It's a good thing nothing significant happened that I need to discuss at the end of this chapter since I last posted, like an entire Smash Brother game releasing, or every reveal for it since E3. That'd be really embarrassing hahaha... Imsorry.
Whims of Fate
"Pikachu, move!" Pikachu was quick to listen, the attempted assassin's blade meeting air and scraping the floor. Pikachu landed on his paws a few inches away. Seeing his opening, Robin charged and released a ball of fire that singed their foes eyebrows. Pikachu's tail glowed white as it swung into the assassin's leg and brought him to his knees.
It was easy to finish him then. Almost pitiable were it not what the dastard was in the Palace for.
"Robin, the mage!" Frederick shouted, finished with his own opponent. The rest of the Shepherds in the room were otherwise occupied holding off other assassins. One of their foes kept his distance from the bulk of the fighting. It would've been easy to kill the one if they could get near him. The only thing protecting him was a robe. The man unconscious on the floor next to them wasn't doing anything to stop their approach.
With their initial targets down and the rest of the Shepherds occupying the other assassins, the only thing that gave Robin pause was the circle of runes growing in intensity in between him and the enemy.
Frederick had no such misgivings with trying to close the distance. His charge was poorly timed as the spell completed. From the circle, what looked like a spirit emerged and crashed into the knight. Frederick was thrown from his feet and skid into a nearby wall.
"Gastly!" the spirit cried. The summoner wore a sick grin as he turned to Robin charging a thunder spell that Robin recognized far better in his palm.
"Your turn, traitor."
The gases that surrounded the spirit – Gastly, if we follow our own monster naming convention for Pikachu and the others – seemed to grow in intensity as it barreled through the air towards Robin. Robin stepped to the side, haphazardly swinging his sword at the Gastly. He hit his mark, or so he thought until the sword kept going through it as though it weren't there. He didn't have time to be shocked before an actual shock singed his shoulder and threw him off balance.
Pikachu let out as ferocious a growl as he could as he ran at the mage with a glowing tail, sweeping the floor from under him. Despite his master's peril, the Gastly was still focused solely on Robin. Robin gripped his rubbed arm lamely, stepping slowly back from the spirit. When Robin was rushed again, he tried again to swing at the spirit to find that once again his weapon passed through the ghost. As the gap was closed the ghost radiated an aura that threw Robin off his feet.
"Robin!" Marth shouted, a gap between her and her opponent. "Weapons can't hurt it! Use magic!" Her opponent charged as she yelled. She deftly sidestepped the attack and kicked at his feet.
Robin rolled to the side as Gastly tried to drop on his prone form. He hissed, trying to push himself up with his uninjured arm. As Robin got to a knee, the ghost floated level with Robin's face and stared through him. Its grin parted and a lolling tongue struck out. Ectoplasmic mucus drenched the entirely of Robin's face. Taking opportunity of the uncomfortable opening, Robin raised his uninjured arm to the ghost's underside. Raging sparks discharged through Gastly's form, and the spirit fell from the air and bounced unconsciously – or at least Robin hoped it wasn't conscious anymore - on the stonework.
I was just licked by a ghost. The saliva rolling down his face made him shudder. Pikachu's battle cries reminded Robin he was still in a fight. Right. Assassins now, Bathe later.
Wiping Gastly's ghastly goop from his face quickly, Robin saw his murine friend swipe the mage's feet out from under him, eliciting a gasp as the back of his skull hit the stone. Blinking away his surprise and no small amount of pride, Robin surveyed the rest of the skirmish to see that the rest of the assassins had also been dealt with. Why else would the few Shepherds in the Palace be running towards him and Frederick?
"Robin, are you alright?" Chrom asked.
"Yeah, how's Fred-"
"Get up, Freddy! No one gets to knock you around like that!" Sully's shout cut off Robin's question. "What happened to your wariness? I'm not picking up Chrom's stones in your place if you bite it."
"Phrasing, Sully," The knight chastised. "But of course you won't have to… It's a light concussion at most. Nothing a bit of mending won't remedy." Frederick tried to stand, only for Sully to push him back down.
"Yeah, light, sure. 'cept, you see anyone around with a staff? Stay down Sir. We'll get-"
"Do not presume to order me, Sully, I have to see to Milord's safety," the knight growled.
"She's right Frederick," Robin cut in. "We need to get you a healer."
Chrom put a hand on Robin's shoulder, eliciting a hiss from the tactician. The prince shot him a mirthless smile before he spoke.
"I agree, Robin, And I appreciate you volunteering to take him," Chrom said.
"What? Chrom, I can't leave! What about – Owwww ffffffff…!" Chrom poked at Robin's injured arm and Robin bit his tongue. He couldn't hide how he winced, nor how he could barely move his arm away.
"You're not doing any fighting with that thing, and I'll not see anyone I care about dying tonight." Chrom said. "Frederick needs help too, and we'll all be slowed down if we're trying to move you both. You both need a healer, or medicine."
An echoing shatter around the corner stalled any further arguing. Marth returned, dragging a man in darkly garbed man with orange hair around the corner who swore every step of the way. She threw him at the duo's feet and leveled a stare at the both of them.
"This man tried to flee the fight. He didn't get far."
"Gee, good report Constable. Nothing about my good looks." The runaway assassin spat. Robin quirked a brow as the man sat up and revealed a lolipop strapped to his torso. Certainly not the typical assassin. "So, what's my sentence?"
"What was your part in this, and what do you know?" Chrom demanded. Falchion seemed to shimmer as he leveled it at the man.
"Well, Blue, since you asked so nicely, I did recon. Found a way into the vault and a way to sneak a few guys in to crack it."
