Invisible Ties

Chapter 7

Robin sat astride a pegasus, surveying the charred remains of the town they were above with a far-away look in his eyes. Apparently at some point in his life he had taken flying lessons, because it had come naturally, but that was an issue for another time.

In the last few weeks Plegian bandits had steadily stepped up their operations from terrorizing the border towns to outright attacking them and burning them to the ground. This was the fourth such town in as many days, but fortunately the major population centres were well-equipped to deal with the refugees, and casualties had so far been mercifully few, limited to the small number of colonial militia that had taken up arms against the Plegians. It was almost as if they wanted people to survive and spread the word; something Robin could grimly see the point to. His plans to limit destruction with fast response units had been effective, but only in the sense that they could arrive at the towns to limit the damage done to the civilians and engage the Plegian rear-guards. They were even becoming so bold that fully-kitted soldiers were among the bandits now, black Plegian plate-armour having been spotted more than once.

Robin and his escort landed, the pegasus’ hooves clattering on blackened cobblestones between the skeletons of charred buildings.

“This is a mess,” he muttered sadly. “All this death and destruction… For what?”

“Ylisse and Plegia have a long and bloody history with each other,” his escort, Sumia, explained, surveying the wreckage sadly. “It’s almost ingrained into us as soon as we’re old enough to listen; stories of the wars between the two nations, of the horrendous acts the Plegians committed. The Plegians are taught that their nation was invaded and defeated by ignoble men who wanted nothing more than conquest. We’re simply taught to hate.”

Robin smiled grimly. Even surrounded by wholesale destruction the kindly pegasus knight still possessed the presence of mind to recall that Robin had no prior knowledge of world events or history. She was a good friend.

“Well,” Robin said, trying to show some cheer, “At least there’s one Ylissean that seems to be tired of the cycle of hate.”

Sighing, the tactician climbed off his pegasus, patting the beast on the neck as he did. He knelt down in the wreckage of one of the houses. Something had caught his eye; the burned and torn form of a small stuffed toy, a rabbit, Robin thought, though it was hard to tell.

Dammit, Robin thought angrily, clenching his fist as he stood with the burned stuffed rabbit in his other hand. This wasn’t a battlefield and these people weren’t soldiers… this was someone’s home. I can’t let this keep happening.

“Robin?” Sumia asked tentatively, coming up beside the man and putting a comforting hand on his shoulder.

She’ll make a great queen one day. Or whatever the Ylissean equivalent is, Robin thought absently.

Taking a deep breath, Robin deposited the stuffed rabbit into his pouch, next to his spellbook. He wasn’t sure why, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

“Let’s get out of here,” Robin said, doing his best to sound upbeat. “We’ll stop these bastards yet.”

Chrom reigned in the horse he was borrowing at the foot of the palace steps in Ylisstol before leaping from its back and leaving the exhausted creature where it was standing. One of the soldiers would see that it was taken to the stables, and he was in no mood to take care of such trivialities himself. He was tired; he was coated in dust, dirt and mud from riding non-stop to get back, and no doubt stank like a horse, but he needed to see his sister immediately.

The Plegians continued to elude them at every turn, and despite his and Robin’s best efforts, they were still losing ground against them, and while the Feroxi warriors were marching to Ylisstol they were still at least a week away according to the last messenger sent by Flavia.

And on top of all their failures and Plegia’s continued hostility, Emmeryn would not listen to his counsel, and continued to try and broker peace between the two nations, leaving Chrom to try and secure the borders with his Shepherds and the small number of knights left at Fredrick’s command. His sister needed to see reason! There was no peaceful solution to this; Plegia was orchestrating the opening moves to an outright invasion.

Chrom all but flew through the palace, guards and servants hastily moving out of his way as he passed, the bag in his fist swinging wildly in time with his angry strides.

He all but kicked down the doors to the council room where Emmeryn, Lissa and the council of elders responsible for the running and maintaining of Ylisse were currently meeting, and upturned the sack he was carrying before anyone could speak.

Six empty, battered and bloodstained black helms fell to the floor, maddeningly loud in the silence.

“It’s not just bandits anymore,” Chrom growled, kicking one of the helms off to the side angrily as he approached his sisters at the head of the horseshoe shaped table. “This is an act of war, sister; this is an invasion! You can’t hide behind the flag of peace anymore. Plegian soldiers are marching across our borders in increasing numbers, and--”

Emmeryn held up a hand, silencing Chrom with a cold glare he had not seen since he was a child.

“I apologize, councilors,” she said calmly, as if discussing the weather, her eyes never wavering from Chrom’s. “But I will have to adjourn this meeting until tomorrow. Thank you for your time.”

Silently and wary of the enraged prince, the old councillors stood and left the chamber, leaving Chrom alone with his sisters and the two military commanders, Phila and Cullen.

“Prince Chrom, this is incredibly disrespectful to your sister’s position,” Cullen growled after the last councillor had closed the doors, stroking his beard angrily. “I taught you better than-”

“Disrespectful?” Chrom asked incredulously, silencing the Knight-Commander with a glare of his own. “Plegia is invading our nation, my nation, and our Exalt sits in council meetings to discuss the Southern Farmlands!”

