Chapter 28 – Strengthening Bonds

The hot air hit Chrom's face as soon as the door to the forge opened. It felt like marching in Plegia during the height of summer. It annoyed him that Robin and the girls didn't look bothered by it. It must be their Plegian blood that helped them tolerate the heat.

It was not that he couldn't handle the heat. Not at all.

After spending a week hammering out the foundations of their Alliance, Duke Ansel had arranged a meeting with the best spell-forger in Zofia to test the Shepherds' theory. If they could harness the power of Aether and Ignis onto at least some weapons, it could give them a decisive edge against Grima. And with Lucina's and Morgan's mixed bloodline, maybe they could do even more.

Additionally, they wanted to see if the manaketes flames would work as well. There was plenty of evidence of that in ancient texts. As such, Nowi and Nah tagged along while Tiki visited the local church. While her flames were without a doubt more magically powerful, gaining the support of the faithful was an equally valuable boon.

Forging the weapons would be a priority. Lissa's message through the jury-rigged tome Henry had prepared for them had been concerning. The loss of Vert was a terrible blow to the Alliance. Without it, they wouldn't be able to perform the Awakening.

His last conversation with Rose had made the woman angrier than anything. She promised to start scrying the area for the magic signature, but it was not a precise thing.

There was nothing they could do at the moment. They weren't sure where the gemstone was at the moment. It could be on its way to Plegia or in some castle in Valm. They would've to defeat Walhart first to then focus on tracking the gemstone. As long as neither side had the complete Fire Emblem, then they would be at a stalemate. From what Rose mentioned, the complete relic was required to complete Grima's resurrection. At least, that was in her world. Hopefully, it was the same in this one.

Shaking his head, Chrom focused on the task at hand and followed their guide inside. Elden had insisted on accompanying them, having experience with the smith before. He had warned them that the smith had a "colorful attitude."

A sour-faced assistant had greeted them upon their arrival at the shop. However, his expression quickly changed once he realized who he was receiving.

"Master Wade! We have visitors!" the man yelled, ignoring the sounds of the assistant hammering metal into shape all over the shop.

An annoyed voice soon replied, cutting through the noise with ease. "What is it, Harren?! I'm trying another alloy, and it's already hard enough without interruptions!"

Harren's expression grew red in embarrassment, eyes flickering between the shop and his guests. "Just come here, you damn perfectionist! It's important!"

"Alright, alright!" came the reply. Soon, a bald man with a large mustache game greeted the party. "Don't get your knickers on a twist! I'm here."

"Pardon the lack of decorum, Prince Chrom," Harren said through gritted teeth and a forced smile. "This is Master Wade Pollus. The best spell-forger in all of Zofia. The quality of his wares is without equal," he said, making the smith preen with pride. "Wade, I'm sure you remember Lord Elden. This man is Prince Chrom Lowell of Ylisse. The duke recommended your services to him."

Wade straightened and gave him a polite bow. "Ah! Pardon me, your highnesses. I tend to get carried away with my work."

"It's alright, sir. I understand," Chrom said, motioning the smith to rise and shaking his hand. "We have come with a proposal for a special project for you," Chrom said, piquing the man's interest. "My grandmaster here will explain the details."

Stepping forwards, Robin shook the smith's hand in greeting. "Master Wade, I'm Robin Surana."

"Ah, The Voice's husband! I've heard of you," Wade said, giving him a once over. "I can see why my apprentices don't shut up about your looks."

Robin coughed and tried to hide his reddened cheeks. Something Chrom will use against him later.

"Thanks? Anyways… We heard you're the best spell-forger on the continent, and we were wondering if you would be willing to work with magical flames of exotic nature."

Wade looked interested in the proposal. "Well, my boy. I would need to see these flames first hand."

Robin nodded. "As is to be expected. I'm sure you've heard of the covenant House Lowell has with the Divine Dragon Naga," he said, making the smith's eyes shine with excitement. "My family also has a similar covenant, as we are descendants of House Nordion."

They had agreed on giving a partial truth as an explanation. There was no reason to divulge the true nature of Ignis to everyone. Not yet, at least. It could put a strain on their new Alliance.

Chrom extended his hand and let Aether envelop his hand. At his side, Robin did the same with Ignis.

The effect was instantaneous. Wade's eyes grew wide, and he leaned to inspect the magical flames with undisguised fascination. Even Harren looked interested.

"Ignis and Aether," Robin explained, letting the man look at the purple flame. "Each possesses its special qualities. Aether can weaken its target while healing the user. Ignis can convert magic into physical strength or vice versa."

"Magnificent..." the blacksmith breathed out. "They hum with power, not unlike that of Ragnarok. But not the same. No, no. Certainly unique, but there are similarities."

"Not surprising, given their divine origins," Robin said as he and Chrom dismissed the flames. "My nieces here carry both bloodlines, and we are working to see if we can combine them to create something new."

"Do you think you could work with them?" Chrom asked him.

"Certainly, my friend!" Wade said with a wide smile. "Oh. I need to analyze the flames in-depth and see what materials respond the best to the enchantments. What spells can be weaved with the best resonance..."

"How long will it take?" Elden asked from the side. "They would be useful in the next campaign."

The blacksmith looked affronted at the question. "It will take however long it takes. You do not rush a masterpiece, my good man."

Herren was quick to intercede with a brittle smile. "I beg your pardon, Lord Elden. Wade is–"

Elden waved off his concerns. "Do not worry, Herren. I have done business with him before."

Lucina hummed in thought, looking at the weapon resting on her waist. "Would it speed up the process to study weapons already associated with the bloodline?"

Wade looked at her curiously. "What do you mean, Lady…?"

"Ah. Lucina Lowell, sir. This is my sister Morgan," the girl introduced quickly, with Morgan giving a wave. "We have the Eastern Falchion as well as the dark blade Mystletainn with us. Would studying them assist you? They are tied to the bloodlines."

Chrom was sure the man was about to have a heart attack out of sheer shock.

Wade glanced at Robin's and Chrom's weapons, really looking at them now. His mustache seemed to tremble as he searched for the words. "House Lowell's Falchion? And the blade of the Dark Knight of Jugdral? Truly?"

