Invisible Ties

Chapter 65

Robin irritatedly ran a hand through his hair as he pushed through soldiers hastily running around the crowded camp that had been set up. Morgan had established a beach-head, and then a forward base in less than a day; it was only mid-afternoon, and the girl was already pushing for the summit with the reserve Shepherds being led by Lon’qu, proving that she was every bit the slave-driver that her father was when motivated.

He groaned again, rubbing the back of his head as he came to a stop.

“Oh really now, you are not still dwelling on the Deadlords, are you?” a snide voice asked from behind him. “You know they were designed by him specifically to get under your skin like this.”

“I am aware of that,” Robin ground out. “And here’s the kicker; it worked.”

Turning to glance over his shoulder at his adopted sister Robin’s eyes narrowed a little when he saw the condescending look on her face.

“Why are you following me, anyway?” he groaned, shoulders slumping.

“You told me to,” Aversa chuckled, feigning innocence.

She was seemingly taking great pleasure in Robin’s suffering; something the tactician reminded himself was just a personality trait – or flaw, on second thought; definitely a personality flaw.

“I even limited myself to only killing Risen, just like you asked me to,” she added with a pout.

“You are far too old to be pouting like that,” Robin said, turning his back to her and beginning to walk again.

Above the heads of the soldiers he could make out Chrom’s banners flapping in the wind, which meant that the advance team of Shepherds would be resting there. That was his destination-

“Six years!” Aversa shouted behind him. “I am only six years older than you! How dare you insinuate I am ‘too old’ for anything!? I’m not even thirty yet!”

“Huh? Did I finally hit a nerve?” Robin asked over his shoulder with an evil grin. “’Cause you gotta be getting close.”

“Wash your face, brother dearest, you have some evil on it,” Aversa deadpanned as she followed him.

Robin pushed through a few more soldiers, slowing down to the point where he was practically walking side-by-side with Aversa now.

“Why did you come back?” he asked suddenly, stopping and turning on his heel.

Aversa stopped suddenly at the question, taken completely by surprise judging from the wideness of her eyes.

“What?” she asked as Robin stepped into her personal space.

“What are you playing at?” he asked seriously, glaring at the older woman. “I let you get away. I gave you a free pass. So why did you come back?”

Beneath her line of sight he very slowly drew his dagger. He was asking her suddenly like this to get an honest answer, without giving her the chance to come up with more ‘witty’ excuses. If the answer she gave in the next ten seconds didn’t satisfy him, Robin wasn’t about to endanger his chances by letting her live.

Around them the soldiers kept milling about oblivious, darting to and fro and boxing them in together.

Aversa’s eyes narrowed for a moment before she sighed and crossed her arms.

“You were the one that involved me with this fiasco and now you don’t want me around?” she asked with a mocking tone.

“Answer the question,” Robin repeated dangerously.

“If you really must know, it is because I don’t trust you,” Aversa stated with a shrug.

Of all the answers she could have given, that was the one he wasn’t expecting.

“Excuse me!?” Robin burst out, completely at a loss.

“You are Grima’s avatar,” she explained. “After all the time I spent among those fanatics do you really think I wouldn’t know exactly what he is capable of doing to you? To all your little friends?”

“And to you?” Robin added when she fell silent.

“I believe that was implied,” Aversa sneered.

“So give me a reason to trust you then,” Robin said.

Aversa shrugged, grinning at him.

“You haven’t stabbed me yet,” she chuckled. “I assume that means you already trust me, at least a little.”

Robin’s brow quirked momentarily before he sighed in defeat. He nodded, stepping back and jamming his dagger back in the sheath on his belt.

“Give me a reason,” he warned. “Any teeny-tiny excuse and I swear to Naga I’ll-”

“Kill me,” Aversa interrupted, rolling her eyes flamboyantly. “Yes, yes, we’ve done this song and dance before. We don’t trust each other, I get it, but we don’t need to bring up the glaring trust issues in our family every time we talk.”

Robin broke into a grin at the older woman’s antics.

“Oh will you act your age already,” he snickered, turning away and beginning to walk again.

“I will kill you,” Aversa growled, following him with a malicious set to her features. “It will be slow. Painful. And I will enjoy it immensely.”

“Get in line,” he laughed over his shoulder, his pace quickening a little. “It starts behind the ancient dragon on top of the mountain.”

Robin’s grin only intensified as he led her through the crowd of soldiers; it was nice to have an outlet for his irritation at Grima’s low-blows before he got to the rest of the Shepherds. Why she came back was still a mystery, and he obviously still didn’t fully trust her, but it was an issue that could wait for now. There were more pressing concerns on his list, such as-

“Robin!? Has anyone seen Robin!?”

“Rooooo-biiiiiiin! Where are you!?”

“Blood and thunder! Show yourself this instant or face my wrath!”

He and Aversa stopped dead, spinning on their heels again and looking behind them again at the disturbance that had actually risen in volume above the busy war-camp. A panicked-looking Severa was leading Yarne and Noire around, hands cupped around her mouth as she desperately tried to find the tactician.

“I think those children are looking for you,” Aversa pointed out.

“Yes, thank you for stating the obvious,” Robin muttered, stepping back the way they had just come a little.

He waved his arms above his head a little, not even needing to shout to get their attention before Severa spotted him and came storming over. The look on her face as she stomped through the crowd actually made Robin step back a little, debating if placing Aversa between them would slow the furious redhead down enough for him to escape. He missed the chance when the girl drew up to him, grabbing the collar of his coat in one hand and yanking him down to her shorter level.

“Where the hell did you run off to!?” Severa practically screamed at him. “Do you have any idea how hard we looked for you!? Why would you just disappear on us like that!?”

“Gah! Severa, I’m sorry!” Robin managed to get out as he was shaken back and forth.

“You’re damn right you’re sorry!” Severa went on, her shaking intensifying.

“I’m sorry!” Robin pleaded, practically being thrown back and forth now. “Please! I’ll never do it again! Just please stop shaking me!”

Yarne and Noire both stepped in and tried to separate Severa from her prey, seemingly only aggravating her further in the process. The redhead finally released Robin, taking a deep breath and staring at the ground.

“I’m sorry, Severa,” Robin repeated, rubbing at his collar and readjusting his coat. “But I needed to keep moving.”

“Forget it,” she muttered, storming by him.

Robin watched, stunned, as the young woman stomped towards the small cluster of tents.