Turning to Emmeryn, who to his immense satisfaction had finally dropped her usual serene expression, Chrom pointed directly at the brand on her forehead.

“We’re supposed to protect our people, and yet you hold me back from doing so!”

Emmeryn stood calmly, eyes never leaving Chrom’s as her brow furrowed slightly info a frown.

She can be so irritating when she’s like this, Chrom thought bitterly.

“Gangrel is playing you like a fool!” Chrom raged on, his voice growing steadily louder. “He talks of peace and thrusts a dagger into our nation’s flank while you are distracted! Can you not see that he knows you will focus wholly on the peace talks and ignore the military threat encroaching further and further with each passing day!? I’ll say it again! People are dying, sister! Good people! We need to mobilize the army and put a stop to this threat before it’s too late!”

“Brother, the best way to protect our people is to show them that some small border skirmishes are not going to affect their lives. I trust that King Gangrel wants peace for his nation too, and so I will not forsake the peace talks in favour of mindless slaughter. The best way to protect the people is to show them stability, and that even if war does come, their lives will-”

“War is here, whether you want it or not!” Chrom thundered, making Lissa jump.

She had finally done it; Emmeryn’s blindness had pushed him over the edge. A small part of him felt guilty for speaking to his sister, who had raised both him and Lissa and sheltered them from the evil in the world for so long, in such a manner, but he was too angry now to care. She needed to hear this. Cullen and Phila looked ready to throttle him, too, but again, he didn’t care. They needed to see how dire the situation at the border was becoming, and they couldn’t do so from the safety of the capital.

Someone has to protect the people, he thought grimly, coming to a decision.

“If you won’t do anything, I will,” he growled, spinning on his heel and speaking over his shoulder. “The Shepherds are riding for the border. I’ll fight this war alone if I have to, but I won’t sit idle while our people suffer any longer.”

“You would have war?” Emmeryn called after him.

“I would stop this madness the only way Gangrel and those Plegian dogs will understand!” Chrom snarled over his shoulder. “Lissa! Are you riding with the Shepherds or not!?”

The youngest member of the family visibly flinched from her brother’s tone, sliding off her chair and timidly making to follow Chrom.

“I’m… sorry, Emm, but I’m a Shepherd, too,” she said apologetically as she followed Chrom.

Emmeryn let out a sigh after they disappeared, sinking back into her chair and resting her face in her hands.

“My Lady Exalt?” Phila asked gently, stepping forward.

“It is nothing, Phila,” Emmeryn muttered, rising slowly back to her feet. “Have another messenger prepared to travel to Plegia. I will not let matters escalate further. Gangrel will see reason, I know it.”

Robin and Sumia had returned to the barracks a few hours ago, and Robin had taken up his regular position in the corner, surrounded by his tactical and historical books, pouring over them and making notes, almost immediately. His heavy coat was laying over another chair he had claimed; it was pretty thick and offered a decent amount of protection during battle, but it was insufferably hot any other time, especially in the barracks when it was full. The other Shepherds were milling about like usual, maintaining weapons, training or drinking tea like usual. After another few days trapped in the library Robin had decided he’d had enough, and had moved-shop to the barracks, enlisting Vaike, Sully and Stahl to help him move the books he’d need, and setting up a small desk in one unused corner of the barracks.

Robin’s thoughts were interrupted as Stahl went flying through the air screaming outside the window, Sully chasing after him, discarding another broken training lance as she ran.

It gave Robin comfort to think, as he chuckled at Stahl’s predicament, that two nations were slipping closer and closer to war, but the Shepherds went along with business as usual.

Nose down in his books Robin didn’t even notice Lissa come in and beeline straight for the stables where Sumia was. He only really looked up when Vaike leaned against the wall next to him.

“Wonder what’s wrong with the squirt?” he said, crossing his arms.

“Wha?” Robin muttered absently, marking his page. “What’s going on?”

“Dunno,” Vaike said, shrugging as he looked at the door to the stables. “But whatever it is, Lissa’s upset.”

“She was just at a council meeting, right?”

Vaike nodded.

“Well maybe there’s been some disturbing news,” Robin said, standing. “I’ll see what’s up. You go back to… Vaike-ing.”

Vaike brightened instantly, reaching for his training axe.

“Now that’s an order Teach can get behind!” he said happily, beginning to run drills with the wooden axe.

Robin shook his head and grinned as he walked past Virion, who offered the man a nod over whatever awful poetry he was currently reading with his tea. Robin enjoyed poetry, but the flowery drivel that Virion read was enough to make him pine for the tactical manuscripts.

Robin realised as he stepped into the cool, darkened shed that this was the first time he’d actually been in the stables. It wasn’t surprising that they were just as he had imagined them, but he would have been lying if he hadn’t been expecting something grander from a place the Princess spent so much of her time; even if it was spent caring for someone else’s pegasus.

Lissa was sitting, head bowed, on a bale of hay, Sumia next to her, offering comfort. Robin hesitated a moment, but decided that if there was important information to be learned, it couldn’t wait.