"You let them-" Chrom's eyes widened. "You're the new pastry chef."
"Low blow, Blue. I am a connoisseur. All sweets are my expertise, and the Exalt loved them." After finishing, the assassin's smug expression faltered. Robin couldn't hear what he muttered.
"Speak up, I couldn't hear you over the arm you companion broke," Robin growled.
"Aren't you a bubbly one," the assassin said humorlessly. "You better get to the Exalt. Quick. Leader of the band's already trying to get in."
"You speak like you're not guilty of conspiring to kill my sister?"
"It wasn't supposed to be murder. Just a little bit of redistribution of wealth," the assassin – no, just a lowly thief – sighed. "Look, maybe I can help you out? Maybe we can make a trade of sorts?"
"Sure Chuckles. Here's an idea:" Sully leveled a fist by his head. It probably didn't have the same effect as Falchion at his neck. "You talk, you live to see a trial. You don't we kill you here and call it a day."
"What? Gees, no sense of… I didn't want to see the Exalt dead! I actually like her, even if I want her money!"
"Not helping your case."
Robin sighed. As the yelling began to loop, he figured he had an idea that only money could sweeten the deal for the criminal. As the tactician reached for his wallet in a breast pouch, he bumped another bag that fell to the floor with a crinkle. Scattering along the floor was Lissa's pouchful of sweets. Robin hadn't even remembered he'd been carrying those, between the assassins, revelations about Chrom's family, and his arm that still didn't have any feeling in it.
The room went silent for a moment. His fellow Shepherd leveled a unanimous glare at him but for Marth, whose eyes never left the thief.
"Robin, what are you-"
"Sorry! Just thought maybe money would loosen his-"
"Sold!" The thief shouted manically. He pounced on the pouch, stashing it on his belt and standing on his feet with an easy, carefree smile as he popped one of the delicacies into his mouth. "So, what do you want to know and who do I stab?"
Despite everything, the man's tone suggested he somehow hadn't expected the flat stares he got as an answer.
Meta Knight watched Roland carefully as he slowly poured his concoction down Dedede's throat. The King's breathing started to ease as it's effects started to kick in. Remembering the first time that Meta Knight had seen the concoction in effect, he was half expecting Dedede to start screaming and coughing it up. Instead he seemed to fall asleep in the middle of the hallway.
"Roland, why are you here?" Meta Knight asked.
"Assassins," Roland answered wearily. "Killed a few myself, but… Marth didn't tell me how many to expect."
"Is that why you're-"
"The dragon-spawn was nearly killed by man-spawn before I arrived," the rabbit creature named Panne said. "It is fortunate I was already nearby pursuing its would-be killers."
"Yes, thank you," Roland said with something approaching a smile. "I would appreciate if you remembered I was a human, though."
"How could I?" Panne asked. "You smell of lizard, and all I need to know of any lizard's scent is how safe it is to eat. Most days anyway. I didn't think to meet a hybrid like you while slaughtering man-spawn."
Roland sighed. Meta Knight barely caught his wince when Roland turned to face his confusion. "Don't ask please."
"Your secret is safe with me, whatever it might be. You've helped me twice without question." Meta Knight gave a bow. His yellow eyes met Roland's unknowable stare back even through the butterfly mask. "I know what it's like to wear a mask."
Roland smiled wistfully back. Meta Knight was sure that the warrior had his reasons for hiding his face. Panne snorted, a strange and distorted sound coming from the large rabbit.
"Little warrior, dragon-spawn. Why are we standing around when there are still man-spawn to kill?"
Roland groaned, muttering as he slowly stood back up. He gestured at Dedede for Panne's benefit.
"We'll have to get him somewhere safe," Roland said. "The King is important to me being here as well. Marth sent me to find him while she went for the Exalt. If you want to help us move him, we could-"
"I am no pack mule!"
Meta Knight twitched at her shouting, the petulance sounding uncomfortably familiar. He took a step toward her, stopping when she lowered defensively.
"Panne, right?" Meta Knight asked. "Roland means no offense to you, I am sure. He is injured and I cannot move all of Dedede's…" he gave the sizable body that seemed to grow in his sideways glance, "grace. Surely the great strength of a laguz would be better suited?"
"Taguel, weakling," Panne hissed, though she didn't sound offended. "But of course, your strength could not compare." Meta Knight didn't react to being called a weakling. Why would he be offended by this creature calling him weak. He had proven himself time and time again, why should he need to prove otherwise to another HOW DARE SHE- Meta Knight took a breath. Discipline. Patience. Kindness. Like he would do it.
It took some effort to get Dedede propped up on Panne's back. Mayhaps they dropped Dedede once or twice, and mayhaps it was lucky the combination of poison being flooded out of his system and Roland's concoction that kept him entirely asleep as they did. Panne especially had some choice words about Dedede's weight, words Meta Knight had echoed before.
"You mentioned there were assassins?" Meta Knight asked as they moved the king. Roland nodded. "How did you know?"
"I smelled them," Panne answered. "Can't say why it… he is here."
"Marth knew ahead of time," Roland said. "We'd wanted to get here sooner, but if we were to get through the doors we had to wait for the changing of the guard."
"Hm." He wanted to ask more, but that might have fallen under Roland's 'don't ask.'
They managed to find a servant's quarters, a few tired workers curious who was making so much noise before seeing them. Immediately, to the Ylissean's credit, they moved to help despite the curious scene the lot of them made. Meta Knight told them what he could – poison, these two helped, don't leave this roo for your safety, keep him here.