The prince nodded. "Yes. We have the blades with us," he said, pointing at his and Robin's weapons.

The smith squealed.

Chrom blinked. Yes, he had just witnessed the smith squeal like Lissa when she received a nice present.

"Divine weapons! Oh, by the gods, this is unbelievable! I – Yes! To study them and unravel just a fragment of their magic would improve my craft a lot!"

Morgan decided that moment to be helpful. "Well, we may as well inform you we also have Ragnell w–"

"Ragnell?! The Legendary Blade of the Radiant Hero?!" the man squeaked in a surprising high-pitch tone.

"Erm, yes. His descendant, Priam, wields it, though he is in Chon'sin at the moment. They will be arriving in a month. At least, that's the hope," Chrom said, watching as the man started to breathe heavily, with Herren rubbing circles on his back. "I need to warn you the original magic blessing has faded. We hope you can find a way to use our flames to restore some of its original power."

"Wade, breath," Herren said, giving him a glass of water that one of the assistants passed to him.

After a moment, Wad composed himself and hummed in thought. "The legends mention that the Radiant Hero hailed from a land far away. Some think that it lies beyond even the silent sea and Jugdral. Others say it refers to a land across the legendary Outrealm gate." he said, showing a deep knowledge of history. "I recall some texts giving mention to a goddess named Ashera, but no other texts have information on her. If there are some remnants of the original enchantment, we may use raw magic to power back the blessing. Repairing the blade… I need to see it and check if we have proper materials."

It was impressive. The man was so emotional that it made it easy to forget he is the most skilled smith in two continents. He had the knowledge and skill to prove it.

"It may require some rare materials, milords," Herren informed them. "And the best ores tend to be on the northern mountains. But, as you may imagine, the war made our supply of them quite limited."

Robin smiled at the merchant. "We thought of that. We brought some of the best ores from our continent. And my wife saved some of her scales over the yea–"

Nowi came rushing to them with Nah behind them. "I have some, too!"

The two men looked in shock at the two small girls. "Those ears… Living manaketes! What an honor! I'm Wade Thompson," Wade said, kneeling and shaking Nowi's hand with enthusiasm.

"I'm Nowi, and that's Nah! You're funny!" she said with a giggle.

Nah dropped her head on her hands and sighed. "Mother, please don't embarrass us..." she said, receiving a shoulder pat of support from Lucina.

"You save your scales, Nowi?" Robin asked, confused.

She nodded. "Yep! I keep them next to my bag of toenails!"

Everybody turned towards the little manakete. After a moment of silence, Nah tried to ask the question in everyone's mind."...Mother, why d–?"

"Long story. Slightly gross."

"...I will take your word for it," Nah said reluctantly. "We can try adding our fire to the process too. It may not be divine, but it's magical."

"Maybe they will work if combined with Lady Tiki's," Elden said from where he was looking at the wares. "She said she would come later to contribute."

Robin took the opportunity to step back into the conversation. "That reminds me. How much do you think each weapon will cost? Depending on the price, we may go for more quality over quantity to equip more soldiers."

Wade looked insulted at the mention of payment. "Cost? You're giving me the chance to work with two flames born from divine bloodlines, the chance to study weapons of legend, and manakete fire, scales, and toenails to forge weapons never before seen! I should be paying you, friend! For the right–No, the privilege!"

It was fortunate that Anna wasn't here to hear that. She would have fainted.

Herren briefly looked heavenward for strength. "Please, let me handle the prices, Wade. We need to eat."

Wade scoffed. "Fine. The price is irrelevant to me. I will take the job one way or another!" He turned to the prince and shook his hand to seal the deal. "Thank you so much for this opportunity, Prince Chrom! You won't be disappointed! In fact, let's start right now!" he said and rushed to yell at his apprentices to prepare the main forge.

"I told you he was passionate," Elder muttered with a laugh.

Chrom snorted at the comment. That's one word for it."

After a few minutes of haggling, both parties reached a satisfactory agreement. It would equip at least some elite forces, with the Shepherds and nobles taking priority. The weapons produced may not be on par with holy regalia, but they would substantially upgrade their elite's gear.

"Finally!" Wade said with exasperation as the negotiations ended. "This way, ladies and gentlemen!" Wade shouted, directing the party to a larger room with multiple forges of exotic make. They all had crystals on their surfaces, with only one of them being lit.

It was an impressive setup. It reminded Chrom more of Ylisstol's Arcanum than a blacksmith shop. This is what they expected from the best spellforger on Valm.

"These hearths lay above special crystals that can hold magic," Wade explained. Magic is fed onto the flames to keep them going far longer than they should. Eventually, the fires will fade, requiring another ignition. But they should last long enough to forge a few weapons."

The party nodded, and after a short discussion, each picked a hearth. It was fortunate that Nowi and Nah could manifest some fire without transforming, or they would've trashed the store.

While the men and manaketes used their unique powers, Morgan and Lucina summoned their two flames and combined them with a bit of effort. However, instead of the deep purple of Ignis or the bright blue of Aether, these new flames were light violet.

Robin inspected their fire and gave them a smile filled with pride. "I see your training on combining both have borne fruit."

Lucina gave her uncle a satisfied smile. "Some. It takes a lot of focus, but we can combine them with some effort. It's not ready to be used in combat yet."

"But we are getting there!" Morgan said with determination.

"I'm sure you will get there in no time," the grandmaster said with confidence.

Wade looked intently at all the hearths, satisfied with their state. "I think I will need… Hm… At least two days to get familiar with these flames, so there is no need for you to remain," he said to the party as his assistants darted all around the shop. "I wouldn't dare to ask you to leave your swords without supervision. I will send a messenger to inform you once we can proceed."

"We will be waiting. Please inform us when it would be most convenient to send the materials," Chrom said, shaking the man's hand. Soon, the party said their goodbyes to the store and stood outside where their guards were waiting. The two manaketes went back to the castle to spend some time with Donnel, while Lord Elder offered to escort them. That left Ylisse's weirdest family alone to their own devices.

"Okay, that leaves us with more free time than anticipated. Does anyone have plans?" Robin asked the group.

Thinking about it, this allowed Chrom to spend some time with the girls. Unfortunately, he didn't have time to dance with them during the feast, making him feel like crap. They deserve some pampering after all they went through.

