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The Sun Cannot Wait

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Part One: The Dawnsworn

Prompto had graduated high school a few months ago, his eighteenth birthday going by celebrated by his friends and little else, and he had already fallen into a pattern. He would go to his part-time job at a camera store, using the money earned to buy new lenses for his camera, but most of the time, he was with Noct. Ignis and Gladio were there a good amount of the time as well, and while Noct still lived at his swanky apartment outside the Citadel, Prompto found himself at the Citadel so often that most of the guards knew him on sight, whether he was with the prince or not. Occasionally, Noctis and Gladiolus would drag him to the training room, Gladio hoping to get him in proper fighting form and Noct hoping he would divert some of the heat off of his fellow sparring partner.

He had recently met some of the Kingsglaive, who were not around the Citadel a lot, as they were usually out on missions. However, the ones he had spoken with seemed to be pretty awesome people, well, except maybe Nyx Ulric. Glaive Ulric and him had started off on an odd foot, as he seemed nice enough, but always ran off within seconds when Prompto tried to engage him in conversation. Weird. As for his parents, while he never saw them much in general anyway, they seemed to have all but vanished after his graduation, and he was lucky to see them once or twice every month. They had asked what he was planning for his future last time they were in the same vicinity more than an hour, and he had made some vague statements regarding the Crownsguard that got him a few dubious looks from them, but they had dropped the subject. For now, though, life was what it was, and that was okay.

It looked like it was going to stay that way for the foreseeable future until he went to bed a few weeks after his eighteenth birthday...and everything changed. Prompto opened his eyes to a sea of green grass and blue sky, and a single person standing alone. He had had weirder dreams, but this one felt different. Before he could dwell on it further, the figure moved closer to him.

“I am happy to meet you at last, my Voice. I have waited for time beyond measure to look upon you, and now here you are.”

Prompto stared dumbly at the figure, unable to form a proper response. “I’m sorry...what?”

The figure smiled benevolently at him. “You are the light, my child- for the sake of us all, I need you to learn.”

Prompto blinked at the vision in front of him- what appeared to be a woman, dressed in some sort of archaic orange-red robe. “Learn what?”

“You must learn to sing.”

Prompto blinked again at the woman. “Sing? I don’t understand.” He looked around, but he stood in the middle of a green meadow that went further than he could see, and no matter what direction he looked in, the only people there were himself and the mystery woman. “What a weird dream.”

The woman shook her head, but the smile on her face was kind. “ This is not a dream, my child. I may have borrowed you from the land of dreams, but you are not there as of present.”

Prompto looked around again, again seeing nothing but grass and sky, before settling his gaze back on the woman. “Okay...I’ll go along with this for now. But what do you mean by singing? I sing sometimes, like, in the shower and when I’m having fun. I did a few school things back in the day.”

“These are songs of grace, my light, songs of power. What I must teach you will allow you to harmonize with the spirits of old, enchant the very souls of the living to their inner light. It is an ability that has been lost since the days of Solheim.” Prompto blinked at the mystery woman in shock, then shook his head.

“You’ve totally got the wrong person, ma’am. You probably were looking for Noctis, or maybe Ignis or Gladio. I’m the plebe out of the group, not the one you are looking for if you want anything special,” Prompto stated with absolute conviction as he stared down at his covered wrist, his clasped hands clenching as he spoke.

Long, rosy, slender fingers appeared, lifting up his chin. “I am not looking for the future king and his guard, my child, I am here for you.” Prompto’s eyes widened, tears running down his cheeks completely unbidden; the woman’s slender fingers wiped delicately at his cheeks, a sweet smile on her face. “Why do you cry?” He was mortified, and she retracted her hands as he rubbed roughly at his face.

“Only my- no, it’s pathetic. Sorry. You were saying something about magic music? That sounds awesome, don’t get me wrong, but there’s gotta be better singers out there.” The woman shook her head.

“It is not just your voice, Prompto, but do not think yours is inferior in any way, you simply need training. It is the whole package which I seek, heart and soul are vital to the bearing of a true Voice. I chose you from the cradle, my child, I would have no other,” the woman said, and Prompto flushed.

“Uh, thank you...but why do you need me? Even if I learn to sing these magic songs, what am I supposed to do with them?” The lady looked off to the distance, her previously smiling eyes shadowed. “Ma’am?”

“If I told you that I am trying to save the world, would you laugh?” He hadn’t expected that, but-

“I wouldn’t laugh, ma’am. But, isn’t that what Noct is supposed to do? I think there is a prophecy and everything, although I know next to nothing about it,” he asked, and the woman sighed.

“You are not wrong, Prompto, but what you don’t know is that the prophecy will end with many more dead than needs to be through no fault of the future king and entirely the fault of the circumstances. I hope to avert that with your help,” she stood in front of him with her hands clasped, and Prompto boggled at her.

“And you think I can do this?” he asked, and the lady grinned.

“My light, I know you can,” she paused, and reached forward and took Prompto’s hands. “Now I ask you directly; Prompto Argentum, are you willing to stand with me and learn the songs and skills of the ancient Voices?” Prompto knew he really should be asking more questions, but she radiated sincerity and kindness, and he could not bear to disappoint her.

“Yes, ma’am, whatever you need.”

 

---

 

Noctis watched as Prompto’s eyes crept closed across the table from him at the diner, his head listing dangerously towards his half-eaten hamburger on the table.

“Hey, are you alright?” Prompto didn’t even twitch, and after taking a deep breath, Noctis tried again. “Prom!”

Prompto’s head shot up, but Noctis could see the red in his eyes, the pink and purple bruising under them. He looked awful. He hadn’t looked much better than this when they had met up at the Citadel for arms training the previous week, and it was getting more than a little concerning.

“Yeah, Noct, what is it?” Prompto yawned, but managed to keep his eyes facing Noctis, who sighed and grimaced at the sight.

“What’s going on with you, man? You look like shit.” Prompto winced and looked away, then sighed.

“I haven’t been sleeping well, that’s all. I’m taking after the city name a little too much,” Prompto replied, as he wiped at his face with a slightly shaky hand.

Prompto spoke with no artifice in his voice, but Noctis had the suspicion that there was more to it than just general insomnia. Noctis looked down at the table for a moment, his mind whirling around trying to figure out things he could do, then a thought came to him and he looked back at Prompto.

“You sure? We can go to the drug store, get you some pills to help you sleep,” Noctis stated, watching with fast-growing concern as Prompto paled at his question. What the hell was going on with him?

“No. No pills. I just need to work though this.” Prompto’s tone, cold and far harsher than anything Noctis had heard from his friend in a long time, cut away any further attempts at concern from Noctis. He would need to go about this another way.

Prompto had to go to work soon after, and Noctis bade him farewell with a smile, only allowing it to slip once the blond head had passed out of view. Biting back a groan, Noctis turned and headed back towards his apartment. After a minute or so of walking, he dug out his phone and dialed.

“What’s up?” Gladio responded, and Noctis couldn’t help but sigh again. “Noct?”

“You free right now?”

“Yeah, just finished my training for today. What do you need?” There was a thread of concern in Gladio’s voice, and Noct couldn’t help but smile.

“It’s about our favorite chocobo-head.”

Gladio grunted at the other end of the line. “Ah, yeah. Your place?”

“Yeah.”

“Be there soon.”

Noctis hung up, pausing for a moment on the sidewalk. Did he want to call Ignis? He lifted his phone back to his ear, only to drop it again when he remembered what Iggy had told him that morning. “Meetings all day, right,” he mumbled to himself. He’d talk to him later. He made short work of the rest of his walk to his apartment, kicking off his shoes as soon as he came in the door and collapsing onto his sofa.

How do you solve a problem like Prompto? Noctis slumped further into the cushions with a groan. This stunk. Prompto was usually the one with all the energy while he was the one falling asleep everywhere, and he really didn’t like the sudden role reversal. Prom looked horrible, he fell asleep everywhere, but never stayed asleep- Noctis grabbed a convenient throw pillow and smashed it against his face, enjoying the sudden dark.

The front door banged open, and Noctis could hear Gladio shedding those massive boots with two thumps onto the tile before walking up to where he was, his footsteps stopping right next to him. Before Noctis could react, the pillow was ripped away from his face, and he blinked at the light flooding in. “Hey.”

Gladio looked down at him with bemusement, before shoving Noctis’s feet off the sofa and taking their place. “Hey yourself, princess. Don’t try to kill yourself with a throw pillow, we’d have to carve that on your tomb, and your reputation would never recover.”

Noctis thrashed around until he managed to get into a seated position, giving Gladio a dirty look. “What reputation?”

Gladio chortled. “True enough.” He trailed off for a moment, then the mirth faded from his face. “Prompto, huh.”

Noctis sighed again. It was going to be a chronic condition at this rate. “Yeah. I asked him, you know, at lunch. He said he just hadn’t been sleeping well.” Gladio’s answering snort told Noctis that the two of them were in agreement on the likelihood of that explanation being true. “I suggested sleeping pills, and he looked at me like I had murdered his mother. Shut me down instantly.”

Gladio frowned. “That’s a strange response. Maybe he’s worried about getting addicted to them?”

“Could be. I don’t know. I was afraid to bring it up again after that,” Noct stated as he glared at his dirty fingernails. “What in the hell do we do?”  

“I hate to say this, Noct, but he is an adult. Why don’t we give him some time, maybe it is just a nasty case of insomnia,” Gladio shrugged. “If it doesn’t get any better, we can always figure out what we can do.”

Noctis leaned forward, resting his elbows on his thighs and resting his chin on his hands. “I don’t like this.”

Gladio leaned over and patted Noctis on the shoulder. “Neither do I, kid, neither do I.”

 

---

 

At fifteen, Cor Leonis stood before Gilgamesh wielding two swords; beautiful katanas that had been family heirlooms, their only heirlooms, thick with the sticky sort of caked-on dust that spoke to long-term neglect. He had pulled them down from their dingy decorative rack almost ten years prior, and now he found himself in one hell of a situation with them. He managed to cut off one of the arms of the mighty spirit with those beautiful blades, but in the end he lay prostrate at Gilgamesh’s feet, an ancient sword at his neck, waiting for the end to come. Clarus had warned him, told him he was being a fool, but he hadn’t listened. He had felt invincible, and had utterly disregarded the facts of the matter in his hubris. He hoped Clarus wouldn’t blame himself for this mess, he was the idiot teenager, not Clarus.

“You wait for death.”

Gilgamesh’s voice startled Cor from his deathbed musings, and he tilted his head to look up at the being, the blade against his neck cutting a narrow furrow in his skin. “Well, it seemed the obvious conclusion, considering our current position.”

There was a rumbling sort of sound that followed, and Cor didn’t know whether to be proud or depressed that he had managed to amuse the ancient Shield. If Clarus came to find his corpse, maybe Gilgamesh would tell him about this instead of attacking him out of sheer novelty.

“You will not die today. You have been given a greater purpose than just adding to my collection.”

If a lich in armor could look sympathetic, that would be the feeling Cor was getting out of this increasingly surreal encounter. Then the words hit him. “What in the hell are you talking about?”

Another rumble. That was definitely a laugh. “You will see.” The sword was pulled away, and before Cor could say another word, Gilgamesh leaned over, grabbed the Genji Blade from the ground, and vanished into a cloud of light and dust motes.

“Well, shit.” He had liked that sword. At least the laughing bastard had left him his other one. Cor dragged himself to his feet, grabbing his remaining sword as he stood. The instant he caught his breath, he turned and walked as fast as he could manage out of the macabre hall of blades. He may have failed in his attempt, but he wasn’t going to stick around for Gilgamesh to change his mind.

After a few hours of mostly-unimpeded hiking, Cor emerged into the sunshine, with no more understanding of Gilgamesh’s cryptic statement. “A greater purpose, huh.” The motorcycle he had borrowed still remained at the entrance to the path, and he got on, willpower alone keeping him on the bike.

He’d figure it out later.

 

---

 

“You are doing so well, my light; you sing like the spirits of old as you learn the songs.”

Prompto had always liked to sing, a casual hobby that had materialized into the occasional school performance, but nothing formal. He doubted Noctis had ever noticed, as he would only ever go to the school events that happened during normal hours, not optional after-school events, and he was almost positive that Ignis or Gladio had no idea. But still, he did enjoy it, but this was on a whole other level.

Words which he did not know the language emerged on a regular basis from his lips; other voices would join him out of nowhere in harmony as he sang notes that he had not truly tried to reach before. The other beings that would join him in song had frightened him at first, he was willing to admit it. Especially when one of them had been a beautiful woman with black hair and incredibly familiar eyes that he had definitely seen in pictures before in the Citadel, and he had turned in horror to the ever-present lady that was teaching him.

“I do not call them, Prompto, you are doing that all on your own. This is part of your talent. They are not trapped, they are not enslaved, they will only come if they wish. If you recognize one of the spirits harmonizing with you, do not despair, but feel honored; they have heard your call, and they have found you worthy.” They had still disconcerted him for awhile, but he acclimated to their presence over time. He knew that he would never be able to tell Noctis, even if or when all of this came out, that he had sung with the ghost of his mother.

Prompto still couldn’t believe that out of the four of them, he was the one who had been sought out to learn this ability. The woman had claimed that what he was learning could determine the fate of the world, but he could hardly believe that. That was meant to be the job of people like Noct, not people like him. But nevertheless, he sang and he practiced; he would wake up with a tune on his tongue, but he had not sung these songs outside of this dreamscape. He had not dared to.

“You’ll know when it is your time to sing, my child. You will know.”

He did not know who the kindly woman was who was teaching him all these songs, but her presence was calming. Prompto found himself doing what she asked with little concern. He was with her so often these days, after all.

---

 

Ignis had a great many things that could be listed under his job description, but at least fifty percent of them, if not closer to one hundred percent, could be boiled down to simply being observant of everything around him. A few months back, Prompto, normally so effervescent and open, the spark that usually was the catalyst for Noctis to come out of his own shell, had begun to falter, bright eyes increasingly hidden under a film of exhaustion as he went through the motions of daily life. His once-frequent texts had slowed to a crawl, even his constant photo-taking had seemed to have been curtailed under the increasing cloud of fatigue that had enveloped him. It was becoming distressing.

“He’s getting no better, Noctis,” Ignis said, looking down at the dour young man slouched into the sofa across from where he was sitting. “I hate to be the one to say this, but we might want to consider suggesting medical attention. I’m not liking what I am seeing, to be frank.”

Noctis glared at him, but there was no heat in it anymore. He was just worried, as they all were.

“You aren’t suggesting he’s gotten into drugs, right?” Gladio, sitting off to the left in his own chair, put forth, but Ignis shook his head and held up a hand for forestall Noctis before he could burst into predictable outrage.

“I entertained the idea at first, but none of us have seen any obvious signs, and while Prompto can be a bit...excitable, he has always had a good head on his shoulders. I would be truly surprised if that is what has happened.” Ignis stated, making sure he met Noctis’s gaze as he spoke. “Besides, it came on so quickly, it’s quite strange.”

Noctis slumped further down in his spot. “He told me last month that he just hadn’t been sleeping, but when I suggested maybe an over-the-counter sleeping pill, you would have thought I had asked him to...I don’t know, kill a chocobo or something. I don’t think I had ever heard him sound like that.”

Ignis frowned. No one spoke for a long while as he thought about the possibilities. Yes, it could be some sort of illicit substance, but what he had said was accurate. He didn’t think that was the issue. Despite the lethargy, Prompto was still the same; he still took some pictures, still played some video games, still cracked unfortunate jokes in equally unfortunate circumstances. He just looked like he hadn’t slept in a year and kept dozing off even more than Noctis did. The immediate sensitivity to questions about his condition was the more concerning factor to Ignis. Although he was sure that Prompto had secrets of his own, caginess was not something they normally got from the young man. It all added up to a mystery that Ignis did not like, and one he had no intention of leaving hanging.

Someone had to step forward. Noctis was out, he had already tried, but he was afraid of pushing too much. Gladiolus tended to get rather intimidating when he was concerned, which would not work here. Prompto would just vanish and hope that it would blow over, which wouldn’t certainly wouldn’t help the situation.

Ignis sighed and readjusted his glasses. “I’ll approach Prompto about the situation. There’s already an expectation of my expressions of concern-”

Noctis smirked. “You mean your nagging-”

“-and he might take it a little better coming from me than either of you two,” Ignis finished, ignoring Noctis’s interjection.

Gladiolus nodded. “Yeah, he can get a little skittish sometimes.” He leaned over and jabbed Noctis’s shoulder, eliciting a grunt. “Means keep your mouth shut for now, Noct, let the expert handle it.”

Noctis swatted in Gladiolus’s general direction before dragging himself upright. “What do you think I’ve been doing? I figured if I asked him again he’d either rip my head off or do a runner. Remember what we talked about last time?”

Gladiolus nodded. “Yeah, that’s true.” He turned towards Ignis. “I’ll try to stay out of it for now. Do your thing, Iggy.”

 

---

 

The day before Regis’s coronation as the 113th King of Lucis, Cor dreamed of a wide meadow with naught but long grasses and a woman in saffron robes. Well, Cor would say he was dreaming, but that description didn’t seem to be quite the truth. He could smell the grass, feel the light breeze as it ruffled his sleep pants, and hear the woman speak as if she was standing next to him on the street. If this was lucid dreaming, Cor didn’t think he wanted any part of it.

