On the coast of Plegia, where the torrential rain had yet to hit, a lone figure stood waiting with her arms crossed on a rock that overlooked the sea. The sound of the waves gently lapping at the rocks and the smell of the salt spray did nothing to relax Simia the way she recalled that they had during her life, leaving her to stand bored and look out over the ocean impassively with her glowing red eyes as she waited for the rest of her kind.
Simia, in life, had once been one of the most celebrated swordsmen of her generation. She had never led men, but had always been at the forefront of battle, living a warrior’s life she had been proud to call her own. These memories, though, left her confused; they did nothing to inspire her the way they used to. Instead, lingering on them gave her a strange ache she couldn’t put a name to.
The life she had lived mattered not though; not any more. She couldn’t even remember her old name anymore. She was Simia, Twelfth among the Deadlords, and serving her Lord Grima was all that mattered now.
The grey-skinned woman glanced up as she felt the air stir at her back, momentarily tensing before she relaxed. Slowly and carefully, as if afraid he might fall, Draco scaled the rocks to stand with her.
The sniper had obviously seen better days; his cloak and leathers had a gaping hole in them, puckered, ashen scar-tissue visible beneath where the Ylissean Knight had skewered him in the back. His cyclopean helmet, too, was beaten and scratched, scuffed from his fall and his duel with the interloper-archer.
“Early,” he rasped in surprise when he noticed her waiting there, even though his tone of surprise was hardly different to the one he usually used.
“What else do we have to do right now?” Simia spat, uncrossing her arms and kneading the grip of her sword tensely.
Draco nodded, moving silently to sit on one of the rocks as they waited. She watched his progress with narrowed eyes, resisting the urge to growl as he simply ignored her presence and stared at the ground.
The archer was an enigma to Simia; most of the Deadlords were singular in their purpose, like Tigris or Lepus had been. They were engines of destruction and chaos, roles they relished in as they served their dark master. Even the semi-intelligent ones, such as Mus’ late-second Equus and the majority of the mages, had been little more than collared beasts when it came to fighting.
Only Mus and Anguilla, and now Simia, too, showed signs of any true intelligence they way they had in life. Simia put it simply to the personalities they had fostered during life; Mus had once been a great ruler of a forgotten kingdom, his personality alone his greatest weapon in life had been turned into the marshalling force that had controlled the psychotic urges of the Deadlords and Risen. Anguilla had once been a noted scholar, and notorious for her unbreakable will-power.
But Simia had been nothing special in life; just another soldier; a skilled and highly regarded soldier, but a soldier none-the-less. The question of why, now, she had been developing intelligence bothered her almost as much as the silent sniper sitting not three feet away from where she stood. She was worried what would happen when her master realised she was having these thoughts, but Draco was truly a mystery; he never removed his helm and spoke in mostly monosyllabic sentences. But for all that he displayed a cool rationality that was at odds with the slavering monsters that the rest of the Deadlords had been. It bothered Simia because she couldn’t grasp the depth of the dead man.
Her thoughts were interrupted when the surviving mage Anguilla appeared, materializing out of the dark shadow of an overhanging rock, glowering as she limped into the open.
“You’re late,” Simia pointed out smugly.
The thin mage woman snarled, tossing lank black hair out of her harsh face as she limped closer. Simia noticed for the first time as the mage stepped into the dying light that the right side of her face was rough, the grey flesh torn and the glow in her eye gone; obviously the mage hadn’t been spared damage when she had lost her mount during the fight with the Ylisseans. In fact she was no doubt lucky to be alive after the zeal the Knights had shown destroying the other Riders.
“Mus is not here yet,” she pointed out savagely, faltering a little and catching herself at the last moment. “You do not decide who is late.”
Simia continued grinning as she turned away from the other woman, looking back over the waves.
Right on cue there was a bright flash, all three of the Deadlords turning to face it as Mus stomped out of his teleporting spell’s circle, resplendent and noble as ever in his perfectly polished black armour.
Simia’s eyes widened for a moment when she realised that the armour wasn’t in fact, perfect any longer; a large scratch had been made in the pauldron by one of the blue-haired warriors he had been duelling, and it was scuffed in various places.
Mus followed her surprised gaze, snorting angrily.
“A nuisance for which they will pay,” he promised the swordswoman quietly as he strode by her.
Simia nodded in agreement with her leader; too much blackened blood had been spilled by the Ylisseans now for them to be forgiven. She would laugh and gleefully dance through the ashes as Ylisstol burned to the ground around them.
“We are gathered,” Anguilla spat, obviously failing at supressing her pain and frustration. “What would the master have of us?”
“Wait,” Draco rasped without moving or even looking up.
“Do not presume to order me, archer,” Anguilla snapped. “You are not yet so powerful I cannot-”
“Be silent, sister,” Mus rumbled softly, his voice like the growling of a bear. “He will be here momentarily.”
The mage’s pale face lost a few more shades as her remaining eye widened, her earlier bluster vanishing.
“Him…?” she asked reverently. “The master is… coming here?”
Mus nodded, looking out over the ocean with a neutral look on his face.
Simia felt a shot of dread pass through her. She was about to face their master after having failed him three times; once in Chon’sin, once in Ylisstol, and then again at the Dragon’s Table. Grima was far from a benevolent god, and Simia began to feel an edge of old fear creep into her mind.
“I’m already here,” a tired sounding voice announced as light boots pattered across the rocks.
The three lesser Deadlords spun as Mus slowly turned to glance over his shoulder. Grima’s avatar skipped up to the Deadlords, grinning manically at the Risen as if he were about to share a bag full of sweets with them.
“Thank you all for coming,” Grima announced, clapping his hands. “And more importantly, congratulations on surviving this long against the Shepherds!”
Simia sucked in a sharp breath as she and the other Deadlords fell to one knee.
“Yes, yes, get up already,” Grima groaned. “We don’t have time for this right now, the other-me is already on the move.”
“Milord,” Mus said, the first to regain his feet. “Am I right in assuming you want us to stop him?”
“Close, but not all of you,” Grima said, still grinning. “What I want is for two of you to go to Mount Prism and prevent the Awakening from happening; one Awakening is enough for this tale, and I’ll be damned if I let the Naga-hounds get that close to me again. At the very least I want you to delay it. The other two of you will go to Mount Origin and prepare a welcome for the Shepherds for when the first two inevitably fail.”
“We will not fail you again, lord!” Mus thundered.
“Oh, I highly doubt that,” Grima chuckled, sauntering past the Deadlords to look out over the ocean.
“I mean, this is me we’re talking about here,” he added, clasping his hands behind his back. “It might be a younger, misguided me, but I’m still brilliant a brilliant, wily bastard. As far as I’m concerned, the four of you don’t stand a chance alone, or even with a horde of the masked ones at your back.”
The Deadlords fell silent as their master’s words sunk in. Simia was always put off by how chatty the Avatar was, but he seemed to be in oddly high spirits at present, even going so far as to outright insult them.
“More… Deadlords…” Draco rasped after a few moments of awkward quiet.
“Yes, quick to the point as always,” Grima announced, clapping his hands happily again and rambling on. “I will create more Deadlords, and you will each take one under your wing and watch over them until they are fully realized in this dimension. Mus and Draco will each take two and travel to Mount Origin. Simia and Anguilla will each take one and delay the Ylisseans at Mount Prism; no dying, though. It won’t take more than a few days to actualize the new members of your little club, but we’re short on time and I don’t want to have to expend more energy than I need to making more.”
Simia nodded mutely as Anguilla stepped forward.
“Milord…” she said meekly, turning her face to present her wounds to their master.
Grima turned to glance over his shoulder, clicking his tongue in annoyance when he noticed the mage’s wounds.