"Girls, why don't we go shopping?" Chrom offered, gaining surprised looks from the two sisters. "I figure you would like to add some things to your wardrobe that weren't chosen by Emmeryn or Maribelle," he said with a smirk.

The sisters glanced at each other and turned back to him with big smiles.

"I think we would like that," Lucina said softly, a light pink dusting her cheeks.

"Yep! This will be fun!" Morgan said, vibrating with anticipation.

Gerome let his training axe lean against his bench. The soreness of his muscles helped him clear his mind of all the complicated thoughts. Last night was… Nice. He never really had thought he could dance with Lucina like that. Their bleak lives never allowed them such luxuries.

His fa– Virion didn't miss how he lost himself looking at Lucina. Who would? She looked magnificent in that gown. He wouldn't admit it, but it felt good to have his support. It took him a while to gather his courage to ask her for a dance.

Once he saw Lucina smile brightly, hair flowing as she twirled, Gerome dared to hope for this timeline. Maybe… Maybe he could trust Lucina's mother and this world's tactician if it led to more moments like this.

"Seems someone had a good night," a voice said with quite a bite.

He closed his eyes. "Anything you want to say, Kjelle?"

The dark-haired knight leaned on her training lance, looking at him with narrow eyes. "Does it matter? Lucina already has you back on her corner. Is a smile all it takes to side with Grima?"

Gerome stooped and glared at the knight, who didn't back down from the challenge. "What is your problem?"

Kjelle scoffed at his words. "Tch. You were dismissive of our' parents' status on this timeline and moved on quickly. But when it comes to Lucina? You follow her every word. Are you that in love that you ignore what her mother did?"

He didn't. How could he? That didn't mean he appreciated her tone. "I'm not a lovestruck fool, Kjelle," he growled. "Lucina has earned our trust, just like Marc and Morgan. And their mother would have killed us, and our parents on multiple occasions had that been her intention."

"That was before we knew the truth of their heritage!" Kjelle said bitterly. "After the failure of their plan, how can we know Marc and Morgan were not working for Grima?"

"Even I didn't miss how that failure affected them, Kjelle."

Kjelle gritted her teeth and glared at him with defiance. "I thought you of all people would understand."

Gerome chuckled at her words. "What, because I'm the brooding one? Well, I brooded enough on the ship. I had time to think," he said, looking at Kjelle directly into the eyes. The mask may hide his face, but it didn't lessen the strength of the action. "If they meant us harm, we would've never had the chance to travel to the past. They could've sabotaged the trip before we had a chance. Or slit our throats during the countless chances they had."

Kjelle's face showed some doubt, and he could understand. The situation was beyond messy. Their plans had been thrown off course that it was easy to see no point in continuing. That had been his stance before traveling. Give Minerva some peace in her old age. But he was a starving man that had tasted the fruit of hope.

"Think about it," Gerome said, knowing there was nothing else he could do to convince the knight at the moment. "We have a chance to do some good here, Kjelle. If I can find some hope, so can you."

Kjelle frowned and walked away while muttering under her breath. "We will see…."

He was beginning to regret this idea.

Shopping with the girls was not at all what he expected. Despite all his attempts to mix with the common folk, Chrom did not spend much time in stores. Sure, he bought gifts for special occasions or helped when he could, like Emmeryn's wedding. But shopping for clothes was not something he did. As a prince of Ylisse, he couldn't wear whatever he wanted, despite what others thought. Instead, his clothes were selected with care by the royal tailors to show an image worthy of his position. He had some freedom, but it was not total.

They had much better taste and knowledge than Chrom. That's what they were paid for, after all.

This, however, left the prince with little experience dealing with a young woman that was technically his daughter. More now that she was showing him a dress with a skirt so short that might as well be called a shirt. His only consolation was that Robin was taking it as well as him.

"So! How do I look?" Morgan asked with a smile, twirling around as if she hadn't given her uncles a heart attack.

The very short dress that hugged her body tightly. The strange long white thighs– or were they boots?– she was wearing only helped accentuate her legs, showing some skin between them and the damnable short skirt. It was even shorter than the Pegasus Knights' previous uniforms, which they had updated after much complaining from multiple parties.

Which only led to the disappointment of other parties.

"Speechless?" Morgan said, grinning at herself in the mirror. "Pretty cute, right? I'll admit I was a bit jealous of how all the noblewomen flaunted their bodies. I may not have much to show, but I wanted to show it with pride."

The prince disagreed with all of her statements. The dress was not what he would call cute when worn by someone from his family. Scandalous was more like it. And Morgan was a beautiful young woman. Maybe he should talk with Rose about this. It sounded like there was something more under there.

At his side, Robin was looking at her with a forced smile. "It's a bit… short," he managed to say diplomatically.

Morgan pouted a bit, studying herself in the mirror. "It's not much shorter than Aunt Tiki's."

By the way, Robin's face went through a journey of emotions in a second. Chrom knew that was not anywhere near where he wanted this conversation to go.

A guy walked by and whistled at Morgan, making Chrom cursed the bazaar's open nature. "Looking good, cutie!"

Chrom's hand curled tightly around Falchion's hilt while lightning flashed on Robin's fingertips. To avoid ruining the new Alliance with Zofia by gutting one of their citizens, Chrom signaled his guards to deal with the matter. The Ylissean soldiers understood his orders, and they quickly moved to handle the man.

If only dealing with that damn dress was easy. But Chrom wasn't going to ruin the girl's happiness.

"If it makes you happy, we can buy it. You can pick a few more things too, so keep checking," Chrom said eventually, relenting despite his best judgment.

Morgan grinned and gave the prince a strong hug. "Thank you!" she exclaimed with glee, making the prince chuckle in embarrassment. "Oh! If it's not trouble, could we add some golden trimmings to it? And maybe the same patterns as my coat?"

The clerk looked at her coat for a moment and nodded. "It's not a problem. It won't take long. Then, if you could follow me, we can start on the design."

Robin stepped next to the prince and gave him a smile that said he, too, wasn't thrilled with the dress. "I will handle it from here. Why don't you go check on Lucina?" he offered.

Not seeing a reason to disagree, Chrom nodded at the tactician. "Thanks."

