Invisible Ties

Chapter 64

High atop Origin Peak, bathed in the shadow cast by Grima’s gargantuan hovering form, a lone man sat with one knee tucked up to his chin and the other leg hanging over a ledge, swaying lazily in the breeze. His black coat rippled out behind him in the wind like an oil slick on the ocean, his brown hair flying about in much the same way. As the coat flapped about his bare torso was revealed, covered in intricate scars; a complex series of magic circles, carved into his chest and arms, snaking up his neck and ending just below his jawline.

The Fell Dragon Grima’s avatar, a man that had once been the most famed tactician of his own world, let out a contented sigh as the darkness below his dragon form shifted, the shadow coalescing as the forms of Risen climbed out of it. The avatar, once the man known as Robin, smiled a little to himself as he watched this from his vantage point above the small plateau.

Heavy footfalls interrupted his quiet contemplation and announced the arrival of his servant; Grima’s shield, first among the Deadlords.

“Can you feel it, Mus?” the avatar asked without turning. “Can you feel the electricity in the air?”

“They come,” the big Deadlord stated.

The avatar had to resist the urge to giggle childishly in excitement. The Ylisseans and their allies, his past-self included, were coming to ‘stop him’. The mere fact that they thought they could was ludicrous. It was written in stone that Grima would bring darkness to the world after a thousand years of Naga’s light.

“Send them to the abyss,” the avatar said lightly after a few moments. “Hold nothing back. Grind them to dust. Take Simia and four of the new ones. Kill the Ylisseans before they reach the summit.”

Mus nodded once, silently retreating with the same heavy and ponderous gait.

The avatar sat motionless, thinking for a time. If Naga had unleashed the Falchion’s true might, a weapon made from one of her own fangs during her life, then…

“I think I’ll use… this one,” he muttered to himself, reaching behind him.

The avatar’s hand sat flat on the cool stone behind him for a few seconds before sinking into his own shadow. He leaned back into it, reaching to his elbow before his hand settled on what he was looking for. With a triumphant smirk on his face the avatar stood, pulling his favoured weapon out of the void.

A twisted wooden pole with a single handle inlaid with bone was gripped in the avatar’s hand, the weak sunlight beneath Grima being absorbed by the midnight hue of the curved blade that stretched out longer than the man’s arm. Etched into the blade’s heel was the six-eyed symbol of Grima, its wooden haft almost appearing to writhe in his hands like a serpent before calming.

Falchion’s counterpart, made from one of Grima’s own fangs more than one thousand years ago glinted in the light, hungering for blood and souls.

The cursed scythe Samael, herald of death and weapon of the Fell Dragon’s chosen.

The avatar gave the weapon a few practice swings, the air howling mournfully as the black blade cleaved through it, leaving dark after-images wherever it passed.

The avatar turned, finally tearing his eyes away from the birthing of the Risen that were his army and flipped the scythe around to rest on his shoulder. He turned, looking out over the mountainside and eventually the sea, instead. Covering the mountainside and turning the sandy beach black with their shadow were thousands of mindless Risen, simply waiting for the Ylisseans to arrive.

“Don’t make me wait, Robin,” he muttered, spitting the name as a curse.

Robin had to hold himself back from letting a groan escape his mouth as he trudged up the ramp to the Dragon’s Claw once again.

“I’m really starting to hate this ship,” he growled under his breath when his feet met solid decking.

The other Shepherds that weren’t attached to or leading any of the military units in the beach assault boarded behind him, solemn for a change as they prepared for the final encounter with Grima.

Frederick was on another ship with Cordelia and the rest of the Ylissean Knight orders, offering Robin a brief respite from the Knight Commander’s constant nagging. The gargantuan troop carrier, Dire Foe, was one of the last of its kind that hadn’t been sunk during Robin’s hair-brained scheme to get past the Valmese blockade the previous year. All of the Knights from Ylisstol and Themis, and their mounts, were comfortably waiting out the three day journey across the sea, Duke Roark among them to lead the veteran Themis Light Cavalry. The Knights from Jagen alone had two similar ships to themselves, Seth aboard the Sword of Wrath and Duchess Azolla herself leading the other half from the carrier Conquest.

Morgan and Kellam were away, too, both leading ground regiments on different ships. Kellam had somehow managed to wind up in command of the entirety of the Themis Regular Army, much to the quiet man’s confusion. He was taking to the job well, though, and had gotten his troops organized and onto their ships in good time. Robin had already said his farewells to Morgan before the boarding process had begun; her ship would be among the first to land and create a beach-head, so Robin would meet his daughter once they were all safely on Origin Isle.

The majority of the healers, minus Lissa, were aboard the hospital ship Hero’s Respite, a modified Ylissean patrol frigate. Libra was leading almost every priest and cleric that had been in Ylisse on board the lithe vessel, which would also be part of the first wave on the beach.

Mustafa and Raimi were leading the Plegian and Feroxi forces during the first wave, too; however both armies were so small after everything that had happened that they both fit on the last of the troop carriers together, which Robin honestly couldn’t remember the name of. Mustafa’s Plegian force numbered just less than a full regiment of heavy soldiers with absolutely no support units at all, while Raimi had close to two and a half regiments worth of light Feroxi infantry and trackers. At least, Robin reasoned, they complimented each other well on paper. He still felt sorry for the people that had to clean that ship once the two armies got done with it, though.

There were still more soldiers that he could have made use of in all three nations; in fact Chrom had almost had a fit when he’d found out Robin was leaving troops in reserve. However if worse came to worse and they failed, those soldiers would be all that was left. Robin couldn’t in good conscience leave the three nations wholly undefended.

“This is it!” Chrom called out from up on the quarter deck, making Robin glance up. “Everybody on board! We’re making to leave!”

Chrom was once again wearing his ornate silver armour, but unlike during the Valmese conflict he had opted to actually put a fancy new tunic on underneath, similar in style to the one Morgan was wearing. Frederick’s influence once more, no doubt. Robin was honestly starting to feel a little under-dressed.

He turned, suddenly noticed a flurry of activity on the stone docks beneath them and watched with a sinking feeling as ten black-armoured figures marched up to the Dragon’s Claw just as the dock-workers were making to remove the boarding plank. The tactician sighed when he recognized the receding hairline on the man in the front, leading a full squad of Plegian soldiers in ceremonial black armour.

“Let me guess,” the tactician called out, leaning lazily on the railing overlooking the dock. “You can’t possibly let me, the last in line for the Plegian throne, go off into battle without an honour guard. Am I right?”

Algol grinned up at the frowning tactician, seemingly getting enjoyment from the younger man’s irritation.

“Something like that,” the Plegian Royal Guard called up to him. “General Mustafa’s orders! Permission to come aboard, your majesty?”

“Is there another ship that can take them?” Robin asked desperately over his shoulder.

“You’d know; you were the one that organized the boarding,” Chrom laughed as he walked down the steps to the main deck.

“Yes, come aboard already,” Robin called out to the Plegians. “Just stay out of our way, dammit!”

