A/N: Merry Christmas, and welcome back! You know, I really tried to leave this story behind, tried to let everyone have their happy endings, but then I had to go and think about what everyone's kids would be doing when they grew up, and then the story just started to write itself. So good news for you guys, we're going on another adventure- but not with the Shepherds and heroes of SAO that we're familiar with.

This is the story of the next generation of Shepherds rising to take up the standard in defending their world! The OG Shepherds and SAO survivors will make some appearances, but for the most part they will not take an active part in this story. Instead, the new group will consist of some familiar faces with new names, such as Chrom and Sumia's daughters, Lilina and Celica (the current timeline's Lucina and Cynthia, in case you were wondering), and some all-new characters, like Robin and Lucina's grandchildren, Oliver and Kiara. If you haven't, make sure you go back to Fire Sword and read chapter 52, To The Future, in order get yourself familiar with these new characters among others. Just for a bit of context, though, this new group are all aged about 17-20 years old.

I will likely be releasing chapters for this story about once a month or so (maybe, hopefully). In any case, enjoy your Christmas present from your's truly, and be sure to go check out the other stories I updated today, Saiyan Tail, and The Red Swordsman: Shattered Fragment.

Also, if you haven't already, subscribe to me on YouTube at NotYourAverage Productions in order to get access to the early release of this story via audio chapters, read by me!

Please read, review, and most importantly, enjoy!


"This is a terrible idea."

"This is an excellent idea."

"No, it's just the only one you could think of," the first speaker huffed as she tapped her foot on the ground impatiently. She was a slightly built young woman with long blue hair and armed with a two-handed sword.

Her companion gave her an easy smile as she patted her own sword hanging from her waist, saying, "Look, Grandpa says that as long as you have plans A, B, and C, you're good to go." She too wore dark blue hair, though hers was much shorter than her companion's.

It had often been remarked that the two of them looked like sisters, with their nearly identical builds, alabaster skin tones, and similar face shapes.

"Okay then, 'Tactician," interrupted a young male voice as the owner crossed his arms and gave them both a slightly annoyed look. "What are plans, A, B, and C?" He was dressed head-to-toe in black that matched his longish raven locks, complete with a pitch-black sword strapped to his back.

"Questioning a superior officer?" the first girl said with an impish grin. "That's not tolerable, is it, Lieutenant Lilina?"

"No, indeed, Tactician Kiara," the girl with the two-handed sword agreed. "I do believe that this soldier needs to be given appropriate punishment for his actions."

The black-garbed young man's cheeks burned as both girls grinned predatorily at him. "Okay, I know you're just having some fun at my expense, but you're starting to cross the 'creepy' border…" he said nervously as he backed up a pace before realizing that he was standing on a cliff, and they were lots of potentially sharp rocks beneath the roiling ocean waves that were crashing against the natural barrier.

"Wow, Mako has two beauties like us threatening him with a good time, and he calls us creepy?" Lilina sniggered. "Rude."

"Seriously, why did you guys call me up here?" the boy demanded. "I really hope it wasn't just to make me incredibly uncomfortable…"

"You wanna know what plan A is, at least?" Kiara replied, dropping the whole 'clueless girl' act she'd been putting on. With a hard gleam in her eyes as she stared down at the coastal fishing village, dressed in a coat reminiscent of her grandfather's infamous garb, she looked every bit the Shepherd's Tactician that she was supposed to be.

"Please do," Mako said with an audible sigh of relief.

The three of them were trying to figure out how to approach a village where a child had gone missing recently, the first in a group of several neighboring settlements. It was their first assignment without the direct supervision of their parents, the fabled Shepherd Warriors that had slain the Fell Dragon, Grima. It was a big legacy to live up to, so the group of young men and women were only too happy to try and get their bearings in a backwater assignment like this one.

Kiara was the ranking officer in their little militia, and Lilina, the Crown Princess of the Halidom of Ylisse, was her second-in-command. Many would have thought it odd, a lowborn girl giving the orders, but Kiara had proven herself against some pretty high standards set by her grandfather, the man who had slain Grima twenty years prior.

In addition to the three of them, there were about a dozen other young Shepherds, all of them in their late teens and early twenties. Some were fighters, others healers, and a couple of them were even royalty, both foreign and domestic.

"Plan A is that we send two pairs into town, one to talk to the locals as travelers just passing through, and one to interview the parents directly, as Shepherds," Kiara explained as they all took stock of the village they would be investigating. "I'm thinking Altman and Gilbert can handle the locals since they look the most unassuming out of any of us."

"Pity any chap that thinks that about Gil," Mako chuckled. Gilbert was the son of Lord Ricken and Lady Suguha, happened to be Mako's cousin, and might have been the strongest wind mage the country had seen in generations. At age seventeen, he was already a master of the incredibly lethal Rexcalibur spell, a magic that most mages could spend years training for, yet never master. His Sylph wings only added to his considerable power and talent.

Oh, wait…

"We're sure the guy with giant green fairy wings is the one we want to send in?" Lilina argued, echoing Mako's thoughts.