“I am happy to finally meet you, my friend.”

The woman reached out as she spoke, clasping one of Cor’s hands in hers. He shivered at the strange sensation, but did not try to move his hand away.

“It was beginning to look as if you would not survive to reach this point, but I was pleased that Lord Gilgamesh remembered who I am and acted accordingly.”

Something inside Cor knew this being in front of him was something special, and he bowed without conscious thought. “I’m afraid, my lady, that we have not been acquainted.” The woman smiled and reached out with her free hand to cup Cor’s cheek, and his eyes slid closed at the warm touch.

“You know who I am, my friend. You have met with me every time you see the sunrise, each time you have breathed the fresh air of a cool breeze, you have looked upon me each time you see a flower bloom, and heard a bird’s cry. I may not be spoken of anymore like those you call the Astrals, but you know me.”

Cor’s eyes snapped open, and he looked upon the kind face with wonder. “Dawn Mother.” Eos’s eyes twinkled, and Cor found himself dropping to his knees before her. “Forgive me, I did not know.”

Eos shook her head, and bade him rise. “Do not fret, my dear Cor, it is entirely understandable. I am only glad to finally be speaking with you.” Eos looked about for a moment, before a wave of her hand made two sections of the grasses weave themselves together into tidy seats. “Rest, and I will tell you why we are here.”

Cor slowly lowered himself onto one of the grass stools, watching with both awe and trepidation as the Dawn Mother followed his movements on the other. The two sat and looked at each other for what felt like an age before Cor gathered the courage to speak. “If I may ask, Dawn Mother, where are we?”

“We are in a little haven of my own, as it were. A little place of solitude for myself in these trying times.” Cor breathed in to speak again, but Eos raised a hand to forestall him. “Peace, Cor, I have much to impart and I can only keep you here so long.”

Cor flushed with embarrassment, but Eos smiled and shook her head again before leaning forward and taking his hand once more.

“I chose you in your cradle, Cor Leonis; I chose you to be my Herald, the one who would help and guide my chosen Voice, both of you as my Dawnsworn, as they are born and grow in this life. You would be the heart of truth, and you would know my heart beyond question, and neither king nor astral would dare to question you,” The goddess paused for a moment as Cor’s eyes widened in shock, before smiling and continuing. “I will not force you, Cor Leonis, but if you accept, you will be recognized as the messengers of the astrals are, and they will know who you are the instant they see you. I would teach you abilities and skills that have been long forgotten, none used since the last of my heralds departed back in the days of Solheim,” Eos trailed off as Cor stared at her, stunned and not entirely believing. “I know it is much to take in, my friend. In the end, I simply ask that I may be able to count on you for your assistance in several matters in the future, and to listen to me as I teach you what you must know to be successful in your quest.”

Cor could barely breathe. A goddess, the goddess depending how much one knew of the old ways, was asking him to be her servant, her...herald? This was folly, he was nothing special, and he was promised to another’s service. He sighed, and looked at the goddess with wariness. “My lady, I hear your words, and I am not without temptation to agree, but I am sworn to another’s service, and will be renewing those vows tomorrow. I could not in good faith serve both the crown and yourself.” Cor tried to pull his hand away from hers, but she did not release her grip. “Forgive me.”

“What do you know of Bahamut’s prophecy, Cor Leonis?”

The sudden subject change jarred Cor, and he fumbled for a moment before speaking. “You...you speak of the true king, the one who will work with the astrals and the oracle to save the world from eternal darkness.”

Eos nodded, her smile fading as she looked into the distance. “Do you know what that truly entails, Cor? What pain lies ahead for a reward that should have achieved so long ago?”

“I- I honestly hadn’t thought too hard about it, I guess. I assumed fighting the Infernian would be part of it, a sort of finishing the loop from the great war,” Cor said, and Eos shrugged a bit at his words.

“He very well may appear as part of it, but this has to do with the Scourge, which came from without our world, not within, borne on the meteor. It has poisoned the soil and tainted all those who come in contact with it; the astrals could have done more to stop it, but they chose to defer it to humanity in a convoluted series of so-called gifts and prophesies, and then topped it off by ripping out a part of my heart and giving it away with little explanation beyond protect this and wait.” Eos let out a sigh, which stunned Cor even further, but he could not make himself speak. “Did you know that this will be the second attempt at a so-called chosen king? The first refused to cooperate and initially tried his best to heal the Scourge in his own way, but it twisted him inside over time; the astrals, Bahamut primarily, could not stand his rebellion, his daring to change that prophecy, and left him to rot. Anger, bitterness, and betrayal mixed with the vast majority of the world’s Scourge invested in one individual has made him immortal, the true target of the prophecy in the end. It is this person, this abandoned near-king, that will bring on the eternal night and the destruction of much of the world if he is not destroyed.”

Cor shuddered as the goddess trailed off, but he forced himself to square his shoulders and address her. “If this is true, why not wait until the new chosen king is born and make sure he knows what he must do? You sound as if you are thinking of something different.”

The goddess bent forward, bracing her arms on her legs. “In another reality, the chosen one is born, he is raised knowing that he will die somewhat young to maintain the wall, but is left largely ignorant of his true calling in hopes that he would have a normal childhood. The empire gains the upper hand, and he is sent away from Insomnia to marry the oracle to guarantee peace. It is a trap, and before the dust is even settled, much of the city is destroyed; the crystal is taken to the empire, and you nearly alone remain alive of the royal court of his father. You travel to the prince, now king, and attempt to guide him to claim the ancestral power that has been set aside for this purpose, but you can only do so much. The oracle awakens the astrals so the chosen can seek their favor, but it weakens her significantly, and she dies due to the hand of the night-bringer after awakening Leviathan, ending the line of the oracle.” Cor couldn’t believe what he was hearing, and started to lean forward to interject, but he was stopped by a squeeze of his hand.

“Saddened, but knowing that the crystal needed to be retrieved, the king and his companions went to the heart of the empire, where the king was forced into the crystal and left to rot in a place between realities for some time until Bahamut was certain that he finally has the sacrificial lamb he wanted all along. He was freed, and met up with his companions in a land now under eternal night for one last fight, where the Accursed, as the astrals call him, is finally destroyed, but both king and failed king are so attached to the place between due to the magic that keeps the old rulers of Lucis from having a peaceful death that the chosen must sacrifice himself to kill the night-bringer once and for all. The line of kings ends there, and when the sun rises for the first time in many years, the world has lost over half of its population, and again, you alone remain, an aging man who has outlived three kings and several oracles, who has seen the world torn apart so soundly that you are unsure it could ever be made whole again.”

Tears were running down the goddess’s face as she finished her speech, and Cor watched as the grasses grew at her feet as her tears splashed, numb at the sight. There were two key points that he found himself focusing on; one, Regis would be the father of the chosen king, and secondly, it sounded as if everything would end horribly if Eos’s vision was correct. But what could he do? He was just Cor, he knew he was a decent soldier, but he was nothing special. Eos finally released his hand, a cold sweat now taking hold of him, and he wiped at his face viciously with both hands. What could he do? He was just a soldier. He groaned and crushed his palms into his eyes for a long moment before letting his hands drop.

“If- if I agree to this, what would I be able to do to change what you just described? I am no king, your grace, no oracle; I’m just a soldier.”

“I have been weakened by both the presence of the scourge and the machinations of others, but I have gathered power enough to bless both you and my voice with the strength to breach the layers between and aid the chosen king in a hopefully modified version of his fate. I am tired, Cor, but I am far more exhausted at the thought of so many suffering and dying just because Bahamut has a penchant for sacrifice and preordained fate. It may sound callous, but why should the deaths of people millennia before you force you to sacrifice yourself in the here and now? It is all very noble, but still, there is so much that the astrals could have done that they happily disregarded,” Eos paused, taking a deep breath and closing her eyes for a long moment before continuing. “I could guarantee nothing, but perhaps with your help, we might be able to bring forth a new dawn without a full-scale apocalypse...we might be able to break the cycle.”  Eos bowed her head slightly in Cor’s direction when she stopped speaking, then sat up and looked forward, saying nothing more.

Cor sat in silence, allowing the possibilities to run through his head for so long his back begins to ache, but neither he nor the goddess speaks again until Cor finally comes to a decision.

“I accept.”

 

---

 

When Prompto opened his eyes to the meadow, he didn’t even blink at the sight anymore. He was beginning to feel as if he was there as often as he was anywhere else in the waking world, and that he was so easily accepting of that fact that it bothered him sometimes. But now wasn’t the time to dwell on that. He took a deep breath, then walked over the the omnipresent woman. “You know, they don’t talk much about the Dawn Mother anymore, it took quite a bit of digging at the library and online to find much about you.” Eos, the goddess of the world and the dawn, smiled, and Prompto could not help but return it.

“You figured it out.”

Prompto rubbed at his wrist as he chuckled nervously. “Why didn’t you tell me? I know I’m not the brightest bulb in the box, but I think I could have handled it.”

Eos frowned as he spoke, and raised her hands to cup Prompto’s face. “Do not speak of yourself as lesser, my child. I did not want to overwhelm you with facts early on, it was not meant to be entirely deliberate. As you learned the songs and melodies, I simply let it slip from my thoughts. Even immortal beings forget.” Eos stroked at Prompto’s cheeks, soothing the young man. “You have done so well, my light. I am honored that you are so skilled in what I have asked of you. The spirits love you, and help you in droves, which was something I could only hope for. I know it was quite the surprise to you to suddenly end up here.”

Prompto smiled and shook his head, the exhaustion of the waking world not touching him in this place. He could sing forever here, and make the goddess smile at him. It was pleasant, it felt as if he finally had a mother, or, perhaps, a grandmother who truly seemed to be available, even if it was in a dream world. If he was going crazy, at least it was a good way to go. Prompto was jarred from his thoughts by Eos, whose hands were now wrapped around his shoulders and were shaking him lightly.

“Do not go down that road, Prompto. You are not going mad, I promise. In fact, I’ll let you in on a little secret, as it were.” Eos’s concerned face startled Prompto, who stepped away from her; she let her hands fall to her sides and smiled again at him. “Peace, my light, I did not mean to worry you so.”

Prompto closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then looked upon the goddess once more. “A secret?” he said, and Eos grinned.

“Not much of one, truly, but there is one other besides you who I bring here.”

That did surprise Prompto on one hand, but on the other, maybe not so much. The goddess insisted he was special, but maybe not that special. He bit at his bottom lip for a moment. “May I ask who?”

“When I call for my champions, as it were, there are always two; I have a Voice...that would be you, my light...and a Herald. I always call the herald first, as they support both myself and the voice with both strength of arms and purity of character. The current herald has already done much to help you, even if you perhaps do not remember.”

Prompto gasped, and immediately set to thinking. “I know them, right? If they’ve helped me in some form, I must have met them, yeah?”

“You are acquainted, although not well; they know you better than you know them, which will change in the future, but not until it is time. They have done well in keeping their activities on my behalf quiet, and I prefer to allow you both to lead your own lives until such time your true skills are needed.” Eos laughed at the disgruntled expression Prompto shot her. “Patience, my heart, you will know all soon. Just know that they care for you and your welfare, even if they don’t show it.” Eos paused. “I find it a bit unfortunate you were not born in Galahd, Prompto, they are one of the few places that I hear my name still being invoked, and my stories being told. How much easier this would have all been for you,” the Goddess finished, and Prompto blinked.

“Galahd? I know some Galahdians, a lot of the Kingsglaive are from there. They’ve been under varying levels of Imperial control for decades, so there are a lot of refugees in Insomnia. I’ll be honest, I’ve never noticed them mention you before, I thought they focused on the Six as much as the rest of the world does,” Prompto tried to remember if Nyx, Libertus, or any of the Galahdian Glaives he had spoken with in the past had mentioned anything that invoked the Dawn Mother, but nothing came to mind.

“No, they have always included me, although they may not be so obvious about it in exile as they were among the grasses and fields of their home. It is quite possible that out of all of the world, they are the only ones that will know what you are without explanation when all is revealed.” Prompto worried at his bottom lip with his teeth, thinking about the goddess was saying. Would they see him differently? Nyx seemed to be nervous around him for some reason sometimes, but at least he had stopped running away. The others he usually ran into had always been kind and easy to speak with. It was just more questions he would hopefully find answers for eventually.

“My light, how about you sing me the song of the first king of Solheim,” the Dawn Mother asked, breaking into Prompto’s thoughts. He pouted, but straightened his spine, squared his shoulders, and began to sing. When the spirits joined in midway through the song, he didn’t even blink; he had grown used to the otherworldly choir, and they seemed to work well together. Once he finished, Prompto looked at the goddess, who gave him a cheery smile and a nod.

He could do this.

 

---

 

For all of his confidence with the others, Ignis didn’t want to push Prompto too hard. He had always been such a open and friendly person, and Ignis was torn between risking that relationship with himself (and possibly Noctis and Gladio) by pressing the assault, or simply keeping quiet and seeing how things would play out. After some thought on the matter, he decided to try and bring it up here and there in casual conversation, in hopes that the exhausted teen would just fold and tell him. Ignis should have known better.

He tried his best to talk to Prompto about his health on several occasions, but the younger man was surprisingly good at changing the subject. He tried when Prompto helped out in the kitchen, he tried when he would pick him up to drive him to Noctis’s apartment, he tried when he met up with him for lunch at a nice little cafe close to the Citadel. But no matter how he tried to bring it up, Prompto skillfully would start talking about an entirely different subject, and Ignis would find himself just going along with it. After a solid hour of trying to divert a conversation about photography courses at the local university in between bites of a delicious mushroom risotto, he knew he had been beaten for now.

Ignis nodded to Prompto’s ever-tired frame as he rose to his feet. “Well, Prompto, it’s been good seeing you today, I’m afraid I need to return to the Citadel, I have several afternoon meetings I am expected at, and my absence would not be appreciated.” It took far longer than Ignis was comfortable with watching Prompto pull himself up, but he kept his mouth shut. He would try again later.

Prompto ran a hand through his hair, then gave Ignis a wobbly wave. “Good seeing you, Iggy, tell Noctis I said hi.” Prompto turned and walked out of the cafe with Ignis at his heels, stopping abruptly at the sidewalk. Ignis managed to stop before running into the shorter man, but only just.

“Iggy?” Prompto whispered, and Ignis straightened at his tone.

“Yes, Prompto?”

Prompto half-turned in place, his piercing blue-violet eyes meeting Ignis’s with trepidation; Ignis reached over and clasped Prompto’s shoulder, urging him to speak.

“Ignis...thanks. I know you weren’t sure about me at first, but you’re a real pal.”

Ignis froze at Prompto’s statement, which allowed the other man to set off down the road as Ignis stood there. “Prompto?”

“See you later, Iggy!” Prompto was out of sight before Ignis could even think to follow. After staring stupidly in the direction he had gone for far longer than necessary, someone bumped into Ignis and he was thrown out of the moment.

“Pardon me.” Ignis muttered as he turned and headed back to the Citadel. Prompto had seemed like he was going to say something, but had clearly changed his mind. Right as Ignis was waved through the first security gate, his phone rang.

“Scientia speaking.”

“Hey, Specs, how did it go with Prom?” Noctis urged, and Ignis found himself shaking his head before recovering.

“Not yet, I’m afraid; our dear friend has a streak of stubbornness a mile wide.” Ignis sighed. “I will continue my efforts, of course.”

Noctis sighed as well, the sound whistling through the phone as Ignis was waved into the main entrance to the Citadel proper. “Thanks, Iggy. I appreciate it.”

“Always, Noct.”

It would have to wait for next time.

 

---

 

“You have done well, Cor. Your talent in all that you have been instructed in over the last decade is clear, I think it has only added to your legend amongst your people. What is the appellation they address you by now?” Eos said, a definitive twinkle in her eyes as she spoke to Cor.

“Must we?” Cor pinched at the bridge of his nose, but the goddess would not be deterred.

“Of course, Cor the Immortal. Interesting name for my Herald, I admit. The fact you are excellent at moving between has made it look as if you appear everywhere at once, and has helped you survive many battles that you may not otherwise have.”

Cor could do nothing but concede that point. Since accepting the position of the Dawn Herald from the goddess, she had been true to her word, largely leaving him alone most of the time, only visiting him a few times a year to teach him a new skill, the most important of which was clearly the warp-like ability she imparted; it did not work quite like the the ability that the royals of Lucis had, both had the wielder walking in a subtle shifted dimension of sorts, but where the kings would throw an anchor and themselves through in a shower of sparks, he would simply vanish from one step to the next, phasing through space and distance to appear at another location almost instantaneously. The goddess had compared it to the ability that the Messengers had, where they too could send themselves across great distances, and Cor had not disagreed. Unlike the royals and messengers, however, he had gone out of his way to hide the skill, knowing that he was walking a fine line between loyalties as it was. He never used it if the king was within a half-mile at the least, as he was worried that Regis would be able to sense him using the skill.

He may have gained a ridiculous name or two along the way, but he could not be found out as anything other than plain old Cor for now. There was too much at stake.

“It will soon be time where I will call upon you for the first time in truth, my herald, my voice has been born.”

“Where are they?” Cor asked, and the goddess looked squarely at him.

“Far from you, unfortunately. This will have to be remedied, and soon.” Eos’s voice was as stern as Cor had ever heard it, and he felt an electric shock travel up his back. He had agreed, and he could not back out now.