“There’s some space below-decks you can all make use of,” Robin added as the black-armoured troops marched past. “It’s not particularly fancy, but it’s only a few days to the island anyway. Hello again, Sahiri; nice to see you got a promotion.”

The woman in question flinched at Robin’s familiar tone, her lance tip twitching to one side as she hurriedly snapped to attention.

“My lord,” she said smartly.

“If you ever do that again I’ll throw you off the boat while you’re still in your armour,” Robin deadpanned.

The young former-resistance fighter snickered a little, nodding before following the rest of her squad. Robin sighed and shook his head, ignoring the chuckling from the Shepherds around him at his frustration.

“I think Mustafa’s doing this just to spite me,” he growled to Chrom as the Exalt and Lucina came up to his side.

“For what it’s worth, I think they sent a squad with Morgan, too,” Chrom laughed.

Robin just rolled his eyes, catching a glimpse of a strange, robed form ducking onto one of the ships adjacent the Dragon’s Claw. He shook his head and paid it no mind. He didn’t sense Risen and the armies were all mixed up and in enough of a shambles as it was; he wasn’t about to turn away able bodies to stand between him and a crazy Dragon at this point. As long as said bodies fought a long, long way away from him.

“Somebody bring me my freaking lance please!” He suddenly shouted in exasperation, running a hand through his short, messy white hair.

Robin had to resist the urge to snicker as the nine other Plegian Royal Guards, minus a glowering Algol, rushed to do as he ordered.

Maybe I can at least have a little fun with this, Robin thought, an evil grin crossing his features as the Royal Guard all rushed to be the first below deck where they assumed his lance was.

Three days later Morgan watched impassively as the Ylissean mages turned the Origin Isle beach into a white-hot maelstrom of flames from the safety of the boats, clearing a path for the first boats to land. She watched the spectacle from the slit viewport in her troop ship’s galley; once they hit land the wall the viewport was in would drop like a ramp and allow them to charge in formation, a genius design concept from the Plegian shipwrights. She didn’t even know how the mechanism kept water out, but that wasn’t important at present. With perfect timing the flames winked out, startled and wounded Risen on the periphery of the attack immediately regrouping as the first of the ships hit the shore with a tearing, crunching sound of crushed sand.

“We’re right behind you, ma’am,” Amir, the Plegian Royal Guard Sergeant that had been her constant second shadow for the entire trip, promised from her shoulder.

As unobtrusive and helpful as the Royal Guard squad had been to her, Morgan still had trouble getting used to the idea of having her own dedicated honour guard, even though she had just gotten used to the retinue of clerks and Ylissean soldiers that followed her around usually. The Plegians didn’t even know why they were guarding her; they just knew she was an important Plegian person and they had orders from Mustafa to defend her. She would have preferred some more animated soldiers to be in her honour guard, but she supposed not every quasi-military unit could be as eccentric as the Shepherds.

Any further conversation or thoughts were cut off as light flooded into the hold, the ramp crashing down onto the scorched beach and opening the way for Morgan’s charge.

“Forward!” she cried, brandishing her sword and charging at the head of one of the Ylissean infantry regiments.

Her boots crunched on the blackened sand that had, in spots, been melted into glass by the force of the mages’ attack. The scent of scorched earth burned her nose, but Morgan ignored it as she shouted directions to the soldiers flooding out of the ships. The Plegians fanned out around her in a V-shape, creating a wall of black armour to stand between her and the Risen that might threaten her.

“I want A platoon and B platoon watching the west end of the beach!” she roared over the sound of a thousand charging feet. “C and D platoons are in the eastern end! Nothing gets by you! E through G platoons, form up and watch the path to the mountaintop! It forks, so I want you to fight smart and cover each other’s backs!”

The soldiers began to rush to follow her orders as the first of the ships forced themselves back off the beach, stout mages utilizing wind spells in massive sails to accomplish the task and clear the path for the next wave of ships.

“Get those Knights on the ground!” Morgan shouted to the soldiers manning the landing area. “I want them prepped as a secondary line five minutes ago!”

The next wave of boats hit the shore, Frederick already barrelling down the ramp seconds after it hit the ground. Cordelia and Sumia, along with the rest of the Pegasus Knights and Gerome, flew overhead, making to do a pass over the mountain path and see what their opposition was like.

“Ma’am!” one of the signallers shouted, running up to Morgan out of breath. “The Risen are charging the front already! Numbers are in the thousands!”

“Dammit! Frederick!” Morgan shouted, turning to the Knight Commander. “Break their line! We’re not prepared to push back a full charge yet!”

The Ylisseans had just landed. They couldn’t repulse a focused charge from the Risen just yet; by the time they dug their heels in casualties would be too high to hold the mountain path or the beach later. It was a dangerous role she was tasking the first of the Knights with, but she had faith in Frederick’s abilities.

The older man nodded once, holding his lance aloft and twisting in his saddle to face the men in his own retinue, the Knight Order’s banner snapping in the wind behind him.

“Knights! With me!” he roared, and the ten men in Frederick’s honour guard squad charging after him.

“First archer division, follow and give them cover!” Morgan shouted, the officer in charge of the archers nodding and leading the squads towards the frontlines.

“That’ll buy us some time, but we need to get the rest of the Cavalry off the boats!” Morgan added to Sully and Stahl, both of whom were leading the advance Cavalry divisions with Frederick.

Morgan watched the first of the Risen begin to crash into the hastily formed Ylissean lines as Frederick and his Knights raced towards them. The Knight Commander’s signaller blew a few quick notes as they drew nearer, the line opening for the Knights’ charge.

Frederick snarled as he swung his brother’s old greatsword in a wide arc with one hand, while hisother hand yanking on his mount’s reins and forcing it around. He and his Honour Guard had struck a deep blow to the rag-tag Risen counter-offensive already, but in the distance he could already see more Risen gathering for another push.

They were fighting a distraction, then. It appeared as if the future-Robin had stepped down from his lofty throne and was finally providing tactical advice for his undead troops. Not that it would make a difference, Frederick mused as he drove his sword downwards into another Risen, adding to the thickening cloud of ashes billowing about the feet of his mount. Without the mounted Deadlords to lead the Risen cavalry the Ylisseans had the advantage.

With a burst of speed the Ylissean Knights tore out the back of the small Risen force, creating some space between them before turning about. Caught between the hastily reforming Ylissean line and a squad of very angry, very heavily-armed Ylissean Knights the Risen had no recourse left to them but to die.

Normal soldiers would have given into despair and tried to surrender faced with this outcome, but the Risen simply continued their methodical charge at the Ylissean line.

“Flatten them!” Frederick roared, urging his mount to move even faster.

The Ylissean line thinned ahead of them, preparing to break for the Knights to pass through again.