“I’ll go after her,” Yarne offered.

Robin stopped the Taguel with a hand on his shoulder, shaking his head.

“We haven’t got the time,” he sighed. “We’ll have to deal with it later. I need you in the main tent. Noire, can you go after her?”

The timid archer, who had been staring suspiciously at a bored-looking Aversa the entire time the others had been talking, perked up at the mention of her name.

“M-me?” she squeaked nervously.

“Yes, you,” Robin nodded. “I need you to find her, calm her down and then send her to the meeting tent before you go to the front and support Morgan.”

The young archer blinked at him in shock for a heartbeat.

“You’re… t-taking me off the main team?” Noire asked, suddenly on the verge of shocked tears.

Robin placed both hands on her shoulders, looking down at the girl.

“I need someone I can trust to watch Morgan’s back,” he said. “And in the unlikely event we fail the world will need more than one person capable of using Dark Magic. So I need you to keep each other alive, okay?”

Noire sniffled and nodded, seemingly mollified. To Robin’s surprise he suddenly found himself in a tight hug, Noire’s wiry arms wrapped around him as she buried her face in his shoulder. He glanced at Yarne with wide eyes for a moment, the same look emulated on the half-Taguel’s face, before Noire drew back with another sniffle.

“I-I’m sorry…” she muttered, downcast. “It’s just… i-in the future… you died and…”

“Forget it,” Robin said, patting the girl gently on the top of her black hair. “If I die here I can’t spend time with my favourite niece, right? Go find Severa and then keep everyone safe for me. Please.”

Noire looked up as Robin dropped his hand, smiling radiantly before nodding, a determined set coming to her features as she dashed off after Severa.

“That made me want to vomit,” Aversa suddenly drolled behind Robin, reminding him she was still there.

“Well bury that feeling, because you’re the one that’s taking up her spot on the main team now,” the tactician snapped embarrassedly, breaking into a powerwalk towards the tent not far from them now.

“Goody,” the sorceress muttered, rolling her eyes as she followed him.

Yarne blinked, staring after the two for a few moments before jumping a little when he realised he was being left behind, hurrying after them.

“Who the hell are you anyway, lady?” he asked the snarky sorceress as he jogged to catch up.

Robin looked around the large tent at the assembled members of the main team that would be assaulting Grima while the others distracted his Risen and Naga-knew what else. Arrayed sitting, leaning or standing around the tent were the best of the Shepherds, the strongest warriors in the world and some of the people he trusted most in the world.

Except for Aversa, standing in the back with her arms crossed and a scowl on her face, but she was the odd one out.

Chrom, Sumia and Lucina were sitting in the front side by side, Tiki and Flavia both sitting not far from the two Ylissean royals. Tharja was standing off to one side near Robin, doing nothing to disguise the glare she was shooting at Aversa. Yarne was fidgeting next to Severa, whose carefully neutral face hid whatever was eating at her since they had landed on the island. Say’ri wore a similar expression, but in the brief moment he’d been able to share with Lucina the princess had told him what had happened to the foreign queen; one more thing to deal with later. Vaike, Frederick and Virion all sat, looking at Robin expectantly, too.

“The plan is simple,” Robin said. “We go to the peak and cover Chrom while he kills the other me, Grima’s avatar, and try not to get eaten by a big dragon while we’re at it. According to my research Grima is still tied to his avatar who is tethering him in this plane. If we kill the avatar, we cut the cord and Grima should be no more. Or at least weak enough that Tharja and I can bind him, in which event Chrom kills him, too. Questions?”

Silence reigned in the tent before Aversa started laughing.

“That’s it?” she gasped, holding her sides as she desperately tried not to double over from laughing. “That’s your genius master plan? We just waltz on up and kill the most powerful being in existence?”

“Pretty much,” Robin shrugged. “You got a better idea?”

“We don’t have time for a ‘better idea’,” Frederick grunted, crossing his arms and frowning.

“It was a figure of speech,” Robin sighed. “We’re going ahead with my plan.”

“Far be it from me to question your ‘genius’-” Aversa started.

“Then don’t,” Robin cut her off. “Anyone have any real questions? No? Okay, dismissed. Get some rest, have something to eat. Prepare yourselves, because once we start this mission we don’t stop until Grima’s dead. Tharja, take care of Aversa, please. Make sure she’s kitted out and up to speed on what we’re doing.”

The Dark Mage momentarily directed her glare at Robin before she turned it back to the other woman, Aversa meeting her gaze glare-for-glare as they silently exited the tent. Robin almost wanted to secretly follow them so that he could see how it turned out between the two Dark Mages, but unfortunately once again he had more important things to do.

“Say’ri, I need to see you before you leave,” the tactician added before she could disappear.

As the others filed out Say’ri sunk back to her seat, leaning forward and staring at the ground with her elbows resting on her knees. She sat in the posture of a tired soldier, rather than the elegant queen that Robin was used to seeing, which felt somehow wrong. The last to leave was Lucina, who lingered at the entrance just long enough to give Robin an encouraging smile and nod before leaving in a flash of swaying blue hair. Robin waited until he was sure they were alone before he spoke up.

“Are you good, Say’ri?” Robin asked without preamble.

The woman glanced up, nodding once.

“I am fine.”

“Look, I heard about what happened with the Deadlords, and-”

“Fie, Robin, I assure you I am fine,” Say’ri said, smiling as she sat up straight. “It hurts, but… I will not let that bastard break me. I already bade my farewells to Yen’fay. It is my duty to ensure his memory is not tarnished by these monsters.”

Robin nodded, grinning a little. “Great. That’s great. The last thing I need is to have to take Lon’qu off the support team to replace you.”

Say’ri laughed a little, smiling before her face grew serious again.

“This is… the end, isn’t it?” she asked quietly. “One way or another, this is where the story ends.”

“Good riddance,” Robin scoffed, sinking into the chair next to her. “I’d really like to move on to the next story.”

“And what story is that?” Say’ri asked, a wistful smile appearing on her face.

Robin let out a sigh, leaning back and locking his fingers behind his head.

“Living,” he said simply. “Living in peace. All of us. Ruling nations, building lives… I think I may start a school for tacticians, personally…”

Say’ri nodded, the smile not leaving her face.