“He can’t stand to see people suffer,” Sumia was saying, stroking one of Lissa’s hands. “He spent so long around the knights and soldiers growing up that the only way he knows how to achieve peace is by fighting.”

“But Emm says we’re so close to a diplomatic solution,” Lissa sobbed, obviously upset by something.

Robin cleared his throat. “I hate to interrupt, but if something’s happened concerning the war, then the rest of us need to know.”

Lissa shook her head, sniffling and still not looking up. It was Sumia who answered for her.

“It’s Chrom,” she explained. “He’s had enough of waiting for diplomacy to work out, and has decided to mobilize the Shepherds and hold the border alone.”

Robin wasn’t surprised by this revelation; in fact he already had several plans ready to implement on the chance this did happen, but he didn’t feel good about it.

“Can’t say I’m surprised,” Robin said, placing his hand on his chin, thinking.

Sumia started giggling, and Lissa glanced up and joined her, prompting Robin to drop his hand.

“What?” he asked.

“Nothing,” Sumia said, trying to stifle the giggles. “It’s just… well you really look like a ‘tactician’ when you do that.”

“It’s your ‘thinky-pose’,” Lissa added, looking up and smiling a little.

Robin smiled back. “Well, if it cheers the ladies up I guess I can’t not do it.”

Lissa chuckled again, wiping her face on her frilly sleeves and taking a deep, calming breath before bouncing to her feet, her usual smile back in place.

“Yeah, sure lady-killer,” Lissa said as she walked by him, punching him lightly in the arm. “And thanks.”

“Any time,” Robin said as she disappeared into the barracks, before turning to Sumia. “Do you really think he’ll follow through on this?”

Sumia sighed, taking Lissa’s place on the bale.

“There’s no doubt. Once he gets an idea in his head…” she trailed off.

Robin sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Then I have work to do. We lack the numbers for conventional strategy, but I’ve got some ideas that just need a little spit-shine and we’ll be laughing. Fortunately there’s only one border crossing he can move a large number of troops through, so I don’t have to worry about spreading our forces… Gah. Chrom really knows how to make my life difficult.”

Sumia nodded, staring into space as Robin ranted. She looked tired to him, like she hadn’t been sleeping well. Next to her he could also see the petals and stems of flowers that had no doubt been sacrificed to her flower-fortunes, something she usually only did when she was stressed out.

“Hey, cheer up,” Robin said, crossing the distance and nudging Sumia’s shoulder with his elbow. “I’m the tactician; it’s my job to make sure everyone gets out of this safe, and I apparently take my work very seriously.”

Sumia laughed a little as she looked up at Robin. “Sometimes I forget you’ve only got about a month’s worth of memories.”

“Yeah, and a lifetime’s worth of bad habits,” Robin groaned, sitting next to the woman. “Like working until my fingers are ready to fall off and my eyes bleed from reading.”

“That’s hardly a bad habit.”

“It is when I forget to eat.”

They both laughed, before Robin stood.

“Well, the books call,” Robin said with more enthusiasm than he felt, stretching his back and making his way to the door.

“Robin?” Sumia called, making the tactician turn. “We all trust you. We know you’ll do your best to get us all home safe.”

Robin smiled. “Well then I’d best not let you all down.”

No pressure though, right? he added internally.

Chrom strode through the palace grounds, one hand on Falchion and a grim frown set on his face. Fredrick was struggling to keep up with the prince’s longer gait, his heavy armour adding to his trouble.

“Prepare your knights as outriders,” Chrom ordered, thinking of their speed on horseback. “A large number of the Shepherds can’t ride, so we’ll use the knights to move ahead and secure the city. Themis is closest to the border, so we’ll start there. I’m sure that the Duke will have some troops we can make use of, too.”

“Of course, milord,” Fredrick said, bowing and changing direction to find the rest of his knight squad.

Chrom would head to the Shepherds’ barracks and prepare the others; they would march as soon as they were ready, and…

“Prince Chrom! Prince Chrom!”

Chrom spun, glaring at whoever would dare interrupt him during a time such as this.

A young mage initiate from the Royal Ylissean Mage Academy was running towards him, his hat so big it was almost comical, a rolled up piece of parchment in his hand.

“Ricken?” Chrom asked, recognizing the young mage as one of the provisional members of the Shepherds. “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at the Academy?”

“Sir,” Ricken said, doubling over out of breath as he reached Chrom and holding out the parchment. “We’re under attack.”


By the time Chrom returned to the barracks the news had spread and the Shepherds were all ready to march. The horses were saddled, everyone had their armour on and Robin had made copious amounts of loose notes that he could carry with him, judging from the papers falling out of his pouch. Chrom strode in with Fredrick and a young mage that the tactician had never seen before in tow and stopped, looking around at the fully arrayed strength of the Shepherds.

“I’m not even going to ask why you’re all already prepared to move out,” Chrom said, his face set in a grim line. “Themis was attacked by soldiers brazenly flying the Plegian flag. We ride immediately. If you can’t ride, buddy up with someone who can. Now, people!”

Lissa gasped in dismay, and the other Shepherds all made their own exclamations of disbelief.