They were about to leave to help elsewhere in the Palace when Meta Knight had a thought.
"Do any of you have a weapon I could use?"
The servants exchanged looks, a frightened maid pointing towards the corner of the room. They had a broom. Meta Knight broke off the handle and departed the servant's quarters with Panne and Roland.
Chrom, Marth, and Sully kept a close eye on the thief. Robin and Fredrick depart to get their wounds treated and bring back more of the Shepherds. With any luck, they'd make it out fine. Chrom hated sending them out alone while they were wounded – and they hated being sent out when there was a fight here – but he couldn't see any other choice. He knew he didn't have the head that Frederick or especially Robin did for tactics, but three soldiers plus a defector hardly seemed like a strong enough force as it was let alone if they sent someone to protect the wounded.
He needed to save his sister.
"Hall's clear," Gaius called out. They followed him warily. Chrom didn't know what to make of him. He wanted to run him through for his obvious part in conspiracy but… Emmeryn wouldn't have. Being reminded of his own mortality and facing the reminder of hers perhaps made him susceptible to her ideals.
"Gaius, what more should we expect from the assassins?" Chrom asked.
"More units like the one you caught me with," Gaius started, peeking around another corner. "Mages covered by front liners. Only thing to look out for is the boss and the priest."
"What's special about them?"
"Didn't meet either of them until this morning. The boss is another dark mage, kind of like that last one. He was dressed more ornate, though. Has a familiar like the other one did too, 'cept he's always there."
"Familiar?" Marth asked. "You mean… Pokémon?"
"That what you call it?" Gaius asked. "Tsk. That'll never catch on, but sure. Anyway, it's a big creature. Glows, and I swear it can read your thoughts. Watch out for that thing. And then the priest… I couldn't say what he can do, he just gave me the shakes. Everything else… I think we could handle."
"Careful with that 'we', thief," Sully cut in. "If you do anything out of line, I will destroy you."
Gaius just shrugged. Chrom figured they were getting close to the Exalt's chambers, and then he could leave his fate to Emmeryn.
A mass of man charged out as Gaius turned another corner, and the thief narrowly threw himself to the floor out of the way. Orders came from another voice as Chrom started giving his own and they engaged another group of assassins. Marth was able to take out the bulky Plegian that attempted to assault Gaius quickly before two more men turned to fight them.
Chrom lost sight of Gaius in the chaos of battle. He and Sully were able to take out one of the men together before cornering the second with Marth. In his desperation, the man charged at the one he perceived to be the weakest. Marth responded by feigning a low swing at his legs before repositioning behind him for Chrom to strike at.
With the group taken care of, Chrom looked around and cursed. Gaius wasn't anywhere to be seen.
"Damn my soft heart. I should have-"
"Should have what?" Gaius asked.
"Should… Gaius? I'd thought you'd run."
"No, I went and found the mage Blue, just around the corner." Gaius spun around a dagger in one hand before deftly sheathing it. "Didn't want him bringing in a ghosty."
Chrom sighed. This was not a time for doubt, especially once Sully confirmed the body a moment later. The Exalt's chambers were in sight. Chrom knocked on the door with a closed fist.
"Chrom? Is that you?"
"Emmeryn?" Chrom ran to her door. It wouldn't budge when he tried to open the door. "Sister, are you alright?"
"You shouldn't be here… Where's Lissa?"
"Lissa's in the barracks with the others. They'll be here soon, sister."
"Here? No, Chrom! You have to flee while you have the chance!"
Chrom grit his teeth. He could hear more footsteps coming from down one of the halls.
"Not going to happen, Emmeryn. You stay in there where it's safe."
Chrom drew Falchion and looked towards the source of the sounds. At his either side were Marth and Sully. Gaius took up a low position behind a table. Chrom took in a deep breath and met the assassins through the night.
"The Prince and the Interloper has reached the Exalt's Chambers, milord."
'Milord' was a tall man with an unnatural dark complexion. He stroked a long but thin and pointed beard.
"I see. No matter. The Exalt will fall all the same. And the Fire Emblem?"
The servant grimaced. "No luck, Lord Validar. The… Our lockpicker has abandoned us. The last report placed him at the Exalt's chambers fighting with the prince. No one else can get into the Vault without great risk to the contents."
'Milord' Validar snapped his fingers in answer. The servant had no time to even be frightened before another figure appeared behind him. It growled at the servant, and with only a nod from Validar the figure brought a palm to the back of the man's head. An impure energy, not quite magical but for the twinges of purple the tinted the blue force, coursed through the servant and left him broken at Validar's feet.
Several other servants stood around patiently awaiting orders. They were well trained to not react to his example, but he shared a look with his beast. It confirmed to him that they were all afraid.
"Let that be an example. Bring me the Fire Emblem and kill the Exalt."
"Yes, lord Validar!" The servants scattered to do their part. The hallways of the Palace were many and as troublesome as the turncoat thief was, he couldn't take back his hand-drawn maps.
"It'll be over soon, Hierophant," Validar said. A hooded figure creeped behind him.
"Of course. This night was already written, after all," the Hierophant agreed. "You may continue as you were. I have other business to attend to."
The Hierophant faded from Validar's sight. There were a few hitches in the plan, a few dead assassins and followers that hadn't been anticipated. The humanoid beast followed in Validar's wake as he walked after his servants.
No, Validar wasn't worried. It was as the Hierophant said to him often. The future had already been written.
Meta Knight heard fighting in the next corridor, just outside the Exalt's room. With two quick steps, he kicked into the air and unfurled his wings. There wasn't much room to fly within the palace, but even at a level glide he moved quick than he could run. He could hear Roland and Panne pick up their pace as well, which was good fortune.
