shepherds were beginning to materialize out of the gloom.

Silhouettes drew closer, separating and becoming individuals trudging back and swaying in exhaustion.

“Prepare tents for the Shepherds!” Mustafa began roaring over the clamour of the camp. “Top priority! I want dry spaces for the Ylisseans and fires lit to dry their clothes! Algol, I entrust their wounded to you.”

The last of the lingering Plegian soldiers jumped to do as their General commanded, hurrying to empty out the Grimleal tents and ensure that fires were started.

“Ylisseans!” the Guard Captain called out once the Shepherds drew closer. “Bring your wounded and follow me! The medical tent is this way! Hurry now, damn your eyes! Get them out of the rain!”

A few of the Shepherds split off from the rest, two being carried while another leaned on the golden-haired priest drunkenly.

Exalt Chrom stepped forward out of the press of bodies, the other Ylissean warriors separating around them as the Plegians led them to the free tents.

“We have a prisoner,” the Exalt said simply.

Mustafa nodded, motioning forward two of Algol’s Royal Guards. Chrom repeated the motion, two of his own knights stepping forward with, to Mustafa’s astonishment, Lady Aversa tied and bound between them. The two knights wordlessly followed the Royal Guards.

“What happened?” Mustafa asked, leaning in low to the Exalt.

Chrom looked up, heedless of the rainwater running down his face. The Exalt had a haunted look in his eyes, his pale and exhausted face a mask of pain and despair.

“We lost,” he said simply, before stepping around the General and following the rest of his men.

Robin didn’t even bother changing out of his sodden clothes before he jumped straight back into work, taking the initiative and standing at the desk of whatever Grimleal officer had been in charge before Algol had taken the camp, leaning over the map on top of it with a gaggle of Plegian messengers waiting for his orders on the other side of it. Morgan was at his shoulder, refusing to leave despite being exhausted to the point of swaying back and forth on her feet.

Outside it was almost pitch black because of the rain and cloud-cover; one could be forgiven for mistaking what was supposed to be late afternoon for midnight in the wet gloom outside the comparative warmth of Robin’s appropriated tent.

“Mustafa’s already checking collateral damage in the nearby villages?” he asked in a hollow tone.

“Yes sir,” one of the messengers responded instantly.

The tactician nodded, the gears turning in his head.

“Listen very carefully,” he said, looking up with cold eyes at the messengers. “The orders I am about to give and how well you five carry them out may well be the difference between our very race surviving and the end of the world as we know it, and I’m not over-exaggerating to make a point.”

The only sound that could be heard in the tent now was the rain falling on the canvas roof and the crackling of the open brazier in the corner.

“You,” Robin said, pointing to the lightest looking one. “On behalf of the Khans of both East and West Regna Ferox you are to ride to the colosseum and rally their armies. Speak to none but the woman named Raimi, and tell her Robin said that ‘she had best get her frigid arse in gear’. If she hits you in response you have permission to return that message to me. Take five of the Royal Guard with you, stop for nothing. I don’t care if it kills you and your mounts both; you get that message to Regna Ferox in less than twenty-four hours.”

“Sir!” the messenger shouted, saluting with his fist over his heart before dashing out of the tent.

“You,” Robin said, turning to the next man and holding up two envelopes. “Go to Jagen, in the east of Ylisse. Take this letter, give it to either Captain Seth or the Duchess, I don’t care. This other one is a letter of safe conduct bearing the Exalt’s seal; it’ll get you past any and all Ylissean patrols or checkpoints. Go as fast as you can. Take another five Royal Guard with you.”

“Sir!” the messenger nodded, saluting in the same way the other one had before reaching out for the envelopes and disappearing from the tent.

“You, and you,” Robin said, turning to the other two men and holding up two more letters. “These are to go to Themis and Ylisstol. Same orders, but with those two towns it will be easier to just get yourselves captured by the guards. In Themis find either Sir Kellam or Duke Roark. In Ylisstol… well, it doesn’t really matter with Ylisstol. There are plenty of important people there to deliver this message to. You’ll both have better luck on your own, but travel to the border with the man going to Jagen just to be sure. Understood?”

Two of the messengers saluted, their fists banging on their light black chest-plates before they grabbed the envelopes and sped off into the pouring rain.

Robin turned to the last messenger, sighing.

“You, go west to the coast. Charter the smallest, fastest boat you can find and sail to Valm.”

“To… to Valm, milord?” the messenger repeated, his eyes widening a little and his thin moustache drooping. “That will take months!”

Robin nodded, sighing again as he held up a thick scroll.

“Your task isn’t to go for reinforcements,” Robin said sadly. “You are to bring this warning to General Keiji of Chon’sin. Should we fail, it will fall to the Valmese to continue the fight. This is probably the most important of the tasks I have to give, but I won’t force you to go.”

The messenger snapped to attention and saluted smartly.

“I swear it will be done, milord,” he said, taking the scroll and running into the night.

Robin groaned and sank back into one of the chairs at the table, Morgan silently doing the same.

“Did you see the way they were saluting?” he chuckled after a moment, staring up at the canvas roof dejectedly.

Morgan nodded silently.

“That’s the salute they reserve for the King,” Robin chuckled ruefully. “Damn. I was hoping to avoid this. Without Validar around I guess I’m in charge.”

“What?” Morgan asked, suddenly awake again as she bolted upright in her chair.

“C’mon,” Robin sighed, standing slowly and making his way to the tent’s entrance. “We should go and make sure Chrom hasn’t broken anything. And on the way you can help me come up with a plan to get out of being a monarch. I think Validar cheated to get that position, anyway.”

“King?” Morgan repeated as she followed her father. “You? Does this make me a double-princess now?”

They both stopped just before stepping out into the rain and the older tactician laughed, reaching over his daughter’s shoulder to pull her hood over her eyes before ruffling her hair through the thick fabric.

“Sure, honey,” he said softly. “Whatever makes you happy.”

As the two tacticians raced through the camp Robin realised that the Plegian forces had increased while he hadn’t been looking; no doubt they had gone and integrated the surviving Grimleal now that Validar was dead and his crazy mind-control schemes were gone.

Most of them gave him a wide berth the way they did the rest of the Shepherds; after all, with his hood up he was just another Ylissean soldier, but every time he passed a member of the Royal Guard they would stop and salute with the same fist-over-heart gesture that was beginning to become more commonplace. Each time he nodded in return more and more of the conscripts would take note and begin saluting, too.

