Basilio laughed as he threw his weight around behind his axe, forcing the Walhart copy onto the defensive right from the get-go.
He grinned at the unseeing Deadlord, its sightlessness taken one step farther than the original Walhart’s had been and his lids actually stitched shut. The big thing moved like Walhart had, it even felt like Walhart when its counter-blows were deflected off Basilio’s axe. But for all of that…
“You’re just a weak copy, aren’t you!?” the Khan challenged, bringing his axe down and staggering the Deadlord.
The wounded Lon’qu hung back, striking at any Risen that came too close and occasionally assisting the soldiers around them, never drifting far from where Basilio was duelling with the Deadlord.
The Deadlord, Amplus, ground its black teeth and stomped on the ground, rooting itself and turning Basilio’s latest strike. The older man danced backwards much more nimbly than his size belied, rallying and holding his axe out in challenge.
“So you do have some actual fight in you,” the bald Khan laughed. “I was starting to get worried for a minute there.”
The Deadlord growled and spat before launching himself forwards at Basilio, the air whistling as his axe cut through it. Sparks flew as Basilio brought his own weapon up, thunderclaps echoing around them as their axes struck again and again.
Amplus surged forward now, his brow furled in concentration as he wielded his axe two-handed. Basilio let himself be pushed back, tricking the Deadlord into entering Lon’qu’s range. All at once the wounded swordmaster struck, his one-handed blows raining down on Amplus’ soft spots. Armour chipped and sparks flew, accompanied by splashes of corrupt blood as Lon’qu danced between the two men with grace that made Basilio proud of his old second.
The Deadlord snarled his rage at being wounded, bringing his axe down on Lon’qu’s back. Basilio caught the blow at the last second, circling the weapons and locking Amplus’ down as Lon’qu pirouetted, his sword flashing a figure-eight that scored deep lines on the Deadlord’s blind face.
With a bull-like bellow Amplus charged forward, head-butting Basilio before throwing him backwards with one hand gripping his shoulder. Lon’qu was sent stumbling, too, as Amplus hit him with a wicked back-hand.
Basilio glanced up, cursing the fact that a blind Deadlord had used his blind-spot against him like that, and realised with a sinking feeling he’d never make it back in time before Amplus was on Lon’qu. The swordsman realised this, too, and valiantly took up a defensive stance as the Deadlord drew closer.
Rumbling footfalls marked the Deadlord’s passing, in time with Basilio’s racing heart as he rushed to defend his protégé from certain death. The smaller man was fenced in by Risen and soldiers fighting behind him, giving him nowhere to go.
Lon’qu was wounded; there was no way he’d survive more than a single strike from that monster.
Basilio roared in frustration, axe high to mirror the stance that Amplus had taken, but he was too slow…
Lon’qu snarled, bringing his sword up with both hands despite his wound…
The Deadlord’s axe descended, but the blow never landed. He was stopped mid-strike by a giant brown creature appearing from the melee, Panne leaping onto Amplus from the side and burying her claws in his massive arm.
Lon’qu used this time to duck out of the way and to safety, Basilio closing with the distracted Deadlord as Panne toreat the limb in her grasp with her teeth. Amplus growled, smashing the Taguel in the head with the flat of his axe haphazardly until she retreated. Panne backpedalled, shaking her head side-to-side as her vision spun from the Deadlord’s blows.
Basilio was on him before he could press the attack against the injured shape-shifter, hacking deep into the creature’s shoulder. Nerveless fingers dropped the axe they were holding as Basilio’s blow bit deep, Amplus giving a yelp. The Deadlord turned, his dinner-plate sized hand smashing into the Khan’s face with an open palm and forcing him down to the ground. Grey fingers, the colour of earth in a graveyard clawed at Basilio’s good eye, making him drop his own weapon to hold them back. He wrapped both hands around the massive wrist, putting all his strength into pushing the arm back. Amplus pushed harder, the two of them caught in a stalemate. Despite this, the Khan found more laughter bubbling up from his chest.
Amplus looked confused for a moment before Panne’s claws sunk deep into his back, her fangs wrapping around his exposed neck. Lon’qu darted forward, his sword slipping between armour joins and right into where the Deadlord’s heart should have been.
The creature shuddered and fell to one knee, his hand going slack and falling from Basilio’s face.
The Khan stood, wiping the dirt from his face with the back of his fist, grinning like a madman. Panne and Lon’qu both leapt back, fearing what would happen if they got in the way.
“This is for that beating in Valm!” he shouted, putting all his weight into a vicious kick that hit the Deadlord square in the face.
Amplus actually flew back about a meter, despite the heavy armour he was wearing. Ignoring the axe he had dropped Basilio rushed forward with his empty hands, placing one on each side of the Deadlord’s head before he could rise again. With a vicious jerk in one direction, followed by another in the opposite, the Deadlord Amplus exploded into ashes and smoke.
“Keep ‘em coming!” Basilio roared as he stood, looking for his next target. “There’s more where that came from!”
Panne and Lon’qu both rolled their eyes, falling in behind the Khan as he bent to pick up his axe and started hacking at the Risen all around them.
Morgan faced the Donnel Deadlord that Grima had called ‘Rattus’ with a chilling glare. He stood motionless, waiting for her to move, daring her to attack first.
If this thing really was somehow connected to the old Donny, then it would fight defensively, the same way that the young farm boy had in life. Meaning Morgan’s only recourse was to overpower him utterly, destroy him with an overwhelming offensethat he couldn’t withstand, and not give him any room to counter-attack.
The avatar laughed, off to Morgan’s flank, as Inigo and Owain charged him. The creature wearing her father’s face spun his scythe, throwing up unsuspecting Ylissean soldiers as he turned his massive weapon and blocked the blows from the two boys.
The Grandmaster had to marvel at the sheer level of destructive power the avatar wielded; every blow, every movement; every time he even blocked another attack he killed something in a spectacular fashion. Morgan watched as the two boys fought him back, the avatar moving in a cloud of blood and flying limbs, before she turned her attention back to the Deadlord calmly waiting for her, a sword in one hand and a kite-shield strapped to the other.
Without giving any thought Morgan sped forward, her sword low to the ground in a loose grip so she could flick it up at the creature below his guard.
With blinding speed the Deadlord stepped back, Morgan’s blow going wide. Re-thinking her strategy Morgan used the momentum, bringing the toe of her boot up at the Deadlord’s face in a lightning-fast kick. Rattus stepped around her, though, moving mercurially around her blows. Feeling her frustration growing Morgan pressed her attack, swinging her sword wide one-handed and spinning around, lashing out with her open-hand before leaning to deliver a side-kick aimed at Rattus’ stomach. Morgan’s frustration took on a tint of fear as the Deadlord smoothly moved around every blow, grinning at her now.
Her last kick left her off balance, and as she stepped forward to stop herself from falling, Rattus finally went on the offensive. With blistering speed the Deadlord brought his knee up, smashing into Morgan’s stomach so hard she felt her armour crack. Her arms dropped low as the air was compressed out of her, but Morgan still found herself grinning triumphantly as she wrapped her arms around the Deadlord’s leg and pulled. Rattus fell onto his back, Morgan never letting go of her hold on his leg, and viciously jerked the limb. There was a sickening pop as the knee dislocated, Rattus’ face changing from the damned serene expression to a grimace of pain.
Morgan moved, her sword poised and ready to strike-
“Please, don’t!” the Deadlord cried out piteously in a perfect imitation of Donnel’s voice.
It was just enough to throw Morgan off and give the Deadlord a chance to get away from her. With his good leg Rattus kicked down, cracking the ground beneath Morgan’s left foot before spinning himself upwards on one hip, sweeping his leg and forcing her back further, re-opening the space between them.
“That was a dirty trick,” Morgan growled through clenched teeth, her gaze becoming deadly.
Rattus merely shrugged, stepping back into a defensive stance again and completely ignoring the fact his knee was ruined.
Morgan roared, throwing herself forward again. She struck high, forcing the Deadlord to bring his own sword up to block, but before she could launch a kick to his damaged knee like she’d planned the edge of his shield caught her beneath her chin, sending her sprawling. She hadn’t even seen the blow coming it had been so fast.
She staggered back, spitting a line of blood down her chin from where she’d bitten herself. With a grimace she stepped back again, winding herself up for another attack.
“Just give up,” Rattus said, his voice soft and friendly like Donny’s had been.
“Shut up,” Morgan growled.
“It’s alright, Morgan,” Rattus persisted, taking two steps forward. “Just let go.”
The Grandmaster took two steps back, her retreat matching Rattus’ advance.
“You can call it… Payment for killing me,” Rattus said, his voice rising as he launched himself forward.
Morgan’s eyes widened, caught off-guard by the accusation. She found herself desperately evading his attacks, the Deadlord’s sword bouncing off her coat numerous times in near misses. Sparks flashed as new lines were cut on her breastplate.
With a pained shout Morgan fell backwards, narrowly avoiding a bisecting blow that would have taken off one of her arms, coat or no coat. She stumbled, staggering back again as Rattus watched her retreat.
“You did kill me,” he said, his voice merely a whisper in Morgan’s ears.
“Liar!” she shouted, her voice shrill.
“It was your fault!” Rattus shouted back, his face distorting with rage.
Morgan shook her head, tears threatening to fall as she ran forward again. Rattus barely had to try this time, simply slapping aside her weapon with his shield and striking her shoulder with the pommel of his sword, bringing Morgan to her knees at his feet.
“I’m sorry, Donny,” Morgan sobbed, her head falling low.
Rattus tossed his shield aside, holding his sword above his head, poised to strike while leaning back with both hands on his weapon.
“I’m sorry,” Morgan repeated.
Rattus went to bring his weapon down, but Morgan suddenly darted forward, her hands glowing with purple eldritch energy. She placed both hands on his chest-plate as if to push him backwards, releasing the flux spell point-blank. Rattus flew backwards, a massive hole opening in his chest from Morgan’s sneak attack.
With tears running down her face Morgan retrieved her sword and clambered to her feet, moving as if covered in lead weights to stand over the Deadlord.
“I’m sorry,” she said again, looking down at the creature.
Rattus looked up and coughed, black ichor flying up in a miniature geyser. He smiled up at her as his coughing subsided, staining his grey chin with black.
“I forgive you,” he rasped.
With a wordless howl Morgan brought her mother’s sword down, severing Rattus’ head in a burst of purple ashes and smoke.
She stood there for a few moments, breathing heavily with her hands still clutching the sword that was buried in the dirt beneath where Rattus’ neck had been. Morgan grit her teeth, her shoulders starting to tremble.
Her gaze snapped up, looking through the crowded plateau to where Grima’s avatar was practically dancing between Owain and Inigo.
“Grima!” Morgan roared, a blast of uncontrolled mana kicking up the dust and ashes around her feet.
“I’ll kill you!” she snarled, stalking towards the avatar.
Invisible mana roiled off her in waves as she walked, kicking up the dust and smoke of fallen Risen as she moved. Her fist was so tight about her sword’s grip she could have sworn it creaked in protest.
How dare he? She thought, striking out at the weak Risen forms that leapt at her without even noticing.
How dare he, after everything else he’s done, defile our friends? How dare he hound my father like that? How dare he try to use me as a pawn!? I’ll kill him myself!
Morgan felt a strange prickling sensation beneath her skin as she walked, the mana haze around her intensifying as she ground her teeth harder. Thoughts of violence flitted through her head as the mana within her body surged, and in a torrent all the excess she was bleeding off in her rage was sucked back inside. Morgan actually had to stop, her hand going to grip the edge of her father’s old breastplate as she sucked in a shuddering breath.