“Is Maribelle…?” Lissa asked Chrom hesitantly as the others all exploded into motion.

Chrom shook his head as he walked by her, heading for the stables where his own horse would be waiting.

“I don’t know.”

They rode out at a full gallop; Themis was near the border, and only a few hours of travel away by the main road, and they pushed their horses hard, Sumia soaring above them. The morning was getting late as the idyllic Ylissean countryside flew by in a blur and a cloud of dust.

Seven other knights in armour similar to Fredrick’s accompanied them, numerous Shepherds hanging on to them for dear life as they charged through the country. Virion had still somehow managed to get onto Sully’s horse behind her, much to the knight’s irritation. Lissa clung to Fredrick’s waist as they rode, and Vaike and Miriel shared the horse he had acquired from somewhere while Robin hadn’t been watching. The young mage Robin was unacquainted with and Lon’qu were both riding behind one of the other knights, and taking a moment to make sure, he saw Kellam was too.

After a few hours of riding and one very short break at a stream for water, Robin could see the smoke rising from the distance.

“Chrom!” he called to the prince riding alongside him, pointing.

Chrom nodded, and kicked his horse, spurring it into an even faster run.

They came upon the broken gates of a smaller city than Ylisstol, its large white stone walls marred and burned.

“Hold!” Chrom called as they reached the gate.

He dismounted, keenly aware that he was not one for combat from atop a horse, and looked to Robin.

“Our first priority has to be securing the town and rescuing civilians,” Chrom said, drawing his sword, obviously eager to enter the town. “Robin?”

Robin nodded, looking over the assembled Shepherds and knights.

“Anybody that fights on foot form up and make ready,” Robin said, recalling the notes he had made. “Anybody with a horse, give them a few minutes to rest and drink some water, then come in behind us. We’ll push for the town square first, and then go from there.”

“Duke Themis’ villa is in the western part of town,” Chrom said as the Shepherds began preparing their weapons. “He is a prevalent member of the Ylissean Council and the ruler of this region; our secondary priority has to be to ensure his safety.”

Robin nodded. “Fredrick? Send two of your knights directly to the Duke’s villa once they’re ready to move.”

Fredrick nodded an affirmative before calling out to two of the knights, and Robin took out his spellbook, stepping towards the gates and preparing to storm the town with the rest of the Shepherds. The gates to the town had been all but destroyed, meaning that their entrance wouldn’t be difficult. Unfortunately the fires burning throughout the town were making a haze of smoke that the enemy would be able to use to their advantage. The best way for them to combat this would be to strike hard and fast and push through to the Duke’s Villa.

“What about me?” the young mage asked from under a huge hat, interrupting Robin’s thoughts.

Robin raised an eyebrow at Chrom, who seemed to notice the boy for the first time since they had set out.

“Ricken? What are you doing here?” the Prince asked surprised.

“I’m a Shepherd, too! So where do you want me?” the boy asked excitedly.

“You’re still much too young for combat,” Chrom said kindly, placing a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Stay here with the extra horses where it’s safe. You can be the rear-guard.”

The boy, Ricken, answered with a dejected “yes sir,” and Chrom and Robin moved to the head of the Shepherds.

As they moved into the city the Shepherds were quickly met by soldiers bearing the crest of Plegia on their jet black armour. They attacked in groups of two and three as the Shepherds pushed up the main colonnade, and Robin had a sneaking suspicion that the enemy soldiers were being thrown at them as a delaying tactic.

The city, so similar to Ylisstol, was in a shambles. Doors hung off their hinges and fires burned in the deserted buildings. If not for the fact that the majority of the town was made from stone, Robin didn’t doubt that there wouldn’t have been much left at all. Signs of wanton and sadistic destruction were everywhere; in some places it was almost methodical. Nothing Robin looked at was left undamaged; carts and stalls were smashed to pieces; smaller things such as crates and barrels were strewn about everywhere along with the detritus that had obviously once been their contents.

Plegian soldiers struck from the smoke, like dark shades frighteningly reminiscent of the Risen in their black armour and full-faced helms. Unlike the Risen, though, the Plegians fell with little effort on the part of the Shepherds.

Kellam, Vaike and Chrom took the front, and Lon’qu darted out time and again to strike foes that they didn’t fell outright as if he were dancing, his sword a blur of motion. Virion kept up a steady stream of arrows, dissuading the Plegians from attacking in numbers, and Robin and Miriel kept a wary eye for archers or other mages. Lissa brought up the rear, staff in hand, ready to act if one of the others was injured.

The Plegians fell back through the town and the Shepherds made good time, arriving at the central plaza of Themis without more than a few light wounds, mostly to Vaike’s unprotected upper-body.

He and I are going to have a long talk about getting him a chest-plate at the least, Robin thought distractedly as he surveyed the plaza.

They were in a big round space, paved with the same white stone that the walls were made of. Robin frowned as he picked out the crumpled forms of civilian casualties; the Plegians were obviously using Themis as a stepping-up point, a prelude to a full-blown invasion.

“Hold here for Fredrick’s team to catch up,” Robin called, and the Shepherds spread out, watching the various entry points between the buildings around the plaza.

