Fire Emblem, traditionally, had been the stablest Loop in all of Yggdrassil. Something in the deep-rooted code of that universe made it just about impregnable; only a handful of Fused Loops have ever been spotted, and even then the most aggressive attempts to change the patterns of the Loop barely created a blip.
Naruto replacing Eliwood and defeating the Black Fang in a ramen-eating contest? Didn't change a jot of history. Ranma (in place of Ike) literally atomizing Ashnard with one punch? Events thereafter went unchanged. Avatar Aang purging Jugdral of Loptyr's spirit? That didn't do anything. Not even Shinji's EVA-fuelled rampage across Archanea, ostensibly as Prince Marth, impacted the Loop for long.
At this point, the admins threw up their hands, shrugged their shoulders, and put it down as another mystery of the World Tree. The Loop continued to expand at a slow pace, years of history ticking past in subjective eons for those outside the universe. Other universes continued to produce Fire Emblem fiction, all part of Yggdrassil's backup files.
Then one day in the hub world, Fire Emblem: Awakening was published, and the chlorophyll hit the fan.
"Give me a situation report," Nidhogg calmly hissed, the Head Administrator (Reptilian Division) slithering around the monitoring station.
"We got two baseline Loops before the entire system hung up," replied Bahamut, the proud metallic dragon all business. "Problem is, they're different. There's no Anchor to alter things consciously, and this universe doesn't have quantum uncertainty programmed into it. We're seeing instability in the most stable Loop in the tree, with no explanation."
The Serpent Under the Tree groaned. "Give me a quick rundown of the baselines and where they differ."
Tiamat weighed in, her five heads flicking across an equal number of screens filled with information. "First Loop was, well, let's call it the Bad Ending. The prince is mortally wounded, the queen is killed, there's a massive series of wars, then an eldritch abomination is resurrected and destroys mankind."
Nidhogg blinked in shock. "This is Fire Emblem. That's not a bad ending, that's game over. How can that be a baseline?"
Bahamut pinched the bridge of his snout with his claws, sighing. "Time travel."
A collective groan rose from all three of the draconic system admins.
"The prince's future daughter travels back in time from this baseline and creates the divergence point that leads to the other," Tiamat continued. "She prevents the queen from being killed, the wars in question are a lot smaller and shorter, and they manage to stop the resurrection of aforementioned eldritch abomination."
"Wonderful," the head administrator grunted. "And I suppose the system crashed because the Loop was utterly unprepared for something as massively destabilizing as time travel."
"That's what it looks like. We need an Anchor, but thankfully we have a perfect candidate for it. His name is Robin - wait, what!?"
The administrators turned as the diagnostic charts began to flow and various alarms started wailing. "The universe is self-anchoring? HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?" Nidhogg yelled, serpentine eyes flickering over the readout.
"I have no idea!" Bahamut shouted back. "But I imagine time travel has something to do with it!"
Loops begin and end abruptly, as all experienced Loopers know. The moment of entering a new Loop is known as "Awakening", in a thoroughly amusing coincidence that Lucina had no knowledge of or time to appreciate when she did so for the first time.
The four gemstones and the Fire Emblem lay before her; Gules had been lost, some time in her world's past. Naga gazed down on her compassionately, the Divine Dragon preparing to return her and her companions to the past, to avert the dark future the Fell Dragon Grima had brought upon them.
But…she had already done this. She had journeyed into the past, rescued her father, altered the flow of time, and prevented the rise of Grima. Why was she here, again?
"N-Naga," she stammered, the idea of all her work being undone beginning to hit home, "Did you grant me a…a premonition of sorts?"
The Divine Dragon, no more the dragon of her namesake than the human she appeared to be, regarded her kindly. "No, Awakener," she replied, her ethereal voice echoing through the room. "Apart from your sudden pause, nothing has changed. I understand if you fear failure; but do not allow it to overwhelm you."
"I won't." She knew one thing; she had done this before. She could do it again. Her friends had made their way into the past already, Naga guiding them to the times and places they would best fulfil their goals. She would not let them down. "I am ready," she finished.
Naga closed her eyes and began to gently glow, the power of the incomplete Emblem fuelling the magic she used. Lucina stood resolute, her unflinching expression hiding her deep-seated relief.
I don't have to kill him. I know that, now. We can live in peace…we can live our lives together.
As she donned her mask and entered the light, she smiled more sweetly than she had in a very long time.
