Chrom slinked deeper into the shadows between two pillars. Somewhere from his right, an object sailed into the air and landed on something, or someone, with a loud THWACK! A shrill shriek followed and then, silence. The Ylissean prince debated whether to risk a peek or not. The floor above him thundered with heavy footsteps and a series of clattering and thumping rumbled upstairs. Someone yelled profanities and another shouting threats back. The loud warzone above lasted only for a few seconds before the winner was decided and the floor above receded back to quiet. He wished that his fiancée is here beside him, planning and directing them into safety.
Chrom leaned against the cold wall and ran a hand through his blue locks, wondering how in Ylisse did the royal palace suddenly became a bloody battlefield. The last thing he remembered before scrambling for his dear life was celebrating with the Shepherds. His friends and soldiers decided to hold a feast in honor of him and Robin three days before the royal wedding. Before long, Lissa (of course, it has to be his sister), suggested a friendly game as the closing event.
The rule was simple: the one who gets all ribbons wins.
The unspoken rules: no weapons and no killing anyone.
It went smoothly at first. Everyone getting their own ribbons and keeping them securely in their person. Then, someone wicked enough decided to start the game without a head start. It didn’t take a few minutes before Sumia shrieked after realizing that her ribbon was missing. To make matters worse, Lissa snatched Stahl’s ribbon and shouted, “Game start!”, before sprinting away, cackling. The dining hall immediately became a combat zone with Vaike initiating it as he lunged to the nearest Shepherd, Sully, for her ribbon. It was only by Naga’s grace that Chrom managed to escape unscathed and made long without his ribbon getting plucked off him.
He peered at the sliver of light as careful footsteps approached where he was hiding. He recognized the rhythm of the steps as well as the blonde pigtails before the figure singsongs his name. He could make out at least seven ribbons including her own wounded securely around her left arm.
“Oh, brother. Where are you~?” Lissa chirped. “Where are you hiding~?”
Chrom pressed against the wall as Lissa trotted closer to where he is.
“Come out, come out wherever you are~”
Chrom held his breath. Lissa is almost unto him. Any closer and he would be uncovered. Before he could be seen into view, Lissa perked up at the sound of door slamming in the corridor. She grinned from ear-to-ear as she stepped away and stealthily walked toward the direction of the noise. Chrom listened and waited until his sister has rounded the corner before emerging from his cover and slipping away.
The catastrophe that awaited him was more than he expected. Potted plants were overturned and some of the vases were cracked. Some of the paintings were tilted and worse, fallen off their hooks. There were signs of scuffle everywhere and bits of blood here and there (not worrying at all, right?). He worried how the servants will clean this place afterward. He needs to make sure to have everyone apologize, especially his troublesome sister. He hopped over a fallen armor and sneaked a glance at the end of the corridor. The left and the right were both littered at the wake of the fighting Shepherds but thankfully devoid of them at the moment.
Chrom took off to the left; slowing down to greet the palace guards who were keeping good distance away from any sight of the Shepherds. They looked worse for wear and terrified. As if witnessing for the first time how destructive the Shepherds can be. He reached the main staircase and almost tripped running the flight of stairs. He was about to reach the second floor landing when he heard a loud cry. His heart dropped and almost gave himself away when he remembered that the game is still on.
“Ugggghhhh! Not fair, Sully!”
Recognizing the voice of his sister, he pressed against the wall and peered at the edge. Lissa was standing at the eastern wing with Sully grinning at her at the opposite side. From the seven ribbons that Lissa was holding on earlier, only four remained.
Sully waved the ribbons she has stolen from the princess like tiny, victory flags. “The one who gets all the ribbons win, am I right? You’re the one who made that rule.”
Lissa pouted. “Fine, but I’m going to win and that’s final!”
Sully smirked and gestured tauntingly at her. “Come and get-”
“Finally found ya, ya devil woman!”
The two women turned sharply. From the end of the hallway on Sully’s side, Vaike came charging toward the red-haired woman. Four ribbons were clenched on his fist. Sully dodged in time and swung a fist at the blonde. Vaike barely caught her fist before it connects to his face.
“Two against one?” Sully mocked. “You guys are not playing fair.”
“The Vaike can take ya down himself. He doesn’t need anyone’s help.”
And he doesn’t…because Lissa took the opportunity to pull down the curtains unto them, draping the duo into a wriggling mound of shouts and curses. Lissa hastily scooped the ribbons the two dropped and sprinted away with a wide grin. It was only when the two finally freed themselves of the heavy curtains that they realized that Lissa duped them big time.
“She got you good.” Chrom said as he revealed himself after confirming it was already safe from the she-devil that is his sister.
“Hey, Chrom.” Sully brushed herself as she stood up. “Looks like you’re still alive and kicking.”
Chrom snorted. “Barely. If I were to be honest, I’m actively avoiding Lissa more than trying to win this game.”
“Dammit!” Vaike complained. “Teach’s this close in getting’ her ribbon.”
“Says who?” Sully shot back. “You’re the one whose ass about to get whooped.”