As he walked away, Chrom heard Morgan speak with a teasing tone, "Look, Uncle Robin! Don't you think Aunt Tiki will look great in this nightdress?"

He laughed at Robin's stuttering.

Walking to the other side of the store, Chrom found Lucina hunched over and looking through an extensive collection of clothes. Her face was scrunched in concentration, which was quite adorable.

Standing next to her, he shook his head in amusement at her focus. She still hadn't noticed him. "How is your search, Lucina?"

The girl snapped from her trance, "Oh, Uncle! Did Morgan find anything to her liking?"

Unfortunately. "Yes. She found a dress, and it's getting some changes done," he explained. Looking around, he saw the clerk that was helping Lucina had a strained smile on her face. Odd. "How about you? Did you find anything you like?"

Lucina beamed at him and rummaged on her basket, and pulled something out of it. "I found a lot of cute things. But I love this one! Can you believe this was on the cheap section?" she asked with a shake of her head.

Yes, he could.

The sweater, if it could be called that, was ugly. Uglier than anything Chrom had ever seen. Its colors and patterns were tacky, as if someone had taken a toddler's design and messed it up even further. No one would look at Lucina if she wore that.

"It's perfect," Chrom said with a wide smile.

Did it make him a lousy fath–uncle if he wanted no man to look at her until she was thirty-five?

He didn't think so.

The smile on Lucina's face only helped to justify his answer.

Who knew shopping could be so stressful? He dreaded explaining these purchases to their mother during their next meeting.

To say this reunion was awkward would be like saying Validar was not a good husband.

A massive understatement.

Aversa glared at her teacup, refusing to look at Morgana. The older woman didn't blame her. It was an entirely different situation to one of her other children. Aversa may not have been born from her womb, but that didn't make her any less of a daughter to the former queen.

A daughter she had left behind with Validar in favor of her son. She didn't regret escaping, but not taking her daughter with her was a regret she would carry to her grave. Adopted or not, she was her daughter, and Morgana had failed her.

"I'm sor–"

"Don't," Aversa snapped, finally looking at her. "It's not like we are kin, right?" she spat bitterly.

That hurt more than Morgana dared to admit. "You are my child, Aversa, and I failed you," she said, hoping that her sincerity was evident.

They sat in silence, the tea cooling in their cups. "Why didn't you take me with you?" Aversa finally said. "Why did you leave me with him? I had to learn by myself that he killed my real family for my magic power! The things he did to me when he discovered you had left..."

Morgana was going to take Aversa's hand but hesitated and stopped herself. "I didn't have a choice; I had a narrow window to act, and Validar had made sure I couldn't get to you. It wasn't an easy decision."

Aversa scoffed, and Morgana didn't blame her. It was a poor excuse to leave her with someone like Validar.

"How did you discover the truth of her past?" she asked, trying to change the topic.

Her daughter's eyes snapped to her and narrowed with contempt. "You knew."

"I suspected," Morgana admitted. "But I never found definite proof. And even if I did, it's not like I could've done anything at the height of the war. We needed the Grimleal's troops and gold to fight against Augustus."

Aversa stared at her in silence, her face going through a myriad of emotions as she waged an internal battle. Finally, after a few moments, she relented. "...Two years ago, I went back to the Savill Manor. I was searching his study for some tomes when I found his journal," the sorceress said, and Morgana was glad for the small step of progress. "I knew of it, but it had always been hexed, so only he could read it. That day, however, it was unenchanted."

'Two years…' Morgana thought. 'If she hadn't gone into that library in years… The hex must have died when Rose killed the original Validar!' she realized, though she didn't voice it yet. 'The one parading around now mustn't have thought of restoring the spell, too busy pleasing the Fell Dragon.'

It was a fitting irony that Validar's pride gave her the chance to recover her lost daughter.

Aversa tightened the grip on her cup; teeth gritted in frustration. "It felt like a stupid little girl. I couldn't believe it. So, I acquired some water from Valm's Spring of Truth. It broke all the mental hexes that the bastard put on me. I can vividly recall how he killed my family when they refused to give me to the Grimleal. How his magic flayed the skin from my mother's flesh and how my father's blood boiled in his veins. Do you have any idea what that makes me feel like?!" she finished with her voice rising to a shout.

Morgana's face fell with each word. She knew that Validar was a monster and of all the spells he had at his disposal. She finally took Aversa's hand, who didn't move away from her. "Aversa… I can do nothing to make it up to you other than to offer you a place with me. I know that I have the right to be a mother to you but let me at least help you find a place for yourself in this world."

Aversa stared at her, and the fact that she didn't spit on her offer was more than what Morgana could've expected.

"You worked with Validar the past few years," Morgana said eventually, pulling her hand away and using magic to reheat their tea. "Are… Are you aware of the current situation with the Grimleal right? With Grima and his… vessel?" she asked tentatively.

Aversa's face twisted into a grimace, but she nodded. "At first, I thought Validar had captured Robin, but… Well, a 'god' can be quite arrogant and prone to rambling his plans. Yes, I know he came from the future."

Morgana nodded her agreement. "Well. I will have to explain more later once I speak with the Exalt and General Mustafa, but we too received help from the future." Maybe telling her that the 'real' Validar is dead would help her find some closure. "Your siblings are fighting in Valm alongside them, so hamper Grima's plans in this era."

Of all the things Morgana had said, Aversa had latched on one in particular. "Siblings? Did you… marry again?" she said, a hint of bitterness in her voice.

Morgana quickly shook her head, not wanting Aversa to get the wrong idea. "Rose and Robin. The twins."

Aversa blinked. A bemused frown appeared on her face. "I thought the girl died."

"It's complicated," Morgana said, underselling the complexity of the situation. "Forces outside my control ensured she lived. Eventually, she found Robin and me. She has been working as a mercenary and is now a retainer for the Exalt."

To her surprise, Aversa snorted with bitter amusement. "Do all your children have to work for royalty? Even those that are royalty themselves?"

Morgana felt some hope at how Aversa called herself her child but didn't make a big deal of it, not wanting to mess up their progress.

"Okay, we get it," Chrom grumbled as Rose threw her head back and laughed.

She relished the annoyed look on the two men's faces. After the campaign to take the Wyvern Valley, she could use the entertainment.

