The sun was hanging low in the sky, and the sky was stained with blood.
Sylvain dismounted his warhorse and wiped at his busted lip. Something had gone terribly wrong on their march to the Kingdom-Empire border, and they’d been ambushed by a group of highly skilled Adrestrian warriors.
“Could’ve done without the shield to the face,” he mumbled to himself, making a mental note to check his appearance thoroughly when they next made camp. “You doing okay, Ashe?”
Ashe spent most of the fight towards the backlines, knocking back arrows and finishing off their opponents whenever they lapsed into a moment of weakness, or shooting soldiers who looked to be gaining the upper hand on his comrades. Still, he looked exhausted. “I’m doing just fine,” he offered a weak smile. He slung his bow over his shoulder. “I think that’s everybody safe and accounted for- yes?”
The Professor was flitting about from person to person, checking up on their soldiers in order to take stock and assist with any injuries. Nobody seemed badly hurt, and Sylvain allowed himself to relax a little. He stretched as well as he could in his heavy plate armour, rolling his shoulders. “You seen Felix?” He asked.
Sylvain and Felix had only been growing closer since the outbreak of the war. It was to be expected, really - Sylvain would be lying if he said he hadn’t grown close with everyone who’d sided with the Kingdom - but with Felix, it was different. To him, there was a growing sense of urgency in their relationship. Any day could be their last, and he was running out of time to properly assess and address his developing feelings for the swordsman. Regardless, they were each other’s closest confidants; the prematurely ascended Duke Fraldarius, and the future Margrave Gautier, together in their hopes and fears and dreams, childhood friends until the end of the line, the sword and shield of His Highness, King Dimitri I. That was enough, for now, and so he told himself it was natural to think first and foremost of Felix, before anyone else.
Ashe combed over his congregating allies. “I’m not sure.” His voice grew quiet. “He must be around.” He offered, but the uncertainty rang clear in his voice, and that was enough to make Sylvain’s blood run cold with panic.
They were about to make camp in a forest to the west, and had made it to a large clearing that had been deforested by the Empire when they were attacked. It was possible that Felix had broken off from the core group, and was returning from a duel with a now-deceased Empire soldier. Or perhaps he had already checked in with the Professor, and was taking refuge deeper in the forest. It wasn’t unlike Felix to disappear after skirmishes, to clear his head and cool down.
Nevertheless, Sylvain was still worried. He led his horse by the reins over to the Professor, where they were talking with Dimitri and Linhardt. “Hey, Professor!” He called out, plastering on a thin smile. “Have you seen Felix around?”
Dimitri cast his remaining eye over his friend, looking strangely guilty. “Sylvain.” He greeted with a curt nod. “We, uh… we were just discussing Felix ourselves.” He coughed into his gloved hand and looked down. it was amazing how he sometimes managed to look more like a naughty child rather than a hulking giant of a man.
“We haven’t seen him.” The Professor said, as blunt as ever. “Bernadetta and Ferdinand are doing a perimeter checks on the forest by horseback. Ingrid has taken to the skies, and we’ve sent out scouts on foot to search the area more thoroughly.”
“He’s missing?” Sylvain barked out a hollow laugh in disbelief. It was almost like a reflex, laughing whenever his world exploded into flames. “Well- who was fighting with him? Didn’t he have a battalion?”
Dimitri sighed, and shook his head. “You know Felix better than any of us, Sylvain.” He frowned. “He refused to lead a battalion last battle, and as a result his men were divided between Mercedes and Ignatz’s forces. The last person to have seen him was Bernadetta, and she thinks she saw him chasing off reinforcements to the south.”
Sylvain didn’t know when he’d started pacing, or when he reached for the Lance of Ruin strapped onto his back. He pushed his hair out of his eyes and tried to steady his breathing. “It’s Felix,” he told himself, trying to vocalise his thoughts. “He’s probably just gone and picked a fight on his own, because that’s what Felix does- he rushes off without thinking! But he’ll be okay, because he’s always okay- right? There’s no way some lowlife Imperials could out-duel the quickest swordsman in all of Fódlan!”