“I look forward to returning to my homeland,” she admitted, her voice taking on a far-away quality as she remembered her home. “I miss it. I miss the quiet order; the structure and artistry that go into every-day life. By the time I return the cherry blossoms will be in bloom again. I… would have liked you to see them.”

Robin snorted through his nose, still looking up.

“Why wouldn’t I be able to see them?” he asked. “You banning me from your country or something? My daughter’s the princess, you know, she can get me back in if I ask nicely.”

Say’ri looked at him curiously from the corner of her eyes as he continued staring up at the canvas roof of the tent.

“After… everything that has happened between us, you still wish to see my homeland?” she asked hesitantly.

“Sure,” Robin replied honestly. “And I still want you to show me around. We’re friends now, right?”

Say’ri went silent, looking at Robin in astonishment before bursting into laughter.

“What? I was serious…” Robin grumbled, shooting the woman a dirty look out of the corner of his eye. “Why do people keep laughing at me lately…?”

Say’ri continued to laugh, holding her stomach as she hunched over, tears of mirth running down her face.

“N-no,” she stuttered, desperately trying to stifle her mirth. “It… it is merely…”

She failed miserably, though, throwing her head back and laughing until she was done. Robin rolled his eyes as Say’ri rocked back and forth, unable to control her laughter.

“Oh gods, I do not think I have ever laughed that hard in my life,” Say’ri sighed, wiping a tear from her eye.

“Are you done now?” Robin asked, raising one eyebrow. “Ready to explain why that was so funny?”

“Yes,” Say’ri said, straightening her armour and clearing her throat. “I merely found it amusing that we are charging into the open jaws of death and you are more worried about a guided tour of my homeland.”

Robin shrugged.

“You’ve lost me,” he admitted. “Why would I want to wander around a country where no one speaks the same language as me lost?”

“It is not that,” Say’ri insisted. “You… it is that you worry about the smallest things, while we fight for something as big as the very future. I find it infuriatingly endearing.”

“If you don’t make plans for the future it’ll pass you by,” Robin said with a grin.

“Very well, then,” Say’ri said with a nod. “I shall arrange to show you my homeland. I must show Morgan her heritage, anyway, so it will not hurt to have two more along.”

“Two?” Robin repeated, perplexed.

“Indeed,” Say’ri said, smiling. “You and the Princess Lucina; I would imagine she would want to see some sights as well.”

Robin’s face broke into a grin as he let out a surprised laugh.

“Yeah. Yeah she probably would,” he agreed.

Robin ran a hand through his hair, pushing the short fringe back from his face as he glanced around the small camp for a hint of red hair. Severa always did a good job of not being found, which was why he had suggested Lon’qu train her in infiltration techniques in the first place; a choice he was beginning to regret a little, now. He even considered simply finding Yarne and telling the boy to sniff her out with his enhanced Taguel senses, but he needed his own time to prepare mentally for what was to come. Robin still needed to make sure that Severa was sound before they hit the peak, though. If there was even one weak link in the chain…

“And to think I actually used to be impressed by your tracking skills… It’s kind of pathetic, watching you wander around like this.”

“Severa,” Robin said, turning.

Sure enough the redheaded time-traveller was standing behind him, arms crossed as she looked apathetically at him.

“What the hell happened back there before the meeting?” he asked without preamble.

“Does it matter?” Severa asked, deflecting Robin’s question. “As long as it won’t happen again it’s none of your business, and it won’t happen again, so it’s none of your business.”

“Not good enough,” Robin snapped, speaking harsher than he usually did and making Severa visibly flinch. “Normally I’d let this kind of crappy-attitude slide, but this isn’t just about you and me; this is the whole freaking world. If you aren’t up to being on the assault team I’ll call Owain or Inigo and-”

“No!” Severa shouted desperately, halting Robin mid-rant.

“No…” she repeated again, looking down.

“Severa, talk to me,” Robin pressed, his voice returning to the gentler tone he usually used.

The redheaded swordswoman fidgeted uncharacteristically, still looking down. Robin knew she wasn’t as abrasive as she liked to pass herself off as; deep down she was even more empathetic and caring than her mother, which was a real feat for one so young. But as much as he respected and liked that about her, he couldn’t afford to have any weak links in the assault team.

“Severa…” Robin prompted, a little sterner.

“You died!” she shouted, fists balling up as her shoulders heaved. “Twice now! I’ve had to live through that twice! Once at Steiger, and… and after F-father died in the fut… ture…”

Her head snapped up, tears running down her face as she glared at Robin.

“I thought you’d died a third time, and I was scared, okay!?” she finished.

“That… that’s why I can’t be taken off the assault team,” she added, looking back down. “You and Father are both going and… I can’t…”

“I know that, Severa,” Robin went on, stone-faced and unmoving, “But I also need to know that you’ll hold the line today, no matter what.”

“I am a soldier,” she scoffed, wiping her face on the back of her sleeve. “No matter what… this is bigger than just us, right?”

Robin nodded, surprising the girl by stepping in and giving her a gentle hug.

“That’s all I needed to hear,” he said. “And honestly, I feel better knowing you’re watching my back. Owain’s batty, and Inigo’s a good fighter, but his focus tends to wander, especially when Tharja’s cloak starts flapping around…”

Severa snorted, making a choked sound halfway between a sob and a laugh.

“Alright,” she said after a moment. “Alright. Stop hugging me now, or I’m telling Lucina.”

“Be my guest,” Robin said, tightening his hold. “I’ll just tell your mother about how worried you were about me. I’m sure it will delight her.”

Severa froze in his embrace, becoming rigid and tense.

“You wouldn’t dare,” she said menacingly.

“Ha-hah! I hold all the cards now!” Robin declared, still hugging her.

Before he could continue his monologue all the air left his lungs in one burst, and the tactician collapsed to his knees coughing. Severa grinned down at him, her elbow-strike having knocked the wind out of the clingy man.

“Okay… lesson learned…” Robin gasped laughingly, rubbing his bruised solar-plexus.

“You were never so clingy in the future…” Severa muttered, turning away from Robin and crossing her arms defensively. “But… I’m kinda starting to get used to it… maybe… even like it a little…”

“What?” Robin asked, looking up. “You kinda trailed off there… what was that last part?”

“I said I’ll be watching your back during the assault, so you can stop worrying already! Gawds!” Severa shouted, spinning on her heel and storming off.

Robin chuckled quietly to himself, willing his stunned body to climb back to its feet and failing miserably.