Lissa doggedly moved to check the bodies of the civilians, but Robin could already tell it would be a useless gesture. Still, far be it from him to tell the princess how to do her job as healer.

Robin frowned; he had to admit that he was uncomfortable with the minor resistance they had met so far. No more than thirty Plegian troops, barely half a platoon and just enough to slow the Shepherds down. The wholesale destruction around them hinted at much larger numbers, but Robin had yet to see any other sign of them.

The Tactician turned as he heard Fredrick and the other knights approaching, Sumia flying just above them, lance in hand. Fredrick pulled up his horse next to Robin and Chrom, waiting for orders, and Robin didn’t hesitate.

“Take your knights and scout the rest of the city; there’s an army in here somewhere, and I’d rather find them before they find us. Start in the North and circle around East; we’ll meet at the Duke’s Villa.”

Fredrick nodded, signalling the nine other knights to follow him with a quick, sharp hand gesture, and they rode off through the Northern end of the plaza.

“Sumia, I want you flying over the buildings around the rest of us watching for ambushes. Don’t get too far away; if you even see so much as the hint of an archer, pull back and let us deal with them.”

“Right,” the pegasus knight said, spurring the beast back into the air.

“Shepherds!” Chrom called. “Form up! We’re moving on the Duke’s villa!”

They passed through the Western exit from the plaza, and Robin was instantly hit by how much clearer the air was. Looking around he almost wished for the smoke to return. The devastated city was much worse without the black curtain hanging over it, and unlike their approach, the western road through Themis was littered with many more bodies. The Themis City Guards had obviously put up a fight along the road, broken barricades draped with white armoured bodies and surrounded by Plegian corpses. Robin was grimly satisfied to note there were at least three Plegian corpses for every Themisian one.

The Shepherds moved quickly, becoming more and more tense as they went; the Plegians had yet to attack them again, and Robin was beginning to worry they were heading into an ambush. Shaking such thoughts away, Robin focused on the task at hand.

The Duke’s villa was in sight now; obviously the villa had been the site of the Themisian’s last stand. More barricades had been erected and broken through, and the concentration of bodies was much higher. He looked away from the massacre, his stomach rebelling. Robin heard someone, most likely Lissa, dry-retching behind him, but spared it no mind.

“Duke Themis!” Chrom called out, his voice making Robin jump in the silence of the city. “Lady Maribelle! Anybody!? Hello!?”

Robin surveyed the ruined grounds of the Duke’s villa, careful not to let his gaze linger on the bodies. The carefully manicured lawns were ruined; neatly trimmed low hedges had been ignored by the soldiers that had walked right through them, and patches of the lawn had been burned away, the tingle of magic lingering in the air above said patches. Arrows and broken weapons lay around and between the bodies, and Robin was saddened to see the ratio of Themisian to Plegian had swung much the other way.

“Dammit all,” he heard Vaike mutter as they carefully picked their way through the bodies. “This wasn’t a battle, it was butchery.”

Robin grunted, sharing the man’s sentiments. The Ylissean soldiers interspersed with the Themisian guards were especially mangled; it was as if the Plegians had lost their minds to bloodlust. Some bodies were so mutilated that Robin couldn’t even identify their gender. He tried to steer clear of those ones. Turning to check on Lissa, he could see that the girl was valiantly trying to be strong and keep her wits, but it was a fight she was quickly losing; try as she might she was still only new to battle, and her shoulders shook as tears of grief and frustration ran down her face.

“Come on,” Chrom urged them, oblivious to his sister’s suffering, “hopefully we’ll find some survivors inside.”

Sumia chose that moment to make her entrance, coming in fast and low and landing hard before them.

“Captain!” she called frantically as her pegasus hopped a few times to try and quell its forward momentum. “Captain, ambush from the South! At least a hundred soldiers! They were waiting in the buildings!”

“Everyone into the villa!” Chrom called loudly, too panicked to even curse.

“Chrom, you and Kellam hold the main door!” Robin called as they all began running to the villa’s entrance. “Miriel! You, Virion and I will take the windows and try and thin their ranks! Vaike, you and Lon’qu hold the back ranks, make sure none of those bastards sneak in the side or back doors! Sumia, find Fredrick and tell him to get his knights here as fast as they can! Go around the Plegians, not over them!”

Robin could hear the Plegians advancing now, a steady rumble off booted feet on stone streets and the shouting of men who knew they had their quarry trapped. Sumia took off like a shot, forcing her pegasus around and kicking it hard in the ribs with her heels, making the creature move faster than Robin even thought possible.

Arrows began to pepper the ground around the Shepherds as they crossed the villa courtyard, shot by the unseen Plegian soldiers, but they made it to the door before any could find their mark. The tactician glanced over his shoulder as he passed through the broken doors of the squat villa, only to see a tide of black-armoured soldiers surging into the gardens and towards the building. By the time Robin passed through the entry hall and found the window Virion was already shooting back from, Miriel had already taken up position on the other side of the entrance hall of the building and was unleashing the most devastating spells she had, countless bolts of lightning crashing into the Plegians as they advanced. Robin concentrated hard for a moment, before gesturing with his hand and sending a wall of flame against the flank opposite the one Miriel was hitting.