Pain like she’d never imagined burned in lines beneath her skin, dark purple lines appearing beneath the skin on her hands, and if the feeling all over the rest of her was anything to go by, all over the rest of her body, too.
Looking up at Grima again with depthless black eyes full of excess dark magic Morgan found herself smiling cruelly. Grima himself had been letting off too much excess mana, letting it be absorbed by the very mountain they were standing on.
The avatar looked up, a surprised expression on his face as his gaze settled on the hunched Morgan. Without looking he lashed out with his scythe, deflecting Owain and Inigo’s attacks and sending both boys sailing through the air as he turned to face an actual threat.
Morgan launched herself through the air with this new power she had tapped into, the ground beneath her cracking with the force of her jump. The avatar brought his scythe around, Morgan’s sword bouncing off it countless times in the blink of an eye as she hung in the air above him for a few seconds. Gravity took hold, bringing Morgan back down; the avatar was waiting and struck her with the shaft of his weapon, knocking the Grandmaster back. She dug in her heels, digging up great gouges in the dirt as she skidded backwards.
“I see you’ve found the family birth-right,” the avatar said with a light smile. “Good work dear. I’m actually surprised-”
Whatever he was going to say was cut off when Morgan leapt forward again, a hate-filled scream tearing its way from her chest as she launched another volley of strikes. Her sword flashed again and again, becoming a silver blur opposite the black blur of Grima’s scythe, blocking her every attack.
Morgan lashed out with her mind, sending a wall of pure dark magic at the avatar with but a thought. The creature wearing her father’s face skidded backwards this time, his smile actually turning down a little as he struggled to bring his heavy scythe back around in time.
Morgan pressed her attack, putting everything into one blow in the hopes of-
With the sound of a thunderclap the scythe met Morgan’s sword, the one she had inherited from her mother in the future. Half of the beautiful weapon went sailing through the air, the other half still clutched in Morgan’s hands and cutting a deep line along the bottom of the avatar’s arm.
She only had a moment to be distraught, though, as the avatar was suddenly nose-to-nose with her, grinning madly in her face.
“You can’t kill me with my own power, girl,” he laughed, his hand wrapping around her throat. “You haven’t even been Awakened!”
Morgan’s hands instantly shot up to try to pry the hand from her neck, her broken sword falling to one side, but it may as well have been solid steel she fought against for all the good it did. For all the dark power she’d found she was helpless against the avatar.
Owain and Inigo were suddenly upon him, striking at his back with all their strength in a vain attempt to rescue Morgan from the monster’s clutches. The avatar just twitched his wrist, the shaft of his scythe knocking both boys back again as he smiled at Morgan victoriously.
She gurgled something, trying desperately to speak through the constricting force around her neck.
“What was that?” Grima asked, leaning in closer and loosening his grip slightly. “Begging already? I thought I raised you better than that…”
“… wasn’t… trying to… kill you…” Morgan grinned.
The avatar’s brow quirked as Morgan gave a pained grin, the mana fading from her eyes and returning them to their regular colour.
“… just… distracting…” she added with a cough.
The avatar’s eyes widened as realisation dawned on him, moments before he let out a pained shriek as two swords sliced into his back.
“She may not have been awakened,” Robin said menacingly. “But we have.”
“Put the girl down, monster,” Chrom added, his voice brimming with barely restrained fury.
The avatar jumped forward a little, spinning in the air before he landed, Morgan still clenched tightly in his off-hand, kicking and struggling at her captor.
Both men practically glowed with power in their own way as they faced off with the avatar. Chrom’s Falchion, blessed by Naga, blazed with orange light all along the blade, the blue fire contained within the tear-drop shaped gap in the hilt burning so strongly that the flames lapped at Chrom’s hand. The Exalt’s brand, too, seemed to glow on his shoulder as he glowered at Grima’s avatar. Robin, however, was by far the more menacing of the two, having tapped into the fell energy around the mountain to fuel his awakened powers the same way his daughter had. However, unlike Morgan he was used to the extra power, and was using it evenly through his entire body. The dark lines and circles blazed beneath his skin, and his eyes were a shining midnight black, purple smoke rising from the sockets as excess mana burned away while he stood at rest, Sol resting on his shoulder. The amulet Tharja had given him had become so hot he’d been forced to stuff it in his pocket before it burned a hole in his chest.
Behind them the assault team ploughed into the Risen, moving to secure the peak with Lucina at their head. She cast one glance over her shoulder at the two men before resigning herself to her task.
The avatar grimaced, rotating his shoulders as the wounds on his back refused to close immediately. He shook his head and shrugged, tossing Morgan aside as if she were a toy and taking up his scythe in both hands again. Robin watched this and leaned over to Chrom.
“Have you ever fought anyone wielding a scythe before?” he whispered quickly.
“Alright, so this is going to be a learning curve for both of us then.”
The avatar quirked one brow, dropping his stance and planting the shaft of his scythe in the ground beside him.
“No, go ahead, I can wait,” he said sarcastically, leaning lazily against the big weapon.
“I really am an ass,” Robin muttered darkly.
Chrom snorted, trying not to laugh.
“Okay, that’s just rude,” the avatar grumbled, swinging his scythe through the air.
As the blade passed them a blast of dark magic shot out, making both men leap aside to avoid it.
“Hey! No fair!” Robin cried as he jumped back to his feet.
“How come we can’t do something like that!?” he added, looking at Chrom as the Exalt climbed back to his own feet.
“You can, you dolt!” Chrom snapped.
“Oh… right,” Robin said, glancing down at his sword.
Before either man could say anything else Grima’s avatar repeated his attack, shooting more dark magic at the two men. Chrom simply raised the Fire Emblem and weathered the attack, dark magic evaporating harmlessly against the shield’s surface, but Robin still had to scramble to get out of the way of the magic’s periphery.
“I want a shield next time, too!” Robin shouted indignantly.
With a short burst of mana the tactician activated Excellus’ teleportation ring, appearing right in front of the avatar. The surprised man barely had a chance to step back and defend as Robin brought Sol down, blinking out of range again and opening the way for Chrom. The Exalt was suddenly where Robin had been, bringing Falchion up from a low guard to stab at the avatar’s stomach. Faster than Chrom, though, the avatar knocked the strike aside with the shaftof his scythe, bringing the blade down at Chrom’s neck. Robin teleported again, suddenly at the avatar’s side catching the blade of the scythe, giving Chrom the opportunity he needed to spin, lashing out with the edge of the Fire Emblem strapped to his wrist and smashing it into the avatar’s face.
Both men retreated to a safe distance as Grima’s avatar stumbled, lifting one hand to dab at his split lip.
“That actually hurt,” the avatar said, some surprise tinging his voice.
“It was meant to,” Chrom growled.
“Yes, well I can understand you being able to hurt me, but I still don’t understand…” the avatar started, gaze falling on Robin.
The older version of the tactician had a moment of realisation, slapping himself in the forehead with the heel of his palm and chuckling a little to himself.
“I accidently awakened you back at the Dragon’s Table, didn’t I?” he chortled, leaning on his scythe again.
Robin grinned, his black eyes still blazing with mana as he teleported again. He appeared crouching, slashing his sword low at the avatar; just as the older tactician brought his scythe around Robin was gone, already standing at his shoulder. Sol flashed, the ancient blade from Chon’sin biting deep in the avatar’s shoulder. Roaring in pain the avatar swung his scythe in a circle, cleaving through the air around him and giving off a burst of dark magic for good measure. It did no good, as Robin was spinning in the air above his head, slashing with Sol at the avatar’s other shoulder.
Breathing heavily on weak legs Robin finally reappeared next to Chrom, the jewelled ring on his finger actually smoking from over-use.
“That was actually kinda cool,” Chrom marvelled. “Next time you can have the shield; just teach me to use that thing.”
Robin gasped for breath, nodding in gratitude at the compliment.
“Are you two going to talk or are we going to finish this!?” the avatar roared angrily, slashing with his scythe and shooting more dark magic at the two men.
Robin glanced up, grinning at the avatar again.
“By all means, ladies!” the tactician called out. “Give the man what he wants!”
Tha avatar glanced around at Robin’s shout, surprised to find himself standing in the middle of a large dark magic circle. Aversa and Tharja both stepped forward from opposite sides of Chrom and Robin, hands outstretched and chanting. Robin reached up, smoking purple-black mana dancing on his fingertips as he faced his future self.
“Checkmate,” he said, relishing the words as they left his lips, and snapped his fingers.
The ground within the circle cracked and shattered as gravity was suddenly increased, forcing the avatar to his knees. Gravity manipulation was one of the grey-areas of magical theory; it could fall under a number of the different schools of magic, and could be accomplished in a number of ways. However, the easiest way to outsmart Grima or his avatar would be to use their own power against them, and use dark magic as the catalyst for the spell.
Still holding his scythe up the avatar struggled to rise, actually managing to get up to one knee before Robin increased the mana flooding the circle, also increasing the force of the spell.
Chrom calmly strode forwards, looking down on the future version of his best friend that had actually killed him once already in Lucina’s future.
“I don’t think we’re going to get another shot at this!” Robin warned, sweat beginning to roll down his face and neck from the strain of maintaining the advanced spell.
Tharja and Aversa wordlessly continued maintaining their own hold, gritting their teeth and forcing their bodies to bear the strain.
“Now!” the Exalt shouted.
All three spellcasters let the gravity field drop and Chrom darted forward, Falchion aimed directly for the future Robin’s heart.
The avatar glanced up, his eyes meeting Chrom’s as the Exalt pushed his sword forward.
The corners of the man’s lips rose as a dark shadow fell over them all, and Robin instantly knew that their plan hadn’t worked. Falchion stopped just short of the avatar, Chrom being forced back by a buffeting blast of wind.
Every set of eyes on the mountain looked to the sky as with an earth-shaking roar, the fell dragon Grima made his appearance on the field.
“Back!” Chrom shouted, backpedalling furiously.
“It won’t do you any good!” the avatar laughed.
The entire mountain shook as Grima landed, his massive claws digging deep into the rocky earth as his head ducked low to glare down at the humans in his domain.
Some of the Ylissean soldiers, the men that Kellam had only just succeeded in uniting and rallying against the Risen, turned and fled at the sight, a few actually leaping over the edge of the mountaintop rather than trying to get back to the mountain road. Some merely fell to their knees, overcome with hopelessness in the face of the creature worshipped as a dark god, becoming easy prey for the Risen still stalking their midst. Kellam desperately tried to get their attention and keep fighting, Basilio and Lon’qu joining him, but nothing they could do compared to the awful power Grima possessed.
“Oh this is bad,” Robin muttered involuntarily as he took a few steps back.
“You think!?” Aversa snarled, retreating to his side with Tharja. “This is exactly, exactly, what I was trying to avoid!”
The other Dark Mage stared in wordless horror at Grima’s form as it blocked out the sun, reaching out to steady herself on Robin’s shoulder. For the second time since Robin had met her, Tharja had a look of pure terror on her face.
Chrom shouted wordlessly as he launched one final, desperate attack against the avatar, running towards the wounded man with Falchion poised to slice his throat. Grima’s gargantuan head snapped around, a deep crimson glow appearing from within his open mouth.
Robin teleported when he saw this, appearing just behind Chrom and grabbing the Exalt by the back of his armour before teleporting them both back to safety just as the dragon launched its attack.
A gout of purple dark fire erupted from the dragon’s toothy maw, so intense that it melted the earth beneath where it hit, reducing it to shallow pool of molten slag where Chrom had been charging seconds before. Purple flames rose fitfully from the lip of the crater, creating a barrier perfect for stopping the Shepherds from advancing further.