Robin only bothered to rub his temples. Not that it would do much in the astral plane.

"We may have underestimated the girl's excitement for shopping–" her brother started.

"You think?" she said between laughs.

"–but could we focus on talking about the war?" Robin said, exasperation clear in his voice.

After a moment, Rose regained her composure. "Fine, fine," she said with a wave of her hand. "Pardon me for getting some levity on these difficult times."

The two men frowned at her comment. "Is the situation bad over there?" Robin asked.

Rose denied it with a shake of her head. "Not in the grand sense. We have taken Rockspire and the Wyvern Valley. We had some of our soldiers disguise themselves with salvaged armor from our ambush and pretend to be survivors. Mainly those from Rosanne and southern Ylisse, so their looks wouldn't raise suspicion. With people inside the walls, opening the gates and taking the castle was easy."

"Did you lose many people during that?" Chrom asked, sounding impressed with their success.

Rose sighed. "Less than we would've on a siege or direct assault. We lost around two dozen soldiers to those that refused to surrender, and around fifty more were injured. The rest of the Valmese surrendered after it was clear the situation was lost."

"How many did you take captive?" Robin asked.

"Between those that survived the ambush and the castle, we have around fifteen hundred hostages," Rose said, grimacing at the numbers. "We can't keep all of them. It will strain our supplies, and keeping them under guard will require us to dedicate troops to that. I already slowed down to protect the workers that are rebuilding villages and roads. So keeping them all prisoners will only stretch us thin."

"What are you going to do with them?"

"I discussed it with the other commanders. Those of noble upbringing and higher rank will remain on the dungeons. The commoners will be released without armor on the northern roads with no gear and minimal supplies. We have received some defectors that were conscripted by force. I have sent them to help repair the villages and farms that the Empire destroyed." Rose sighed. "It's the best course of action."

Robin pondered this course of action. "We can't keep so many prisoners so far away from our main keeps. At least, this way, they will go back home and consume the resources of the Empire while seeding doubt on their ranks."

Chrom didn't look convinced. "Is that wise? They could always take up arms again once they regroup with the Empire. That's what? A thousand more swords against us?"

"I can always have them all executed…" Rose said, and both men flinched at the idea of executing nearly two thousand hostages. "But appearances are important. Killing soldiers that surrendered will only tarnish our image and push more people towards Walhart."

"No, you have the right idea," Chrom said, realizing she was correct. "Releasing them is the best choice. I think everyone will approve of helping those affected by the war."

Robin nodded in agreement, looking relieved. "Duke Ansel has mentioned that they will be fixing the bridges from Four Towers that the Valmese destroyed now that there is no enemy army in the area. Zofian soldiers can escort the higher-ranking hostages to Zofia, where they can be under heavy guard. I think we can convince him to send workers to help with the repairs."

"That would be useful in saving time. It's closer than sending them back to Rosanne." Rose said, satisfied. "I will have Lord Nathaniel escort the released prisoners north while they scout the area around Gordes. I don't want to get caught between Estaing and Gordes if they coordinate. Nor do I want them to attack the restored lands again."

"Good idea," Robin said.

She then looked at the men. "What about you? Are you ready to move out?"

Chrom nodded. "Yes. The troops Lord Elden recruited have been equipped, while the greenest troops have received some basic training. We will move west to start pushing the Valmese back north."

"We need to relieve Pyrnos and Luthier's Keep. Then we can push north and retake the lost territories." "We have the numbers now. If nothing is coming from the north, I hope you can meet us when we assault Estaing."

"Count on it," Rose promised.

Her brother then sighed and looked to the astral sky. "I hoped to wait for the troops from Chon'sin, but it's a slow march, even with the increased pace."

Chrom looked at Rose with a hopeful expression. "Speaking of… Have you been able to sense anything nearby?"

Rose shook her head. "No. The only thing I can… sense is that Vert is still on the continent with the help of Sable. Somewhere west, but I can't tell where exactly."

Robin nodded and grunted in frustration. "Tiki said the same thing. The Grimleal that took it mustn't have been able to leave Valm yet," he said and sighed with resignation. "All the more reason to move out. We can search more territory for it once we are on the move."

Crossing her arms, Rose frowned. "I have the feeling that they will show themselves soon."

Chrom raised an eyebrow. "What makes you think that?"

"We know this war is perfect for weakening our armies, making us less of a threat."

"And with the Grimleal raiding Chon'sin tombs, they will have plenty of troops to go alongside the corpses created by this war," Robin finished, scowling and biting his lip.

Rose nodded. "We have four of the five gemstones. Grima must know we have Sable by now, so he may try to use Vert to make us run around and bleed us dry. Weaken us before we can fight him properly."

"But there is a chance that we could recover the gemstone," Chrom countered. "It would be better to take it away from us.

"My Grima was arrogant. This one share that flaw, too," Rose reasoned.

"He already won once in the future," Robin continued. "Overconfidence that even with the Exalted Falchion, we won't change the future."

"But the future already changed. Emmeryn still lives, as well as many that were destined to die," Chrom said.

Rose signed and rolled her eyes. "Well, despite what you may think, I'm not an expert on time travel. Maybe they think Emmeryn surviving won't change anything. Different parts, same ending," she said and shrugged. "We're just guessing here. Our best bet is to continue as we are and try to locate Vert as we move west."

"I will speak with Tiki. Maybe Naga has found something…" Robin mused. Stifling a yawn, he shook his head. "Well, it's getting late. I'm sorry we couldn't talk more, but it's been a hectic couple of days."

"It's fine. We have plenty of work here, too." Rose said, waving off the apology.

Robin nodded and smiled. "I will go to bed. Good luck, sister."

"Make sure actually to get sleep instead of wrestling a dragon into submission," Rose said dryly, making Robin sputter and turn red as he banished.

Chrom chuckled, and before he too could say his goodbyes, Rose stopped him.

"Hey, Chrom?" she said, ignoring the nervous tremble that escaped in her voice.

Chrom turned to her. "Yeah?"

"Are…" She licked her lips. "Are the girls truly having a good time in Zofia, then?"

The prince blinked in surprise but smile reassuringly at her. "Yeah. Aside from that little heart attack during the shopping trip, I believe they are enjoying themselves."