“Robin!” Virion called, loosing another arrow before pointing above the Plegians.

Sumia was still flying too close to the Plegian soldiers, and their archers had taken notice of her. Several arrows zoomed by the knight as she tried to dodge them, before one found its mark and the woman fell out of the sky.

“No!” Chrom cried as Kellam held the prince back with one arm, trying to keep his large shield, already bristling with arrows, in position with the other.

“We can hold them!” Virion called, dropping a Plegian mage in dark robes and what looked like a goat’s skull for a head-dress. “Go get her!”

Robin cursed, sending a tornado against a group of Plegians that were getting too close. He, Miriel and Virion were managing to hold off the Plegian assault so far, but if he left that would probably change very quickly. Lon’qu and Vaike hadn’t seen where she had landed, and they needed Chrom to hold the doorway with Kellam; no one else was wearing any armour.

Making up his mind, Robin sent one final firestorm against the Plegians, bowling their front ranks over as he sprinted for the direction he hoped he would find a side exit.

His eyes met Chrom’s as he passed the entryway, and the Prince’s manic expression seemed to abate somewhat as he understood Robin’s intent.

“I’ll be right back!” he called, sprinting down the large hallway and heading down what was obviously a servant’s corridor.

He ran for a few meters until he found what he was hoping for, and flung open the servant’s exit into a tight alleyway at the side of the villa, drawing his sword as he ran. The alleyway was deserted, and Robin bolted in the opposite direction of the Plegians. He circled the buildings and hit one of the larger roads at a dead run, looking up at the rooftops as he went. Amazingly it looked like the Plegian destruction hadn’t spread this far yet; most of the buildings were still intact, and the fires that were burning all over the rest of the city hadn’t jumped so close yet. It made Robin’s life admittedly a lot easier as he searched for his fallen comrade and friend.

She had fallen somewhere around… There!

Robin spotted the pegasus stamping nervously on the flat rooftop a few buildings further down the road at almost the same time as the five Plegian bandits that had obviously come looking for easier prey than the Shepherds holed up in the villa.

The tactician weighed his options, and mentally shrugged as he brandished his sword above his head, screaming a wordless challenge to the lightly armoured bandits.

Fortunately they looked as surprised as he had been, but didn’t recover as quickly, and Robin hit them with the force of a charging bull, burying the fine rapier in the chest of the closest bandit before taking out the second with a spinning slash that almost decapitated the man. The other three managed to get their axes up as Robin ducked under the blow from the third, rolling and slashing upwards, rising as the bandit he’d hit fell.

The last two stepped back warily, opening up the space between them. Robin was panting heavily now, and held his sword in a one handed grip, his other hand low, hovering above his pouch. One of the bandits lunged, coming in high and leading with a very amateurish swing. Robin side-stepped and slid his rapier neatly between the man’s ribs. Not wasting any time, he let the sword fall out of his hand and gestured to the last bandit with the empty hand, his other one finding his spellbook. A bolt of lightning jumped from Robin’s outstretched hand directly into the last bandit’s chest, throwing him off his feet, a look of surprise frozen on his face. Robin retrieved Chrom’s rapier and took three deep, calming breaths, trying to will his heart to slow down. The fight had taken less than a few minutes, but he felt as if he’d been marching all day.

Forcing his heavy limbs to move, Robin ran through the shop that Sumia had landed on top of and up the staircase in the back, emerging out onto the rooftop.

A lance flew through the air, burying itself in the door jamb inches away from Robin’s head.

“Gods, Sumia!” he shouted, dropping to the ground in case she had other projectiles to hurl at him. “It’s me! It’s Robin!”

He risked raising his head and sheathing his sword as Sumia began stammering apologies. She was lying propped up against a crate that hadn’t been broken, holding a hand to the arrows sticking out of her side with a strained look on her face as she tried to rise.

“Oh Naga, I’m so sorry Robin!” she said as he knelt by her side. “I thought you were one of the Plegians coming to finish me off and I just acted on instinct and… these arrows really, really hurt.”

Robin was too busy inspecting the wounds on her side to listen. Three broken shafts were protruding from her armour in her left side, but they didn’t look to be too deep. One was buried just beneath her ribs, another further around her back, beneath her shoulder-blade, and the third lower in her thigh.

“Can you stand?” Robin asked gently.

“I… I think I hurt my leg when I fell,” Sumia moaned, trying to shift her weight and falling back almost instantly.

“I’m so sorry, this always happens. I’m so useless when it comes to battles and I just get in the way and…”

Robin clamped a hand over her mouth.

“Stop talking. If it weren’t for you, we’d all be dead. Feel sorry for yourself after I save you and we beat the Plegians back.”

Robin looked over his shoulder, releasing his grip on Sumia’s face.

“What about you? Are you okay?” he asked the pegasus, not expecting an answer, but hoping the absurdity of asking an animal such a question would distract Sumia.

The beast gave him a strange look, almost as if it were questioning his sanity, and Sumia laughed a little. Robin turned back to the injured woman, and without warning snapped all three of the arrows close to the armour, making her cry out in pain.