Cor bowed. “I await your call, my lady.”

 

---

 

“I still haven’t figured out who the Herald is. Can’t you just tell me? I’ll keep it to myself.”

“Patience, my light, patience.”

“Pleeeease?”

“Not yet.” Eos sighed again. Prompto wondered if it was blasphemous somehow to make a goddess sigh, but she hadn’t killed him yet, so- “How about you practice the song of freedom again, it’s one that needs to be as perfect as possible to achieve its full effect.

“Fine, but don’t think I’m giving up yet.” Prompto groused, and the Dawn Mother poorly hid a laugh behind a hand.

 

---

 

There had been several more group gatherings, an awkward night at the arcade that ended earlier than usual when Prompto had almost fallen asleep while eating the after-game pizza, another time where they were simply hanging out at Noctis’s apartment that ended up with Prompto snoring into his couch, and finally, an impromptu training session that wrapped up with Prompto again dozing off as soon as his turn was over.

“Well, at least he’s getting some sleep,” Gladio said as he looked down at the sleeping man curled up on a bench, Noctis snorting behind him in response.

“He’s going to fall asleep in the middle of the street or something at this rate. This is stupid.” Noctis snarled, causing both Ignis and Gladio to shoot the prince a look.

Iggy maneuvered between the sleeping Prom and the fuming prince, not wanting him to do something he would regret later. “Noctis, getting angry about the situation isn’t going to help. Give me a little longer to try and coax it out of him. I think I was getting somewhere last time-”

Gladio cut off Iggy with a raised hand. “Shh. Do you hear that?” All three men froze and listened intently, before Noctis looked back down at Prom, a smile coming unbidden to his face.

“He’s singing in his sleep,” Noctis whispered as he knelt to listen more carefully; he could not make out the words, but the sound coming from Prom’s lips was beautiful and as far as he could tell, in perfect tune. Gladio looked stunned as he too took a seat, sitting at the other end of the bench Prompto was on to listen, while Ignis stood at Noctis’s back without a sound.

The three of them waited in silence, listening to Prompto quietly sing in his sleep for several minutes, not moving a muscle until the song ended. Noctis’s foot slipped a few seconds after, his boot squeaking on the floor, and Prom groaned.

Noctis immediately jumped to his feet, backing off several feet to lean against a column; Iggy retreated to nonchalantly look at his phone. Gladio was the only one who didn’t move, instead closing his eyes and leaning against the wall behind the bench.

Prompto slapped at his own face and groaned again before dragging himself back into a seated position. He looked around at the quiet training hall and the three men all relaxing near him and went scarlet. “Oh, I’m so sorry! I hope I didn’t keep you guys waiting.”

Gladio snorted, lightly smacking Prompto on the arm as he got to his feet. “If you needed the sleep, kid, you needed the sleep.”

Prompto rubbed at his arm with a pout, looking again at everyone. “Is everything okay?” Noctis reached out without a word, and Prompto allowed himself to be pulled to his feet. “Guys?”

Ignis smiled and tucked his phone away. “Everything is fine, Prompto. Just woolgathering.”

Noctis held on to Prompto’s hand long enough for the blond’s blush to return in force, letting go only when Gladio cleared his throat. “Ah, er, why don’t we go find some dinner, guys.”

Prom looked at the time on his phone, and choked. “Oh shit, guys, I’ve got to go to work! Next time, yeah?” With a wave, Prompto fled the room, leaving the other three to stare warily after him.

“So did anyone know he could sing? Like, really sing?” Gladiolus rumbled, and Ignis shook his head. Noctis stood staring at the door Prompto had exited through, and Gladiolus moved to bump into him. “Noct?”

“He did a few things in high school, but I don’t really remember much. He wouldn’t bring it up or anything, he’d just do it. I think he was embarrassed or thought that I would find it lame,” Noctis muttered, shaking his head as the three of them exited the training hall.

“Hm. Well, another piece of the puzzle that is our friend. Remember what I said earlier.” Ignis said, and the others nodded.

“Yeah, Iggy, I remember.” Noctis split with the others shortly after that, and sighed. Prom was driving him crazy, and the fact he was pretty closed lipped about didn’t help either. Soon. They would figure out what was going on soon.

 

---

 

“Cor Leonis, it is time.”

Cor gasped, nearly tripping over his own feet as his awareness adjusted to the meadow. Normally the transition to the goddess’s was smooth, but he had been all but thrown in. After a few moments trying to gather his equilibrium, he bowed to the goddess. “My lady?”

“The Voice is in grave danger where he is, if not retrieved within a year or so, he will not survive.” Eos’s face and posture was like stone, and Cor knew he was seeing the Goddess of Dawn, not the kindly mother goddess he usually interacted with. Cor rose from his bow and squared his shoulders.

“Tell me where I must go, my lady. I will set out as soon as possible.” Cor stated, then stood at attention, waiting for orders.

Eos’s posture and expression softened slightly, and she nodded. “Excellent, my dear herald. He is on the other continent from you, in a city covered in machinery called Gralea. He has no parents that would claim him, and a fate that will leave him a shell soon if allowed to remain.”

Cor hissed in a breath. Gralea. The heart of the damned empire. Of course. This would be tricky. “How will I know him?”

Eos waved a hand, and an image of a rail-thin child with light blond hair appeared before him. The boy was dressed in a grey scrub-like outfit with a number upon the breast, and he appeared little more than a half-starved waif until he looked up. Cor bit back a gasp at the child’s beautiful blue-violet eyes, large and luminous even in a transparent image, and inside his mind, something seemed to trigger, a switch clicking over. He needed to find this child, and soon.

“As you approach the city, you will be able to feel his presence to some extent. This should help you locate him.” The goddess approached Cor, raising both hands and settling them on his shoulders. “If he does not survive, then all is lost. I will be unable to help as I stated I would otherwise as I will be unable to gather the strength to bless another in a reasonable amount of time.”

Cor stepped away from the goddess and bowed once more. “I will take my leave, then, I have much to prepare to be able to travel.”

Eos raised a hand in clear benediction, and the meadow began to fade away. “Do not forget what I have taught you, Herald of the Dawn. You will need it.”

Cor awoke the next morning with a solid case of nerves, the type that he had not had since his first battle. He would need to leave his king and his country for some time to fetch the child, and Regis could not find out what he was doing, as much as part of him really wanted to tell the king and friend. Cor stewed for a bit on his course of action, but since he had no intention of deserting, there was only one option he could take.

A few hours later, Cor walked back to his quarters a bit thunderstruck. He had petitioned for a leave of absence, made up some malarky about wanting to travel around and see the world without having to do so from a battlefield, and Regis and Clarus had smiled and granted his petition immediately. Something about having only taken a week off in the fifteen years since he had joined the Crownsguard, and since that week was to go challenge Gilgamesh, it really doesn’t count, does it, Clarus?

Cor sighed, then grabbed a plain backpack and got to work. He couldn’t understand Regis sometimes, but on this one occasion, he figured it was best to count his blessings. As he pulled a shirt out of his closet, Cor thought about what he should bring. He was going to be taking some serious shortcuts, but he would still need supplies. Perhaps a few changes of clothing for the kid wouldn’t hurt either. He would need to be discrete buying those, however; his face was too well known in much of the city, and for a well-known bachelor such as him to be seen buying clothing for small children...it would invite questioning. Maybe he would drop by Lestallum and purchase some there, less opportunity for problems.

In the end, Cor gave himself three days to prepare. Clarus saw him off from the Citadel with a smile, telling him to enjoy his trip, and Cor rode his motorcycle outside the city and past the various checkpoints until he ended up under the open sky. He left the bike stashed in a channel inset into one of the old walls of northern Leide, then tightened the straps on his pack, took a deep breath, then stepped. He shot too far north on the first jump, ending up not too far from the Keycatrich Ruins. After a few moments to breathe, he stepped again, this time landing perhaps ten miles east of Alastor Slough. He swayed in place for an uncomfortably long period of time, willing his stomach to settle before doing one more jump. This time saw him in the Rydielle Ley area, and it was all he could do to remain standing. He had never jumped so far nor so much in a short period of time, and Cor had never realized how draining it was. He managed to stumble to a nearby haven and crash for the evening, not even bothering to set up any sort of tent.

The next morning, he managed a decent breakfast, then began his travels once more. Two more steps landed him on the outskirts of Lestallum, where he partook in a relaxing walk around the city, ending with a meal and a visit to a clothing store for children’s clothing. After he had walked a quarter mile outside of the city, he jumped again, landing south of the Vesperpool, one last step left him just to the northwest of it. Falling to his knees, Cor gasped for breath, barely able to keep down his meal from earlier. He thought about doing another jump, but the acid in his throat made him reevaluate. It took longer than he would have liked, but he managed to find a haven and settle down for the night. He needed to reach Galahd tomorrow so he could catch a boat to Niflheim, as he knew that there was no way he would be able to step across the ocean.

Cor reached the northwest coast by mid-day. Galahd was an occupied territory, and it showed. MTs patrolled the area, but as long as he kept his head down, he figured he would get through without issue. As a small attempt to change his look, Cor had shaved his mustache off back at the camp, but hadn’t bothered to do much else besides wear some of his older clothes. It wouldn’t do to attract attention. In a stroke of luck, there was a boat heading to the eastern coast of Niflheim leaving that evening, and he quietly bought his ticket and waited for launch.

Two days later saw them docking in the Succarpe territory on Niflheim’s eastern coast, an arid region that was not heavily populated. As soon as he disembarked, he consulted a map that probably dated to five minutes after Solheim fell, oriented himself, and stepped southwest. The rest on the ship had done him well, and he managed to reach the foothills of their eastern mountains before calling it a day. The next saw him get nearly lost in those same mountains, but he managed to orient himself and reach the Vogliupe desert before nightfall. One more day saw him utterly exhausted and within the Weltham mountains, less than 100 miles outside of of Gralea. The smog from their industry was visible even at such a distance, blocking out much of the night sky. Tomorrow would probably be the day, Cor mused, and forced himself to eat as decent of a meal as he could scrounge together. He would need the strength.

When Cor awoke the next morning, he felt a presence in the back of his mind, a small warmth that he could not explain. He was close. He packed up his little camp and pulled his hood up to cover his face as much as possible before squaring his shoulders and jumping.

With his ability to move between , Cor easily entered the city, bypassing any security checkpoints. Once he felt safe enough, he dove down an alleyway and allowed his mind to drift. The warm presence that had grown exponentially as he approached the city was all but flooding his mind now, he just needed to figure out how to narrow down its source. All of his instincts told him to head to the great keep in the center of the city, and he put his head down and did just that.

For all that Zagnautus was the Great Imperial Keep, it was shockingly easy to break into. Using all the skills at his disposal, Cor moved from room to room, floor to floor, and what he saw before him made his heart ache. MTs as far as the eye can see, many in odd bays that seemed to be some sort of storage locker, scientists with determined looks in their eyes going about their business-

-and then he found the first room with the children. A room with some thirty cribs lay before him, each baby with an IV line feeding a black fluid into their bodies. He forced himself to leave after several tense moments where he squashed down the urge to rip the lines out of the children. He could not save all of them, he knew this, but the temptation still tore at him. The next room he found housed children that appeared to be in the two to three range. These children were also attached to machines feeding them that same black sludge. He looked around, but he was being pulled elsewhere. He heaved a deep sigh and left the second group of children behind as well, but not without first having to swipe a hand across blurry eyes and wet cheeks.

The room he entered next appeared to be filled with records, and he forced himself to glance at a few of the ones that were sitting unfiled. It took him only a matter of seconds to realize what he was looking at. When he opened the file for one MT-073919-20 and saw the expressionless face of a girl no older than six, Cor had to bite his fist to keep from screaming. All this time, he had thought, they had all thought that MTs were machines, robots, but instead they were children warped by some vile drug into what ended up on the battlefield. Flipping through several other files confirmed this, and he again had to force himself from the room. He had a job to do, even if what he really wanted to do was burn the whole damn keep to the ground.

He paused outside the next room he reached, feeling the warmth of the tentative connection with the child envelop him. He had made it. Cor lingered longer than he meant to, savoring the soft feeling, but when he heard footsteps behind him in the hallway, he quickly opened the door and entered the room. Blue-violet eyes met his from across the room, and he knew it was time to go.

When trying to describe later to a grown Prompto what had happened, Cor basically just grumbled something about not leaving any of his roommates behind, and had somehow managed to get twenty-four children outside of the city undetected. What he would never tell Prompto is that the attempt nearly killed him, his ability had never been used to transport one extra person, let alone two dozen, and it was only due to the strict obedience drilled into the children that kept them all together when he promptly passed out on landing. It took a full day for Cor to scrape himself off of the ground of the haven he had dumped all of them in, and he would nurse a severe headache for a week. Pulling out the assorted clothing he had picked up for the kid, he managed to distribute it enough where they looked more like a preschool class out for a field trip then runaways from a hospital. The lesson learned, Cor scraped together much of his remaining funds and bought a pile of third class tickets at a rural train station outside of Gralea, and thanked every deity-like being who would listen that the children were incredibly well behaved.

Against all odds, Cor and his ducklings made it to Tenebrae without incident, where they were met unexpectedly by a housecarl of Nox Fleuret, who announced that the queen wished to see them. Cor was wary, for all of the Oracle’s friendship with the line of Lucis, it was quite another thing for a wayward Crownsguard to show up with a gaggle of small Niflheimian children. It was clear by the stern faced guard that she would not take no for an answer, and the whole line of Cor and his ducklings, little Prompto (he had a name, Prompto had told Cor with as much pomp and regality as Regis could ever hope to pull off, it was just that they only called him that when he was undergoing his individual training) at the front with him, headed up the hill to the palace.

Queen Sylva was waiting in the main throne room of the palace when they entered, and Cor marched in with the children and bowed to the queen, noting the somewhat bemused expression on her face.

“Welcome to Tenebrae, Sir Leonis. I have heard some very interesting things about you in recent days.”

Cor felt a chill go down his spine, and shifted closer to Prompto. He would have to abandon the other children if he had to flee, but he had faith in the good nature of the oracle to see them taken care of. Out of the corner of his eye, a pale raven-haired woman dressed largely in black stood partially concealed by the shadow of a nearby pillar, her gaze piercing right to the heart of him. A messenger of the astrals. Cor could not explain how he knew, only simply that he was right. He glanced back at the queen, who was clearly watching the two of them, and after a pause, the queen raised a hand, dismissing her staff. After the doors closed behind the last of them, the three adults left in the room regarded each other.

“Gentiana has told me that you and her are not so different, Sir Leonis. She tells me that you serve the Dawn Mother as her herald, the first since the days of Solheim.”

For Cor, hearing it vocalized in the regular world was jarring, and he could not make himself speak as the messenger, Gentiana, emerged from the shadows and approached him, a distant smile upon her delicate features.

“You and yours are in no danger here, herald. Your king will hear none of this unless you wish it.” Cor let out a breath that he had not even realized he had been holding. Safe. He could not bring himself to entirely believe it, but he allowed himself to relax a small amount, his still-amazing headache lessening the slightest amount.

“I’m afraid you caught me at a bit of a disadvantage, your majesty, lady messenger- I have literally never spoken the words of my position in the waking world, and to hear them so bluntly is...unnerving,” Cor bowed his head to look at the children as he spoke, brushing his fingertips through Prompto’s messy golden hair. What he almost missed was the oracle’s features softening as she watched him interact with the child, and a look being exchanged with Gentiana leading to a decision being made.

“I cannot take them all, Sir Leonis, but I will take in the children less likely to blend in at your destination.”

Cor could have cried with relief at those words, but he forced himself to stay calm. “Any assistance you can provide would be of the utmost help, your majesty.”

In the end, Cor stayed a week; the oracle’s eldest child, Ravus, was attending a special course in the southern part of Tenebrae and was not around, but the next oracle, little Princess Lunafreya was there, and she was excellent with the children. Prompto followed the older girl around like a lovestruck puppy half the time, and Cor constantly felt like the bad guy when he would retrieve the little one from her side. Over the course of the week, the queen used her power to purge them of the sickness within them, and one by one they left, leaving Cor with nine, including Prompto. They were offered a ferry back to one of the southern capes of Lucis, and with sincere thanks, Cor and his much smaller group of ducklings departed.

As Cor and company progressed back though Lucis, mostly by bus, but also by walking, he started dropping children off at various orphanages. While he felt a little guilty each time, he rationalized that they would have a far better life anywhere but where they came from, and sent them off with a smile. By the time they had reached the Causcherry Plains, it was just Cor and Prompto, and he hitched the little boy into his arms and stepped. The plains of Leide stretched before them as he walked the two of them up to the old wall.

“What’s that?” Prompto asked, pointing to what was either the wall or his motorcycle, which was thankfully still in the same place he left it.

“That’s my motorcycle, I use it for travelling.” Cor replied, giving the vehicle a quick visual inspection before sitting down by it, Prompto still in his arms.

“Are we gonna ride it?” It was the child’s innocent question that threw Cor into a partial state of panic. All the time travelling, both to Niflheim and back, and the most important question had not been answered, hell, he hadn’t even really thought of it, even as they parted with the other children.