“Hurricane Severa… sweeps through… again…” he muttered, keeling over onto his face with a piteous moan.

Sumia glanced up as someone ran through the flaps of the small tent she was occupying, a black-clad blur racing by her and ducking behind the large chest at the opposite end of the small space.

“I’m not here!” Robin whispered urgently, doing his best to conceal himself.

The question on the tip of the Ylissean queen’s tongue went unspoken when she heard a gruff voice calling out her friend’s name.

“Prince Robin!? Prince Robin, where are you!?” Algol wheezed, obviously not fully healed yet as he limped by the tent.

“Damn, and I was so sure I saw the rat-bastard run off this way…” the old Guard Captain muttered loudly as he passed the tent, before going back to calling Robin’s name.

“’Rat-bastard’?” Sumia repeated, giggling to herself as Robin stood and straightened his coat.

“I know, right?” he sighed. “Man’s been out of the healing tents all of ten minutes and now he’s hounding me like a… well… yeah, you saw it.”

“So you’re hiding in the Royal Tent?” Sumia asked, grinning a little at the tactician as he finally took in his surroundings.

“Oh… crap…” Robin muttered, looking around.

Chrom and Sumia’s belongings were strewn about, the former Pegasus Knight’s armour sitting on a rack in one corner as she mended one of the straps on one of her bronze-coloured greaves. From the look of things Chrom was still tromping around in his mostly-full suit, but one ruined arm-segment sat on the floor in the corner; Jake would have a fit when he saw that.

“I am so sorry, Sumia,” Robin said slowly, shaking his head. “I don’t know what came over me.”

“I’d say you were running from an overzealous bodyguard,” Sumia said knowingly. “I’ve been married to Chrom for quite a while now; I know the signs.”

“Ah. Right. Frederick,” Robin nodded seriously before breaking into a grin.

“Yes,” Sumia giggled. “But don’t tell either of them I said that.”

Robin nodded again, inching towards the tent flaps.

“Right, well, I’ll leave you to it,” he said, making to leave.

“Wait,” Sumia called after him. “I could actually use a hand here. If you’re not busy.”

Robin looked back to where the Queen was suggestively holding up her greave and grinning at him.

“C’mon, it’s a good place to hide,” she persisted.

Robin sighed theatrically and took the piece of armour from Sumia, holding it up and inspecting the damage.

“Fortunately, I did once read that book on proper armour maintenance you loaned me,” Robin muttered and he began poking at the straps on the back of the plate. “However I make no apologies for the quality of workmanship.”

Robin stuttered as he dropped the greave, snapping down and back up and trying not to grin sheepishly.

“Or… lack thereof,” he added.

Half an hour after sitting down to help Sumia repair her armour Robin found himself wandering through the small camp, torn between worrying about how Morgan and the army were doing and wondering where exactly the food had been set up, when he heard a woman shouting.

“No! Let me go! I’m fine, damn you; it’s only a flesh wound!”

“Wing-Commander, please!” a second voice begged. “Stop making this harder than it needs to be!”

Robin changed the direction of his aimless wandering, deciding that he had nothing better to do until the signal came down from the front lines. He stepped into the periphery of the camp where the Pegasus Knights had landed, spotting Cordelia struggling against two of her knights as she tried to climb back into her saddle.

“Cordelia, give it up already and- holy cow that is a lot more than just a flesh wound!”

The redheaded woman turned at the sound of Robin’s voice behind her, displaying for him the deep gash on the side of her head. Half of her face was painted in a red only a few shades darker than her hair, which was matted to the side of her head with more blood. Robin stepped in closer, peering at the wound as Cordelia shook her subordinates off her arms.

“I think I can see your brain…” Robin muttered, standing on his toes to get a good look at the injury.

The woman snorted, attempting to wipe the blood out of her eyes with the back of her hand and accomplishing little more than making more of a mess on her face.

“Head wounds bleed a lot, you know that,” she said quickly. “It’s just a scratch.”

“Just a scratch?” Robin scoffed, raising his eyebrow.

“I’ve had worse,” Cordelia insisted. “It’s not even going to slow me down. I can still keep fighting.”

“Uh-huh. What are you going to do, bleed on the Risen?” Robin deadpanned. “If you won’t go see a healer then sit tight and I’ll do it myself.”

Cordelia groaned in exasperation before nodding.

“Very well,” she conceded, turning to her waiting knights. “Ten minutes! Take water and food! We’re back in the air in ten minutes!”

“Can anyone lend me a staff?” Robin called out as the women, and Gerome, all dismounted and began to tend their mounts.

Cordelia audibly groaned as she rolled her eyes, turning to glower at Robin. Fortunately, the tactician was saved as Cynthia came rushing over, the younger blue-haired princess smiling through the dirt and grime crusting her face after hours of intense fighting.

“Here,” she said, holding out her staff. “It’s only basic, but it should do. I’d do it myself, but Palla needs water, and a hero’s steed’s needs must come before even her own!”

With that perplexing tongue twister clogging up Robin’s mind the excitable girl rushed off again, leaving the man with a very irked Wing-Commander.

“Make it quick,” Cordelia snapped, crossing her arms and looking back up the mountain. “I had to leave Nowi and Nah alone to fly support for Roark’s men. I need-”

“To shut up and sit still while I work,” Robin said, cutting her off as he roughly grabbed her chin and turned her head so he could see the wound.

“You’ve been spending way too much time with Frederick,” Robin continued, studying the injury carefully as he channelled his mana. “His irritating stubbornness is rubbing off on you.”

A warm glow appeared around Robin’s hand on Cordelia’s forehead next to the wound, spreading to encompass her entire head before growing and covering her completely with healing magic. Robin hated having to use healing arts, only having a staff to work with; at least with nature, anima or dark magic there were circles, wards and incantations to work off that he could use to focus his-

“Robin, I’m healed,” Cordelia said, a note of laughter in her voice. “You can let go of my face now.”

The tactician started, drawing his hand back quickly and stepping away from his friend. The aura of healing magic lingered for a few seconds before fading, leaving Cordelia wound-free and grinning at a flustered Robin.

Why does that happen every time? he wondered, glaring down at the staff in his hands.

Cordelia, still grinning, reached up and gently prodded at her forehead where a light pink welt was the only evidence she had even been wounded; even the blood that had been covering her had vanished thanks to the magic.