Meta Knight could see Chrom and a small number of Shepherds trying to fend off a large number of assassins. He recognized Sully, though the orange haired man that slithered and slid under the attackers was unfamiliar, as was the blue haired woman. They were clearly on the verge of being overwhelmed.
Meta Knight's path had brought him to just behind a group of the attackers. Without warning, he cracked his broom handle across the back of a ceremoniously robed man's head. The wood splintered as it made contact with the withered figure, and the man was certainly unconscious as he crashed into the stone. That unfortunately left him weaponless against the two were turning to face him.
It would not be his problem to deal with. Panne pounced the one man before he could strike, as Roland took the other. The masked swordsman kicked up the smaller dagger one assassin carried and passed it to Meta Knight even as more of the assassins noticed them. It wasn't a weapon he was comfortable with, but he couldn't say it wasn't his size.
He couldn't parry blows with the dagger as was his preferred defense, especially against many of the heavier weapons Plegians preferred to use, forcing him to use more tricks to throw off his foes than he normally would. As the trio battled their way towards the Exalt's quarters Meta Knight often found he had to take advantage of his cloak, appearing behind key foes that tried to overwhelm Roland or Panne. Not to say either of them were weak either, as both proved tenacious.
Panne clawed, ripped, and tore through her foes. Roland had a strange style, at times resembling a fencer's dance. Other times he would switch to another stance entirely, rushing his foes and cutting at them from up close. In the latter style, he struck using his entire blade, which almost seemed to blaze through the melee.
In time, they did reach Chrom's group. Each one of them breathed heavily, exhaustion letting itself show as they had a respite in the combat.
"Chrom, are you alright?" Meta Knight asked. "How fares the Exalt?"
"I'm doing as well as any of us can be," the Prince's answered. "My sister is still in her room, alive. I'd thought you'd be with the King?"
"Dedede is being attended to. Someone poisoned candies and gave it to him, though he is recovering." At the mention of poisoned candies Chrom glared at the orange haired man. The man seemed just as aghast.
"Hold it, Blue," the man said with a hand up. He approached Meta Knight, a pick – No… is that a lollipop stick? – dangling from his lips as he crouched down to eye level. "So Faceless. You're telling me that someone poisoned candy."
The man twitched. Any signs of physical exertion dissipated from his feature as he stood back straight and gave Chrom a look.
"Blue, I need to kill my old boss."
"Right, of course Gaius. We need to survive first," Chrom said with a weary shake of his head.
"Marth!" Roland ran up to the blue-haired woman with a smile. "Are you alright? What happened to your mask?"
"It was a close cut," the woman answered. Wait, did Roland call her Marth? The woman… Marth seemed to catch his stare. "Guessing I had you fooled as well, Sir Knight?"
"Very funny, Marth. Gerome is going to feed you to his beast when he finds out, I hope you know."
"Oh, certainly. Maybe you'll join me, given that chip I see." Marth shook her head. "The next wave will be here soon. We should-"
"Um, are we all just going to ignore the giant damn rabbit in the room?" Sully asked, keeping a sword between herself and Panne. The taguel growled.
"I'd watch your loose tongue, man-spawn, least I tear it out."
"You overgrown carr-"
"Enough!" Chrom shouted. "Whatever, or whoever, this is, she just helped Meta Knight and Roland cut through to our position." He looked at Marth, missing the curious look Panne gave him. "Another friend of yours?"
"In a sense, I suppose. I knew Panne would be here tonight, and I knew she would be our ally. She does not travel with us though. More importantly," Marth turned to face the new arrivals, "we will hopefully have reinforcements coming soon. Robin and Frederick are seeking help as we speak. By now rest of the Shepherds are surely mobilizing."
Chrom stepped up. "She's right. We need to keep them from getting to Emmeryn, no matter what. We've been holding the line, but…"
"No plan?" Meta Knight guessed. Chrom nodded.
"I sent both of my thinking men away. You wouldn't happen to have any ideas, would you?"
Meta Knight's frown carried to his eyes. He glanced around the hall, vases and tables overturned in the fighting and décor ruined. A few decorative pillars caught his eye, as did the doorways to other halls. All around them there were four entrances to be concerned with, including a narrow staircase that went towards the gardens. There were a few grandiose pillars in the hall that someone could hide behind.
"Maybe a couple?"
It was half an hour from when they departed the Palace to when Robin arrived at the Shepherds barracks, Frederick over his shoulder. The knight shuddered every few steps, as a few sparks still coursed through his armor. Frederick also mumbled stomething about a headache, confirming his concussion further. Robin's 'free' arm dangled beside him. Pikachu was the only one of them unharmed. Robin would've rather Pikachu was back in the Palace helping Chrom, but there was no way he could convince his friend to stay with Chrom. He also took some comfort in the escort giving his condition.
As soon as they entered the grounds, Robin started yelling for help. The immense weight of Frederick's armor was lifted from his shoulder unexpectedly as Kellam seemed to form on the other side of the Robin's burden. Stahl ran inside the living quarters yelling for the others.
Lissa was the first person Robin saw when they got inside, meeting them at the door with a staff in hand and bags under her eyes. Those same eyes went wide as soon as she saw Robin.
"Robin, your arm!" Lissa was already settling to heal his arm when Robin shook his head.
"Help Frederick first, I'm fine. Get everyone together, time is of the essence," he insisted. Kellam was still holding the knight. Lissa glanced back and forth between them before telling Kellam to bring him inside. Robin was momentarily surprised to find most of the other Shepherds were already in the main room, but he realized quickly enough the cause when he saw the bowls spread across the table in various states of consumption.