“Savages,” he muttered softly, turning and crossing the distance to Anguilla. “I swear… I create perfect beings and this is how they are treated…”
Grima reached up to lovingly caress Anguilla’s ruined face, a soft smile on his lips as the grey flesh knitted and mended wherever his fingers touched. After a few seconds the red light returned to her wounded eye and she sighed in relief, standing straight again as Grima’s power healed the rest of her injuries. His hand lingered on the reformed cheek as he smiled down at the mage-Risen for a few more moments.
“Perfect,” he whispered, his hand finally dropping.
“Thank you, Lord Grima,” Anguilla said, bowing low and stepping back from him.
“Think nothing of it, my dear,” Grima said dismissively, turning away again as if bored. “I need you all fighting fit for what comes next.”
There was a loud crashing boom in the badlands behind the beach as Grima’s gargantuan true form landed, raising it’s maw to the sky and letting out an ear-splitting roar. The avatar’s grin widened into a full-blown smile full of far too many sharp fangs that sent chills down even Simia’s dead spine.
Robin let out a deep sigh, the cool air of the Great Hall back in Ylisstol saturating his lungs and bringing him peace for the first time in days.
A peace that was broken almost instantly by hurried shouts and echoing running footsteps.
“Chrom!” Sumia cried, throwing herself at her husband in a show of emotion far beneath what was considered appropriate for a queen.
The Exalt laughed in response, catching Sumia and spinning happily with her as they were reunited again at last.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Aversa groaned, watching the couple from Robin’s shoulder.
Sumia looked up, her happy and relieved expression changing to one of shock and confusion when she saw who had spoken.
“It’s a long story,” Robin said, holding up a forestalling hand. “One I would be happy to tell after she’s in the dungeon.”
“Oh, the dungeon now?” Aversa asked lightly. “Have I not been the picture of good behaviour for you, widdwe-bwudder.”
“First, don’t say it like that or I’ll be sick,” Robin snapped. “Second-”
“Yes, yes, I know; you still hate me. Believe me, the feeling is mutual,” Aversa sighed, stepping forward. “Guards, if you would be so kind as to escort me someplace far, far away from my dearest brother I would be eternally grateful. I care not how dark or dreary the accommodations are, just so long as they are quiet.”
“Isn’t she just pleasant?” Robin asked a stunned Sumia sarcastically.
A pair of slightly confused-looking Ylissean Royal Guard stepped forward at Chrom’s nod, taking one of Aversa’s arms each and leading her away.
“Do be sure to keep me company at dinner, brother,” she called over her shoulder. “I’d hate to find out what happens when I become lonely and bored, wouldn’t you?”
“Hopefully you quietly drop dead and don’t stink up the dungeons,” Robin fired back without missing a beat.
“Oh dear, so cold,” Aversa said with over-exaggerated sadness. “I think I’m going to cry!”
Her cackling laughter faded into the distance as she was led away, leaving Robin feeling as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He sighed and slouched in relief, closing his eyes as he finally relaxed for the first time in days.
“Obviously a lot has happened while you’ve been gone,” Sumia commented as the rest of the Shepherds that occupied the palace apartments began to trudge through the hall.
There was a loud, high-pitched squeal as Lissa appeared and threw herself at Lon’qu, the corners of the exhausted swordsman’s lips turning upwards ever-so-slightly as she latched onto his midsection. Robin winced, waiting for the ringing in his ears to stop before answering Sumia.
“Like I said, it’s complicated,” he sighed. “Can we maybe talk about it over tea in a few hours? I think I speak for everyone when I say we’re dead on our feet.”
Sumia nodded, allowing Chrom to lead her back towards the Royal apartments, the two already whispering to each other about how much they missed one another.
“I hate to agree with Aversa,” Robin said to Lucina as the princess stepped up beside him, smiling wistfully as she watched her parents’ behaviour. “But I think your parents are going to make me sick.”
She grinned as they watched Virion attempt to subtly race up the stairs looking for Cherche while still attempting to project the same aloof aura he usually did, and failing miserably.
“I truly do not think that we would be any different had we been separated like that,” Lucina said, leaning into Robin as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer. “Do you not recall Valm and the siege at the Capital? Where you-”
“Yes, yes, ‘leapt off a flying pegasus to save you’,” Robin groaned into the top of her head. “You’re never going to let me live that down, are you?”
“Of course not!” Lucina laughed. “You leapt off a flying pegasus!”
“It seemed. Like a good idea. At the time,” Robin said, drawing the sentence out. “How many times do I have to explain that? Usually when I have a gut feeling like that it turns out alright, and hey-presto, it did, didn’t it?”
“It was still foolhardy,” Lucina chuckled, leaning slightly more into Robin’s chest.
They remained that way for a few moments before Lucina sighed and stepped away from him, her face troubled.
“What’s wrong?” Robin asked.
“The Dark Dragon has returned and here we are acting… acting as if…” she said, faltering as she tried to give form to emotions.
“As if we’re two young people in love?” Robin supplied lightly. “Come on, we can’t be tense and on edge all the time.”
“No buts!” Robin said, spinning Lucina and forcing her to start marching towards the stairs. “I know how you feel, but I was there when both of us burned out before, so we’re relaxing! Now you’re going to go upstairs and treat yourself to a proper bath to relax, or I’m going to force you to.”
Lucina dug in her heels and stopped momentarily, her shoulders tensing momentarily. The time-travelling princess let out a sigh as she obviously struggled with her thoughts before turning to face Robin with a mischievous smirk on her face.
“I suppose you will just have to force me, then,” she said in a low tone, looking up at him from beneath her lashes.
“Challenge accepted!” Robin cried, picking the smaller woman up over his shoulder and racing up the stairs, their laughter echoing around the once-more silent Great Hall.
As one all of the usually silent Royal Guard standing at attention in their positions blushed or groaned at the couple’s behaviour; a few of the braver ones even made over-exaggerated retching sounds. However, their feelings were as clear as the Shepherds’ had been; it was good to have them back.
A few hours later Robin sat beside Lucina at the large round coffee-table in the middle of Chrom and Sumia’s living area, the Exalt and his wife present with Lon’qu, Lissa, Cynthia and Owain all looking down at the polished mahogany table with dour looks on their faces.
“I… see,” Sumia said at length.
Robin nodded mutely. He had just spent what felt like an eternity catching the Queen and Princess of Ylisse up on matters, and now he wanted nothing more than to be able to stop talking for the rest of the day. The story left a bitter taste on his tongue, one that even Lucina’s hand in his own did little to dispel.
Judging from the looks on Sumia and Lissa’s faces they weren’t overly-impressed by his decision either, however there were obviously more pressing matters to think about, and much to Robin’s relief Aversa’s fate was quickly swept aside.
“We are going to go to Mount Prism next,” Chrom said, breaking the silence. “I will probably leave with Robin this evening. We can be there in less than a week if we travel light, and-”
“And we’re coming, too,” Lissa interrupted, a fire in her eyes.
Sumia nodded in agreement, reaching over to take her frowning husband’s hand.
“If these… are indeed our final days, I’m not going to be away from you for a moment,” she said softly, a small amount of her old timidness creeping back to the fore.
“Right,” Lissa chimed in, making a show of scooting closer to Lon’qu.
Cynthia and Owain both responded by making over-exaggerated retching noises; the only thing stopping Robin from joining them was the simple thought that he was currently within striking distance of both Lucina and her father.
Owain apparently over-looked that fact, Lon’qu’s open palm snapping up like lightning to slap the back of the boy’s head.
“Be silent before I tell your mother what I saw you doing with Sev-” the swordsman started, cut off by a wide-eyed and panicked Owain’s loud, wordless shout of alarm.
“Don’t worry honey, you can tell me later,” Lissa said, grinning first up at Lon’qu and then over at a now paling and silent Owain while Cynthia laughed openly in her cousin’s face.
Robin couldn’t help but smile. He was truly blessed to be able to witness this simple moment between family; it was a stark contrast to the grim mood that had settled over the Shepherds on the return trip from Plegia. It made him remember why he was fighting, what he was trying to protect, and as he looked over and met Lucina’s azure gaze he could see his thoughts reflected in her own eyes, the mark of Naga shining in her left eye. He felt his resolve hardening.