Sumia felt her lips turn downwards as she studied the Risen positions from the back of the Pegasus Knights’ wedge formation. She could see that they were heavily entrenched; it would take a lot to break through those lines normally. However, Chrom and Robin had planned for this, and created a ‘line-buster’ unit of mages and heavy infantry for just such occasions as the fortified Risen positions blocking the path up the mountain. But those squads were on the third wave of ships, and the Ylisseans needed to advance fast if they wanted to maintain their momentum. A lot of good soldiers would die…

Sumia shook her head clear, focusing on the task at hand. Less than a few seconds; that’s all it took for a squad of Pegasus Knights to scout enemy positions from above. Every woman in the flight would have committed the Risen’s positions to memory now, and would be capable of reporting back to Morgan with that information.

Still… the sheer amount of Risen dotting the mountainside was terrifying.

“Commander!” the knight on the opposite end of the wedge from Sumia called out. “The Ylissean line is under pressure at the front!”

Sumia watched her old friend at the tip of the wedge just behind the heavily armoured Gerome, her red hair blazing out behind her head like the trail of a comet as she turned to look at the beach. Cordelia raised her beautiful blue and silver lance high, pointing back towards the beach where the fighting was happening.

Sumia tightened her grip on her own weapon, a lighter spear Cordelia had made for the Queen as a gift, as she pulled Palla around. From ahead of her in the formation she could hear Cynthia’s excited monologuing on the wind.

Cynthia had become a welcome member of the fledgling Pegasus Knights, her skill and experience proving invaluable. Gerome, too, had taken his mother Cherche’s place as the Pegasus Knights’ resident wyvern rider, providing heavy support for the lighter-armoured women around him. Usually the manaketes flew with them as well, but Robin had opted to maintain them in reserve at first rather than risk exhausting Nowi and Nah, the younger of the three, early in the fight, which Cordelia had agreed with.

They had also tried to keep Sumia in reserve, even hinting at having her on the Hero’s Respite with the other healers, but Sumia had been firm in her refusal.

Despite being the Queen of the entire Haildom,Sumia had started as a Pegasus Knight. She had served alongside the other women during the war with Valm, and she was one of the only two veterans still actively serving after the first Plegian war. She felt no fear as they charged the Risen assaulting the Ylisseans, just as a single squad of Knights were swallowed back up by the Ylissean lines.

“Lances!” Cordelia roared, her usually gentle voice harsh and booming as she levelled her own weapon.

The flying knights swooped low, smashing aside any Risen with their long weapons and mowing down a fair share of the ones that the Knights had missed before shooting back up and over the cheering Ylisseans. Minerva let out a terrifying roar as Gerome swung his long-hafted axe at the front of the wedge, clearing the path. Sumia struck repeatedly, just like Phila had taught her to so long ago. All at once they were climbing back into the air, passing over the Ylissean lines.

For now it appeared that their foothold was safe. But the Risen wouldn’t stay up on the mountain for long; Morgan had to be made aware of what was coming for them.

“They’re pushing again!” one of the soldiers on the ground cried.

Morgan cursed, looking around before her eyes came to rest on Amir and his squad.

“I hope those fancy spears aren’t just for show,” she said, looking up at the ceremonial halberds they were all holding.

“Would you like us to show you proper application methods for our ancient weapons?” Amir quipped with a confident grin on his face.

Morgan barked out a laugh, spinning on her heel and waving down one of the signallers.

“All available units to the front!” she shouted, striding forward with her honour guard at her back.

Robin leaned against the forward railing of the Dragon’s Claw, looking out over the beach in front of them through his spyglass.

“How’s it look?” Tharja asked disinterestedly.

Next to the Dark Mage her daughter Noire craned her neck, trying to make out what was happening on the shore.

Below them ‘Team A’, as Robin had taken to calling them in his plans, waited patiently for the ship to land. Yarne and Say’ri both waited intently near the stairs to hear about Morgan’s situation, while Lucina, Chrom, Vaike, Tiki, Virion, Severa and Flavia were all standing around, waiting patiently for the ship to make landfall.

“Could be worse,” Robin shrugged, surveying the battle. “There’s a lot of pressure on the front line, but the Knights and Pegasus Knights are taking a lot of heat off the infantry. I see… Morgan’s and Duchess Azolla’s standards at the front; Kellam’s holding the flanks on his own; Roark and Frederick are both at the front, too. Huh. Things went pretty pear-shaped quicker than I was hoping.”

“Is Morgan okay?” Say’ri asked from the deck beneath them, just barely beating Yarne to the punch.

Robin squinted through the spyglass for a few seconds before letting out a loud laugh.

“Yeah, it looks like she’s holding the front line together on her own, though. None of the soldiers around her are even getting the chance to fight.”

“That’s our girl,” Yarne said, relief evident in his tone.

Robin let out a breath, dropping the spyglass into his pouch and turning to stomp down the stairs. He stopped a few stairs up from the deck, letting the two women behind him by before turning to the crowd in front of him.

“Alright, listen up!” He shouted, getting everyone’s attention immediately. “I’m not one for speeches; that’s Chrom’s thing. But I will remind you all that we’re the spearhead of this operation. We’re going to break through that Risen line, crush any and all opposition, and we’re all going to live through it. Everyone pair up. Watch each-other’s backs, fight smart, and we’ll all live long enough to stick pointy things in Grima’s hide.”

“Hoo-rah!” Vaike shouted, raising his axe as the rest of the Shepherds cheered.

“Say’ri!” Robin called out as he stepped down onto the main deck. “You’re with me on this one.”

“Are you certain?” she asked curiously. “I had thought for sure that you and Lucina…”

Robin smiled and shook his head, indicating to where the Princess in question was doing one last check of her armour’s straps next to her father, Chrom mirroring her movements. Both of the Ylissean royals had stern expressions on their faces as they mentally prepared themselves for the fight. Interestingly, Lucina had a new buckler strapped to her arm in the same place Chrom kept the Fire Emblem; a delicate, butterfly-shaped thing in the same vein as the mask she had worn so long ago.

“I can’t be paired up with her and Chrom at the same time, so I compromised,” Robin explained as he led Say’ri to the side, near where the Claw’s crew were preparing to drop the gangplank down once they reached the shallows.

“Think you can keep up?” he asked over his shoulder, his face breaking into a grin.

“I would be worried about the others falling behind,” Say’ri snorted, falling in at Robin’s shoulder.

“You know we can hear you,” Severa reminded them, earning a round of laughs from the other Shepherds.

“Well,” Robin said as he held up his hand, the gem-ring on one finger flashing in the sunlight. “Keep up, then.”

Morgan snarled, waving her hand through the air and cutting a swathe through the Risen before her with a blast of blade-shaped purple energy. True to her father’s hypothesis, so far the Risen seemed oddly weak against Dark Magic. However for every one she felled, three raced forward to take its place. Their line was holding for now, but unsurprisingly the Risen continued to push.

The Pegasus Knights swept overhead again, swooping low to tear through the unsuspecting Risen again to great effect. Morgan felt a small pang of fear, though, when the damage the Pegasus Knights had wrought was rendered pointless as more Risen flooded forwards, filling the gap as if it had never existed.

“There’s just no end to them!” Amir shouted, swinging his heavy bladed weapon in great arcs, keeping their foes back as Morgan surveyed the field.