"Get some food into him, find out what's going on! Kellam, bring Frederick over here." Despite Lissa's orders, Robin shook his head.
"Dinner can wait, there are assassins in the Palace!" Robin shouted.
"It doesn't matter!" Virion cut in. "Robin, where is Chrom and the others?"
"He's still in there, trying to protect the Exalt. We have to go!"
"You're going no where fast, Robin!" Lissa shouted. Frederick beside her seemed to stop jittering in his armor. Swinub had crawled up beside his feet. "You're next once he's done."
Robin frowned. The other Shepherds were already running around to get ready, shouting for equipment and equipment checks. Anna's Delibird seemed quite efficient already at getting what people needed, Robin noted.
A part of him was saying to listen, to stay and recover. But the rest of him… Lissa was attentively dealing with Frederick. In the chaos of the Shepherds, Robin stepped outside along with Virion, Rowlet fluttering overhead. Robin was grateful the archer only gave him a disapproving frown but didn't say anything. Stahl rode by on his horse, not even sparing Robin a glance. More and more Shepherds caught up to them, a few giving Robin and his arm a glance. Vaike started laughing at him despite the situation, chanting 'Lissa's gonna kill you!'
They were at the Palace when she nearly caught up, riding on the back of Frederick's horse. She looked through Robin, prompting him to hurry quicker into the Palace. She could be angry at him later, her siblings' lives were at stake.
The Princess must have reluctantly agreed. She fell in step as they rushed on towards the Exalt, hoping they could make it in time.
"Side hall!" Marth shouted. Meta Knight glided along the floor across the hall, cutting at the ankles of Chrom's foe as he passed. The assassins seemed to never end, not giving Chrom the time to wonder at how so many Plegians could slip into the city without anyone noticing. Even as he finished one off, another took their place at the stairs.
Another dark mage - covered by a Ghastly - stood at the bottom of the stairs sending small fireballs up at him as he fought the others. He was fortunate the mage actually cared to not kill his comrades, doubly so that he was too scared for his own life to let his ghostly guard drift from his side. Another mage had a different, little masked ghost calling out Yamask, but somehow Roland's blade had been able to knock the creature out as Panne dealt with that mage by the pillars.
It was a small perimeter, and they were all getting tired quickly. Roland's mask had a few fresh scratches that paled to the small dents in his armor. Panne had wounds under her fur that would very well scar if not attended to, yet she still stood. Meta Knight had gone through weapon after weapon taken from their defeated foes, each one handled alien to his form yet still used to the best of his ability before being discarded. Chrom held the stairs just in front of his sister's door, ignoring the Exalt's every plea for him to flee and trading positions with Marth every few foes for a breath and taking in the battle.
Reinforcements would come. They had to.
Once more he traded with Marth, only calling out a couple spearmen from the pillar hall before giving the woman her breath that had Panne running to assist Sully with dealing with. The trading steps were seamless for Marth, each matching Chrom's own habits. It made it easy for him, and as the minutes rolled by, he started to figure she'd just do as he would have done and acted accordingly. He stepped in, ducking under another wave of fire as he kicked an assassin down the stairs and sending him down along with the man behind him.
Another opponent stepped in immediately with a spear. Chrom frowned, Belisar's teachings flashing through his mind quickly as he avoided the distant assassins prodding strikes.
'Swords can be incredibly versatile, as your lessons have surely taught you Prince,' the voice of Chrom's teacher echoed. 'But it has a disadvantage in reach. Any poorly trained farmer with a pitchfork can poke you full of holes if you aren't ready. But you're the Prince of Ylisse. You will be ready.'
As the spearmen made an overconfident jab towards the Prince, Chrom grabbed the spear just past the point and pulled his foe into a headbutt. Dazed, Chrom stabbed him before throwing him down the steps towards the others.
Given a moment, Chrom ducked around the corner as another fireball soared past him. Looking to Marth, she nodded and took a place on the other side of the stairway portal. As the two that Chrom had knocked down reached the top of the stairs, both Falchions brought them low before they again took cover from the magics being thrown at them. For the first time since Meta Knight and the others had arrived, they had something resembling a reprieve as either side entrance was also mostly clear for the moment.
Looking around, he could clearly see they were all nearing their limits. If his own breaths and Marth's breaths could be called labored, Gaius's were unhealthy. Panne's exhaustion was exacerbated by cuts all across her quadrupedal form, Sully's tough face wore thin, and even the masked swordsmen Meta Knight and Roland were in poor shape.
As they could hear more footsteps behind them Chrom grit his teeth. Then one of them spoke.
"Dear prince," he said in a voice dryly dripping with consternation. "You must be wearing thin. Let us pass and give us the Fire Emblem. We will make it quick. Don't try to resist. The outcome of this night has been fated since long before any of us were born, despite what some may think."
Marth's expression grew dark, and Chrom had to wonder just what was going through her head as she shared a look with Roland.
"Emmeryn will die, and we'll be leaving with the Emblem."
And then there was a roar that shook the entire Palace. Chrom was peaking around the corner – not hearing Gaius's cry of 'don't!' – as a humanoid… something was already passing the door bringing a resonant palm across his skull. The world went dark.
A roar shook the Palace, and Robin's party paused, all of them immediately on edge. Pikachu darted into a stance at Robin's feet, his eyes looking down every corridor, glaring at every door. Robin grasped at his skull. Why did that sound familiar?
