Author's Notes: Greetings. It's been a while. I've been kinda occupied with this chapter, and for a solid reason as well.
I will not spoil why. Read it. It's a monster(7578 words).
But before that, I wish to say two things. First off... If you want something enjoyable to read(and, for something ubiquitous reason, don't already have enough of that), go and read 'Bonds Through Time' from squish13. She writes that story well, and from what I know(and I am privy to a few things about this story, since I 'kinda' helped in forming the concept for it), it is gonna get even better. Take my word for that(and not my limbs or teeth, thank you very much).
The second thing I wanted to say... Well, you can read it at the end of this chapter. I don't want to spoil a thing, you see.
Now, I hope you enjoy this chapter.
A rough tug against the shoulder brought Robin to the brink of consciousness. He grunted, his mind an undulating mess, his thoughts disobedient and hard to catch.
Slowly, he opened his eyes. A weak and hollow light descended to meet his gaze, and a soft whiteness engulfed Robin's vision. It dimmed after a while, leaving only a few blotches of black and green, deterring him from focusing his eyesight.
"Robin," a rough and polite voice called him. Recognizing it, the tactician grunted, swearing that this would not bode well for his need to sleep more.
"Frederick," he greeted shallowly, and lifted himself up by the right hand, craning his still aching neck about. "What time is it?"
"Late afternoon," the knight said, raising up to his feet in his clinking armour. Robin shuddered at the thought of seeing him traipse around in it in the summer, imagining the hot waves going about his own body. The knight did not notice his anguish. Then again, he had always been a person with a particularly narrow field of vision. "Milord requests your presence."
"Tell him I'm napping," Robin said, glancing about. Morgan was still sleeping on her bedroll, her small build strewn about. Shades of lighter red had already returned to her features, but she still appeared pale and fragile. He hoped that would change with time.
He turned back to see the knight judging him from under his furrowed eyebrows. "Seriously, I got only a few hours' worth of sleep in. Tell him I'm out of commission."
If the knight noticed the weight in Robin's words, he sure didn't show it. "I'll tell him that you promised to be at the large tent in an hour," he said, hitting his knuckle softly against the breastplate.
The tactician let his disdain sound out in a disturbed grunt. "Spare me from that," he said, slowly shifting up in resign. He assumed his full height soon enough, and dusted off the lower parts of his coat. "I'll come, but this had better not be a war council of any sort. My head's a mess; I couldn't plan a thing."
"I think this matter is about something else entirely," Frederick said, meeting Robin's eyes with his own. "The Voice has awoken from her sleep."
Robin scratched his neck. "Did our precious prince have to wake me up for that, though?"
"Apparently, it was the lady who called for the meeting."
"So I should bear my grudge against a religious representative of sorts? No thanks. I know when I am defeated."
The knight chuckled wanly. "Well then. I assume you'll be on time?"
"All I have to do is to follow you there, so of course I'm going to be on time."
"Really?" The knight sized up the tactician, down from the legs to the top of his head. Then he frowned. "No. This will not do." He glanced over the room's spartan furniture; a single table, chair, and two bed rolls. Then something appeared to catch his attention. "Ah, yes. This tent isn't even yours."
The man shook his head shortly, then turned back to Robin, his armour clinking. "You will go by your tent, fetch a clean set of clothes, and wash yourself in the river nearby. Then - and only then – will you be in shape to meet milord."
"Act like your station demands," Frederick chided him. "You are representing Ylisse. It would not do for you to sully the name of milord's house, or the land that he rules over."
The tactician frowned, shaking his head. The very familiar feeling of something being amiss kept nagging at him. "Fine. Who's going to look after Morgan while I'm away?"
For a moment, Frederick appeared as if taken by surprise. "I am. Obviously." The courteous tone returned soon after. "You need not worry about her. She'll be safe."
The unsolved mystery of why Frederick so readily agreed to look after Morgan kept troubling Robin, causing him to scowl at the light brown walls of the tent. Then, suddenly, the answer was there, obvious, yet so obscure that he felt like screaming aloud.
But no, he couldn't. He had station to consider.
The water splashed cold against Robin's arms.
After making sure they were adequately cleaned, Robin hunched over the edge of the river, splashing two large handfuls of water against his bare chest. He repeated the motions of rinsing, brushing and scraping, until he felt like he'd had some success in rubbing off the sweat. He brought about the rough, brown piece of cloth that he had set aside, and dried his front with it.
Wash in the river? he thought bitterly, shivering in the breeze. Are you trying to have me catch a cold, Frederick?
