Robin involuntarily shivered, climbing the last of the steep dirt path up to Castle Jagen. The air always seemed so cold in Jagen; it was a mountain city-fortress, after all, and it was pretty high up compared to Ylisstol or Themis. But the logic didn’t make Robin like the temperature any more; or the city itself for that matter. The shivering had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he didn’t particularly like the cold, dreary militaristic Ylissean city-state, he told himself; not at all.
“It is nice to see that Jagen will not change much in the future,” Lucina muttered suddenly from his side.
“It’s seriously still this… grey in the future?” Robin asked curiously.
Lucina actually chuckled a little as the spread-out group walked under the great stone siege-gates of the city’s outer wall, the day turning into twilight as they were met and led by dour-faced and sky-blue armoured soldiers through the torch-lit gloom.
“It gets much more crowded,” Lucina said, looking around nostalgically. “We retreated to Jagen after Themis and Ylisstol fell. It does have the thickest walls, after all. But apart from that, yes, I’m afraid the grey remains.”
“You seem to be in strangely high spirits this morning,” Robin pointed out as they stepped into the outer ring of Jagen, momentarily blinded by the weak sunlight.
Usually it was an incredible chore just to get Lucina to tell him or anyone else about her future. It was hard to get any of the children to talk about it, in fact; except for Morgan, for whom it was almost a game to see how much she could remember. But Lucina was always extremely tight-lipped on the subject. Robin could understand why they would feel that way and usually left well enough alone, but for Lucina to be freely revealing information like this…
“I am in a good mood,” she said, smiling when she looked at Robin.
The blue-haired princess stopped, pulling him to one side suddenly, ignoring the curious glances from the other Shepherds, and pointing to a knot of guards tending to the refugees that had arrived just ahead of their group. Guards wearing blue Jagen plate mingled with the rags and tattered leather armour of the refugees, handing out supplies and giving instructions on where the other refugees that had already arrived, led to Jagen by their mysterious leader, had been set up.
“Look,” Lucina said, gripping Robin’s arm and holding it close to her chest, clinging to him in a way she usually refrained from. “It is a small victory, but by my count we managed to save over half of the refugees. Even after the Risen attacked, and after the fire. They are safe.”
Robin nodded, smiling a little at Lucina’s good cheer. He opted not to mention they hadn’t really done anything to help, merely operating as the rearguard and chasing off a few straggling Risen. The look in her eyes said that she had needed this win, and Robin tended to agree with her. After the losses they had suffered in the last few weeks it was nice to see something going right again.
“I’d very much like to meet the woman that led the refugees to safety,” Robin said conversationally as they started walking again.
“As would I, if time permits,” Lucina agreed.
“I’m afraid you’d be waiting a long time,” one of the passing Jagen guards said in a bored monotone as he checked a clipboard. “She disappeared as soon as the refugees were in sight of the walls. Didn’t even come into the city.”
The guard didn’t look up as he spoke, simply continuing to walk and read without even glancing at who he was talking to.
“You don’t think…” Lucina began before Robin cut her off.
“No,” he said with an air of finality. “She’s not that kind of person.”
“You don’t know that for certain,” Lucina persisted, looking up at him. “She did tell you your mother’s name in the end.”
Robin just grunted evasively, beginning to lead Lucina after the others before they got too far ahead.
“I hate Jagen,” Robin mumbled under his breath nearly an hour later.
He and the rest of the Shepherds had been led through the outer residential ring of the city-fortress and were now being brought to the Duchess’ Keep. Funnily enough, not a lot had changed since the last time he had been there. Civilians had barely looked up as the armed procession had passed through their streets, a few muttering to each other in surprise as they recognized Chrom and Sumia but otherwise ignoring the warriors. Soldiers were still running around in the military ward, drilling with weapons or just being yelled at by their superiors as they ran laps. Blacksmiths could be heard pounding metal, the clanking hammering sound serving as an accompanying undercurrent for the rest of the incredibly militaristic city, almost like a steel heartbeat. It was easy to see why Frederick was who he was, but it never ceased to amaze Robin just how jovial and laid-back Duke Aerir had been.
That thought alone made Robin intensely curious as to what kind of person Frederick and Aerir’s cousin, the current Duchess, was like. In fact…
“Probably a bad time to ask this,” Robin leaned over and whispered to Sumia. “But what’s the Duchess’ name again?”
Chrom snorted, barely restraining his laughter as Sumia’s eyes went wide in amazement. The Queen settled for sighing and shaking her head.
“The fate of the world is in your hands…” she muttered fatalistically.
“Hey, I usually dealt with Seth,” Robin said, drawing back and crossing his arms indignantly.
“Duchess Azolla will probably meet with us before we get to leave,” Chrom said, valiantly trying not to snicker at the clueless tactician as he threw the shorter man a bone.
“Thank you,” Robin said exasperatedly, drifting back from the royal couple.
He nodded a few times, pointedly ignoring the snickering from the other Shepherds around him and some of the braver guards escorting them as he tried to commit the name to memory.
Who the hell names these poor kids? Robin thought to himself. Sheesh, Frederick got off easy, didn’t he? Unless… that’s not his real name! I must investigate this when I get time. I’ll add it to my ‘To Do’ list. Urgh. That list is getting long.
They continued on towards the keep, the massive stone edifice looming above them like a jagged grey mountain surrounded by thick walls and countless soldiers. Robin found himself stealing a glance at Lucina, suddenly understanding well why Jagen had become their final refuge against the Risen in the future. The tactician doubted that even Grima himself could tear this city-fortress down alone.
Themis was built on a wide, open field; it was a beautiful city, one of peace and artistry despite being the closest to the Plegian border. The city itself only sported walls as a formality, much of the residential space spilling out beyond the old walls; which, Robin surmised, was why it had been so easy for the Plegians to raze it during the first war. In his mind’s eye he could see the Risen simply running over the village without slowing, and it wasn’t a pleasant thought. Ylisstol was a cross between the two cities; both militaristic and beautiful, Ylisstol could probably withstand a siege for quite some time. But all it would take was one fallen gate and the Capital would be doomed. Jagen, it appeared, had been designed by knights, for knights, with the intention of being harsh enough to create even more knights.
Jagen’s cavalry had, in fact, been one of the deciding factors of the war in Valm. Where the Valmese used quantity, the Ylisseans had made up the difference in the quality of their cavalry, and the elite Knights and outriders from Jagen had run rings around the more numerous Valmese riders.
It made Robin surprisingly sad to think that this militarism was exactly what he needed to take advantage of to save the world at present, and not the calm rationalism that called Ylisstol home.
Suddenly, the group veered, heading along one of the massive keep’s outer walls and towards the stables and interrupting his thoughts in the process.
“Er… what’s going on?” Robin asked, stepping forward with Chrom and Sumia.
“The Duchess was made aware of just how short on time we are,” Chrom said over his shoulder. “How long were you zoned out for?”
“A while,” Robin admitted.
“Well, we’re heading right for Ylisstol at the head of a thousand Knights,” Chrom explained. “With another four thousand coming behind us in the next few days, not to mention the infantry and support squads. Jagen is committing everything they have to our final showdown with Grima. We just need to meet up with-”
Whatever Chrom was about to say became lost in a loud, high-pitched squeal as they neared the stables, a flash of red darting out and barrelling head-long into Sumia’s chest.