"Keep moving, Robin!" Frederick shouted, The knight and his horse leading the way. Shaking his head, Robin kept following after. Seeing how the knight was moving now, Robin was starting to regret not taking any treatment. They passed through a few more halls before they could see heavier signs of conflict. They were not far from the Exalt's quarters when they heard a cry:
Robin broke into a sprint, though he couldn't hope to catch up to Frederick or Stahl's horses. Sumia and Lissa were keeping pace with him, the rest of the Shepherds hopefully not far behind. They could hear familiar combat sounds, though there was something else stranger that Robin could feel in the air. Something so wrong.
They reached the hall by the Exalt's room. The Shepherds still standing had the unconscious forms Chrom and Sully against the wall behind them. A few more assassins were surrounding them, including two more dark mages and another Ghastly. The creature that stood out more had blue fur and was emanating a blue and purple aura from its body.
Marth glanced at them as they entered. Robin could see her breathing from across the room. She quickly returned her attention to the opponents in front of her.
"Frederick, Stahl!" Robin shouted authoritatively. Both men were already riding their horses towards the scene. Both of the dark mages turned, though only one was quick enough to dodge. Frederick knocked the other to the floor. The survivor looked straight at Robin with a curious expression.
"Well, I see a piece on the wrong side of the board."
More assassins rushed up the stairs beside them, cutting off the rest of the Shepherds from their Prince. Moreover, in the tight hall there was no way all of them were going to be able to fit in the hall. The tactician turned to find Virion was already shouting at the others to move through the other halls. Robin would have to thank him for stealing the orders from his lips some time. Rowlet was flying over the archer's head, quills flying from his wing towards the Plegians. Truly, only Robin, Kellam, Sumia and Vaike could fit comfortable to push through this hall. Lissa hovered nearby, taking a pillar for cover.
Robin could only cast spells with his one hand, and regretted needing to stick to simple thunder spells. He left his tome in his pocket, and his sword at his side. He tried instead to keep what few of them could push through the hall organized, throwing small jolts that did little more than throw off the attackers to give his friends an edge.
It took him a while to realize Pikachu was still frozen at the door, his fur standing up straight and an almost human look of pure hatred in his eyes.
"Pikachu!" Robin shouted. "Come on, dammit! Get over here and help!"
Robin was too busy to see the electricity building in Pikachu's cheeks, seeping wildly across the mouse's entire body. It was a minute later that Robin turned around again to shout – the other Shepherds already fighting in the next hall – when Pikachu pierced through the enemy lines with a boom crackle and one sound on its lips:
The orb of electricity flew across the room straight towards the radiant blue creature. Without looking, the creature ducked under the attack and slipped into a hand to hand stance that Robin didn't recognize. Pikachu hit the wall, and kicked himself off it to land between the monster and the exhausted Shepherds. Electricity still danced along his fur.
"Pikachu!" Robin shouted. With a growl, and a surge of adrenaline, he charged a far more powerful spell in his arms and threw it at a shaken Plegian. Shaken from their stupor the Shepherds recovered from Pikachu's actions quicker than the Plegians and used the opportunity to gain more ground.
"Guargh!" The blue beast punched through the stone that Pikachu had been standing. Meta Knight forced himself to look away, focusing on fighting the assassin front of him. Throughout the fighting, he had gone through many weapons. Right now, he held the broken off end of a spear, and tried his best to imitate Bandana Dee's much more refined movement with such a weapon. His success was questionable, given that the swordsmen was still standing. Exhaustion surely played into that.
He was more than glad that Stahl rode around the pillars and cut him down when Meta Knight couldn't. Both horsemen gave Pikachu's battle as wide a berth as the tight quarters allowed. It was difficult, giving the speed both monsters moved at. Meta Knight had seen more powerful creature at home, but never with so much intelligence, and certainly he hadn't seen such a demonstration from anything in Ylisse.
The fight did give him one advantage though. The creature wasn't protecting the mage in charge anymore. All he needed was an opening…
"Kill it quickly, Lucario!" The mage in question shouted.
The beast let out another roar as it jumped away from a glowing swing of Pikachu's tail. A ball of blue and purple energy coalesced between its palms before Lucario threw it towards Pikachu. The mouse rolled to the side, barely keeping its footing and giving Lucario an opening to kick at him. Pikachu didn't have a chance to dodge the attack as he was sent across the room by the force of the attack.
The mage turned back towards the group defending the Prince and started charging a spell within his palms. Most of the other assassins were occupied with the others, so Meta Knight kicked off the ground and glided towards him. Nearly reaching the mage, Meta Knight held the point of the spear in front of him before kicking the floor and aiming the spear towards the mage's head.
Lucario somehow closed the distance and grabbed him out of the air. Meta Knight was thrown across the room by the creature. Even through the pained haze, he could hear the man's callous laughter.
Electricity cut through the laughter, a meaty impact silencing the laughter. There was a growl, not from the beast this time but the man. He didn't have laughter or words for the mouse. Only a snarled order.
"Kill it!" The mage turned back towards him with a wave of his hands and an infuriated chant that conjured dark energy. With a flourish the energy coursed into the ground towards Meta Knight. Not wanting to be the toy of another dark spell's machinations, he unfurled his wings and kicked off the ground. The spell uselessly emerged where Meta Knight had been lying a moment earlier, dark paws clawing for nothing.
Seeing a different opening, Meta Knight attacked another assassin from behind, opening Marth up to help elsewhere. She was clearly on her last legs but trying not to show it. Meta Knight shared the sentiment.
Behind the mage, Robin's group was cutting closer towards them. He could see Virion's bird firing at the soldiers with quills and was quietly wishing that the bird would just fly over the clump and help them.