“So we’ll leave tonight then,” he said as Cynthia’s laughter finally died down. “Just us. We’ll leave Morgan and Frederick in charge of Ylisstol and travel light. It’ll be your job to keep them busy until we leave.”
Cynthia and Owain both paled when Robin looked directed his statement to them, neither being in a hurry to cross the Knight-Commander or young Grandmaster.
“What about Lucy?” Cynthia asked curiously.
“Yeah, right, like I could tear her away from Chrom’s side if I tried,” Robin snorted.
Lucina went slightly pink as the other members of her family laughed, shooting an evil glare at Robin.
“I’m sure that’s exactly what it is,” Cynthia deadpanned, making a point of glaring at both Robin and a blushing Lucina equally.
“You gave in relatively easy, there,” Chrom pointed out, obviously expecting his tactician to have backed him up.
“What the hell, we only live once,” Robin shrugged, eager to change the subject. “Or in my case twice. Mustafa’s busy leading the refugees and reorganizing the Plegian army right now, not to mention there’s not a lot we can do until we muster the soldiers from Themis and Jagen. I say let’s do something stupid for a change.”
“Alright, I can tell when I’m beaten,” Chrom sighed. “I’m not going to argue with all of you. Do you really think that the others will let us just walk out of here, though?”
“With the note I’m planning to leave for them? Sure,” Robin said, leaning back and waving a hand nonchalantly.
Chrom sighed again and shook his head.
“Knowing the rest of our army, how do you think an excursion with the entire Ylissean royal family is going to go for you?” he asked.
“It’ll go perfectly if you just keep quiet about it,” Robin insisted, doing his best to shush the Exalt in case one of the others overheard him.
“At least tell Morgan and Frederick in advance, please,” Chrom sighed.
“Absolutely not,” Frederick said, crossing his arms and glowering down at Robin.
“Yeah, Dad, that’s a kinda crazy plan even for you,” Morgan agreed, imitating the imposing Knight-Commander’s posture.
“Okay, one; ouch. That hurts my feelings. Two; at least hear me out before you shoot my plan out of the water,” Robin pleaded.
“No,” Frederick said flatly.
“Please?” Robin asked as innocently as he could. “Just humour me?”
Frederick groaned and rolled his eyes, Flavia, Basilio, Say’ri, Tiki and Cordelia behind him snickering a little as the Knight Commander very obviously caved.
They were all sitting or standing in the office that Chrom had set aside for Robin to work in years ago, the tactician preferring to only use it for delivering bad news to the others. Such as the current predicament he found himself in.
“I was initially going to just go with myself and Chrom,” Robin explained to the assembled group. “Travel light and fast; no tents, no supplies, two horses. We’d stop in Jagen to resupply and go on to Mount Prism. However, they didn’t like that plan.”
Robin said the last part with a nod over to Lucina, Owain and Cynthia, leaning patiently against one wall and smiling brightly. Cynthia even gave a cheerful wave, which only served to intensify Frederick’s frown.
“Anyway, what are you so worried about?” Robin asked Frederick and Morgan at the same time. “No one’s even going to miss us, not to mention we’re going with one of the best healers in the Haildom. Do you doubt my skills so much that you can’t trust me with my Exalt and Queen for a week?”
A vein above Frederick’s eye twitched, a common occurrence when the stoic Knight was deliberating with Robin. He was being baited and he knew it; Robin’s tone of voice hadn’t even been sincere in the least.
“It is not about your plans, it is about propriety,” Frederick ground out, attempting to save face when he knew he was beaten. “The Exalt and his Queen must be escorted at all times by a squad of Honour Guard or at the very least a squad of Knights.”
“Plus, ya know, Grima’s floating above our heads and could be anywhere right now,” Morgan chimed in. “What if he catches you unawares?”
“I’m pretty sure I’d see that behemoth coming a mile away,” Robin deadpanned, still a little unsettled to see Morgan siding with Frederick, even if he was on better terms with the Knight-Commander now.
“The girl raises a valid point,” Frederick nodded. “As Knight Commander of Ylisse and the Exalt’s closest retainer I cannot condone this course of action.”
“And, uh, as… Grandmaster of the Ylissean army I agree with him,” Morgan added.
“I can get Chrom to order you both to stand down,” Robin pointed out, leaning back in his chair.
Checkmate, Robin thought with satisfaction as he watched Morgan and Frederick’s faces change.
Frederick was brought up short, his eyes widening slightly as he realised the Chrom would indeed do just that. Morgan sighed as if she had been expecting such a measure from her father in the first place. It was his ace-in-the-hole; he hated going to Chrom to back him up, but sometimes the soldiers and knights he was stuck commanding just wouldn’t listen to reason. Sometimes, people needed their ruler to shout a few orders to feel better about things.
“I didn’t have to call this briefing, either,” Robin went on. “I was originally going to just disappear in the night and leave a scrap of paper with my orders on them.”
“So what are your orders then?” Cordelia asked curiously.
“Hold the capital until we get back?” Robin shrugged.
A collective groan rose up from the world-leaders in the room at being given such ambiguous orders.
“Fie. I assume we would not be here were it so easy,” Say’ri added, crossing her arms and sinking to a hip.
Robin nodded, leaning forward excitedly.
“Yes, finally someone moves the conversation along!” he practically cheered.
“I am not done-” Frederick started before Robin shut him up.
“Shush, you. We get it, you don’t like my plan. Tough. Deal with it. Moving along,” the tactician huffed. “I’m effectively taking the entire Ylissean power structure with me this time. So I would respectfully ask the Queen of Chon’sin and the Khans of Regna Ferox to assist the Grandmaster and the Knight Commander in the daily running of the realm.”
Flavia and Basilio shared a glance, fidgeting a little as Say’ri nodded slowly.
“I would have you know that I do not agree with your plan,” she said after a moment. “However, I understand the level of trust you place in me with this task, and will do my upmost to live up to your expectations.”
Robin nodded excitedly, his gaze falling on the two Khans.
“I don’t wanna play ruler…” Flavia moaned, slouching a little.
“C’mon, Flavia, I need you on this one,” Robin pleaded.
“Fine,” the blonde woman groaned. “But take the oaf with you at least. He’ll just get in my way here.”
“What?” Robin and Basilio both asked incredulously.
“How many years did I spend running Regna Ferox while you sat in the forest nursing your bruised pride after every defeat at the Colosseum, woman?” Basilio growled to the other Khan. “I’m twice the statesman you are!”
“Yet I’m in charge now, and as your ruler I’m ordering you to go on the dangerous mission potentially involving a lot of fighting and killing in my place,” Flavia snorted.
Basilio paused for a moment before breaking into a wicked grin and backing down.
“Well when you put it that way…” he said, looking at Robin expectantly.
“Fine, whatever,” the tactician grumbled. “Not like one more is going to slow us down at this rate.”
“Make that two more,” Tiki said, stepping forward.
“Oh come on!” Robin exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air. “You see!? This is why I didn’t want to have a meeting! Why don’t I just have all the Shepherds come with us!?”
“That was sarcasm,” he said quickly, pre-empting Frederick’s comment.
Frederick’s eyes narrowed as he snorted again.
“You’re going to perform the Awakening, right?” Tiki went on. “I have to go with you.”
“Do you now?” Robin asked, leaning an elbow on his desk.
The ancient manakete nodded grimly, her lips a thin line. Robin waited for her to elaborate, but when she didn’t he realised he was beaten and slouched in his chair a little more.
“Fine,” Robin sighed, defeated. “Everybody go and… do stuff. Tiki, Basilio, I need to talk to both of you before we leave this evening. I hope you can both ride.”
Now I just have to figure out how to explain our final party member to everyone else… Robin thought to himself as the others began tromping out of the office.