He dropped the cloth in the grass and cupped his right hand in the water, bringing it up to splash it upon his back. The liquid ran across, drawing warmth-sapping lines of cold. Dealing with this was not the favourite part of Robin's war campaign experience, not even close. In fact, the tactician sometimes felt as if he had a greater aptitude for warmer climates, rather than things cold and biting.
Yet, Robin thought, that in turn hints at my Plegian heritage being a real thing, rather than a lie of Validar's. He shook his head, but the thought lingered, crawling deeper into his mind and eating his confidence as it went. What does that mean? Who was I?
He looked into the water, where his reflection lay. His deep-bagged brown eyes were gazing back, their expression weary, forlorn. Hair coloured like a bruised limb and lean, softly muscle-coated shoulders were among the other features, all adding to the feeling and expression of his confusion. What really lies beyond these visions of mine? In my past?
He stayed there, kneeling by the edge of the river, ruminating. Worry, like an arrow, but clearly proving to be more difficult to be rid of, kept pricking him with thoughts of self-doubt and – dare he admit – loathing. Then a single spectacularly mad thought met with his conscious mind, providing Robin with a suitable alternative to his uneasiness. Immediately, not giving any heed to the screaming that started in the back of his head, Robin jumped up to his feet and ran forward, into the freezing waters. When it reached above his knees, he stopped, and - bowing down - doused his upper body more fully in the water, splattering it about his front and back till his head rang clear from the thoughts ailing him.
Thinking tired was bad. Thinking in confusion was doubly bad. But pondering about one's past, even when he already had something real? That was foolishness, his inner fears talking.
Exhaling out the pain and numbing feeling that had come with the chill, Robin swore to keep his mind in the game for the rest of the day.
After ditching his old set of clothes and the battle-worn coat onto a wooden chest in his tent, Robin swam under the tent flap, emerging in the outside air. A set of shivers travelled up his neck, stiffening its muscles and turning the skin into goose flesh.
Maybe I should not have been so reckless, Robin thought, rubbing his neck. Slowly, it began to warm up. When he could finally move it without feeling like someone was trying to snap his neck, Robin stopped, and moved his hands to the sleeves of his blue coat.
The garment was a gift from one year ago, when Sumia had heard that Robin couldn't remember his own birthday. As a gesture, it had been nice. However, the coat's warmth left room for much imagination, as it let through most of the breeze. It didn't really help that Robin was wearing a sleeveless flannel shirt underneath, something that, when faced with the cold, seemed to simply give way before it.
He tugged the sleeves forward a bit, to cover his wrists from the weather, and then meandered forward, navigating by his memory alone. Around the tactician, soldiers were sitting around their fires and near their tent-doors, polishing and oiling their weaponry and pieces of armour.
It was a day of rest, something utterly necessary after a battle. Only the most necessary functions of the war camp, such as patrolling and guarding the camp perimeter, were still in place. Less important things would have to wait till the wounded had recuperated. Only then could the giant war party move again.
Robin came upon a long and relatively free passageway, meant for messengers and the like, as well as possible emergency deployment, in case the camp was attacked from above. It paid to be careful with one's preparations, as any lack of such would come back to bite one in the rear. A thing like that had happened before, when Robin hadn't had his full strategic faculties. The result...
The tactician quickly blinked his eyes to ward off the unpleasant memory. Then he sighed, keeping to the right side of the makeshift road, his gait slow and methodical, as if he were here to sightsee.
After a short while, the designated meeting place bopped up from behind the rows of tents, like a majestic peacock.
A brown, boring majestic peacock, Robin corrected himself, shaking his head in tandem with the rhythm of his pace. The even thumping of his steps was almost relaxing, if one didn't account for the lingering pressure against his slightly wet hair. Maybe it was time to raise his hood?
As he pulled the hood forward, Robin pricked his ears, hearing an approaching echo travel towards him on the road. He turned to look, and saw a pair of men, the person in front clearly trying to steer clear of the following one. "See, Inigo, that's the thing - no matter how many limbs you cut, the Risen body parts will still try to kill you, even in that state. Now, don't tell me that isn't wondrous!"
The youth walking ahead glanced left and right, as if seeking escape. "Dad, seriously... Necromancy is a big no-no for me." He grimaced, apparently not satisfied with his options, and continued forward in a stride. "After seeing those corpses walking day in, day out, I can't stand to hear a word about this stuff. None!"
The grimace that had appeared upon Henry's features quickly fell, as he dashed after the boy. "Wait! Necromancy has nothing to do with Risen! They are just drones created by a certain kind of taint that spreads on corpses. Necromancy, however, is a real art!" The dark mage reached Inigo, and raised his index finger, becoming the perfect image of a man giving a sermon. "You'll need a corpse that – preferably - hasn't rotted too badly, and stand in watch for five days in total, so that it won't run away before you're ready. After the time has passed, you'll feel very famished. Dead, almost... In fact, I think you would die."