She had to admit, having an honour guard actually came in handy. The ten black-armoured soldiers created a circle around her as she studied the allied positions, striking out at anything that came within range of their halberds.

“Signal Roark!” Morgan shouted to the closest signaller behind her. “Have him move up the cavalry and-”

The rest of her order was cut off by an ear-splitting pop, more felt rather than heard. The soldiers around her actually stood speechless, their weapons drooping as they looked at the twelve warriors standing in an empty circle of the Risen. Even the creatures had grown still now, glaring at the newcomers cautiously as they recognized the power swirling around them.

“Did I ever mention how much I love this ring?” Robin asked no one in particular, marvelling at the jewel resting on his finger.

“Ylisseans!” Chrom shouted, ignoring his friend and holding Falchion high. “Onwards!”

The Shepherds that had just teleported all shouted in response, some charging forward while the others held their ground; Morgan let out a giggle when she realised her father had ditched his own Honour Guard by using the ring.

“You heard the Exalt!” she roared over her shoulder. “Swords in front, polearms behind! Archers and mages, thin them out! Send these creatures back to hell!”

The soldiers around her cheered, their vigour renewed as they followed the Shepherds, Morgan at their head.

She watched Virion and Noire as their hands became blurs, shooting faster than she even thought was possible; Tharja and Robin both stood their ground ahead of the archers, weaving a potent spell between them that sent bolts of dark energy crashing into the Risen horde and opening dark vortexes wherever they landed; Say’ri stood guard over those four, her swordsmanship impeccable as Tiki transformed at her side, blowing her beautiful dragon’s fire across the Risen on their flank; Chrom and Lucina led the rest in an outright charge, barrelling aside any and all resistance, the Princess’ version of Falchion blazing with blue flames from within.

But where Lucina’s sword was simply doing the usual blue-flamey thing it usually did, Chrom’s was a sight to behold. The sacred weapon blazed orange as if it were red-hot, the blue fire from its hilt almost engulfing Chrom’s hand. Every time he swung the weapon Risen went flying through the air, cutting great swathes through their ranks. Everywhere Chrom swung his sword Risen fell, the survivors behind them actually trying the retreat in the face of Naga’s power.

Morgan winced as she came alongside her father, the rest of the soldiers streaming around them with a lusty warcry. She realised that the eleven warriors her father had brought to the field had turned the tables and solved a situation that the thousands of men at her command had been unable to.

“Teleporting is cheating!” she cried indignantly, unable to hide the grin on her face.

Robin turned to face her, finished working with Tharja for the moment, an innocent look on his face.

“You should have specified the rules beforehand,” he shrugged.

“He has you there, child,” Say’ri added in a wry tone.

“I liked it better when you two weren’t getting along,” Morgan huffed.

Robin burst out laughing, shaking his head as he turned and moved to catch up with Chrom and the others. Say’ri went right after him, giving Morgan a parting smile and encouraging nod. The Grandmaster stood for a moment, briefly becoming distracted by thoughts of what could have been, before Amir broke her reverie.

“Ma’am, you’re zoning out,” the Honour Guard said, nudging her with the haft of his halberd.

Morgan shook the thoughts out of her head before looking to the front where she could see the Ylissean soldiers getting caught up fighting with the Risen in the wake of Chrom’s charge.

“Form ranks!” Morgan shouted, resisting the urge to follow her father and friends. “Form ranks! Support the Shepherds!”

As much as Morgan hated to admit it she would do more good back from the front, ensuring that the line was properly organised and support went where it was needed.

An hour later Robin found himself holding back, watching the ebb and flow of the battle from atop a small hill. Despite the fact that they were fighting uphill the Ylisseans were making incredible progress, Chrom firmly at their front with the majority of the Shepherds. So far he estimated they had already covered half the ground they needed to reach the summit where Grima was waiting, and with minimal casualties on the Ylissean side, too.

At some point Nowi and Nah had joined the Pegasus Knights on Morgan’s orders, the two manaketes raining fire down on the Risen as the flying Knights swooped and soared. Roark had caught up with the cavalry units, as well as Duchess Azolla and Seth with the infantry platoons, so they were in no danger of running out of bodies. The mages had caught up, too, under Miriel’s lead, and were providing support for the front lines, too. Morale was high… It was only late morning, so they were ahead of schedule…

“Why do I have a bad feeling in the back of my skull, then?” Robin asked aloud, squinting and surveying the battlefield again as he idly bounced his lance on his shoulder.

From slightly below him on the hill Say’ri snorted, crossing her arms.

“Perhaps because we are not actually fighting in the final battle?” she suggested impatiently.

“Don’t worry, I’m sure this is far from the final battle,” Robin muttered. “I just can’t help but think I’m forgetting something…”

The tactician wracked his brain for a few moments before shrugging and beginning to head down the hill.

“Whatever,” he said flippantly as he passed Say’ri. “If it’s not coming to me then it can’t be that important. Let’s go catch up to Chrom before he kills all the Risen singlehandedly.”

“Fie, that is what I have been waiting to hear,” Say’ri sighed, relaxing a little as she began to follow Robin.

They passed through the rear lines easily enough, the reserve soldiers helpfully moving out of their way while the duo respectfully went around the knots of wounded and exhausted soldiers resting.

Robin had to admit that no matter how many times he was privy to it, it was always an awe-inspiring experience to see the war-machine on this scale. Thousands of individuals working together symbiotically towards the same goal; helping each other, watching each other’s backs; fighting alongside each other. It made him proud to say that he was a tactician. If he was the army’s brain, then these men were his body. He owed it to them to take as much care of them as possible.

The sounds of fighting grew louder as Robin doggedly pushed through the thicker clusters of soldiers, heading for where he could see Chrom’s standard flying in the wind, which Frederick had delivered at some point. He still couldn’t shake the feeling that he was forgetting something important, though.

“Chrom, get ready for something!” Robin shouted as he finally reached where the Exalt was fighting.

The blue-haired ruler glanced back, Lucina and Say’ri rushing by them to engage the Risen so that they could talk.

“What are you talking about?” Chrom asked, raising his voice to be heard over the tumult of the battle around them.

“I got that feeling,” Robin said straight-faced. “You know, that feeling I get before something really bad happens? That one.”

Chrom rolled his eyes, the light from his shining sword making the tactician wince a little at its radiance.

“Robin, I hardly think now is the time to-”

Whatever the Exalt was about to say was cut off as, slightly to the left along the line, men in Ylissean armour went flying screaming through the air. With an enraged roar the Risen pressed their advantage, cutting deep into the human lines. Before Robin or Chrom could figure out what was going on the same scene was repeated to their right, men being hurled into the air reduced to little more than chunks of meat and scraps or armour.

“What in Naga’s name…?” Chrom muttered, raising Falchion into a ready-stance.

“Lucina! Say’ri! Look out!” Robin shouted as a massive form rose out of the Risen, towering at least two feet taller than its smaller brethren.

