In the cool darkness of the forest in the astral plane, Laslow began to dance.
His feet knew the steps almost without the help of his brain, but he hummed along to himself anyway. It was wonderful just to move, without the encumbrance of his offset shoulder pauldron and his heavy sword. Both had saved his life on more than one occasion, of course, and he'd never go into battle without them, but still. Once upon a time, he hadn't needed the sword or the pauldron.
But such times had been long ago.
The stars really are beautiful, out here. He might never quite comprehend the complexities of the astral plane, but nature, at least, was universal. The constellations bloomed overhead, unfamiliar but intriguing just the same.
There was so much peace vested in dancing by himself, Laslow decided. No one to impress, no one to let down, no one to be, and no one to miss. Just Laslow and the earth beneath his feet. (Well, the dirt, anyway. He wasn't sure if the astral plane counted as "earth," exactly.)
Somewhere in the not-too-distant forest behind him, Laslow heard something snap. He immediately froze, balanced on the balls of his feet. He hardly dared breathe as he scanned the darkness, listening hard in the direction he'd heard the sound come from.
Silence reigned, but it was the sticky, uncomfortable kind. Just as Laslow was about to chalk it up to a forest creature, he saw a flash of red eyes in the darkness.
Laslow's stomach dropped all the way down the Bottomless Canyon, and his eyes widened. Risen. He only just stopped himself from saying it out loud. As his eyes adjusted to the even darker shadows of the inner forest, he could pick out dozens of the undead abominations.
"Gods, no," he breathed.
Cursing himself for leaving his armor and boots behind, Laslow scooped up his sword from where it had been resting in the dirt and began to run.
Who's on patrol tonight? He couldn't remember. The schedule had been off ever since Effie had taken ill on the day that was meant to've been hers, and then Keaton had gone and traded with Niles, so gods only knew whose turn it actually was to guard the damn place.
Already, Laslow's stomach churned. Although this land was not his, in that moment it may as well have been. The result would be the same if he didn't reach the castle in time. Laslow needed to warn Lord Xander, Peri, Odin, Selena—everyone—before it was too late.
He tore through the forest, nearly running headlong into more than one tree. Branches tore at his bare arms, and gravel dug into his feet, but he pressed on. Nothing was more important than getting back before it was too late.
He would not lose another family.
Up ahead, the walls to the castle loomed. Laslow blinked a few times, but no, what he was seeing was real. There was no one at the gate. There should have been at least one person, preferably two, at each entrance, and the gates should have been shut, but there was no one, and the wrought iron was thrown wide.
Heart palpitating with fear, Laslow rushed through the gates, only to freeze at the sight before him:
Corpses. Dozens of them.
Kaze lay face up, sightless eyes wide. Blood had trickled down from his nose onto his armor. Lady Camilla lay in the center of a veritable knot of risen, each bearing deep gashes and she herself, slain by a well-placed arrow. Keaton lay half transformed just before the records hall, having never even had the chance to defend himself, and Beruka's wyvern was keening over its master's corpse, feebly attempting to make her rise.
Odin was still fighting, ridiculously-named tome in hand, while back to back with Selena, whose blade moved so quickly, Laslow could hardly see it in the darkness. His heart yearned to stand with them—just like old times—but Laslow knew that he would be useless without a shield-sister of his own.
So he pressed on through the carnage, taking swipes at the occasional Risen, but mostly keeping his eyes peeled. Where is Lord Xander? He thought, desperation beginning to color his judgement. Where is Peri? Besides those he'd come from Ylisse with, his liege lord and fellow retainer were some of the only people he could rightly call friend in Nohr.
And how had the Risen gotten here so quickly? Laslow had seen an advance guard out in the forest, and immediately bolted. One man should have easily beaten a whole army to the punch; he wasn't that slow a runner.
Unless you saw reinforcements, Laslow thought, his stomach sinking like a stone. But then how could you have missed the vanguard? You weren't so far from the castle as to miss everything… were you?
And then he saw them. One golden-haired Crown Prince, impaled on his own sword, the legendary Siegfried, and one blue-and-pink haired cavalier slightly before him, perished in the process of defending her liege. Her beloved horse was nowhere to be seen.
"No," whispered Laslow, sinking to his knees. "No!"
It was like losing his mother all over again. It was like walking out of his family home after dinner, only to find the yard overrun with Risen, and his pink-haired mother calling his name—
He sat up sharply, blinking grit out of his eyes. He found himself staring down one red eye and a lot of blue hair, and felt some of his breath return. A dream, then. The Risen invasion had just been a dream.
"You okay there, Laslow?" Peri asked, bubbly and childlike and very much alive as ever. "You were moving a lot in your sleep, and shouting a little, too."
"I'm fine," Laslow said quietly, pushing the candle Peri held out of direct range of his shirt. "Just a nightmare."
"Boo," said Peri, jutting her lower lip out. "Nightmares are no fun."
Laslow snorted. "Right?" He shook his head, as if that would clear it. "Go back to sleep, Peri. I'm fine."
She studied him a moment, her visible eye narrowing. People said Peri was a lot of things—a serial killer, for starters, as well as crazy, immature, and unfit to be retainer to the Crown Prince of Nohr—but what they always missed was how incredibly empathetic she could be, when she was of half a mind.
"You're not fine," she accused, poking him in the chest.
If not necessarily nuanced about said empathy.