Chrom blinked a few times as he looked at the devastation wrought before him, realising what had just happened.
“You’re welcome,” Robin said weakly from behind him.
Not far from them the rest of the assault team was busy trying to fight their way through the horde of Risen and panicking soldiers back to the four Shepherds standing in Grima’s shadow, Lucina and Flavia at their head.
“How are we supposed to fight that!?” Flavia asked, barely paying attention as she swung Priam’s ornate longsword through three Risen at once.
“We’ll figure out something!” Lucina said with more conviction than she felt.
Seeing Grima again so close made Lucina want to curl up into a ball on the spot; the only thing that kept her moving, kept her strong, was the fierce look Robin was shooting up at the dragon.
“Father! Robin!” she called out as they broke through the crowd.
“I can teleport again,” Robin said, not taking his eyes off where the avatar was still leaning against his scythe in Grima’s shadow. “I can get across that molten lake, take the fight to him and-”
“Throw your life away in the process!” Tharja interrupted him.
“I don’t have the mana left to get anyone else across!” Robin countered. “Least of all Chrom! He’s heavy, dammit!”
“We’ll think of something else,” Chrom said, placing a hand on Robin’s shoulder.
“We don’t have time for something else!” the tactician snapped.
Their argument was cut short before Lucina could even interject by a rumbling, terrifying laughter. Grima brought his head back around, the long serpentine neck twisting and coiling like a snake as all six balefully glowing eyes settled on the Shepherds.
“It’s over,” the avatar called out, walking through the purple flames and atop the molten rock as if they were nothing. “You’ve lost! Your future is darkness! All your struggling has changed nothing!”
“So ends the human race!” Grima added in a rumbling tone.
The ancient and evil dragon’s voice sent chills down Robin’s spine.
Grima reached out with one giant claw, carefully picking up his avatar and placing him safely on his back with another cruel laugh. With one mighty flap of his wings the dragon took to the air again, rising higher and higher.
“No!” Lucina cried helplessly. “He’s getting away!”
Robin closed his eyes and made a fist, the ring on his hand flashing. After a few seconds he sighed and dropped his hand.
“It’s no good, he’s too high up,” the tactician said softly.
“So what, we’ve missed our shot?” Vaike asked.
No one answered, silence befalling the group of soldiers and warriors.
After everything they had done… after everything they had overcome, had they failed?
Nobody chose to mention that the dragon was flying in the direction of Ylisse.
Robin clenched his fists and shut his eyes tight, clenching his teeth. When he opened his eyes he let out a frustrated shout and raised a hand, shooting off a fruitless arcthunder spell at the receding form of Grima in the sky.
“Quit wasting your mana on tantrums,” Aversa snapped, her voice much softer than usual as she appeared at Robin’s side.
“There has to be something Naga can do!” Robin said, rounding on Chrom. “Shake that stupid shield until she answers! Do something!”
There was a green flash from gems on the Fire Emblem, and soft laughter rang out as a green haze started wafting from the shield.
“That won’t be necessary, Fell Blood,” Naga’s spirit laughed. “I will aid you. I can bring you to Grima’s back, but I cannot aid you once you are there. And I sense that his strongest servants have been summoned there, too. I would be prepared.”
Prepared for a one way trip, Robin finished grimly in his head, nodding once.
“Do you have a distance limit or something?” he asked the spirit.
“I can give you five minutes,” she said softly, drifting through the Shepherds. “After that he will be too far away.”
“Forget it,” Robin said. “Let’s do this now. We’re all ready to go.”
Naga looked around slowly, ensuring that all the other Shepherds felt the same way that Robin did. Her ethereal gaze was met by stoic nods and, in Vaike’s case, a very suggestive wink.
“Very well, heroes,” Naga said, floating a little higher and spreading her hands wide. “There is a weak spot at the base of Grima’s neck you can make use of. I once tore the scales from his back there, and they never recovered. Be prepared, though; once the spell is finished, you will be on Grima’s back.”
Everyone readied their weapons, bunching together and preparing themselves. Frederick dismounted, Lissa climbing off his horse behind him; both joined the ranks of the assault team for their final push.
Robin spotted a shock of familiar black hair not far from them, and on impulse sheathed and tossed his sword to Noire. The archer reflexively caught the long weapon, looking questioningly at him.
“Make sure Morgan gets that!” he called through the spell Naga was weaving. “She broke her sword and you guys still have work to do!”
Robin’s hands settled on the hilts of his two daggers as Noire nodded, taking off again in the direction Morgan had been flung. Robin glanced down as another hand gripped one of his, Lucina holding onto him as Naga’s spell reached its climax.
With a bright green flash the entire Assault team vanished from the battlefield at the top of Origin Peak.
“Ow, ow, ow,” Morgan moaned, struggling to sit up.
She had watched the shadow of Grima descend over them from a prone position, still to winded to move. Her back was bruised, her ribs felt broken, and her throat still felt like there was a vice clamped around it. But she had to keep fighting…
“Morgan!” Noire called out, running through the debris towards her.
A momentary spike of fear shot through the Grandmaster when she recognized the sword that Noire was carrying, but the archer quickly allayed this.
“Your f-father wanted me to give you this,” she explained, handing the long, thin sword down to her.
Morgan looked down at the sword, drawing it from its sheathe slightly to look at the red-tinged steel.
“They went after him, didn’t they?” Morgan asked, still looking at the weapon cradled in her lap.
Noire nodded wordlessly, anxiety written all over her face.
“Alright then,” Morgan declared, jumping to her feet. “We need to clear the area and secure the mountain! The others are going to need a safe place to come back to! Help me find Kellam and Lon’qu-”
“A h-healer first,” Noire insisted, grabbing Morgan’s elbow to steady her as she swayed.
“Fine,” the Grandmaster sighed. “And then we secure the mountain.”
Her cheery countenance dropped for just a moment as she draped an arm over Noire’s shoulders. She beat her anxiety back down, focusing instead on the job at hand-
Morgan suddenly found herself falling backwards as Noire threw her back, trying to bring her bow up as they were assaulted by three of the masked Risen that had crawled out of nowhere. Rusted axes were raised faster than Noire could call on her magically altered bow, and Morgan realised they were about to die anyway.
With a brutal roar the three Risen were driven back, skewered on the end of an ornate halberd in the hands of one of the Plegian Royal Guards.
“Get away from them you monsters!” Amir roared, swinging his long-hafted weapon around and reducing all three of the creatures to ash with one blow.
“And you!” he added, rounding on Morgan. “Do not disappear on your Honour Guard like that again! I was tearing my hair out trying to find you!”
“S-sorry!” Morgan stammered, crawling back to her feet.
“Th-thanks…” Noire mumbled, going back to helping the Grandmaster stand.
“Let’s just… get back to winning this battle,” Amir said sheepishly. “And… please don’t tell Algol I yelled at you. He’ll kill me.”
Morgan burst into laughter as the trio started walking towards where Kellam’s banner, bearing the heraldry of the City-State of Themis and Maribelle’s family, was waving in the breeze.
There was no need to worry, after all. With both Chrom and Robin assaulting Grima the members of that team were probably safer than the ones securing the mountain.
They took a few steps before Noire started giggling softly to herself.
“What’s so funny?” Morgan asked.
“Well, Robin said we’d be busy…” the archer explained. “But the way you put it made it sound like you were planning to secure the mountain with just the two of us.”
Morgan chuckled a little.
“Okay, I guess I can let some of the others in on the action, too. We did bring the whole Ylissean army with us, after all.”
Robin stumbled, wind whipping his hair back and forth and his feet trying to find purchase on the smooth scales of Grima’s back. Each scale was at least five feet across, though, and he found it difficult. Looking around, though, he wasn’t the only one having difficulty; Chrom looked as uncomfortable as he had on the ship to Valm, and Vaike had fallen on his rear and was sitting, trying to figure out the best way to remain standing. Sumia had stood no hope, holding onto Chrom’s leg as she tried to get her feet under her. The only two that seemed unperturbed were Aversa and Flavia, who both adjusted the fastest and began to study their surroundings. Lissa stumbled, latching onto Frederick and actually pulling the big knight over with her. Virion managed to get to his knees, deciding this was enough as he started shooting arrows sporadically at the Risen around them. Robin had to actually pull Lucina up to her feet, the time-traveller princess pursing her lips as she struggled to get used to the random movements of the surface beneath them.
The absurdity of the situation would normally have made him laugh until he, too, was on his back, but the Risen closing in all around them distracted him somewhat.
“Get it together, Shepherds!” Robin shouted over the wind.
To emphasize his instruction he lashed out, throwing a few weak fireballs at the Risen moving along Grima’s back without a care in the world. Aversa followed suit, her dark magic having far more destructive results and actually throwing some of the Risen from Grima’s back into the air.
“It wouldn’t be so bad if he stopped flapping!” Vaike complained, stumbling and falling again.
“We’re working on that, aren’t we?” Flavia asked with a grin, offering the shirtless man a hand.
All of the Shepherds froze in place as the scales beneath them shook violently, threatening to topple those that had actually managed to get their footing. Grima’s head twisted around to glare at the gnats that would dare sully his back with their filthy feet, his six red eyes promising pain and suffering before a messy death.
“Wretched son of Naga!” the dragon roared at Chrom. “You will be destroyed!”
“You just don’t know when to give up!” the future-Robin said, actually sounding amazed as he stepped down from one of Grima’s massive shoulders with the scythe resting across his own shoulders.
“On your feet, Shepherds!” Chrom shouted valiantly. “We’ve come too far to-”
Whatever the Exalt was going to say was lost as he screamed and fell to one knee. Grima’s avatar had waved his free hand in their direction and purple lines of dark magic shot through the Shepherds, each warrior having at least three pencil-thin beams pass through them.
“W-what manner of magic…” Chrom gasped, glaring at the avatar.
“Argh, what the hell wassat!?” Vaike groaned, rolling onto his back.
Lissa gasped, hunched over and gripping her chest where blood was blossoming on her yellow dress.
Flavia fell down to her knees, using Priam’s sword to hold herself up.
“Magic…” she gasped laughingly, blood running down the front of her armour. “That was a… damned catastrophe! He’s… too strong…”
“It cannot end like this!” Frederick growled, struggling to remain standing. “I won’t have… all our struggle be for… naught!”
“Fie…” Say’ri managed to spit, collapsing forward weakly onto her face.
Lucina stumbled, collapsing to one knee and gripping desperately to Robin’s hand as he stood his ground, glaring at Grima and his avatar despite his wounds.
“No...” she gasped, her hand tightening on Robin’s. “This darkness... The future is upon us! Oh gods... F-Father... Robin…”
“And so it ends, Robin,” the avatar said with a grin. “See how frail these human bonds of yours are? How short lived? How pointless!? You have all thrown your lives away, and the result is the same!”
Robin spat blood onto the scales at his feet frowning at his darker reflection and drawing the two daggers from the back of his hips.
“We’re not dead yet,” he said, stepping forward.
“Details, details,” the avatar sighed, rolling his eyes.
“Was that the best you’ve got?” Robin continued, taking another shaking step. “I took a worse beating than that this morning when I sparred with Chrom on the boat. You can do better, can’t you?”
Grima’s avatar sighed, before grinning at Robin.
“Yes, I suppose it's time I got you all off my back, so to speak—permanently.”
“Oh that was so lame,” Robin laughed, stumbling.
Blood pattered on the scales at his feet as he hunched and stumbled to one side before righting himself.