With a cold frown and a swing of his arm the Deadlord Mus sent both women flying backwards, not quite through the air like the other infantry had, but still far enough that they were left standing with the two men when they regained their feet.

“Now ends the Human race!” the bearded Deadlord thundered. “Now begins a thousand years of darkness! Kneel and tremble before Grima! Repent and give your deaths meaning!”

“Deadlords,” Robin groaned. “Called it. Something bad.”

“I will never doubt your paranoia again,” Chrom said with a grin, raising his awakened blade again as the mountainous Risen stomped closer.

Robin’s gaze flicked away to the right for a moment, where the Risen were beginning to tear into the Ylissean lines now, too.

“Say’ri, help Chrom and Lucina kill that thing,” Robin ordered, already backing away. “I’ll go right and make sure the line doesn’t collapse. Watch out for back-up.”

“Right,” the Chon’sin Queen nodded.

“What about the others?” Lucina asked worriedly, casting her gaze around and looking for the other Shepherds.

“They’re bogged down fighting on the right,” Robin answered, already beginning to inch away. “I’ll send them back this way once I find them.”

“What about the line to the left?” Chrom asked, worriedly glancing between where the Risen were overwhelming the soldiers and the advancing Deadlord.

“Enough questions already; I’ve got someone on it,” Robin said cryptically, offering Lucina a quick wink before turning and dashing off.

Chrom chuckled and shook his head as he turned back to face Mus, Say’ri and Lucina at his sides.

“He never changes,” the Exalt muttered, making both women grin a little in the face of the charging Risen now rushing around Mus to get to their section of line.

Algol cursed the eccentric tactician he’d been ordered to guard with all his might as he shoved his way through the collapsing Ylissean front lines. He should have known the man would abandon his Honour Guard at the soonest possibility, but to literally teleport out from under Algol’s nose had been downright insulting. Ingenious, but still insulting.

“Move, damn your eyes!” Algol snarled as panicked soldiers began to impede his progress once more.

He bodily shoved the terrified men out of his path, bringing his halberd down on the Risen that had been about to kill the two fleeing men.

“Royal Guard! Hold this line!” he roared at the top of his lungs.

Nine black-armoured forms emerged from the retreating soldiers blade-first, creating a barrier between them and the Risen. The Risen raced on regardless, breaking upon the veteran Plegian soldiers like waves on a shore. Algol snarled again and again as he threw his weapon around, every strike a killing blow in the target rich environment.

The Plegians were holding, giving the Ylisseans a chance to regroup behind them; ten Guards, holding the line that an army had failed to. Algol found it laughable that such weak foes had-

His thoughts came to a halt as one of the Royal Guards shrieked, lifted into the air on the end of the sword piercing his thick armour.

A familiar insane cackle met Algol’s ears as he looked over, the blood draining from the Royal Guard’s face as his gaze fell upon the creature that had routed the Ylissean lines singlehandedly, understanding dawning.

Standing there in the shower of fresh viscera from the man above him was Mad King Gangrel, eyes blazing red and his skin the colour of volcanic ash.

“Hello again, Guard Captain,” Gangrel chuckled, tossing the corpse aside as if it weighed nothing.

Algol growled and spat, turning to look back at the Ylisseans around him.

“Hold this line!” the Guard Captain shouted to the closest Ylisseans. “We’ll deal with him!”

The closest soldiers rushed to follow Algol’s orders, sparking a chain reaction that saw the section of line reforming around his Guards, all of whom were now facing the deranged resurrected King. Much to Algol’s added frustration a second Deadlord figure emerged from the press of charging Risen; a tall man in strange looking armour with lank white hair, a long, thin sword leaning against his shoulder as he glared at the Royal Guards alongside the Gangrel-Deadlord.

“I’d bow, your Majesty, but I’m pretty sure I already buried both halves of you when the Ylisseans ended your reign,” Algol growled dangerously as he stalked towards what could only be another Deadlord.

“Oh, you did,” the Gangrel-Deadlord sneered, raising a jagged, black bladed sword to the Guard Captain.

Chrom dodged low beneath the sweeping lance aimed at his head, spinning away from the blow as both Lucina and Say’ri darted into the opening. Lucina angled low, her greatsword aiming for Mus’ stomach as Say’ri leapt into the air with her twin blades flashing.

The large Deadlord barely glanced at the two women as another form emerged from behind him and batted them out of the air, glaring at Chrom single-mindedly.

“What the hell!?” Lucina cursed, rolling back to her feet.

“No…” Say’ri muttered, her eyes widening as she beheld their new foe.

“Sir Priam… how…”

The new Deadlord frowned, leaning the familiar golden sword against his shoulder as he glared impassively at the two women. His glowing eyes narrowed slightly as they came to rest on Say’ri, his ashen brow furrowing. Like the assassin Deadlord that had wounded Panne in Ylisstol the Priam-Deadlord’s mouth was roughly stitched shut, the threads pulling as his lips turned down.

“Now do you see the full extent of our master’s power?” Mus thundered, pointing his lance to the newcomer.

“I just see another monster in need of slaying!” Say’ri roared, launching herself at the other Deadlord.

Lucina followed without hesitation, both women striking hard and fast and putting Priam-Deadlord on the defensive, leaving Chrom to face Mus on his own.

The newly-Awakened Exalt sprung forward without a second thought, shining blade held in a firm two-handed grip as he dodged around Mus’ lance. Chrom managed to strike twice, each blow from the enhanced sword digging deep furrows on the Deadlord’s chest plate, perhaps even piercing it. Before he could pat himself on the back, though, Chrom rolled low to avoid Mus’ backswing, staggering when the Deadlord kicked out as his shoulder with the force of a charging bull.

Chrom snarled as he raced in again, full of the energy Naga had blessed him with. The Fire Emblem on his arm began to shine with light of its own as he caught Mus’ lance on it, knocking the blow aside and stabbing forward with Falchion to pierce the Deadlord’s heart. The ancient weapon bit deep, sliding through Mus’ mighty armour as if it were silk. Chrom leapt back again, wary of reprisal as Mus staggered and fell to one knee, coughing black blood onto his beard as he glared up at the first man to actually wound him in centuries.

“Are you ready to lie down and die yet?” Chrom asked, bringing Falchion up in a two-handed grip.

Mus glared for a few more seconds before he surprised Chrom by breaking into laughter.

“You have done well to receive Naga’s blessing for your sword,” the Deadlord chuckled, rising back to his feet. “But you are not the only one blessed by a god.”

Chrom watched as the black blood oozing out of Mus’ chest wound came to a stop, the armour remaining broken but the wound closing beneath it.

“I’d like to see you do that after I cut off your head,” Chrom growled, dashing forward again.

Mus slapped Falchion aside and brought his lance around, much the way he had the first time they had duelled, striking hard against Chrom’s shoulder. When the Exalt pulled away, the silver pauldron remained on Mus’ lance, torn away from the rest of the suit.

“I would like to see you try, puny one,” Mus sneered, tearing the pauldron off his weapon and casting it aside.