Where was Prompto going to stay? The goddess had given no instruction; he had not heard a peep from her since her edict that sent him on this mad dash across the world, and he...was he supposed to take in the child? Prompto was a complete sweetheart against all odds of his upbringing, but excepting the whole herald thing, Cor was the textbook career soldier. While he had tried a few relationships over the years, he had never thought of getting married. He had certainly given pretty much no consideration to having children. He was gone far too much, and his position carried a considerable amount of risk. While the goddess seemed to expect him to survive well into the future, it wasn’t a guarantee. He couldn’t bring a child into that. He couldn’t.

Prompto wriggled out of his lap during his musings, running over to poke his fingers delicately into the engine of Cor’s bike; Cor found himself on his feet dislodging said little fingers from the grease covered engine before Prompto could get completely filthy, plucking up the tow-headed child with a sigh. He couldn’t say he wasn’t a little ( a lot ) tempted with the adoption idea when those luminous eyes looked up at him with such sweetness, but-

“Damn,” Cor muttered, leading to Prompto tutting disapprovingly at him. “Yeah, kiddo, I know.” Cor disengaged the kickstand of his bike carefully, leaning the bike against his side as he awkwardly juggled Prompto before finally just plopping him on the seat. “Stay there for me.”

“Okay.” Prompto clutched the sides of the seat as Cor began walking the bike down the hill towards the road far slower than he would otherwise, making sure his charge kept his balance.

He was a cute kid.

Cor wasn’t quite sure how he was going to be able to ride the bike with Prompto, but he made it work by zipping the kid into his hoodie, his little blond head resting right below Cor’s chin. Not the safest method in the world, but he was only going to the closest haven for now. He needed time to think. He gave the idea serious consideration as he set up where they would rest, his eyes constantly travelling to the sunshine-haired boy. He wanted to, he truly did, but-

The next day, he left his bike behind, did up his hoodie so his face was mostly concealed, and hoisted Prompto onto his hip. He had let his beard grow in, thick and scraggly, and it would help keep his identity under wraps while he did...what he needed to do. He had made his decision, as much as his heart hurt because of it. As he left the boy with the matron of the largest orphanage in Insomnia, Cor was weeping before he even made it out of the building, made all the worse by Prompto’s cries and screams when he realized he was being left behind. Cor told himself it was for the best.

Cor was a fucking liar, especially to himself.

He tried to rally, told himself he would reconsider if Prompto wasn’t adopted within a year, but the loving and beautiful child that he was made him one of the fastest turnarounds at the main orphanage in Insomnia had ever seen, and Prompto Ferrarius became Prompto Argentum before three months was out. It was easier then; Cor occasionally checked in on the child, albeit from a distance, and somehow managed to go back to his regular life.

As the years went by and Prompto turned into a latchkey kid that spent most of his time alone, Cor felt that old regret slice through him constantly. It was far too late to do anything about it now, he reasoned, and buried that sour feeling as low as he could manage. If there was an emergency, he always knew where Prompto was. That would have to do.

When Prompto suddenly started coming around the Citadel as a teenager bouncing alongside the prince, Cor was so suspicious about the circumstances that he asked the goddess about it the next time she checked in with him; she laughed at his dubious expression, but swore she had not even reached out to her Voice yet, and thusly the two boys had honestly befriended each other on their own, as far as she knew. Cor always got the impression that she had expected him to adopt Prompto, but she had never once articulated her thoughts on the matter one way or the other, and he chose not to dwell too much on it, because that…that was a chasm that he would not soon climb out of if he let himself start the descent.

When Eos reached out to Prompto for the first time, soon after the boys had graduated high school, Cor knew immediately. The second mental switch of sorts related to the young man flipped over, and the all-consuming sense of right that flooded through him was enough for him to need a few moments to himself. Things were coming together, and even though he wasn’t entirely sure how everything would play out, at least things were going well for now.

 

---

 

Prompto could barely keep his eyes open. The Dawn Mother had seemingly fetched him every time he had fallen asleep during the previous week, and he couldn’t remember the last time he had gotten more than a few hours of actual rest. He had considered bringing it up to the goddess, but he always felt fine when he was there, and she was always so encouraging-

He was supposed to be going for his usual training session with Gladio, and even though he was pretty sure he was going to fall asleep on the benches again, he had splashed cold water on his face and forced himself to jog to the Citadel, hoping the cold air would keep him awake. It wasn’t going all that well, he had stumbled more than a few times in what was usually a smooth run, and he almost turned around and headed home more than once.

He was just so tired. The guard waved him in, and he barely had the strength or wherewithal to acknowledge her as he trudged into the courtyard proper. Prompto was so out of it that he didn’t even notice Ignis coming up alongside him until the other man cleared his throat, causing Prompto to jump, trip over a step, and almost land face-first on the very threshold of the Citadel. Normally, he would be completely embarrassed and trying to wave off his mistake with silly excuses, but he could barely form words, instead staring stupidly at Ignis as he knelt before Prompto.

“-Prompto, are you alright?” Ignis said, concern plain in his face, and Prompto realized that he had missed whatever Ignis had said. “Prompto?”

“Oh, shit, I’m sorry. You know me, I’m a big clutz-” Prompto grabbed at Iggy’s outstretched hand and managed to find his feet, too tired to really notice that he was swaying rather alarmingly even after finding his footing.

Iggy was suddenly far too close for Prompto’s discombobulated equilibrium, and he only remained standing due to Iggy’s grip on his hand. “Prompto, I have been patient, I have tried not to push too much, but this has gone far enough,” Ignis spoke, his grip firm around Prompto’s hand as he started trying to twist away. “Please, Prompto, let me take you to see a doctor. We’ve all been so worried about you.”

It took every bit of energy Prompto had, but he managed to shake loose of Ignis, turning on his heel to get out of there. He couldn’t see a doctor, he knew what was wrong, but she needed him, she told him that, and he really didn’t want to disappoint her by asking for some days off. He would adjust, he always did-

“Prompto!”

Ignis’s shout seemed like it was coming from the opposite side of the courtyard as the world spun around him, and Prompto let out a gasp before he crumpled to the ground and let the darkness carry him away.

 

---  

 

Ignis couldn't take it any more. Prompto ripped himself out of Ignis’s grip and staggered back, swaying alarmingly as he attempted to turn away. The younger man was muttering something under his breath as he continued to wobble backwards, his freckles standing out against his increasingly pale skin. Ignis could not make out what he was saying, but the sight made his chest clench in fear. This was far enough. Ignis had hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but whatever was wrong with Prompto, it had clearly reached its zenith.

He started to move closer to Prompto, hoping to see if he could get him to sit so he could call for medical services, when all the color rushed out of Prompto’s face, his eyes rolling back as he began to collapse.

“Prompto!” Ignis lunged, barely managing to grab him before he could crack his head on the concrete. “Damn it!” Pulling the unconscious Prompto into his lap, Ignis dug around in his own pocket for his phone, before producing it and preparing to dial emergency.

“Let me help, Scientia.” Ignis blinked in surprise, craning his head to look at Marshal Leonis, concern clear in the drawn expression. “It’ll take too long for the paramedics to get here; we’ll just take Argentum to the Citadel infirmary for now, and they can decide if he needs more specialized care.” Without waiting for a reply, the marshal dropped to one knee and gathered Prompto into his arms with ease, rising again just as smoothly. Ignis scrambled up after the Crownsguard, who was already ten feet away before he even found his feet, and hastily caught up.

“Marshal, my thanks. He’s been so tired lately, and just as close-lipped when we’ve tried to see if we can help, but I never expected it would go this far,” Ignis said quietly, looking between the determined expression on Cor’s face, and the slack features of his friend, and a stray thought crossed his mind. “Not that this is ideal timing, but have you two met before?” At his inquiry, the strangest expression passed over the marshall’s face for a moment, but it was gone in a flash and Leonis was back to his usual stern countenance. Odd, Ignis mused, but there was more important things to worry about now. The three of them made quick work of the Citadel, and before Ignis knew it, Prompto was being lowered to a gurney and wheeled into an exam room, and the two men were left alone.

“To answer your question from earlier, yes, we have met on several occasions here

and there, but I tend to run into him here when he’s visiting the prince or training with Gladiolus,” Leonis stated, and Ignis tilted his head in understanding. “He’s a good kid, I’m sure this will be just a temporary setback.” The compliment was unusual for the marshal, who was well known for his evenhanded style of leadership, and certainly not as one to dole out undeserved compliments. Ignis had to work to contain his surprise. Prompto had obviously made an impression on the older man.

Ignis thought again on the strange expression that had overtaken the marshal’s face on the way to the infirmary and thought that perhaps the Marshall knew Prompto a little better than he was willing to admit. He had no proof, but he wondered... A thought suddenly hit him, and Ignis bowed his head to the older man. “I should call the prince and Gladiolus and apprise them of the current situation. I thank you again for your assistance, sir.”

The marshal waved off the thanks and sat down in one of the lobby chairs. “I’ll stick around until we hear something, you do what you need to do.” Ignis couldn’t hide the surprised blink, but nodded again and exited the infirmary.

Ignis pulled his phone back out and dialed Gladiolus first, as it was the usual training session that Prompto had with him that he had missed.

“Yeah?” Gladio sounded a bit winded, almost guaranteeing that he was in the the training room.

Ignis decided to simply lay out the facts. “Prompto fell unconscious outside in the Citadel courtyard, I assume while he was heading in to meet up with you. The marshal happened to be nearby, and he assisted in taking Prompto to the infirmary-”

“Wait, what? Prom passed out? Shit, give me a minute, I’ll be right there.”

Ignis’s phone beeped, signalling that Gladio had hung up. One down. Ignis dialed Noctis this time, waiting until it cycled through to voicemail, hung up, then immediately dialed again.

“What’s up, Iggy?” In complete contrast to his previous call, Noctis sounded like he had food in his mouth, and Ignis barely bit back another sigh.

“Come down to the infirmary, Prompto lost consciousness out in the courtyard, the marshal and I brought him up.” Ignis pulled his phone away from his ear in a practiced motion after he was done speaking, knowing what was coming.

“What the fuck do you mean he’s in the infirmary, Iggy- what the hell I’m coming down now,” Noctis yelled, his words running together as a door opened and slammed in the background of the call, then the noise cut off abruptly as Ignis’s phone beeped once more.

Ignis tucked his phone away and allowed himself to lean against the wall outside of the infirmary, waiting for the others to show. All they could do now is hope that whatever the problem with Prompto was, it was easily correctable. Ignis didn’t want to consider a serious medical condition and the impact on someone as energetic and outgoing as Prompto usually was. It would be something straight-forward. It had to be.

Due to the difference in starting locations, while Ignis had called Gladiolus first, it was Noctis who skidded into the hallway, dashing up to Ignis without a word. Ignis grabbed the prince’s arm right before he entered the infirmary, and pulled him to the side just as Gladiolus reached them as well.

It was Gladio who spoke first. “So what happened, Iggy?” Noctis pulled his arm out of Ignis’s grip, but didn’t try to go inside again. Ignis gave them both a short recap, admitting that he had finally snapped and begged for Prompto to be seen by a doctor, only for the blond to collapse just moments later.

“-and then the marshal, who just happened to be nearby, swooped in and took Prompto almost before I could react. I doubt that I could have picked Prompto up so easily, but he got to his feet like he didn’t have a grown man in his arms. In hindsight, it was quite impressive,” Ignis pondered, tapping his finger against his lip. Gladiolus chuckled, and even Noctis cracked a bit of a smile after Ignis finished.

Gladio slapped Ignis on the back before heading to the door. “Down boy, we know that the marshal makes your heart all a-twitter, but we probably should see how the idiot is doing.” The silly smiles that had found homes on their faces died immediately, and Ignis and Noctis followed Gladiolus into the infirmary. Leonis was still seated, although now he had his eyes closed; his ramrod posture and his crossed arms did not invite conversation, and the three of them sat down catercorner to the older man, settling in to wait.

After what felt like an age, a doctor came out, and all four men immediately rose to their feet. The doctor’s footsteps stuttered when she saw those gathered, but to her credit, she recovered just as fast and approached the group.

“We’ve run some tests, even given him a potion, which has assisted in Mr. Argentum transitioning to natural sleep, but as far as we can tell, this is just an unfortunate case of acute exhaustion. While the blood work isn’t back, there’s no obvious signs of anything artificial, and no physical evidence to otherwise contradict that. Unless something unprecedented comes back in the blood test, I’m going to say that he’s got a very nasty case of burnout. I doubt he’s slept more than a few hours in the last week. I might expect to see something like this in an active warzone, but Mr. Argentum has managed to achieve against the odds,” the doctor paused, then looked over at Ignis. “Has he been out of sorts for awhile, or is this recent?”

Noctis levelled a rather un-princely snort. “Try at least three months.” The doctor’s eyebrows raised, and Gladio and Ignis nodded in agreement.

“Hmm. Well, barring anything unexpected coming back in the blood work, we are going to admit Mr. Argentum, and simply let him sleep. We’ll reevaluate when he awakens.”

The doctor turned to head back into the exam room, stopping when Noctis reached out a hand and grabbed her sleeve. “Can we go in?”

“Give us a few minutes to move him to a regular room, and that will be acceptable. Please remain as quiet as possible whilst you are in there, we want him to rest.” The doctor bowed to Noctis, nodded to the others, then vanished into the exam room behind.

The marshal sighed, and all three younger men turned to face him as he pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m going to get out of here for now. Keep me updated if something happens, or he wakes up.”

Gladiolus nodded. “Yes sir.”

“Thanks, Cor. For your help.” Noctis said, and the Marshal nodded to the prince and left. Noctis took a deep breath, then pulled out his phone. “Time to make sure I’ve levelled up a few times in King’s Knight so I can trick Prompto into thinking he’s been sleeping for weeks.”

Gladiolus laughed, following Noctis’s lead and grabbed his phone; Ignis rolled his eyes and sat back down, allowing his thoughts to wander.

Maybe, just maybe, Prompto will finally tell them what was going on once he reawakened.

 

---

 

Cor stopped by his office to inform Monica that he was leaving early today, leaving as soon as he heard her confirm. He had never tried to reach out to the goddess, instead waiting for her to come to him, but matters had reached a head. Prompto had been little more than a zombie for months, ever since she first contacted him, and his growing fatigue had been flooding into the back of Cor’s mind as time went on. He had a rather unfortunate hypothesis that he needed to have confirmed.

Eos had always seemed to be a rather benevolent goddess, but she was not human, and perhaps...perhaps she needed to be reminded of that before she killed her own voice out of accidental neglect. Cor reached the door of his quarters, entering and shutting the door behind him quickly when he heard voices in the hallway behind him. He had no interest in chatting with one of his neighbors right now. Cor pried his boots off, leaving them by the door before he headed into his bedroom, allowing himself to slump onto his bed.

How was he supposed to go about this? The Oracle had to do ceremonial things to speak to the Astrals, as far as he knew, but Eos had never mentioned anything like that before. After entertaining several ideas, including the somewhat ludicrous idea of going out and speaking to the open air, Cor settled for simply mentally reaching out, hoping that she would, at the least, read his intent. Laying down in his bed, he got to work.

Dawn Mother, my lady, your humble servant has need of your presence, I wish to speak to you of your voice . He repeated his statement unvoiced several times, but Cor was a soldier through and through...he could sleep anywhere. Somewhere around the tenth repetition, he dozed off.

Well, this is a first, my herald. I’ve always wondered if you would reach out to me, but you are rather self-sufficient, so I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised that your reasoning is young Prompto. “

Cor opened his eyes to find himself lying within the eternal grasses of the goddess’s meadow, the target of his call standing before him, he scrambled to his feet and bowed to her as he always did when they met. “My lady, thank you. I wasn’t sure how I might go about this.”

“If you truly seek me, Cor, I will hear you. I promise that I do not linger in your thoughts at any given time. But you are my herald, and I will always hear when you call,” Eos smiled and dipped her head to Cor, who bowed again. “ Now what has happened that has led you thus?”

Now that Cor was here, he realized he wasn’t quite sure how to broach the subject. Perhaps she was hoping that Prompto would toughen up? No, that couldn’t be it, even the strongest of people needed to sleep. Well, the goddess chose him, she’ll understand his bluntness. “My lady, forgive me if I sound a bit...er, patronizing, but I must ask; are you aware that mortals need to sleep?” In hindsight, getting to see a goddess look legitimately confused was rather amusing, but it was a serious matter.

“I know that you all need rest at some point of the solar day, but I must confess, my dear Cor, what brings up this subject?” Eos had summoned two seats as he spoke, which Cor gratefully relaxed onto. The vagueness of her statement had answered Cor’s question for him, now all that was left was to convince her to let the kid sleep more than once a week.

“Prompto has slept so little in the last three months that he is seriously endangering his health, my lady. I thought it would be prudent to speak with you about the situation.”

The confusion on the Dawn Mother’s face had transformed to shocked concern, followed just as swiftly by a flash of what Cor could only describe as embarrassment. He actually felt rather bad for her, considering that he was pretty sure she had just forgotten. By her own admission, Solheim still reigned supreme the last time she had a herald and voice, and perhaps...even immortals forget.

Perhaps I have been bringing him here too often...He’s been doing so well with all I must teach him that I enjoy seeing him. Unlike you, I have a strong omen we will not have the almost thirty years you and I have had together for him to learn all that is required for his task, but if he is becoming ill, than my passion in his training will not help him,” Eos paused, then looked seriously at Cor . “Tell me, how much time per solar day do humans usually rest? For some reason, I thought it only a hour or so, but clearly my memories of mortal sleep patterns are perhaps weakened with time and distance.”