“High praises,” Linhardt noted from beside the Professor, almost sounding bored. “If Felix has struck out on his own, he may need medical attention when he returns. I’ll stand by until then.”
The Professor clapped a hand to Sylvain’s back. “We’re doing all we can at the moment.” They insisted, looking grave but determined. “Running your mind around in circles won’t help anyone, so try to stay calm for Felix’s sake.”
Sylvain took in a deep breath. “Alright.” He nodded. “You’re right. As usual. He’ll be alright- I bet he’ll come back with one of the scouts.
Felix did not come back with any of the scouts.
Bernadetta, Ferdinand, and Ingrid rendezvoused at the south entrance to the forest, where they would’ve originally crossed the border had their march gone to plan, but Felix was nowhere to be found. Then the foot soldiers returned to their stations, without their party’s ill-tempered swordsman.
“Your Grace,” one of the men called to the Professor. The Professor took him aside to talk, and returned with a scrap a blue fabric.
Sylvain was on his feet immediately. “That’s from his cape.” He could feel his heart collapsing in his chest. “Is it bloodied?”
“No,” the Professor shook their head. “And if you look at the edge- it looks like it’s been cut clean by a blade, not torn.”
Mercedes sat by the meager fire they’d started to ward off the evening chill. “Do you think he did that himself?” She wondered, wringing a healing staff in her hands out of worry. "Perhaps as a marker, to let us know which way he went."
Ingrid cleared her throat. She’d taken to brushing her pegasi’s mane since she returned- something she did whenever she became anxious or upset. “Felix is an impeccable soldier,” she started, setting the curry comb aside. “If he’s in trouble, he will have left us signs. Do you honestly think he’d go down without a fight?”
“Saints, if the Empire have him, who knows what they’ll do to him.” Sylvain tugged at his hair. “Who knows what he’ll do to them?” Without further discussion, he crossed their little camp to where the warhorses were being kept, and untied the reins from their makeshift post.
“You can’t go and look for him now,” Linhardt frowned. “It’d be fruitless. It’ll be dark within the hour.”
“I have to try.” Sylvain insisted. “We can’t give up on him- if we wait any longer, they could cross the border and reach Fort Merceus by dawn.” He conjured a small ball of fire in one gloved hand. “Besides, I’ll be able to see my way just fine.”
The Professor looked somewhere between wanting to side both parties. They crossed their arms over their chest. “I realise that you’ll go no matter what I say, Sylvain.”
“I will.” Sylvain confirmed.
“Then allow me to come with you.” Dimitri offered, equally sick and quiet with worry. “We owe it to him, otherwise we could barely call ourselves childhood friends.”
“Me too.” Ingrid held her steed’s reins decidedly. “Will that be alright, Professor?”
The Professor nodded. “I want to come as well, to at least provide in the way of white-magic support, but now that there’s a chance Edelgard’s forces know where we are I can’t leave camp. Especially not with his Highness gone too.”
Mercedes piped up from her spot by the campfire. “Then I suppose I’ll have to come along, won’t I?” She smiled, and patted the small bag of healing concoctions she kept on her hip at all times. “When we find Felix, I’ll be sure to patch him up well and good.”
“Then it’s settled then,” The Professor said. “We will wait in this forest for two days. Any later than that, and we may have to consider retreating further north, to Castle Gaspard at the very least. Regroup with us there if you’re not back by then.”
“Thank you, Professor.” Sylvain smiled uneasily as he and Mercedes mounted his horse. “We’ll bring Felix home.”
Together, with the rising moon as their solitary guide, Sylvain and his small unit set off south with hope high in their hearts and dread low in their stomachs. As the stars glimmered and twinkled overhead, he lost himself in memories of nights spent by campfires, of the hazy summers of their childhoods, and everything in between; he decided when he finally found Felix, they'd have to have a good long talk about their feelings. Not that Felix would appreciate it.