“Then watch closely,” Chrom spat as he stepped back into a ready stance. “The sword wasn’t the only thing Naga blessed.”

Chrom took a deep breath, focusing on harnessing the energy flowing through him from the Fire Emblem. Without warning he sprung forward, the earth where he had been standing shattering with the force of his leap. A mighty roar escaped his throat as he closed the gap between himself and Mus in the blink of an eye, swinging Falchion so fast it seemed to disappear. Mus managed to get his spear up just in time, stopping the Exalted sword in a shower of sparks, the force of Chrom’s blow driving the Risen back.

Before Mus could rally Chrom spun, the rest of the world seeming to be standing still as he danced beneath the Deadlord’s weapon and around to his side where Chrom struck again, tearing through the Risen’s enchanted armour once more. With an outraged bellow Mus brought his lance down into the space Chrom had been occupying a second ago, the Exalt already moving again to slash at Mus’ legs, suddenly behind the Deadlord.

“I will not fail!” Chrom announced as Mus fell to one knee again.

Before the Deadlord could react Chrom swung Falchion laterally with all his might, severing Mus’ head from his shoulders in a blast of ashes and purple smoke. There was a keening wail as a sudden wind buffeted Chrom, the Risen around him attacking the Ylissean soldiers all stopping and facing him.

“Who’s next!?” Chrom snarled, launching himself at the closest of the Risen.

Lucina and Say’ri spun around the Priam-Deadlord in opposite directions, both slashing out with their respective weapons as they moved. The tall Risen simply smirked, batting aside all three swords with his own golden-bladed weapon without any effort before stepping forward and lunging at Lucina. The Ylissean princess turned her spin into a roll, dodging to the side at the last second as the former master swordsman’s blade carved a line on her thin pauldron.

“He fights as the real Priam did!” Say’ri shouted, panting heavily as Lucina climbed back to her feet.

The Ylissean princess could only agree with the other woman; they’d been fighting for some time now, neither able to land a blow against the monstrous swordmaster. Both women now sported small wounds from near misses, their armour scarred and broken from the Risen’s precise attacks. Lucina’s small buckler, a gift from her father before they had set out, had barely lasted a few seconds against the monster, and lay cloven and forgotten on the ground somewhere behind her.

The Priam-Deadlord’s gaze flicked up to Lucina, deeming her the more dangerous of the two as he held his sword out in a challenge.

Lucina swallowed, darting forward again, Say’ri doing the same from behind the Risen. The Deadlord spun, ducking beneath Lucina’s blow and letting Say’ri’s twin swords spark off his own thick pauldron as he passed between them, landing a crunching blow to Say’ri’s armoured ribs with his free hand as he passed. Lucina took the opportunity to lash out with a kick at the Risen’s knee, but even that he turned into another attack, twisting with the blow mercurially and bringing his sword around and down on Lucina from above. The blue-haired woman managed to dodge at the last second, earning another mark across her silver breastplate for her efforts; if she had been unarmoured the blow would have carved her in half.

Priam continued to grin, moving to advance again and stopping after only a couple of steps as three arrows suddenly appeared in his shoulder, a fourth being caught in his fist inches from his face.

“Step away from the ladies, cur!” Virion shouted, the archer’s voice coming close to a snarl for the first time since Lucina had been introduced to the man. “Nobody likes a desperate suitor!”

Priam actually took a step back in surprise, desperately throwing his sword up as Flavia launched herself at him with a flurry of high-blows.

“Press the attack!” the Khan roared, forgoing defence and striking with almost reckless abandon.

Lucina rallied, throwing herself back at the Deadlord at the same time as Say’ri. Priam actually retreated another few steps, glowing eyes narrowing and giving up ground to block blows from four weapons and avoid Virion’s arrows, the bolts flying between the three women every few seconds.

Virion squinted for a moment, holding his breath and tensing all his muscles as he drew his arm back again, holding it until he had the perfect shot…

“There…” the archer breathed, letting his shot fly.

Priam’s head snapped to one side and he stumbled as Virion’s arrow, fired from only a few meters away, embedded itself in his eye. The three women struck, too, blades flashing from all angles as the Priam-Deadlord was butchered in a familiar shower of ashes and smoke.

“Where are the others?” Lucina asked instantly, still gasping from the exertion of her fight.

“To the right, along the line,” Virion said, his tone disinterested as he started firing into the Risen attacking the soldiers around them. “Robin was leading them to where the other Deadlords were. We were told to support you and head to the left once we were done.”

Lucina nodded, looking along the line and hoping to spot Robin in the fighting.

“He’ll be fine,” Flavia said, squatting down.

The Khan rose, holding Priam’s golden-bladed sword in one hand.

“We… buried that with him,” Say’ri said, her voice shaking with outrage. “Grima has gone too far this time.”

“Yeah, because trying to destroy the world wasn’t crossing a line,” Flavia snickered, sheathing her sword over her shoulder and giving the new weapon a few practice swings.

She looked up at the questioning glances the other three were giving her, shrugging and resting Priam’s sword against her shoulder.

“What?” she asked. “It’s a nice sword. It would be a waste to leave it here. You can put it back after we kill Grima and his lackeys.”

Algol grit his teeth, doing his best to parry and failing as the Gangrel-Risen’s sword flashed by his guard again, cutting a line across his arm as he backpedalled.

The two Deadlords had decimated his squad, some of the best soldiers he had handpicked from out of the entire Plegian army. Two guards still fought against the tall, silent swordsman, one of them the rookie girl from the Dragon’s table. The entire time Algol had been fighting against the shadow of his former king he had yet to land so much as a glancing blow. The Risen hadn’t had the same problem, though; Algol’s arms and chest were covered in small cuts and wounds, his armour almost useless now as it hung off him in scraps.

At the very least he wasn’t making it easy for the creature. The Gangrel-Deadlord had stopped with his irritating banter some time ago, and was frowning hard now as he tried to deliver a solid blow.

“Now I remember why I appointed you Guard Captain,” the Deadlord growled, stretching out his neck.

“Yeah,” Algol panted. “I bet you’re just kicking yourself now, huh?”

“You're still good, but you did fail in your mission in the end, didn't you?” the Gangrel-Deadlord purred, smiling evilly.

Algol snorted at the Deadlord’s tone.

“Fail at what? Protecting a psychopath? You’ll have to try a lot harder than that to get under my skin, monster. You were evil when you were alive. Now you’re just plain crazy, and I get paid to keep crazy away from the new Prince. So come and get some.”

The Deadlord roared indignantly and charged again, Algol bringing his halberd to bear again. The Gangrel-Risen simply weaved around Algol’s polearm, finally landing a solid hit as his sword passed through the Guard Captain’s stomach armour. With a gurgling groan Algol stumbled backwards, clutching at his wound while the Risen laughed in his face. A short way away another shriek heralded the end of another Royal Guard, leaving only Algol and the rookie.

“You did well to hold us for so long,” the Gangrel-Deadlord admitted, holding his sword up to lick Algol’s blood off of it.