Cor found himself smiling despite himself, and he shook his head. “I think your usual human sleeps between six and nine hours a night, my lady.”

“Oh, I...see. I can tell you want to just tell me to leave my poor voice alone to rest occasionally, and I am sure you are completely in the right. I will not summon him for a fortnight, then I will ask what would work best for him.” Eos, still looking a bit flustered, shot Cor a questioning look. Cor responded by rising to his feet and bowing.

“Your wisdom is absolute, Dawn Mother.” Okay, that may have been a bit sarcastic , Cor thought.

Eos raised a divine eyebrow in censure before waving a goodbye to him as the meadow faded away. Cor found himself staring at the ceiling of his bedroom, the moonlight flooding in through the window.

“Well, that worked.” Cor muttered, then sat up, pulled off his shirt and pants, then fell back into bed and retired to normal sleep.

 

---

 

Prompto woke up feeling like he was born again. Seriously, he couldn’t remember the last time he felt this good. Prompto opened his eyes and realized very quickly that he wasn’t at his place, but even that realization didn’t keep his post-decent sleep high from fading too badly. Then he looked around for real at what was clearly a hospital room, noticed he had an IV, and his mood quickly deteriorated. Shit. He scrambled at the sheets with his hands and tried to get up, only for his lax limbs to immediately collapse back under him. Prompto scowled at the ceiling, then figured he’d just see if anyone was around.

“Hello?” Calling out ended up being a bad idea, as he started coughing from the dryness in his throat; he had only just gotten it under control when a nurse entered the room, giving him a kindly smile before heading over to his bed.

“Mr. Argentum, it’s good to see you awake. How are you feeling?” Prompto opened his mouth to reply, but began to cough again. The nurse frowned, but swiftly retrieved a small cup of water and held it up to Prompto. “Do you think you can drink on your own?” Prompto made a few aborted grabs for the cup before finally managing it, bringing his shaking hand to his mouth and taking a gulp of water that he barely swallowed, but he forced it down. He looked back up the man staying at his bedside and nodded his thanks.

“How long have I been here? And where is here?” Prompto inquired of the nurse, who smiled and shook his head.

“I’m afraid I’m under royal orders not to tell you yet, my apologies. I’m Septimus, and I’ll be your nurse while you are still here with us. You are currently in the infirmary at the Citadel, where your friends brought you. How are you feeling, Mr. Argentum? You came in here a bit ragged, unfortunately.” Septimus smiled down at Prompto, who didn’t know how to process all that the man had just said.

“The last thing I remember, I was talking to Iggy...then nothing. Drat, I passed out, didn’t I? Shit,” Prompto grumbled, looking at the IV. “I actually feel pretty much amazing, besides the fact I’m here and I’m sure my legs will flop like noodles when I get up.”

“That’s excellent to hear, Mr. Argentum-”

“Prompto.”

“-Prompto. Our belief is that you simply hadn’t been sleeping adequately for a significant amount of time, and your body decided that enough was enough. What do you think?” Septimus asked, and Prompto hung his head.

“Yeah, that’s pretty much the issue in a nutshell.” Septimus nodded as he grabbed the chart at the end of the bed, made a short note, and replaced it.

“I’ll be back in a little bit, go ahead and relax. The doctor will want to speak to you.” The nurse left before Prompto could reply, but as Prompto lifted the cup to his mouth to take another sip, there was a knock at his door. Prompto looked up (and up) to see Gladio standing there, a grin on his face.

“Hey Prompto! Good to see you awake!” Gladio said, and Prompto couldn’t help but return the smile, even as trepidation started to trickle down his spine.

“I’m sorry I’ve been such a mess lately, maybe this will get my sleep cycle back in whack.” Prompto muttered, ignoring the fact that he knew exactly what the problem was. As much as he hated to say anything to the goddess that didn’t have to do with their meetings, he was going to have to speak up. He couldn’t go through this again, he’d probably pass out onto the subway tracks next time. Gladio raised an eyebrow, but apparently took him at his word, conversation drifted to different topics for awhile as Prompto tried to stretch out his limbs.

Obviously everyone had gotten the memo, because shortly thereafter, both Noct and Ignis showed up; Noct promptly claimed he had slept for a month, which almost gave Prompto a heart attack, and Iggy rolled his eyes at Noct even as he tutted at Prompto about his health. Almost four days was the actual answer, and that was almost as distressing.  

Prompto sighed and picked at the sheets for a minute before finally steeling himself to speak. “I’m sorry for worrying you guys, I know you’ve all tried to bring it up over the last few months, and, well, I think I’m not really used to people really paying attention when I’m under the weather, my parents are gone so much-” Prompto was cut off by Noct, who leveled him a rather impressive glare.

“Just tell us next time, dipshit. We didn’t like seeing you like that either.” Gladio grunted his agreement with Noct, and Ignis rolled his eyes again, but Prompto noted that he didn’t disagree with the sentiment.

“I promise.” Prompto’s cell phone was produced from somewhere, and they started playing King’s Knight; Prompto happened to look over at his right wrist as they played, and the sight of an unfamiliar wristband almost caused him to drop his phone. He recovered even as Ignis gave him a dubious look, and Prompto took a single deep breath, and forced himself to return to his game.

The doctor came in, drew some blood, and stated that if Prompto got a normal night’s sleep, she’d release him tomorrow. So after a bland lunch, and everyone having to leave shortly thereafter, Prompto played for a little longer with his phone, only to set it aside as his eyes grew heavy. He would talk to the goddess if he saw her, he had to. He couldn’t go through this again. The last thing he remembered seeing as he drifted off was a slightly familiar silhouette appearing next to his bed, running a finger over his right wristband and gently smoothing a hand through his hair.

It was nice.

Chapter Text

Things had rapidly gone back to normal after that. Prompto no longer looked like the living dead, and while he never fessed up to what the hell was really going on, the reemergence of their friend as a human being and not a zombie made all of them drop the subject. Gladiolus had continued with Prompto’s training once he was feeling well enough to do so, and he had been making steady progression in firearms and tactics...not so much in melee weapons, but Gladio would take what he could get.

After Noct and Prom had both reached their twentieth birthdays respectively, Prom had been talking a bit more seriously about joining the Crownsguard. Part of Gladio had always hoped that the younger man would go after a nice safe career, say, joining a magazine as a photographer or something, but he supposed it was too much to ask. Years of hanging around with them had seen several half-assed assassination attempts on Noct, and at least one serious one; he wasn’t surprised that Prompto had gotten more set on the Crownsguard idea.

Unfortunately, as it became better known that Prom was considering trying for it, it seemed that everyone in the Citadel had an opinion on the matter. Gladio’s own father, the head of the Crownsguard, was skeptical, he knew Prompto had had some health problems a few years ago, and well, it was Prompto. Everyone remembers the peppy and energetic kid who always seemed to be ready for any situation with a smile and a joke, very few saw the focused young man who had near preternatural aim and quick feet in the training room. Only the three of them saw the introspective person who sometimes seemed to look like he knew the secrets of the universe, only to just as quickly snap out of it. They all knew he could sing, not that it was relevant; Gladio still considered himself privileged to have heard him singing in the waking world, a enchanting tune about love in golden fields being woven from the shower of Noct’s apartment, as good as any artist on the radio, but Prompto had no clue he had been listening in. It was clear that singing was largely a private thing for Prom, and as much as Gladio wanted to bring it up, he resisted and hoped for the next time he might catch him at it.

So back to the idea of Prom joining the Crownsguard. His father was skeptical, the king seemed uncertain about Prompto sometimes, a strangely haunted look flashing over his features, but nothing had ever been stated in particular from the monarch. Captain Drautos of the Kingsglaive thought Prompto was passable at best, and a good sized chunk of the Crownguard regulars thought him too sickly to be considered, even though he had been fine for years. It hadn’t helped that Prompto had passed out in front of the damn Citadel that day, so naturally, everyone had found out about it. Gladio could have punched the idiot had he not been so concerned.

Then there was the marshal. Iggy had a theory that Cor knew Prompto a lot better than he let on, and as time let on, Gladio was beginning to agree. For Prom’s part, he seemed to be friendly enough with Cor, but in the way you might when you run into the same person every few weeks, there was no deeper familiarity behind it as far as Gladio could see. Cor, however, seemed to be very much on Prompto’s side for some reason; when the thought of Prom joining the Crownsguard started coming up in earnest, the marshal was all for it. Said that Prompto was a promising young man with exceptional skills in firearms, and pointed out that while the gun was not as common a choice amongst the Crownsguard, it wouldn’t hurt to branch out a bit. Especially for the Prince’s retinue, as they could stand to have a range of skills in a tight-knit group, and well, his majesty had a skilled marksman with his group when he was younger, it’s not like there wasn’t precedent. From Cor, it was practically effusive praise, and from the looks on both his father and the king’s face at that meeting, it had surprised them as much as it had Gladio. If it had been almost anyone but the Marshal, Gladio would have begun to suspect that they were sleeping or trying to sleep with Prom, but from Cor? It sounded almost...paternal. Huh.

Gladio figured that Cor was just fond of the blond, and well, if it let Prom have a shot? He’d take it. Noctis was thrilled by the marshal’s support of the scheme, and was already planning on the look for the two of them; there was a great deal of flexibility in the cut and design of the everyday uniforms, they were meant to blend in to some extent, not stand out like the glaive uniforms. Black, trousers, and mostly covering were the only real requirements, which left an amazing amount of leeway. Most, including the Marshal, seemed to favor more of a suit cut, but Gladio could almost guarantee that Prompto would be wearing something a bit more...him.

Gladio looked up at the clock on the wall of his quarters, then slapped his thighs and levered out of his sofa. He had plans to meet up with the others at Noct’s Citadel quarters before they went out for dinner, and Noct had been entertaining something like a retro video game tournament after that. Sounded like a nice relaxing evening to him. Gladio pulled his boots, finger combing his hair just as he went to open the door- only to nearly crash into a frantic Noctis with his fist raised to knock.

“Noct, what the hell is going on?” Gladio grumbled, lightly shoving Noctis out of the way so he could close the door behind him. Noct took a deep breath, then leaned in closer to Gladio’s face.

“It’s Prom, he seemed to be pretty much fine, maybe a little tired, but nothing extreme. We were relaxing and talking with Iggy in my old room, and his eyes just rolled back in his head and he collapsed. Iggy and I got him lying down on the sofa, but he’s not so much as twitched since then,” Noct whispered in his ear, then grabbed his arm and started marching to the elevator with Gladio in tow. He didn’t shake Noct loose out of shock, and after a short and silent ride down, the two sped to Noctis’s old quarters, making sure the door was locked behind them after they entered.

“Iggy, how is he?” Gladio said as they entered the sitting room, and Ignis looked up from his perch on a stool next to the sofa where Prompto was lying with a sigh.

“He’s not budged an inch since he collapsed. His eyes are moving rapidly like he’s in full REM sleep, but his muscles are tensed like he should be awake. It could be a seizure condition, but I can’t find anything online about one with these symptoms,” Iggy reached out and laid his palm on Prompto’s head, and both Gladio and Noct waited to see if there was any reaction from the supine man. None came. Gladio reached out and cupped the side of Prompto’s neck, feeling the muscles taut under the skin; he let his thumb stroke the side of Prom’s lower jaw for moment, but still no response.

Gladio fell into the closest open chair and scrubbed at his face with his hands. “Shit. Iggy, this is bad, if he goes to the infirmary for something like this, they’ll never let him on the Crownsguard. Not even the marshal will be able to convince dad and the king to consider him then.” Noct growled something inarticulate next to him, and Gladio grunted in reply. “Yeah, Noct, I know.”

Gladio watched Ignis adjust his glasses and sit back up on the stool, looking between the unconscious Prompto and Gladio and Noct. “If this is a serious condition, Gladiolus, it will not do Prompto any favors to leave him untreated. However-” Noct cut Iggy off with another quiet shriek, and Iggy sighed, reaching out and taking Prompto’s arm, feeling for his pulse, from the looks of it. “Noct, I know. He...he seems to be breathing well, and I believe his muscles are starting to relax. Although every bit of myself wants to have Prompto taken immediately to the infirmary, if this is just a fluke, I-” Ignis sighed again. “One hour. If he shows no dramatic signs of improvement after a hour, we will have to take him to seek medical attention, Crownsguard chances or not. Of course, this will be completely off the table if he appears to worsen.” It was as good as they could probably pull off, and it was a bit risky with Prom’s health, but they had to try.

“Damnit!” Noct snarled next to Gladio, and Gladio leaned over and gave the kid a quick hug. The fact that Noct didn’t throw off his arm immediately spoke to his worry, and Gladio sighed and let his eyes close.

“Let’s just see what happens, Noct, hopefully sleeping beauty here will rouse himself before we need to worry about more drastic measures,” Gladio said as he released Noct, even though he was somewhat skeptical on the chances of that himself. Noct sat back in his chair and stared at Prompto, clearly trying to will the other man to wake; Gladio reached out and patted Prompto’s foot before settling back in the chair to wait.

Not a word passed between the three of them as they watched Prompto, and just when Iggy, who had been looking at his watch with increasing concern for at least ten minutes, was clearly about to say something, a groan came from the sofa. Noct jumped to his feet and just as Gladio was about to follow suit, Prompto jerked rapidly into a seated position with a gasp, his eyes wide and strange for a long moment before he slumped again back into the couch cushions.

“Prompto!” Noct scrambled over to the blond’s side, grabbing at his hand. “Prom- Prom are you okay?” Gladio sat down by Prompto’s feet on the sofa, and was relieved when Prompto automatically moved his feet to allow for him to do so. A good sign, he hoped.

“Prompto, how are you feeling? I’m afraid you gave us all quite the fright a little while ago.” Iggy stated with relative calm, but the pursing of his lips gave away his concern. Prompto had yet to speak, but his gaze was darting between the three of them in what Gladio could only construe as panic. Shit. Gladio let his hand fall to Prompto’s ankle, giving it a squeeze to ground him.

“Prom, hey, man, it’s okay. Deep breaths,” Gladio said, and Prompto’s frantic gaze slowly calmed to a more nervous countenance.

“I’m- I’m sorry, guys, I didn’t mean to cause a fuss,” Prompto muttered, looking down at his lap and biting his lower lip. Gladio knew that look. Prompto used that same expression when he was trying to show how harmless he was in situations that had gotten over his head, or, when he was just trying to get out of doing shit. Gladio’s eyes narrowed at Prom’s expression, and he knew that Prom knew exactly what had just happened.

“You know exactly what happened, don’t you?” Gladio stated, and the already-pale man next to him on the sofa went corpse white.

“What are you going on about, Gladio...Prompto, what’s going on?” Noctis asked while looking between Gladio and Prom, who looked like he was two seconds from jumping out the window to escape the lot of them. “Prom?” Noct’s suspicious and concerned glare was clearly too much for the recently awakened Prompto, who slumped even more at the words.

“Ye- yeah...I know what caused this, it’s...it’s not permanent, it’ll be done soon,” Prompto said quietly. “If I told you what was going on, you’d think I was crazy.” Well, that certainly wasn’t the answer Gladio was expecting, and he could practically hear Iggy’s eyebrows knit together after that statement.

Excuse me ?” That came from Ignis, who suddenly looked like he wanted to ramp up a good lecture for Prompto, who was trying to crunch in even further on himself. “This is the same thing as last time, isn’t it?” Prompto folded in even deeper on himself, and if it wasn’t for Noctis still having a hold of Prom’s left hand, he would have just been a ball instead of a Prompto.

Ah hell. Gladio would never admit it, but Prompto’s ability to subliminally turn on his instinct to want to stuff him in a bag and carry him everywhere to save him from himself was rather extraordinary, and Gladio only resisted saying something he would regret by reaching out and ruffling the adorable dipshit’s hair.

Noct was a little too used to people not telling him things, but Gladio knew he usually didn’t get it from Prompto. Noct just looked torn between sadness and irritation, and he watched the prince fumble for words for a few seconds before he finally managed to speak. “Prom, if you have some sort of...uh...seizure condition or something, you can’t be on the Crownsguard. Not even Cor, who seems to have a soft spot for you for some reason, would sign off on it. Have you...been trying to hide something like that?” Noctis seemed to be dragging every word out of his throat, and Prompto uncurled enough while Noct spoke for those giant violet-blue eyes to look up at the lot of them with confusion.

“Seizure con- oh!” Prompto actually uncurled somewhat to face Noct and Gladio, Gladio was pretty sure he was trying to avoid looking at Iggy, but that was only going to be a temporary stop-gap to the lecture. One could never avoid the Iggy-lecture for long. “I don’t have anything like that.”

“Then what the hell is wrong with you?” Yep, that was the sound of Noctis finally reaching that last straw, and Gladio had to grab Prompto as he scrambled to get off of the sofa; he was pretty lively for having been dead to the world for a fucking hour, and Gladio suddenly found himself with a lap of squirming blond.

After a few seconds of wiggling, Gladio gave him one good warning squeeze before leaning in to whisper in his ear, “Knock it off.” Prompto went stiff, then deflated once more.