“I mean, c’mon,” he persisted, looking up with a thin trail of red running from the corner of his mouth. “We’re a lot cleverer than that, yeah?”
“Oh? Where are your witty one-liners?” the avatar asked, quirking one brow.
“Mine?” Robin laughed, stumbling forward another few steps. “I’m… smart enough to know not to monologue!”
The tactician suddenly bolted forwards, ignoring Chrom and Lucina’s cries for him to stop. He brought both daggers down at the avatar’s throat, planning to cut his future self to ribbons…
The avatar just laughed, stepping aside and swinging his scythe around his shoulder and knocking Robin flat with the back of the blade in a hammer-blow that landed just between his shoulders. The time-travelling Robin kicked out, spinning Robin around on his stomach to face the others. With a mad grin the avatar knelt down on Robin’s back and tugged his head up by the hair, forcing him to look at his friends.
“Look at that!” the avatar snarled. “Is this what you want!? You do have a choice, you know. It doesn't have to be this way. You can still save all your friends... Become one with me, and we shall spare their lives. ...Refuse, and watch as I rend the flesh from their bones with my bare hands!”
“Monologuing…” Robin laughed weakly, the word coming out of his mouth with in fresh gout of blood.
The avatar rumbled a wordless sound of frustration, smashing the tactician’s face into Grima’s back and standing.
“Then I’ll start with the little time-travelling tart you’re so hot on!” the avatar growled, lifting his scythe and stalking towards the others.
“You brought a lot of friends with you,” he went on, glaring malevolently at the Shepherds. “And I can do this all day! Hell, I want to do this all day! I’ve been looking forward since I fell out of that damn portal four years ago!”
“Wait!” Robin cried, reaching out with one hand.
“No, Robin!” Chrom shouted desperately. “Don’t listen to him!”
“He’s lying!” Lissa cried, bursting into a coughing fit. “It’s… it’s a… trap…”
Lucina stayed silent, glaring up at the man that had killed her father and burned her homeland to ashes. The future Robin, Grima’s avatar, glared back down at her, waiting for the present Robin’s response.
“What’ll it be?” he asked over his shoulder.
Robin laughed weakly again, pulling himself forward slowly with one hand.
“You must really think I’m stupid,” he groaned. “I know… you’re just going to kill them all anyway… no matter what I say…”
The avatar blinked and turned back to Robin, breaking into a grin.
“You’re smarter than I gave you credit for, aren’t you?” he chuckled. “Well, of course I would kill them. I only thought you might want to leave your comrades with a heroic, selfless image. But if you want to be a little pain in my arse... Leave them with the final memory that you were their undoing!”
Grima’s avatar tapped the haft of his scythe against the rock-hard scales once, and the ones beneath Robin turned to liquid, enveloping and swallowing the wounded tactician. Robin struggled, grasping at the edges of the scales around him, but he was eventually sucked down all the same.
Robin let out a low groan, rubbing his head and sitting up.
“Where… the hell am I?” he asked in a low voice, looking around in the darkness.
“Where your god wills you to be,” a cruel voice rasped behind him. “Now if you will excuse me... I have some fleas on my back to take care of. I will return for you later, once you’ve had time to re-think your position.”
Robin spun into a kneeling position just in time to watch Grima’s shadow receding into the starless black sky, only visible as a darker shadow against the black.
“No!” he cried pointlessly. “I won’t let you! Get back here!”
Grima disappeared into the black, leaving Robin standing panting and alone. The tactician ran a hand through his short hair, finally inspecting his surroundings.
“Well crap…” Robin groaned, turning in a slow circle. “Not this place again…”
He was back in the twilight desert, the same place he had gone after his ‘death’ at Fortress Steiger in Valm. And, just like before, he was surrounded by a flat, featureless expanse of empty desert.
Robin let himself fall back into a sitting position, letting out a sigh.
“How the hell do I get out of here?” he asked no one in particular.
“You have legs, don’t you? Start walking,” his voice echoed behind him.
Robin shot back to his feet, spinning and bringing up the daggers that were still actually at his hip this time.
“Oh,” he said, relaxing as he came face-to-face with his own black-eyed reflection. “You again.”
“I’m sorry, were you maybe expecting Naga? How about King Marth?” Robin’s dark reflection, the same one that had haunted him and fought him for control during the Valm campaign, asked sarcastically.
The other Robin rolled his midnight eyes and flicked a strand of long brown hair out of his frowning face.
“Be grateful I even came to see you at all after you got us dead again. Jerk.”
“So what, do I just hug you again to get out of here?” Robin asked, sheathing his daggers.
“Please don’t,” the reflection shuddered. “I didn’t bring us here this time, so I can’t get us out. We’re already one mind, so I’m just as stuck as you are.”
“So why are you here?” Robin asked, growing exasperated. “Did you just come to bug me again?”
“As fun as that sounds, no,” the reflection sighed. “I’m a guide in this place, remember? Now start walking. I’m not the only one here that wants to get you out.”
“What… what do you mean by that?” Robin asked curiously.
“Just walk,” the reflection sighed, giving Robin a light shove. “I’m not explaining it.”
Robin nodded, fighting back a strange feeling of weakness as he took a few steps on the loose sand. He closed his eyes to blink…
Robin opened his eyes, blinking a few times and looking around. He… was in a house? A small, wooden house with a thatched roof over naked beams; judging from the rough and utilitarian workmanship he was somewhere in Regna Ferox. The house was sparsely decorated; only a single table and a few mismatched chairs next to a cooking pit in the hard-packed dirt that served as the house’s floor.
“What in the name of…” Robin breathed, looking around again.
“Was Gregor’s house,” a familiar voice said from the table. “When he and brother were young men. Very long time ago now, yes…”
“Gregor?” Robin asked in a reverent whisper.
He found himself looking at the broad back of the man sitting at the cooking pit on a stool. A familiar slab-jawed face smiled over one shoulder at him beneath a shock of close-cropped red hair.
“Hello again, young Robin,” Gregor said kindly, stirring at the stew on the fire.
“Gregor… is… is it really…?” Robin asked, taking a few tentative steps forward.
“In manner of speaking, yes,” Gregor replied. “No ‘Gregor’ anymore.”
“Gregor gone now, yes,” he added in a smaller tone. “Only… only memories…”
“But,” he went on, returning to his previous jovial tone. “Memories enough.”
Robin nodded, not understanding at all what was going on.
“Young Robin needs to remember what he was doing,” Gregor added, glancing over his shoulder again. “Is too soon for him to sleep now.”
The tactician blinked, realising just how close he’d been to drifting off while standing.
“Is Grima,” Gregor explained, going back to stirring his stew. “Bad Robin is trying to hurt young Robin, trying to make weak. Don’t give in. Fight.”
“How?” Robin asked through the lump in his throat.
Gregor finally turned properly, smiling radiantly at Robin as he stood. The big mercenary clapped both hands on Robin’s shoulders and smiled down at him.
“Go out door,” he said softly. “Keep moving. Keep fighting. Gregor will wait here until is time for young Robin to sleep. Preferably when young Robin is old Robin, yes?”
The mercenary’s booming laughter filled the small house, making Robin smile along with him.
“Thank you, Gregor,” Robin said, stepping back towards the only door out of the house. “I know what I have to do now.”
“Good!” Gregor said happily, going back to his stool. “Gregor will save some stew for young Robin. Is mother’s recipe. Is worth waiting for!”
Robin found himself laughing as he pushed the door open and stepped through it-
And into a steaming, humid jungle.
“Ah… I remember this place,” he said, nostalgia whelming up within him. “What was it? Three years ago now?”
“About that, yeah,” another familiar voice said from behind him.
Robin turned, struggling against another wave of fatigue as he did so.
Donnel stood grinning sheepishly at him, tipping up the edge of the old pot he’d been wearing the first time they had found him so long ago.
“Hey’a Robin,” the young man greeted enthusiastically. “Been a’while.”
Robin grinned, stepping forward and clapping Donny on the shoulder.
“Hey there, buddy,” he said, his voice coming out strangely ragged. “How’s it going?”
“Welp, I’m dead,” Donnel shrugged. “It’s kinda weird. But I getta watch over all’a ya! So it’s not so bad.”
“Yeah, I guess maybe it wouldn’t be,” Robin said, feeling his consciousness starting to slip away.
“No!” Donny said quickly. “I didn’t mean you die, too! You ain’t allowed ta yet! Wake up!”
The farm boy reached over his shoulder, picking a strange looking little red fruit off a vine and shoving it into Robin’s mouth, skin and all.
“Here,” he said. “This’ll wake ya up!”
Robin coughed, forcing his jaw to work and not spit out the awful tasting fruit in his mouth.
“Argh, what is that?” he groaned, forcing his first bite down.
“’S called ‘guarana’,” Donny laughed. “We eat ‘em back on the island when we gotta hunt at night. Keeps ya up fer days!”
Robin tentatively took a second bite of the small fruit, feeling himself waking up a little but still being shocked by the bitter taste.
“This is awful,” he moaned, forcing himself to chew and swallow.
“So keep goin’,” Donny said. “Get outta here before you can’t no more.”
“Let me guess, go that way?” Robin asked, pointing a random direction.
“Wow,” Donny breathed, eyes widening. “How’d ya know that?”
“A lucky guess,” Robin laughed, shaking the farm boy’s hand.
The tactician started walking through the thick jungle, pushing huge leaves out of his way and pulling himself through gaps in the foliage.
“Oh, an’ tell Morgan ta stop beatin’ herself up about me dyin’!” Donny called after him. “Weren’t her fault! I knew what I was gettin’ inta when I got on yer boat three years ago! So tell her to stop dwellin’!”
“I’ll do that!” Robin called back over his shoulder, turning to take one last look at the smiling farm boy.
When Robin turned back around he found himself in a completely different place again.
He was in an old barracks, rows of bunks on either side of the room were separated by long tables, playing cards and half eaten meals still spread out along the tabletops. Red suits of armour were on racks to either side of the bunks, making Robin realise he was somewhere in Valm.
“This was my old barracks,” a familiar, grizzled voice said from behind him.
Robin spun, finding Priam wearing an old dark red officer’s tunic and staring with crossed arms at the rows of beds.
“I just… can’t remember which bunk was mine,” he admitted with a self-derisive chuckle. “One of the perils of getting old, I guess.”
Robin swayed, finding himself irrationally exhausted. He reached into his pocket, finding a stash of the little red berries that Donnel had given him, and popped a few of the foul tasting fruits into his mouth.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Priam said, turning on Robin. “Not yet, anyway.”
“Yeah, so people have been telling me,” Robin said with a small grin.
“So why are you still here, then?” Priam asked, rapping the shorter man on the top of the head with his knuckles.
“Because he can’t find the way out, obviously,” a feminine voice said from Priam’s shoulder.
Robin glanced up, his eyes widening when he saw Pheros standing there wearing the same style tunic as Priam.
“We have to go soon,” she said to the taller man. “Walhart’s waiting for us.”
“We had to wait for him for so long,” Priam scoffed. “A few more minutes won’t kill him. We’ll go soon. But Robin needs guidance first.”
Pheros rolled her eyes. “Fine. But I’m going on ahead.”
She cast one final dirty look at Robin before walking by the two men for the exit. The sound of the door closing was unnaturally loud in the silence that followed her departure.
“She hates me,” Robin said, looking over his shoulder at the simple wooden door at the end of the room.
“Of course she hates you,” Priam laughed. “You killed her! Wouldn’t you hate someone that killed you?”
“Well this is kinda the second time I’ve…” he started, trailing off as he was beset by another wave of dizziness and fatigue.