“For the love of…” Sumia cursed, trailing off into laboured breathing, her face pale as she fell to the rooftop.

“I’m sorry, but I couldn’t move you with them sticking out and I didn’t want to give you time to fixate on the idea of me yanking them out. Are you okay?”

“I’ll be fine,” Sumia panted, looking up.

Robin nodded once, lifting her gently onto his back.

“Hold on tight,” he said, trying to evenly distribute her weight and at the same time cause her as little pain as possible.

Sumia moaned in pain, wrapping her arms around Robin’s neck.

He set off instantly, trying to move as smoothly as he could and still move quickly. They raced through the empty streets following the same route Robin had come in on. Robin’s arms and legs ached, and his lungs burned with the effort of carrying Sumia after so much exertion on his way to find her. He kept moving, though, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other and maintaining a steady breathing rhythm, all the while keeping his eyes peeled for more Plegians. Robin felt Sumia’s grip slacken as he rounded the corner into the alleyway next to the Duke’s villa, and he leaned forward a little more, apologizing as Sumia hissed in pain at the movement.

He could hear the sounds of steel-on-steel now, and the shouts of clashing soldiers. He quickened his pace, sliding into the servant’s corridor, stumbling as he almost tripped on the bodies of four Plegians in light armour.

“You’re lucky I could tell it was your footsteps,” Lon’qu said from the shadows as Robin righted himself.

Robin didn’t even have the energy to jump, just brushing past the swordsman and racing through the servant’s corridors. Robin still noticed Lon’qu’s arm was hanging limply at his side, his sword held in his off hand.

“Almost there,” he muttered breathlessly over and over. “Almost there. Just a little more…”

He emerged into the much brighter entryway into the scene from a nightmare.

Chrom and Kellam, both coated in blood, stood firm in the doorway, hacking apart anything that came within striking distance. Robin watched as Virion stumbled into the main hall, slamming the door to the sitting room he’d been using as a nest as rabid Plegian soldiers poured in through the window. Vaike and Miriel were both fighting as hard as they could to hold the room opposite, but the man was covered in wounds, and Miriel looked like she was about to drop from mana-exhaustion.

Robin set the now unconscious Sumia down as gently as he could as Lissa came running over, obviously exhausted from continuously channelling her healing magics.

“I need to get this breastplate off so I can get the arrows out,” she said, hands fumbling with the catches to Sumia’s armour. “I can handle this. Go help the others.”

Robin nodded and pulled out his spellbook again, taking three deep, calming breaths as he walked to where the room Miriel and Vaike were holding.

With a violent hand gesture Robin put everything he had into a wall of fire that barrelled through the Plegians, tossing charred bodies into the air with its force, opening up a space along the entire front of the villa and making those just beyond the flames hesitate.

“Well, that’s all I had left,” Robin muttered, falling to one knee.

Chrom looked over at Robin, hair matted to his face with blood and smiled grimly.

“We’re not done yet.”

Before Robin could answer the Plegians gave a lusty roar and surged forward again, intent on slaughter. Robin dug deeper, and managed to stand and send a number of weak lightning bolts into the charging crowd, for all the good it did. His mind worked in overtime as the Plegians drew closer.

“Lissa,” the tactician said, turning to where the girl was tending to Sumia. “Take Sumia through the servant corridors and find Lon’qu. Tell him I said to take the two of you and run.”

“I’m not abandoning you!” she shouted angrily without looking up from her work.

“Dammit, Lissa!” Chrom grunted over his shoulder. “Go! Please, just go!”

“I said I’m not leaving!” Lissa shouted back, tears streaming down her face again as she worked frantically to staunch the bleeding of the wounds on Sumia’s side.

Chrom couldn’t answer as another Plegian ducked around Kellam’s shield, demanding the Prince’s attention. Robin shook his head, leaning back against the wall and watching as the Plegians drew closer.

This is it, isn’t it? He thought lightly. As far as deaths go, there are worse ways to die I guess. I can’t think of any right now, but… There’s got to be worse. Right?

Robin shook his head and drew his sword as Plegians began clambering through the window.

Vaike and Robin set about trying to beat them back as Miriel fell back, nursing a deep wound to her arm and cursing in her highly confusing scientific speech pattern. Any other time and Robin would have laughed at the sheer absurdity of her behaviour. Virion was shouting for help, trying desperately to hold the door of the room he had retreated from closed. Turning at the sound of a commotion behind them Robin saw Lon’qu practically fall through the entry to the servant corridor, fighting one-handed against the Plegians that had finally decided to use it en mass.

Robin watched all this happening, powerless to do anything about it.

There was a lull in the Plegian offensive, and the Shepherds used it to push them back from the doors and window.

This is the one, Robin thought fatalistically. They’re getting ready for the final push. Well I’m not going to make it easy for the bastards.

Something inside Robin snapped, and with a deep breath that became a mighty roar Robin thrust his hands out, columns of black fire erupting beneath the Plegians in the villa’s gardens and throwing them into the air. The tactician’s attack continued as he gestured with his fingers, bolts of dark purple lighting dancing among the Plegian soldiers and leaving charred corpses to drop in their wake. As Robin fell to one knee again, blood beginning to leak from his nose, the Plegians collectively let out an insulted roar and surged to fill the gaps Robin had just made.