He let out a sigh as he finally neared the tent that Chrom had decided to use, and obviously an important meeting had already begun inside. At least that’s the way it seemed considering the volume of the voices within. The guard’s snapped to attention as Robin passed, brushing through the thick, waterproof canvas and slipping his hood off his head.

“Orders are sent,” he said above the clamour of the tent. “In twenty-four hours everyone will know we failed.”

“We haven’t failed yet!” Chrom snapped, barely looking up from the map he was studying.

Along with Chrom, Basilio, Flavia and Mustafa were all huddled in the tent and, judging from the bald West-Khan’s red face, arguing over what to do next.

“He’s right, dammit,” Basilio growled. “It isn’t over ‘til we’re all in the dirt.”

“So what exactly do we do about it, then?” Mustafa asked irritatedly. “Grima is currently flying above my nation; therefore wouldn’t logic dictate we worry about-”

“I think you mean ‘what’s left’ of your nation,” Flavia said disinterestedly as she studied the map with Chrom. “From what we heard back at the Temple, there isn’t that much of it left now anyway.”

Mustafa’s face went red, a vein in his brow twitching at Flavia’s careless words.

“Make no mistake,” the East Khan said quietly to placate the General’s rage. “This falls squarely on our shoulders for not being able to stop him.”

Mustafa faltered at this unexpected admission.

“She’s right,” Chrom sighed, finally looking up. “We were supposed to save the world; all of it. Not just Ylisse and Regna Ferox. I’m deeply sorry for your loss, General.”

“Okay, enough handing out blame,” Robin growled. “Now that Basilio’s got the idea in my head I’m not about to give up. Mustafa, what are your men telling the survivors?”

The big general blinked a few times before answering.

“We are telling them to hunker down and weather the storm; go about their daily lives as best they can-”

“Not good enough,” Robin said, cutting him off and crossing his arms. “Chrom, how is Ylisse poised to deal with refugees?”

“We have the supplies, of course,” the Exalt said hesitantly. “But what we lack is the space.”

“It is still a few months before winter sets in,” Basilio said with a sour look on his face. “I suppose Western Regna Ferox could house a great number of refugees if we had the supplies.”

“Problem solved,” Robin said. “Send the Plegian civvies north and what’s left of the army to Ylisstol. Now we need to start deploying the Ylissean-”

“You can’t honestly expect the people of Plegia to flee just like that!” Mustafa said in an astonished tone.

“If they don’t then they will die!” Robin snapped angrily as what little composure he had left disintegrated. “Houses can be rebuilt and possessions replaced, but if these people die then Plegia dies too! Don’t you get it!? We do not have enough men to defend three whole nations! I can’t even move soldiers from Regna Ferox right now after the Valm Campaign’s losses, so I have the equivalent army of one single nation to work with in defeating an unstoppable horde of undead monsters, so if I say make my life easier and send the civilians north you get your bald arse out in the rain and you send your rutting civilians north!”

Mustafa stared dumbstruck at the tactician as he breathed heavily, Robin clenching his fists as his rant finished. He’d been on the edge for a while, now; this wasn’t what he needed. He needed people to listen to him for once, to just follow his freaking plans so that he didn’t have to worry about-

“Robin, we’re all under a lot of stress-” Chrom started calmly after a tense moment before the other man spun.

“You don’t get it!” Robin shouted. “My plans failed and the world is paying for it now! How much blood is on my hands!? An entire nation’s! Thousands of lives, snuffed out in an instant because I didn’t predict my own father’s madness had progressed so far! How much more is going to be added before this is over!? You’re the one that gave me this job, so shut the hell up and let me do it!”

“Dad, that’s enough!” Morgan shouted, grabbing Robin’s shoulder and spinning him around. “What was the first thing you taught me!? We can’t save everyone!”

Robin blinked, Morgan’s words overlapping with something someone else had told him a long time ago.

“Robin, I’m sorry, but you know we can’t save everyone!”

“The girl is right,” Mustafa said quietly. “I forgot myself, Robin. This is all… a lot to take in. I will send messengers out the second we are done here.”

“And what’s all this ‘no soldiers from Regna Ferox’ business?” Flavia asked, a strained smile on her face. “Half of our forces were already leaving for Ylisstol when Ruffles came to find us.”

“What’s the point of having a tactician…” Robin muttered, stopping himself halfway.

“Actually, I can make that work,” Robin said mostly to himself.

“See?” Flavia said, punching him in the arm. “Cheer up a little and share the load. We’re all in this together, right?”

“She has a point, Robin,” Chrom said, indicating the chairs around his table. “We’re all responsible for this mess; we all need to work our way out of it. Ylisse, Plegia and Regna Ferox all.”

With a sigh Robin let himself fall into a chair, kicking one out towards Morgan.

“Then let’s get to work,” he said as the others all took their own seats. “Before I forget, Basilio please give Chrom Gules. Don’t let me stomp on this one.”

The big Khan grinned, fishing the small gemstone out of his deepest pocket and holding it out to Chrom, the glinting smooth surface of the gem reflecting the dull light and looking tiny in Basilio’s enormous hand.

“So you had it all along,” Chrom muttered, taking the gemstone and slotting it into the Fire Emblem. “I’ll admit, Robin, that I nearly had a heart attack when you stomped on that gemstone on the altar.”

“Hey, they were spying on us,” Robin shrugged. “Who better to hide something than a dead-man?”

“Yeah, a dead-man that missed out on a hot-springs vacation,” Basilio grunted, crossing his arms. “The way Flavia talks about it you’d think that I missed the second coming of Naga.”

“It was a great trip,” the other Khan chuckled. “We even got to kill a lot of Risen. That just tied the whole thing together for us.”

“You and I remember that trip very differently,” Robin deadpanned, frowning at Flavia.

“Oh, I’ll just bet I do,” Flavia said, her voice dropping as she grinned and waggled her eyebrows suggestively at the tactician before turning and winking at Chrom.

“As much fun as this reminiscing is, perhaps we had best focus on the matter at hand?” Mustafa said after clearing his throat to get everyone’s attention.

“I know you’re new to the little planning-circle, so I’ll let you in on a secret,” Flavia said, still grinning. “You can’t force these things. With War Councils always comes a certain level of banter. Best to just get used to it now.”

“You know, she’s actually right,” Robin muttered to Chrom as Flavia and Basilio burst into laughter.