Aversa glanced up when she heard footsteps approaching, clicking her tongue in annoyance when she saw Robin round the corner to the cell she had been put in as soon as they had arrived in Ylisstol the previous evening.
The Shepherds had avoided her like a leper for the entire trip, only Robin, the blue-haired Princess and the smarmy archer had been brave or bored enough to treat with her; Robin as her self-appointed jailor and the others mostly just to spend time with him.
Her brother’s face was a rigid, neutral mask as he glared down at her, Aversa grinning up at him haughtily for a moment, her pearly white teeth practically glowing in the darkened cell.
“Here I was hoping to at least go twenty-four hours without having to answer any more of your juvenile questions,” she sighed theatrically.
“I’m leaving,” Robin said without preamble.
“Good. Go,” Aversa said dismissively, looking back down.
“You’re coming too,” Robin said in a careful monotone.
“Oh?” Aversa asked, genuinely somewhat surprised. “You’re going to trust me as one of your little mercenary comrades already?”
“No, I don’t trust you, and that’s why I’m not letting you out of my sight,” Robin said, his eyes narrowing ever-so-slightly.
Aversa burst out laughing, doubling over and shutting her eyes in case the tears of mirth escaped. She couldn’t help herself; Robin was just being hilarious now.
“Oh, that’s rich,” she chuckled sarcastically when she finally calmed down. “So where are we going? A little scouting mission? Slaying some Risen in the forests? Oh, I know! Let’s go and provide relief aid to the poor villagers!”
“We’re going to Mount Prism to perform the Awakening,” Robin said, crossing his arms.
Aversa stopped cold, looking up at the tactician with wide eyes before her expression turned stony.
“No,” she said, turning away from Robin.
“You don’t get a say in the matter,” Robin growled. “It’s that or the hangman’s noose while I’m not here to protect you. Once I leave I doubt you’ll last the night. You’re a war-criminal, Aversa. A lot of powerful people want you dead.”
“Oh how noble of you to try so hard to keep my evil bones alive,” Aversa said, her sickly-sweet voice dripping sarcasm. “I may have been drunk, but I was serious about not getting involved in your little crusade. There are worse things than death out there, and having your soul consumed by that… monster is one of them. I would take my chances with the noose.”
Robin stepped forward, his face becoming a mask of barely contained hatred as he crouched down to stare into Aversa’s eyes on her level. A small shudder passed through Aversa at the familiar glare, making her grateful that her cell was so gloomy.
“Let’s get one thing straight, ‘sister’,” he said in a low, dangerous tone. “You still have answers that I want. Until I get them, you may as well be my property. I will get the information I want out of you if it kills me, and I won’t be gentle about how I go about doing it. I’ll tear it from your mind if I have to. Until I get what I want you’re just going to have to keep on living. You can die when I tell you that you can die.”
Robin stood, glaring down at Aversa.
“I’ll make sure I hand you over to the citizens of Themis once I’m done with you, if you’re so eager to find a noose. You won’t have to face Grima. I can promise you that much at the very least.”
Aversa glared back at Robin, her expression matching the tactician’s before her eyes flitted away and she let out a soft sigh.
“You really are his son, you know that?” she muttered softly.
“Get cleaned up and prepare to ride,” Robin said, ignoring her comment and standing. “If you behave yourself maybe I’ll leave your hands unbound. Piss me off and I’ll chop one of them off to make my point. The guards will bring you up to the stable in a little less than an hour. You know, to give you time to primp or something.”
“You are an ass,” Aversa snapped as Robin walked away.
“Petty insults like that mean I win!” he called brightly over his shoulder. “Besides, this whole plan was basically your idea to start with! Take responsibility!”
Orange sunlight, the colour of a dying day, streamed into the hallway atop the dungeons from outside, casting long black shadows and making Robin think of, strangely enough, carrot soup. How long had it been, he wondered, since he had gotten to enjoy something as mundane as cooking? For so long now his life had been nothing but running from one battlefield to the next, doing his best to ensure that his carefully laid plans didn’t fall apart. However now that all his plans had effectively amounted to nothing he entertained the idea of possibly treating his closest friends to something on the road while they travelled to Mount Prism. Not that they would eat his horrible cooking, especially when a culinary master like Sumia was travelling with them, but still…
Robin sighed and ran a hand through his hair, realising with a start that it now fell well past his shoulders.
“Haircut,” he mumbled, his footsteps echoing loudly in the empty hallway. “First thing I do when I get back. Haircut.”
“Yes, your mane is starting to look like a nuisance, man-spawn.”
Robin stopped dead in his tracks, slowly turning to look over his shoulder. His face broke into a childish grin as he beheld the woman softly padding towards him barefoot and wearing new, yet still recognizably familiar leather jerkin.
“Panne!” Robin cheered, spinning on his heel. “You’re okay!”
“Of course I am,” the Taguel woman said as she crossed the last of the distance. “It would take more than a few Risen to slay me. I would never be able to face my ancestors had that creature felled me so easily.”
“How are your wounds?” Robin asked, falling into step with the woman as he walked towards the stables.
“Healed almost to being a distant memory,” she said bluntly. “Which is why I will be joining your party.”
Robin was brought up short, stumbling and faltering as Panne walked on unperturbed.
“Forget it, I’m not even going to ask,” Robin moaned, shaking his head as he jogged to catch up to Panne. “Just meet us in the stables in an hour. It’s good to have you back, Panne.”
The Taguel woman stopped, turning slightly to smile at Robin over her shoulder; a rare expression on her severe face that never ceased to amaze the tactician.
“It is good to be back,” she said quietly.
Robin let out a groan as he sunk down to his bedroll later the next evening, his aching legs practically burning after spending all day riding.
It’s been too long since I’ve ridden anywhere, he thought, staring up at the stars.
He had been travelling incognito all day, along with the rest of the small group of Shepherds now scattered around the fire that was the centre of their campsite in a small clearing. It was much the same as the one that he, Chrom, Lissa and Frederick had been in when Lucina and the Risen had both first appeared, and the sense of nostalgia brought a weak smile to his face.
The Exalt, his daughter and his wife had gotten a small fire going and were busy preparing a makeshift dinner while the others rested and tended to their mounts. Well, Sumia was cooking. Chrom was merely passing her the ingredients and utensils she requested, trying his best not to catch fire in the process, and Lucina was staying close at hand in case her father really did light himself on fire again. Basilio had disappeared as soon as they had made camp, the same way he had the previous evening, claiming he would do his own hunting and Panne had joined him, curious to see how a Feroxi Khan hunted. Tiki was sitting beside the horse she and Robin had shared, feeding it the shiny red apples she had apparently been carrying in her pack for just such an occasion and giggling when the beast licked her hands. Lissa and Lon’qu were patiently waiting for their dinner, talking quietly together and catching up after being separated for so long; it was honestly the most Robin had seen Lon’qu talk in a long time.
A rustling in the bushes heralded the return of Panne, back from an obviously successful hunt with a small deer hitched over her shoulder. Robin marvelled at the fact that she was carrying the animal herself and barely seemed to be strained by the weight; the Taguel had been insistent she be allowed to join Robin’s little band now that she was feeling better, and had been doing the scouting and hunting of at least three other people the entire journey.
“Have you seen the lady Aversa since we made camp?” Virion asked, settling onto the ground next to Robin and distracting him.
Robin glanced up at the other man. Of course Virion had invited himself along to what was supposed to be a ‘secret’ mission; the archer just couldn’t take ‘no you can’t come’ for an answer, no matter what the context was. He had even been waiting in the stables, an innocent look on his face as he readied his own mount. Robin wasn’t even entirely sure how he had heard of the mission, but he knew there was no arguing with him once he made his mind up.
At least he was lucky enough to not have had to argue Tharja down from joining them; the Dark Mage had been unusually scarce since they had returned, busy taking care of Henry however she could, making Robin feel almost lonely in her absence. Her replacement sure didn’t make him any happier, anyway.