Lucario was hit at his center by a constant stream of electricity. Pikachu's screaming became strained as more and more power eeked out of his tiny body into the giant monster. The screaming petered out, as did the power of the thunderous attack. Pikachu could barely stand, what energy he had concentrated entirely on his opponent.
Lucario stood, staring down at the mouse. Meta Knight feared that even that wasn't enough to stop it when the creature fell to its knees. The mage stopped his conjuring, his eyes going wide.
The beast growled and fled in a barely visibly flash towards the stairs. The mage's mouth hung open as he watched it go. Pikachu collapsed on the other side of him, and the mage only had eyes for the little mouse. So, Meta Knight went for the same attack again, barely able to hold the spear up in his grip.
Still the head of his spear pierced the back of the mage's chest, and his body jerked forward in shock. Seeing a chance, Marth charged at the man at cut at his head.
It toppled off unceremoniously, rolling across the ground with shock still written across Validar's face, written over the pages of fate that forever changed that night.
Robin's squad broke through not long later, and the rest of the Shepherds cleared the next hall. Gaius had collapsed next to Sully and Chrom and one point. Meta Knight was not a lazy warrior, but with the enemy routed that sounded wonderful.
"Oh no, Naga please, NO!" Lissa hovered over her brother, her staff glowing as she tried to take in the damage. Blood loss, head trauma, bones… And that was before she'd even looked at the others, or fixed Robin's arm or-
"Lissa," Robin said, grabbing her shoulder gently. "They'll be fine. You're here now, right?"
Taking a breath, Lissa nodded. "Grab Pikachu, he'll need help too."
Robin smiled and stepped away as she started to try and take her brother's wounds one at a time. At some point in the process, Anna had shown up and started taking care of the less wounded Shepherds, and Roland. Robin had returned at some point, Pikachu in the arms of Stahl beside him. Lissa pointed vaguely to an empty space beside Chrom.
Robin didn't leave either of them throughout the night, until at last help arrived from elsewhere in the Palace. Other priests took over most of the healing, letting her rest. An older monk reassured the princess that Chrom was stable and they could handle it from there. She merely nodded and started helping Pikachu instead. No one else had any experience with the… what was it Chrom called them? Pocket monsters?
Meta Knight had awoken not long afterwards and lead another couple of the monks to Dedede. Apparently, the King had been poisoned, and while he had something resembling an antidote in him he hadn't been in the greatest shape an hour ago.
Emmeryn left her room as soon as the Shepherds had assured her it was safe. She had been talking to several people on the other side of the hall, but Lissa was concentrating too hard on making sure her brother was healed to hear what she was talking about. She didn't even notice Emmeryn standing above her and calling her name until she received a small shake.
The sound of her sister's voice made her pause. Lissa turned around to see the Exalt in all her glory. Lissa barely noticed Phila wasn't nearby, likely elsewhere in the room trying to organize the mess of that night. Emmeryn's hair was a mess, and her crown was hastily thrown on and off-center. Lissa could almost make out dark circles, and bloodshot eyes. Tears? But Emm doesn't…
The Exalt smiled at her.
"Chrom is stable?" Emm asked. Lissa smiled. Emm breathed out. "Good. If something had happened to either of you…"
"Your Grace," Robin started from the floor. "Forgive my informality, but are you okay? This has been a trying night."
"For more than just me, I know. You… don't look well either, Robin," The Exalt said, her eyes flicking towards his arm. Robin frowned.
"Yeah…" Robin agreed. "Still, we're all alive. That wasn't part of their plan."
The Exalt hummed noncommittally. "I talked to one of our unexpected allies. Panne, was her name."
"The… taguel, was it?" Robin raised a brow. Emmeryn nodded. "And?"
"Our healers are helping her now. Personal friends of mine, and the highest members of their order. When her wounds are recovered, Panne shall be joining you and my brother, when everyone has recovered."
Robin knew there was no saying no to that, even if he had any desire to. He hadn't talked to her himself, but even Lissa had seen what she was capable of. Sure, it was from a safe distance, but even just the aftermath said more than enough.
"Thank you, Your Grace. I'll let Chrom know when he wakes up. We'll need to talk about our next move soon though."
As if hearing what he said, a woman appeared in the hall, a wing in her red hair. Her eyes went wide at the scene before her before she approached the Exalt. Lissa recognized her to be Cordelia a Pegasus Knight, but… wasn't she supposed to be patrolling the border?
"Your Grace!" Cordelia stood tall and saluted, despite clearly being tired. "Cordelia reporting in!"
"A report from the border?" Phila seemed to materialize behind the younger knight. "What happened?"
"The Plegians are marching this way! They…" Cordelia's voice broke. "My sisters are gone… I'm all that's left."
The Pegasus Knight tried her hard to clamp down on her emotions. Lissa was confident enough in her healing of Pikachu to drop her staff and grab hold of the knight in a hug.
"I'm so, so sorry."
Cordelia couldn't hold back, and no decorum was going to stop the flow of tears.
"You slipped up in there Marth," Roland said on the outskirts of town.
"I know," Marth answered. "I'm not getting another mask. No point now that they've seen my face."
"Not that," Roland shook his head. "You… well, you called him Father."
Marth cringed. "No one noticed."
"Someone will bring it up. Next time they see us… someone will ask about it."
Marth sighed. Emmeryn was still alive, though. They wouldn't need to be seen again in Ylisse. They'd just monitor the situation for a while and once the war was over, they could get a ship out of Ylisse.
She didn't have to see her parents leave again, that was already enough.
"Easy, your Greatness!" Bandana Dee said, walking ahead of Dedede and the monks supporting him.