“Yes, it’s a source of never-ending frustration for me that I have simply gotten used to over the years,” the Exalt deadpanned, rolling his eyes as Robin and the two Khans started laughing.

Night had well and truly fallen by the time Robin stepped back out into the persistent rain, Morgan still hovering at his shoulder even though the meeting had ended.

“Morgan, go and find a cot before you collapse and I have to find one for you,” Robin said as kindly as he could.

“Still have work to do,” she muttered in response, completely oblivious to the shadow looming over her from behind.

Robin sighed, supressing a grin.

“Okay, just remember you asked for this. Khan Basilio, as your new tactician I hereby order you to ‘escort’ Grandmaster Morgan to the closest free cot and ensure she remains in it.”

“Of course, ‘tactician’,” the looming shadow said in a deep, mirthful tone.

Morgan’s eyes went wide beneath her hood a moment before she was hauled up and thrown over a laughing Basilio’s shoulder, the big man continuing to laugh as he carried her weakly struggling form away to where the other Shepherds were resting.

“Remember! Staff meeting first thing in the morning!” Robin called after them, to which Basilio simply waved over his free shoulder and Morgan gave another half-hearted squirm.

“Daaaaaaad! This isn’t fair! Khan Flavia, save me!” Morgan howled weakly.

“Such a slave-driver,” Flavia chuckled, coming up alongside Robin. “Barely in charge for fifteen minutes and already giving orders to the new recruits… You know, that girl is just as stubborn as her father is.”

“Yeah, and I’m still trying to figure out if that’s a good or a bad thing,” Robin laughed back as they started walking after the other two.

Flavia strode alongside Robin in her usual clothes, the strong Feroxi woman all but ignoring the icy rain falling on them and running down her red and silver armour. Chrom and Mustafa were still in the tent, the Exalt offering to allay the General’s concerns over the supplies coming in from Ylisse by going over exactly what the refugees would need.

“How do you keep such high spirits?” Robin asked after a moment. “The world is on the brink of destruction, and-”

“And what good would be worrying over it do?” Flavia cut him off. “Robin, you’re all so young, yet you’re all so doom-and-gloom constantly. If I’m going to die it’s going to be with a smile on my face and my sword in my hand. I don’t care if that death comes from some no-name bandit or from the Dark Dragon himself. If you fight your hardest, that should be enough. And I have a secret weapon, too. You can have one if you want.”

Robin nodded slowly, hesitantly taking the bottle Flavia was offering him. It was another bottle of that potent Feroxi Ale that they had shared back in Valm.

“Besides, I basically gave you all the responsibility for this shit-storm back in that tent, so what have I got to be gloomy about?” Flavia laughed, slapping the tactician on the back so hard he stumbled and nearly dropped the ale bottle.

“I wonder where Lucina is,” Robin said to himself, refusing to acknowledge what the Khan had just said.

“You must be tired,” Flavia laughed, giving him a light shove. “You’re thinking out loud now.”

Robin blushed a little as he slowed, Flavia throwing back her head and laughing as she continued to walk.

“Just look and I’m sure you’ll find her no problem,” Flavia said over her shoulder as she walked away from Robin. “Start with the mess tent! You look hungry!”

The tactician watched the tall woman go, scratching the back of his head through his hood and letting the torrential rain simply wash off his magically water-proof coat.

“Sure,” he muttered, turning and walking into the forest of tents off the main path. “But I have some other stops to make first.”

The first thing that Robin noticed when he walked into the medical tent was the familiar smell of blood and antiseptic vulenaries. The tent was uniformly well-lit, and with the exception of the white-robed Libra and the ever-pink Maribelle, everyone within was wearing black. The dark-robed Brady and the other two Ylissean healers were working side-by-side with the surviving Plegian Dark Mages, who were apparently the healers in the desert country. A few of them looked up and nodded respectfully as Robin carefully picked his way through the neat rows of cots in the quiet space, but the majority just focused on their work. Apart from the occasional moan from wounded soldiers and the hammering rain on the canvas roof, the tent was mostly silent.

The Plegian Royal Guard Captain Algol looked up from the corner as he noticed the tactician, water droplets still holding doggedly to his armour as he checked casualty reports. The balding man silently offered Robin a respectful nod before he went back to checking the reports.

Robin stopped at one of the cots near the corner, a familiar white-haired form laying shirtless on the stretched canvas while Tharja sat next to him, slowly and gently cleaning him with a cloth. Sitting on the back of her chair, watching Henry with what approximated a worried look on its face was Huginn the raven, cawing softly in alarm every time the Dark Mage groaned.

“How’s Henry doing?” Robin asked in a low voice.

“He’s alive,” Tharja answered woodenly.

“He’s still out cold,” a light voice said from behind Robin. “He’ll live for now, but he keeps losing blood at a steady rate. We need to do something about those wounds quickly.”

The tactician spun, coming face to face with someone he never really expected to see holding a staff.

“Cynthia?” he asked, looking curiously at the blue-haired Pegasus Knight and the staff in her hands. “What are you doing in here?”

Cynthia wasn’t wearing her armour, instead standing in her boots and tan riding clothes while she cared for the wounded as best as her limited skills would allow.

“All Pegasus Knights a trained as low-level clerics, so the Wing Commander sent me here to help out some,” she huffed, leaning the short healing staff against one shoulder. “Even in the future that doesn’t change. It’s not as heroic as swooping and diving on the front lines, but mother always said ‘if you’re going to do something, do it right’.”

“I never imagined you as a cleric,” Robin snickered, leaning down to take a closer look at Henry’s wounds.

He carefully peeled the bandages back from the mage’s torso, realizing that his skin was so pale it was almost translucent. Robin sucked in a breath when he saw the extent of the other man’s injuries; great gashes all along his chest, the edges beginning to turn black from the curse that was afflicting him as the flesh began to necrotise. It wouldn’t look this way if it had happened that afternoon…

“How long has he been wounded?” Robin asked bluntly.

“Since Ylisstol,” Tharja said quietly, not even trying to hide the fact.

“Which one did it?” Robin asked, gently prodding at one of Henry’s wounds.

He already knew the answer, just from touching it; all of the Deadlords somehow felt different to him, no doubt another side-effect of his future-self summoning them, and these injuries had obviously come from Simia.

“The sword-wielding one,” Tharja replied.