“She’s off sulking in the bushes,” Robin said. “I think she’s afraid someone might try to kill her in her sleep or something.”
The group had taken to the idea of Aversa joining them about as well as he had expected them to; Lissa had sulked, Basilio, Sumia and Chrom had looked non-pulsed at the very least and out-right pissed-off at the worst; Lucina, Virion and Lon’qu had merely accepted the fact, and Tiki had treated it like a chance to make a new friend, something that the manakete apparently loved doing.
“I would not put the idea past some of our compatriots,” Virion muttered, sipping from a small cup of tea that he had brewed on the opposite side of the fire to Chrom and Sumia.
“However none would act so brazenly against your wishes while you still claim she is important, no?”
Robin sighed and scratched his head.
“Maribelle and Frederick both want blood,” Robin explained softly. “But it’s not them I’m worried about. There are a lot of other important Ylisseans that want her head for the sacking of Themis, and Frederick’s just pissed off enough to follow such an order. Hell, right now I’m worried about what happens when we get to Jagen and someone recognizes her there, and that’s on the other side of the country!”
Aversa was one of the most well-known war criminals in Ylissean history; she was part of the stories parents told their children, one of the great villains in the ‘Saga of Chrom and the Shepherds’ alongside Gangrel and Walhart. The entire country would celebrate her death, and Robin was currently the only thing stopping it from happening.
With word of his lineage no doubt spreading throughout Ylisse despite his best efforts, Robin knew that protecting both him and Aversa would put Chrom in a dangerous position. A ruler couldn’t possibly betray his citizens’ trust by safeguarding a war-criminal and the enemy nation’s prince; he would lose all credibility as a ruler overnight. Robin had to accept that if the call came to him from the Ylissean Council then Chrom would be powerless to do anything but order Aversa’s execution, and Robin would lose the last link to his past.
“What knowledge is it she possesses that makes her so important?” Virion asked curiously. “Did you not get all the information from her regarding the Risen and Validar that you needed?”
“It’s not that stuff,” Robin admitted. “Although I’ll admit I’m playing it up to sound like that. I’m… doing this for purely selfish reasons. She’s the only one left besides the psychotic future-me that knows me. I mean really knows who I am, the pre-amnesia me. It’s kinda stupid to be worrying about this after so long, but I finally have a chance to answer some questions I’d honestly forgotten about. I’m putting us all in danger to satisfy my own selfish curiosity.”
“Hell, it’s been four years and I don’t even remember my mother’s name,” Robin added in a dejected tone, looking away. “How sad is that?”
Virion made a thoughtful sound as he sipped from his cup, staring into the fire.
“I do not believe you are being selfish, Robin,” he said after a moment. “I believe you are being human. Were I in your shoes I would not have given up so easily after merely a year of wandering in search of a cure for my amnesia; I would still be doing so now. That you put your own desires behind the needs of so many others for so long speaks of just how truly amazing you really are.”
“Stop flattering me,” Robin huffed.
“I see I can’t distract you that way this time,” Virion chuckled. “I would not worry about it. If you explained your desires to any of the others, even the lovely Maribelle or brooding Knight-Commander, I harbour no doubts in my mind that they would understand.”
“When did you become such an optimist?” Robin asked with a chuckle, cheering up slightly.
“It happened after I spent so much time around you,” Virion replied flippantly.
“Well I guess I can’t be a bad influence all the time,” Robin snickered, leaning back. “Thanks.”
“Dinner is prepared,” Panne announced, interrupting Robin and Virion’s conversation.
As the tactician watched Sumia and Panne begin to hand out portions a thought came to him. He darted up, thinking that it was a long shot, but it had worked for him in the past. Lucina gave him a questioning look at his erratic movements, but Robin just smiled and winked at her.
“I’ll need two servings,” he said to Sumia, taking his own bowl from her. “In separate bowls, please.”
“Aversa? Aversa, where are you? Yoo-hoo!” Robin called out, shambling through the thick forest as he tried not to spill the two bowls of soup in his hands.
An equine snort drew his attention to a small clearing where he came face to face with the glowing red eyes of Aversa’s strange and apparently angry mount.
“Whoa, boy!” Robin placated the black pegasus. “Easy! I’m just here with food!”
The black pegasus lowered its head slightly, obviously not impressed by Robin’s presence.
Aversa had summoned the creature back in Ylisstol with magic that had made Robin’s stomach churn. He had been incredibly wary of letting her use her own mount, not to mention one that could fly, but she had so far done exactly as ordered and followed Sumia’s instructions while they both acted as outriders. After her reaction to Robin forcing her to come with them he had been expecting her to bolt the first opportunity she got; the fact that she hadn’t made him suspicious.
“And what makes you think that the tripe your bumpkin mercenary Queen prepared will be fit for my palate?” Aversa sneered, stepping around her over-protective mount with crossed arms.
“Because it’s warm and, you know, food?” Robin shrugged. “Why are you out here in the forest, anyway?”
“I prefer my throat to remain intact,” Aversa said dismissively, turning her back to him. “Now take your tripe and be gone.”
“Aw, c’mon. I promise I had less than nothing to do with its preparation or even its serving. This soup is about as far removed from me as it can possibly get, and it actually tastes pretty good.”
“My, but you are persistent,” Aversa growled, her mount stomping in tandem with her agitation.
“Look, you need to eat to keep up your strength,” Robin said, placing one of the bowls carefully on the ground. “I can tell when I’m not wanted. Just be at the campsite at first light so we can move out. And don’t get eaten by any bears overnight. We’re bypassing Jagen Castle and moving directly on Mount Prism tomorrow, so don’t sleep in.”
Aversa crossed her arms, still not turning around as Robin departed. Once he had moved a fair distance back to the campsite he stopped.
“Panne,” he whispered. “Keep an eye on her tonight. If she does anything even remotely suspicious, kill her.”
There was a light rustling in the bushes as a rabbit nearly the size of a horse silently padded towards him. Panne’s Taguel form nodded, moving further back towards Aversa’s resting place. Robin watched the rabbit-woman disappear before taking a long sip from his bowl.
“Damn,” he muttered, looking at the bowl with a slight frown.
His soup had gone cold.
Robin let out a loud yawn the next morning as they began to climb into the mountains that marked the beginning of Jagen’s territory.
“Gotten too used to sleeping in soft beds, huh?” Tiki asked playfully from her position perched behind him.
Robin blew a breath out his nose.
“No, just couldn’t sleep knowing a genocidal maniac would be flying recon for us again today,” he muttered, rubbing at his tired eyes.
“I’ve never seen you second-guess one of your own ideas like this before,” Tiki said, her voice becoming slightly more serious.
“I’ve never had to vouch for a war-criminal before,” Robin admitted with a tired grin over his shoulder.
Tiki nodded, lowering her gaze.
“You know, it might just be wishful thinking, but from what I’ve seen from here it looks like she’s really suffering,” the Manakete woman said, her long pointed ears twitching slightly.
“Good,” Robin said coldly, facing forwards again. “That’s the least she deserves after what she’s done.”
Tiki went silent for a few minutes, and the mountain terrain continued to fly past them as they moved quickly through the passes.
Robin noticed that it hadn’t changed all that much since the war with Gangrel’s Plegia back in the beginning. In fact, he even remembered marching along this exact same path four years ago. The sense of nostalgia it brought back made him smile a little as he fondly recalled marching with the other Shepherds, laughing and making fun of the others while they weren’t listening until Frederick overheard them and forced them to march double-time as punishment. He glanced over at Chrom, recalling the confused look on the then-Prince’s face as Robin, Vaike, Virion and Lon’qu had run past him ahead of the main army, Frederick right behind them atop his horse with his lance levelled at their back as ‘motivation’… It felt like a lifetime ago, now.
“Robin,” Tiki called out softly, snapping him out of his memories.