"He has a cloak he can put over them," Kiara retorted, the blue Undine wings that she had inherited from her mother buzzing slightly in irritation. "Problem solved."

"I still think that he's too high-profile," Lilina argued.

"Gil can handle it," Mako interjected, shoving aside his doubts. "Besides, if I were in Altman's shoes, I'd feel a lot better knowing that I've got one of our best battle mages next to me." Altman, the son of Brady and Noire from the apocalyptic futures ruined by Grima, was perhaps one of the weediest and sickly human beings ever born. Ironically, his skills in the healing arts were only surpassed by Princess Lissa, his father, and of course, the Royal Healer, Yui Kirigaya.

"Okay, so that's team one," Lilina said. "Who's going in team two?"

"Part of why I called Mako up here," Kiara answered. "He and one other person can handle the parents of the child that's gone missing. I'm just having an issue figuring out who to send with him."

"Kerry?" Lilina suggested. "They could do good guard, bad guard." The tougher-than-steel daughter of Sully and Stahl was an imposing figure in her hulking armor, just like her future counterpart, Kjelle.

"I dunno…" Mako said as he jerked his head over his shoulder, indicating his black Spriggan wings. "They might jump to the conclusion of bad guard, bad guard. People that don't know me usually think that I'm a demon first time we meet."

"They loved you in Regna Ferox," Kiara countered.

"That's Ferox, these are normal people," Mako deadpanned.

"Fair point," the blue-haired tactician shrugged. "Then how about Ignacio?"

"This place is going to have several girls that are of age who have never met him before," Lilina said with a negative shake of her head. "He'd spend the whole time trying to convince them to grab a cup of tea with him."

"We are running out of options rather quickly here," Mako pointed out.

"You're free to suggest someone," Kiara shrugged.

"I think… Celica," he answered at length. "Yes, she'd be a good partner to bring along."

"We are talking about my sister, right?" Lilina asked dubiously. "Trips over air? Nearly speared herself rolling out of bed this morning?"

"That's the one," Mako grinned brightly. "Look, if I'm going to be playing 'bad guard', which I really doubt I can pull off, if I'm being honest- Celica is the perfect candidate to counterbalance."

"I don't know about this…" Kiara said with a slight grimace. "Lilina does make a good point… She could well end up gutting someone if she tried to hug them."

"She's trained just as hard as we have for this kind of thing, give her a chance," Mako said. "Look, if you're really against her going, I'll ask Oliver if he will accompany me. But I think it would be a good confidence booster for her if we pull this off."

"Why does she need a confidence booster?" Lilina asked with a slight frown.

"Come on, you guys are the leaders, you should know your troops," Mako chuckled a bit.

Kiara and Lilina exchanged a glance, the princess shrugging when she failed to come up with an answer. "She's your sister, Lilina," the tactician said with a small sigh. "She's been in your shadow since the two of you could pick up practice weapons, and beyond that, the shadow of Lucina and Cynthia. Mako is saying- and now I agree with him- that this would be a good first step toward her coming into her own."

"Oh," Lilina muttered, her cheeks coloring a bit. "Well, when you put it that way, then yeah, take Celica with you."

"All right," the black-garbed swordsman grinned. "So, Altman and Gilbert ask the townsfolk what's what while keeping a low profile, meanwhile Celica and I go to have a chat with the missing girl's parents as Shepherds. I miss anything?"

"Nope," Kiara chirped. "Go and let them know to get their stuff together, Lilina and I will be along in a few moments."

"Yes ma'am," Mako said with a mock salute as he walked away, back toward the camp the Shepherds had set up.

Once he was away and out of earshot, Lilina sighed and muttered, "Kind of wish I could go with him instead of Celica."

"Yeah, but I need my top lieutenant handy in case I need my orders delivered to the troops," Kiara grinned evilly.

"I'm starting to think that half the reason you asked me to take this job was to keep an eye on your rival," Lilina replied with a matching smirk.

"I don't have a rival, because there is no competition," the tactician replied. "Lady Yui made that abundantly clear." The two of them shuddered slightly as they remembered the threats that the elder Kirigaya sibling had delivered them the last time that they had argued over Mako.

"Seriously though, we need to sort out whatever this is between us and him," Lilina argued. "We're good when it comes to planning the mission and all that, but it's gotten rather awkward around the dinner fires, haven't you noticed? I hate that."

"I know," Kiara sighed. "I'm just trying to do my job and focus on the mission right now, though. I want this situation resolved just as much- if not more- than you do. But we can't force him to like either of us. I'd prefer to focus on the things that we can affect right now, like maybe saving some kids from a potential slaver's gang."

"I hate having things unresolved," Lilina grumbled as they began walking back to camp at a leisurely pace.

"Like father, like daughter," her friend grinned.

"And what'll the rest of us be doing, seeing as we're not good enough to go into town, apparently?" Elizabeth huffed, crossing her arms petulantly.