Robin’s heart jumped into his throat as he recognized the woman now hugging the laughing Ylissean Queen like they were long-lost sisters.
“How’re my favourite royal customers doing!?” Anna cried happily as she gave Sumia what appeared to be an incredibly tight one-armed hug.
“Aren’t we your only royal customers?” Chrom laughed.
“Hey, I’m standing right here,” Lissa sulked from behind Chrom, earning a fresh bout of happy laughter.
Anna laughed along with the other Shepherds as she finally released Sumia, giving Robin a chance to get a good look at the merchant while she greeted the others in much the same fashion; even Basilio, who hardly knew the woman, got an awkward hug.
She was wearing her usual red travelling clothes and her favourite yellow cape, but her right arm was tightly slung to her chest and she was clearly trying not to put too much weight on her right side as she moved around.
“What happened to you, Anna?” Lissa said into the merchant’s chest as she was gripped in another hug.
“I got shot by one of those freaky Risen arrows,” Anna shrugged nonchalantly. “You know, the kind that won’t heal? Fortunately, I’m a businesswoman first, and a soldier second, so I don’t really need this arm! I can always pay people to carry stuff, and I can count coins with my off-hand, but…”
She trailed off when she came to stand in front of Robin, looking up at the man. The tactician wore a stricken, guilt-laden look on his face as Anna blinked up at him with a neutral expression.
“I’m sorry, Robin,” she said finally, looking down. “I don’t want to say this, but I don’t have a choice. That… madman cursed me or something, and…”
“What?” Robin croaked around the lump in his throat.
Anna looked back up at him, her eyes glazing over as her face went slack.
“I broke your promise,” she whispered to him, her voice magically superimposed with Validar’s.
Chrom huffed, loading the last box onto the back of Anna’s new wagon. Basilio was already sitting in the driver’s seat next to her, patiently waiting for the call to travel again as he explained the finer points of fighting one-handed to the merchant. Tiki would ride in the back with Robin and Lucina, while the rest of them would ride fresh horses provided by the Duchess herself. All except for Sumia, who assured them all that her mount, Palla, would be able to handle the stress of all the travel she had endured lately.
“Is he… alright?” Anna asked quietly, suddenly at Chrom’s side.
The Exalt started, recalling why Robin constantly gave the sneaky woman the stealth missions. She was looking out to the entrance to the stables, where Robin’s shoulder could just be seen leaning back against the wall.
“It’s not like I wanted to say that…” Anna went on. “I didn’t have a choice. I was getting a headache just going through greeting the rest of you.”
Chrom nodded as the merchant trailed off. She had been obviously cursed, but now that she’d delivered her message it appeared she was fine. Lissa had given her the once-over, and she’d been cleared, so Chrom knew everything was okay. Or would be okay, at the very least…
“He’s bottling everything up again,” Chrom sighed, closing the tail of the wagon and locking it into place. “This was bound to happen. He takes every failure personally. It’s what makes him such a good tactician, but…”
“It makes him moody, too?” Anna asked cheekily.
“Yeah,” Chrom agreed with a chuckle. “That too. Just give him time, he’ll snap out of it.”
Anna shook her head quickly, her ponytail whipping back and forth.
“No way, this is like a business deal,” she said brightly. “Gotta strike while the iron’s hot and the thoughts are fresh! I’ll sort this out in a sec!”
“Just… be gentle,” Chrom suggested as Anna skipped over to where Robin was brooding.
“This is either going to go perfectly, or end very badly,” the blue-haired man muttered.
In the meantime, he would respect his best friend’s privacy and content himself with ensuring that Sumia’s saddle bags were properly stocked.
Robin glanced up as he heard light footfalls approaching, moments before he caught a whiff of Anna’s favourite perfume on the wind. He took a deep breath of the chilly mountain air, preparing himself for the conversation he was no doubt about to have.
“Hey Robin,” she said hesitantly. “Are you… mad at me?”
The tactician raised one brow, glancing over at the redhead.
“Of course not,” he sighed. “I’m ecstatic you’re still alive, Anna. It’s just… well…”
“Well…?” the merchant prodded when Robin trailed off.
“I kinda regret killing Validar earlier now,” he admitted with a smirk. “It’s amazing that even from beyond the grave he still manages to get under my skin like this.”
“Well, I’m mad at him too,” Anna huffed, moving to lean on the wall next to Robin. “I usually charge a premium for people who use me as a courier. Just the thought of performing a service for free makes my blood boil…”
They stood in silence for a few moments, Robin continuing to stare into space at the mountainside in the distance while Anna fidgeted restlessly.
“Can I ask you something?” she asked finally.
“Go ahead,” Robin answered listlessly.
“What did he mean ‘your promise’?”
Robin let out another sigh, hanging his head. He should have known someone would ask about this…
“Back in Valm, after Gregor died I made a promise to Lucina that no one else would die before we beat Grima. I was just trying to cheer her up at the time, but… I wound up taking it really seriously. I think she kinda forgot about it, but… it’s been at the back of my mind all this time.”
“That’s a pretty big promise you made,” Anna said hesitantly.
“Yeah,” Robin chuckled sadly. “Yeah it really was.”
“I don’t blame you for what happened,” Anna said after a moment of thought.
“Recent events will still be reflected in your bill,” she added with a wink. “I do expect hazard pay, after all. But that’s business. Personally, I don’t blame you at all. And I know Donny didn’t either. There was nothing anyone could have done. I’m just glad that Morgan’s okay.”
Robin looked up, his eyes meeting Anna’s.
“I was serious before, Anna,” Robin said, smiling a little. “I’m really glad you’re still alive. And thank you.”
Anna nodded, bouncing off the wall and giving Robin the quick, one-armed hug he’d missed out on earlier.
“It’s good to see you again, too,” Anna said as she drew back, smiling up at him.
“I… I didn’t ask Morgan how it happened,” Robin said hesitantly. “Can you…”
“Are you sure?” Anna asked, worry evident in her voice.
Robin nodded, looking down again.
“I need to know.”
Anna sighed, resting her hand on her hip.
“Fine, I’ll tell you,” she said, resting her index finger on her chin and winking as Robin looked up again. “Free of charge.”
Robin sighed with relief as their wagon passed under the archway of the Eastern Ylissean Gate, feeling a sense of lightness he always assumed was akin to the feeling of coming home. They had travelled for four days at the head of a column of Knights, making full use of the main roads and camping at night without fear of attack. Fortunately nothing came to hamper their progress, and they had arrived home earlier than they had intended to.
I hope Morgan and Frederick didn’t go too overboard reorganising things while we were gone, Robin thought idly as he glanced up at the pale blue sky, the wagon trundling along beneath him.
Well, she is the Grandmaster now, he reminded himself. I guess she can make whatever changes she wants.
“Ah, they grow up so fast,” he sighed, letting his hair hang over the edge of the wagon.
“What was that?” Lucina asked, shifting to sit closer to him.
Robin glanced over to her as her shoulder pressed up against his, his world still upside down as his head hung back.
Chrom had told her about the discussion he had had with the tactician in the refugee camp. That was the only reason he could think of for her overt displays of affection in the last few days; not that she wasn’t usually affectionate, but it usually happened in private. She was a princess after all, and there was a certain level of decorum she had to maintain; but while they had been travelling first to Jagen and now to Ylisstol she had been… for lack of a better word, ‘clingy’.
Not that Robin minded; if he were totally honest he loved the extra attention. It was just that she was acting uncharacteristic, and he was worried she was forcing herself.