“Sorry,” Prompto muttered, and after a tense moment, Gladio let Prompto slide off of his lap and sit back down next to him. No one spoke for several minutes. Gladio felt Prompto take multiple deep breaths next to him, seemingly gearing up to speak, but then he would sigh. After several iterations of this pattern, Prompto finally spoke.

“One month.” Prompto said, and Iggy frowned.

“One month until…” Ignis drew out the last word, and Gladio could feel Prompto shaking next to him.

“I’ll tell you everything, just- just give me one more month.” Prompto gave them a sad attempt at a smile, but looked more like he was trying not to cry. “I promise it’s not a bad thing, it’s just...you’ll think I’m crazy. Or maybe not, but I really can’t find out right now.” Prompto gave a rather wet-sounding chuckle. “I probably should stay home for a while, this may happen a few more times and I don’t want to keep freaking you guys out. Also, Noct is right, it would look really bad if it happened here.”

Gladio, Noct, and Iggy all looked at each other. Gladio wanted to shake Prompto, but he was willing to let it slide for one more month. No more delays after that. After some silent communication with the other two, it was Gladio who spoke.

“One month, Prompto. No longer. We don’t like seeing you like this, you know,” Gladio lightly shoved Prompto as he spoke, and Prompto choked back a watery laugh.

“Thanks, guys. You all really are the best, even if I’m a pain in the ass who doesn’t deserve it.” Prompto smacked his cheeks a few times with his hands, then heaved himself to his feet. “I should go. I’ll see you guys in a few weeks, maybe?”

Gladio let him move towards the door, but it was Iggy who decided to override Prompto’s momentum. Just as Prompto was bending down to put on his shoes, Ignis came up and blocked the door.

“And just where do you think you are going?” Ignis stated bluntly, looking down his nose at Prompto, who froze in a rather hilarious pose, one shoe on, one shoe off.

“Uh, home?”

Ignis’s eyes narrowed, and Prompto skittered back a few steps. “You specifically just informed us that this...phenomenon might happen a few more times, now you expect us to just let you leave unsupervised? What if you fall down the stairs? Or crack your head on the corner of a table?” Gladio cringed, and Noct made a face. Yeah, Iggy had a point, they’d never forgive themselves if they checked up on him in a few weeks to find him half-dead or worse somewhere. It’s not like his damn parents were ever home. “We are going to your place, packing a bag, and then you will be staying at Noct’s apartment until your spells are over, or that month is up.” Ignis stepped up to Prompto very deliberately, and Gladio could see the poor guy sweating already. “Do we have an agreement?”

Noct looked ready to pipe up at the volunteering of his apartment, but Gladio poked him to shut him up. It worked, albeit with a glare from the prince. Gladio then raised an eyebrow at the jittery Prompto, who looked between the lot of them before sighing and nodded. “Yeah, I can do that.”

Ignis smiled, but Gladio was pretty sure that a behemoth would have a more pleasant grin then Iggy did right then. “Excellent.”

Prompto shivered, and Gladio couldn’t help but feel sorry for the guy. Again. Well, as cagey as he was acting, he probably deserved it.

 

---

 

Cor had come to realize that he could sense when the goddess was calling Prompto if he was awake; it presented as a sort of static at the back of his mind, not overwhelming, but definitely noticeable. As Cor usually led relatively regular hours, this hadn’t happened a lot, but he had certainly noticed it. Never had been a problem before.

Until now. He was enjoying a lazy afternoon in his quarters on one of his rare days off and watching nonsense on TV while sharpening and polishing his swords when a stab of pure noise slammed into his brain, that same static had barely felt in the past became swiftly overwhelming, easily a dozen times more powerful than the usual mild buzz. Barely managing to drop his sidearm on his coffee table in time, he groaned and slumped sideways on his sofa, clutching at his head for what felt like an age before the volume began to recede. As Cor became able to think again, he realized two things: one, Eos had summoned Prompto so strongly that the boy had simply passed out where he stood, and two, he was probably next. Stumbling to his feet, he left his swords and polishing tools behind on the table and headed into his bedroom and fell into bed, and when the expected summons didn’t happen immediately, he ignored his throbbing headache and reached out to find Prompto. It didn’t take long. Citadel, around the royal wing...he was probably in the prince’s old quarters. Cor found himself heaving a sigh of relief. He didn’t really enjoy having to fix things, and it would be hard explaining the kid passing out again. Just as he was starting to relax, a force slammed into his mind, and with a gasp, he lost consciousness.

“The time of reckoning is almost upon us. To save the world, you must be ready, my Herald. The one who brings the darkness will soon be among you, and while I have much pity for his situation, he must be sent to his rest.” The goddess didn’t bother with pleasantries this time, and Cor took what felt like a solid minute to get his bearings before he was able to do little more than stare at her dumbly.

“You- you mentioned something about a cursed king many years ago, but just who are you talking about?” Cor said, his confusion total, and Eos shook her head.

“Near the beginning of the dynastic line of the Lucis Caelums, there was another Chosen King; the prophecy was somewhat different then, but the Chosen was still expected to sacrifice himself to stop the scourge. However, as I told you years ago, things can go poorly quite easily, and with the best of intentions, this would-be Chosen, who had also been born with Oracle-like powers separate of what the line of Lucis had been given by Bahamut, decided to do things his way. Unfortunately, his way involved taking the scourge into his body instead of dispersing it into the beyond, where it could be destroyed, and he became a living contagion. The crystal and the Astrals forsook him, he lost his rightful place as a king of Lucis, and he was confined for many years beyond the span of human memory...until he wasn’t. He has become the seat of the starscourge, and it will not be removed from the world while he is still in it.” The goddess had skipped the seat she usually summoned, and had simply sat down right onto the grass. Cor remained standing until she stopped speaking, then he too lowered himself to the ground.

“If this old king is so important to the resolution of everything, why have you not sent me direct to dispatch him before?” Cor questioned, and Eos waved a hand.

“As he is, he is immortal. You could cleave him in twain a hundred times, and he would still walk away without a scratch. This is where the Voice will come in, between him and the new Chosen, they should be able to take him down for good. Some parts of Bahamut’s prophecy are wound too tightly around the blood of Lucis Caelum to escape, we simply hope that it will all end for the best.”

Cor’s mouth twists at her words, and it takes a moment to reply. “Is hope for the best all that we can do? There must be more than that, my lady.”

“I am not Bahamut, and while I know he did what he thought would be an ordered way of repairing the damage wrought by the Starscourge, he grew angry when the mortals did not follow his edicts to the letter, and has all but abandoned you all to your fates. The only things he did not do was retract his trident from the Oracle, and he of course left Lucis with the crystal. His prophecy will work in the end, but to his ends more than the rest of the world’s. He has always been rather obsessed with order, you see, and our interference in his great vision? Well, I would not be surprised if he has reached out to your king once or twice to try and influence him.” The Dawn Mother looked as disgruntled as Cor had ever seen her, and disregarding a few early comments about Bahamut and Ifrit, this was the most she had ever mentioned of one of the Astrals. To say Cor wasn’t pleased about her statement was well, an understatement, and he let himself fall back into the grass with a groan.

“You understand that Bahamut is considered the patron Astral of Lucis, right? I doubt many would believe that he had abandoned us entirely, and even I am a bit skeptical, my lady.” Cor groused through the grasses, and Eos sighed.

“He always did have a better, how might you say it? A better reputation base to work from than I ever had after Solheim. Cor, I do not really attribute any real malice from the Draconian to the mortals, but that would mean they were worthy of such consideration. Mortals, to him, are interesting little ants on a game board, he seeks to organize them all into nice little rows where they live their short little lives the way he feels proper. I think the rebellion of the almost-king was the only time where he probably approached true emotion regarding you all, that was when the prophecy was changed.”

One thing kept standing out in her statements to Cor, and he forced himself to sit back up and address her directly. “You kept mentioning that the prophecy changed, but how?”

The goddess gave him a bittersweet smile. “Before, my Herald, the rulers of Lucis were supposed to give their lives to combat the scourge. After the failed chosen, he proclaimed that he would take their deaths as well; their spirits one by one have been trapped within the place beyond powered by the crystal and channelled largely by the ring. No king of Lucis has been able to go to their deserved rest since the days of the first kings.”

“That cannot be right, as you say, the Ring of the Lucii channels the powers of the former kings, are you saying that they are not there willingly? And what about the Old Wall?” Cor pressed on, the headache he had been nursing in the waking world appearing to trickle through to the haven of the goddess, and he reached a hand up to massage his temple.

“The Ring passed around from owner to owner before finding who would be the first king; before, the spirits that gave the ring its power did so willingly, only later did it become a requirement through Bahamut’s edict.” Eos paused, clearly in thought. “I actually know very little about the wall of Insomnia, but I can tell you that it was the invention of man, given to by the willing, and not the idea of either me or any Astral.”

Cor let himself fall back over, still massaging at his temples. “I think I understand why you didn’t pile all of this information on me before, although I wish you had.” He let himself relax for a short while, the goddess seemed to understand that he needed some time to mentally sort everything she had just said and claimed. It was clear the goddess wasn’t all that fond of of Bahamut, but she had kept her tone level and her words not too incredibly harsh. Cor had a feeling that she could speak for a hundred lifetimes of man about the Astrals, and they didn’t have the time. This fallen king, however, this appeared to be the true priority, and she hadn’t told him who they were. “My lady? Who is this fallen king? You have told me of him, but not who he is now.”

No reply from the goddess followed his statement, and after a long uncomfortable silence, Cor sat back up once again, only to look upon a Dawn Mother who looked rather embarrassed. “Goddess?”

“To me, Cor, the Accursed, the almost-king, looks like a human figure slick with the blackest of oils and surrounded by a miasma where an infinite amount of daemons scream and attempt to escape his form. He will appear before you as a man of normal human appearance.”

“Well, that’s absolutely no help.” Cor quipped, then his brain caught up with his tongue and he turned bright red. Jumping to his feet, he immediately bowed to the goddess. “My apologies, my lady, I did not mean any slight-” Eos was laughing at him. The goddess was covering her mouth with her hand, but he could still hear it clearly. Well, that was better than pissing her off.

“My apologies for not being able to assist your search any further, but I do know that you will meet him soon, or, at the least, he will be close to you at some point soon. It may be more than one meeting until events may progress, but you will meet him.”

Cor nodded and bowed again. “I will do my best, my lady.”

Eos smiled, then rose to her feet and took Cor’s hands in her own. “You always do.” The meadow faded away moments later, and Cor shot upright in his bed with a wheeze. Shit shit shit. The kid was only twenty, and if Eos’s prediction was correct, they were going to be going public soon.

So a motley crew of them, most of them under the age of twenty-five, were going to try and save the world without hopefully wiping out half of it in the meantime. Cor pinched the bridge of his nose and let out a groan. This was going to go swimmingly.

 

---

 

Prompto actually didn’t feel that bad, but he was getting real tired of constantly conking out to go see the Dawn Mother in the middle of the day. Before, she had never summoned him before bed, and while they had had some bumps early on in their relationship, they had been working well together ever since. Until recently. She told him that all the shit was about to go down soon, and wanted to make sure he was prepared; Prompto would also meet the Herald soon, which was actually a little exciting, as he had always wondered who it was. But before that, he needed to be able to leave the apartment without conking out at least twice a day.

After scaring the crap out of his friends and barely dodging explaining the reason why, he had been firmly ensconced in Noct’s apartment with a few weeks worth of clothes, his toiletries, his camera, and his phone charger. He was also under strict orders from Iggy to not move an inch outside said apartment without one of them present. It was stifling, but at the same time, it was positively heartwarming that they cared that much. It was not something he had a lot of experience in before he had met them. A week into his stay, and every one of them had witnessed him clocking out to see the goddess, which was never not embarrassing. The last time, Gladio had managed to grab him right before he nearly impaled himself on the paring knife he was peeling an apple with. So now, he was banned from any sharp implements as well.

Prompto groused as he bit into his slightly brown apple (he had been out for about an hour, according to Gladio.) This sucked. This really really sucked. Every time he went away in front of them, their faces grew more pinched, their expressions more concerned;  Gladio had clung to him after he had awakened for a moment, shaking him lightly with what Prompto was sure was barely suppressed frustration. They had promised, though, and they had not pressed him for reasons again, only assisted him when the summons came. It was- he didn't deserve them. Any normal person would have thrown his hopeless ass out with a good riddance after he had completely refused to tell them anything twice, but...they hadn't. He would never be able to repay them.

As he relaxed on the sofa, a calming sensation trickled past his senses, reminding him of the remnants of incense smoke; notes of sword polish and and cherry teased at his nostrils, and Prompto let his head fall back as he inhaled the phantom scent. The first time he had noticed the scent had been as the four of them had been leaving the Citadel after he had passed out on them for the first time, and it had brought him to a complete stop. He had sniffed at the air with confusion, and had only stopped when he saw Iggy and Gladio exchange a concerned glance out of the corner of his eye. They obviously didn't smell it, and since they probably already thought him half crazy, he decided not to bring it up.  But still, it was nice. It wasn't always there, but he was starting to be able to sense it more and more as the days passed by. Prompto just wished he knew where it was coming from. He sighed. Just another thing.

His apple done, he got to his feet to throw the core away in the kitchen. He didn't even make it three steps until Gladio walked in from the balcony, looking at him in suspicion.

“Just where do you think you are going?” Gladio questioned, and Prompto just held up his apple core up in response as he reached the trash. After he tossed it, Prompto turned to Gladio with a smile.

“I wanna go out.”

The response was instant. “Hell no.” Gladio snapped, but there was no heat in it. Prompto sidled closer and turned on his best puppy eyes, which he knew damn good and well usually worked on the older man. Gladio quickly looked away, but Prompto just adjusted his position and continued the offensive. After a few moments of back and forth, Gladio finally sighed and clasped Prompto’s shoulders.. “Prom, I just watched you almost skewer yourself on a paring knife because you keep passing out at completely random times. I’m really not comfortable in you going out when you are like this.”

Well, he did have a point, but- “It never happens this close together, I’m sure I’d be fine for an hour or so outside. I’m going stir crazy in here. I haven’t been out since I got here.” Gladio was still looking at him like he was an unfortunate conundrum, and well, he had a point, but still. “Please? Just a walk?”

Gladio’s mouth was twisted, but after heaving one more overly-noisy sigh, he nodded. “Just for an hour, and if you pass out on me, Prom, I swear to the Astrals I’m locking you in this damn apartment until this shit stops. Do you understand me?” Prompto almost laughed at the reference to the Astrals, but he managed to keep it to a grin instead. They’d probably approve of locking him up forever, if even a few of the comments he had heard the Dawn Mother say were correct. Gladio raised an eyebrow above him, and Prompto scrambled for the door before he could reconsider.

“I want a snack too!” Prompto stated as he shoved his feet into his boots and grabbed his wallet from the top of the shoe cabinet. A few good hops to get his boots on properly later and he was out the door, Gladio following at his back. Neither said a word as they headed to the elevator, Gladio didn’t say a thing when Prompto bounced up and down in the elevator...well, it was usually Iggy who commented anyway when he jumped in the elevator, but still. When they reached the outside, however, Gladio snagged one of Prompto’s belt loops before he could run off, leaving Prompto to scramble for balance before righting himself. “Hey, warn a guy first!”

“You are not running off, Prom, we are going to walk together. I know you, you’ll run off at the first shiny thing you see, and I’ll be running around trying to find you before you take a header into a fountain or some shit, because that’s about your luck,” Gladio drawled, and Prompto gave a half-hearted kick in his direction in reply which the older man easily dodged.

As much as Prompto hated to admit it, Gladio was usually pretty much right on the mark most of the time when it came to things in general. It was annoying. Noct thought it was annoying. But Gladio was what he was, and he definitely was right on the mark about his luck. Well, except for his divine music lessons, because what could be luckier? Prompto had truly enjoyed learning to sing with far more polish than his handful of old school performances had demonstrated, and all the outstanding songs he had been instructed in? Amazing. Even the concept of singing with spirits had become second nature to him, even though he had originally been rather thrown by the whole concept.

He just wished he could have learned all this stuff without all the divine politics and saving the world bit. It was putting a serious cramp in his life in general. But the Dawn Mother had chosen him and one other, and he would do the best at what he had been asked. At the thought of the goddess, Prompto began to hum. Although the words remained unspoken, he heard them in his heart; a song of parting, one he hoped he would never need to sing in earnest, but he had loved it from the first time he had heard it. As he finished the first song, he transitioned to another one, this time one of love; he hardly registered that Gladio was walking about as close as could be without actually touching until he was wrapping up the second tune.

Feeling the heat from Gladio’s closeness snapped Prompto out of his humming session, and he finished with an off-tune squeak. Prompto felt the flush warming his face and neck, and he spun away from Gladio while scrubbing at his cheeks. Stupid, he was trying not to sing in front of them, they’ll probably find it stupid-

“Hey, Prompto.” Gladio’s voice cut into his internal meltdown, and Prompto’s shoulders hitched up to somewhere near his ears as he forced himself to turn around.

“Ye-yeah?” Prompto was afraid to look at the other man’s face for some reason, scared of what had to be mocking amusement at best, but what he got instead was a finger flicking against the underside of his chin, forcing him to look up at Gladio, who had one of the softest smiles he had ever seen on his face.