This time, the Risen didn't stand a chance. There was no need for dangerous antics to rescue her aunt; the undead abominations simply died before they could reach Lissa, her blade biting through their foul bodies and rendering them into inky smoke. Her father - gods, her father - was as strong and vibrant as her premonition, and while it pained her to hide from him, she forced herself to stay aloof, knowing the truth would be nothing but madness, here and now.
He was there, too. The amnesiac tactician. The loving husband. The caring father. The avatar of the Fell Dragon, Grima. Robin. She hated hiding from him like this, the pain almost as bad as hiding from her own father. But he didn't know her, not yet, and she didn't truly know him; it was all a dream, the dream she was determined to make real.
"You may call me Marth," she managed to force out, the necessary lie burning in her mouth.
"After the hero-king of old? At any rate, thank you for saving my sister, Marth," Chrom said, and the strong reassuring voice of her father made her want nothing more but to embrace him and weep, like she had on that fateful evening what felt like forever from now. She shook away the feeling, finding it harder and harder to distinguish her dreams from reality. It had felt so real.
"The world is teetering on the precipice of disaster. What you saw tonight was but a prelude," she recited, remembering what she'd said in that other life, false or not. She walked away then, leaving them to puzzle over her meaning.
She didn't notice she had been followed for some time. She turned back to face a white-haired man she'd dreamt of for all those years, deep brown eyes filled with conflict and confusion. Robin brought a hand up to her mask, and she let him, not daring to hope that…
Then the floor fell out from under her when he whispered one little word. "Lucina…?"
"Robin!" she shouted back, fiercely embracing her lover. Sometimes, the gods are good, she thought.
She didn't notice the dagger-like blade of lightning inside of her until she was already falling towards the forest floor, the world fading away as the Fell Dragon's laughter forced its way out of Robin's mouth as his eyes narrowed to pinpricks of fear and horror.
Lucina's second Awakening was with a scream, startling Naga greatly.
"Awakener! What is wrong?" she asked, worry giving her voice an odd inflection.
Lucina gasped and panted for air, her mind telling her she should be sweating and exhausted, yet her body was as fresh and ready as it had been before…
Before she had returned to the past, before she had embraced Grima, before…
Robin had experienced the premonition, too; how else would he know her name? She recalled Grima's words, from that fateful encounter on the Dragon's Table.
"I attempted to reclaim my host, but he was not ready. Instead, he was stripped of his memories, and I misplaced some of my infinite power. But that has changed now…"
The premonition must have restored Robin's memories, she deduced, the seeds of fear beginning to take root in her. And that allowed the Fell Dragon to possess him - if not enough to ascend once more, than enough to control him, and kill her with her guard down. But if that was the case, why was she here once more?
Grima is tormenting me, she realised. He wishes to break me with this torture, to endlessly repeat my failures. But I will not let him. I will do what I must to succeed, no matter how long it takes.
"I am fine," she answered, her breathing returning to normal. "And I am ready."
Naga's concerned expression softened, the Divine Dragon accepting her words at face value. "If you insist, Awakener. Prepare yourself."
Lucina was utterly confused by the latest turn of events. This time, Robin had not recognised her, and hadn't followed her into the forest after she left. Surreptitiously following her father and his friends, she came to the inescapable conclusion that this Robin had not seen the premonition.
Perhaps this was not some trick of Grima's, but rather some mistake with Naga's ritual. Altering time itself would surely have strange consequences if something went wrong; could she perhaps be trapped in an endless repetition of her journey, with respite coming only from success? Perhaps Robin didn't always remember the premonition; and when he didn't, he was not a pawn of the Fell Dragon.
Hope stirred within her breast at the thought; Grima had not claimed Robin this time. When the time came, the Fell Dragon would fail, they would truly win, and they could be together once more.
Once more. The thought raised doubts that chilled her to the bone. Could it be that this was not her Robin? That this was another Robin? What right did she have to make him love her again? Was it wrong to use her knowledge of the future, just to feel his love again? Trying to withhold tears, she sprinted away, following her past life's experience to find shelter on the way to Ylisstol.
Hiding in a barn on the outskirts of the city, she slept dreamlessly, for she had no one to dream for.
She fought by his side at Emmeryn's attempted assassination, magic and blade in hand. Validar - this world's Validar, not the inhumanly powerful monster that they had faced at the Dragon's Table - fell, slain by her father's hand, and the remaining Grimleal and mercenaries scattered before the guards could arrive.
She left, too, not wanting to attract her father's attention. As she made to leave the castle, though, a white-haired man found her. Those deep brown eyes studied her, seeming to look right through her mask. "Marth."