“I’m just thinking about Morgan,” Robin admitted, going back to staring at the sky. “She’s the Grandmaster of the entire Ylissean army. Not like she didn’t earn it, but… she’s just all grown up now. It makes me feel old. Even though I know, academically speaking, she’s technically only a few years younger than me in this timeline. I think the stress is turning my hair white.”
“Yes, I’m sure that’s what’s turned your hair white,” Lucina agreed with a chuckle as she reached up to idly twirl a few of the white strands hanging down his neck.
The Princess released the hairs and rested her head against the top of Robin’s shoulder for a time, the couple simply sitting in silence as the wagon trundled through the outer residential area of Ylisstol. Some of the other mounted Shepherds began to peel off from the formation, using their knowledge of the area to take shortcuts and end their journey quicker.
Lissa offered Robin a light smile and a wave as Lon’qu led their horse down one of the back streets, one which Robin knew would take them almost directly to the palace. Overhead the tactician spotted Sumia heading for the Palace’s Pegasus Roost, where her mount would get some well-earned rest and grooming from the squires intent on impressing the veteran Knights.
“So what are you going to do for the next few days?” Robin asked, shifting to sit up after he decided enough blood had pooled at the back of his head.
“I… I don’t know,” Lucina answered honestly, glancing up at him questioningly.
“Well, you could always help me in the library,” Robin offered lightly. “I have a lot of ground to cover, and I would welcome the company-”
“Oh, I see. I’m not good enough but my daughter is?” Chrom asked, feigning hurt as he rode by the wagon. “Well you can go back to sleeping in the barracks at any time, you know!”
“Oh lighten up,” Robin called after him with a grin. “She just so happened to have inherited her mother’s intelligence! I can make use of that! If I need a wall broken down I’ll call you, okay?!”
Lucina and Tiki both laughed at the two men’s behaviour, reminding Robin that he wasn’t alone in the back of the wagon with the princess.
“I’ll help, too,” Tiki offered brightly. “I’ll try meditating and see if I can get any answers out of Naga.”
“That would be great,” Robin said, relief evident in his voice.
If anyone could give him even the slightest idea of where to start, it would be the Divine Dragon herself.
“So what are we researching?” Lucina asked, sitting up again.
“At this point in time, everything,” he answered.
He could already feel the pre-emptive exhaustion of constant research setting in. This was not going to be a fun week by any means.
“But first I’m taking a bath,” he added, letting his head go back to hanging over the edge of the wagon.
Robin growled irritably as he walked through the halls of the palace to the Royal Library, his hands up behind his head fumbling with his long hair as he moved. He was currently failing miserably at tying the long white hair out of his face; he was being beaten by his own hair, and he loathed it.
How women constantly make this crap look so easy… Robin thought bitterly, picturing Lucina and Morgan both tying their hair back in a manner of seconds before giving up and stuffing the length of cord he’d been trying to use back into his pocket.
“I need a haircut,” he reminded himself, settling for brushing the hair back from his face again. “Research, save the world, then haircut…”
Fortunately it appeared that, in their little more than a week-long absence, not a lot had changed at Ylisstol. Morgan was no doubt busy with running the nation with Say’ri and Flavia, so Robin had opted to leave bothering her until dinner time, and everyone else was helping out with preparing the army to march on Grima as soon as they were ready.
By all reports, it would take a little under a week for all of Ylisse’s forces to be prepared to march. Chrom wasn’t holding anything back. He was throwing absolutely everything into this last ditch attempt to win back their world, and apparently Mustafa and Flavia were doing the same. It would have been nice to have the Valmese armies, too, but it would take far too long to muster what was left of them after the war anyway.
In a little less than a week they would march to the Plegian coast with what they had, board ships and sail for Mount Origin, where scouts had confirmed Grima was currently resting to gather his strength.
Which meant Robin had a little less than a week to figure out how to kill the Dark Dragon without dying in the process.
“Talk about pressure,” Robin grumbled, pushing open the great double doors to the library and stopping dead in his tracks.
He couldn’t believe his eyes.
“What… what are you all doing here?” he asked hesitantly.
Standing arrayed around the library and obviously waiting for Robin to show up was nine of the Shepherds, all of whom looked up and gathered around as he stepped into the cavernous space.
“We are here to offer assistance,” Miriel said, pushing her glasses further up her nose.
“Indeed,” Laurent agreed, emulating his mother’s actions.
“Sounded like you had a lot of work to do,” Ricken said brightly. “I missed out on going to Plegia, so I wanted to help out any way I could!”
“M-me too!” Olivia offered quietly, before apparently steeling herself and ploughing on. “I mean, I can’t really research with you all, but… but I can take care of you while you do!”
“I will actually be in the cathedral’s library, leading the priests in our own search,” Libra said, stepping forward and placing a hand on Robin’s shoulder. “But know that we will be looking for anything that can help you overcome this final hurdle.”
“Mom taught me how to take proper notes for her so… I… I’ll help, too!” Noire offered before glancing over her shoulder. “We all will.”
Robin watched Tharja glance up from the table in the back at her daughter’s voice, offering the tactician a quick quirking of the corners of her mouth, the Dark Mage’s equivalent of a smile, before going back to whatever ancient tome she was already engrossed in. Sitting across from her, nose already stuck in another thick book was…
“Henry?” Robin asked. “Are you… sure you should be up?”
“Sure I’m sure!” the Dark Mage laughed, reaching up to stroke the big raven sitting perched on his shoulder. “I’m the expert on curses and hexes, after all! Besides, I was getting sick of hospital food. Too many vegetables. I don’t feel right unless something had to die to feed me.”
Robin snickered a little at the mage’s off humour, looking up as Lucina stepped forward.
“When I explained to the others the situation you were in I couldn’t keep them away,” the Princess said sheepishly. “There are more coming to join us later, too.”
Robin didn’t say anything, momentarily overcome with emotion as he nodded. Nodding was all he could do right now. He didn’t deserve friends and comrades like this.
“Where do you want us to start?” Lucina asked helpfully.
Robin grinned without meaning to, looking over the assembled Shepherds waiting for his orders.
“We only have a few days to work out the best way to kill Grima, so we can’t waste any time. Libra, get down to the cathedral and get started,” he said, turning first to the blonde man. “We’re looking for any old stories or scriptures about how the first Exalt sealed Grima away before. Start from there.”
Libra nodded once, striding purposefully from the room.
“Miriel, Laurent, I need binding spells. Big ones. See what you can come up with,” Robin said, turning to the two skinny mages.
“Consider the task complete,” Miriel answered, leading her time-travelling son off into the rows of books.
“Noire, you and Ricken find me any historical records that might be useful,” Robin said, turning to the others. “I want ancient army rosters, I want old military reports, I want anything that could be even remotely helpful in preparing for this.”
“On it!” the diminutive mage said, racing off in the opposite direction as Miriel and Laurent, Noire hot on his heels.
“Tharja, you and Henry handle the dark magic side of things,” Robin called unnecessarily as he approached Lucina and Olivia.
Neither of the Dark Mages looked up at his orders, simply continuing their research.
“Olivia, jump between the pairs and help out however you can,” Robin said to the timid pink-haired dancer. “Even if you can’t do much, every little bit helps.”
“You can count on me,” Olivia replied with a serious nod.
Lucina stepped forward as Olivia raced off in the direction Miriel and Laurent had disappeared in.