"Glad to know," Inigo quipped.
"Then..." Henry continued, a slow smirk rising to his lips. "After those days have passed, you'll call for a soul from beyond the boundary of time. Though, from what I've read, your choices might be rather limited, as there's only a select number of souls stuck between this world and the next one - hey, wait! Where are you going?"
"To a place far away from you, and your rituals," Inigo grumbled. Then his eyes lit up, seeing Robin close upon them. "Ah, our tactician. How's dearest Morgan? Is she all right?"
A sudden sting of discomfort darted through Robin, sending his left hand for a spell tome that rested in one of the coat's inner pockets. "She's not up yet... But she seems better, thank you."
"Ah, good. Honestly, yesterday's ride was kind of rough, so I was growing very worried about her. It's good to hear that she's doing better."
Robin nodded, then glanced about, noticing someone lacking from the two's composition. "Where's the lady?" he asked, referring to Olivia.
Inigo closed one of his eyes, adopting a face that seemed like a mix between a smirk and grimace."The first rainwater barrel you'll come across."
Robin blinked his eyes. "Well, I'll be sure to check there then." Then he glanced towards the brown tent peeking out from behind the tent rows at his right. "I'm actually needed elsewhere, so if you'll excuse me... Oh, and Henry? Don't ruin Inigo's day by talking about walking bodies and whatnot. That can't be healthy."
The dark mage tilted his head slightly, then gave up a small sigh. "There's no one to to exchange proper information with."
"You could always try Tharja." And keep her off my back.
Henry shook his head, smirking knowingly. "Oh, have you even met her lately? She's moody! No fun to be around, that one." The dark mage chuckled. "Not that it should come as a surprise to anybody."
Robin shook his head, avoiding a smart remark about the two Plegians being the opposite ends of a spectrum. "Well then, I'm off," he said, turning to nod Inigo goodbye. The boy was decent, at least, in comparison to his father. "And no nightmare talk, Henry."
He proceeded to walk past the father and son, towards the first rainwater barrel in his sight. Adopting a disinterested look, he walked right past, around the tent next to it, hiding away from the two's view. Then he waited for a while.
After he was able to make sure that the two were gone, he came back from behind the tent, and looked at the barrel. It was a standard military issue, with strong but thin planks forming the outside, while two iron bands pressed the ends together. He remembered once addressing the problem of rusting to Chrom, who had then told Robin to go and say the same to Frederick. The knight had gone on a hour-long sermon about the price of the steel, and how expensive it would be to use it - instead of iron - in manufacturing of the bands.
Memories. Details. Not really relevant to the present moment though.
He leaned down on the barrel, searching for a depression on its top. He found one that went right through the barrel almost immediately, and put his hand through, leaving his thumb on top for the leverage. The barrel would most likely be full of water, since it was closed.
He moved his elbow around to get a better form, and then straightened his back rapidly, attempting to-
...Pain. Sharp pain.
He yanked his hand away with a yelp, surprised that they weren't bloodied. Teeth marks ran unevenly across his fingers, deep red grooves amidst pink flesh. He turned to the barrel again, glaring in distrust. What in Naga's name...?
There was a profound, suspicious moment of silence. Then something – or apparently someone – put her slender fingers through the depression, crashing the top open. A human shape rose with a gush of water, and with it an accusing hand, pointing a few feet off from where Robin stood. "I finally have you, evil blood mage! Stop corrupting Inigo!" Her words echoed till they disappeared into the bustle of the camp.
Robin had a bit of trouble keeping his head straight. Apparently, the woman felt the same, as her head soon exploded in the hue of the brightest red, lighting up the otherwise pale features.
"Really, Olivia?" Robin said, keeping his eyes modestly to the ground while he shook his head. "You hid in a rainwater barrel?"
"Gaaah! I really thought you were Henry. I really did!" Olivia shouted. She scrambled hastily out of her brilliant hiding place, then started away after a bow of apology that reached even Robin's low field of view.
Robin shook his head once more. Head in the game. He just had to keep his head in the game.
The approaching headache didn't seem to allow for it, though. That, and the hot throbbing in his fingers.
He turned away from the barrel and took a route that went from the midst of tents, and would lead straight to the large tent. Before he could do much, though, he was stopped by a desperate shout from behind. "Robin!"
He turned around to see Olivia standing there, still drenched in water. Dear Naga... "Yes?"
Olivia looked around, then – determinedly – pointed toward a random direction. "Which way did they go?"
Robin gazed at her as if she'd lost her mind and then trudged forward with his shoulders slumped, to explain which direction he'd seen Inigo and Henry disappear in.