“Why don’t you sing with us around, Prom? You have a great voice, you should own it.” Gladio’s smile deepened, and Prompto blinked in shock. “I have heard you before, you know, when you thought we weren’t around. I thought it was amazing then, and I still do.” If the blush on Prompto’s face had receded at all, it was definitely back full force now; Prompto’s mouth opened and closed several times soundlessly as he fumbled for words.

He was going to completely explode from embarrassment, the goddess was going to have to find a new Voice- “Ah...I thought, I thought you guys would find it-” Prompto stumbled over his words, and Gladio chuckled.

“You thought we’d find it lame, didn’t you?” Prompto nodded with a shaky head, and Gladio exhaled rather loudly. “You can seriously be an idiot, you know that, right?”

That got Prompto’s attention, and he managed a rather passable smile as he looped his arm through one of Gladio’s giant ones, propelling him down the street to the casual Galahdian restaurant that he knew they both enjoyed. “Hey! I am a fucking genius at being an idiot, don’t demote me now!”

“Yeah, well, maybe you need a demotion, you dipshit.” Gladio grumbled as he allowed Prompto to haul him into the restaurant without complaint. Both men ordered their food, then relaxed at a booth and dug in. Gladio would occasionally glance at Prompto, clearly checking his condition, but otherwise the two kept quiet while they ate.

Prompto was just enjoying being outside of the apartment for the first time, having something to eat that wasn’t thrown together by himself or Iggy (not that Iggy made anything that was less than perfection, but still) or Cup Noodle. Cup Noodles are great and all, but there was a thing as too much sodium in a diet, not that Gladio would ever accept that. He felt pretty decent, Gladio’s inspections more endearing than annoying, and Gladio hadn’t laughed at him over the singing thing. Things, for the moment at least, were looking up.

Once they were done with their meals, Gladio dropped down some funds for the tip without a word as he rose to his feet, Prompto following in his wake. Not two steps outside of the restaurant, however, the first hints of a sour, acidic scent wafted past Prompto’s nose, and he ground to a halt. Gladio realized that he was no longer being followed, and turned back.

“Prompto, you okay?” Gladio said quietly to Prompto, but the smell was getting stronger, and the hair on Prompto’s neck was starting to stand on end- “Prompto!” Gladio hissed in his ear, and he snapped out of it enough to meet the older man’s eyes.

“You don’t smell that, do you? It’s awful, like burning metal, melting hair, and hatred all mixed together-” Prompto saw Gladio’s nostrils flare, but he just knew he couldn’t smell it; Gladio wrapped an arm around his shoulders and started walking, and Prompto knew that Gladio was worried about him, but the smell was getting stronger as they walked-

“Captain Drautos!” Gladio released him, but Prompto’s whole body was screaming at him to run, to vomit-

The Captain of the Kingsglaive stopped right in front of them, looking between the two of them with a stoic expression. “Crownsguard Amicitia, and Mr...Argentum, wasn’t it? Just going for a stroll?” Prompto was sure he looked like he was about to pass out in the normal sense, the horrid smells and sensation pouring over him from the man in front of them, and he only managed a weak head bob in response to the captain’s question.

Luckily, Gladio seemed to know that something was really wrong. “Just got some supper, sir, there’s a Galahdian restaurant over here we both enjoy...but I’m thinking it might not be settling well with Prompto, sir, so we better get out of here.” Prompto managed to focus enough to give a nervous chuckle and a not-exactly feigned rub of his abdomen.

“You might just be right, Amicitia, best get him home. You two have a good evening.” Drautos gave the two a short nod before heading off, the horrible scent fading as he left; Prompto couldn’t help a small gasp of relief after he headed out of view, and he looked up to see Gladio frowning at him.

“We are going to the apartment, and you are telling me what the hell that was all about,” Gladio stated bluntly, and Prompto didn’t bother arguing. A short walk back made the last of the scent and unpleasantness fade away, and it was a much invigorated Prompto that entered the apartment behind the clearly irritated Crownsguard.

After they both kicked off their boots, they settled onto the big couch in the living room without a word. Prompto couldn’t think of a damn thing to say that wouldn’t lead to worries about his sanity, so he stayed quiet.

“Are you still smelling what you asked about?” Gladio said softly, and Prompto shook his head automatically. “You acted like it was actually coming from Captain Drautos...was it?” Prompto looked in disbelief at Gladio, who ran a hand down his face at the scrutiny. “Look, Prom, something’s going on with you. We all know it. Normal people don’t just conk out in the middle of everyday actions on a daily basis. This isn’t the first time you’ve smelled something none of us have, either. Honestly, Iggy is starting to believe that you’ve got a brain tumor, it fits some of your symptoms, but you seemed so certain that you knew what was going on that he hasn’t brought it up.”

Prompto blinked. A tumor would definitely explain a lot, but he was pretty sure that a brain tumor wouldn’t teach him music, so he was going to stick with the I’m-not-going-crazy-it’s-divine-intervention theory for now. “Yeah, the smell came from him. It was awful, all I wanted to do was run or puke. I’ve never smelled anything like that before.”

Gladio looked surprised that Prompto had actually answered a question, and silence fell once more. “The Marshal’s never really gotten along with him,” Gladio blurted, and Prompto looked at him in confusion. “Drautos. They tolerate each other, but he’s always rubbed him the wrong way. Even my Dad and Drautos only sort of get along.” Gladio gave a somewhat painful sounding laugh. “Maybe you are becoming a literal judge of character?”

Prompto snorted, but maybe Gladio had a good idea. Huh. “If I told you that I’ve been getting one other scent wafting in from a distance occasionally, would you think I’m even more nuts than you guys probably think I am already?”

“I’ll refrain from judgement for now.”

“Sword polish, cherry, and a complete feeling of safety. It’s literally the complete opposite of what I got from Drautos.” Prompto couldn’t believe he was confessing these things, but something had to give; he was so tired of keeping secrets from his friends. This was probably the most minor of all the crazy following him around right now.

Gladio, for his credit, seemed to be taking him somewhat seriously; Prompto watched him cross his arms and think on it for a bit, before he looked back at him. “...and it’s not coming from one of us, right?” Prompto felt himself flushing a bit, but he shook his head.

“No, but I already know you guys, maybe I only get it with people I don’t know very well?” Gladio snorted, and Prompto let himself flop sideways on the sofa with a sigh, his head resting next to Gladio’s thigh. “That one I just mentioned was the first one I noticed when we leaving the Citadel the other way.”

A sigh. “What are we going to do with you, Prom?” Gladio said as Prompto felt a large warm hand landed gently on his head and begin to ruffle his hair, it was very soothing, and he felt himself drifting off next to the large man. Maybe the Dawn Mother would nab him during his nap, so he could have a normal evening without passing out on his friends again.

As he drifted off, the last thing Prompto heard was Gladio speaking to someone about how they needed to talk, but he didn’t think Gladio was talking to him. One more stroke of his hair, and Prompto was asleep.

 

---

 

Noctis sat out on the balcony of his apartment staring at his phone, but not actually registering whatever was on the screen. Noctis looked back inside through the sliding glass door at Prom, who was asleep on the couch and dead to the world. He turned his eyes back to his game, but he finally just turned off the screen. He couldn’t focus on anything.

...smelling someone’s character. Gladio had told them of his off-hand comment to Prompto after the events of a week ago, and it was- Drautos had made Prom physically ill, Gladio had told Iggy and him, and it sounded absolutely mad to Noctis. But the alternative is to accept that Prompto was either truly physically ill, like the brain tumor theory Iggy was suspecting, or he was going completely crazy. Neither was an appealing prospect by any stretch of the imagination, and when he wasn't passing out or going practically catatonic at random intervals he seemed completely fine. A brain tumor couldn’t be like that, right? One minute staring comatose at the ceiling, the next getting his ass beat in King’s Knight, that can’t be right for something like that. As for the crazy theory: Noctis had met unstable people. While he knew that could describe a very wide range of situations and personalities, the only ones he had had close contact with were the ones who had tried to kill him, and well, they didn’t make good markers for gauging mental stability. But Noctis really didn’t think Prompto was going down anything like that. Well, until the scent thing had come up. That was just the icing on the cake. An unknown person radiating sword polish and cherry that makes Prompto feel secure, and Drautos, who smelled horrible and made him want to run away. Noctis sighed and rested his head in his hands. Everything sucked.

Noctis had found himself sighing a lot lately. He had watched his father fade slowly but surely over an extended period, but he never thought he'd see a friend possibly start falling apart before him. He was clinging to that promise they had extracted out of Prom a few weeks back, the one where Prom really did seem to know everything that was going on, and all of this bullshit would be cleared up. It was a bit of a pipe dream, but he could hope. Looking out at the sun, he glanced back at his phone to check the time. Damn, he was supposed to be at the Citadel in less than an hour. Getting to his feet, he headed inside, stepping up to the couch where he could hear Prompto’s whistling breaths, the blond wrapped around a large pillow. None of them really wanted to leave him alone, although things had been going as smoothly as it could go, well, considering the circumstances anyway, since the knife incident with Gladio; but Noctis especially was getting increasingly paranoid that the time they left him alone would be the time one of them returned to find him half-dead or worse from clipping his head on a table during a spell.

He couldn’t do it. But he knew the other two were busy, so either he skipped his meeting with the council, which he really didn’t want to do, or he took Prom with him and hoped that he held up for the few hours he would need to be there. Noctis pondered the situation, but there was only way he was willing to let this go. Reaching out to the Prompto-shaped lump, he gave him a shake on the shoulder. “Hey, Prom, want to go with me to the Citadel?”

“Wuh, Ciddadel?” Prompto slurred, but Noctis watched as his eyes cleared in record time, and with a groan and a stretch, Prom got himself to a sitting position. “You want me to go with you to the Citadel? I thought you were worried about me being there right now.” Noctis shrugged, and Prom gave him a skeptical look. “Let me guess, you don’t want me here alone.” Noctis didn’t meet his eyes, and Prom snorted. “Yeah yeah, sounds great, I haven’t been out since the thing with Gladio-” He froze, and Noctis frowned. “Drautos will be there, yeah?”

Oh, that’s right. “Yeah, probably.” Prompto got to his feet and wandered into Noctis’s room, and Noctis hadn’t thought of that. Gladio had told them that there was no way he was faking the reaction he had to the Captain, whether for a real or imagined smell, and if it happened again? Noctis heard his shower start, and he entered his bedroom and leaned next to the cracked bathroom door. “If you see him again, do you think you can handle it?” Steam began to billow out the door, and Noctis repeated himself.

“Yeah, I think I can manage it.” Prompto’s water-muffled reply finally secured, Noctis changed shirts and headed out of his bedroom.

“Good, I’m ready to go when you are.”

Luckily, Prompto was fast at showering, and a small bit of primping later, the two were out the door and on the subway to the Citadel.  “Remember, you feel off at all, claim a stomach ache or something and go hang out at my old quarters until I’m done. Iggy and Gladio will kill both of us if we get into trouble,” Noctis said in Prompto’s ear as the train decelerated for the Citadel stop, and while Prompto rolled his eyes in response, he didn’t argue the point. They exited the station and headed north, and Noctis watched as Prompto took one deep breath, cringed, then looked thoughtful just a moment later. Noctis leaned back in as he waved to the security guards. “What’s up?”

Prompto’s expression twisted, but he looked at Noctis and shrugged. “It’s both of them. It’s really strange, one moment it’s him, the next it’s the other one I told you about. I think the other person is here too.” Noctis had deciding that humoring Prompto was the way to go for now awhile back, and hell, he could be absolutely right about this. Maybe it was a strange manifestation of some magical ability of something. Anything was probably better than their other working theories. So Noctis tilted his head towards his friend and smiled.

“Well, if you figure it out, let me know.” Prom gave him a tentative smile, and Noctis clapped him on the back as they headed into the lobby. “Yay for meetings. Did you just want to wait outside the council room like usual, or somewhere else?”

“The usual is fine.” Prompto replied, and Noctis nodded. The elevator shot up to the upper floors, and he waved to Prompto, who was settling himself into one of the chairs in the sitting area.

“Remember what I said, Prom,” Noctis said as he walked to the door, and after one glance back at his friend, he entered the council room. Fingers crossed.

The council, sans his father, who was currently handling something that was not explained to Noctis, was mostly wanting to update him on current events, the biggest of which was that Niflheim had all but ceased their rather regular incursions and attacks on the areas surrounding Insomnia. Just the occasional small skirmish here and there, which were easily repelled. Everyone agreed that it was strange, and there were more potential explanations than stars in the sky. Had something happened in the empire? Did they have a super weapon that they were hoping to deploy? Was it a feint to try to get Lucis to lower its guard before a major rise in aggression? There was too many questions and pretty much no answers. Noctis could see how exhausted all the council members were, even Gladio’s dad looked like he hadn’t slept in days. Not that it would slow him down, but the pinched expression and bags under Clarus’s eyes were a little more marked than usual.

The doors to the assembly room opened, and Noctis looked over to see none other than Captain Titus Drautos walk in. Even with the incredibly serious discussion he and the council had been having, something that could very well be heralding a major change in the war, the first thought Noctis had at the sight of the head of the Kingsglaive was oh shit Prom. Drautos’s eyes swept the room, and very definitively settled on Noctis with a quirk of an eyebrow. Now Noctis was really worried. Drautos approached the table and gave a bow from the waist, and Clarus nodded in greeting.

“Do you have news, Captain?” The elder Amicitia spoke, and Noctis watched Drautos give a rather non-committal head tilt.

“It’s rather the lack of news, my lord. The skirmishes are getting lesser and lesser, and seem to be little more than a distraction. They did unleash one larger daemon, but they just as quickly recalled it. However, we did suffer some moderate casualties before the beast was stopped, and I ordered the Kingsglaive to retreat to the wall. I’m afraid I have little else of note to impart.” Drautos said, and Noctis heard a few sighs from around the room.

“So nothing has changed. Well, as asinine as it sounds, that’s about the most important update we could have had right now. My thanks, Captain. Go take care of your Glaives.” Clarus stated, and Drautos bowed again.

“I will update immediately if matters change, my lords, your majesty. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must return to the west wall.” Drautos turned and exited the room with one last glance at Noctis. Shit.

Clarus Amicitia met Noctis’s eyes in an obvious question, but Noctis made himself shake his head. It was nothing, just the possibly loopy senses of my best friend concerning him, nothing to see here. Noctis pushed himself away from the table and stood. “Please keep me apprised of any updates, my lords. I appreciate your help, as always, and again, let me know if I might help in any way in the future.” The council all rose together and bowed from the waist as Noctis departed the chamber. Noctis ignored Clarus’s gaze burning a hole in his back as he left, he had enough issues to deal with.

He shouldn’t have been surprised that Prompto was nowhere to be seen, but worry still swiftly settled in his gut. Noctis took out his phone and dialed. It went to voicemail. Shit. He walked towards the elevators, hoping that Prom had just followed his suggestion-

“Excuse me, your majesty?” A woman’s voice came from behind Noctis, and he forced himself to smile as he turned around.

“Can I help you?”

“If you are looking for your friend, Captain Drautos spoke with him for a moment, then the Marshal came by and interrupted, he then accompanied Marshal Leonis. I would probably guess that they went to his office, based on the direction they headed.” The woman bowed and Noctis gave his thanks as he set off towards the Crownsguard offices. So Drautos had approached Prom, but Cor had intervened? Well, they all knew that Cor liked Prom for some reason, even if they had never quite figured out why. Noctis’s favorite theory was that Prom was his illegitimate son, but they looked literally nothing alike, so that was quite the stretch. Gladio had once told him that if it had been anyone but Cor, he would have assumed they were fucking, but it was Cor. The man was like a hermit or something. Noctis doubted that he slept with anyone, the marshal was always working. Also, he was around twenty-five years older than Prompto, surely a guy like him would want someone more his age anyway? Noctis shook his head at his own stupid musings as he reached the Crownsguard’s lair.

Noctis entered the offices, nodding to the secretaries as he passed. He caught Monica’s eye as he passed her office, and she nodded and pointed with a thumb towards Cor’s office. He stopped in front of the closed door, listening, but he couldn’t make anything out. Just as he raised a hand to knock, Cor’s voice rang out.

“Come in, your majesty.” Noctis would never be able to figure out how he does that. He carefully opened the door to Cor’s domain and entered, closing the door behind him.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, Marshal, but have you seen-” Cor cut Noctis off as he raised a hand and pointed; Noctis looked around a pillar blocking his view to see Prompto curled up on Cor’s office sofa asleep, a throw blanket covering his legs.

“He said he was getting over a bit of a stomach bug, and he looked it when I ran into him, so I offered to let him rest on the sofa until you were done with your meeting,” Cor said as Noctis approached his friend, and he barely refrained from letting loose a rather sizable sigh of relief. Whether he knew what he was doing or not, Cor had really helped them out. Noctis leaned over to give sleeping beauty a shake, but was again cut off by Cor’s voice behind him. “Your majesty.” Noctis straightened. “Have you ever had any problems with Captain Drautos?” That got his attention.

“He’s been around for quite some time, not as long as you, but-”

“That’s not what I asked,” Cor stated, and Noctis frowned.

“None personally, Marshal. He is what he is, yeah? We aren’t close or anything. I get the impression he doesn’t like Prompto, though.” Cor settled back in his chair with a hum at Noctis’s statement.