“What of us?” the future-Princess asked.
“My second favourite thing in the world behind you,” Robin said with a grin, rubbing his hands together.
“Dad! Dad are you in here!?”
Robin’s head snapped up, the familiar voice of his daughter shattering his concentration. Lucina smiled across from him as he shambled to his feet before she went back to skimming the old tactical compendium that he had suggested she start with. They had been leaning with their backs to the shelves down one of the aisles facing each other, having given up on bringing individual books back to the tables a few hours ago now. The sun had set over the Ylissean capital, but still the Shepherds pressed on relentlessly in their pursuit of knowledge.
“Over here!” Robin called out as he made to head back out of the stacks he and Lucina were camped between, stumbling a little on a pile of books he’d discarded earlier in the process.
He was intercepted half-way to the end of the row, having just regained his balance, by a black and silver blur as Morgan barrelled into him, unfortunately still wearing her armour.
“Gah! Why are you even wearing your armour in the palace!?” Robin shouted as he was wrapped in a tight hug by his daughter.
“Frederick said I had to look the part of the Grandmaster, and Mom agreed with him,” Morgan explained, stepping back and bouncing a little on her feet.
“What do you think?” she asked, grinning ear to ear and doing a little spin for him.
Robin rubbed absently at his bruised chest, giving his daughter’s new suit of armour the once-over. His old silver breastplate was still the centrepiece of the suit, now polished to a sparkling sheen to match the rest of the plates sticking out from under her cleaned and mended coat. Looking at it the plate looked brand new; he couldn’t even see marks where he’d been wounded before, the metal reforged and no-doubt stronger than ever. The new plates over her stomach, arms and thighs had a distinct Chon’sin feel to their design, no doubt a purposely-included nod to her mother’s homeland. All of which was over a new military tunic and matching pants, completing the look.
The tactician felt a tear rise unbidden to his eye as he glanced away.
“I can’t believe my baby’s all grown up,” Robin sniffled, doing his best to choke back his emotions.
“Aw, don’t start Dad,” Morgan laughed, giving him a much gentler hug this time.
“You look every bit like a Grandmaster,” Robin said. “And the realm didn’t burn down while I left you in charge. I’m so proud of you.”
Robin glanced up as someone cleared their voice, noticing for the first time the eyes watching the tender father-daughter moment he was having.
“Sorry to interrupt,” Virion said lazily. “But we’re awaiting our instructions.”
“No, no!” Anna whispered quickly, trying to shush the archer. “This is soooo cute I could charge people to watch!”
“Yeah,” Morgan said smugly. “I brought reinforcements.”
Robin let out a laugh as he released his daughter, stepping to meet the rest of the Shepherds.
“Now I know you said you didn’t want my help, but technically I own this library, so you’re stuck with me,” Chrom said with a grin from next to Sumia, who smiled happily as she clung to the child in her arms.
“We’re all here to help,” the Queen said. “Even little Lucina here.”
Robin sighed and nodded, smiling as he turned to the rest of the group.
Virion was standing with his signature grin on his face and his arms crossed next to Tiki, who was bouncing up and down like an excited child. Anna stood next to Say’ri, who rolled her eyes at the manakete’s behaviour from Virion’s other side, and Cordelia and Frederick…
“Frederick? Cordelia? What are you doing here?” Robin asked in confusion.
The Knight Commander snorted as Cordelia let out a small giggle.
“Knights are required to be well-versed in the academic arts, too,” Frederick deadpanned.
“It’s part of our training,” Cordelia added. “Severa’s coming later. I think she was helping Olivia with dinner.”
“I’m speechless,” Robin said, choking up again. “I can’t believe you would all come to help me like this.”
“Well, helping you is akin to helping the realm at present,” Frederick muttered, crossing his arms.
“He’s just too proud to admit he wants to help,” Cordelia laughed, leaning on Frederick’s shoulder. “I had to actually restrain him from charging over here as soon as we heard what you were all doing.”
“That’s not… entirely true,” the big knight muttered, looking away from the group as they started to laugh at his discomfort.
“Alright then,” Robin said, feeling his spirits renewed. “Let’s get back to work.”
The library was really becoming crowded now. But, Robin thought with a grin as the newcomers started to drift into the stacks of books, it made him happy. Perhaps they would be able to find a way to kill Grima after all.
His spirits lifted and his energy returned the tactician spun on his heel, Morgan and Chrom following after him as they returned to where Lucina was still going through her book on the floor.
“Why did I even pay for those big tables if no one’s going to use them?” Chrom asked, shaking his head at the piles of books surrounding the Shepherds on the ground.
“Mom, what’s going on?” Robin asked sleepily as he was dragged along.
He blinked a few times, attempting to clear his tired mind as his mother led him through the abandoned hallways of the Outer Sanctum. He looked up at her, brow furrowing in confusion when he realised something was wrong.
“Mom?” he asked again, hissing a little when he turned his head too far and used one of the muscles still sore from his latest training session.
As always, his father had been brutal. Robin had failed numerous times to cast a proper divining spell and wasted a lot of the blood that had been ritually sanctified for the spell, so of course he’d deserved to be reprimanded, but-
“We’re going on a trip, honey,” she answered finally, her voice a barely audible whisper. “Just you, me and your sister. We’re going to go and get her now, so try to be as quiet as possible while we do.”
“We don’t want to wake your father,” she added in a colder tone.
Robin blinked again, following along silently as he was told. He realised absently that the hallways were devoid of the usual acolytes making their patrols. Robin realised with a sort of detachment that he must have been dreaming again; this was another one of Grima’s memories he was tapping into, but that did little to ease the anxiety building in his chest as his mother pulled him along.
They arrived at Aversa’s room before long, Robin standing quietly outside as he waited for his mother to rouse his sister. Something across the hall, hidden by one of the large curtains that hung from the high ceiling to the floor, caught his eye. Something was making a weird budge at the bottom of the curtains.
Objectively, Robin knew exactly what that something was; however, this was a memory, or a dream, or whatever, so he was simply along for the ride. All he could do right now was watch.
He couldn’t stop the terrified younger version of himself from stepping forward in the dark, completely missing the spreading pool of blood he was walking through. He couldn’t stop the trembling hands from reaching out to the curtain and slowly pulling it back.
And he couldn’t stop the scream that escaped from the younger version of his mouth, as hard as he tried otherwise.
Lying on the ground, illuminated by the harsh moonlight behind the curtain, were the bodies of the acolytes that would normally have been patrolling the Sanctum.
The young would-be tactician spun as his mother came charging out of Aversa’s room, sword in hand and a fierce look on her face.
“Robin, what…” she started, trailing off when she saw what had scared him.
“Mom, what’s going on?” he asked with wide, terrified eyes.
“Yes, Alexia, do enlighten us,” a third voice purred from the shadows. “What is going on?”
Robin suddenly found himself behind his mother as she backed them away, her sword up at the shadows they had just come from.
“Stay back, you madman,” his mother snarled, one hand shielding Robin and pushing him back at the same time.
“Why, dear, you wound me,” Validar said, his tone dripping sarcasm as he stepped into the moonlight. “To point a weapon at your husband with such a look on your beautiful face…”
“I would prefer not to kill you in front of our son,” Alexia growled. “But I’ve seen what you have in store for him, and I won’t let you!”