Robin paused before the giant tent and checked over his attire. It was mostly suitable, though a bit on the unimpressive side perhaps, due to the bland cotton trousers tied up by lace.
Next time we stop by a village, I'll remedy that fact, Robin thought. He took a calming breath to force down a rattling headache, regretting not raising his hood immediately after exiting his tent, rather than some moments later. Sighing at the lack of proper choices today, he pushed aside the tent flap, stepping inside the brown leather monster.
As Robin walked in, he noticed three figures waiting for him - those of Basilio, Flavia, and Chrom. The prince apparently heard him coming, as he turned to nod a short greeting, before resuming his conversation with the West-khan.
While walking to his customary place in the room - the corner which held the most warmth, being simultaneously dark and comfortable - he eyed the East-khan, who studied Chrom and Basilio with a frustrated expression. She sighed, and cast a sideways glance towards Robin. She nodded a greeting, then inclined her head sideways at Chrom and Basilio, shrugging her shoulders exaggeratedly.
Robin turned to look at them. The prince had started to employ hand gestures, and if fingers could set fires, his would have done just so. "No, no way. Get your men under control, because I won't suffer to see any more Ylisseans injured in a brawl."
"I tell you, boy, that's not how it works," Basilio said, scratching his head. "You put a leash on my men, and half of them will be causing trouble all around the camp - to your people."
Chrom stared hard at the West-khan. "Have them spar like any other soldier would. Make them use that boundless energy for something else than cracking Ylissean jaws!"
Basilio shook his head. "Just let them be. Their restlessness will tide over, come the next morning."
"You claim it will be gone, just like that? No, I doubt their anxiousness will 'tide over' after a night of good sleep."
The tent door rustled. Robin turned to see it move, set aside by a graceful hand – Say'ri's, as it turned out. The Chon'sin princess stood behind the opened doorway, her face respectfully cast upon the person diving into the tent - a woman, with a hair like a green mane, adorned by a single brooch of silver set with an oval ruby.
However, Chrom the blessedly oblivious noticed them not, much to Robin's chagrin. "Next thing we know, you'll be suggesting we let our Feroxi soldiers drink wine every night - yes, I still haven't forgotten about that incident. Whose idea was it again to have an entire army go drunk, and in the middle of the Plegian desert no less?!"
Basilio coughed stiffly, gazing over Chrom's shoulder while the prince kept slashing at him with his glare.
Robin - seeing no other course of action - tapped the table twice. "Chrom..."
"So no, I will not let that stand! In fact, I have it in my mind to-"
"What?!"Chrom yelled, turning to look at Robin. The tactician joined his middle and index fingers together, pointing tacitly behind his own shoulder. Chrom blinked for a few moments, and then the realization sunk in, causing his eyebrows to drop in apparent shame. He turned around to look at the two ladies who had stepped into the tent. "Oh..."
"It sounded as if you were very intent on voicing your opinion," Say'ri said, gently leading the green haired woman to take a place next to Robin. "Don't let us stop you, Prince Chrom."
Is that ire I hear? Robin thought, then shook his head. He noticed his finger still tapping the table nervously. He willed it to halt, and turned his head to address them all. "I trust everyone needed is present?"
Almost everyone in the tent nodded, though Chrom's approval was the only thing Robin really needed. "Good," Robin said. "Let us get started, before I fall asleep again."
That seemed to get Chrom out of his embarrassed stupor. The crown prince stepped forward to take his place at the table, not too close to the West-khan of Ferox, but not too far from him, either. It appeared that the dispute between the two had been born out of concern for the soldiers, rather than any bad blood between the two.
Of course, that was no reason for Robin to not stay vigilant. "Now, as I am not the one who convened this meeting, I ought not to work as its spokesman either... Would the person in question start by stating her business?" And would she explain why I was dragged from my sleep and sent swimming in a freezing cold river? Robin added mentally. It didn't matter that the latter part was practically his own fault.
The lady next to him – whom the tactician had surmised to be The Voice, since all the needed people were present - turned to meet Robin's eyes. What flickered there piqued his interest, as it showed rather strong in the way her eyes kept blinking. Confusion? Robin thought. What reason does she have for that?
She quickly turned away, shifting her attention to the others waiting around the table. Her eyes sifted through the persons sitting across from her - as if appraising them - till they finally stopped at Chrom's figure. "Are you the one who bears the first Exalt's blood?"
Chrom blinked. "Yes. I am he."
The Voice gazed at him for a moment, arms completely at rest by her side. "Do you have the Fire Emblem with you?"