"Look, I'm not the commanding officer here, take it up with her," Mako replied, shooting the redhead daughter of Klein and Cordelia an annoyed look. "I'm not the one coming up with the plan, I'm just following orders."

"Of course you're happy following orders," the girl shot back. "You're Kiara's favorite."

Mako reddened rapidly, the fact that the newest Shepherd's tactician held feelings for him still a sore point, seeing as he didn't know if he reciprocated those feelings or not. Not to mention his relationship with Elizabeth had never been a good one, so there was already plenty of tension in the air between them.

"That's enough out of you, Elizabeth," Oliver said sternly, interposing himself between the two young warriors. "Unless you want a repeat of our last sparring session, I suggest you stand down."

The girl flushed angrily, but she dared not lash out at Oliver. Even when compared to Odin and Lilina, the boy was peerless in martial combat, armed or otherwise, and he had little tolerance for insubordination. The fact that she was a girl meant nothing to their group, either- if you were a member of the Shepherds, you were an equal, which could work either way.

"Just sayin…" she eventually muttered, turning to stomp her way over to the mess tent.

Mako breathed a huge sigh of relief and turned to his comrade, saying, "Thank you."

"No problem," Oliver grinned. "She's just not used to being away from her family, is all. I'm sure she'll warm up to us in time."

"She's already hot stuff, so there's no need to wait for her to get warm," Ignacio smirked, staring after the fiery girl. "One day, I swear I will get her to get that cup of tea with me…"

"When pigs sprout alf wings," Gilbert, a young man with dark hair and blue eyes, remarked as he turned the page on a book he was studying. Emerald wings on his back floated gently in the mid-afternoon breeze, giving him a dignified appearance.

"My determination transcends common sense!" Ignacio replied unabashed.

"Yet your day-to-day habits fall below it," Gilbert remarked dryly.

"Why, you…!"

"Er-hem!" Kiara coughed as she and Lilina walked into the camp. "Have the others been briefed?"

"Elizabeth is currently torching some undeserving shrubs while the rest of us were illustrating to Ignacio his poor choice of habits," the Sylph boy answered, still not looking up from his book. "I'm sure you can guess what has occurred based on that."

"Excellent, then let's get you four going," Lilina ordered. Mako, Altman, Celica, and Gilbert all nodded and made their way over to the supply tent, where they would grab their weapons and any other supplies that they would need. Lilina's rambunctious sister could be heard bubbling over with excitement about her first official mission as a fully-fledged Shepherd.

Mako was right, she needs this, the princess thought with a small sigh.

"Is it really wise to risk one of our two healers like this?" Yinne asked nervously as he watched them go. "If I die along the way, you're going to owe my entire species a massive apology…" Brian- one of said healers- snorted in derision as he returned his attention to a poultice he had been making.

"You sure you're not part chicken?" Teela, the group's manakete teased her friend. "I mean, you look like a rabbit, but you really sound like a chicken."

"Says the one whose race isn't on the verge of dying out!" Yinne whined. Like his future counterpart, he had inherited a very acute fear that he would be the last of his taguel bloodline.

"He will be if he doesn't toughen up!" Kerry, a rather muscular girl in heavy armor declared as she cuffed the half-taguel around the neck, prompting him to squawk with alarm. "C'mon, bunny boy, show me what you got!"

"Put him down, Kerry," Kiara ordered in a tone that brooked no argument. "He's part of my plan for this town, and I need him healthy." The tomboy muttered something unintelligible but acquiesced, both to the relief and apprehension of her victim.

"P-Plan?" Yinne repeated nervously. "What plan? I'm not good with plans, don't plan with me in the plan!"

The young Shepherds entered the town in their assigned pairs about fifteen minutes apart. Mako and Celica went in first, identifying themselves as Shepherds to the town's guard, and gaining easy access. The watchman even went so far as to give them directions to the establishment they were seeking.

"The Thompsons' is two streets down, take a left, then at the end of the path," the man said as he indicated the direction they should go. "Careful, though. Bergan's a mean man, not gotten much better with his daughter gone missing."

Mako paused, wondering if it was wise to divulge the nature of their visit, then reached a compromise. "Was he close to her?" he prompted. "His daughter, I mean." He suspected otherwise, but he would rather have an idea before going to meet the family.

"That man's only close to his drink," the watchman snorted. "He's been put in a cell a few times too many for my liking. His wife isn't much better, to be honest. Sometimes I wonder if they even remember that they have a kid."

"I see," Mako mused as he exchanged a glance with Celica, whose mouth was compressed into a thin line of disapproval. She said nothing though, since they had agreed that he would do the talking while they were in town, at least until they made it to the Thompson residence.

He thanked the guard for his cooperation, then set off toward the indicated house with Celica by his side. "What do you think?" he asked in a low voice once they were out of earshot.

"I'm starting to wonder if we're even going to need a 'good guard," the girl replied with an uncharacteristic frown. Normally, she was incredibly cheerful and upbeat, but this news about the neglected child seemed to have her spirits lowered. "These sound like really bad people, Mako."