"Hush it, ya little…" Dedede yawned into the face of one of the monk's, making the monk's nose twitch.
"Just get to bed, Dedede," Meta Knight said.
They walked quietly through the halls. Meta Knight had caught the King up on what had happened, only getting a grumble in answer. That Dedede was almost speaking sentences again should have been a good sign, except… I'm too tired to deal with Dedede right now.
They reached his quarters without much incident. The Palace in its entirety was a mess. Servants, assassins, and guards were dead in random halls, though the most damage had been around the Exalt's chambers.
"Thanks for th' help," Dedede muttered, breaking off the monks and pushing into his room. They moved to protest, but Meta Knight and Bandana Dee both stopped them. Before they could explain, there was a scream from inside the quarters, and both Dreamlanders burst through the doors.
The room was in tip top condition. Dedede was standing in the middle of the room, His hands on either side of his head.
"Dedede…" Meta Knight growled, but Dedede didn't hear him.
"It's gone!" Dedede said. Meta Knight's eyes narrowed.
"The star!" Dedede pointed at the desk. Sure enough, the crystalline star that Dedede had bought from Regna Ferox was gone. In its place was a note. Meta Knight didn't recognize the handwriting.
Thank the Hierarch for letting us in.
Sincerely, The Hierophant.
The Hierophant whistled as he walked alone on the roads of Ylisse. Ylisstol was already miles behind him. Validar was probably dead by now, too. Sure, they didn't get the Fire Emblem. It would've been nice to have, but he had years to wait for that. No, far more important was what he held in his coat. The moonlight reflected off the crystalline gem in his pocket, and he smiled.
He reached up his sleeve and pulled out a piece of folded parchment. He unfolded it to reveal a map. It was an unusual map, not to mention largely inaccurate. He knew well enough the ocean between Ylisse and the Kingdoms was far larger than the map portrayed them. Still, he'd have to make the journey eventually.
Where Ylisstol stood on the map, it was blown up in proportion to everything else, appearing to take up most of Ylisse. Over the Ylissean Palace was an image of the very Crystal Star in his pocket.
Looking at the word count, if I wasn't horrible at writing schedules this absolutely could've all been part of the last chapter. Still, that's six months extra I would've been gone. It's basically been the entire Smash Ultimate hype cycle, minus E3! But first the chapter itself.
As I said last chapter, this entire sequence has been very difficult to write. Partially because I'm trying really hard not to make it just a retread of Awakening's story, and because this chapter is a major break-off point for the story. The level in Awakening that came immedaitely after this chapter - that one with the wyverns and the reinforcements that spawn on top of your healers - is being entirely removed from this story for a smaller example. For a bigger example... Validar is very dead. I want that to be clear, in no uncertain terms. The other really big difference... being the ending.
In relation to Ultimate and this story, I'll say right now that yes. I'll use the new characters introduced, and their worlds in some way. That was always my intention. Really changed how I saw all of the reveals actually, since for me I always had this story in mind when a character was announced. I basically reacted three times to all of them: Once when I saw who was being announced, once when I saw how they played, and again when I considered their place in World of Dragons. Some, like King K Rool or especially Chrom, already have a place in the story. Others, like Dark Samus, got me excited for their Smash appearance and all but HOW DO I WRITE THAT THING?!
And then there's Joker. Fun fact, this chapter's working title has long been Destiny By Blood, after a track on the Fire Emblem Fates soundtrack. That would have been perfectly serviceable a title and I still might use it down the line, but... I need to start integrating Persona 5 everything ASAP because this is the most excited I've been for a character since they announced Ike back on the Brawl Dojo. I bought the Fighters Pass immediately, because I'd absolutely have spent $25 on Joker alone, everything else is just a bonus afterwards.
Simon and Richter are the two I know the least about, but what little I do know makes their appearance very appealing. I'll need to learn a lot about Castlevania when it comes time, though, so if anyone has any good resources for the game series that doesn't involve trying to find + beat a bunch of the games, I'd love it if you could pass that along.
Isabelle's announcement made me smile, and her inclusion actually inspired a change to what I want to do with Villager too. Ken is just gonna be where Ryu was gonna be, so that hasn't changed much either. Piranha Plant was one of the funniest things ever, and I love that Plant already. He'll at least get a one-off gag role in this story, though probably nothing bigger than that.
Incineroar wasn't Decidueye, so I guess I need to get a Litten in here too. Both Bandana Dee and the Rowlet Virion got, I included because I thought they would be shoe-ins for the next Smash game. Shows what I know. (Yet Chrom made it in. If I pretend hard enough, can I say I called him?) I had been a little disappointed at first, but that goofy wrestling cat has so much personality in game that I can't stay mad. Not because I don't want to, but because I fear it will make him stronger. Already know which Shepherd's getting him, so no suggestions necessary.
Since someone did ask, in Smash 4 I dual-mained Pikachu and Donkey Kong. In Ultimate, I'm still experimenting, but I'm liking Pichu, Falco, Inkling, Mega Man, Bowser... Basically everyone but Lucario. No, that's not why I gave Lucario to the bad guys. I'll narrow my main down in time, or when Piranha Plant/Joker comes out.
Though no one asked, the most realistic DLC characters I'm hoping for are Porky Minch and Banjo-Kazooie. Less realistically... I want Master Chief, The Knight/Vessel from Hollow Knight and Solaire. I'm also half expecting Sans or Papyrus from Undertale, and that'll be the funniest thing because people are going to get way too mad about it.
That... covers most of what I needed to say. Thanks for reading
Oh, and Happy New Year.