“Ya wanna go, woman?”
“Well, hell yeah!”
Chrom decided not to interfere as the two locked themselves in a stand-off. He was about to leave the two when he felt a cold hand on his shoulder. He whirled around and almost hit his retainer on the face.
“Good gods, Frederick! I almost punched you on the face!”
“Ah, apologies Milord.” Even so, Frederick did not seem fazed with his words. “I just want to make sure you’re still alive.”
“What?” Chrom looked at him with confusion.
“It would not be fitting for the next Exalt to lose such childish game.” Frederick rummaged his pocket and shoved a bunch of ribbons on his hands. “So, I took it to myself to collect these blasted ribbons. Here, you can take mine too.”
“As the army’s general and our next Exalt, you must show that you are capable to stand above the rest and lead them.” Frederick continued. His hands clasped behind his back attentively. “Other than that, I’m sure that your win will impress the next queen.”
He doubted it will really impress Robin; he could imagine her laughing as he recounts this moment. Chrom pinched the bridge of his nose and shoved the ribbons into his pocket for safe keeping.
“How many are still there?” He asked as he glanced at Vaike and Sully whose banter turned into a full-blown brawl.
Frederick considered the question for a moment. “I believed only six has remained on field, including you.” He reported. “The last time I crossed paths with anyone was when I barely escaped Lady Lissa's grasp. Gaius, Miriel, and Panne have been trying to one-up each and other and Tharja has yet to make any appearance. What she is plotting, that's a mystery to all.”
“Safe within the Royal Archives.” Frederick assured him. “It seemed she is still unaware of this game that Lady Lissa has started.”
And once she does, she will not be pleased. “It’s for the better.” Chrom said. “If she got wind of this earlier on, things would be more chaotic.”
The four jumped in a heart-stopping surprise when a shriek that sounds oddly like Gaius (he would deny it later) sounded upstairs. Footsteps thundered down the stairs and a clump of familiar tawny hair came flying downstairs. The sweets-loving thief almost crashed to Frederick hadn't he deliberately slowed down to a skid.
“Y-You guys-“ He panted, arms flailing wildly. The four ribbons tied around his wrists waving like thin flags. “Run!”
“What?” Frederick frowned at the heaving thief. “What did you this time?”
“I-It's Sunshine!” Gaius crowed. “She's gone batshit crazy!”
“Sunshine…?” Chrom vaguely remembered the thief's fondness of giving nicknames. “Tharja? What do you-“
Chrom felt his skin crawl. The air suddenly chilling cold and suffocating with the smell of the dead and decaying. He was familiar of the atmosphere, alright, and only when Robin's beyond her patience (which is really long) would rival it. He spun around and saw the dark mage stalking down the stairs. Purple magic sparking off her as she held a grimoire.
“Gaius…” Tharja glowered, one hand swirling in purple light.
“Eep!” Gaius squeaked and scuttled behind Frederick who seemed to be unimpressed at the turn of events. “It's just a game. A game! Of course, I will try getting your ribbon to win! That's how it is!”
“I'll hex you!” Tharja snarled. “No one gets away with disrupting my plans in getting my Robin’s love!”
“Help me, Freddy Bear!”
“Oh, will you look at that?” Frederick said, tilting his head at the windows and to the moon. “It’s time for the shifting of the palace guards.” He gestured dutifully at his liege. “Would like to accompany me, Milord? I'm sure the guards will become motivated knowing that the next Exalt appreciate their services.”
Chrom eyed the thief and the dark mage nervously. Sully and Vaike have wisely disappeared from sight. “R-Right! Of course!”
Gaius’ eyes widened in realization that he will be left alone with the berserk dark mage. “W-Wait! Don't leave me-“
“NAGA HELP ME!”
Chrom tried to ignore the thief’s screams as he matched Frederick's swift steps away from the soon-to-be murder (metaphorically speaking). Soon, the screams turned into sobbing as they rounded the corner of opposite corridor. The air clearing of the oppressing aura of dark magic and Chrom breathed a sigh of relief.
“Remind me not to get on Tharja's bad side.” Chrom told his retainer.
“I'm surprised she hasn't cursed you for taking Lady Robin's hand for marriage.” Frederick smiled knowingly as he slowed his pace. “It seemed she doesn't want to upset Robin at any way.”
“Definitely my saving grace.”
“By all means, Milord,” Frederick regarding the prince. “I doubt that our resident dark mage is nothing compared to our lady tactician. I have never seen you run and cower in fear other than that one time.”
Chrom shuddered. One hand absently rubbing the back of his head. “I have to watch my tongue around her since then. I never knew that rocks can be terrifying in such speed and accuracy.”
“Perhaps we should recommend adding them in our armory.”
“Don't you dare jest about that!”
Frederick chuckled softly. Chrom muttered under his breath, something relating to women and rocks. Their boots clicking rhythmically as they descended a different flight of stairs. Frederick led them to the servants' entrance, out of prying and scheming eyes, and into the palace courtyard.