Robin couldn't stop his involuntary grimace. That question, or its derivatives, had preceded both the Plegian and Valmese invasions, as leaders of both had wanted to lay their hands on the aegis. Indeed, the Emblem had caused much sorrow, casting down a precious soul from the Exalt family, while marking wounds in the surviving members. The ruined body of Emmeryn was the very reason why Chrom still refused to take on the title of Exalt.
The prince cast a look at Robin, who snapped awake from his reverie. We can't tell her about the Emblem, he quickly decided. There isn't enough trust to go about.
He mouthed 'No' to Chrom, who raised eyebrows at him. Then the prince turned back to face The Voice, his face as even as one could hope. "I don't it have with me presently."
Alarm bells went ringing in Robin's head the instant he heard Chrom utter 'presently'. A slip of tongue, it was, and not really all that noticeable. However, if the other conversation participant was a witty enough type...
"You have it close by, though?"
...this would inevitably happen. Robin lowered his head to hide the worried expression on his face. Foolish Chrom. You should've minded your words.
Across the table, Chrom appeared somewhat flustered. "Er, yes. I mean-"
"Where you have it is no concern of ours," Tiki said softly, "It is my intent to simply to warn you – keep the Fire Emblem close at hand. You will have a need of it soon enough."
...Does every divine messenger refer to themselves in plural? Robin thought, stopping his finger before it went on a tapping spree again. He gave his dull mind a mental jolt, trying to keep his focus, despite the overbearing feeling of fatigue.
At the head of the table, Chrom said, "What use? I only know that it is meant to be used in a time of great distress."
The Voice quieted for a moment, casting her eyes downward. "Something stirs in the land of Plegia..." she said, "A dark and tainted presence. Those who would like to see the Fell Dragon revived... are nearing their goal."
The table rang as the East-khan threw her arm against it, efficiently gathering their attentions to herself. "Now wait a moment, girl. You speak of things happening across the wide expanse of the sea. As it goes for me, you cannot claim to have this information."
"Good East-khan," Say'ri said, "I assure you, milady knows things. It is for this very reason that she's called The Voice."
"That doesn't exactly tell me how she knows these things," Flavia said. She glared at The Voice, locking eyes with the woman, and her shoulders lowered, as though in expectation of an incoming attack.
Another awkward pause. Robin felt as if the air above the table would combust, becoming an inferno of flames.
Curiously, Basilio was standing relaxedly next to his volatile counterpart, scratching the back of his head. He yawned. It made Robin wonder - did the man have iron wire in place of regular nerves? He himself felt as fragile as glass in the room's electrified atmosphere.
Suddenly, The Voice let out a broken exhalation. "I dream things," she quickly said, "Things that often times come true."
The tension reached so high a note that Robin could almost hear it scraping the roof of the tent. Then, it deflated, just like Chrom's birthday cake once had, almost a year ago. It hadn't been the grandest of ideas to let Sumia carry it, but what could Robin do? He hadn't been responsible for arranging the party, anyway.
Next time, though... Robin trailed off, sneaking a quick look around the room. Flavia was calming down, and even straightening her posture, almost void of the doubt that seemed to have had her in its grips but a few moments ago. Was having dreams really that convincing of an argument?
"What, exactly, do you dream?" he asked.
"Warnings," The Voice answered immediately. "Mother sends them sometimes... Things that might impact nations at large." She shook her head, sighing. "Not that she could predict the Valmese invasion... Even the Divine Dragon doesn't know the future."
Robin just about felt his heart stop. "You... What did you just say?"
"Even the Divine Dragon doesn't know the future?"
"No, before that."
Tiki blinked her eyes, then turned to the Chon'sin princess at her right. "You did not tell them?"
"Must have slipped my mind, Milady," Say'ri answered smoothly before turning to face the rest of them. "As said, Milady is daughter of the Divine Dragon. Thus, her ability to act in capacity of The Voice."
"By my hairy backside..." Basilio swore. "Does this mean we've only got high-profile people in here?"
"Probably, except for me," Robin said, nodding. He still felt dazed at the revelation just presented.
Also, for some reason, both Chrom and Basilio were looking at him oddly. The prince even directed a half-smirk of sorts at him. What in blazes?
Then it hit him – why Basilio had said there were only high-profile people in here. It wasn't that Robin was excluded - rather, he was very much included. After all, it was very likely that he had the blood of the most recent Plegian dynasty in his veins.
Which in turn meant that Basilio knew. That was enough to make Robin wish he was outside the tent, so that he could hurl. When did it come up? Who told him?
The nervous quivers of his throat demanded so much of his attention that it took the rough sound of Chrom's voice to cut through and reach him. "Robin?"
The tactician realized he had sunk into ponderous deliberation for the umpteenth time. He raised his head, and saw the others staring at him. Troublesome, this.