“What’s wrong?” the tactician asked, the sad tone of her voice worrying him.
“Did I ever tell you about how I met Marth when I was a child?” she asked, the pain in her voice making Robin attempt to turn around as best he could in the saddle.
“Do not stop,” Tiki said as their horse slowed.
Robin nodded, shifting back and urging their mount onwards as Tiki gripped the back of his coat.
“I… when I first met Marth, I attacked him,” Tiki said after an awkward pause. “I even… killed some of his soldiers.”
“What!?” Robin asked, astounded by her confession. “Why are you telling me this now?”
“Please, let me finish,” Tiki insisted. “I was being controlled and manipulated by Gharnef, and was forced to attack them. But once I was saved, Marth never once blamed me. A few of the other soldiers, those I had wounded and friends of those I had killed, spoke out for retribution. They demanded me punished for the lives I had taken. I’ve long since… forgotten what it was Marth said in my defence. But I’ll never forget the way he said it; the passion in his voice and the fire in his eyes as he vouched for me. I’m telling you this because I know what it’s like to be a pawn of darkness, Robin. All I needed was for one person to believe in me to redeem me.”
“I see where you’re going with this, Tiki,” Robin said stonily, facing directly ahead. “But for Aversa’s crimes the only redemption is death. She’s the one that made her decisions, and it’s the only way for her to atone.”
“I agree with you that she’s committed many atrocities,” Tiki said softly, gripping the fabric of Robin’s coat tight in her fists. “But… just think about what I’ve said. That is all I ask. Everyone needs that one person to believe in the good in them, Robin.”
“I think it was a good idea bypassing Castle Jagen,” Chrom said conversationally. “We can’t really afford the delay right now. Besides, it’s been a while since we’ve survived on leaves and roots. It will be good for us.”
Robin gave the Exalt a sideways look, Tiki giggling form her perch behind him. Robin began to snicker a little too when he noticed a similar disdained look on Lucina and Virion’s faces on the Exalt’s other side.
They had been travelling at a steady pace for the last few days, only stopping to rest and eating in their saddles during the day. They had made good time, too, and would be upon Mount Prism before the end of the day.
“Once we get over the next hill we should be able to see it in the distance,” Chrom went on. “There’s a beautiful field that stretches all the way to the foot of the mountain, one I was going to take Lucina to see once she was a little older.”
“I remember it,” Lucina said from her father’s side. “In the future you did take me to see it. It was amazing.”
Robin looked up to the top of the hill they were climbing for a moment, surprised to see two pegasi flying towards them.
“Sorry to interrupt family time, but I think we have a problem,” Robin said, kicking his tired horse into a gallop with a sinking feeling.
The others followed his lead, meeting Sumia and Aversa a small way from the top of the hill.
“What’s wrong?” Chrom asked, bringing his mount to a stop next to Sumia’s.
“Something your tactician didn’t plan on,” Aversa said, her face practically beaming.
“Sister, wipe your face. You have a little evil on it,” Robin said sarcastically.
“Refugees and pilgrims,” Sumia reported, eying Robin and Aversa. “Thousands of them camped at the base of the mountain.”
“You could probably see them from the top of that hill,” Aversa purred, grinning triumphantly.
Robin and Chrom both shared a glance before urging their mounts onwards to the top of the hill. Robin noticed Panne waiting there beneath the trees to one side of the road, sitting in her Taguel form and still managing to look tense.
Both the tactician and the Exalt’s jaws dropped when they reached the peak, looking down at the scene bellow them. In the dying afternoon light Robin could make out the shapes of countless rough tents and lean-tos arranged around bonfires and cooking fires covering the entire field below them; some obviously from Regna Ferox, a couple that were somewhat separate from the rest even looking Plegian in appearance. People moved about, and Robin could clearly see a number of priests and clerics wandering around in their distinctive white and silver habits. Behind the camp, at the base of the mountain, sat a beautiful stone temple dedicated to Naga. The temple was an ancient, short building, only a single bell-tower rising above the first story, but was obviously well cared for. Around the perimeter of the building was a ring of stone statues in the shape of warriors at rest, standing vigil over the temple and the mountain pass. Robin noted that the refugees or pilgrims or whatever they were seemed reluctant to be too close to the statues, and even the camp itself had maintained distance from them.
“This… complicates matters,” Robin muttered.
“Off the road!” Chrom ordered as the others started to join them. “Get into the trees before somebody spots us!”
They did as Chrom ordered, leading their mounts into the trees until they could barely see the road any longer before dismounting and breathing a collective sigh of relief.
“What are they all doing there?” Lissa asked, looking back over her shoulder to the road.
“There have always been some pilgrims that flock to places like the Mila Tree or Mount Prism,” Tiki pointed out. “But the sheer number of them here…”
“Psychological warfare,” Robin said almost to himself as he stroked his chin in thought. “There were Plegian tents down there; Grima’s been spreading fear and dissent with the Risen and with word of his immanent return. I bet if we had gone to Jagen the populace would have been in a similar state of unrest.”
“Ylisstol was fine, though,” Lissa said in a shocked tone.
“Ylisstol is also the closest city to the Exalt and his family full of Holy Blood,” Aversa yawned. “Did you stop at Themis or any of the other villages on your return trip? No? Well I’d hazard a guess that they’re all in a similar state of panic.”
“Would Grima really plan so far ahead to undermine us like this?” Basilio wondered out loud.
“Yes,” Robin sighed. “Yes I would. It’s the same as when we spread rumours around Valm.”
An uncomfortable silence descended on the small group until Sumia broke it.
“What do we do now?” the young Queen asked. “We could fly some of us over them, but-”
“Hate to interrupt, but Malice will not let any other sit atop him but me,” Aversa interjected coldly, stroking her black pegasus’ neck affectionately.
“We can’t go around them,” Chrom said, staring intently at the ground as he thought. “The only pass to the summit is behind the great temple at the base.”
“We could sneak through,” Lon’qu suggested.
“With the Exalt, his queen, their tactician, one of the Feroxi Khans and a foreign war-criminal?” Aversa snickered. “I’d like front row seats when that plan goes south.”
The older woman had a point; if these refugees were Naga-adherents then seeing Chrom, said to carry Naga’s bloodline, or any members of his entourage would whip them into a frenzy that would completely undermine the reason they had attempted a speedy stealth mission in the first place. Alternatively, if they spotted Aversa they might even descend upon her and Robin intent on violence, especially if they were desperate. She had a point, but Robin didn’t have to like her tone.
“You’re not helping,” he said warningly.
“I’m not trying to,” Aversa sneered back.
“I think that sneaking might be the best course of action,” Basilio rumbled thoughtfully. “We all have cloaks; pull ‘em low over our faces and just walk right through them.”
“I’m inclined to agree,” Virion nodded.
“We should at least do some scouting first,” Robin suggested. “Get a feel for the mood, figure out the easiest path through them.”
“We don’t have the time,” Chrom sighed. “We’ll have to chance it and hope for the best.”
“The mood is terrified,” Panne said quietly. “The whole valley reeks of fear and despair.”
“Brilliant,” Robin groaned. “Well we should go tonight, once night has fallen. Split into groups, enter the camp at various points and meet back up at the temple. Any complaints?”
“I still wish to point out that I am against this course of-” Aversa started.
“Then it’s settled,” Robin declared, cutting her off with a glare when everyone else shook their heads.
“Get some rest now, while we can,” Chrom ordered. “It’s not long to nightfall, so be ready. We’ll have to leave the horses here.”
Robin stood leaning against a tree overlooking the camp in the valley below, arms crossed as he watched for movement patterns among the people and tried to pick a few possible insertion points that would attract the least attention.
He’d been doing so for nearly an hour now as the sky had gone from pale blue to burning orange while the sun set, and he had only come up with one thought.
A refugee camp was not like a military camp in the slightest.