"Robin," she replied coldly, desperately trying to stay impassionate. As she spoke his name, it was like the sun rising, and his eyes filled with intelligence and light. Gritting his teeth and scrunching up his face, he groaned in pain, intensely focused on an internal conflict she barely understood. Even as he did so, he threw his weapons to the ground, including the knife from his boot she knew he kept 'for emergencies'. "Robin?" she asked, losing her false voice as concern overrode her caution. "Robin! Answer me!"
"L-Lucina…" he mumbled in response. "When I'm awake…so is Grima. I-I managed to erase my memories again, but when you said my name, my real name…agh-" he doubled over from the pain as he spoke. "I'm fighting him, Lucy…but I-I need you, and I need Falchion…"
Fumbling at her waist, she drew her sacred blade, the Divine Dragon's fang, and its blue glow was as intense as the sun. "L-lay it in m-my palm, Lucy," he panted, face etched in pain. As she did so, he clutched one hand tightly around the blade, and the other in the palm of her hand. The azure light intensified, the Mark of Grima on Robin's hand burnt a virulent purple, and he screamed loud and long.
Eventually, after what felt like an eternity of her lover's pain, Robin crumpled to the ground, hand emanating purple smoke. His eyes were wide, his breathing was hard, but the Brand of the Fell Dragon, the symbol of Grima's hold over him, was finally erased. She pulled him to her feet, but when he moved to embrace her, she recoiled, panic on her face.
His face fell as he remembered what happened, and he dropped his arms, looking down to his feet. "Oh. I'm sorry, Lucy. I've just been through so much...I'd forgotten how recent that was for you."
She blinked in confusion. "I'm sorry, too, Robin, but I don't understand."
He smiled wanly, offering his newly Brandless hand to her, which she took gingerly. "The whole story is unbelievable, Lucina. But you're a very smart woman, so I know you can handle it, when the time comes."
Bahamut and Tiamat merely exchanged shocked glances at each other as they continued to observe.
"Robin just severed himself from Grima."
"He can do that?"
"It's the invisible ties he likes talking about. He used Falchion's magic to sever the tie between him and Grima."
"So which one of them is the Anchor now?"
"It's him; Grima Looping with Robin was always an unexpected side-effect. I think he'll still Loop, but nowhere near as often, thankfully."
"Why are you so happy the most important dragon in this Loop won't be Awake for most of it?"
"Because he's a jerk, that's why."
His tale was harrowing. With free reign of Robin's mind from the beginning, Grima could manipulate events on a massive scale all across Ylisse and beyond. Sometimes it would leave him with the tiniest shred of hope, some perceived flaw in his plan that could be exploited, only to crush it mercilessly at the last moment.
And yet, every time he failed to stop the Fell Dragon, every time the world drowned in darkness and faded into oblivion, he would awake once more in that empty field, a puppet of Grima once more. Dozens, scores of times, the world fell apart, but only he and Grima remembered it.
Until, one day upon waking up, Chrom simply pierced his heart with Falchion, a painful mixture of anguish and hatred on his face.
Chrom had begun remembering it, too. The last time had been one of the Fell Dragon's creative endings, where the Ylissean royal family had suffered even more than usual. And Grima had been wearing Robin's face the entire time. (Robin, for that matter, had been wearing Emmeryn's face, but in a very different way.)
Little did her father know that action had saved an entire universe. Even with its power sealed, Falchion proved enough to free Robin from his bodily prison, enough to fight back against Grima if only a little. Then, he set his master plan into action.
Robin had discovered that people's memories would come and go like the tide; one life, the 'real Chrom' would be there, ready to put him down, and in another, he was unaware of all that had transpired. He cried as he talked of the many 'false' Lucinas he'd seen Grima murder, torture and inflict all matter of unspeakable things upon, the Fell Dragon aware of their connection yet unable to grasp what their love truly meant.
The plan was that he would erase his own memories, with the cure being Lucina saying his true name. Taking up the title 'Rufure', he fought the Fell Dragon as he had the first time over and over again, unaware of his true self. When the real Lucina appeared again, she could use the partially awakened Falchion of her time to destroy Grima's connection fully, freeing him from his endless nightmare.
"Robin…" she whispered, all out of tears as she embraced him wholeheartedly. "I am so, so sorry."
"It's not your fault, Lucy," he said quietly back.
Many long, hard battles later…
An Awake Grima stood before them upon the Fell Dragon's back, gritting its human form's teeth in frustration. "I could not prevent your pathetic human bonds from forming," it hissed, "so I will merely destroy them instead!" Sweeping out a hand to unleash a wave of dark magic, Robin immediately recognised it from one of his previous lives, decided on one of his four counter-strategies, and executed it before it even left Grima's hands.