“But I grow weary of playing with you. Now you will die-”

“Foul monsters! How dare you besmirch my brother’s nobility!?” a furious voice cried out, distracting Gangrel and making him spin.

With a shocked look the Gangrel-Risen didn’t even have a chance to get his weapon up as two long, thin blades cut him to pieces, the corpse fading to ash before Algol’s eyes. The Chon’sin Queen, snarling and beautiful like an angel of war descended to earth as she faced off against the other Deadlord, didn’t even spare the wounded Algol a second glance. Light hands grabbed him beneath one arm and hauled him to his feet, Sahiri pulling him back from the battle.

“I will be your end, monster!” the Queen announced, launching forward at the Deadlord.

The creature twitched once in the shoulder, its sword snapping up at the last second as its frown intensified.

“Why!?” Say’ri roared, swinging both her swords in perfect arcs that drove the Deadlord back. “Why him!? Why my brother!? Why torment me further, damn you!?”

Flavia growled a small way away, hopping in place a little about to join in the fight before she was stopped by Lucina’s hand on her shoulder.

“We should not interfere,” the Princess insisted.

Flavia frowned before turning her head and spitting in irritation.

“Fine, but I’m going to kill the small-fry Risen instead, then,” she said, her voice close to a pout as she began swinging Priam’s big sword at the weaker Risen still harrying the soldiers around them.

Lucina nodded, watching Say’ri parry a vicious blow from the Deadlord wearing her brother’s face. She wouldn’t interfere, but that didn’t mean she’d stand idly by if the foreign queen needed help.

Say’ri fought on, the world around her fading out as she focused entirely on her foe. When she had fought Yen’fay at the Demon’s Ingle he had held back, wary of harming his younger sister. She had held no such qualms and had struck him down mercilessly. The Deadlord, however, fought with all her brother’s controlled grace and incredible skill, turning aside her two-bladed blows and weaving around her like water, frustrating Say’ri to no end.

Their father had always said when they trained that Yen’fay fought like water; constantly adapting and moving, finding gaps and openings and flowing through movements and stances. Say’ri, however, had fought like fire; she was rash, brazen, and overwhelmed her foes through sheer skill and fury. Out of the two of them Yen’fay had always been the superior duellist.

However, Say’ri thought as she deflected another series of blows aimed at her midsection, this wasn’t a duel; this was war, and Say’ri had learned much in the way of war since joining with the Shepherds.

Using both blades to push the Yen’fay-Deadlord’s down as she stepped in towards him, Say’ri lashed out with a technique she had seen both Exalt Chrom and Robin use multiple times. She brought her forehead down on a stunned Yen’fay’s nose with all her might, the Deadlord stumbling backwards as stars spun through Say’ri’s vision.

Pressing her advantage Say’ri jumped and spun through the air, landing a flipping kick with one foot after the other to the Deadlord’s chest and throwing him further back. She spun as she landed, slashing low and cutting through the Deadlord’s shin guard before finally hopping back to catch her balance.

The Yen’fay-Deadlord glowered, baring his teeth and starting to break the threads holding his mouth closed.

Say’ri darted in again, scissoring her blades back and forth, utterly overwhelming the wounded Risen before she plunged Amatsu into its chest. Swinging her own sword up from her hip the creature’s sword-arm spun through the air before she stabbed it next to her brother’s old sword. Say’ri roared with pain as she forced the two weapons apart, tearing the Risen in the shape of her brother apart and dissipating him into ash and smoke, killing Yen’fay for a second time.

“She’s… not human…” Algol heard Sahiri mutter in astonishment.

If he were totally honest, Algol agreed with her. Those two Deadlords had run roughshod over him and his squad, killing most of them without even breaking a sweat. Now one woman flies in and tears the two creatures apart single-handedly? He found it hard to believe.

“Are you alright?” a cultured voice said from behind the two Royal Guards.

Algol spun as best he could while Sahiri still supported him, seeing the Ylissean archer standing and looking out over the battlefield behind them. Two more women, the Feroxi Khan and the blue-haired swordswoman that was constantly hanging off Prince Robin surged forward, hacking into the Risen still harassing the Ylissean line while Queen Say’ri stood and glared at the ground the Deadlord had died on, catching her breath.

“Best get back to the beach,” the archer suggested with a wink at Sahiri. “Methinks you will both just be in the way right now.”

Algol nodded slowly, looking to the ground where the Gangrel-Deadlord had been killed. He frowned and lifted himself off Sahiri’s shoulder, limping over to the sword half-buried in purple ashes. He looked down at them for a moment before he suddenly spat a wad of blood-streaked saliva in the ashes.

“Long live Prince Robin,” he ground out before turning and limping towards the beach, Sahiri watching her wounded Captain with a worried expression.

Robin frowned as he pushed his way through the Ylissean front, occasionally throwing random spells out towards the Risen just to thin them out a little as he walked. He was forced to use his lance to separate knots of soldiers from time to time so that he and his little party could pass as they moved to where the Deadlords and Risen were still wreaking havoc on the right flank.

Severa, Yarne and Noire all followed behind him, doing their best not to get left behind. He had already come across the others, instructing them to back up Chrom in the centre and Algol’s squad on the left flank of the front. Behind them Tiki’s draconian roar rang out as she transformed again, dazzling green dragonfire no doubt engulfing the Risen all along the central section where she was fighting with Chrom and Vaike. Every so often he felt the mountain path’s lingering mana fluctuate as Tharja cast another spell, the sounds of the devastating explosions and vortexes being lost in the din of the battle around them.

“Take care of the line!” Robin shouted over his shoulder to the three younger Shepherds following him as they drew closer to the source of the bad feeling he was having. “Get the Risen off the soldiers long enough for them to reform ranks! Think you three can handle that!?”

Severa scoffed as Noire nodded and Yarne shifted to his Taguel form without a word.

“We’ll make sure we help you with the Deadlord when we’re done,” the redhead promised as the three darted off into the press of soldiers.

Robin allowed himself a moment to grin at her confidence before he began pushing towards the Risen again. The soldiers were becoming more and more desperate now, shoving and pushing each other aside in a panic as they struggled to get away from the source of their fear. Robin began channelling mana, and the second he broke through to the clear space where the Risen were waiting for him he let loose, annihilating the first of the creatures with a wave of Dark Magic fire.

“I know you’re here, woman!” Robin snarled into the new empty space, throwing Flux spells around him into the Risen flooding around him.

Waves of purple ash flowed around his ankles in the gap as the mindless Risen separated in a wedge, going around him about five meters on each side. It was unnerving the way they simply ignored him, leaving a space for-

“Tactician!” Simia screamed, appearing from the press opposite him and striding towards the tactician. “Long have I waited for this!”

“I should have killed you in Chon’sin!” Robin roared, lashing out with his lance. “No more! This ends now!”