Robin nodded. “I thought so. From the look of things he’s getting worse. Dammit… I wish I knew if Panne had begun to recover or not…”

“Why?” Cynthia asked curiously, tilting her head to one side the way her mother and sister did when they asked a question.

“Because then I’d know if killing the Deadlord lifted the curse,” Robin explained in a tired voice. “Quite often that’s how curses work; even a dunce like me knows that. But with all this Grima stuff hanging over us…”

A soft shuffling made Robin look up to where Libra was approaching them, looking almost angelic with his platinum blonde hair and white robes against the backdrop of black armour and dark cloaks.

“That is the case,” he said in his soft, sing-song voice.

“How do you know?” Tharja snapped, still looking down at Henry.

“Because my wounds are beginning to close,” the priest said with a slight smile, tugging at the collar of his robe to show off the bandages wrapped around his shoulder. “They are not healing as fast as normal, but they are healing.”

“So we just have to find the creature that wounded him and put it out of its misery!” Cynthia said excitedly.

“I doubt we’ll have to look hard,” Robin muttered, hand on his chin. “Grima’s probably going to throw everything he’s got at us now, the surviving Deadlords included. But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it; what are we going to do about Henry in the meantime?”

“I’d appreciate a nice human sacrifice,” the mage in question mumbled from beneath them. “Maybe a little blood-offering…”

He snickered a little, his laughter turning into a fit of coughing as Tharja held him down to the cot.

“Noire is fetching my hexing tools,” Tharja said. “I will figure something out to stall the curse.”

“I’ll help!” Cynthia said quickly. “Having some healing magic running through him might at least make him feel better.”

Robin nodded, realizing he wasn’t needed there any longer; all of the other wounded Shepherds besides the healers were already either in the mess tent or asleep. Before he turned to leave he put a comforting hand on Tharja’s shoulder, the Dark Mage tensing momentarily before sighing and looking up at him with a tired, thankful smile on her face.

“I saw that!” Henry chuckled weakly. “Keep your dirty tactician hands off my lovely death-blossom, cur!”

“You must be delirious from pain,” Tharja said softly, her smile growing a little, prodding the other mage in the side lightly.

Robin grinned a little to himself as he threaded between the cots full of wounded Plegian soldiers on his way out of the tent. As he reached the entrance he ran into Noire, arms laden with her mother’s hexing tools. He gave the startled girl a little smile, which she returned before brushing by him and hurrying to her parents’ side.

Gone was the hollow, haunted look on the archer’s face, replaced with the same timid determination she usually wore. Well, the determined look she wore when the switch hadn’t flipped and she was acting like Tharja on one of Gregor’s secret potions, anyway. Cynthia was already working, too, her face scrunched up in concentration as she channelled healing magics through the staff in her hands.

I guess… they’re okay, Robin realized as he watched the two girls.

He’d been worried that the revival of Grima would be a little more traumatizing for the future children. So far Morgan had worked herself to the brink of exhaustion with him in a slightly more subdued fashion than she usually did, Cynthia was calmly helping out with the medics instead of running around and trying to smite everything that moved, and Noire was confidently assisting her mother with her work.

The tactician stopped, eyes widening as he glanced back into the tent.

Crap, he realized. They’re at breaking point, aren’t they?

Owain leaned back against the small camp table, arms crossed and looking at the ground. He was bored, but he had an important duty to carry out; namely, the older woman sitting across from him doing her upmost to ignore him.

Aversa, the sour-faced, tan-skinned woman that was apparently Robin’s sister somehow, hadn’t said a word since she had spilled all of Validar’s secrets to the tactician earlier in the afternoon, shuffling along silently in front of him while they had trudged back to the liberated Grimleal camp with the wounded, before the knights had taken over her detention to give him a break when the others had caught up.

Owain had heard the stories, growing up, about what she and Mad King Gangrel had done to Ylisse; it had been Robin’s first big campaign with the Shepherds, so of course it had been one of their favoured bed-time stories. But the quiet, subdued and defeated woman was a far-cry from the confident and beautiful witch from the old stories he’d heard. It was almost disappointing in a way to see one of the villains he and the others had ‘slain’ as children in their imaginations so broken-down.

The young blonde man looked up as the tent flaps were drawn back and Robin stepped in, brushing the raindrops off the shoulders of his coat and frowning. Under one arm he was holding a basket, one of the small wicker ones that they used to transport food to the Shepherds on guard duty so they wouldn’t miss dinner at the mess tent.

“Owain, go and find Frederick,” the tactician said in a low tone. “You missed quite a bit and he’ll get you caught up. Then go and get something to eat. I need some time alone to talk to my ‘sister’.”

“Master?” he asked curiously, standing up. “What’s happened?”

Both men turned to face the prisoner sitting with her head bowed as she started to laugh softly; the first sounds Owain had heard her make.

“Oh? You have the younger ones calling you ‘master’, do you ‘brother’?” Aversa practically whispered. “That seems almost tyrannical, and yet I’m the one sitting here in chains.”

“They’re ropes, not chains,” Robin said without missing a beat. “Stop being so over-dramatic. Owain. Beat it.”

“Yes, Robin,” he said quickly, exiting the tent as fast as he could.

The tension in the small tent’s air was so thick if Owain had drawn his sword he could have cut it; the last thing he needed was to get in the middle of any family drama.

As he stepped out into the rain Owain realised that he had absolutely no idea where Frederick was. He knew the general idea of where the Shepherds’ tents had been set up, but he had already been guarding Aversa when the others had returned.

He had no idea what had happened at the Dragon’s Table. He just assumed that, seeing as everyone had come back alive, they had won. But… he’d never seen Robin looking like that before. His Master had been so serious, so grim. It wasn’t the face of a man that had just experienced victory.

Robin had looked like a man that had just lost.

Robin crossed his arms as he stared down at Aversa, setting the basket atop the table and drawing a bottle out of it.

“Want a drink?” he asked, holding it out to her. “It’s Feroxi Ale. I figured you might want something to wash today’s failure away.”

Aversa glanced up at him from beneath her fringe, her head only raising the slightest fraction as she looked at him as if he were stupid.

“Oh please, if I were going to kill you I would have done it at the Dragon’s Table,” Robin said, rolling his eyes and hopping up to sit on the table. “I definitely wouldn’t go through the effort of poisoning you by ruining such beautiful liquor, anyway.”