“So you would take your son and my daughter and flee into the night?” Validar laughed. “You cannot hide from me forever, woman! And you cannot stop destiny! I will find you both eventually, and when I do I will show you both the true meaning of suffering!”
Robin winced at his father’s harsh tone, reminding himself it was only a dream.
“Validar, I loved you,” Alexia said in a small voice, her sword wavering for a moment. “How could you lie to me for so long? So many years…”
“Easily,” the sorcerer said with a harsh laugh as magical purple fire began to gather in his palm.
Robin screamed as his mother spun and lifted him up, throwing them both out of the path of Validar’s spell. The curtain behind them caught alight almost instantly, the smell of burning flesh from the dead acolytes beneath it searing itself into Robin’s memory forever for a second time.
Alexia fought back as hard as she could, casting elemental spells one-handed to intercept the dark magic being thrown at her and Robin, but Validar’s power was clearly the greater force.
“You would even have the gall to take my daughter!?” the sorcerer screamed, throwing spell after spell at them in a manic rage. “You have crossed the line, Alexia! You will not take her, nor the boy, nor anything else! I will see them fulfil their destiny, or I will die trying!”
“Then die quietly!” Alexia shouted back as she threw Robin into the open doorway to Aversa’s room.
The older woman spun, the familiar black coat on her back fluttering as she dispelled Validar’s latest spell by slashing through it with her sword. She sent one final blast of green wind magic in Validar’s direction before backing into the room, slamming the door shut behind her and grabbing a nearby candle-stand to bar the door with.
“That won’t hold him for long,” Alexia said breathlessly as she crossed to the other wall.
Robin watched, awestruck as his mother began smashing the glass out of the small window with her elbow, looking over to him with a strained smile.
“It’ll be okay, honey; I won’t let him hurt us anymore,” she promised. “We’re not his pawns. We’ll live free, I promise.”
Just as Robin began to climb to his feet the door shattered inwards, more purple flames licking around the edges of the splintered wood as Validar stepped across the threshold.
“Knock. Knock,” Validar said, his wide and predatory smile beginning to show the edges of madness that would take him later in life.
“Robin, get through the window and run,” Alexia said desperately, interposing herself between Validar and the boy. “Get away now!”
Validar just grinned wider, his face turning grey and his eyes starting to glow as he summoned another spell. Without thinking Robin threw up his hands and screamed, a blast of unrefined dark energy blowing the sorcerer back out the doorway into the hall. The astonished look on Validar’s face as his spell was over-powered and his defences were crushed would have, at any other time, been utterly priceless. However at present Robin had to get his mother away from here, dream or no dream. Just seeing Validar again made him want to do the opposite of what the sorcerer wanted.
“Well, are we going to leave or… not…?” Robin asked, standing and realising he had control of himself again.
Looking down at his hands he saw that he’d returned to his adult form, complete with the irritatingly long white hair that kept getting in his eyes.
“Mom?” he asked, looking over at the woman still standing guard.
“You saw this for a reason,” Alexia said without turning.
“You can… talk to me?” Robin asked tentatively.
“Remember this night,” she went on. “Remember what you learned. Dark magic is powerful, but theirs cannot defend against itself. Remember that when you face Grima.”
Robin woke with a start, instantly regretting the jerking movement as the stiff muscles in his neck protested their recent poor treatment.
They had been researching for nearly three days now, just waiting for the final word from Raimi and the troops from Regna Ferox that they were gathered at the Longfort and ready to depart. Robin hadn’t left the library since he had returned to Ylisse, pouring over every scrap of information that the Shepherds had turned up, but so far little had come of their efforts.
“Another dream?” he groaned, running a hand through his hair.
He hadn’t had one in a while. Well, not a useful one, anyway… there were always plenty of nightmares about being eaten by giant evil dragons, but he hadn’t seen a memory for a while. This one almost seemed more like a vision, though… what his mother had said at the end clearly hadn’t been part of that memory, but…
“Eureka,” the tactician muttered, jumping to his feet.
“Thanks, mom,” he added softly as he readjusted his coat and stepped over the pile of books he had been resting on.
He raced up to the upper level of the Library, careful not to wake any of the Shepherds that had crashed out like him after reading and making notes all day. Robin flicked through the first few books he came across in the ‘Historical Spell-Casting’ section, full of obsolete spells that had fallen out of use and were simply catalogued for study now. Grinning as he found what he was looking for the tactician raced back downstairs.
For the first time in three days, Robin left the Royal Library on shaky, underused legs.
“What? What is it? Did you figure something out? What’s going on?” Morgan asked blearily as she burst into Robin’s room, wearing only her coat over her pyjamas.
Noire, the messenger Robin had sent, followed quietly in her own pyjamas, a black ankle-length nightgown. To the tactician’s surprise a shirtless, obviously-freshly-risen judging from the matting of his fur, Yarne followed the two women, running a hand through his messy hair as he yawned.
“Relax,” Robin said calmly. “Sit. We need to talk.”
“Er… oh,” Yarne said, suddenly snapping to wakefulness. “Should I be… not… here?”
“I really don’t care,” Robin said dismissively. “Pull up some floor and get comfy if you’re gonna watch. Just don’t interrupt.”
The half-Taguel nodded, sinking to the floor next to Morgan as she perched on Robin’s only chair. Noire timidly sat on the edge of the tactician’s bed, seemingly folding in on herself in the tense atmosphere as they waited for the final member of their meeting group.
They didn’t have to wait long as only a few moments later Tharja came striding into the room with a slight frown on her face. Unlike the three time-travellers, she was still fully clothed; Robin had actually had to drag her from the Library where she was still working, too, in the end.
“Okay, we’re all here now,” Robin began, remaining standing and leaning back against the wall as Tharja took her place next to Noire.
“What was so important we couldn’t discuss this in front of the others?” Tharja asked, a note of irritation in her voice.
Robin held up a hand, indicating she wait a moment as he turned to Morgan.
“Morgan,” he said seriously, his tone making the girl sit up straighter in her chair.
“Y-yessir!” she said quickly.
“I’ll start by saying that I’m repealing my ban on Dark Magic,” Robin said heavily.
Morgan blinked a few times, nodding slowly as the information sunk in.
“Now,” Robin said, turning back to the two women sitting on his bed. “I asked you all here, with the exception of Yarne of course, because I didn’t want to give the others any false hope… This may come as little shock to you, but I had another vision, and it gave me… ideas.”
Tharja remained silent, eyes narrowing at the use of one of her favourite phrases in jest, as Noire nodded, leaning forward a little with her own eyes wide in anticipation.
“I did a little investigating to test my hypothesis, and it turns out I may very well be right,” Robin went on. “The best way for us to beat Grima and his minions is to use Dark Magic.”
Robin paused to let that sink in. Tharja broke the mood with a sigh, massaging her forehead with the tips of her fingers.
“Have you not been getting enough sleep again? Are you seriously forgetting that they are literally creatures made out of Dark Magic?” she asked irritatedly.
“But that’s the point!” Robin said, leaning forward excitedly. “I did some looking into it, and the trend of defending against Dark Magic only came into use in the last couple of hundred years, before the Dark Magic fraternity split up. Older spells didn’t have the same wards to block interference from more Dark Magic! And who would be using the oldest Dark Magic imaginable?”
“Holy crap…” Morgan breathed, her eyes lighting up. “That’s… that’s…”
“A good thing, right?” Yarne asked from the floor.
“He may have just figured out how to beat Grima,” Noire said breathlessly.