"Well, that's where Shepherds like us find their work," the boy grinned with a hint of dark humor. "After all, what good would we be if there weren't any wolves to keep away from our flock?" He gave a friendly wave to some passing townsfolk, who repeated the gesture politely, a little boy staring in fascination at his dark wings before being scooped up by his mother, who whispered to him in urgent tones.

"Still makes me mad," the girl replied to his question, gripping her spear a little tighter as they rounded the corner.

"Yeah," he sighed. "Me too."

They reached the door to the house they were seeking less than a minute after that. It was easy to tell which one it was- aside from being the last house on the left, there were bottles and random pieces of junk lying strewn about the yard. The house itself looked to be in bad repair, with holes in the roof, cracked masonry, even a shattered window through which arguing could be heard.

"Are we sure she didn't just run away?" Celica volunteered as they studied the scene. "I know I would."

"Yeah…" Mako said with a frown. "You would… But there's too many other missing people for this to be a coincidence. I think that if there was a kidnapping attempt, you'd want to pick the kid that's most likely to leave on their own, if they had the chance."

"Makes sense," Celica nodded grimly. "Are we still gonna go say hello?"

"Might as well, since we're here," Mako grinned mischievously.

"I can't believe that a town of this size does not possess a book shop," Gilbert muttered, almost sounding offended as he and his comrade stood in the middle of the town square. His wings would have likely buzzed to accentuate his mood, but they were covered and tightly folded against his back by a combination of a large cloak and sash.

"Eh, what book could they have out here that they don't have at the library back home?" Altman, his companion, replied. He was a thin boy with light brown hair and a plain-looking face that let him slip through people's memories quite easily.

"I find different regional variations on the old legends fascinating," Gilbert shrugged. "They can never seem to agree on which nation the Prince Corrin sided with- Nohr, or Hoshido. Some tales even tell the story as Corrin being a woman."

"I'd have pegged you more for a textbook scholar than a lover of fictions," the healer replied with a bit of surprise.

"I find that both have their time and place in life," Gilbert said. "On the one hand, there is so much we can learn about the world around us; things that make us appreciate even the little parts of our day even more. On the other, we can also stand to learn some of those same lessons from people who do not even exist. I often wonder which teacher is more effective, though…"

"Probably depends on the person," Altman said as he indicated a fruit stall and started walking towards it. "Myself, I prefer cold, hard facts. But take someone like Odin…"

"I honesty doubt that man has ever read anything other than his family tree and Sir Robin's accounts of the wars our parents fought in," Gilbert said dryly, though there was a hint of smile on his face as he spoke.

"We're a weird gaggle of people, aren't we?" Altman grinned back.

"It would hardly be interesting otherwise," the Sylph boy replied. "Now, let's see if anyone here knows about this missing 'Elaine' girl…"

Mako banged on the door three times, loudly. "Open up," he called in his best authoritative tone. "We're on business with the Ylissean Shepherds."

"Melissa… go see who's who," a man slurred from inside the house. "The door's… dancin'… an moving away from me reach…"

"You're closer, you see who it is!" a woman's voice shouted waspishly. "I'm busy!"

"Don' talk to me that way, woman!" the man roared back, accompanied by the sound of crashing furniture. "First that girl runs off, an' now you think you can jus' talk back…?! Time… hic… for a lesson in who's in charge around here!"

"I think we've heard enough," Celica said as she leveled her spear at the door.

"Indeed," Mako said, a mixture of sadness and anger equally present in his tone. He hated seeing broken families like this- torn apart when there was every opportunity for them to be at peace with one another.

Nevertheless, they were warriors of the law, and they had a duty to uphold.

Wham! Crash!

Mako's boot broke through the door, splitting it roughly down the middle and sending the pieces flying inside the entrance. The two occupants stared dumbly from where they stood as a young man with black wings and a girl armed with a fine-looking spear came into their common room, both looking very cross.

The man and woman were both dressed, though in garments that looked and smelled like they hadn't had a good wash in weeks. Both of their necks and cheeks were flushed from the effects of too much alcohol, and their movements were sluggish. They had to lean heavily on the pine wood dining table just to maintain their balance.

"Why…?" the man slurred, staring at the remnants of his door. "Why'd… you have to go an'… break my door? That was a nice door… My da gave me that door…"

"The correct response when soldiers come to your house is not to yell at your wife to get the door," Mako replied, his voice deceptively calm. "If you're any kind of man, you come and answer it yourself."

"If we're pointing out things that this guy has done wrong, let's start with how his daughter has been missing, and we only found out about it because she didn't show up for her basic training," Celica said with an overtly bright smile that never reached her eyes.

"Who're… What happens in this house… is my bunisess, none a yers!" The man suddenly reared back exaggeratedly, a large bottle of what looked to be whiskey in his hand. He threw it as hard as he could at Celica, but his aim was completely off, and the bottle simply sailed out the remains of the broken window that Mako had noticed earlier. "Hey… shtop movin'…" the man complained.