“Whoa there,” Priam said, catching him. “You need to keep moving.”
“Yeah, I’m hearing that a lot today, too,” Robin said, forcing himself back up.
“C’mon, I can’t stay here either,” Priam said, draping one of Robin’s arms over his shoulders.
“I can help you to the door at the very least,” he added, pulling Robin forward. “Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Looking back is pointless.”
Priam’s presence began to fade as Robin reached out for the door handle.
“Keep pushing forward,” Priam’s voice said from a distance as Robin turned the doorknob. “Just like you did in Valm. Keep going and never stop until you can’t take another step.”
Robin stumbled now, finally held up under his own power as he stepped into the Royal Apartment in Ylisse’s Castle, the same one that Chrom and Sumia now occupied.
“Oh Naga, what now?” he asked, struggling to keep his eyes open as he ran a hand through his hair.
A soft laugh from one of the armchairs in front of the fireplace surprised Robin, making him jump a little. He stuffed a whole handful of Donny’s berries into his mouth this time, realising he was running out of them.
“Hello again, Your Grace,” Robin said with a bow when he got around the front of the chair. “You’re looking well.”
Emmeryn smiled up at the tactician, her flawless features split at her hairline by an old scar just off to the side of her brand.
“It is good to see you, too, Robin,” she said in soft, melodious tones. “I must admit, your new hair-colour suits you well.”
“Yeah,” Robin laughed. “I kinda lucked out there, didn’t I?”
Emmeryn chuckled a little as she rose out of her chair. Robin had to admit that he’d forgotten the gentle grace with which the former Exalt carried herself with, her every movement speaking of a lifetime of calm elegance.
“We must be quick,” she said, her smile dampening a little. “If you linger much longer you will be too weak to fight Grima’s hold on you.”
“Is that why I’m so tired?” Robin asked, reaching for the last of Donny’s berries.
“It is,” Emmeryn said quietly. “He is weakening your soul. Torturing your body. But you are stronger than he ever was. The trials you have faced by the side of my brother and sister have made you thus. If you will it, you will return to your friends.”
“Okay, great,” Robin said excitedly. “Can I, you know, just do it now?”
Emmeryn’s smile returned, lighting up her whole face.
“No,” she laughed. “There is one more place you must go first. However before I lead you there, there is something I must tell you.”
Robin nodded, feeling the momentary boost from the berries already fading.
“Okay, shoot, but make it quick, because I’m fading fast here.”
Emmeryn nodded again before surprising him and stepping up to the tactician to wrap her arms around him in a gentle hug.
“Thank you,” Emmeryn whispered to him. “Thank you for taking care of Chrom and Lissa. Thank you for being there when I could not. Thank you for guiding them the way I should have.”
Robin felt a lump rise to his throat as he blinked back tears, caught off guard by the sudden display of emotion.
“But… I didn’t do anything,” he said lamely.
“You were there for them both,” Emmeryn said softly. “That was enough. Now go back to them. Guide them one final time for me, Robin. Please.”
“I will,” he said, closing his eyes. “I’ll protect them for you, Emmeryn. I’m just sorry I couldn’t protect you, too.”
When Robin opened his eyes again he was back in the twilight desert, surrounded by sand and emptiness again. Without anyone there to hold him up he fell forward, landing heavily on one knee as he struggled to remain upright.
I know she said all I had to do was will myself back, Robin thought, his vision blurring. But I can barely stand… I can’t keep going anymore.
He leaned forward, and just as he was about to fall strong hands caught him by the shoulders.
“Not yet,” a familiar, feminine voice said to him. “You’re not done yet. Just a little more.”
“Lucina?” Robin asked, looking up through the haze of semi-consciousness at the woman holding him up.
As his vision cleared slightly he realised that it wasn’t in fact the blue-haired princess that was holding him up, but rather a brown haired woman wearing a black coat, smiling down at him with tears in her eyes.
“Mom?” Robin asked, rising a little.
Alexia nodded, smiling at him and stroking his face with one hand.
“Huh,” Robin said softly, looking at his mother for the first time with his own eyes. “You look just like Morgan…”
“I’d say she’s the one that looks just like me would be more appropriate wording,” Alexia laughed, pulling Robin into a hug. “But I so dearly wish I could have met her.”
“I’ll tell her you said ‘hi’…” Robin said weakly into his mother’s shoulder.
His vision blurred again, and everything seemed to be happening at a distance. His sense of touch became delayed, and sound and smell became three stages removed, as if rather than feeling them himself he was having them described to him.
He was fading now… Robin was dying. Weather by Grima’s design or by his negligence, Robin was dying.
“It’s so dark here,” he muttered as his mother held him. “It’s… like a sea of black… I’ve got nothing left, Mom. No… final strategy… no cards left to… to play… He won… He’s… won. Ah... I c-can't see... I can't hear... I feel... nothing… Nothing… Why…? Why am I still suffering like this…?”
Alexia’s hold tightened as she hushed him softly.
“There are aspects of who we are,” she explained sadly, “that can only be revealed to us in the deepest pit of intolerable suffering, in those moments when all else is torn away. When we stand at the very brink of eternity itself and stare death in the face. That’s when we see our true purpose. When I looked, I saw you. What do you see?”
“I don’t…” Robin mumbled, trying to clear his vision and failing. “I don’t… see anything… All I see is… darkness…”
Robin closed his eyes again, getting ready to let go. But there was something stopping him. Something was nagging at the back of his mind, like a thought just out of reach.
He opened his eyes again, seeing nothing but the sand and his mother’s back as she silently held him.
The thought came again, like he was forgetting something, but… this time it was different. Closer.
“Do you hear that, Robin?” Alexia asked quietly.
Robin strained his senses, all of them. He… could. He could hear something.
“… ve to… ... ack!”
“I… hear something,” Robin mumbled, looking around a little.
Something inside him changed at this realisation. A spark lit within him again, and he felt life returning to his stiff extremities.
“o— ha——— fi— back! ——ghting!”
Robin stood now, breaking from his mother’s embrace to look around them. He was suddenly full of energy again. He could feel something calling him from a great distance. He could hardly make it out, though. As he strained his ears, the call got louder, clearer, until he could actually make it out.
“Fight ba—! —ave to keep ——ing! Fight back, Robin! You swore to do so, remember? Now keep your damn word!”
“Chrom?” Robin breathed, looking up.
“Robin… please…” he heard Lucina beg, clear as day.
“Chrom! Lucina!” he shouted, looking directly upwards at the empty sky.
Other voices reached him now, too. The others, wounded and in pain still calling out to him, hoping to bring him back.
“Come back to us, Robin!” Lissa pleaded.
“After all the hell you have put me through over the years this is how you let it end!? I know it will take more than this to stop you!” Frederick shouted.
“History is watching, Robin! The bards will sing of this triumph!” Virion promised.
“On your feet, soldier! Don't make ol' Teach give ya a lecture!” Vaike laughed weakly.
“Robin, remember all the time we’ve spent together!” Sumia suggested softly.
“Get up, Robin! You can’t die!” Tharja begged, actually begged.
“You are not Grima, nor is he you! Remember that, Robin!” Tiki reminded him.
“Aye, awaken! You cannot leave now, with my debt to you unpaid!” Say’ri demanded, bringing a smile to the tactician’s lips.
“You don't bow to dragons. You break 'em!” Flavia roared, as gung-ho as ever.
“If you don't come back, I'm never going to forgive you! You promised me!” Severa cried.
“You're going to be okay, right? ...I need you to keep me safe.” Yarne said conspiratorially.
“No taking the easy way out! You dragged me into this, now you finish it! You don’t get to die until I tell you to!” Aversa snarled at him.
“Robin, please. You have earned my trust and my love. Now return to me,” Lucina begged, her voice little more than a whisper in his ear.
“I can hear them…” Robin said, wonder in his voice as he stared to the sky. “I can hear all of them…”
Alexia rose now, too, taking Robin’s hand in hers.
“Are you ready to go back now?” she asked. “They’re all waiting for you.”
“I was ready the second I got here,” Robin said, grinning.
Alexia let out a little laugh, giving him another quick hug.
“I’m so proud of you,” she said as she stepped back. “Now go and slay a dragon for your mother.”
“No pressure?” Robin asked, the grin widening on his face as he stepped back.
“None at all,” Alexia promised, giving him a little wave.
“And be nice to your sister!” she added. “You two were so close as children; it really is a shame for you to fight now!”
“I will, Mom!” Robin promised her.
“Oh, and Mom?” he added as an afterthought, looking up again. “I see it now. I can see my friends; my family. I’m going to save them, and everyone else.”
Robin opened his eyes again, this time to an alien inky darkness. All around him he felt constricting, claustrophobic warmth clinging to his flesh as he lay prone. He was awake now, though. He was still alive, and he could still fight.
Operating on sheer willpower alone he forced one hand to move, bringing it back towards his shoulder. Around him the darkness writhed as if surprised, his movements causing more and more violent reactions.
The darkness tried to calm him, tried to lull him back to his sleep again, but he rejected it. Forcing himself up to a position on all fours, Robin created space around himself.
He couldn’t breathe in this darkness, but he didn’t have to. His lungs burned, but oxygen was being supplied directly to his muscles by some ancient magic.
Robin continued to struggle, reaching upwards…
With a catastrophic crashing a hand reached up through one of the scales on Grima’s back, shattering it to pieces and sending shards flying in all directions. The black flesh beneath the scale rippled like liquid as the arm groped around for a handhold, finding one and finally pulling a gasping Robin out and back into daylight.
“What!?” Grima’s avatar shouted, awestruck at the spectacle. “No! This isn’t possible! It’s… no!”
Grima let out a pained roar, the scales beneath the Shepherds shuddering as he did.
“Stop this at once!” Grima demanded. “Silence those wretched voices! You are all powerless! Frail! Insignificant! You are nothing!”
The avatar moved to carry out his master’s bidding, freezing mid-stride when Robin pulled himself almost fully out of the hole he’d made, standing straight on unsteady feet. His eyes were wide and wild, black and infinite as he turned a withering glare on his future self.
As Robin pulled himself to freedom a green glow suffused the Fire Emblem again, Naga’s voice reaching each of the Shepherds as they watched the tactician’s struggling.
“Children of man, take my power! Rise now and finish what you have begun! Face the fell dragon!”
The green glow spread, blanketing all of the Shepherds on Grima’s back. As the green touched them their wounds miraculously closed and, with Naga’s blessing, the warriors all felt rejuvenated. Slowly rising to their feet as the green glow faded, they looked to Chrom for direction.
“Argh, that was so gross!” Robin moaned, climbing up and out of the hole he’d magically created in the dragon’s back and shaking the wet hair out of his face.
As his last foot emerged the rippling stopped and Grima’s flesh became whole and solid once more, leathery and coarse.
“Robin-” Chrom started, cutting off when he watched the other man sway dangerously.
The white-haired tactician let out a little laugh as he caught himself, holding one hand to his chest and grinning a little. There was a soft dripping sound that the Exalt wasn’t sure if he imagined or not, but when he looked there was an alarming amount of blood running from Robin’s wounds and dripping off him.
“I’m fine,” he said, backing towards the Shepherds slowly, never breaking his gaze from the Risen barring their path to Grima’s avatar.
Lissa and Tiki both rushed forwards, grabbing him underneath the arms and dragging him back as he fell. Lissa slowly let Robin back into a sitting position, holding him up with one arm around his back while her other held her staff over him.
“Shepherds, form a line!” Chrom shouted.