Rose breathed a sigh of relief, feeling a weight lift from her shoulders. "That's good." She said and paused for a moment. "The only thing I want for them is to be happy. I only wish Marc could enjoy himself with them, but we don't get everything we want of life, especially during war." The war took priority. That meant some small sacrifices here and there, such as placing her son in harm's way.

Not that anyone would get past her.

"How is Marc, by the way?" Chrom asked with a curious look on his face.

Rose perked up and smiled with pride as she spoke of her son. "He is doing quite well as a leader. His performance during the battles has been commendable." A frown made its way to her face. "There has been a few… close calls, one too many for my liking, but that's the nature of war. Other than that, I can say I couldn't be prouder of him," she finished with another smile.

"That's good," the prince said with a nod of understanding.

"What brought this on?" Rose asked eventually.

Chrom shrugged. "Can't I be worried about my…" he paused before hesitatingly asking, "…family?"

Rose blinked and shook her head. "Of course. Pardon me."

"Don't worry about it," Chrom said before continuing. "And you? How are you doing, Rose? You are bound to have a harder time than either Robin or I, in the middle of enemy territory."

Rose was slightly taken aback by the concern in his voice but didn't show it. Instead, she gave the prince a small, reassuring smile. "I'm well, thanks for asking. Tired and stressed, but it's nothing I haven't done before," she said and gave a wry smirk. "I prefer this to play politics with nobility. I had enough of that serving Emmeryn or in my… other life.

"I can understand that. So far, things haven't been too hard, but at least on the battlefield, I don't have to worry about ruining a potential alliance if I pick the wrong fork."

Not worrying about restraints, Rose laughed heartily at the comment and felt tension flee from her body. Chrom joined her, and the pair shared a small moment of simple humor in the middle of the war. It was small moments like this that let people endure the hardships of such a campaign.

"Take care of yourself," Rose said after recovering. "I know how bullheaded can be better. I had plenty of experience keeping Chroms alive," she added wryly. "And I haven't put this much work on the Shepherds for you to get crushed without me."

"Yeesh," he said, shaking his head. "Have some faith in us."

"I do," Rose said, and Chrom looked taken aback by the conviction in her voice. She smirked at him, "But it never hurts to remind you," she added before cutting the connection.

It was strange to be served food by the daughter, who had barely made some gurgling noises when they left Ylisstol. Stahl was sure most of the Shepherds were having a weird time with their children, but none would change it for the world. At least his situation was far less complicated than Chrom's. No one envied the prince.

"Here you go, dad," Severa said with a proud smile, taking two bowls with generous portions of stew and rice from Chon'sin from her trolley and placing them in front of him. "I hope it's to your liking," she said, and the knight could hear the slight hint of hope and doubt in there. Cordelia mentioned their daughter's issues, and he would be dammed if he let it fester.

Stahl smiled at her and squeezed her hand. "Thank you, Severa."

Severa grinned and returned the gesture, showing the softness that laid underneath her prickly exterior. That lasted until she turned to her next target.

"And for you, Marc," she said a little more harshly, putting another bowl in front of the future prince with a little more force than necessary. "Eat."

The prince sat straight on his chair and took his utensils with haste. "Y-Yes, Severa," he said, earning some giggles from the Pegasus Knights on the other table.

"And don't you dare say my stew is missing anything!" she said, harshly poking the prince's chest. "I triple-checked."

Marc nodded quickly and raised his hands in surrender. "I misspoke that time! I was just… eh… there is no good answer here, right?"

"You're learning fast, kiddo," Gaius said from the other side of the table, eating with gusto a cherry pie Sumia and Cynthia baked to celebrate his latest scouting mission.

Marc just took a spoonful of food and ate it with fear. The prince blinked and continued to chew, much more relaxed this time. After swallowing, he gave the redhead a sincere grin. "It's delicious, Severa. Sincerely," he added at the end out of a sense of self-preservation.

Severa nodded tersely to herself with a slight smirk and walked away. Had he not been watching her closely, Stahl would've missed how the tip of her ears was as red as her hair. She only picked up her pace once someone whistled from another table.

The knight didn't need to turn around to know who did that. Cordelia's squadron loved to gossip.

"Ah, young love…" one said dreamingly.

"Little Severa is getting a boyfriend before me? Gods, I feel like such an old woman..." another said dejectedly.

"You're twenty-three, Sorano..."

Stahl opted to ignore their ramblings, though it was apparent the words got to the prince since he turned red. Hearing Gaius chuckle, the knight couldn't decide if he enjoyed his food or the kid's embarrassment more.

He might as well take the opportunity to get a measure on the kid. Not something that an easy-going guy like himself would typically do, but fatherhood changes a guy.

"So, Prince Marc," Stahl began, startling the prince. ""

"Ah, just Marc, Sir Stahl," the prince said with a bashful smile.

The knight smiled. The kid certainly looked like Chrom. "Then call me Stahl. May I ask you something? Not as a knight to a prince, but as a father to his daughter's friend?"

Marc blinked, and Stahl saw a bead of sweat run down his face. "Uhh, yes, of course!"

Stahl tried not to look intimidating and ignored Gaius's amused look. "I have seen you in action, and I think you're a good person. So be honest with me. What are your intentions with my daughter?" the knight said good-naturedly, picking at his food and not looking at the prince.

Gaius's grin grew wider, and it was good that Sumia was still in the back with Cordelia.

The Pegasus Gossipers began to whisper and giggle at the development.

Lastly, Marc gulped nervously, looking as if his blood had turned to ice. The kid's eyes darted around as if looking for a way to escape or just making sure that Severa wasn't around.

Probably both.

It was fun to play the protective father, even if it was years earlier than he expected. Just because he was the most average Shepherd didn't make him any less dangerous. Not that he would do anything to the boy. Stahl was a nice man, and Marc was a prince.

And, well, Stahl didn't want Rose to flay him alive and wear his skin as a cloak if he did anything to the kid…

The Amatsu Gate laid north of Chon'sin. It marked the northernmost territory of Chon'sin and guarded the main land route into the new southern kingdom. There was a chokepoint on the southern part of the Demon's Ingle valley, while Cilentia defended the northern section as the southern border of Zofia's territory. The land between the two fortifications remained unclaimed by either power and would remain until a formal treaty could be established.