He cleared his throat. "I guess we know now why The Voice-"
"Tiki," The Voice insisted.
"-why Tiki knows these things," Robin corrected without missing a beat. "I suggest we hear her out."
Chrom nodded, turning toward Tiki, and gestured her toward the table. She nodded firmly. "I'll present you with the most important question, then," she said, "Do you yet have the gemstones?"
"The gemstones?" Chrom asked.
"The gemstones for the Emblem: Azure, Vert, Argent, Gules and Sable."
Chrom shook his head. Robin had trouble keeping his own piece of information a secret.
It wasn't that they didn't have any gemstones, but rather, the Shield was built so that there was no way for the gems to naturally socket themselves into it. The most likely explanation was that they were magical objects drawn one to another - gems, to the Emblem itself. It would explain why Chrom didn't know that the silver gem on top of the Emblem was in fact Argent, one of these gemstones.
And then there was the mention of Gules...
"The kingdom of Chon'sin once held Vert, the green gemstone," Say'ri said. "That was before Walhart invaded, though." She lowered her fist softly to the table, apparently only wishing to make her discontent known. It did make Robin feel bad for Say'ri. To be chased away from one's homeland and forced to fight an uphill battle against a numerous enemy - it was something that had made many men bitter during the course of history. "I think that man has it, even now."
"He'll meet his demise yet," Chrom promised.
"Azure is mine to give, hidden within the tree itself," Tiki said, continuing from Say'ri's topic. "I will present it as soon as we are done conferring about this matter."
"You have my thanks, Lady Tiki," Chrom said, nodding curtly, "Though the use for these gemstones is still unknown to me-"
"The rite of Awakening. We will talk about it on a later date, but I hope at least you've heard about it?"
Chrom's stance screamed discomfort. "Some things, yes. Like the fact it might kill the person going through it."
"That depends on the person's motives, in the face of saving the whole world - if yours are not stained black, we yet have hope."
"Right." Chrom's rigid shoulders melted down to their relaxed state. Some parts of earlier discomfort still remained, though, discernible from the way Chrom's whitened knuckles clenched around his sword's hilt.
"And what about Gules?" Robin asked.
An unreadable silence rose, as no one had an answer to his question. After a while, the East-khan shrugged her armoured shoulders, their clinking indicating that she wanted to speak. "No idea. And we should not forget, we are still two magical baubles short after that." She frowned, rubbing her temples with hard, decisive strokes. "I have to admit - chasing magical trinkets isn't what I prefer to do with my pastime."
"Aye, because that's the drinks," Basilio said. The West-khan straightened his crossed arms, and suddenly became a dominant figure at the table. "Also, before we move on to the latter two stones, there's something you lot probably should know."
Robin clenched his left fist under the table. Don't say it's true! Just let me be the madman this time, instead of being correct.
"The West-khans once held Gules, the red gemstone," Basilio said, "However, it has been lost for centuries. I couldn't tell you about its present whereabouts, even if I wanted to."
"Huh? Wait, how come I wasn't told about this?" Flavia asked, snapping around, her glare dropping halberds at Basilio. "Are there other secrets you'd like to share? Something else you've conveniently kept hidden behind the East-khans' backs?"
Basilio's voice quivered for a single moment. "No... That should be all."
Flavia began accusing Basilio harshly, and the man proceeded to try and unearth himself from the pit that he'd managed to trip himself into. The two didn't appear keen on quitting any time soon, either, so Robin started to think, keeping his eyes flatly to the table.
Something that he'd heard the East-khan say troubled him. An amalgamation of words, something that Robin, by any stretch and continuity of logic, ought not to have ever heard.
It appears that the West-khans didn't lose their treasure, after all. Oaf gave me Gules before he died.
Robin felt shakes up in his arms, near the shoulders. Small drops of bile burned in his throat, as he came to the realization that he'd hoped not to be possible.
Whether he liked it or not, the bald and rowdy West-khan was going to die. Robin, having no assurance of whether or not his visions were set in stone, felt powerless in the face of it. There just wasn't any sure way to tell whether all these predictions would come to pass. Until now, they hadn't even made sense. It was only as of today that a certain kind of logic to them had dawned upon him, as though he'd been offered a key for cipher.
The line that started from the very first vision, showing the confrontation between Chrom and Validar, had a continuity, the Emblem being the key piece in it all.
Though, Robin had to admit, he had no idea which order these visions went in. He could only deduce which one was the last, and the one that preceded it; the nightmare he'd had in Regna Ferox, and the battle with Validar himself.