Sparks flew as their weapons collided, Robin making full use of his beautiful lance’s superior reach as Simia struggled to maintain her forward momentum. He jabbed with his lance in short bursts the way Cordelia had taught him to, occasionally sweeping the Deadlord’s sword aside to keep her moving backwards. Just like every other time they had fought,Simia’s skill had obviously improved immensely since the last time, and now her own skill seemed to rival his. She was faster, but Robin was still a better fighter. Just as they reached the edge of the ring of Risen and Robin prepared to land a finishing blow he instinctively hopped back, eyes widening as a thick greatsword passed through the air where his throat had been.

“Holy crap that was too close,” he muttered, stepping back and massaging his neck.

A second Deadlord stepped into the empty space, the Risen grinning sadly at Robin as he rested his weapon against his shoulder.

Robin took a sharp breath, feeling his face break into a scowl as he moved back a few paces. The tactician’s eyes narrowed as he glared at the creature wearing his friend’s face, doing his best to control the indignant rage seething just below his skin.

Simia saw his reaction and started to laugh, the Gregor-Deadlord looking on silently.

“Does it hurt!?” Simia cackled. “Does it pain you to know that your failure has come back to haunt you so!? Squirm, tactician! Beg for forgiveness, and I will let your end come from your friend’s hands!”

Robin’s scowl became a grimace as he shook his head slowly.

“This psychological warfare crap would have worked on me a few years ago,” the tactician admitted, glaring into the Gregor-Risen’s glowing red eyes.

“But right now it just pisses me off,” he added, reaching over his shoulder and drawing Sol one-handed. “And guess what? Apparently Chrom wasn’t the only one who was awakened.”

Suddenly Robin threw himself forward again, alternating strikes with Sol and his lance as he pressed his attack on both Simia and the Gregor-Risen.

As much as he hated the feeling, as much as he hated himself for doing it, Robin opened himself to the power he’d been denying since the start of the Valm Campaign and tapped into Grima’s mana. All at once he felt a surge through his limbs as the Dark Magic empowered him, his blows becoming faster and harsher as he pushed both Deadlords back at the same time. The brand on his hand began to shine again, the amulet on his chest burning as Grima’s fell essence polluted his soul. No doubt the purple lines were covering his flesh again, too.

It was like someone poured boiling oil through his veins; Robin half expected to burst into flames anysecond, such was the incredible surge of mana rushing through him and strengthening him. Time slowed down as he glanced around, the Risen and Ylissean soldiers moving in slow motion as they rushed to kill each other. He spotted Yarne and Severa fighting side by side, the redhead pulling her sword out of a cloud of ashes ever-so-slowly while Yarne brought his fore-claws down on another. Noire’s arrows stood still in the air as Robin took a breath, bringing the raging power under control.

Glaring up at the two Risen as he momentarily backed up, Robin’s eyes went pitch black again. The tactician flipped his lance around, spinning it and letting it come to a rest across his shoulders as he held Sol out, the heavy sword weighing nothing in his empowered grip.

Simia was speechless as she backed away, her bluster suddenly gone. Judging from the trembling in her hands, she was terrified. The Gregor-Deadlord frowned again, his posture relaxing slightly.

“Young… Robin…” he slurred as if the muscles in his jaw weren’t working properly.

“Don’t you dare!” the tactician snarled, throwing himself forward again. “Don’t you dare speak in his voice! Don’t you dare try to fool me with his face!”

Robin pressed his attack mercilessly, sweeping his lance low and forcing the Deadlord to step back before bringing Sol down across his chest in a shower of black blood. With a cry of absolute hatred Robin spun, switching his grip on his lance and forcing it through the Deadlord’s chest from above, pinning him to the ground.

Robin panted, holding the lance still for a moment before slowly lifting his gaze to glare at Simia. The other Deadlord took a few more steps back, her sword actually shaking in her hands now as her glowing red eyes met the pitch black orbs of her former prey.

With a panicked shout Simia ran forward, a flurry of strikes bouncing off Robin’s sword as he effortlessly turned her blows back.

“No more running,” Robin growled, knocking her blade aside with a twitch of his wrist.

Simia tried to rally, Robin bringing his leg up and kicking her in the solar plexus before she could, sending the Deadlord flying backwards.

“No more hiding,” he continued, Sol flashing in his hands.

Simia let out a scream, clutching the black stump where her hand used to be as the appendage rolled away, still clutching her sword.

Robin roared wordlessly, tossing Sol to one side and wrapping his bare hands around Simia’s throat.

“This… this is for Henry,” Robin ground out through clenched teeth, ignoring the weak blows raining down on him from the flailing Deadlord.

With a resounding crack Simia fell still, her arms dropping as her glowing eyes grew dull. Robin lifted her up, throwing the corpse aside. It rolled a few times before bursting into a cloud of ashes, just like every other Risen. Turning his gaze now to the Risen Gregor he heard the Deadlord let out a weak, wet chuckle as it struggled against his lance still pinning him.

“Tell me,” Robin asked as he advanced on the Risen. “Are you actually Gregor? Or just a bad copy?”

The Deadlord ceased its struggles, looking up as Robin bent to retrieve his sword.

“If was… real Gregor… nothing would change… yes?” the Risen asked, black blood bubbling up from between its lips.

“You’re right,” Robin agreed neutrally.

Without another word the tactician brought Sol down on the creature’s neck, severing its head in another cloud of ashes and smoke.

Robin panted, feeling the fell energy wane as he let himself calm down a little. He left his lance embedded in the ground, bringing Sol up as the Risen began charging towards him through the dead-space his lop-sided duel had taken place in.

“Guys!?” Robin called as he backpedalled, exhausted from channelling Grima’s power for even a short period of time. “What happened to that backup!?”

Looking over his shoulder Robin realised that even the Ylissean troops weren’t in a position to back him up. He shook his head, rallying and preparing to face the Risen alone, digging deep and trying to re-tap into Grima’s power to fuel him.

Just as the first of the snarling, ravenous creatures reached him bolts of Dark Magic erupted along their front, throwing a cloud of dust up into Robin’s face as the charging Risen were destroyed all along the right section of the line. The Ylisseans cheered, racing forward and leaving Robin coughing and hacking as he waved the dust cloud out of his face.

Noire got really good in a short time, he marvelled, turning to thank the timid archer for-

“My, my, what do we have here?” a smooth voice asked, making Robin twitch involuntarily. “Why, if I didn’t know better I’d say I just saved your life a second time, little man.”

Aversa stepped forward from the press of soldiers around them, pulling the hood of her cloak back and grinning superiorly at Robin.

“Could this day get any worse!?” Robin lamented, sagging. “This doesn’t make us even for Plegia! Not by a long shot!”

“Nice to see you again, too,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Why don’t we worry about the score after we slay the dragon?”

“What happened to that cave, huh?” Robin asked, noticing the familiar forms of the Shepherds approaching in the press.

“I’m afraid I’ve grown accustomed to a certain standard of living,” Aversa sighed theatrically.

Robin rolled his eyes this time, turning and indicating that his sister fall in with the other three Shepherds behind him.

“Just stay close and try to only kill the Risen,” he groaned, starting to jog back to where the centre of the line was moving forward again.

“I make no promises,” Aversa chuckled slyly behind him.

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