Ke'ri knew all of this, having studied the maps and the current situation with the other Shepherds. Her mother may have been a dancer, but her role as the ambassador forced her to adapt. It still surprised her that the meek woman had been chosen, but Olivia had more strength than most people suspected. It also helped that Lady Maribelle was there to assist her and help drag her courage to the surface.

She chuckled, unable to help herself. She had this larger-than-life image of her parents since she was a child– they all did– but after spending time with them, she saw how human they were. It was sobering but in a good way.

"What's so funny?" someone asked behind her.

Turning around, she saw Sun'fey matching her pace and stepping to her side. "Just thinking about our parents. How we thought them to be such legends, and yet now I see them by the people they actually are."

The swordsman nodded and smiled at her. "All parents look like giants to their children. Invincible and immortal," Sun'fey said, and both of them shared a grimace at the words. "Ah… My apologies. Poor choice of words on my part," he added lamely.

Ke'ri shook her head. "It's alright. I get your meaning. I just hope we can keep the illusion of invincibility this time."

Placing a callused hand on her shoulder, Sun'fey tried to reassure her. "Don't worry. We have survived worse odds. With the support and knowledge that we now have on our side, we have a chance of winning once and for all," he said, giving the younger girl a roguish grin, enhanced by sunlight peeking through the tree line.

Ke'ri felt heat rise to her cheeks and hoped that her friend thought it was thanks to the sun. Not having to fight constantly for their survival had allowed them time to relax, and in the case of Ke'ri, to think about feelings she had buried under a mountain of hopelessness. Yet, walking here with her entire family and her friends allowed such feelings to resurface.

It didn't help that she still found Sun'fey well-built and handsome after all these years, with solid muscles, a deep voice, and – 'No! Bad Ke'ri! He is your friend! You're not Inigo!' The girl may have inherited her father's skill with the sword, but she got the worst from both Lon'qu and Olivia when it came to romance. It was a miracle those two managed to get their feeling out for one another.

Her silence must have concerned him because he frowned as he asked, "Are you okay? You went silent all of a sudden."

'Dammit, did he not really what he did to her? It must be the heat… Yes, that's it!'

"Y-Yes," she managed to say.

The pair was unaware of the Queen of Chon'sin looking at them with keen eyes and a knowing smirk. It seems the royal bloodline was safe. It may not be the most advantageous or prestigious match, but the future warriors were a unique circumstance. They deserved it. At least the girl had some minor noble blood and skilled warriors for her parents.

And if this match didn't work out, well, at least Koy'ki knew that Say'ri had picked a man that would give her a strong and handsome son.

From the other side of the formation, Lon'qu glared at the boy.

A woman's scream pierced the silence of the forest as she dashed forward towards their home.

A girl stood rooted in place, looking in horror at the scene before her.

The door to their house was open. In front of the building, a group of men and women surrounded a small body. A young boy laid face down on a pool of blood with a man standing above him with a blood-stained blade. Shouts rang all around them as they pointed their weapons at the desperate mother.

A dragon roared, and everything burned.

Morrigan woke up with a start, drenched in cold sweat and tears running down her face. She reached into her cloak and pulled a small cloth doll she always kept in her person. It had green straw hair with pointy ears, with a tactician coat made from ripped parts of her own. Pulling it close, she looked at it and caressed it with a tender touch.

"Marth…" she whispered. "H-Hey, brother. We are getting close! Our plan is almost complete. Once mother and father reach their peak power, we will be whole again!" she said to the doll with a mixture of madness and longing in her voice.

Leaving her bed, she walked to the main hall of the keep she had 'commandeered'—some minor lord's home halfway between the Wellspring of Truth and Izilmond. The inhabitants turned Risen went to their tasks in silence. The young manakete was thankful not children lived in the castle, having been sent away to Zofia. She would have completed her task with them here, but it would've brought her no pleasure.

Once inside the hall, she noticed two familiar Risen waiting for her and grinned. The Deadlords Gaius and Cherche kneeled before her in silence and presented her with a package.

'Father sent gifts!', she thought with glee. "What have you brought me?" she asked while opening the box.

The corpse of Cherche moved forward and spoke with a raspy voice that only had a passing resemblance to the sweet tone she had in life. "Lord Grima has sent you the lost regalia of Ylisse. The bow Parthia, the lance Gradivus, and the sword Mercurius."

She faltered in shock but resumed her task with hasty anticipation. Finally opening the magical locks, she looked at the holy relics. They were as sharp and elegant as any masterwork weapon, but their magical aura was dull and diminished.

"I have drained most of their power, but they remain formidable weapons."

Morrigan jumped at the voice, and her eyes darted around before landing on the source. "Fath–Master!?"

Gaius twitched as he spoke. The Risen thief's head twisted slightly, and his mouth opened, letting a voice come out despite not moving at all.

"I can feel Vert in your pocket. Good work, Morrigan. I'm proud of you," Grima's voice said, using the unmoving thief as a proxy.

The girl preened at the praise but did her best to maintain a modicum of decorum.

"I have another gift for you."

Glancing behind them, Morrigan finally noticed the three coffins on the ground. They must be some valuable corpses. The coffins glowed for a moment before opening and revealing the contents to the young manakete. Studying the features of the dead bodies, Morrigan's eyes widened as she recognized them.

"Oh! Are they who I think they are?" Morrigan said with a grin in her voice.

Grima chuckled. "I see you remember your history lessons. I hope you have their einherjar at hand?"

Morrigan nodded but let out some frustration leak into her voice. "I do, but they are not particularly strong. Their legends are not on par with some of the others," she said with evident disappointment.

"It doesn't matter," Grima said, dismissing her concern. "Once you combine them with the bodies, they will be formidable Risen. Not on part with the Deadlords, but much better than standard troops, especially with the regalia. Don't underestimate their psychological impact of them taking the field." he said, letting out a small chuckle at the idea. "Use them well, Morrigan."

"I will! I promise," she said with madding vigor. Then, after a moment, she remembered her primary mission and reached into her pocket. "Oh! Before I forget! Vert is yours, Master!" she said, offering the gemstone to the Fell Dragon.