Robin raised his head to look at the others. They were all focused on the Khans' quarrel, all except for one. Tiki was looking at him with the same kind confusion she'd demonstrated earlier, her frowns dark, eyebrows low. It was almost as if she considered Robin a mystery to be puzzled out.
"You..." she said, definitely unsure about something.
"...No, I must be tired. Forgive me." Tiki turned her eyes away. Robin spent a moment to analyse her words, then gave up, as there was no intent to be derived from them.
Head in the game, he reminded himself for the third time. Then he looked at Chrom, who was occupied with the Khans' antics. A flick of Robin's hand managed to catch his attention, and the tactician proceeded to nod at him, and then the Khans.
The eyes of the prince widened in disbelief, as if to say, 'No, I'm not doing that'.
Again, Robin nodded sideways towards the Khans. Guess who's responsible for the leadership portion of our campaign? he thought with no small amount of malice. You. Now get to it, please.
The prince groaned, as if exerting strength, then straightened himself, to gather whatever authority he had. "That's enough, you two! We still have things to discuss."
The khans turned to look at him, the West-khan appearing relatively thankful for the timely rescue. Flavia in turn muttered an oath between her lips, but – probably because she was a woman of business – set the matter aside for now, perhaps to return to it at a later date.
As Chrom began to lay the ground-work for the rest of their conversation, Robin noted how useless he was at organizing things.
He should have married Cordelia, the tactician thought, even though he knew that one or more factors made that statement hypocritical. For one, Chrom had not shown attention to the woman, though whether the reason lied in selective blindness, or just pure ignorance, Robin could not tell. Perhaps it was both.
And then there was the other reason, much more prevalent that the first one. Robin chuckled inaudibly, resuming the conversation in a much more relaxed state of mind.
Some memories were still potent enough to calm down emotional currents of self-doubt and fear. This one doubly so, as it was his favourite piece of mischief, played on the prince himself.
A couple of hours later, Robin was leaning his head against the worn table in Lucina's tent. The meeting had gone on longer than he'd expected, and for all he cared now, he just wanted to catch some sleep.
To that end, he glanced at the bedroll he'd brought from his tent. He didn't consider it fair to use Lucina's as a pillow, but last night, with Morgan being in the shape she was, had necessitated borrowing it. At least today he could lay on his own bedroll and not worry about the small pebbles still dominating the dirt floor.
I should probably sleep, Robin thought, tiredly straightening his body and pushing the stool back. Thinking about this now won't bring any answers.
He shifted away from between the chair and table, then set the chair carefully back without making too much noise. He turned about to go and pick up the bedroll from near the tent door. The light of the setting sun was pouring in from the gap between the tent flap and wall, painting a straight line of flaming glory on the tent's shadowed ground.
As Robin grabbed the roll, Morgan stirred. At first, he thought she was simply changing her sleeping posture. Gods knew she had done that often enough to actually entangle herself within her tactician's coat. Robin had had to take it off her, as Frederick, the eternally steadfast knight, couldn't possibly have touched a girl bearing the Exalt blood.
Then he heard a soft and fitful form of speech come from where his daughter lay. "Mor...ning? No... too much... bustle."
Unable to decide whether to drop the bed roll or to carry it to his daughter, Robin stood still a moment, before deciding to drag the thing there. After reaching her, he let go of the bedroll and knelt quickly down next to the girl. "Are you feeling well? Any discomfort? Anything?"
Morgan tried to speak, but the words caught in her throat, resulting in a slow, grinding hack. "...Thirsty."
"I'll get you some water," Robin said hastily, rising up and dashing for the jug of water on the table. Frederick had mentioned something about having it filled, just before he went to his other business. Whatever it was.
He grabbed the jug, splashing – rather than pouring – some water in a cup, then rushed back to the girl, who looked up at him with carelessly blinking eyes. He didn't bother giving the cup to her – she could have fumbled it. Instead, Robin carefully raised her head, hearing a few reports of pain in the process, and stabilized her so she could drink without choking on the water.
Morgan guzzled the liquid down greedily, being done much faster than a person of her health and circumstance should. "More."
Robin shook his head. "You'll mess up your stomach," he said. "Try eating something first. I can have some meat broth made for you."
"Meat?" Morgan's eyes flickered in anticipation.
"Broth," Robin quickly corrected her. It was rather saddening to see how fast the glint in her eyes disappeared. "You get well, and I'll see about that bit of meat."
Morgan huffed almost soundlessly, only the quiver of her shoulders revealing the gesture for what it was.
Robin lowered her down. "You aren't exactly well yet. Rest, and gather your strength."
"That's what they say to..." She almost began coughing again, but managed to swallow it. "...to sick people."
"So how are you any different?" Robin asked, smiling at her. His daughter seemed like she'd stick her tongue at him, but then, another bout of coughing struck her, jolting her body a few times.