“Well done,” Cordelia said appreciatively as she inspected her forehead. “I think you could even give Lady Maribelle or Princess Lissa a run for their money…”

Robin snorted as he thrust the staff into the Wing Commander’s hands before turning on his heel.

“Yeah, but they don’t haemorrhage mana when they heal like I do. Make sure Cynthia gets that back, and try to avoid needing it a second time.”

“Robin, wait!” Cordelia called before he could take more than a step.

The tactician turned, curious to what she wanted now.

“I just want you to know that you don’t have to worry about being attacked from above when you face Grima,” Cordelia declared proudly. “The Pegasus Knights will be flying cover for you. All you need to do is look up, and we’ll be there.”

Robin nodded gratefully.

“Thank you, Cordelia. There’s no one I’d rather have flying support for me.”

The Wing Commander practically beamed at the compliment as she turned and began shouting orders to her knights again, leaving Robin free to his own devices once more.

Out of the corner of his eye he caught a man running towards the camp wearing the livery of a messenger, obviously there with the latest reports from Morgan and the front line.

“Oh dear sweet Naga please tell me they set up the mess tent on the way to the command tent,” he pleaded as he broke into a jog.

Morgan wiped the sweat out of her eyes with the back of her glove, her features set to a scowl as she surveyed the battlefield. Fighting uphill was never easy, especially against a foe like the Risen, to whom the words ‘self-preservation’ had no meaning. The Ylisseans and their allies were still steadily advancing, though, earning each meter of new ground with blood and sweat.

“We’re doing well,” her second shadow, the Royal Guard Amir, mentioned.

The taller man stood just behind her, leaning casually on his spear. So far the Plegian Royal Guard that had been assigned to her had managed to keep up with the Grandmaster; only two had been wounded so far, and only one of those two had been hurt to the point he’d needed to withdraw from the field.

“Don’t say that, you’ll jinx us,” Morgan muttered distractedly, shielding her eyes and looking up the slope.

She spun, rounding on one of the messengers.

“You, get this message to the unit leaders: The road gets suddenly steeper about two-hundred meters ahead of us, so if the Risen are going to make a counter-push that’s where they’ll do it, where our footing is off. Got that?”

“Yes, Grandmaster!” the messenger saluted before running off.

Amir frowned, shielding his eyes and looking over the soldiers and up the hill.

“Did you spot something?” he asked, squinting.

“No, but all of my tactician’s intuition alarm bells are ringing,” Morgan said as she turned back to the battle.

“What?” the guard asked curiously.

“I got a bad feeling,” Morgan said, spelling it out to the man.

“C’mon,” she added, starting to walk suddenly. “We’re heading back to the front.”

“Joy,” Amir muttered under his breath, waving over his shoulder.

In an instant the remaining members of Morgan’s Plegian Royal Guard squad were back in their positions around her, their pace already matched to hers as she stomped towards the front.

Ahead of her the Ylisseans trampled over the last of the Risen, roaring in success as they coalesced into a tighter group. The road thinned as it became steeper, and Morgan tensed in anticipation as the Ylissean soldiers charged heedlessly up it. The young Grandmaster passed a slower moving Miriel, leading Ricken, Laurent and the other Ylissean mages forwards in their support role; much to Morgan’s relief, the thin, bespectacled woman had a similar expression on her face, making the younger woman believe she wasn’t imagining the negative energy building up.

Without any resistance the Ylissean soldiers powered up the slope, passing the optimal point for an ambush unscathed. Morgan’s unease grew as she rushed to catch up, growing closer to the front ranks still charging in orderly lines with their units.

Morgan began to run now, the sense of unease growing as the soldiers continued their quick and orderly ascent.

They were too close to the summit…

This is where the fighting should have been the thickest…

Grima had missed the perfect ambush opportunity…

They were almost at the summit now, only about fifteen meters away and had yet to see another Risen…

The first of the Ylisseans reached the lip to the peak of the mountain, disappearing over it. Morgan flinched, waiting for the hammer to fall, and broke into a full sprint. Lon’qu was suddenly at her side, running with a determined frown on his features. Inigo and Owain were right behind him, falling in with Morgan and the Plegians around her.

Cold, cruel laughter brought the entirety of the Ylissean war machine stop just as she reached the small plateau at the peak. With wide eyes Morgan looked around at the small expanse of emptiness for the source of the voice.

“Welcome, one and all,” Grima’s avatar, for that’s all Morgan could allow herself to think of him as, said in her father’s voice.

“I bid you welcome,” he repeated, the voice now coming from behind Morgan.

She spun on her heel, sword coming up. Standing in the middle of the Ylisseans with a huge scythe resting across his shoulders was Grima’s avatar, the twisted version of her father. Beneath his open coat the scars on his chest glistened wetly, the grin on his face widening to display far too many pointed teeth for a human mouth to hold.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” he said, staring directly at Morgan.

Without warning one of the men closest to Morgan collapsed with a gurgling scream, a black-fletched arrow protruding from his throat.

“To arms!” Morgan cried, Risen crawling up out of the soldiers’ own shadows.

The men began to panic instantly as clawed hands gripped their ankles and rusted weapons began hacking at them from below. Unit cohesion collapsed almost instantly, and the steady flow of soldiers arriving on the backing up and halting as those atop the peak desperately tried to get back down.

“Hold!” Lon’qu roared, hacking low and felling Risen with every step he took. “Hold, damn you all! Fight! Fight or die!”

“This is insanity!” Amir shouted.

A hooked dagger bounced off the Plegian’s greave, carving a line but doing little else before the man flipped his halberd around and buried it in the Risen attacking him from his own shadow.

The scene was repeated all over the mountaintop; Ylissean soldiers were falling, Risen crawling up out of the dark shadows beneath them. Lon’qu was steadily trying to get more men onto the plateau and beginning to succeed, but-

The Feroxi swordsman howled suddenly, an arrow burying itself in his shoulder. With a snarl Lon’qu broke the shaft, glaring up at the small crag above them where the Deadlord Draco was perched, a stoic frown on his face beneath his dented cyclopean helm.

Morgan felt the familiar sinking sensation of fear, the same as when she had been running through the forest with Anna and Donnel…

At some point she’d lost Amir and the honour guard in the crowd, leaving her all alone again…

Her head snapped back and forth as she began to sink into the familiar despair again, the soldiers all around her dying and…

With wide eyes her gaze stopped on the phantom of Donnel, smiling kindly at her through a momentary gap in the press of soldiers. Another Ylissean momentarily blocked her view, and Donny disappeared, but she had already snapped back to her senses.