Laslow gave a little laugh, but it was hollow. "No, I'm not. But I will be, alright?"
Peri straightened up, gave him one last squinty-eyed stare, and then disappeared out of Laslow's tent, taking the light with her.
The next morning at the royal retainers' breakfast table, there was only one person more subdued that Laslow, and that was Odin.
"Odin, you haven't said a single thing this entire time," said Arthur with his typical exuberance. "Has something offended you? In the name of justice, I shall seek it out!"
Odin lifted his head up from where he had been contemplating his porridge. "I don't think you can. In my nightly traversing of the nether realms, I received horrifying visions of—"
"So you had a nightmare," Selena said imperiously, tossing one long, red pigtail over her shoulder, "I don't see what that has to do with—"
"It was about my mother," Odin interrupted.
At such a simple statement coming from their energetic friend, both Laslow and Selena fell silent. Somewhere to their collective left, Arthur continued to jabber on about justice this and heroes that, but to the other three the world seemed to have frozen.
"You don't talk about your Mommy very much, Odin" said Peri, blithely continuing to eat.
"Neither do you," Odin said, which earned a sharp look from Laslow that the dark mage didn't quite think he earned.
But Peri didn't rise to the bait. "My mommy was an amazing cook," she said. "I learned everything from her."
Odin stared down at the hand he usually held at an uncomfortable angle before him. "I couldn't be more different from my mother if I tried. The dark spirits that chose me as their conduit made it so."
"Impressive you weren't better friends with my father, then," Selena said, preemptively cutting Peri off before she could say anything else. "He would've loved for me to follow in his footsteps."
"So you never became an assassin," Laslow said dismissively, "at least you're friends with one."
"I don't think anyone is friends with Beruka," said Selena, "except for her Wyvern."
"You are correct," said Beruka from the other end of the table.
"Although you did became a royal retainer," Laslow continued as if they hadn't spoken, "so at least you have that part of him to carry with you."
Selena rolled her eyes. "Great."
Peri's visible red eye grew wide. "Do you not like serving Lady Camilla?"
Selena blinked a few times. "Other way around, Peri. I don't care much for my father. Or my mother, for that matter." She stared at the violently red pigtail sitting on her shoulder with obvious distaste.
"You could dye your hair again," Laslow suggested.
"The black did wondrous things for your mood," Odin said absentmindedly. "Chiefly by broadcasting it."
Selena stuck her tongue out at the dark mage. "I might."
At that moment, Effie appeared in the doorway of the mess hall. "Peri, Laslow!" she called, coming over to the retainers' table. She'd taken to arriving late to breakfast to help out whichever poor sods were on meal duty. "Lord Xander requests both of you in his tent immediately."
"Right, then," said Laslow, standing up and brushing some invisible dirt off of his navy blue gambeson.
"Are we in trouble?" Peri asked, getting to her feet as well.
"I don't know," Effie said apologetically. "He just said he wanted to see you immediately."
Out on the castle grounds, a light breeze stirred the cherry trees in way that would have been pleasant, ordinarily.
"I hope we're not in trouble," Peri said, sounding like a guilty child. "I'm not even sure what I did, this time."
"Have you killed anyone lately?" Laslow asked. It still felt like an absurd question, even after all these years serving alongside her.
"No!" Peri said earnestly. "Ever since Lady Corrin asked us not to, I've been trying real hard not to kill anyone. I just didn't expect it to be so hard." She kicked at a rock with one heeled foot.
Laslow stopped walking, and folded his arms across his chest. "Peri," he said warningly, sounding a lot like his mother when she'd caught him sneaking out.
"It wasn't a person," Peri defended.
"What did I say about people you don't like still being people?"
"It was a deer!" she burst out, annoyed. "Keaton finally let me go hunting with him, and it was a deer."
Laslow was simultaneously relieved that it wasn't a person, and annoyed that she'd left the castle without telling him. (Even though that's sort of ridiculous, he admitted to himself privately.) "Well, I doubt Lord Xander would be annoyed with that. Keaton brings the meat back to the mess hall, right?"
Peri nodded energetically. "Well, did you do anything?"
Laslow paused to consider it. "Other than some harmless flirting with his sisters, I don't think so."
Peri rolled her eyes as they approached Lord Xander's tent. "Then maybe we're not in trouble?" she said hopefully.
"Maybe," said Laslow with far, far less hope in his voice.
There were serious voices coming from inside, so the two retainers stopped just before the tent. Laslow listened hard, but the voices didn't rise about a murmur. But when footsteps began approaching, he practically jumped out of the way.
"Why, if it isn't the lovely Lady Corrin!" he managed, more smoothly than he felt.
"Hello, Laslow," she said with a smile. Laslow noticed that her dark blue hair was falling out of its usual buns, and wondered what was troubling her so much she hadn't noticed. "If you're here to see my brother, he's free at the moment."
Laslow nodded. "Thank you, my lady."
It was a stone-faced Lord Xander, Crown Prince of Nohr, who stood over a large, Cherrywood table laden with every sort of map an army commander could possibly need—and several that he didn't.
"Laslow, Peri," Xander said gravely, "have you any idea what I just heard about the two of you?"
Normally I do these at the front, but I felt like a change. Laslow and Peri's support conversations really just captured my imagination, so Lord only knows where this is going, but I hope y'all enjoy the ride.
As usual, I don't own Fire Emblem, I'm just playing in the sandbox.