"Excellent idea," Mako said as he put his boot up on the table between them, a look of contempt etched into his face. "Stop moving." He exerted a sudden burst of force on the table, shoving it into the couple, causing them both to stumble back and vomit on themselves as their stomachs were upset by the unexpected contact.

"Ugh…" Celica winced. "Did'ja have to do that? It smelled bad enough before."

"Sorry," he apologized to his comrade as the two older adults looked up at them dumbly, fear finally beginning to show in their eyes. "But I think now we can get things moving along."

"G-Guard!" the woman suddenly screamed. "Robbers! Robbers!" Mako moved fast, leaping over the table and placing an iron grip on the woman's face, grimacing as his hand came into contact with bile.

"Don't do that again," he warned them. "I don't want to hurt you any more than I already have, but I will if I must." He released the woman's mouth, keeping his warning glare fixed on her as he said over his shoulder, "Celica, if anyone comes through that door, make sure they know who we are- without violence, if at all possible."

"You're the one kicking stuff," she replied, but turned to do as he had asked.

"Now…" the boy said as he shifted his gaze over to the man, who was flushed angrily. "What do you know about your daughter's disappearance?"

"I don't gotta tell you nothing," the man said, attempting to spit in Mako's eye, but only managing to drool a little bit.

"Actually, you do," Mako replied, his voice growing hard again. "I'm normally not one for harsh treatment, but you two are forcing my hand here. So here's how it's going to be…" He began raising a finger for every point that he rattled off as he said, "One, I'm a Shepherd, which gives me the right to demand information concerning the wellbeing of one of the Halidom's citizens. Two, your refusal to cooperate can be translated as an obstruction of justice, which means I'm well within my power to throw you both in a cell right now. Three, you failed to report that your daughter had gone missing some weeks ago, which is grounds for twenty years in jail for child neglect. Four, you have tried to attack two officers of the law, another crime punishable by jail time. And five…" As his thumb was extended, he turned the motion into a backhanded slap that he delivered to the man, his face growing even more grim, he added, "Disorderly conduct while drunk. That last one's not exactly a capital offence, but put 'em all together, and I'm just pissed off. Now, tell me what I want to know, and I'll see to it that you only get charged for child neglect and drunkenness, the both of you."

The woman spat back something incredibly un-lady-like, causing Mako's eyebrow to shoot up. "Okay, we're wasting our time here," he said with a deep sigh. Wiping his hand on the woman's sleeve, he stood up to go, saying over his shoulder, "We're going to go save your daughter- not that you seem to give a damn. As for you two, enjoy this fresh air." He gestured to the broken door and added, "You'll get little enough of that in prison for the next fifty years. Oh, and I hear the booze in prison is actual piss in a tankard. Have fun with that."

"You'll… hear from our lawman!" the man grunted as he stood heavily, shoving his wife off of him. "You're… You're gonna buh… be sorry!"

"I already am," Mako said under his breath as he stepped out of the small house, his heart heavy. "No child should have to live like that…"

"You coulda been a little nicer," Celica pointed out as she greeted him in the yard.

"I know I should have been, it's just…" Mako closed his eyes against the new memories of a house that no child could truly call their home. "I'm normally better at keeping my temper in control, but when kids are the victims, it's… It's just wrong, you know?"

"Yeah…" Celica nodded somberly. "I know I'm an actual princess, but every little girl should be treated by their dad like they are his princess, right?"


"Well, this was a bust," Altman sighed as he and Gilbert walked out of town. "I guess covert ops are out for you and me, huh?"

"I'd say it was a success," the shorter man said with a bright smile. "Who knew they had the complete works of Walhart's ideology in a backwater like this?!"

"Some Anna probably sold it to 'em a few months back," Altman guessed. "I can't believe you bought that. The man is very dead, and he was very mistaken in his chosen path, as history shows us."

"Know thine enemy," Gilbert shrugged. "Besides, dead or not, he was a brilliant fighter, and I feel I could learn some things from his beliefs."

"The first hint of you trying to abolish Naga's teachings, and I'll show you that my staves ain't just for healing," Altman warned him half-jokingly.

"Fair enough," the Sylph mage chuckled.

Mako and Celica returned to camp with dejected looks on their faces, so Lilina went to debrief them. "Celica, are you alright?" she asked her sister.

"Yeah, just not feeling too heroic right now," the girl admitted as she set her spear next to a log by the fire that Oliver was building. "That was a lot rougher than I thought it would be."

"What happened?" Lilina asked, slightly alarmed by her dispirited appearance.

"The parents were total scum wads," Mako muttered sourly as he sat by Celica. "Honestly, if not for the fact that there are several other kids missing under similar circumstances, I'd have said that this kid just ran away. We had the town watch arrest the parents on multiple counts of neglect and attempted assault."

"Who did they attack?" Lilina asked, her eyes wide. "Surely not…"

"They didn't hurt either of us, we're fine," Mako said quickly. "They were drunk- very drunk. They were more likely to hurt themselves than us. But if a kid was around that all the time…"

"When we recover this kid, we need to find her a good home," Celica said as she clenched her fists tightly. "We can't just take her back to that house- there's nothing left for her there."