To prove his point the tactician tore the cork out of the bottle with his teeth and took a swig of the malty brew, the same way that Flavia always did. After a satisfied sigh he held the bottle out again, which Aversa took gingerly and held in her lap with her hands still bound, glaring at it as if it were a snake about to bite her.

“If you’re here to torture me for information I have already told you everything,” she said, leaning back in her chair and looking up at Robin with a haughty sneer.

“I just have some questions,” Robin said, spreading his hands innocently.

“I told you everything I knew, little man,” Aversa repeated in the same level tone.

“C’mon, play nice or I’m taking my fancy ale away,” Robin sighed.

“You may keep your watery barbarian swill,” Aversa scoffed.

“You say that, but you’re holding onto that bottle pretty damn tight.”

Her shoulders went rigid for a moment before she let out a sigh and relaxed, taking a long swig from the bottle in her hands.

“I was right, wasn’t I?” she asked after a moment of silence. “You couldn’t stop him, could you?”

“No, I killed Validar myself,” Robin corrected her. “Did you know he was a Deadlord? I honestly didn’t. And people wonder why I have trust issues when my own father doesn’t let me in on that kind of important information… Wait. Am I a Deadlord? Are you!?”

“This is why I never wanted to talk to you when we were children,” Aversa snapped. “You blabber on about inconsequential things and your point gets lost. I know you failed, I could feel Grima’s revival. I can still feel him.”

“Yeah, that was kinda my bad,” Robin shrugged.

Aversa took another swig from the bottle, making a face at the potent alcohol before glaring up at Robin.

“I know I’m going to regret asking this, but what do you mean by that?”

“Well, the Hierophant is technically me from the future…” Robin mumbled, crossing his arms defensively.

“Oh?” Aversa chuckled. “He finally showed his face again? And the coward even spilled the beans on his identity. So I take it he’s the one flying above Plegia right now, then?”

“Yeah,” Robin sighed, deflating a little.

“You know all he did was give orders and sit beneath the Palace, then in the Sanctum in the Temple,” Aversa laughed, going silent a moment and staring off into space before continuing.

“Now he’s swooped in and claimed all the credit for my hard work? Father was no better. He became obsessed with you the moment that… other showed up at the Temple. I mean more obsessed than before. Ever since mother spirited you off into the night he could think of nothing else.”

“Yeah, I really didn’t get the ‘obsessed’ vibe while he was trying to kill me,” Robin groaned, feeling the bruises beneath his coat.

“From the moment you were born it was all about you,” Aversa snapped, sitting forward on her chair. “It always has been. He chose me, he picked me up out of poverty and trained me as his second, treated me as his daughter for nearly six years before you came along. Then I was less than the dirt he found me in.”

“And that’s my fault how?” Robin asked. “Sheesh. Sorry for being born.”

“Apology accepted,” Aversa said with a sly grin, leaning back again.

Robin groaned, pinching the skin between his eyes as he realised she’d manoeuvred him perfectly into that trap.

“Look,” he said. “Let’s skip the complicated family drama and snarky word-games for now. I just want to ask you some questions about Validar’s plans. Like how far-reaching was the spell he used? Why do I feel like coffee beans have been crammed down my throat? How can we beat Grima now? That’s the kind of stuff I need to know.”

“I gave you information once and now I’m a book you can peruse at your leisure?” Aversa asked, grinning. “I was wounded and delirious from pain when you tortured me before. What makes you think I’d tell you anything now?”

“I see…” Robin nodded, lowering his head as if in deep thought.

“And getting me drunk will not work, either,” the woman added, indicating the bottle in her bound hands.

Aversa went to take another sip and Robin moved, reaching across the space and snatching the ale from her hands just as she was bringing the bottle to her lips.

“Ah-ah-ah!” he chided, waggling the bottle a little before taking another mouthful of his own and sighing contentedly. “Good girls that cooperate get booze and food. Pains-in-my-arse that won’t answer my questions get tepid water and mouldy bread. If I’m feeling generous. Which I’m not. What’s it going to be, ‘sister’?”

She glared up at Robin as he threateningly tilted the bottle in his hand, making as if he were going to tip the ale onto the floor for a moment before Aversa held her hand out expectantly.

“We put the life draining sigils at every single town in Plegia,” she said after Robin handed the bottle back. “We purposely made half of them easy for the resistance to find so they would miss the others. The Capital will be a ghost town, as will most of the port cities. It will be the farming communities and the oasis villages that the traitor Mustafa managed to save. A mere fraction of the populace.”

She took a deep swig from the bottle as Robin silently stared into the corner of the tent.

“You committed genocide,” he said at last in a low voice. “Thousands of people… thousands of our own people…”

“No, Validar committed genocide,” Aversa corrected him. “He just used me to do it. And ‘our’ people now? Have you finally come to terms with being a desert-rat like the rest of us?”

“It’s true weather I like it or not,” Robin snapped. “It’s not the people that are evil, just their rulers.”

“Evil is just a point of view, ‘brother’,” Aversa pointed out.

“Are you really trying to defend the murder of tens of thousands of people?” Robin asked icily.

“No,” Aversa said evenly. “Merely pointing out the flaw of your logic, something I’m glad to see is as satisfying as ever after all these years. The Grimleal are taught from birth that those that worship Naga are the evil ones; that the Ylisseans are foul invaders, and that by resurrecting Grima we are simply defending ourselves.”

“By killing. Thousands. Of innocent people,” Robin said, trying to make his point as clear as possible.

“You really are stuck on that one, aren’t you, little man?” Aversa scoffed. “Revolution is rarely a bloodless affair.”

“However,” she added, holding a forestalling hand up when Robin opened his mouth again. “I agree with you. There had to have been a better way to revive Grima, but father was intent on forcing the revival by using you as a catalyst. I spent years trying to research a way to do it without you, but father was the Hierophant at the time, not me…”

“I see,” Robin said, waiting for her to continue.

“It was a horrible waste, using all of that energy to try and force Grima’s will on someone unwilling,” Aversa went on, pointedly glaring at Robin. “I would have kept the citizens of Plegia alive; once the world found out we were reviving Grima they would have made a nice meat-shield.”

“Just when I was beginning to think you were a decent human being after all you come out with that one,” Robin sighed, momentarily hanging his head. “So then, question two; why do I feel like I just woke up in that field again? Why do I feel so refreshed when I should be practically dead on my feet? I feel like I could go toe-to-toe with Walhart again.”