She wasn’t the same cowering, broken child she had been when she’d been captured.

She was the Grandmaster of the Ylissean armed forces, and it was high time she started acting like it.

“Form up!” Morgan shouted, the sudden fire in her voice actually bringing the panicking around her to a halt.

She snatched the horn from the closest of the signallers, the man staring wide-eyed at his surroundings and hyperventilating as froth began to build up in the corner of his mouth. The clear, four-toned blasts from Morgan cut through the sense of fear, soldiers beginning to snap to their senses.

“Form up!” Morgan shouted again, punctuating her orders with more horn blasts. “Phalanx formation! Shoulders together, present a wall!”

She tossed the horn to Lon’qu, who took up repeatedly signalling for the soldiers to form ranks as Inigo and Owain began cajoling the men around them into position.

Morgan turned, suddenly realising that the arrows had stopped flying at the Ylissean soldiers, glancing over to where Grima was still standing, smiling at them.

Or at least where Grima had been standing a few moments ago, Morgan realised with a sudden spike of fear. Off to one side soldiers shrieked and flew into the air, their cries accompanied by Grima’s manic laughter as he swung his wicked scythe in wide arcs.

“He wasn’t supposed to be here this soon!” Inigo shouted as he drew up beside Morgan.

“I know!” Morgan shouted back.

“What do we do!?” Inigo asked, clearly shaken. “We can’t fight that monster!”

“We don’t have to! We just have to keep him busy!” Morgan said, her tone becoming grim.

Owain, Panne and Basilio appeared behind the younger man, the big Feroxi Khan seemingly stepping out of thin air.

“Bring it on!” Basilio roared.

“My sword hand may finally be unleashed!” Owain shouted, brandishing his weapon towards the avatar.

Panne just leaned forward, silently shifting into her Taguel form and digging her claws into the earth in anticipation.

A familiar clanking sound of armour from behind made Morgan turn; she watched as Kellam appeared from the press of bodies, indomitable and imposing in his old orange armour, with the wounded Lon’qu in tow.

“Go!” Kellam urged her. “Keep him busy! I’ll handle the small-fry! Frederick and Cordelia should be here any second now! I’ll manage ‘til then!”

Morgan nodded to the armoured man, entrusting the soldiers into his care. Lon’qu wordlessly slipped into formation with the other Shepherds, glaring at Grima’s avatar and ignoring the blood-soaked rag wrapped around his bicep. The avatar glanced up at them, a forked reptilian tongue darting out to lick at the blood splattered on its cheek, and smiled that smile full of too many razor-sharp teeth again.

A new clarion call echoed around them, accompanied by the sound of racing hooves on the hard-packed earth.

“For Ylisse!” Frederick roared, leading a charge of Knights around the periphery of the battle, routing the Risen and taking the pressure off of the soldiers Kellam was whipping back into formation.

Leaving Morgan and the five other Shepherds to face Grima unopposed.

Above them the Deadlord Draco noticed the threat his master, gleefully tearing into the Ylisseans with his favoured weapon, had failed to see yet. Nocking an arrow the silent Deadlord took a deep breath, his sights settling on the girl leading the army-

He threw himself backwards as an arrow streaked by his face, sparks dancing off his metal helmet as the bolt gouged another line in the shining surface.

Below him, ignoring the pandemonium around her and already calmly nocking another arrow, was the black-haired archer girl he had duelled with at the Dragon’s Table. Something was different about her this time, though…

Noire let another arrow loose, and just before her hand left the bowstring a small purple flash coalesced on the arrow’s head as dark magic infused the shot. Draco scoffed a little, leaping sideways and flying through the air, shooting three more arrows of his own in quick succession as the girl’s went wide. With a grunt Draco landed in the melee

The girl cursed, following him through the press and firing off regular arrows every time the crowded battlefield parted enough for her to get a clear shot. Draco grinned now, his usual stoicism forgotten as he duelled with the girl again, shooting off shots to mirror her own. Where her arrows missed and went wide every shot he fired struck one of the soldiers around her or even knocked her own out of the air. She was good; she was better than good, the girl was a superb archer. Unfortunately, she had clearly spent too much time focusing on whatever magic she was infusing every third shot with. It was taking her too long to do, and every time she would have gotten a glancing hit or even a solid one she wasted it by trying to fell him with the dark magic bolts. Draco even started purposely giving her the openings to mock her, waiting to see what she would do.

As the two archers danced their way through the melee, arrows flying back and forth, Noire felt nothing but cool confidence. Her face didn’t change from the determined scowl she wore, sticking to the pattern she had practiced with.

Shot, shot, magic… shot, shot, magic…

She could see the openings that the overconfident Deadlord was starting to give her now, how he was purposely baiting her into using up her arrows and wasting perfect shots, but still she waited. Her arrows were running out now, and as her fingers wrapped around the last one in her quiver the Deadlord grinned, pointing his bow levelly at Noire when she let the last bolt fly.

Noire grinned now, drawing the empty bowstring back again.

The cyclopean Deadlord hesitated now, not taking the shot he should have as Noire’s final arrow flew by his head, missing his neck by centimetres.

Dark magic danced around her bowstring, and with a feeling of impending victory Noire let a charged Flux-arrow fly.

Draco bared his teeth in an outraged snarl as the arrow-shaped spell crashed into his chest, leaving a dark scorch mark and forcing him onto the defensive. He dove and rolled as a line of dark magic arrows followed him, coming up and dragging a surprised soldier into their path to give him a moment to collect himself. The unsuspecting man screamed as the dark magic tore through his armour, dropping limp and dead from Draco’s grip as he loosed three more arrows in Noire’s direction.

Noire dodged, spinning elegantly around the bolts and tugging her bowstring twice, shooting off more bolts of magic at the retreating Deadlord, darting after him.

Noire’s bow had been enhanced, the runes and patters for the simple ‘flux’ spell carved into the wood surface rather than inked in a spellbook. Thanks to her affinity for the weapon the spell was cast within seconds each time. She had, simply put, been baiting the Deadlord.