"Perhaps Sir Libra's orphanage?" Oliver suggested. "The children there seem quite happy whenever I've visited."

"That's a good idea," Kiara said as she approached. "I'll send word by messenger pigeon for him to expect a newcomer in a few weeks."

"I'd hold off on that, at least until we visit the next town," Mako said before she could add anything else. "If these kids are being kidnapped like we suspect, then it would stand to reason that bandits would target kids like this Elaine girl. If that's the case, we're looking at over two-dozen abused children that will need a new home."

"You don't know that they're all like that," Oliver said with a frown. "It's too early to draw any conclusions."

"Which is why I want to hold off on Kiara's message until we have more information," Mako explained. "Let's establish a pattern, then send word."

"That's speaking my language," Gilbert said as he and Altman strode into camp. "What did we miss?"

"The parents were no help, pretty sure the girl would have run away if she had the chance," Kiara summarized.

"Yeah, that sounds right," Altman nodded as he sat on another log, idly scratching his back as he did. "The only thing we could seem to get outta the locals is that the Thompsons are no-good drunks that live on his dead father's pension."

"Dead father?" Lilina inquired.

"Yeah, the man's dad was one of the men that went to war in Valm under Grandpa Robin's command," the healer replied. "He died in the battle for Fort Steiger." After the war against Valm, Chrom implemented a law that saw some tax money returned to families that had lost their men and women to the conflicts. It wasn't a great amount for those families, but he hoped that it would make their lives a little easier as they tried to get by without their loved ones.

"Sounds like his son never recovered from that," Oliver muttered quietly.

Mako frowned, looking sharply over at his friend as he asked, "Are you trying to defend that man?"

"No, just empathizing," the swordsman said with a negative shake of his head. "I'm not saying that the Thompsons have made any good life choices, but I can't imagine what it must be like to lose your father to a war you never wanted in the first place. It seems like even though the world is at peace, there are those that have not come to terms with what has been taken from them."

"I suppose…" Mako murmured, his mind flashing with images of another young Spriggan with dark wings, sword bloodied and a bestial smile on his face.

"Something on your mind, Mako?" Gilbert asked his cousin, and not unkindly.

The black-garbed warrior gave him a strained smile and replied, "Nothing important, Gil. Just some nightmares that keep bothering me."

The other boy raised an eyebrow but did not comment on the matter any further. Instead, he turned to Lilina and said, "I notice that Yinne is absent from our numbers. Has he gone off somewhere?"

"He's plan B," Kiara answered with a grin. "He and Teela are headed to the town to check out the house after dark."

"Why after dark?" Mako inquired.

"There's less people around to confuse his nose than during the day," Lilina answered. "Apparently the last place Elaine was seen was at her house, so if he can scent the people that took her, we might be able to establish a trail from there. Either way, they'll report back here once they've finished investigating her house and the area around the town walls."

"I don't like that you let my boyfriend go off without me," said a new voice, its owner striding up to the group around the campfire with an annoyed expression on their face. "Especially with another girl."

"Relax, Minerva," Kiara said with another bright grin as she turned to face the daughter of Princess Cynthia and Sir Gerome. "I couldn't exactly send you along with him, seeing as you were in the middle of patrol duty."

The other girl scowled, her dark blue eyes narrowing while her arms crossed as she muttered, "I wouldn't have volunteered if I knew you had plans for him. You know how he gets nervous in the field!" Like her mother, she was a shorter woman, slender in build, though her reddish-brown hair was reminiscent of her father and grandfather.

"Yinne is a Shepherd, and he will need to face his share of dangers along the way," Oliver said, keeping his tone reasonable. "You and Pina can't be there to bail him out of trouble every time, you know."

"Besides, I hardly think that a giant Wyvern would be very accommodating on a trip to a small town like that one," Altman pointed out.

"Do you want to find out just how unaccommodating she can be?" Minerva asked threateningly as she turned to face the weedy healer. Like her father, and grandmother before her, she rode a wyvern into battle, and held a connection with her mount equivalent to that of a pegasus and its knight. Her familiar in particular had originally been friends with Lady Silica, one of Sir Kirito's old friends, but had been forced to remain behind in Ylisse while the girl went back to her home world.

"I hardly think that a Wyvern Pina's size would get much of a meal out of Altman," Gilbert said as he opened up a new book he had apparently purchased while in town.

"Much as I want to be mad at that, he's right," the young man muttered. "I ain't exactly the biggest source of protein around."

"She can always use a toothpick," Minerva replied with a cold smile.

"Enough," Kiara said sternly. For a moment, she wondered how her aunt and grandfather had handled so many different personalities to form such effective groups during the early days of the Shepherds.

"Yinne will be fine," Lilina said confidently. "Even if he tends to shy away from combat, Teela has no issues with it."

"Also, there's the whole 'turning into a fire-breathing dragon' bit she has going on," Gilbert said absently, engrossed his book. "I'm sure they'll be fine. There isn't a lot that a manakete can't handle."