Aversa took a look at Robin beneath her silver-purple hair before clicking her tongue in annoyance and taking another deep swig of the rapidly emptying bottle. She swayed a little as she lowered the drink, the ale obviously beginning to take effect.

“I have no idea, and that is the truth,” she said in a sour tone. “The best guess I can come up with is that you absorbed some of Grima’s mana by being in such close proximity to his revival.”

“And we stop him how?” Robin asked, leaning forwards and pressing his momentary advantage.

“We?” Aversa snickered. “You may feel free to commit suicide however you please, but I for one am getting as far away from that monster as I possibly can. I am not nearly drunk enough to throw in with your disgusting mercenary group.”

“Hey, you wanted to revive him,” Robin pointed out.

“Yes, and that was before I realised that he was just another iteration of you,” Aversa fired back. “I’m not worshipping my ‘brother’, no matter how powerful or god-like he is. I’d rather spend the rest of my life hiding in a cave on the southern coast and living off fish like a savage.”

“So how do I stop him then?” Robin clarified.

“You? You’re an ant before him,” Aversa said. “The only ones that can stop him are the Exalted bloodline. Go perform an Awakening on the Exalt or something. Pray to and beg Naga for help. It’s not my problem.”

“Grima’s going to destroy everything,” Robin said exasperatedly. “You’re a part of this world, aren’t you?”

“Cave. Coast. Hermit,” Aversa said, motioning randomly with her hands as she talked, balancing the bottle of ale between her knees. “Like I said, feel free to go and get killed. I’ve fought my whole life to live, and I intend to keep living.”

“Fine,” Robin sighed, jumping to his feet. “Wallow in cowardice. I’ll stop Grima on my own.”

“Good luck with that,” Aversa sneered, downing the rest of the bottle and dropping it to the floor.

Robin hesitated before he stepped out of the tent, watching as Aversa stared into the corner with a blank look on her face. As he turned to finally leave she called out to him.

“Are we done now?” she asked.

Robin nodded, taking a step out into the rain and pulling his hood up.

“You’ll be left unguarded tonight,” Robin said, turning to face his ‘sister’ again. “Your hands will remain bound. Feel free to move about the camp, but if you try to escape I won’t show you any mercy. There’s a simple meal in the basket. See you at breakfast.”

“I look forward to it, brother,” Aversa called after him, her mocking laughter following him into the night.

Robin sighed, slouching beneath his coat as he stomped through the lake that was forming beneath the camp. Where all the rain was coming from, he had no idea. All he wanted to do was kick off his sodden boots, hang up his coat and crawl into his nice warm bedroll. He could worry about what to do about the whole Grima-thing in the morning; for once he was out of ideas. It would be nice for someone else to come up with a plan for a change, but he’d settle for hearing some suggestions in the morning at the staff meeting.

It irked him that the best option for defeating Grima, having Chrom perform the Awakening and petitioning Naga for help, had been suggested by Aversa.

However, there was one more person he needed to find before he could retire; the one person that would be taking Grima’s revival the hardest; the woman that had moved heaven and earth to try and avoid this outcome. Robin needed to find Lucina and make sure she was okay.

Why do I always wind up doing this stuff at night? He wondered absently as he trudged through the camp and dodged around sullen black-armoured soldiers on guard patrols.

He quickly stuck his hooded head into the tent that had been set aside for her, finding it empty and cold. With a flick of his wrist he lit the brazier in the corner, just to make it more comfortable for her when she did retire, before withdrawing. She had obviously been there; her pack was sitting on the ground, but she was still absent.

His next stop was, as Flavia suggested, the mess tent. He found a few Plegian soldiers still awake and conversing quietly at a table in one corner, and Owain and Severa at the opposite side of the tent. Robin didn’t hesitate, realising how ravenous he was, and grabbed an apple and a small loaf of hard rye bread, the kind that was almost all crust. He started to walk over to where the two young Shepherds were sitting, Owain with his back to him, but stopped when the blonde swordsman said something in a quiet voice that made Severa blush, before reaching across the table and taking her hand in his.

Robin’s jaw almost hit the floor, but he managed to disguise his shock by stuffing his bread into his mouth and walking out of the mess as fast as he could, avoiding eye-contact with Severa as she spotted him.

Both kids were… well, complicated, and he didn’t want to get in their way; it might have been messy if he did. Still, it was nice to see the two getting… closer…

Holy crap it really is the end of the world, Robin thought with wide eyes as he glanced back over his shoulder at the mess tent.

Severa and Owain were constantly at each other’s throats. Well, Severa was at Owain’s throat; Owain was too oblivious to realise how much he annoyed her. That they were getting cozy together…

What next? Robin wondered as he doggedly chewed on his leather-like bread, trying to force it down while ignoring the rain still falling.

Is Yarne going to come up to me and demand I put him on the front lines? Is Gerome going to go skipping through the camp without his mask and a smile on his face!? Oh gods if Kjelle starts wearing a dress I will have a heart-attack. I need to find Lucina before I freak out.

Robin came to a stop in roughly the central area that the Shepherds were using, spinning slowly and thinking to himself.

Think, Robin. She wasn’t in her tent, but she’d been there. She wasn’t in the mess tent, but she’s still somewhere in the camp. After the day we’ve had she would be in the…

His eyes stopped on one of the larger tents as a gust of wind blew the canvas about, letting a small flash of light from an oil lamp escape beneath the loosely secured tent.

She’d be in the armoury, Robin thought, satisfied at his deduction as he stuffed the last of his bread into his mouth and pocketed his apple.

Sure enough, as Robin stepped out of the rain he caught a glimpse of blue hair bent over a crate of arrows in the dim lamplight.

“Little late to be doing a stocktake,” Robin said wryly as he crossed his arms and sunk to a hip.

“I am preparing these weapons,” Lucina said without looking up, barely pausing. “The Plegians seem to not understand the meaning of the word maintenance.”

“Well, the ones that were in this camp were conscripts,” Robin pointed out, slowly approaching.

Lucina stopped after she lifted the crate of arrows on top of another, apparently done with it. She turned and looked at Robin, a fierce look on her face.

“I know what you’re going to say,” she said as he stopped in front of her. “You’re going to say I should be resting. That I should be mentally preparing myself to take on that… monster… but I cannot. I cannot rest while he flies over us and there are-”

“Actually I was going to say it looks like you missed a crate of swords back there,” Robin said lightly, cutting her off as he brushed past her.