“So… yes?” the half-Taguel hazarded.
“That still doesn’t solve the problem of you dying if you deliver the finishing blow,” Tharja pointed out icily.
“No, but it gets us one big step closer,” Robin said excitedly.
Tharja held his gaze for a moment before her usual glare cracked and she sighed, giving in to Robin’s infectious excitement.
“So why call this meeting then?” she asked, her tone softening slightly.
“Because in this room are possibly the last Dark Mages in the world,” Robin said, sobering.
“Except for Yarne,” Robin added lightly. “Who really should have thought clearer about the implications of showing up with my daughter in the middle of the night half-naked.”
The boy in question paled, scooting a little further away from Robin on the floor.
“I’m a Taguel,” he argued weakly. “This is my natural state…”
“So we’re the vanguard, then,” Tharja stated, ignoring Yarne’s cowering.
Robin nodded slowly.
“It’s a volunteer position,” he added. “Same as always. I can’t force you to do this, but… If you throw in with me now, we’ll be the ones that face Grima with Chrom and Lucina.”
Silence settled over the room as the reason Robin had called the meeting became apparent.
Everyone among the Shepherds wanted to be part of the team that assaulted Grima, the time-travellers especially; there was no hiding that fact. No one wanted to be left behind. But for the last three days Chrom had been deflecting the others as they tried to bribe Robin into putting them on the assault team. However, at the same time Robin knew that everyone was secretly hoping they wouldn’t be on the assault team; just knowing that he and his closest friends and family would be part of the most dangerous mission he’d ever planned to undertake made it difficult for the tactician to breathe at times.
“I’m in,” Yarne said suddenly. “I may not be a mage, but you’ll at least need a… a meat shield, right?”
Tharja let out a cackling laugh, startling them all.
“You just earned a lot more of my respect, boy,” she said, grinning evilly before turning back to Robin. “I think it’s safe to assume we are all with you.”
“Good,” he nodded. “Then until we march on Origin Peak, I need you to be the one that gets Morgan and Noire up to combat-ready status with Dark Magic.”
“Wait, w-what?” Noire asked suddenly as Tharja’s face broke into an even more evil grin than before, much to Robin’s impressed surprise.
Robin groaned, literally pulling himself out from under a pile of books that had fallen on him the previous evening. He’d been so exhausted that, rather than dig himself out at the time, he’d chosen to sleep there instead.
“I’m getting too old for all-nighters,” he muttered, drawing himself up and stretching his back.
There was a loud pop and Robin let out another groan as his spine realigned itself.
“That sounded painful,” Lucina murmured from where she had been leaning against the opposite side of the book pile that had been Robin’s nest.
That’s why those damn books were so heavy, Robin realised as Lucina yawned and stretched.
Once the princess was done yawning she began gathering up the notes she had made the previous evening before standing and blinking at Robin.
“Your hair looks atrocious,” she laughed.
Robin frowned, doing his best to comb his fingers through his tangled white locks and failing miserably when they got caught and stuck, resulting in a painful tug of war with his scalp.
“Why do you not just brush it?” Lucina asked, moving to rescue Robin from himself and gently untangling his hand.
“Ask Tiki,” the tactician grumbled darkly.
Lucina just laughed and shook her head as she attempted to rake her own fingers through Robin’s hair. He snuck a look at her as she did so, noticing just how pale and drawn her face was after spending so many sleepless nights on the Library floor with him. Her eyes had deep bags, too, and although she had taken to wearing the lighter plain clothes she had inherited from Severa in Valm, she still looked exhausted. They had both looked far worse, but they were supposed to be preparing for the final showdown with Grima.
“I think enough is enough,” Robin sighed, stalling Lucina mid-pull as she struggled with one of the larger knots attached to Robin’s head.
“What do you mean?” she asked levelly.
“We’re exhausting ourselves and finding nothing,” Robin explained, reaching up and taking Lucina’s hands out of his hair.
“It won’t do anyone any good if the core of our force is too exhausted from a week of non-stop study to lift their weapons,” he went on, holding her hands in his. “We’ve hit a wall, and I think we’ve gotten all the information we’re going to.”
Lucina went silent, looking down at their hands.
“Besides,” Robin went on. “I heard from Morgan last night. Everything’s ready; we’re marching for the Plegian coast tomorrow morning.”
Robin winced as Lucina’s grip suddenly tightened, inadvertently crushing his fingers.
“I won’t lose you,” she said, still looking down.
“Ow! You won’t! Just let go before you break my hands!” Robin pleaded.
“But we haven’t found a way for you to defeat Grima yet,” Lucina said, her grip lessening slightly.
“Yeah, and if we don’t figure something out I’ll let Chrom take the job,” Robin said, a grin appearing on his face.
“What?” Lucina asked, her gaze rising to meet Robin’s.
“I figure spending the rest of my life figuring out how to make sure he doesn’t come back isn’t so bad,” Robin shrugged. “It probably won’t even take very long if we don’t actually figure it out beforehand. I’m practically there as it is now.”
“R-really?” Lucina asked hopefully.
“Yeah,” Robin scoffed. “It’s not like we’re in a hurry once we beat Grima. What, you thought I wasn’t retaining what we’ve been learning just because I haven’t been sleeping? Please, Princess; my brain is like a sponge. Laurent and Miriel are close to a breakthrough with a binding spell I can use to seal his power, and Henry’s almost got a spell that will siphon Grima’s life force wherever I want it to go; so into the air, in other words. You don’t need to be so worried.”
“No… it’s just…” Lucina trailed off.
“Hey,” Robin said softly, closing the distance between them.
The tactician took both of her hands in one of his, his other hand reaching up to cup Lucina’s face and raise it up again.
“I already broke my promise to you once,” Robin said, his voice barely more than a murmur as they drifted closer together. “I’m not about to die after coming this far. We’ll beat him without losing anyone else. Myself included this time.”
Lucina nodded, moving into Robin’s arms and leaning against him, her forehead resting against his for a moment before moving down to his shoulder.
“Were anyone else to say that to me I would call them mad,” she whispered. “But I believe it when you say it.”
Robin didn’t say anything to that, simply holding Lucina and frowning over her head.
Later that evening Robin let out a growl, scratching his hair in irritation as he leaned over the papers that Tharja had given him a few days earlier.
He was back in his own room again, away from the hustle and near-panic of the Shepherds that had refused to take his advice and give up on the research in the Library, Chrom chief amongst them no less.
“We can still find something,” the Exalt had insisted. “There are still books we haven’t gone through yet; still spells we haven’t looked at yet. I’m not giving up.”
Robin had shaken his head and smiled at his friend’s good natured stubbornness, instructing him to bring any further findings to his room as he left with the stack of papers they had already put together, which were now spread all over his desk.
Unfortunately Tiki had been unable to rouse Naga’s spirit, the Divine Dragon offering no further advice for the Shepherds, but the manakete woman had proved invaluable in helping with the spell experiments and even with the care of those researching alongside Olivia and Severa.
From Miriel and Laurent, with Morgan and Virion’s help, were at least twenty pages of theory and instructions on some of the most simplistically-brutal binding spells Robin had ever laid eyes on. Under testing circumstances a very eager to help Tiki had been restrained utterly by the spells, even in her transformed state. She assured them that she had held nothing back trying to break the spells, but to no avail. How well they would work on Grima or the Deadlords remained to be seen, but Robin had confidence they weren’t going in unprepared.