Later that night, Kiara found herself pacing beside the dying embers of the fire. The Shepherds at the camp had made and consumed their dinners, talked among themselves, sparred a little bit, then turned in for the night, with the exception of the Tactician, and the two members on night patrol, Elizabeth and Odin.

They should have come back half an hour ago, the girl thought nervously. Auntie says to give them an hour in situations like this, but something just doesn't feel right to me… I hope they're all right.

"Damn it all!"

The sudden shout startled Kiara enough so that she jumped about fifteen feet off the ground and stayed there with her sword drawn, hovering on her Undine wings. It wasn't until the initial surprise wore off that she looked down to see a pale figure dressed in black stomping out of one of the tents, something gripped tightly in both of their hands.

Mako? She wondered as she quietly sheathed her sword. What is he doing up so late? His shift isn't until the pre-dawn.

Even as she watched, the Spriggan boy stalked over to the remains of the fire, snatched up a rod that they had used to stir up the flames earlier, and began poking at the coals, apparently trying to get a fire going again. She began to descend quietly, hoping to get a better look at what it was that he was doing. So far the only thing that seemed clear was that he was upset, or angry.

In the hand not currently stabbing at the coals with some measure of aggression was a small, leather bound notebook. Is he going to burn that? She thought. She supposed that if he wanted to dispose of his own property, then what he was doing was none of her business. Yet of course, as all humans would be in her situation, she was curious, which wound up getting the best of her.

"What's that?" she asked quietly.

"Augh!" the boy yelped spinning around so fast it was a wonder his head didn't fly off. "Kiara!" he gasped, clutching the book to his chest. "Don't do that- you scared ten years off of me!"

"Sorry, that wasn't my intention," she said, making a point of keeping her voice lowered. "To be fair, though, your shouting did the same thing to me a moment ago."

"Oh, well… sorry about that," he muttered sheepishly. "I was just, ah… Nightmare again."

"Ah," she replied noncommittally. Then she couldn't help but add, "I know it's probably not my business, but I don't think the normal response to a nightmare is to burn a diary, is it?"

"It is when said diary keeps track of the nightmares," Mako replied tiredly as he returned to stoking the remnants of the fire. "I've been writing down what I see each night, hoping to gain some meaning from the dark dreams that I see, but all it seems to do is make them worse. The more I've written, the more evil the nature of the dreams become. So I'm burning this thing."

"When did you start having nightmares so consistently?" Kiara asked him, concerned.

"About a month ago, after our team won the tournament," he answered with only a moment's hesitation. "I… made a mistake."

"Mistake?" she repeated, moving to crouch beside him. "Mako, what are you talking about?"

"You know me, I always need a little time to myself after a big social gathering," Mako replied as he finally got some of the coals to give birth to a flame. "I went up to the roof to be alone with my thoughts, mostly to think about the future that we would lead as the next generation of Shepherds… which led to me wondering about my own future self."

"Sir Mataras," Kiara nodded. "Have you been dreaming about the life he must have endured in the future? You know that can't happen to us- Grima is gone in this timeline."

"That's part of it," Mako admitted. "But that's not really what's been disturbing me. See, your father found me on the roof, and we wound up talking about my future self at great length. He told me everything he could about Mataras… about the kind of man he really was."

"He was a hero who gave his life to secure our future," Kiara replied with a frown. "It's what is recorded in our nation's history. Why is that so troubling?" A new thought occurred to her, and she added, "Do you fear dying like he did?"

"No, I fear to live as he did," the young man answered, a haunted look coming over his face. "Sir Marth told me about many terrible things that he did in order to exact his revenge on Grima… Did you know that he nearly killed my father just to prove a point when they first met?"

Kiara's eyes were wide with surprise now. "Why would you-? I mean, why would he…?"

"And that right there is my problem," Mako said with a weak chuckle. "Everyone else whose future self came back did so for selfless reasons. All I did in the future was seek out carnage and violence against the one that had hurt me."

"Mako, wait, I didn't mean-"

"That's where the nightmares are coming from, Kiara," the black-garbed swordsman interrupted. "Ever since I learned the truth about Mataras, I see myself becoming him. I know it's nonsensical, but I can't help but feel that the possibility of him exists within me. And that terrifies me." He was breathing hard now, his body trembling in fear.

"Mako," Kiara said firmly, placing her hand on his shaking fist, the one clenching the notebook. "You won't become a monster like that, I promise." She kept her grip in place until the tremors in his arm eased.

The contact and words were not born of passion or romance, but of genuine concern for her old friend. So when the young man managed to regulate his breathing and nodded that he was alright, she withdrew from the contact without complaint.

Without another word, he tossed the notebook into the low flames that he had managed to work up, watching silently until the orange lights had begun to consume his nightmares. "Thank you," he said softly, to which Kiara merely nodded in acknowledgement.