“I’ll handle it. Can you start on the axes?” he asked, crouching in front of the wooden box of mismatched short-swords and scabbards. “If we get through this quick enough then we can still get to the storage tent behind the mess and make sure that’s all good to go afterwards. Gah, these swords are so blunt they wouldn’t slice butter. Can you toss me a whetstone please?”

Soft footsteps crossed the space of the tent as Robin began to sort through the swords, attempting to put them in some form of order so he could begin to quickly sharpen them. A light weight settled on his back as Lucina wrapped her arms around his chest, burying her face in his neck for a moment.

“Thank you,” she said in a small voice as Robin reached up to stroke her hair. “I love you, Robin.”

The tactician smiled a little as Lucina rose and dropped a decent whetstone into his hand before going back to where the axes were stacked up.

Robin knew that for her this was cathartic. It was therapeutic. Lucina would be too wound up to rest right now with the revival of the evil she’d come all the way back to the past to stop, so sorting through the weapons and supplies was better than just about anything else Robin could come up with to cheer her up.

He had only been looking for her because he was sure she would have been sitting somewhere and fixating on the day’s events, but this was perfect. All he needed to do was help out and keep her company.

They could both worry about how to kill an ancient god tomorrow. For now, they had an armoury in dire need of cleaning and maintenance.

Robin blinked, turning in a circle to take in the round, domed stone room he was standing in. It was night outside, and there were only a few small candles in various sconces on the walls casting a flickering haze over everything. Outside in the moonlight he could make out the rolling dunes of sand, the whistling wind blowing the grains like sheets across the terrain as he watched absently.

“What the hell is going on now?” Robin asked himself softly as he took a few steps towards a roughly hewn window.

“Oh, there you are,” a woman’s voice called out to him.

The tactician spun, hand dropping for a sword that wasn’t there.

He just realized he wasn’t even wearing his coat.

Because the woman smiling at him was wearing it.

“What’s wrong, honey?” she asked, still smiling as she approached.

“Er… nothing,” Robin answered warily, unsure why he wasn’t more afraid of her.

The woman, older than him by at least twenty years, stepped up beside him to gaze out over the moonlit sands.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” she asked in a soft voice, leaning forward to rest her palms on the windowsill.

Robin nodded in agreement, watching as the stranger’s long brown hair was whipped about in the wind.

He started momentarily when he realised that she reminded him of Morgan.

However, unlike Morgan she didn’t have any of Say’ri’s facial traits. She was like Morgan if the girl had inherited nothing but Robin’s genes.

“I think I’m going to miss this the most,” the woman went on, unaware of or ignoring Robin’s silent contemplation.

“We need to move again, though. The Grimleal will find this place soon. I’m sorry to do this to you again, honey, but we can’t risk them getting you back.”

“I know,” Robin said, blinking a few times when he realised he’d spoken without meaning to. “It’s okay. I’m starting to get used to this, after all. Why don’t we try southern Ylisse this time? Think we can sneak across the border?”

Panic momentarily shot through the tactician when he realised he wasn’t in control of his body or speech, but unlike when Validar had done it with his curse Robin didn’t feel the malevolent presence within him. This was… just a dream.

He glanced back up as the woman started to laugh.

“Do you really think that anything can stop two master tacticians when they set their mind to something?” the woman answered, chuckling and laying an arm across Robin’s shoulders lovingly.

“Jeez, you’re freezing,” the woman pointed out after a moment.

Robin watched with a lump in his throat, unable to cry or even move, as the woman shrugged off the black leather coat she was wearing and wrapped it around his shoulders.

“Here, this’ll keep you warm,” she said. “Don’t stay up too late. We have to move early.”

Robin nodded calmly, but inside he was screaming. This was… this was when he got his coat. This was why it was so important to him. This woman had given it to him before she’d-

“Okay,” he said lightly, still unable to control himself. “G’night, mom.”

“Good night, Robin,” the woman said as she disappeared into one of the back rooms.

Robin groaned, stretching out his neck and rubbing at his shoulder.

He and Lucina had wound up crashing out on the floor of the mess supply tent, where all the miscellaneous goods were being kept after they had sorted through and taken stock of everything; a task Laurent seemed thrilled not to have to do by himself.

Of course, Lucina was fine, standing next to him with her head high and only looking a little sleep-deprived. She had been plenty comfortable, under his coat and using him as a pillow; Robin was the one that had been propped up, cold and wet, against a crate. But such was the sacrifices a tactician made to ensure the wellbeing of his troops…

His dreams were apparently back in full-force now, too. He had no idea what was going on in his head any more, but as long as Validar was dead he was confident that nobody else could control his mind. Besides, now that he knew he was remembering his mother the dreams weren’t so bad. However he had to ask the question; was he remembering his mother, or the other Robin’s mother? It wasn’t important at present, though.

He had met with Chrom and the other leaders, as well as Morgan, Frederick and a number of the Plegian Officers, all of whom were currently sitting around or at the back of the mess tent waiting for him to start the staff-meeting. The future-children were quiet as their parents talked softly amongst themselves, waiting for everyone else to arrive. The last of the Shepherds, Nah practically dragging the taller Laurent into the tent as the mage tried to compile the notes that Robin had made with Lucina the previous evening, entered the tent.

Everyone was present; he could start the meeting now. Which was, admittedly, not something he was looking forward to.

The tactician looked around at the assembled faces. They were all tight and pale, bags under their eyes as they watched him, waiting patiently to hear his new plan while they chatted to pass the time. Unfortunately, for the first time in years, he didn’t have one to give them.

“We’re going to keep this short,” Robin announced, the talking dying down a little. “We need to be ready to move in a few hours, so I’m not going to waste a lot of time explaining the situation. But… first…”

“I’ll do this fast, like ripping off a scab,” Robin said, his expression silencing the room instantly. “Donnel is dead. Anna might be, too. Until we get back to Ylisstol, we won’t know for certain.”

The silence became deafening. Chrom sighed and placed his face in his hands. Flavia and Basilio both looked about ready to throttle something, gripping their sheathed weapons with white knuckles. Frederick just averted his eyes from Robin; the Knight Commander had already had his enraged outburst at the news during the pre-meeting meeting, after all. Morgan gripped Yarne’s hand so hard that the half-Taguel visibly winced. The other Shepherds wore faces ranging the gambit from heartbroken disbelieving to vengefully enraged.