The resident’s movements, when they actually did move around, seemed almost random and eclectic, as if the people had no destination in mind. While he watched, many just sat there, only looking up when some of the priests would walk by to beg for a blessing. Many looked starved and wounded, and it hurt to watch the mess of desperate people. It made him wonder if this was what was in store for the entire world if the Shepherds were to fail; if by failing to kill Grima, Ylisstol and Chon’sin and Chengshi would be reduced to little more than tent-cities full of the destitute and the dying. He already knew the answer to that question, and it made his heart hurt for the woman he loved to have suffered so much.
“So lost in your thoughts you did not even hear me approach? Hardly top form for the ‘world-famous tactician’, little man.”
Robin resisted the urge to jump, snap and groan all at once as he finally registered Aversa’s presence behind him.
“I knew you were there,” he lied, not looking up from the camp. “I just choose to ignore you.”
Aversa snickered as she drew up alongside him.
“You know you’ll never make it through them unnoticed,” she said in a sweet tone. “I’m sure, along with fear, Grima’s spread the knowledge that you are Plegian, not to mention its Prince, and next in line for the throne. They will eat us both alive down there, and maybe even the Ylisseans for harbouring us.”
“Nice try with the scare tactics, but you’re not getting out of this,” Robin deadpanned.
“It was worth a shot,” Aversa shrugged. “I am serious about us being dead if the horde figures out who we are, though.”
“I know,” Robin sighed. “But they won’t. Just keep your trap shut and stay close to me and we’ll get through them fine.”
Aversa sunk to a hip, crossing her arms and looking at Robin curiously as the silence between them stretched out.
“Why are you keeping me alive?” she asked suddenly. “One minute you treat me like vermin, the next like I’m one of your little mercenaries. It is beginning to annoy me. What further purpose do I serve your plans?”
“Asking outright?” Robin chuckled. “What happened to the witty word games and intelligent deductions?”
“I have grown weary of being a pawn,” Aversa ground out.
The younger man let out another sigh, lowering his head a little out of the dying sunlight as the beams began to shine with the sun’s last rays.
“Who am I?” Robin asked, still looking down.
“A pain in my perfect arse?” Aversa snorted in response.
“No, I mean who am I really?” Robin asked, rounding on her. “I have no memories; I’m an amnesiac, and here stands my adopted-sister, the woman I was raised with, and my last chance to get some answers about who I am and where I come from. Everyone else is dead except you. Nobody else can give me the answers you can.”
Aversa looked at Robin for a few moments with wide eyes and a shocked expression before her bottom lip began to quiver and she burst out laughing so hard she had to hold her sides as she doubled over.
Robin frowned, rolling his eyes and going back to watching the refugees below them until Aversa calmed herself.
“Are you serious?” she snickered, wiping tears of mirth out of her eyes. “That is truly pathetic, little man! I thought you were keeping me around to use as fodder against Grima, or at the very least you were misguidedly thinking that I yet still held some secret to defeating him, but… oh, this is truly rich!”
Robin snarled, drawing Sol from over his shoulder and spinning on Aversa so fast she didn’t realise the blade was pressed to her throat until a small drop of blood tricked down her slim neck.
“I have no memories from before I woke up in that field,” Robin told her over his sword in a harsh whisper. “I have lain awake at night, wondering who where I come from. Now I finally have a chance to find out who I am, where I was born, what my bloody mother’s name is, and you laugh in my face at that? Maybe you’re right and I should just kill you. It would definitely make my life a lot quieter.”
The final rays of sunlight reflected off the pale red blade of Robin’s sword as he and Aversa glared at one another across it until the sky turned purple with twilight and the two found each other standing in the deepening gloom.
“It is nightfall,” Aversa said finally, her voice carefully even. “Don’t we have a mission to carry out?”
Robin growled, holding Sol steady a moment longer before finally relenting and drawing back, sheathing the long sword over his shoulder and stepping around his sister.
“The others were right about you,” Robin snapped over his shoulder. “There’s nothing left inside of you but hate and evil. Let’s get this over with so I can lock you back up where we’ll never have to look at each other again.”
Simia resisted the urge to snarl at the refugees pressing around her cloaked figure, the scarf wrapped around her face as stifling as the vile humans invading her personal space.
She and Anguilla had separated almost immediately upon reaching the mountain, the mage and her charge infiltrating the camp from the north while Simia circled around to the south with her own follower.
At present the newest Deadlords were little more than the mindless masked ones, but they were beginning to show signs of growing mentally with each passing hour. The one following Simia in particular, a large man with a big two-handed sword slung over his shoulder currently wrapped up the same way that she was, seemed to bear a sharp mind and keen reflexes. However, Grima hadn’t created the same kind of black-steel weapons for him or the other newer Deadlords, choosing instead to marshal his power for the showdown he was sure was coming. The young Deadlord following Simia only had a plain steel sword.
The refugees gave the strangers little notice, still milling about and trying to get as close to the priests and clerics or the temple as they could for evening prayers. The bell was ringing in the temple, signifying the end of the day and the start of the evening prayer cycle, and the hustle intensified.
Simia let out a low growl as she shoved a few of the slower refugees out of her way, pushing through to the front of the group to where a bald priest wearing tattered old robes was standing, giving a service and leading the rest of the faithful.
In one movement, Simia tore off her hood and unsheathed her blade, beheading the stunned priest before turning around to smile at the crowd of refugees.
“In Grima’s name, death comes for you,” she announced, sending the refugees into a panicked frenzy.
In the crowd the other Deadlord drew his own blade and began to swing it in great sweeping arcs, adding to the terror and devastation with each movement. In the distance Simia made out the flashes of Anguilla’s magic and the booming explosions that accompanied each flash, like a lightning-storm at ground level. She watched as the new Deadlord with her kicked over a torch, lighting one of the nearby tents on fire almost instantly.
After all, she reasoned as the refugees began to panic and scatter; what better way to delay the Ylisseans than to deny them access to the mountain in the first place with a wall of bodies?
Simia grinned, her fangs glinting evilly in the torchlight as she set about hacking and slashing along with the new Deadlord, stopping almost immediately as a familiar scent reached her over the blood and the smoke.
“He’s here,” she whispered, excitement taking her black heart again.
Robin hadn’t even made it twenty meters into the refugee camp when he stopped cold, the first screams reaching his ears, flashes from the north snapping his head around as a familiar cold knot of anxiety settled in the pit of his stomach.
Chrom and Sumia were infiltrating in the north with Virion and Panne.
“My, my, it looks like we weren’t the only ones that had this idea,” Aversa giggled beneath her hood. “It looks like you’re one step ahead of yourself yet again.”
Lucina stared aghast to the north, obviously debating whether or not she should run and try to save her parents or to stick with their plan.
Robin allowed himself a grin.
“No, the future-me is an even bigger idiot than I thought if he really expected this to hinder us,” he explained, resting a hand on Lucina’s shoulder. “The panic will make it that much easier for us to slip through unnoticed.”
“But the refugees-” Lucina started, before Robin gently cut her off.
“Will have to survive until we perform the Awakening,” he said sadly. “There’s no other option.”
Lucina bunched up her fists for a moment before nodding.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Aversa muttered.
“Jealous, much?” Robin asked over his shoulder.
“Hardly,” Aversa deadpanned, brushing past the other two.
Robin gave Lucina’s shoulder one more encouraging squeeze before he rushed to follow Aversa, the princess right behind him.
Together they pushed through the panicking and confused refugees, occasionally having to go around large, tightly packed clusters of people flocking to the many priests shouting out passages from the Book of Naga or simply telling the refugees to remain calm.
Robin could tell that all around them in the torch-lit evening things were getting worse; more people were screaming that Naga had abandoned them or throwing blame around at the members of other nations. Fights were starting to break out among the refugees as fear and panic began to boil over, the sense of desperation around them beginning to feel choking to Robin as he led the two women through the camp.
A few times Robin had to pull Lucina back and stop her from intervening in the chaos, her face growing more and more pained each time.