The Veil of Discord, as it had been named, merely rolled around the Shepherds like water around a rock, shining silver cords tying them to each other. Even the faintest, silk-like bonds held firm, and the thickest, metallic ties, like the one between he and Lucina, actively repelled the sorcery.
"Shepherds!" he yelled over the din of the Fell Dragon's flight, "our invisible ties are invisible no longer! While we stand together, the Fell Dragon perishes, here and now!"
He, Chrom and Lucina stepped forward, drawing their swords in unison. "Shepherds! For a brighter future!"
Endless tides of Risen poured from weeping sores dotted along Grima's back, but the Shepherds held firm, axe, blade, spear and tome defiant in the face of overwhelming odds. The three leaders stepped forward to challenge Grima itself, cutting down any Grimleal or undead foolish enough to bar their path.
"Your end has come, Grima!" Chrom began, shouting over the whistling wind and the sounds of battle.
"Foolish mortal - I am the end!" it spat in return. "And as for you, princess...your future cannot be averted. All will drown in shadow. It is not fate; it is my will! And my will is LAW!"
Lucina closed her eyes and raised her Falchion high, feeling the Divine Dragon's power flowing through it into her. Opening them again, she met Grima's stare evenly, refusing to cower or flinch. "My will is to see you slain, here and now. And my will is stronger, Grima."
Robin didn't say anything; the tome he wielded was statement enough. The Book of Naga burned with a fierce blue energy, seeming to suffuse the entire area with radiant light. Then, at last, he spoke, far too quietly to hear over the clash of blades and screams of the dying, yet he was heard all across Grima's back.
"It matters not how strait the gate,
Or charged with punishment the scroll."
He narrowed those deep brown eyes once more, meeting his doppelganger's gaze much the same way as his lover had.
"I am the master of my fate."
Channeling the intense, holy power of the sacred tome he wielded, Robin's body began to shine, the conflict of Fell Dragon blood and Divine Dragon magic emerging spectacularly, sending arcs of light whipping across Grima's back.
"I am the captain of my soul."
"I don't care, Sleipnir, these two deserve it. Make it happen."
"Alright, fine, Nidhogg. But you owe me."
Lucina Awoke for the third time in an unfamiliar place. Attempting to get on her feet, she fell forward, suddenly finding her centre of gravity completely thrown off. Getting up on all fours, she blinked as she examined her leg. There was a hoof on the end.
When the door swung open and a purple unicorn with wings and colourful, stripy hair walked in, she just started screaming, falling back onto the ground. It just winced, seemingly used to this reaction. "Uh, do you need any help, miss…?"
Lucina started in shock. "You can talk? I am a horse and I am talking to a talking pegasus with a horn. What is going on!?" she snapped, utterly confused.
Rubbing her forehead with a hoof, the horned-pegasus-slash-winged-unicorn sighed. "I'm Princess Twilight Sparkle. I am the Anchor for the Equis Loops. What's your name?"
She was talking with a pega-pony-princess. Utterly lost, Lucina decided her best chance to find anything out was to play along. "I am Princess Lucina of Ylisse. I don't know what an Anchor or a Loop is, though I have suspicions about the latter."
"You're a princess as well? Interesting." Nodding along, Twilight continued. "Well, have you been repeating certain unique events recently, or have other people told you about things happening repeatedly that shouldn't?"
"Yes. This is my third or fourth time, I believe, but my husband has had it happen dozens of times." She sighed, looking down and wondering where Robin was now.
"Oh, it sounds like your husband is the Anchor, then. A Loop, in simple terms, is this repeating you've been doing. The Anchor is one person in a Loop who is always aware of what is happening - who is Awake, as most people put it. People who are closer to the Anchor are more likely to be Awake, so I suppose you must be a relatively new Loop to have only Looped three or four times as his wife."
"I see." She didn't, of course, but she was beginning to grasp at least some of what was going on. "Why am I a horse?" she asked next.
"This is what's called a Fused Loop, where people from one group of Loops cross over into another. I imagine your husband, the Anchor, is somewhere here as well - I've never heard of a Fused Loop without the Anchor involved."
Inspiration struck, and Lucina managed to shakily stand in her new quadrupedal stance. "Do you have any empty fields around here?"
"Empty fields? Sweet Apple Acres has some fallow developing right now. Why?"
"Chrom, we have to do something."
"What do you propose we do?"