The Risen rushed forward, more climbing up from beneath Grima behind the Shepherds. Flavia, Vaike, Yarne, Severa and Say’ri moved forward, meeting the charging horde while Frederick automatically turned to guard their rear. Tharja and Virion both stepped forward, too; the archer beginning to shoot slowly, making sure every shot of his limited ammunition counted while Tharja cast spells with a wide area of effect, trying to funnel the Risen and keep them from overwhelming the flanks of the line.
“Why wasn’t he healed?” Lucina asked, looking at the shield strapped to her father’s arm.
“I wasn’t here,” Robin laughed, Lissa already beginning to work.
“We’ll just have to do it conventionally,” Tiki said, glancing over her shoulder.
Behind them Sumia had taken up position with Frederick to watch their rear, the slight woman looking almost comically undersized next to the Knight Commander as she thrust her lance with deadly accuracy.
Lissa sighed roughly, the blonde woman shaking her head irritatedly and redoubling her efforts.
“This would go a lot faster if there wasn’t so much dark magic blocking me,” she complained, shaking her staff over Robin a little.
“We are literally sitting on Grima’s back,” the tactician laughed. “I don’t think we can do much about the dark magic at this point.”
“You’re in good spirits for someone full of holes,” Aversa pointed out, suddenly behind Lissa.
Robin glanced up at her, grinning sheepishly. Lissa and Lucina both sucked in a shocked breath when they saw how much red was coating Robin’s teeth.
“What can I say,” he said, shrugging. “I just broke out of a mind-arm-lock I was sure I’d never break. I’m in a good mood.”
Aversa sighed and shook her head, kneeling down next to him opposite Lissa. The blonde princess stopped attempting to heal Robin but didn’t relinquish her hold on him.
“You owe me for this,” she said to Robin.
“Yeah, can we skip right to the healing part, please?” he replied, his voice beginning to sound weaker. “We can tally up… who owes who what when we’re not at risk of being thrown off the back of an angry god.”
Aversa scoffed, holding both hands flat above Robin’s chest. After a few seconds a faint purple glow suffused her fingers, spreading to Robin and sinking through his clothes. The tactician let out a relieved sigh as some of his pain was alleviated. He could tell without looking that at least his wounds had closed on the surface; healing them entirely could wait until he wasn’t about to die from an imminent Risen attack.
“Alright, I’m good; let’s end this already,” Robin said as he started climbing to his feet.
Lissa moved slightly to let him up, Aversa just clicking her tongue before moving back to join Tharja in clearing away the Risen for-
“My sentiments exactly!” Grima’s avatar snarled, dropping from above them scythe first.
The group scattered, Chrom leaping one way and shielding Lissa while Lucina dragged Robin the other. With barely a thought Robin reached forward while Lucina was still holding onto his scruff and brushed his fingertips on his future self’s sleeve. In an instant they were further up Grima’s back, behind the Risen line now and alone.
Robin was the one that pushed a disoriented Lucina back this time, opening space between the duo and a laughing avatar.
“Moving us won’t save you,” the future-Robin pointed out, spinning his scythe in a figure-eight to bring it back to the ready.
“I just wanted to make sure no-one would get in our way,” Robin shrugged, reaching behind him and drawing both daggers, one in each hand.
Lucina nodded at Robin, catching on to his meaning.
“We just have to get him close to death,” Robin muttered to her. “Don’t hold anything back, though; I’d rather take the chance of accidentally killing him than him getting away.”
“Again with the talking!” the avatar shouted. “Don’t I ever shut up!?”
Robin’s brow twitched in irritation as he glanced at Lucina.
“Go high,” he instructed, before disappearing in a flash as he activated his teleporting ring.
The avatar blinked for a moment before Lucina darted forward, the parallel Falchion’s point flashing towards his face. The older man stepped back, Robin suddenly behind him kicking out at his legs. The avatar had been expecting this, though, and hopped. Spinning in the air he dragged his scythe along the front of Lucina’s armour, tearing the strong silver metal into two distinct pieces before he landed gracefully to one side.
“You really thought I needed my Risen to kill you?” the older man laughed.
Robin frowned as Lucina discarded her ruined breastplate before pulling off the loose pauldrons so that they wouldn’t get in her way. The avatar waited, watching her the entire time until the Princess stood wearing her normal blue tunic and light armour, the silver gauntlets and greaves the only traces left of her delicate silver plate mail.
“You know, you grew up to be a very beautiful woman,” the avatar said conversationally as they started circling each other. “It’s almost a shame that I have to kill you. I mean it’s not as bad as having to kill myself but…”
Lucina and Robin stuck together, moving one way while the avatar went the opposite. Robin had to watch his footing every time he stepped. He was still hurting, not to mention a little groggy with the aftereffects of that ‘dream’ or whatever it was that he’d seen inside of Grima. Lucina had noticed this, too, and was doing her best to interpose herself between the two Robins, much to the frustration of the younger man.
“Is it just me, or is talking to time-travellers really confusing?” the avatar laughed when neither Shepherd answered.
Robin growled and lunged, ducking low beneath the avatar’s scythe and coming up inside his guard. Striking with a vicious headbutt the tactician knocked him off balance before stepping back and opening the way for Lucina. The Princess lunged, Falchion slicing through the future-Robin’s coat and carving a chunk from his ribs.
Just as Lucina stepped back and Robin made to move forward again the avatar lashed out with dark magic, sending both Shepherds flying a small way through the air as he laughed.
“Oh, now things are getting fun, aren’t they!?” Grima’s avatar asked with a grin, resting his scythe across his shoulders again.
Robin and Lucina both glowered as they leapt back to their feet, readying their weapons. Robin hated to admit he was moving far, far slower than Lucina was.
“Now who won’t shut up?” Robin asked, quirking a brow as he held his daggers at the ready.
Chrom cursed, glaring at where Robin had teleported with Lucina.
“Shepherds!” he shouted above the howling wind and the screams of the Risen. “Get to Robin! Keep formation tight and watch each other’s backs! A whole keg of ale goes to whoever kills the most Risen!”
Vaike and Flavia both let out a happy roar at this, lofting their weapons before crashing into the Risen with renewed vigour, each determined to outdo the other’s kill-count. Virion simply smirked and shook his head, his arrows beginning to fly in every direction again as he steadily walked to keep up with the frontline’s progress. Tiki roared and transformed, her draconian form bent low to avoid the worst of the wind tearing her from Grima’s back as she swung her tail around, knocking a large swathe of Risen climbing up from beneath Grima to attack the Shepherds’ flank backwards into the open sky. Frederick and Sumia continued to backpedal, watching the rear with grim expressions, the Risen climbing up from behind them increasing in number with every step the Shepherds took. Say’ri saw this, and disengaged from keeping the flanks clear with Severa and Yarne, adding her own ferocious skill to maintaining a safe middle-ground for Lissa and the mages.
Chrom stomped forward on Grima’s scales, spinning Falchion in a figure-eight before holding the ancient sword ready. With speed he knew was being supplied by Naga’s power he darted forward between Flavia and Vaike, Risen actually flying into the air from his passing.
Where the Shepherds around him were making steady progress before, Chrom became a battering ram that cleared the way for them.
Falchion shined like a torch as he swung it through Risen, the weakest of the dark creatures being turned to ash just from looking upon the holy blade’s shining surface. The strongest of the Risen, armoured in glistening black plates with matching weapons and full-faced helms, were creatures no doubt on par with the Deadlords that Grima had crafted for the express purpose of destroying the fleas on his back; even they barely managed to stand against Chrom’s wrath for more than a few seconds, falling beneath his blade like wheat during the harvest.
He spun, shattering weapons and armour with his progress, and suddenly he was clear of the Risen, panting and faced with Grima’s avatar trading blows with Robin and Lucina.
“Grima!” Chrom roared, smashing Falchion against the Fire Emblem to get the avatar’s attention. “Come and get it!”
The older version of Robin glanced up, his bruised and bloody face twisting into a smile as he swept the exhausted Robin and Lucina aside with the back of his scythe in one smooth motion.
“I was wondering when you’d get here,” the deranged man said lightly as he began to advance on Chrom. “You know, I’ve never had to kill someone twice before. This is turning into a good day for me after all.”
“Kill me first before you say that,” Chrom growled, readying his sword and shield.
“If you can, that is,” the Exalt added with a confident grin.
Grima’s avatar darted forward, flying through the air so fast that Chrom could barely track the movement. The Exalt deflected the other man’s charge with his shield, beating him hard down towards the scales. The avatar landed on his hands and knees and spun, desperately kicking out at Chrom’s legs before rolling back into a standing position. Chrom was already bringing Falchion down in an overhand arc, simply stepping around the avatar’s kick. The older man barely got his scythe up in time, sparks flying off the weapons before the two combatants separated.
“You know, you may talk big,” Chrom said with a superior smirk, “but when it comes right down to it you’re just Robin. You may have a big, scary scythe, but you still fight the exact same way he does. And he’s never once beaten me in single combat. Never.”
“I’m standing right here!” the tactician in question said indignantly.
Lucina let out a quiet laugh at Robin’s expense, making him roll his eyes. For his part, the avatar gnashed his teeth and glared at Chrom. The older man knew that Chrom was right; it had been exactly the same in the future. Even with his limp the future-Chrom had been unstoppable, and this one was in his prime, half the age of his older self on top of awakened. There would be no surprise attack this time…
“Just give up,” Chrom pleaded suddenly. “It doesn’t have to be this way. We can figure out a way to save you, just let us save our home first! I know Robin would-”
“Stop,” Grima’s avatar said, pinching the skin between his eyes in frustration. “Just… stop. Your bleeding-heart routine pissed me off in the future, and it’s pissing me off now. I don’t want to be saved, Chrom! Not everyone wants to be saved! You never did get that! And I may not be able to stop you like this, true, but Grima and I are one! And I just so happen to be standing right on top of him!”
The scales beneath their feet rippled again as Grima shuddered, pouring more and more energy towards his avatar. Robin and Lucina both moved to Chrom’s side, and behind them the Shepherds continued keeping the Risen at bay.
“He’s already dedicating a lot of energy to keeping the Risen operating,” Robin said, breathing heavily. “He’s not going to be able to give much more to future-me. If we all rush him we should be able to take him.”
Chrom glanced over at his friend in concern as the tactician continued to pant.
Any other thoughts were cast aside as Grima’s avatar let out a loud scream, falling to his knees and clutching at his chest as his flesh rippled beneath his coat. A black pall of smoke sprung up from his feet, surrounding the man as he screamed and reducing him to little more than an outline.
“Crap,” Robin groaned, sagging a little. “I hate it when I’m wrong.”
“Quick, while he’s distracted!” Chrom urged, moving forward.
The Exalt stopped after barely a step, holding his shield up as a blast of purple fire flew at him. Grima’s massive head had turned around to protect his avatar, three of his eyes glowering at the Shepherds as fire billowed around the corners of his maw.
“It won’t do you any good,” the dragon’s avatar warned, his silhouette standing up in the cloud of smoke.
The black cloud cleared, whisked away by the roaring wind as the avatar stepped out of it. Horns sprouted from his temples now in much the same fashion as Grima’s, and his skin had taken on a distinctly scaled pattern, having turned a pale grey in colour. Two extra sets of eyes blinked in tandem with his main pair on his forehead, all six glowing red as he gave a fang-filled smile.
“Okay, so I guess headbutts are out,” Robin muttered.
“Grima and I are one!” the avatar declared, holding his scythe up in one hand threateningly. “Your end has come! See if you can match me now, Avatar of Naga!”