Risen Cherche walked towards her and reached for Vert. But to her shock, instead of taking the gemstone, the Risen closed the girl's hand around the gemstone, pushing it back towards the young manakete.


Morrigan sputtered at the response, not having expected that response.

"Vert carries the power of the Earth Dragon Tribe," Grima said, ignoring her. "The creatures and constructs I retrieved from Anankos, and the new Risen will draw power from it. Then, once the armies clash and they have bled each other, use them to crush their remaining forces."

"B–But Master! Isn't this too risky? What if our enemies end up getting the gemstone!" she questioned.

"Are you saying you will fail, Morrigan?" the Fell Dragon asked with an edge in his voice.

Morrigan gulped. "N-No!" she said and, thinking quickly, added, "But a tactician should always plan for the worse! What if they succeed on performing the Awakening!" she asked, full of concern.

A deep laugh escaped from the throat of the Risen, making Morrigan shake despite herself.

"My child… I don't care if they perform the Awakening," Grima's voice said, full of madness and glee, making the girl shiver. "Thanks to your mother, the power of Naga can't hurt me. Whether I get the complete emblem of this world, or they succeed on the ceremony, I will win. And once their last hope is snuffed out, then we will have achieved our goal."

Morrigan looked down and clenched the gemstone in her fist. "Our goal…" she muttered before looking back up. "Will we get our vengeance, Master?"

"That, and so much more."

For thousands of years, the Lion's Maw has guarded the only land route into the heart of the former Rigelian Empire. Since the Schism, many petty kingdoms had risen and fallen, breaking themselves against the strong walls of the fort. Those that tried to take the Azure Sea or the Roaring River would be besieged by the Valmese Navy or the myriad of forts that protected the coasts.

Men and women from all around the new Valmese Empire had come answering the call of the Conqueror. Whether they were conscripted from conquered territories or true believers of Walhart's ideas didn't matter to the army's commanders. Thousands had answered the call, and they would form the blade that would pierce the heart of Zofia. After High Dukedom is taken, only Chon'sin would stand in the way of true unity.

The Conqueror was a mountain of a man, standing nearly at two meters of muscle and armor. The Brand of Duma empowered his body with its terrifying might.

"Have our messengers returned yet?" Walhart asked one of the nobles that lead his armies. Lord Graycott was a sniveling little coward that had bent the knee without a second thought, but he was useful.

"Yes, milord," the man said. "Our fastest fliers have completed their tasks. Our territories are mustering their forces towards the frontiers. We shall snuff this Alliance in its crib. Once the bulk of their military is crushed, both Valm and the eastern continent will fall to your rule, on enlightened one!" the simpleton lord said with exaggerated devotion.

Walhart leveled a heavy glare on the man, making him fold like a house of cards. "I have no need for lickspittles. Just complete your tasks, and you will be rewarded accordingly."

Lord Graycott nearly swallowed his tongue in fear. "Y-Yes, Emperor. My sincerest apologies!" he said and rushed to leave the Conqueror's presence.

Walhart looked at the mustered army with a calculating gaze. The sea of men parted as he rode his armored horse across their number, out of either fear or devotion. Finally reaching the front of the army, Walhart took Wolf Berg from his side. He raised the regalia of House Beoulve, taken from the broken hands of his nephew Dycedarg, and shouted for the surrounding soldiers to hear.

"Soldiers of the Empire! Today, we march to end this war! We shall unite the world under one banner! I know many may harbor hatred in your hearts for my actions, but I make a vow to you! I will lead you into a new age of prosperity. Dark forces are amassing against humanity, and we will stand against it. Ride with me! Help me forge a future for humanity!"

Thousands of voices raised, willing to follow him for whatever reason they had. It matters not to him. He had a goal, and they would help him fulfill it.

Had anyone dared to look him in the eye, they would've seen the dark glow in his vacant irises.

In the eastern sands of Valm, a horn blast rang through the air. Weather-beaten iron gates raised up as the drawbridge lowered. The wood creaked and strained under the weight of the soldiers marching on top of it.

An army of fresh soldiers moved out, with the banners of Estmond flying on the wind.

AN: Sooooooooorry... Honestly, time just went away from me. No other excuse. Days just blurred together at this point… I had almost completed this since February, but I kept saying I will finish it tomorrow… and then we reached August. No other excuse other than time just flew past me. I need to take a test, and I have to keep moving it for the same reason.

I need to get my ass in gear. I calculate ten more chapters to reach the end… So I have to improve not to take ten years to finish this.

So, a refresher:

Map: deviantart santafer/art/Shattered-Reflection-Map-Updated-800627851

Rose and Marc are moving west of Rosanne towards the center of the Valm, North of a mountain range that divides the continent. They took the Wyvern Valley. This denies Valm a source to replenish Wyverns and secures one of the main roads to Rosanne, with the other, Celica's Gate, being under their Alliance control. There are no castles between both fortresses, with only some small keeps and villages that had fallen to Valmese raiders.

Robin and Chrom are in Zofia with Lucina and Morgan. Playing politics and trying to forge better gear by taking advantage of the dragon flames under their command. They are going to move west and north to push Walhart back. The new weapons will not be on part with Regalia-level weapons, but they will have either the power of Ignis, Aether, or the other flames. I need a name for the mixed…)

Lissa was in Chon'sin and is now marching with them north towards Zofia to join forces. They can't use they're since most are keeping watch for Valmese warships or are making supply runs between Ferox and Rosanne.

Emmeryn has made an alliance with the Rebel Plegians, while Morgana has reunited with Aversa.

The Validar on the Throne of Plegia is the Future Risen Validar, while the present one is dead with his soul trapped by Rose.

Grima gathered the three lost regalias of Ylisse, drained their power, and turned House Howe into Risen, rewarding them as traitors deserve. Nathaniel is the last living member of House Howe. He also has the Risen of the Future Shepherds as his Deadlords.

Morrigan meanwhile has Vert, the Risen from Valm and Chon'sin, along with the depowered regalia and the einherjar. She can combine Einherjars with their respective Risen if she has the corpses to create better soldiers. She also has Walhart under control.

Both Grima and Morrigan can create Risen, Abominations, Faceless, Stoneborn/Golems.