Skidding on her heels Noire came to a halt, loosing a torrent of magic arrows at the Risen around her to clear space before setting her sights back on the Deadlord, her numerous shots taking out one of his legs and reducing it to dead weight, almost severing the limb in a shower of magic and black gore. The helmed creature went down onto one knee, struggling to keep retreating from the wrathful archer.

Noire lowered her bow, sauntering over with swaying hips the same way her mother approached a looming kill, with the same cruel smile on her lips.

Draco’s mind reeled. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to go! She was meant to offer him a challenge, yes, but this… she was going to kill him!

His forward momentum was stopped when someone stomped on his good ankle. He struggled to flip over, trying to bring an arrow up to offer some resistance. The bolt was knocked out of his hand as the archer girl levelled her empty bow at him.

“Blood and thunder,” Noire whispered, drawing her bowstring back one last time.

The spell hit the Deadlord clean as the bowstring sang, purple ashes blowing outwards as the empty helm clattered to the ground amid the dust and ashes.

Owain watched as Noire darted off into the wild melee all around them, chasing after the Deadlord archer. Around them magic began to detonate among the already scattered Ylissean forces, making their fight all the more dangerous for them. He almost followed after Noire, just to make sure his friend stayed safe, before his attention snapped back to his own predicament as Panne darted forward into the melee after something only she with her enhanced senses could see.

Morgan glowered beside him, shifting into a ready stance. Inigo and Owain emulated her, Basilio simply grinning as he rested his axe on one shoulder.

Two more forms stepped out of the melee from behind Grima, one impossibly tall and another around Owain’s height-

“Donnel!?” Morgan shouted, aghast.

Owain blinked his eyes disbelievingly, looking at the Deadlord wearing the deceased Shepherd’s face.

“Oh, you like my handiwork?” Grima’s avatar asked lightly, indicating over to the grey-skinned farm boy. “His body was just sitting there in the ground going to waste, and I thought ‘waste not, want not’! Why don’t you show them just how perfect I got you, Rattus? Amplus?”

The two new Deadlords stepped forward, readying their own weapons. Owain stopped gaping at the revived Donnel, looking instead at-

Basilio burst out laughing, doubling over before pushing through the younger Shepherds and levelling his axe at the taller of the two Deadlords.

“Is this supposed to be Walhart!?” Basilio roared, still half laughing. “It’s not even my birthday and you brought me a present!?”

Without further warning the bald Khan launched himself towards the axe-wielding Walhart-Deadlord, still laughing as he flew along the ground like a shot, spinning in an arc and driving him into the melee. Both forms were lost almost immediately, swallowed up by the chaotic press of bodies. All that Owain could hear above the clashing of weapons was the Khan’s booming laughter.

“Morgan, we’ll distract the avatar,” Inigo said, inching forward. “Kill the Deadlord and then help us keep him busy.”

Without another word or even waiting to see what Morgan’s response was the young man threw himself forward, Owain only a second behind him.

“Yes!” Owain cried. “At last, a foe worthy of my blade!”

“Shut it and fight for once!” Inigo shouted back.

Miriel frowned slightly, watching as explosions began ripping through the Ylissean and allied lines. She, Laurent and Ricken had just reached the peak at the head of the remaining combat rated mages from Ylisse, and none-too-soon it appeared, further magical fire spreading among the Ylissean lines. From her side Ricken bobbed up and down on his toes, trying to see what the taller woman was looking at.

“What’s going on?” the younger mage asked.

Miriel’s answer was stolen from her mouth as an explosion rocked them back on their heels, many of the mages at her back choosing to guard their eyes and shield their faces.

“Stand firm!” Miriel ordered, using a quick wind magic spell to amplify and carry her voice.

With another wind spell and a wave of her hand she cleared the dust and debris in the air around them.

“This is but a momentary diversion!” she continued. “All mages are to terminate our foes spells in the air before they cause further disarray among the Ylissean army. Advance to advantageous positioning at regulated intervals around the plateau and remain out of enemy range. Provide assistance to the soldiers as oft as possible. Laurent, Ricken; we shall silence the enemy mage.”

“All of that is coming from one mage?” Ricken asked incredulously.

“Very well, mother,” Laurent said without hesitation, flipping his spellbook open.

Miriel started forward again, reaching for her own spellbook as the last of the Ylissean mages spread out around the battlefield, already deflecting spells mid-air or blasting Risen out of the path of the Ylissean soldiers still streaming to the top of the mountain.

Miriel tuned this all out, storing the information she was seeing in the back of her mind for processing later. She was curious as to where the enemy mage was attacking from, and that was her driving force; curiosity. Risen mages, too, were a rare breed; they had only discovered a few of them, and never had she been able to properly gauge their strength. Her only recourse now was to engage one in single combat, with Laurent and Ricken acting as her support. She wouldn’t die for the sake of her curiosity, but she did want to see it slaked.

More spells shot out of the crowd of soldiers and Risen, shooting into the air and detonating when opposing magic was cast by the observant Ylissean mages. However, Miriel had seen all she needed, and now knew the location of the enemy mage. A Deadlord, judging from the initial strength in the magic formulae she had witnessed.

Another volley of spells shot up, and Miriel felt her pulse quicken as the scholar in her became excited at the prospect of finally facing a Deadlord. She had remained in Ylisstol during the Dragon’s Table fiasco, and had therefore missed her first opportunity, but now…

“Eureka,” she muttered, pinpointing the enemy’s location.

Ricken’s face scrunched up, magic dancing around his hands before the Risen around them were thrown aside by the young man’s wind magic, leaving the Deadlord woman wholly exposed to the three other mages.

“Asinine knave!” Miriel declared, throwing her hand out.

The Deadlord mage, a woman no taller than Ricken wearing black Dark Mage’s robes, recoiled at Miriel’s elfire spells, swatting them out of the air just before they reached her with well-timed wind magic.

The Deadlord woman rallied as Laurent began casting lightning magic, the sky overhead darkening further as clouds coalesced for his spell. She thrust out her clawed hands, dark magic infused lightning arcing out and dancing along the ground, aiming directly for Laurent. With a guttural grunt Miriel threw the taller boy clear, hopping backwards as the spell singed the front of her robes.

Doing something incredibly rare for her, Miriel acted on instinct and harnessed the interrupted Laurent’s spell, bringing the almost complete arcthunder back under control. She muttered the last of the incantation under her breath as well as infusing her own mana with her son’s, and with a blinding flash from above golden torrents of electricity rained down on the Deadlord.