"Dry throat?" Robin asked after her fit ended.
Morgan nodded her head weakly, a grimace of discomfort on her face. "Tickles."
"Rest," Robin said again. "You'll feel much better tomorrow."
Robin nodded. This was something he was absolutely sure of, having seen so many people recuperate from the death's throes. Of course, some had not, but such people usually died while being healed, or before. Morgan was way out of the danger zone now. "I promise you. Come tomorrow, you'll feel much better."
Morgan chuckled two warm syllables of laughter. Something about it instantly hit Robin with an impression of her mother, the way she'd laughed when Robin had said he would spar with her. They are really similar. Gods! Still can't see how it ended up like that, in her future. How Lucina and I-
Robin shook himself awake from his thoughts, focusing on Morgan. "Yes, dear?"
His daughter grinned hugely. Robin blinked in confusion, then realized what kind of exchange had just taken place. "Well..." He scratched his head. "Honestly, it doesn't feel too bad to hear you say that."
Morgan's eyes twinkled with delight. "Can I... keep calling you that?"
Robin inhaled deep. 'Father', as a word, had been somewhat forlorn to him. Distant, even. Robin had less of an emotional attachment to it, as it was somewhat neutral.
However... With the change to 'dad', their family dynamic would develop as well. It wouldn't be simply words and facts. She'd become something more. Mean something more...
Which would be odd... Hadn't Morgan used that word in the future, then? "Yes. Yes, it's fine."
"Really?! Then... I won't call you Father any more."
"It is fine."
Morgan let out a sound of content, heavy humming, letting her head sink further into the bedroll under her. Robin took a more comfortable sitting position, closer to Morgan's head.
There was a time and place for difficult questions... And it most certainly wasn't now.
He set his hand to her forehead, beholding as the contentment slowly waned away from Morgan's lips, as her features paled, even in the shadows. "Dad...?"
He leaned forward a bit, over her face. "Yes, Morgan?"
"I don't..." She bit her lower lip, appearing unwilling to let the words out. Robin waited.
After a while, Morgan faced him again. A weak smile adorned her lips, but it was hollow, as if hiding something. "Dad... I know what... what you and grandfather want to do, and I... I want to help." She paused, breathing shakily in. Her expression changed - it wasn't any more the shade of a smile it'd been. "...I want to, but I'm scared! I want to help in battle, to help direct its course, but I'm afraid of getting hurt! I don't want to feel that pain again! I...!"
Morgan's voice broke down into soft, uneven sobs. Robin's hand stopped stroking her forehead, his mind frozen. "I... Morgan... You don't have to do battle, if you don't want to - no one in the camp can make you to do that."
The girl sniffled for a solid while, and Robin kept mulling over what Morgan's words meant. She was afraid. She didn't want to do battle.
These were feelings that he could relate to.
The sobs died out. "What about... Mom?" Morgan asked in a fragile voice.
The memory of worrying Lucina flashed in Robin's mind, giving his words conviction. "Least of all her. She'd much rather see you safe."
"Same thing, really... He wouldn't order you into the fray, if he saw that wasn't what you want to do." Robin faced her eyes, showing compassion. " It all comes down to you - if you don't want to use your sword any more, just say so. There are... other things you can do. Things that have you as far from the battlefield as physically possible."
Morgan sank deeper into her bedroll. "I really don't want to.. to give up tactics and strategy. But I'm really scared..."
Robin lowered his eyes.
No tactician ever became great by only working with wooden pieces and cloth maps. Battles were an ever-fluctuating affair. The presence of a person with a tactical mind was much required, in case plans went wrong.
However... What Morgan spoke of, or rather, what she would become, if her fear wouldn't let up, was something else entirely. An armchair tactician. Someone who would not – no, could not - give any heed to needs of a single person. She'd be able to take in the big picture, to win battles... But at what cost?
And could he, even while knowing that, still deny his daughter her dream?
Author's Notes, Part 2: So... EB will go on a short break for 2-3 weeks so that I can PROPERLY plan out the next subplot and its intricacies. It is for the betterment of the story. I will not leave you without anything to read, however, as I will put out another chapter for 'The Case of a Sleeping Wyvern' WHILE I am plotting out EB's next part. That means that the update speed should be the same(except that the next TCoaSW chapter isn't going to be a MONSTER like this... which means that it should come out CONSIDERABLY earlier!).
And I am sorry about how long this chapter got. I desperately wanted to finish this subplot(albeit with grace) so that you people could start looking forward to the next one. If you liked the chapter(and even if you didn't), consider leaving comments about how it worked out.
Thank you very much. Xanedis out.