Lucina surged forward again as they came onto a large thoroughfare, tents to either side blazing as their occupants brawled in the dirt between them. Robin grabbed Lucina by the arm and led her across and to the safety of the next cluster of tents, leaning close to her.
“The faster we get to the temple and perform the Awakening, the faster we can stop this madness!” Robin shouted in Lucina’s ear over the roaring around them. “There’s nothing we can do now!”
Lucina looked up at him, the frustration evident in her eyes as she nodded.
“Thank you, Robin,” she shouted. “It is… hard for me to witness this kind of scene again.”
Robin patted her on the back as he looked around for Aversa, not being able to see her anywhere. A brief flash of panic coupled with rage at the thought she would slip away like that assailed him before he noticed a cloaked figure beckoning him from across the next thoroughfare.
“Come on already!” Aversa shouted, her voice cutting through the madness around them.
Robin and Lucina crossed through the next open area, ducking low as flames licked the air above them.
“I thought you’d used that chance to escape,” Robin said breathlessly once they were relatively safe in the next group of tents.
“And go where?” Aversa snapped. “In case you didn’t notice the only way out of this mess is through it. Now shut up and get me out of here.”
Robin grinned and shook his head, taking the lead again and forcing their way through another tightly grouped knot of refugees fleeing from a burning makeshift altar-tower, at least five metres high and blazing to the tip. As he pushed out beyond them he was brought up short when he noticed the bodies lying strewn about the ground in the light from the burning tents.
“Oh crap,” he managed to curse before Lucina dragged him backwards by the scruff of his cloak, sparks dancing off Falchion as she parried a blow aimed for his neck.
Stepping out of the smoke like a creature from a nightmare was the snarling, red-eyed face of the Deadlord that had hounded him since Chon’sin.
“You again!?” Robin groaned, drawing Sol from beneath his cloak. “How many times are we going to do this?”
“Silence!” she roared, darting forward.
Robin spun, planting a foot in her stomach and forcing her back and just as he was going to begin gloating about winning so easily another shrouded form leapt through the smoke and ashes lunging with a huge two-handed sword at Robin’s neck. Lucina was there, though, parrying for him again and driving the Risen back.
“I’ll keep you safe!” she shouted, pressing her attack on the newest Risen.
“Robin, give me a weapon!” Aversa pleaded.
He cast one glance over his shoulder before pulling his dagger out and tossing it to her.
“I’m going to want that back,” he said, turning back to face a recovered Simia. “Help Lucina.”
Robin didn’t watch Aversa move to help Lucina, shrugging off the plain cloak he was wearing over his coat and beginning to circle the Risen. The Deadlord glared at him with hate oozing from her every movement, holding her sword ready in a two-handed grip. With a lusty battle-cry she surged forward again, slashing low. Robin hopped back, bringing his knee up to smash the creature in the face. She anticipated this, though, and turned her lunging strike into a roll, swinging for Robin’s legs in the process.
“You’ve gotten better!” Robin said. “I’m impressed. I didn’t think Risen could learn, but you’ve proved that hypothesis wrong.”
“We do more than just learn,” Simia quipped, darting forward again and bringing her face within inches of Robin’s own as they locked blades.
“We adapt! We change! We form an unending horde that will cover the land from one coast to the other! Just the way you created us to!”
Robin frowned, forcing Simia’s sword low enough for him to bring his forehead crashing down on her face in a brutal headbutt. The Risen went reeling, but Robin staggered back as well.
“I’ve gotta stop doing that before I start talking like Vaike,” he muttered, trying to blink the stars out of his vision, everything going fuzzy around the edges.
Simia roared again, ignoring her smashed nose leaking corrupt blackened blood as she charged back into Robin. They traded blows for a while, Robin putting the greater reach of his own sword to use fending off the more numerous blows from Simia’s lighter sword, the Risen woman snarling at him the entire time.
“Why won’t you just die!?” Simia roared as they locked blades again.
“My sentiments exactly,” Robin ground out through clenched teeth as they struggled to push the other off balance.
Robin was surprised to admit that the Deadlord had improved markedly since the last time they had faced off. In Ylisstol he had been in too much of a hurry to fight her himself, and at the Dragon’s Table he had decided she wasn’t even worth his time, but now she was like a completely different creature. Her strength and ferocity had nearly doubled, and the way that she spoke was completely unlike the rasping, halting speech she had used when they had first encountered each other in Chon’sin. She was indeed growing and adapting at an incredible and worrying rate. He realised he’d let her live far too long already and resolved to fix that mistake.
Robin stepped back, throwing Simia’s blade to the side and spinning in an attack he’d seen Say’ri use before to get behind the Risen.
“You know,” he growled as he slid his sword along her back in a spray of black vitae.
“You’re really starting to…” he went on, pausing as he spun and slashed her upper arm.
“Piss me off,” he finished, cutting her hamstring with the tip of his blade before dancing backwards.
Simia roared again, more in rage and frustration than pain as she tried to turn to face Robin, flailing on the ground crippled and bleeding. She paused when she felt the cool steel of Sol pressed up to her throat.
“This time I’m not letting you get away,” Robin whispered, drawing his sword back to his shoulder for the decapitating swing.
Robin swung his sword with all his strength, prepared for the jarring sensation of hitting bone and forcing the blade to follow through-
“Robin, look out!”
He glanced up mid-swing at Lucina’s warning cry, dropping slightly to avoid the blade flying through the air but leaning into the kick following it. All the air left his lungs as he flew backwards, skidding along the ground and coming to a stop just shy of rolling into one of the burning tents.
“We must… go…” the big Risen with the wrapped up face said, hoisting Simia over his shoulder.
“Let me go!” Simia cried instantly. “Kill the Ylisseans! Kill them!”
“Orders were… to delay and… survive, no?” the big Risen mumbled.
Robin could just hear its voice above the shouts of the refugees around them and the crackling of the fire.
It can’t be… he thought to himself as he noticed the shock of washed-out red hair sticking out of the cloak it was wearing, and the square jawline beneath the rags wrapping most of the Risen’s face.
“This one… a free… pass, yes?” the Risen rasped, pointing its blade first at Robin and then at the two women cautiously advancing on it.
Simia dropped from its grip, limping and retrieving and her sword with one final glare at Robin before they both disappeared into the flames.
Robin let out a breath as he massaged his bruised ribs, glancing up when he felt strong hands beneath his arm pulling him back to his feet. Lucina smiled at him as Aversa twirled his dagger between her fingers and walked towards them, Robin relaxing momentarily before he noticed the altar-tower above them leaning dangerously.
“Move!” he shouted, pushing Lucina down and out of the way.
With a thundering crash and a cloud of ash and embers the burning altar crumbled, the flaming logs falling between them and Aversa. Robin coughed as he and Lucina climbed back to their feet, and looking around at the inferno surrounding them he realised that they were completely cut off from the other woman.
Judging from the victorious smile on her face, Aversa had realised the same thing.
“Aversa!” Robin shouted, holding his hand out and steadying it by gripping his wrist, readying a spell. “Don’t make me kill you now after all this!”
The sorceress’ smile faltered, her eyes growing cold as she stopped twirling the dagger and frowned, looking down. With an easy underhanded toss she threw the silver blade over the fire, the weapon clattering at Robin’s feet.
Their eyes locked across the flames, and Robin’s mana flow wavered as he looked into the soft, warm eyes of his sister for the first time in more than ten years.
“Our mother’s name,” Aversa shouted over the noise around them. “It was Alexia!”
With that she turned, drawing her hood back up and walking away at a brisk pace, back in the direction they had come from.
Robin grit his teeth, his mana ebbing and flowing with his indecision until he finally dropped his hands.
“Robin?” Lucina asked curiously.
“Let her go,” he said quietly as he bent to retrieve his dagger.
Lucina nodded, looking out over the flaming altar at Aversa’s figure as it vanished in the haze.