“There’s just no end to them!” Chrom roared.

“Nice try, buddy,” Vaike sighed, grinning over his shoulder at Robin. “At least we took a lot with us.”

A horn sounded off in the distance before Robin could reply, three clear, even notes, and Robin could see some of the Plegians looking around, confused.

Chrom began laughing as the Plegians started miraculously pulling back; even to ones already in the villa began panicking and running for their exits. Robin looked aghast at the prince, thinking he had finally snapped.

“That’s not a Plegian horn!” he whooped, sagging under the strain of the battle in the brief lull as the horn sounded its three notes again.

Robin watched astonished as a column of knights led by a man in resplendent white armour with a billowing red cape came up the west colonnade at full speed, crashing into the retreating Plegians. A second wave of knights, this time led by Fredrick, followed the white armoured knights, and between the two groups they laid waste to the surviving Plegians.

Robin dropped hard to the floor, crawling and leaning against the wall in the entryway as everyone else sagged to the ground, laughing at the unexpected turn of events and watching as the sixty odd knights set about decimating the Plegians. Vaike was flat on his back, spread eagled, cackling like a man possessed, and Kellam was leaning heavily on his lance, guffawing throatily. Lissa was alternating between sobbing and laughing, and even the usually restrained Virion and Lon’qu were joining in in the hysterics, the archer holding his stomach with one hand as his other held him off the ground, and the swordsman leaning with his uninjured shoulder against a wall.

“I can’t believe we survived!” Robin practically shouted as Fredrick rushed into the villa, Sully and Stahl hot on his trail.

“Milord! Prince Chrom, are you uninjured!?”

“Do I look uninjured?” he asked without malice, sitting down heavily next to Sumia.

Lissa had treated and bound the woman’s injuries, and she had regained consciousness sometime during the fight. She smiled weakly up at Chrom as he took her hand in his own, smiling back down at her.

Fredrick knelt before Chrom as the rest of the knights took up position outside the villa’s entryway. Sully and Stahl instantly set to work binding the wounds of the other Shepherds until another healer could be found.

“Milord, forgive me; I failed in my duty to protect you. I will accept whatever punishment you see fit to give.”

“Give it a rest, Fredrick,” Chrom said tiredly. “We’re all alive, that’s what matters.”

“Indeed,” the leader of the other group of knights said, removing his plumed helm as he strode into the entryway. “And a fine job you did surviving, too, milord. And wrecking up what was left of my villa, but I suppose I can let that slide.”

The man was tall and solidly built, but obviously getting on in years; his high forehead had the long white hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, and a thick, steel coloured moustache sat under his sharp, patriarchal nose.

“Duke Themis,” Chrom greeted the older man with a nod. “You’ll excuse me if I don’t stand to greet you, but as a strategic position your entry hall was severely lacking.”

Duke Themis chuckled grimly as Fredrick stood, head still bowed, making room for the man. Robin was on the verge of unconsciousness, but still managed to think that the Duke reminded him of someone he had met recently.

“Duke Themis,” Lissa said, swaying as she stood before catching herself. “Where is Maribelle? Is she safe?”

“Your concern for my daughter is touching,” the Duke answered soberly as his knights began to enter the villa, tending to the wounded Shepherds alongside Sully and Stahl.

That’s who he reminds me of Robin thought victoriously, matching the Duke’s bearing with the pompous girl’s. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen her in quite some time…

“Unfortunately, my dearest daughter has been kidnapped by these Plegian curs. I was leading my knights in pursuit when a strange man wearing a blue mask met us on the road and informed us of the attack.”

Robin barely registered the female knight in white armour prodding at his exhausted form, looking for wounds.

A masked man?

“Let me guess,” Chrom sighed. “Blue hair, regal bearing, sword eerily similar to mine?”

“Yes, milord,” Duke Themis said, surprised. “Is he one of your men?”

“No, but he seems to be hanging around us like a bad smell,” Robin moaned, eliciting a short barking laugh from the Duke.

“Well, be that as it may, we were forced to give up pursuit of the fleeing Plegians when we turned and saw the smoke rising from the city.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll find the bastards,” Chrom spat, trying to stand. “Fredrick! Fetch me a horse!”

“Milord, you are in no condition to ride anywhere,” Fredrick said sternly, pushing Chrom back into a seating position.

“As much as I fear for my daughter, your man is right, milord,” the Duke said sadly, his gauntleted hand creaking under the strain as he clenched the hilt of his sword. “At this point all we can do is wait for the ransom demands and pray.”

Trying valiantly to maintain consciousness, Robin sat forward. The Plegians wouldn’t simply execute Maribelle; she was Ylissean nobility. No doubt the Plegian King would use her as a bargaining chip in one-sided peace-talks. Robin’s last thoughts before passing out were a mixture of tactics he could potentially use to rescue the kidnapped girl if it came to a pitched battle, and his desire for some form of pastry now that the fighting was done and he realised how hungry he was.

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