Mako looked as though he was about to say something when there was the sound of an explosion from the direction of the village he had visited earlier that day. Both young warriors turned to see a large green light sail upwards and explode, though with less sound than the previous blast. Beneath the fading firelight, they could see a dark cloud of smoke roiling, even against the night sky.

"That can't be good," Mako muttered as he stood up and looked at his commanding officer. "Orders?"

"Rouse the others, get them ready for battle," Kiara replied tightly, checking to make sure that she had her sword and her spell book in their proper places. "Looks like plan B is a bust."

"You said something about plan C," Mako said as he began to head for Gilbert's tent. "I'm going to assume that this is when the rest of us get to learn about and use it?"

Kiara looked him dead in the eyes as she answered, "Plan C is rush whoever happens to be responsible for B going wrong, and hope for a plan D."

Elsewhere, on another ridge overlooking the port town, a pair of dark eyes scanned the scene below them. "Tch," their owner spat. "They've bungled it."

"Should we send in our reinforcements?" another person asked the first speaker. "We can be there in less than ten minutes."

"If they can't get themselves out of the mess they got themselves into, then I have no use for them," the first speaker said coldly. "All they can do in that case is offer up their souls in order to provide me with a meal that will hold me over until the next ritual."

"Does the time draw near then, my lord?" the second speaker asked, not daring to press the matter of reinforcements.

"It does," the first speaker grinned. "Have you the numbers I requested?"

"We do," their servant replied dutifully. "Young and full of potential, all of them. I think you'll find them to your liking, my lord."

"Good…" the first man muttered.

When he remained silent, the servant asked, "My lord, if I have curried enough favor with you, I would ask a question…?"

"I permit you to breathe in my presence, yet you ask for more?" the first speaker asked, his voice neither threatening nor ominous. "How very bold… and amusing. Very well, speak your inquiry."

"I wish to know why we came back here, when this child was taken nearly two months ago, my lord," the servant replied. "Surely it was a fluke, them investigating-"

"In my world, there is no such thing as a fluke, coincidence, or luck," the first man said, cutting off his servant. "All things happen as they must, and I will act accordingly. But if it will satisfy your feeble curiosity, I knew that our work would not go unnoticed forever, and this village is the closest to the Ylissean capital, making it the most likely to be investigated by the Shepherds first."

"But my lord, why the Shepherds?" the second speaker asked. "Surely the rank-and-file town guards could investigate this matter?"

"They could, but they wouldn't get nearly as much done as those odd people," the master replied. "And if I'm showing my hand, then of course that wench Naga would see to it that I am met with her own hand. But on a more pressing note…" Without changing the tone of his voice or showing any outward signs of emotion, the first speaker stabbed his servant through the heart with his bare hand, killing him instantly. "…I only agreed to suffer one question, you ungrateful swine."

He held the body in place long enough to absorb his soul before it could pass on into the next world, before letting the corpse drop. Shaking his hand to fling off the blood and bits of bone stuck to the appendage, he muttered to himself, "Now, then, Robin, Kirito… Let's see if peace in this world has softened you up at all?"

Kirito: It's good to be back! ...Kind of.

Mataras: Agreed. I'm very much looking forward to how our audience reacts with every step of this journey.

Asuna: Speaking of, how long will this journey be?

Mataras: Oh, I dunno exactly, yet... Maybe twelve chapters or so?

Kirito: Only twelve chapters?!

Mataras: Hey, cut me some slack! These chapters are quite a bit longer than the pieces I put together for your adventure!

Asuna: Aren't you worried that might not be enough of a story for your readers?

Mataras: I said maybe twelve! I'm uncommitted as of yet! Besides, if they feel like that's too short, or I'm taking too long, this isn't the only sequel to the original Fire Sword!

Kirito: Huh?

Mataras: Go check out Fire Sword Fated Incursion, written by N-Sight, if you wanna know what happens if Yuuki, Aiko, and Sinon join Owain, Inigo, and Severa in the games of Fire Emblem Fates. I have enjoyed the story thus far, and recommend it to anyone that enjoyed the original story.

Asuna: Okay, at least there's that. But when can we expect a new chapter from you?

Mataras: Probably around late January. I'm already working on the next chapter, so I'll even throw in a preview for you.

Kirito: Next time on Shrouded Destiny- An Unlikely Return

"How did they find you?" Kiara asked as Brian began to work with his staff to repair the wound.

"I picked up on one of their scouts with my hearing when we reached the outskirts of town," Yinne answered. "Teela helped me sniff 'em out after that. When we got closer, I could hear them talking about some sacrifice their boss has planned. They're going to use the kids they've taken from villages around here, Kiara."

The young tactician paled rapidly as his words sank in. "So the children are being kidnapped," she murmured.

"But not for slavery," Lilina added, her own features an unhealthy shade of white. "Did you learn what manner of sacrifice is being planned? It's not…" A word sprang to her throat, but she could not seem to get her lips to form the words that had formed in her mind.

Yinne's ears drooped and his face appeared haggard and worn as he nodded, saying, "Yes, it's them. These guys work for the Grimleal."