From Noire and Ricken, with a lot of input from Cordelia, Frederick and Virion, were the most complete historical records of the first Exalt’s fight against Grima that had ever been assembled. Ancient troop rosters, squad positions and even guard rotations were at Robin’s fingertips, giving him the perfect picture of what it had taken to defeat Grima the first time. Chrom’s force, including the forces from Regna Ferox and the Plegian survivors, outnumbered that army at least ten to one.
From Libra’s team of priests and clerics, which had actually included Brady and Maribelle among their number, were sermons and stories of the first Exalt’s titanic struggle with Grima. Unsettlingly, the stories all seemed to hint that Grima had been much, much smaller the first time, but through them had learned of two physical weaknesses he could exploit on the Dark Dragon’s body; three including his avatar’s form.
Morgan and Noire had been working almost non-stop under Tharja and Henry’s tutelage, the wounded Dark Mage being unable to help himself with the ‘coaching’. Noire was a natural, that much was obvious, and Morgan’s skills with Anima magic went a long way to her mastery of Dark magic. It was astounding to leave them alone for a few hours and then come back to see them casting spells that would usually take years to master.
Robin and Lucina, with Chrom, Sumia and Say’ri, had all accumulated the sum of the entirety of Robin’s basic tactical knowledge in three small days. He had no doubt that the four other Shepherds now held the same level of knowledge in the field of tactics that he had when Chrom and Lissa had first found him in the field so long ago. But that refresher course had made him re-evaluate his plans for storming Origin Peak, and he was confident now that they could reach the mountaintop with minimal casualties.
This was as ready as they were going to get. This was as ready as he was going to get.
Robin looked over the papers scattered around his desk one final time, a vein in his forehead beginning to twitch as he frowned again.
“Oh gods, we’re all going to die,” he moaned, collapsing on the tabletop and the collected research.
It wasn’t enough. Nothing would ever be enough to defeat Grima. The Shepherds had done at least a year’s worth of work in the space of a week, and still Robin felt in his gut that they wouldn’t win. They-
His fatalism was brought to an abrupt halt as a knock at the door broke his train of thought.
“Who is it?” Robin called out in a tired voice.
It was quite late now; there were only three possible people it could be and…
“It is me,” Lucina called back, the door opening slightly. “Are you free, Robin?”
The tactician answered by making a strangled, gargling groan sound without lifting his head from the tabletop.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Lucina chuckled, stepping into the room and closing the door behind her.
“It has gotten quite late,” she said softly, her bare footfalls hardly making a sound as she slowly crossed the space. “Should you not be sleeping?”
“Can’t sleep,” Robin moaned, sitting back up and reaching for the nearest papers. “Dragon’ll eat me…”
Lucina chuckled a little, coming to a stop behind Robin and resting her hands on his shoulders. She kneaded them a little through the coat before clicking her tongue and pulling the heavy garment back.
“Ah! Hey, watch the coat!” Robin protested weakly as his favourite article of clothing was pulled off of him.
Any more protests were cut off as she returned to kneading his tired muscles, Robin groaning in pleasure instead as he forced himself to relax.
“Did I ever mention how grateful I am that you learned how to do that for me?” he asked, eyes closed as he enjoyed the sensation of being pampered.
I guess this is how Minerva feels every time I scratch her scales… Robin thought absently as Lucina chuckled behind him again.
“It is really the least I could do considering the way that you have kept us all alive over the years,” the Princess responded.
Robin visibly winced at her words, practically jumping in his chair. Lucina’s hands stopped on his shoulders as she realised her faux pas, cursing herself a fool.
“Not all of us,” Robin muttered, closing his eyes again.
Lucina’s hands intrepidly resumed their gentle massage as the princess desperately looked for a way to salvage the mood.
“You know,” she said softly. “When you made me that promise, I did not think you would be able to keep it a week, let alone as long as you did.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Robin snorted.
“But you did,” Lucina went on. “For so long, the Shepherds were safe under the protection of our guardian-tactician-angel. Like in Valm, even when we were separated you fought with the resistance for our sakes, taking the pressure off the League for us.”
“Er… that’s not quite what happened…” Robin muttered.
“There is no way that you could have kept that promise forever,” Lucina went on, ignoring Robin’s admission. “That you did for so long, that you let it drag you down for so long… all for my sake… It is astounding that it did not break you. So do not feel guilty any longer. Anna does not blame you. I know Donny and Gregor would not either.”
Robin sighed, his shoulders drooping a little beneath Lucina’s hands. He hated it when people shone the light of logic on his little delusions…
“Couldn’t you have let me beat myself up a little longer?” he asked, turning in his chair. “I feel like it’s the least… I could… wow.”
It was all Robin could do to stop his jaw from dropping as he finally turned to look at Lucina. Rather than her plain clothes of the blue tunic she usually wore she was standing before him in a simple, sleeveless white nightgown, and the effect was astonishing.
“You… uh…” Robin managed to stammer.
“You do not have to stare so much,” Lucina said, a note of embarrassment in her tone.
“I’ve just… never seen you in a dress,” Robin admitted, letting his eyes roam freely.
The thin white fabric clung to Lucina’s slim figure in a way her normal clothes would never hope to achieve, fully accentuating her modest curves and reminding Robin why he’d been so excited to see her in a feminine yukata back in Chon’sin, if only for a few hours. However, even in the Yukata she had been mostly covered, her lovely toned arms now on display had lost in the deep sleeves of the foreign traditional clothing. The white dress she was in clung to her form much more than the yukata had, too, and Robin instantly felt his eyes wandering again.
She was gorgeous when she stopped being Lucina the soldier long enough to let Lucina the woman show.
“It’s a good look for you,” Robin nodded, earning an embarrassed laugh from the Princess.
“Mother insisted it was too warm in the castle to sleep in my regular clothes,” Lucina complained, feeling the thin fabric between two fingers. “I am finding it difficult to get used to.”
Robin grinned a little before he came crashing back to reality, looking down to the floor between their feet.
Lucina let out a frustrated sigh before she did something that left Robin utterly gobsmacked for the second time that evening and crossed the space between them before sitting herself straddled on his lap. Without thinking Robin’s arms shot out to circle around Lucina’s waist to hold her in place as she brought her hands to cup his face. She remained silent for a moment, carefully brushing the stray white hair out of Robin’s face before bringing his chin up.
“Robin the last week has been one of the happiest in my life,” she said, forcing the tactician to meet her gaze.
“Really?” Robin asked incredulously before he could stop himself.
“Yes,” Lucina admitted. “Despite the constant work, and the incredible pressure placed on us, I had you almost entirely to myself for the whole time.”
Robin nodded silently, not trusting his mouth again after his last outburst.
“I’ve… watched you beat yourself up over your defeat during this time,” Lucina went on, bringing her face closer to his. “Please, Robin… allow me to ease some of your pain.”
Robin just nodded again, dumbstruck as Lucina brought her lips to his own in a soft, warm kiss. Her body ground up against Robin’s chest slightly, causing him to take a surprised breath through his nose.
“Are you sure?” he finally asked as Lucina drew back.
She nodded, her cheeks blushed and her breathing already heavier.
Robin leaned forward this time, bringing their bodies flush again as his lips met hers, their kiss much deeper and more passionate this time, filled with a longing hunger that had barely been kept in check in the last week.