“How?” Sully eventually growled, ending the shocked stillness.

Robin resisted the urge to sigh. From the look of things the first generation of Shepherds weren’t taking the news well; the tent was full of hard eyes and serious frowns, men and women obviously trying to maintain their composure. Mustafa, Algol and the two other Plegian officers lined up at the back kept a respectful silence, waiting for the Shepherds to get past their personal part of the meeting.

“Validar got them on the road,” Robin explained.

“Why were they even on the road at all!?” Sully exploded, rising to her feet and cutting the tactician off. “They were meant to be in Ylisstol!”

“It was part of a counter-insurgency plan!” Robin snapped. “Now are you going to let me explain, or are you going to stand there and yell at me!?”

Sully looked like she was about to reach for her axe, but grit her teeth and sunk back to her seat.

“In fact this will answer the question of Morgan’s sudden appearance at the Dragon’s Temple, too,” Robin went on, meeting everyone’s eyes in turn; it was hard, but they deserved that much from him.

“As you all well know by now, Validar has been specifically targeting me since before Valm because of my connection to Grima. Morgan and I deduced, correctly it would seem, that she would also be targeted if we were separated.”

“Which is why you wanted her to lead us on the field instead of you,” Virion stated, his usual flowery speech forgotten.

“Exactly,” Robin nodded. “Morgan and I planned for the eventuality he would go after her. When he did she spotted him right away and made the correct decision to minimize risk to the civilians and non-combatants in the capital by luring him out on the open road. Donnel and Anna knew what they were getting in for by going with her. I… briefed them on the risk of their involvement myself. To their credit, neither hesitated a moment. Morgan was captured and the same spell that they used used to control me was used on her; she broke free and used the opportunity to undermine Validar at the Dragon’s Table, as well as save Chrom’s life.”

The whole tent remained silent when Robin paused.

“So… why did you have to stab milord?” Frederick asked, crossing his arms.

“To deceive Validar?” Robin shrugged. “To be fair, I was still being controlled at the time.”

“Then how did you know you wouldn’t kill him?” Frederick asked pointedly.

“I saw that moment before,” Robin explained. “In a dream. Turns out that dream is probably one of future-me’s memories, and in it Chrom wasn’t wearing his armour when he- I killed him. So I made sure I stabbed in the thickest part of the armour, and he was kind enough to play along.”

“I’ll have you know you really did stab me,” Chrom pointed out.

“Bah, you cut yourself worse shaving,” Robin replied offhandly.

A few quiet snickers broke out in the tent, mostly from the future-children this time.

“So… you based the future of mankind on a… dream?” Gerome asked quietly, disapproval evident in his tone.

A few of the others made sounds approximating agreement with the dour Wyvern Rider’s question, a few unhappy glares beginning to turn on Robin now.

“In short, yes,” the white-haired man sighed. “However, we now know that they were really memories I was getting second-hand from the evil future-me, so… think of them more like visions. In any event, they were right, right?”

Gerome made a non-comitial sound, still looking far from convinced beneath his mask.

“And Basilio was alive the whole time?” Inigo asked in the ensuing silence, scratching the side of his head through the thick bandages wrapped around it.

“That’s ‘Khan’ Basilio, boy,” the big man grunted from the rear of the tent.

“Yes,” Robin nodded. “I saw the awakening that Validar used to revive Grima in my dream-memory… thing. He had all the gemstones, and I wanted to prevent that from happening. I wasn’t sure how or if he’d get the Fire Emblem, but it wasn’t something I was leaving to chance. I was hoping that we would be able to just walk him into a room and say ‘oh, by the way look who we found out back’ in a few months, but…”

“You guessed right again,” Lon’qu supplied when Robin went silent again.

“You left a lot to chance, though,” Tiki pointed out quietly.

Robin’s response was to shake his head.

“I didn’t leave anything to chance I wasn’t absolutely sure about,” he said.

“Our next course of action is, of course, deciding how to kill Grima,” Robin went on.

His suggestion was met with silence.

“We can mourn Donnel and worry about Anna once we return to Ylisstol,” Chrom said helpfully from the centre of the room. “We need to act now, though, before Grima realises his full power.”

“Why the lies?” Cordelia asked, echoing the thoughts of all the other Shepherds in the room and ignoring Chrom’s suggestion. “Why the deception? We trusted you, Robin; why couldn’t you trust us?”

The tactician nodded. What she said was true, and the eyes of almost every face staring at him agreed with her.

“Partially to protect you all,” Robin said, spreading his hands wide. “Partially to protect myself. There were a lot of unknowns in the mix until very recently and I didn’t want to make you all excited with things I had no basis for except my feelings or vague dreams; and even if I had wanted to sit everyone down and explain things like this I didn’t have the time once all the pieces started falling into place.”

The tent was silent as everyone registered the extent of the deception Robin had pulled on not just their enemies, but the Shepherds themselves.

“For what it’s worth, I wasn’t happy about keeping so many secrets,” Robin shrugged after a few moments of silence. “But that’s it now. I’m out of plans and we’re back to square one. I… probably should have made some contingency plans in case we found ourselves in this situation, but… I really thought we’d win. Well, we haven’t exactly lost yet, but… yeah.”

He trailed off again, looking around.

“Did I leave anything out?” he asked lightly, desperately trying to change the sullen mood of the tent.

“I think that just about covered all of your plans,” Chrom said in the same tone. “Back onto the matter at hand, does anyone have any suggestions as to what to do now?”

“I’m kinda drawing blanks here,” Robin said apologetically to the crowd. “Anyone at all? Floor’s open.”

“I thought I made clear last night what you should be doing now, little man,” a voice said from the back of the tent, making Robin cringe.

“Anybody but you,” he groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose.

Aversa stepped into the mess tent, ignoring the multitude of shocked stares, enraged glares and confused looks as she did so. Her hands were still bound by the thick ropes, but as Robin had promised she was free to move about on her own. And, of course he should have seen her attempts to undermine him coming a mile away.

“Didn’t I say something about performing the Awakening on your Exalt?” She asked, grinning as everyone’s gaze snapped back to Robin. “I can’t see you accomplishing anything until you do that, at the very least…’

“First of all, I was getting to that part. Secondly, I hate you so much,” he growled to the woman across the tent, earning a low chuckle in response.

“You invited me to breakfast,” Aversa said innocently.

“I still hate you,” Robin said flatly.

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