Chrom bared his teeth, charging forward again and meeting the transformed avatar blade for blade. Lucina ran after her father, intent on helping however she could and striking around him whenever the opportunity permitted. Robin hung back, channelling what little mana he had left and shooting small, precise Flux spells designed to distract the avatar more than anything else.
The transformed avatar laughed gleefully as he traded blows with Chrom, ignoring Lucina altogether as her blows bounced off of his shoulders and flanks.
“See!?” the monstrous avatar shouted happily. “Isn’t this much more fun!?”
He lashed out with his scythe in a lazy backhand, the point cutting through Lucina’s lighter armour and splattering blood across Grima’s scales in a red arc. She shouted more in frustration than pain as Robin darted forward, grabbing her and dragging her back before interposing himself between her and the avatar while he traded blows with Chrom.
“Wait here,” Robin said.
The tactician teleported across Grima’s back, grabbed a startled Lissa by the arm and teleported back to where Lucina was attempting to figure out a way to close the hole in her tunic half her midriff was showing through.
Lissa went to work instantly and without a word, holding her staff out to her niece and letting healing magic flow through the wound, leaving only a line of pale flesh puckered atop the top of her stomach. Robin nodded, teleporting Lissa back to safety before returning to Lucina’s side. She nodded gratefully, reaching out to stroke his shoulder briefly before turning back to help her father. With a jerk the princess tore the ruined cloth of her tunic away, casting it aside and hefting her sword again.
Robin watched the two blue-haired Ylisseans duck and weave around the transformed avatar’s blows, Chrom striking back and landing a few glancing hits but not managing to hit him square.
Grimacing, he watched as Lucina tore back into the older version of him, striking from the monster’s flank and distracting him momentarily. Chrom took advantage of this and brought Falchion down from above, severing one of the avatar’s horns in a mist of blackened blood. With an outraged bellow the transformed man kicked Lucina clear across Grima’s back before smashing the heel of his scythe into Chrom’s face, twisting the blade up and over his shield.
Robin watched with a sinking feeling as the Exalt stumbled, swinging blindly. The avatar ducked low to avoid the wild swing, bringing his scythe around in a blow that would take Chrom’s head off.
They wouldn’t win like this, Robin realised. Before, the avatar had been weaker, but now even Chrom and Lucina together couldn’t stop him. There was nothing else they could do.
Making up his mind, Robin sheathed his daggers and sent a flare of mana into Excellus’ ring, appearing just behind the avatar. Grabbing onto his future-self’s coat with both hands he sent another flare out, giving Chrom one final sad smile over the monster’s shoulder before they both disappeared in a flash of ancient teleporting magic.
Chrom stood, rallying and looking around as he waited for Robin and the avatar to reappear. Seconds went by, Chrom picturing that smile that his friend had given him…
“He didn’t…” the Exalt muttered breathlessly, looking over his shoulder to the ocean rushing by beneath them.
“Awakener, there is no time to waste,” Naga whispered into his ear, her tone carrying an unmistakable note of regret.
“Slay Grima; attack the weak point by his neck. Do not let the Fell Blood’s sacrifice be in vain.”
“There’s just no end to these things!” Kellam complained loudly.
The armoured soldier rammed his lance forward through the chest of another Risen to illustrate his point; by the time he’d drawn the weapon back another Risen had already taken the place of the one he’d felled.
“Keep fighting!” Morgan shouted, swinging Sol around in a wide arc and ignoring the pain in her ribs.
Basilio laughed raucously as he surged through another knot of the weaker Risen, throwing them aside and leaving a trail of ashes and discarded weapons in his wake.
“I haven’t felt this young in years!” the Khan laughed, spinning lithely and decapitating the nearest Risen. “I’ll be feeling it tomorrow, but right now I’m unstoppable!”
The Ylissean army had finally managed to secure a breach into the Risen-held plateau, forming a line at the top of the mountain path. This was thanks in no small part to the timely arrival of Mustafa and the heavily armoured Plegian shock-troops he had brought with him; the desert-dwellers had surged forward in perfect formation, taking over the frontlines and giving the terrified and wounded Ylissean soldiers the chance to rotate with fresh men from the beach, being led by Lady Azolla herself.
“Move up and keep formation tight!” the stern-faced duchess roared over the battle to her blue-armoured soldiers. “I’ll not have the Plegians be stealing all of our glory!”
“Now, now, Duchess,” Mustafa laughed. “There’s plenty of Risen for the both of us to kill!”
Morgan had to grin a little at the two leaders’ banter, their soldiers fighting all the harder beneath their watchful gazes. She also noticed that the Jagen troops had been the first ones to reinforce the Plegian line, replacing the Ylisstol Regulars and taking up their positions.
“You’d think those two were married or something,” Amir muttered from Morgan’s shoulder.
Noire let out a stifled giggle from her other shoulder, having adopted the position of Morgan’s ‘third shadow’.
The Grandmaster grunted noncommittally, too busy watching the ebb and flow of the Risen horde. Kellam was right; there was literally no end to them. Roark had taken control of the Knights when Frederick had left, too, and was running the heavily-armoured Ylissean Knights with the lighter Themis Cavalry around the periphery of the battle, attempting to keep the Risen centralised. Cordelia did the same from above, her Pegasus Knights occasionally swooping over the Risen horde to wreak havoc on their undead enemies.
But it still wasn’t enough. For every Risen they killed, more rose to take its place. They needed something to tip the scales; something big. Morgan recalled how her father had said that the Risen would be susceptible to Dark Magic, half a plan springing to mind. She would just have to improvise the other half on the fly.
“Noire, Kellam, I’m going to try something,” she declared, stepping forward and creating a little space around herself. “It’s time to tip the scales.”
Morgan flicked her wrists, establishing a glowing dark magic circle around her feet. She ran through the incantations for her spell beneath her breath, distastefully adding a few lines she’d picked up off ‘Nergal’ back in Ylisse. Then, as the spell began to take shape Morgan reached out to the mana suffusing the mountain again. In an instant she felt the spell’s strength almost triple, expanding to the point where she very nearly lost control of it.
She was exhausted, pushing herself to the brink and channelling more magical power than any sane mage would ever even think to attempt. However, Morgan’s father had been bred over generations to be able to contain the essence of the fell dragon Grima, and much of this magical resilience had been passed on to her, too. Where an ordinary mage would break and suffer magical backlash so potent it would burn out their mind, Morgan held strong on the energy using her body as a conduit.
The effects were instantaneous.
As the purple lines flashed along Morgan’s flesh and her eyes burned black, a creeping miasma sprung up around the feet of the Risen. This mist grew into a thick fog, reaching the mindless creatures’ knees. With a few whispered commands in an ancient tongue Morgan called on the very essence of what the Risen were, creating grasping claws from the cloud beneath them. The human soldiers hesitated as the Risen were torn apart from beneath in the same fashion they had assaulted the Ylisseans earlier, watching in stunned and fascinated horror as their foes’ number was greatly reduced in a heartbeat.
Morgan let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding, gently releasing her link to the mana on the mountain. All at once the black cloud dissipated, leaving discarded weapons and scraps of Risen armour in its wake.
“I really need a bath,” she groaned, feeling the clinging sensation of the power she had been wielding.
With a mighty roar the combined Ylissean-Plegian line surged forward, carving into the remaining stunned Risen with renewed vigour.
Robin and Grima’s avatar blinked back into existence a hundred yards beneath the dragon, flying in free-fall through the air towards the ocean beneath them.
“Madness!” the avatar shrieked. “What-”
“Shut up already!” Robin roared, head-butting the man in the nose and slicing open his face on the avatar’s remaining horn.
Grima’s avatar’s grip slipped in his terror and the ancient scythe went flying from his hand, tumbling end over end out of reach. Robin leaned back from the stunned man, wrapping his legs around his future self’s hips and holding onto him as they fell. The tactician drew and held the dagger that had been forged from Chrom’s old rapier high, preparing to plunge it into the avatar’s heart. With wild eyes the older man caught Robin’s wrist one-handed, his other lashing out in a fist and smashing into the side of Robin’s jaw once, twice, three times. Before he could pull it back a fourth time Robin turned his head, tearing into the tendons of his future self’s wrist with his teeth as it flashed at his face.
Screaming in as much terror as pain now, the avatar withdrew his bleeding and useless hand as the other struggled to hold Robin’s dagger at bay, the wind still whipping by them. Blood followed both of the wounded men like the trail of some sick comet, streaking the sky behind them red.
Magic flared and Grima’s avatar struck Robin with his ruined hand, a weak fire spell impacting the tactician in the face and finally forcing the two men apart as the younger of the two roared in pain and frustration.
Robin shook the stars out of his eyes, blinking his vision clear as he flew away from his foe. With a quick wind spell Robin launched himself back towards the avatar, dodging between hasty thunder and fire spells that his future self was desperately launching in his direction.
The younger tactician reached behind his back as he flew through the air, groping blindly for the smaller dagger, Raziel, that he hoped was still in its sheathe.
With a wordless howl Robin found the dagger and barrelled into the avatar, both of them tumbling end over end as they fell, struggling for possession the small weapon. Robin pulled back a little, freeing his hands enough to tear them from the avatar’s weakened grasp. Robin looked into his future self’s eyes for a moment, wondering what exactly could drive him to this…
With a vicious jerk he slashed his future self’s throat before pulling back and plunging the dagger into the stunned man’s heart.
Pain blossomed in Robin’s own chest, the tactician roaring wordlessly into the shocked face of Grima’s avatar, the waves rushing up to greet them as the light left all six of the future-Robin’s eyes. Robin twisted in mid-air, ignoring the burning sensation spreading through his body and leaving numbness in its wake as he angled the corpse of his future-self to take the brunt of the impact.
Robin found himself grinning, his burned and ruined face resisting the movement. At least the numbness was making his wounds a little more bearable, he found himself idly reasoning. By killing his future-self with one of the weapons made from Grima’s fang he had effectively severed the link tethering the fell dragon to this realm. Above him he heard the dragon shriek, Chrom no doubt having hit its sweet spot with Falchion.
So… he would die now.
A sad smile rose unbidden to his lips as he plummeted towards the ocean.
At the very least this way Grima wouldn’t darken the skies again. Lucina and the others would likely hate him for leaving them like this, but… in the end, it was worth it to know they would be safe. They could all finally live in peace now, and that was enough.
Even if he had wanted to he couldn’t teleport with the ring, either; he’d exhausted his mana again, and even the ring had been stressed to breaking point from constant use. Tiny fractures lined the gem, and the gold band had become tarnished and prematurely aged. It wouldn’t get him anywhere near close enough to land, or even far enough down to slow his current speed.
Above him he saw Grima’s giant body convulse in the air, flipping over and thrashing around, his neck and tail coiling like serpents in the air. The tactician guessed that Chrom must have found some sort of sweet-spot at the same moment Robin had killed his future-self. Robin’s smile widened as the dragon reared up and tore at his own scales, Naga’s magic pulsating within him and tearing him apart from the inside. Whatever Naga had said about not having the power to create or destroy, she sure was doing a good job of proving herself wrong. With a blast of green mana Grima’s scaled chest burst open, the shockwave propelling the tactician faster towards the water.
With a crack like thunder the two bodies finally hit the surface of the ocean, and as icy water reached up and enveloped him Robin knew no more.
Morgan spun in a deadly arc, forgetting to compensate for Sol’s extra length compared to her old sword and accidentally decapitated three extra Risen besides the one she was aiming for. She grinned a little to herself, coming back to a ready stance as the soldiers around her rushed forward into the gap she’d created.
Morgan had to admit, despite its drawbacks the ancient sword was growing on her.