"I…I don't know…"
Robin half-sighed, half-groaned at the all-too-familiar sound of Chrom and Lissa waking him up in that all-too-familiar field. They sounded a little off, but they were still recognisable. Then he opened his eyes to see a pale pink horse (though no horse had such human facial features, or a mane with such human-like hair) with a long blue mane and the Brand of the Exalt in one eye.
"Hey, girl," he cooed quietly. "Do you know where Chrom and Lissa are?"
Neigh, said the horse.
"Huh." Attempting to find his feet, Robin was shocked to find himself behooved and furclad, a pale white mane hanging into his eyes over his peach-coloured fur. His quick-thinking mind came to a 'logical' conclusion remarkably fast.
"Lucina, why are we horses?"
The Lucina-horse giggled her familiar giggle. "I nearly had you, didn't I? I thought impersonating Chrom and Lissa was a nice touch."
Robin simply laughed back, allowing himself to be pulled up and managing to stay on four feet well enough. "In all seriousness, though, I meant that. Why are we horses?"
She tossed her head in the direction of the bright purple pega-pony-princess. "This is what everyone looks like here, according to her. Apparently other places have been repeating themselves, as well. She says you are an 'Anchor', so you always remember when time loops around. She's this world's Anchor. They seem to be better off than us, though."
The winged unicorn cleared its throat before replying. "My name's Twilight Sparkle, Anchor of Equestria. Equestria is rather lucky, actually. Many Loops are quite bad, at least without Loopers intervening. We've made Equestria into a sanctuary loop because of that, so people who come here can relax. If you want to help out, we're more than happy to accept it, but it's also fine if you just want to spend some time doing nothing, for once."
Lucina nuzzled up to him, running an equine nose through his mane. "We never had a honeymoon, did we? Not even in the real timeline."
He shook his head. "Not while we're horses, Lucy, please."
"I can fix that," the horned pegasus offered. "But, unfortunately, the only tailor around here who can produce human clothing is replacing one of you in your Loops, so you'd both be naked for a while. Ponies don't wear much clothing, but I know humans have a pretty big nudity taboo."
Lucina frowned. "Replacing us?"
"Ah. Fused Loops work both ways sometimes. If my senses are right, you're replacing one of my friends, the tailor, and her husband, my assistant at the library."
Princess Rarity of Ylisse reclined on a luxurious lounge chair in the destroyed future, being fed grapes by a very awkward-looking Risen. "Oh, Spike, this is wonderful. An entire world, just for the two of us."
The sky-scrapingly massive dragon abomination was decidedly more purple and green than it had been, and its avatar was unusually reptilian despite its normal humanoid shape. "Only the best for you, Rarity."
"What in the gods' name is going on here!?" Severa shouted in the far distance.
"I'm sure they'll be fine," Twilight reassured them. "Anyway, I should give you the usual 'Welcome to the Loops' lecture. It's short, informative and will save you a lot of time."
At the end of her presentation, Robin nodded, having confirmed and invalidated a fair few theories of his. "Thank you for that, Twilight."
Lucina's eyes widened at the revelations she'd been privy to. "Incredible. I was aware of the Outrealms, and the many oddities they contain, but this is something beyond even that."
"You're welcome," the local Anchor replied. "If you need something, just drop by the library." Her smile turned mischievous. "Would you like me to return you to human before I go? If your Loop is anywhere near as bad as it sounds, you lovebirds have a lot of catching up to do."
Lucina nodded estatically, and Robin's objections went unheard and unseen in a pop of magical energy and a burst of purple light.
Sighing in contentment, Lucina lay down in the grass once more, satisfied just to lie here with her husband, somewhere safe and peaceful. "One day," she mused, hearing Robin's heavy breathing hitch, "We can bring this peace to Ylisse. To the entire world. And then we can live in peace and harmony for the rest of our lives."
He took her hand in his, meeting her gaze in the empty field. "I don't know what the future holds," he recited. "But with you by my side, I'm going to cherish every moment." Tears of happiness in both of their eyes, they embraced once more, and the outside world faded away as they fell into one another once more.
If you're not familiar with The Infinite Loops, then I recommend either their TVTropes page or the forums. If you don't like ponies, then don't worry; they're not going to see much screen time after this. If you do like them, good news: MLP Loops has got you covered.
On a more pragmatic note, yes, I now have three stories in progress. I will try to keep them updated, but in between starting university and my unreliable internet, I don't expect to post regularly. Sorry in advance to everyone who's been faving and following me!
Please, leave a review if you have anything to say!