The Deadlord let out a blood-curdling shriek, informing Miriel she had hit her target. The mage turned to where Laurent was sitting back up, brushing the dust off his hat and righting his spectacles. Miriel offered her hand to help him up, which he gratefully took.

“Superb technique,” he commented, climbing back to his feet with his mother’s aid.

“I did not cause any undue physical trauma with my blow?” she asked.

“Of course not, mother,” Laurent assured her. “You have my thanks.”

The woman nodded, her hair bobbing with the motion.

“Er, not to break up a happy family moment, but…” Ricken interrupted, indicating back to the battlefield.

In the small crater caused by Miriel and Laurent’s arcthunder spell the Deadlord mage was crawling back to her feet, staggering upwards and glaring with glowing red eyes at the three mages.

“Remarkable,” Miriel breathed.

“They are indeed quite durable creatures,” Laurent agreed with a sigh.

“What do we do?” Ricken asked, a slight waver in his voice. “That arcthunder spell should have annihilated her!”

“I have a thought,” Miriel said, raising her hand.

Three blasts of basic fire spells punched into the Deadlord from Miriel’s hand, causing her to stagger backwards. Laurent and Ricken followed suit, Ricken scything with wind magic while Laurent called on more lighting spells. A cloud of dust was thrown up again as the three mages bombarded their target, and with another hate-filled scream of frustration the Deadlord mage Anguilla was destroyed in a hail of anima spells.

Robin stepped onto the pandemonium of the battlefield again, teleporting alone from the forward-camp to the front lines. The plan was to gather at the summit once Morgan and Lon’qu had cleared the way with the rest of the armed forces, but something was bugging Robin.

It was a feeling he couldn’t quite put his finger on; one he attributed to his sixth sense for magical resonance. Unfortunately, the entire mountain reeked of Grima’s particular brand of fell dark magic, so the tactician had made an attempt to block out his sixth sense rather than have it overloaded; he wouldn’t be able to sense anything properly anyway with all the background residue.

Robin was jostled out of his thoughts as a squad dashed by him, some of the men bumping him in their haste to reinforce the front lines.

Morgan had been doing well so far, but that burst of fell magic…

“Yup,” Robin muttered to himself as three Ylissean bodies went flying through the air at the front line, all neatly bisected.

“This day officially sucks…”

With another surge of mana Robin found himself back in the Ylissean basecamp, standing inside a ring of the perplexed Assault Team members.

“Timeframe’s moving up!” he declared. “Grima’s avatar has already taken the field! Every member of the Assault Team get ready, thirty seconds! Grab onto someone else!”

The Shepherds all looked confused for a moment before doing as Robin instructed and taking up arms. The tactician turned to one of the attendants waiting patiently in the corner, startling the man.

“Send everything to the summit,” he ordered. “Every man at arms, every soldier, fighter and man still capable of swinging a sword. This is it. We’re not holding anything back.”

The man nodded, rushing to relay Robin’s orders.

Chrom gave him a nod, hand clapping down on his shoulder. Sumia took hold of Chrom’s other hand, gripping the lance she reserved for fighting on foot with her free hand. A gentle brushing at his elbow signalled Lucina, smiling up at him reassuringly as she linked her arm with his. All around them the Shepherds grabbed onto each other, a dismounted Frederick the last to do so as he looked to make sure that the chain wasn’t broken anywhere.

Just as Robin opened his mouth to speak he was interrupted by a familiar voice, one he’d been dreading hearing.

“Milord, wait!” Algol called, limping towards them with his halberd in hand and Sahiri right behind him.

Robin rolled his eyes as Chrom snickered a little. The Exalt and Lucina both stepped back to let Robin deal with his ‘subordinates’.

“Algol, as your Prince I order you to sod off,” Robin growled, turning away from the Guard Captain.

“I’m not going with you, you dunce,” Algol guffawed. “I know my limits. I have a gift from Lord Mustafa he bade me give you for this occasion. I’ve been trying to give it to you all afternoon, but you must have been very busy, seeing as every time I spotted you, you ran like a hare.”

Robin cleared his throat in embarrassment and nodded, Sumia quietly giggling behind him. Chrom raised a questioning brow to his wife’s laughter, but she just shook her head silently promising to tell him later.

The old Guard Captain nudged Sahiri with his elbow, the girl stepping forward and producing a lacquered box. Popping it open she knelt down before Robin, offering the contents up to him.

The tactician’s eyes widened, his breath catching as his blood ran cold. Sitting inside the box, safely wrapped in velvet, was the dagger from his dream. The very first one he’d had, the vision of the moment that the other him had ceased to be human and become Grima’s avatar. The dagger that had killed Chrom in the future.

Its name rose unbidden to Robin’s mind in a flash of second-hand memory from his future self, an image of the first time he pried the small blade from Gangrel’s cold, dead hand on the battlefield.

Raziel. The blade of mysteries and keeper of secrets, Robin recalled, looking down at the weapon. Really? Does every fancy weapon have to have a stupid name? Couldn’t I at least get a fancy tooth-sword like Chrom has?

“It’s a relic passed down in the Plegian Royal family,” Algol explained. “It’s supposedly made from one of Grima’s fangs. He thought it might help a little.”

Robin nodded, his mouth dry as he let Sahiri strap it to his hip next to the remnants of Chrom’s old rapier.

The girl smiled as she stepped back.

“We believe in you, milord,” she said, her voice thick with emotion. “All of us in the resistance. All of Plegia. We know you’ll be the one to free us from Grima’s shadow once and for all.”

Robin nodded, offering his hand. Sahiri started at first, confused by the motion before understanding sunk in. She took the proffered appendage, shaking it a few times before releasing him and stepping back into a low, respectful bow.

“Didn’t think I’d live to see a worthy man on the Plegian throne,” Algol admitted as he stepped forward, gripping Robin’s outstretched hand. “I’m glad you were the one to prove me wrong, lad.”

“Don’t get used to it,” Robin grinned as they separated. “I’m going to be far too busy once all of this is over to lead a nation.”

“I’m sure we’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” Algol laughed, snapping into a smart salute.

“Nagaspeed, Prince Robin,” the older man said before turning and limping towards the beach, Sahiri offering Robin one last smile before following him.

“Everybody ready? Okay, hold on,” Robin instructed, turning back towards the smiling Shepherds. “And if this is your first time teleporting, try not to puke on my coat.”

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