While the Ylisseans and their allies weren’t exactly gaining ground, but they were maintaining their hold on the peak, killing Risen by the dozens. Every few minutes the squads were rotated to avoid exhaustion from the heavy fighting, the average soldiers not being able to keep up with Morgan or the rest of the Shepherds. Even Amir and the last of his Royal Guard, despite being a level above the average soldier in strength and endurance, were currently taking a break somewhere in the rear ranks.
Morgan brought herself back to the battle at hand, flipping the oversized sword around in her grip and pirouetting in a move that Lon’qu had taught her-
And striking nothing but air.
She blinked, realising that the Risen weren’t advancing anymore.
All at once the Risen on Mount Origin stopped whatever they had been doing and stared eastward into the sky, many being struck down by the humans they had been facing in that moment.
The Ylissean and Plegian soldiers hesitated now, waiting to see what the Risen were doing.
Slowly, the creatures began to evaporate into dust, as if they had been struck down and killed.
Morgan watched this spectacle with wide eyes, the soldiers around her letting out a mighty cheer as their enemy began to disappear.
“Did they do it?” she wondered out loud, squinting up into the afternoon sky and trying to catch a glimpse of… anything in the distance.
Chrom took a quick breath as his boots suddenly met solid ground again, still not used to the sensation of teleportation no matter who did it. The Exalt and the other Shepherds all looked around, stunned to see the almost empty plateau at the top of Origin Peak. Scores of Ylissean and Plegian soldiers were cheering and celebrating closer to the mountain path, but-
“Mother!” Noire cried from the press of revelling soldiers, pushing free of them and rushing over.
Chrom looked over his shoulder at the Dark Mage, the usually confident woman staring at the dirt as her shoulders shook. At her side Aversa seemed lost, the older mage looking at the Shepherds around her with blank eyes. Noire pelted into her mother, gripping her tightly, as if afraid to let go.
All around him the Shepherds were beginning to collapse, some falling into sitting positions and collapsing physically, others simply breaking emotionally as they recalled Robin’s sacrifice.
Lissa fell to her knees, quietly sobbing as the shock started to wear off. Frederick, standing over her like a stone-faced gargoyle, stared off into the distance with a complex expression. Yarne looked like he was about to throw up, obviously looking around for Morgan. Say’ri just looked confused as she tried to sort through her emotions. Tiki moved to Say’ri’s side, pulling the woman into an embrace where they both broke down. Vaike collapsed to the ground, the strong man sniffling and doing nothing to hide the tears running down his face. Virion fell to all fours, clenching his eyes shut and willing himself to wake up from this nightmare. Severa moved over to stand next to her father dry-eyed, grabbing his gauntleted hand in one of hers. The Knight Commander didn’t resist, gripping her hand as they both stared out into the horizon. Flavia planted Priam’s massive sword into the ground, leaning on it as she panted in exhaustion. Basilio appeared from within press of soldiers, wiping something off his hands as he spotted the other Khan. With a knowing look in his one good eye he strode over, clapping a comforting hand on the smaller woman’s shoulder. She looked up at him gratefully, and they stood there like that for a time.
All around the edges of the plateau the soldiers grew quiet, speaking in hushed whispers as they realised something had happened, unsure what exactly was wrong but able to see from the stances of the Shepherds that something had happened.
Morgan followed the big Feroxi Khan out of the now-quiet soldiers a few moments later. Her face went slack at first, taking in the expressions on her friends and allies faces, before it hardened and she strode over to Chrom. Lucina moved to his side, her face a careful mask as she faced the Grandmaster.
“What happened?” Morgan asked without preamble in the sudden silence, ever the Grandmaster.
“Robin… fell,” Chrom said helplessly. “He fell from Grima’s back, taking the avatar with him. He… was the one that delivered the final blow. Not me. I’m so sorry, Morgan.”
The young Grandmaster reeled as if struck, her eyes widening again as she took a shuddering breath.
“No…” she whispered brokenly.
Morgan swayed, catching herself and forcing herself to think calmly. It was true that she couldn’t feel Grima’s power any more, but she would have felt it if her father had died, too. His magical resonance had always been so clear to her; they had always had that connection. No matter how much interference Grima’s residual energy gave off, she would have noticed if that connection had been cut.
She would have noticed if he’d died!
Chrom stepped forward, pulling Morgan into his arms. She didn’t look like the Ylissean Grandmaster at that point; she looked like a scared teenager that had just lost her father, and he couldn’t help himself.
Morgan shuddered, stepping back and wiping at her eyes.
“Did you see his body?” she asked quietly.
Chrom blinked, taken aback by her direct question.
“Well… no, but-”
“Morgan, there’s… no way he could have survived that,” Lucina said gently, her voice breaking a little as she cut Chrom off.
“Until I see a body I’m operating under the assumption my father’s still alive,” Morgan said, spinning on her heel and slipping back into the Grandmaster mask. “Remember; he’s cheated death before.”
“Signal all available units!” she shouted to the closest soldiers in Ylissean livery. “I want the beach scoured! Leave no stone unturned! We’re looking for the hero-tactician of Ylisse! Have the Pegasus Knights fly over the beach and then out to sea, widening their search pattern periodically! Go!”
As if someone had poured ice-water over their heads the soldiers snapped into action, the men and women rushing towards the beach down the mountain path. Sergeants began issuing search instructions to individual squads, while higher-ranked officers hung back, organizing a search pattern for the island starting from the beach.
“I-I’ll fly down to the beach and give those orders to Cordelia,” Tiki said, a slight hic in her voice as she stepped back from Say’ri and transformed.
She bent low, offering to take the Queen of Chon’sin with her, who gratefully accepted. In a gust of wind they were off, racing towards the beach at the base of the mountain.
“Let’s go already!” Vaike urged, racing after them. “Morgan’s right, dammit! He’s still out there!”
“Let it go!” Severa snapped, her voice cracking. “He’s-”
“Still alive,” Lucina interjected softly.
Morgan nodded at her, beginning to move towards the path back to the beach. The Princess of Ylisse followed her, leaving Chrom standing awestruck. Shaking his head the Exalt jogged to catch up with them.
“The girl needs this,” Frederick explained to his daughter softly. “We should help them look.”
Severa’s lip quivered as she nodded, the two of them jogging after the group.
Cordelia sniffled, pulling on her pegasus’ reigns and causing it to drift a little closer to the shoreline. She forced her emotions back down, knowing that she needed to present a strong face in the presence of her Knights. The five women whose mounts weren’t too exhausted to fly were spread out in a wide v-formation behind her, scouring the shoreline of the island for even a hint as to Robin’s presence.
The day was growing late now, and the red sun was starting to set into the ocean.
The Ylissean, Plegian and Feroxi troops had long ago given up the search; not being prepared to spend the night on the island they had been forced to return to their ships and begin the journey back to the Plegian mainland.
Still, though, the Shepherds searched. They wouldn’t give up until they either found Robin or dropped dead from exhaustion.
Still, though, the Wing Commander found herself wondering; how long could a wounded man survive like this? By all accounts Robin had been clinging to the last threads of life when he had taken Grima’s avatar by surprise. Everyone was trying to be optimistic, but logic would state that he would have bled to death a long time ago.
A small black shape drifted through the air before Cordelia, Tharja’s familiar raven having joined in their search as soon as Tiki and Say’ri had given the orders.
Everyone in the assault team had been a mess; covered in blood and exhausted to the point of collapse, Naga’s healing magic having done nothing for their fatigue. The Devine Dragon was silent again now, too, despite all of Tiki’s pleas that she lend them her power in locating the missing tactician.
Cordelia repeated the word over in her head, clinging to it and refusing to admit that Robin could be dead. After all this time it beggared belief that the tactician that had brightened all their lives could be dead. It simply didn’t make sense to any of them.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw the raven take off for the shoreline like a shot, angling for-
“Oh Naga,” Cordelia breathed, her voice being stolen by the wind. “We… we’ve found him!”
As evening was starting to fall they gathered around him, the tactician washed up and face-down on the shore of the far side of the island.
His coat was in tatters, and dark arterial blood coloured the sand around him, slowly washing away in the tide.
Cordelia stood not far away, having been the first one on the scene, sobbing fitfully as she held on to her mount’s neck. The Wing Commander had been too stricken to actually even move the body into even a more dignified position, simply keeping watch over him until the others arrived.
Morgan approached, slowly at first and moving a little quicker until she was standing over him. Lucina moved up next to her, the princess falling to her knees next to Robin. Chrom had stopped a small way away, holding back the remainder of the search party that had accompanied them.
“No…” the blue-haired woman denied softly. “Not again…”
“Dad?” Morgan asked quietly, kneeling next to him. “Dad… wake up…”
Suddenly the Grandmaster turned, tears streaming down her face.
“Healer!” she cried, breaking into a sob. “Somebody get a healer!”
Lucina shook her head, her mask slipping as her own tears started to fall.
“No!” she shouted, throwing herself forward to cling onto Robin’s back as she sobbed. “Not again! I won’t be alone again! No!”
Someone coughed, and Morgan closed her eyes, trying to control herself and failing utterly as her shoulders heaved and her tears kept falling.
Her father was gone. She felt lost. Torn. She was broken…
Lucina let out another strange cough, making Morgan open her eyes again out of concern.
Lucina shot up, her tear-stained eyes wide.
“That’s not me,” she said hesitantly.
Both women looked down at the body of-
“Ow…” Robin moaned weakly, slowly rolling over onto his back.
“Robin!” Lucina cried.
“Dad!” Morgan shouted, her walls crumbling as tears started to fall.
“Robin!?” Chrom asked, running forward. “Healer! Someone get a healer! Lissa!”
Cordelia was already moving forward, pulling the healing staff off her saddle and skidding to her knees on the opposite side of the tactician, holding the staff out over him.
“You know…” Robin said weakly, smiling up at Lucina. “You’re… kinda heavy…”
“Y-you ass…” she sobbed, smiling back at him.
“Dad!” Morgan shouted, throwing herself on him in a desperate hug.
“Argh! Morgan! Armour!” Robin shouted, breaking into a coughing fit.
“Morgan, I need you to stay back,” Lissa said, sniffling as she arrived and knelt by Robin’s head.
Lucina gently pried the other girl off of the tactician by the shoulders, Morgan sniffling pathetically.
“I’ll be fine,” Robin sighed as the healing magic began to take effect and eased the incredible amount of pain he was in.
“How?” Tharja asked, standing behind Lissa and voicing the question on everyone’s mind. “How are you still alive? Grima’s dead. You… you should be too.”
“Unless he’s still alive,” Aversa said sourly from Robin’s feet.
“He’s gone,” Robin said, smiling as he closed his eyes. “I… saw it. Quite the… light-show, actually.”
“So then, how?” Chrom asked, leaning over Cordelia. “Naga said that it would kill you.”
“I don’t care right now” Robin said, his smile growing wider until he burst into a weak fit of laughter. “I just… really don’t care.”
“I’m curious now as to what it would actually take to kill you,” Aversa muttered, hiding her relived smile by pretending to stroke her chin.
“Hey, I’ve been dead or near enough twice now,” Robin said. “Let’s not push things by trying a third time.”
Chrom started to laugh, crossing his arms. His laughter spread, and soon the entire group were all laughing uproariously, Lissa actually falling backwards onto her rear in her hysterics. Even the usually stoic Tharja and Aversa doubled over in their mirth.
Robin attempted to sit up as the laughter died down, failing miserably with a pained groan before smiling sheepishly up at everyone.
“So who’s carrying me back to the ship?” he asked.