The evening breeze blew coolly across the landscape, bringing with it the faint hints of lavender as the plants near their blossoming. Just in time for the incoming royal wedding in three days' time. The two men walked in relative silence as they transverse a path that Chrom knew like the back of his hands. The looming visage of Royal Archives made itself known and they paused on their steps before its carved, mahogany double doors. Chrom could make out the candlelight illuminating the interior of the building – a sign of someone currently perusing its contents.
“I believe this is where we part for tonight.” Frederick said. “I'll return to the castle and survey the damages. I assure you the princess would be happy to pay for them.”
“I appreciate it, Frederick.” Chrom sighed. “Lissa needs to learn to tone down things.”
“Of course.” Frederick bowed. “I'll take my leave now, Milord. Give my regards to Lady Robin.”
Chrom bid him good night and watched the armored man disappear into the shadows of the night. He clasped the handle ring of the double doors and swung it brass against brass. The ringing echoed into the silence of the night and the door opened with a slow creak. The royal librarian greeted him with a flourish and moved aside to let the royal in.
Chrom took in the smell of parchment and ink – a scent he knew very well clinging in comfort from his bride. He walked past rows upon rows of bookshelves until he reached a partially hidden niche at the back. A lone table was in the center of the small chamber. Books and scrolls were laid on and around the furniture. A single candlelight casted a soft glow in the room. Voices spoke hushed in the silence of the room, broken only by his approaching steps. A young man in herald clothes bowed down in his presence while their head tactician simply looked up from the scroll she was holding.
“I hope I'm not interrupting.” Chrom said, glancing warily at the hazard of towers of books.
Robin tilted her head. “Not at all.” She said, waving him forward. “I am just looking into the final preparations for our wedding. I think you should see these for yourself as well. I want to hear your opinions.”
“Oh?” Chrom took the scroll she was offering and barely skimmed through the neat handwriting. “In all honesty, it doesn't matter what goes in the wedding as long as I get to marry you.”
Robin coughed, avoiding eye contact. There was a hint of red at the tips of her ears. Or was it just a trick of the light? The messenger fidgeted on his feet, feeling like he was the one intruding.
“If that's how you feel.” Robin gestured for the man and told him a few instructions before thanking and dismissing him. The herald nodded and hurried out of the room. Chrom tied the ribbons around his belt and noticing how Robin winced as she shifted on her seat, walked behind her. He gently placed his hands on her shoulders and rolled his thumbs on her back. Robin moaned softly as he eased the knots between her shoulder blades.
“You’re working too hard lately.” Chrom noted. “You deserve a break. Maybe leave the rest of the preparations to Maribelle?”
“Maribelle has her hands full already.” Robin answered, leaning against him. “I don’t want to burden her any further. The others are also doing their utmost best to make things go the way we wanted it to be.”
Chrom wrapped his arms around her neck. “Well, I think you got a lot on your plate. You’re going to be married in three days, Robin. A bride deserves to have time for herself before the wedding day.”
“I could say the same to you.” Robin looked up to him. “The noble houses are really starting to get into your nerves, aren’t they?”
“Touché.” Chrom winced. “A few of the lords haven’t given up into trying to break off the engagement. If it wasn’t for the Duke of Themis talking them down or Frederick scaring them off with the case of treason, they might have shoved the noble ladies to my face by now.”
Laughter bubbled from Robin’s throat. “It is clear where Maribelle got her charm.” She traced her finger on the length of his arm. “It is just timely that good news arrived. I heard that most of the noble houses are going to pay a visit tomorrow to show their loyalty to the Crown and are encouraging the rest to do the same. I guessed they finally see that you are worthy to be crowned Exalt. Any chance of opposition against a new reign is off the table now.”
Chrom studied her expression. “Let me guess…you had a hand on it?”
Robin gave him a cat-like grin that he knows full well. “Maybe?”
Chrom chuckled, shaking his head. “You’re truly a dangerous woman, Robin. I’m just glad we have you on our side.”
Robin giggled and stood up, facing him. She placed a hand on his cheek and whispered seductively. “I know.” Their lips centimeters apart from each other. Chrom felt his breath hitched at the intimacy. “That’s why you must be wary of me…game or not.”
At that moment, Robin stepped back. A cheeky grin on her lips. Chrom blinked out of his daze as he slowly processed what happened. His eyes landed down on her clutched hand and realized what has happened. The prince patted himself and found that the ribbons have disappeared from his belt. The very same ribbons that his fiancée now waving with her hand.
“Robin!” Chrom couldn’t believe it. “H-How…?”
“A certain bear told me about Lissa’s little game.” Robin smirked. “And I believe you’re already lost and out. Now then,” Robin walked toward the door. A hunter’s glint in her eyes. “I still have three more to take down and a princess to give a piece of my mind. I’ll see you later, love.”
Chrom could only gape at her as she saluted at him and ran out of the room. Soon, there was a banshee screaming outside that oddly sounds like Lissa and a shout of a familiar tactician reprimanding the former. Dangerous, indeed.