Without warning Robin’s hands went lower down Lucina’s back, holding her up against him as he stood and made for the bed on the opposite side of the room.
Lucina let out a little laugh as they dropped onto the mattress, reaching up and stroking his face again with a smile on hers. The tactician’s hand moved almost of its own volition, emulating Lucina’s movement and stroking her soft cheek.
“I love you Lucina,” Robin breathed, leaning down for another deep kiss.
The rest of the evening passed in a blur of tangled sheets and limbs as the two became one. By the end Robin was happy to admit that for that night, for the first time in months, he had a decent night’s sleep.
The day to march had finally come. There was nothing else they could do to prepare to face Grima. In Morgan’s mind they had wasted too much time as it was and given the dragon too much time to marshal a defence. But her father had argued rushing in without proper preparation would be suicide, and he was the resident Grima expert.
The young Grandmaster resisted the urge to groan as she flexed her exhausted muscles beneath her armour, rolling out her neck instead.
Tharja’s Dark Magic classes had been brutal. Morgan was an accomplished mage, and had cast her own fair share of dark spells during the war with Valm, but Tharja had pushed her to her very limits.
What had been truly amazing, though, was the speed Noire had picked up the skills. She knew a little magic from copying Tharja, but her innate skills and natural talent had been extraordinary. Noire had caught up to Morgan’s level of Dark Magic use in hours, surpassing her handily the next day.
It has to spring from the fact she’s got two Dark Mages for parents, Morgan reasoned, picking the skinny archer-mage out of the press of Shepherds waiting for marching orders.
Noire was wringing her bow and looking nervous the way she always did, surrounded by the others that had travelled from the future with her. They all looked so relaxed, like this was just another march for them; and realistically, it was. By all accounts this wasn’t the first time that the other children from the future had marched into a certain death situation, so Morgan could appreciate their calm disposition.
“Grandmaster?” Frederick said in a low tone to get Morgan’s attention.
“Frederick! What’s up?” the girl asked, resisting the urge to jump a little.
“Things are well in hand here,” the stoic Knight Commander said, his face as severe as always. “If you had… other things you wished to do before we march, now would be the time to do them. Such as spending time with the other soldiers perhaps?”
Morgan grinned and nodded before shoving the sheaf of papers she’d been holding into Frederick’s hands and racing off to where the others were lounging around. As stiff as he could be most of the time, Frederick really was a nice guy.
As Morgan approached the knot of younger Shepherds they all took notice of her arrival.
“Look out, here’s trouble,” Inigo laughed, giving her a lazy wave.
“Your new armour is so shiny and heroic!” Cynthia practically shouted.
“What-ho, Morgan!” Owain shouted happily. “My sword hand hungers! Let us ride to glory together!”
“But… you don’t ride,” Noire reminded the blonde boy.
Owain stopped to think about this for a second, looking between the two girls before rushing off to convene with a giggling Cynthia.
Gerome, for his part, didn’t say anything, simply giving her a nod in greeting; which was more than she usually got, so she assumed it was progress on the quiet wyvern rider’s part.
“Good morning, Morgan,” Lucina greeted her, a bright smile on her face. “Are you prepared for today?”
“All the troops are in position, and the advance squads left for the staging theatre in Themis this morning,” Morgan reported happily. “I haven’t really got anything to do until we get there, so I thought I’d come hang out with you guys.”
“Excellent!” Owain cried. “We can talk Operation: Dragon Blood-Storm Shield!”
“I don’t even want to know,” Yarne groaned, moving to Morgan’s side.
Undaunted, Owain launched into the outline of his plan, the only person listening was a wide-eyed and clearly impressed Cynthia as the rest of the others went back to talking amongst themselves.
“I should probably try to calm them down a little before they hurt themselves,” Lucina sighed, moving to interpose herself between a squealing Cynthia and a frothing Owain.
“Nice to see everyone’s in high spirits,” Morgan pointed out as Lucina strode away.
“We’re ready for him this time,” Yarne said confidently.
“We’d better be, after all the training we’ve done,” Morgan muttered darkly, rubbing the latest bruise on her hip.
Yarne chuckled. Out of all the Shepherds he was the only other one besides the fledgling Dark Mages that had been privy to their training sessions; he knew just how hard Tharja had pushed Noire, Morgan and on the off occasion he’d actually shown up, Robin too. To say the phrase ‘thrown around like a rag doll’ probably wouldn’t have been far off the mark.
“So do you think we’re ready then?” Morgan asked in a quiet voice.
“I don’t think we’re going to get any more ready just sitting here in the castle,” Yarne responded instantly.
“Well, look at you,” Morgan laughed. “All gung-ho and ready to go. I’m impressed.”
“I’m faking it,” the half-Taguel admitted without hesitation.
Morgan burst into laughter a moment before Yarne did. As their laughter died down the young Taguel wrapped an arm around Morgan’s shoulders and pulled her closer to him, the Grandmaster sighing and relishing the contact.
“Ew, gross,” Severa complained vocally, crossing her arms as she approached the couple. “Can you two maybe knock it off for five seconds? Gawds…”
“Oh? Like I didn’t see you and Owain-” Yarne started, cut off when the red-head’s fist shot out and hit him square in the solar plexus.
“Where’s your father? We’re just waiting on him now,” Severa huffed to Morgan, completely ignoring the way a gasping Yarne crumpled to the ground and curled up.
“I’m not entirely sure,” Morgan admitted, silently apologizing to Yarne as he did his best to slink away in defeat.
Severa was right, though; the rest of the Shepherds were assembled now, too. Chrom was going over some last minute orders with Frederick while Cordelia caught Sumia up on the formations that the Pegasus Knights would be using; Say’ri was talking and laughing with Flavia, while Basilio held Lon’qu, Vaike and Ricken enraptured with old war stories. Even the Shepherds that wouldn’t be marching with them; Olivia, the wounded Anna and Henry and the pregnant Cherche, were present.
“So…” Morgan said, trying to make conversation. “You and Owain, huh?”
“Do you want one, too?” the volatile red-head asked, raising her fist in Morgan’s direction. “Yes, me and Owain. What of it?”
“Nothing, nothing,” Morgan placated, a huge grin on her face. “You two are a good match.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Severa growled, her eyes narrowing.
“Oh just take the compliment,” Morgan laughed, giving her friend a quick hug.
Severa nodded mutely, her cheeks darkened slightly as she muttered her thanks and stepped away from Morgan. Fortunately the sound of a shouting voice distracted them before any further awkwardness could ensue.
“It’s okay now!” a familiar voice called from the direction of the city. “I’m here now! We can march now! The master tactician returns!”
Everybody turned to look at the newcomer, brows furrowing in confusion as a familiar yet alien figure walked towards the waiting Shepherds.
“I don’t believe it…” Severa muttered, eyes widening a little.
“Wow… he looks… so heroic,” Cynthia muttered.
Lucina simply smiled and observed the others’ reactions, probably having had some warning for this event as Robin jogged towards the Shepherds, his long white hair now neatly cut short.
“You look like a man again!” Vaike laughed, briefly wrapping a large arm around Robin’s shoulders as he walked through the Shepherds.
“That’s what we got held up for?” Severa muttered irritatedly. “A haircut?”
Robin grinned as he approached them, Chrom and Frederick both already calling out marching orders.
“We marching or what?” he asked, looking around with a rougish grin.
The resounding affirmative cry shook the windows in the palace, simply widening Robin’s grin.