“I would agree with that assessment, but before you ask, I do not know why. For the meantime, with all the tension involving the sudden changes to the war, I would suggest the two of you avoid him if possible. Especially Mr. Argentum. Drautos been a little more...abrasive than usual, and for him, that can be saying something,” Cor’s advice was completely out of the blue, but much appreciated. Noctis found himself nodding in agreement before the older man was even done speaking.

“You...may be right. Thank you, sir.” Noctis turned away from the Marshal and shook Prom awake, watching him stretch in amusement.

“Time to go?” Prom yawned, and Noctis snorted.

“Get up, you big lump, the Marshal wants his couch back.” Noctis watched as realization flooded Prom, and the blond yanked off the blanket and jumped to his feet.

“I’m so sorry, sir, I didn’t mean to fall asleep!” Prompto cried, and Noctis watched as a rare smile inched onto the normally taciturn Cor’s face.

“You obviously needed it, Prompto. Do not worry yourself about it,” Cor replied, then waved at the door. “Why don’t you let the prince buy you dinner, you probably could use it.”

“Thanks for the volunteering, Cor,” Noctis muttered, but it was for show and they all knew it. Noctis pulled a flushed and waving Prompto out of Cor’s office without another word, hauling him by the hand down to the elevators. Pushing him in, Noctis hit the button for the lobby. “You alright? Was it Drautos again?”

Prompto sobered, taking a deep breath and looking down at his feet. “Yeah, he came up to me close to an hour into your meeting, asked why I was there, stated that I still didn’t look well, then made a comment about the Crownsguard allowing sickly boys into their ranks.” Prompto lifted his head and met Noctis’s eyes. “And then the Marshal showed up. It’s him , Noctis, I know you guys all find this crazy, but he’s the other person.” Noctis’s brow furrowed.

“You mean the whole cherry and sword polish smell?” Prompto nodded rapidly, and Noctis crossed his arms. “Huh. Well, I could see him making someone feel secure, and he’s always liked you-” Prompto gave him the strangest look, and Noctis smirked. “You never noticed, but he’s been stumping for you for Crownsguard, well, throwing in a good word here and there. We don’t even know either- maybe he can’t resist those big eyes of yours.” Noctis grinned, and Prompto went completely scarlet.

“Noooct! You bastard, I can’t believe I’m friends with you sometimes!”

As the two of them departed the Citadel, Noctis found himself looking back up in the direction of Cor’s office. Something weird was going on, and Noctis was beginning to think that it was more than just Prompto.

 

---

 

Cor watched the two young men leave his office, the prince dragging out the rather red-faced and waving Prompto without further conversation. Once the door clicked shut behind them, however, he slumped in his chair. That had been far too close for his comfort.

Cor had been in his office when the sharp, acrid taste of fear and disgust had punched its way into his psyche, and it had actually taken a moment for Cor to realize that it wasn’t coming from him, it had rattled him so much. Prompto , he had realized with a jolt, and had just as quickly realized that the young man in question was nearby. Like down the hall nearby. Cor had jumped to his feet and had rushed out of the Crownsguard offices as quick as he could manage without inviting questions. The sitting area outside the council chamber was largely meant for people awaiting audiences with said council members, but people could relax there if they wished if they were cleared to be there. As Cor approached, he could see, and feel, Prompto, who was sitting in one of the chairs clearly waiting for Noctis; the kid was ashen pale and looked two seconds from losing his lunch, and Cor then realized who was standing in front of the Voice. Captain Titus Drautos, Commander of the Kingsglaive, had one of the most condescending glares Cor had ever seen trained on Prompto. Prompto had clearly just finished saying something, but it was just as clear that Drautos was looking at Prompto like he was an inferior insect to be squashed. Cor didn’t like it one bit.

“Captain, I see you found Mr. Argentum. My thanks, I was just coming to speak with him.” Cor exclaimed as he planted himself right next to Prompto’s chair, trying to put himself between them in some form. Drautos’s eyes slid over to Cor with irritation, but then he stepped away from Cor and Prompto, pulling on the hem on his tunic to straighten it.

“Are you sure he’s Crownsguard material, Cor? Look at him! He can barely look at me without looking fit to collapse. I’d rethink this if I were you.” Drautos hissed in his ear, brushing by Cor to head into the council chambers.

Cor didn’t bother responding as Drautos opened the door and entered the room, but couldn’t resist pinching the bridge of his nose once before looking down at the shaking young man. “Prompto, are you well?” Prompto was staring at the floor with such intensity that Cor was forced to repeat himself before he looked up.

“Sir?”

Cor reached out a hand and pulled an unresisting Prompto to his feet. “How are you feeling?”

Prompto seemed to finally snap out out of it, and Cor got the full blast of those giant blue-violet eyes for the first time since Prompto was small enough to be zipped up in his jacket so he could safely ride a motorcycle with him for a few miles. They still had the same effect, unfortunately. “Oh...oh sir! I'm sorry, I-” Prompto trailed off, and to Cor’s confusion, sniffed the air a few times. Before Cor could inquire further, the young man’s face split into a wide grin, and he looked at Cor like he had just had a month of birthdays.

Cor could actually feel himself flush a bit when that intense gaze targeted him, but it also lead to an old emotion re-emerging, one that he had quashed down close to fifteen years ago. You could have been his father.

No, this wasn’t the time. That ship sailed when he left that little boy at the orphanage, and nothing would change that now. Cor shook his head at himself and nodded to Prompto. “You looked a bit peaked a few minutes ago, are you alright?” Prompto still looked pale, but he nodded, that grin still on his face.

“I had a touch of the stomach flu earlier in the week, it’s just sticking around a bit. I’m fine,” Prompto said, and Cor nodded to him, but he was unconvinced. There had been something oddly visceral going on between Drautos and Prompto, and he didn’t like it.

“Good. Why don’t we head to my office, you can wait for the prince there,” Cor stated, and Prompto nodded and trotted up alongside him without argument; a short walk got them back to the Crownsguard offices and through to his office, where he ushered Prompto in and closed the door behind him. “Go ahead and relax, Argentum, you still look a little under the weather.”

Cor watched with amusement as Prompto flopped onto the indicated couch with a groan and let his eyes close. The kid looked tired, and he knew it was because of Eos’s constant summons, just as he knew that he had been staying with the prince for several weeks now. They didn’t leave him alone for any serious period of time, and Cor knew damn good and well why. He wondered if Prompto had told them anything, or if they were assuming something dire for his spells. Hm.

A funny snort from the couch made Cor look up to see that Prompto had curled up and fallen asleep in what must have been record time. Cor couldn’t keep a smile pulling at his cheeks, and he got to his feet and grabbed a throw that he kept in the office for his use and spread it over Prompto’s legs, pausing to look down at the young man that so much was riding on, the young man who deserved better than what life had doled out to him, and shook his head and returned to his desk. Damnit.

The prince came by and fetched Prompto less than ten minutes later, and Cor was left to his thoughts again. He was generally not included in the council meetings, usually getting briefed later by Clarus, but they all knew that the empire’s attacks had all but ceased. Something was coming, and Cor knew that he and Prompto were going to be right in the middle of it. If what the goddess believed might be coming to pass was true, whatever happened in the recent future may be the start, or end, of everything; Eos had been unable to guarantee that either the king or the prince would survive, but he would not have believed such a promise anyway. Not when none of these gods and astrals were directly involved, and were resorting to their chosen servants. There was him and Prompto for Eos, Regis and Noctis for Bahamut...perhaps, and the Oracle and her messengers for the astrals in general. Plus, now there was this extra party in this Accursed that had apparently been abandoned by all and did what he wanted, and he still needed to figure out who that was.

This was all a mess, and outside of possible divine bullshit, the war was still playing out on terra firma, and Cor had no idea if what was to happen would even curtail that. He sighed and put his head in his hands. He hated all of the uncertainty, but while the goddess seemed to have premonitions of a sort, she didn’t appear to be able to directly see the future in their own world, just events in other realities. It was probably a good thing, as it would be too tempting to try and tamper with the negative, which could make things worse off than they would have been anyway. So they all bumbled along and hoped they wouldn’t destroy the world and everything in it.

“Not destroying the world sounded like a good start to any plan.” Cor muttered to himself, then looked over at his clock. Time to call it an evening. With the empire pulling their mystery nonsense, he had no clue when the call would come in, either from the king, or the goddess, and it was best that all those going off-shift got a good night's rest. Cor left his office and relayed a slightly tweaked version of the same sentiment to his fellow Crownsguard, before heading back to his quarters. Sleep it was. The goddess left him be, and Cor got a fantastic night’s rest, undisturbed by memorable dreams or phone calls. It was wonderful.

The next morning dawned bright and unremarkable, and Cor went to work the same as always. The hours went by, he did his usual paperwork and walked his usual routes, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Not two seconds after his elevator disgorged him back onto the floor of his office around four o'clock in the afternoon, however, the Citadel switched into silent lockdown. The lights dimmed ever so slightly, the elevator immediately closed behind him, the buttons powering down; small lights installed skillfully into the crown moulding blinked in a preset manner that any Citadel employee who had completed full training knew by heart. Return to your stations at once, and do not attempt to leave unless in immediate physical danger. Do not contact anyone outside your department or the Citadel unless otherwise cleared to do so by a very specific list of people. Do not allow anyone into your station you do not recognize. Await further instruction. Cor stared at the lights for a beat longer than he should have, before turning on his heel and sprinting back to the Crownsguard offices, slamming the door behind him after entering.

“Anyone know what the hell is going on?” Cor yelled into the bustling room, and watched with satisfaction as everyone immediately fell silent. Monica, ever the level-headed one, was the first to speak up.

“The West Wall alerted Crownsguard Fabius, who was stationed to the king today, to an imperial envoy wishing for an audience with the king, the last I heard was that he had just imparted that information before the lockdown was instituted. On an ancillary note, Drautos just had any Glaives that were fighting past the wall recalled within overnight. We have no troops stationed outside the city right now,” Monica reported in an even address, and Cor crossed his arms as she finished.

“An envoy. Now, after all these years, and they want to talk,” Cor stated, shaking his hands. “Who wants to guess if our envoy is prescribing terms of surrender.”

“Marshal!” Cor looked over at Dustin, who was rising from his desk with a perturbed expression. “Perhaps we shouldn’t speculate until official word has been given.” Cor raised his eyebrows at the other Crownsguard, but Dustin didn’t back down. Good man.

“Yes, you are right, Dustin. Ignore me,” Cor waved an arm at the room. “Everyone get back to work, we’ll see what is going on hopefully soon.” With that, Cor headed back into his office, closing the door down to all but a crack. He could tempt fate, step through to peek in on any discussion, but the risk was far too great to risk it. He would wait for news with the rest. A sudden thought came to mind, and Cor let his eyes close as he focused on that little light in the back of his brain that meant Prompto. After a moment of searching, he heaved a sigh of relief. Prompto was at the prince’s apartment, and thusly nowhere near this mess. Therein passed a long, tense hour, where Cor would constantly look up at the signal lights, waiting for a change. The instant the lights switched off, he got a phone call.

“Lockdown suspended, Marshal. Report to his majesty's office at eighteen hundred hours.” Clarus. This was serious.

“Acknowledged,” Cor replied, and the line went dead. He could already feel the prickling down his spine even before he left his office to give the all-clear. The wheels were beginning to turn, and there would be no stopping this train.

As ordered, Cor was waiting outside the King’s office at five before the ordered time, and was ushered in by a strained-looking Clarus. King Regis sat at his desk, staring at documents that he probably wasn’t actually comprehending, based on the exhaustion in his aging features.

“Cor Leonis reporting as ordered, sire.” Cor saluted, but Regis just waved the greeting away and pointed to a seat, which Cor took. Clarus took the other chair without a word.

“The Chancellor of Niflheim, Ardyn Izunia, was here to offer terms,” Regis stated, and Cor nodded in acknowledgement, but did not speak. “All lands outside of Insomnia ceded to the empire, and Noctis marries Princess Lunafreya as a symbol of peace. In Altissia, which I suppose was an attempt at a neutral location. If accepted, the Emperor himself would come to Insomnia to sign the treaty, tentatively scheduled for two weeks from now.” Cor blinked. He had figured that the loss of land was a given, but the marriage angle was not one he had thought up. This wasn’t a peace accord, this was a trap, and with the emperor possibly coming here-

“This is nothing more than a feint, your highness. They are buying time for something, they must be. They have us on the run, there’s strategically no reason to sue for peace now.” Cor sat forward in his chair and propped his arms on his thighs with a frown.

Regis sighed and glanced down at the documents on his desk. “I’m going to accept their terms, Cor. I hear you and I don’t disagree, Clarus said much the same thing before you arrived. But we are out of options at this point. The Glaive is wavering, they’ve been the frontline defense for too long, and there are signs that there is dissention in the ranks, probably mostly from battle fatigue, but from some other issues we’ve addressed in the past. The Crownsguard never recovered from the last major upswing of the war from twenty-five years ago, which you know very well.” Regis took a deep breath, and released it slowly. “I am old, Cor, Clarus; I will not be able to hold the wall much longer. We need to take this, and hope against hope that it isn’t a ruse.”

Cor let his head fall into his hands. His time, Prompto’s time...it was soon, but not yet; Eos was very clear that they would know when to reveal themselves. The king would do what he thought best, and Cor? He would do his best to make sure that as many of them as possible survived it.

“I understand, your majesty.” Regis nodded at Cor, and he got to his feet, Clarus rising at the same time.

“You two get some rest, I’m sure I’ll be calling on you soon,” Regis stated, and both Cor and Clarus exited the office.

“I don’t like this, Clarus,” Cor groused, and Clarus shrugged.

“Join the club, Cor, but we do what we must,” Clarus replied, and Cor couldn’t help but think that Clarus had never looked so old before. War had truly made them all worn before their time, the king the most out of them all, and it was at times like these where it was never more apparent. At the elevators, he bid Clarus good night, and travelled back to his quarters. A peace with Niflheim...no. It was a trick, and he would do his damndest to make sure that it would not be successfully executed. Cor managed a quick shower before falling into bed far earlier than he usually would, allowing himself to drift off.

The call from the king came at two in the morning, and if anyone had seen him tripping over his own feet after he barely managed a grunt in reply, he would have had his infamous appellation revoked out of shame. He had grown a little too comfortable with his regular hours over the last ten years, and the pounding headache he was nursing was merrily informing him of that. But Cor did as he must, just as Clarus said, and he was dressed and at Regis’s office door only fifteen minutes later.

“Your majesty?” Cor said quietly as he opened the door. Regis was still behind his damn desk, and Cor could probably guess that besides perhaps getting a bite to eat, the man hadn’t moved a muscle.

“Have a seat, Cor. We have a situation I want your opinion on.” Regis wouldn’t call him in the middle of the night for just anything, and so Cor sat back and waited for the king to explain. “I want to remove the princess from imperial hands as soon as possible, and I was thinking of having her escorted directly to Altissia to await Noctis there. Perhaps a bit of a guarantee for us. Captain Drautos volunteered one of his glaives to the task, and I am sure Glaive Altius would do a fine job, but I decided that I would speak with you first before accepting Drautos’s choice. Do you have someone you would put forth for such a mission?” Regis asked, and Cor frowned as he thought. Monica would be his number one pick, outside of-

“I’ll go personally.” Cor heard himself say, and after his brain caught up with his mouth, he realized that this was by far the best option. He could make it in less time, the Imperials would not be able to track him, and Lunafreya knew damn good and well what he was. But there was one thing, and every fibre of his being was screaming it. “We should bring the princess here first, though. The First Secretary is a formidable woman, but she would not be able to repel a full-scale incursion if the empire were to take exception to our little maneuver.”

Regis’s eyes had narrowed as Cor had spoken, and after he had said his piece, Cor waited for his king’s reply. “Well, I asked, and I got an answer...but I admit it was not one I expected. Cor, I’m not comfortable having you leave the city when everything is so unstable. Do you not trust any of your Crownsguard to be able to achieve this?” Cor arched an eyebrow, and Regis paused, then shook his head. “-perhaps the wrong question. But I need you here for the signing and the preparations, and you wouldn’t be back in time.”

How to phrase this. Cor knew he’d be fine, but the king was right, a normal person would be straining for time, but- “I have some resources at my disposal. The turnaround would be tight, but if I left by dawn today, I would make it back with the princess before they get here.” Regis looked skeptical, and he honestly didn’t blame him.

“Resources, Cor?” Regis leveled his intense gaze at Cor, and it was only years of exposure that kept him from squirming in his seat. “Fine then, old friend, keep your secrets. I assume Crownsguard Elshett will be assuming your role whilst you engage in a bit of royal espionage?”

“Of course, your majesty.” Regis responded with a non-committal hum, and the two men sat silently. After what felt like an age, the king spoke.

“Don’t get yourself killed, Cor. You are one of the few in this benighted place that I trust to actually be able to deliver on what you promise. Also, things wouldn’t be the same without you scaring everyone at random intervals,” Regis smirked, and Cor bit back a laugh.

“They call me the immortal for a reason, Regis. I don’t plan on biting it any time soon.” The two men shared a chuckle, but the oppressive atmosphere reasserted itself far too quickly. “Regis, I’m not happy about some of the grumbling I’ve been hearing from the Glaive when they think no one’s around. Whether their complaints have merit or not, this isn’t the time. Make sure you watch your back, someone may try to take matters in their own hands. We all know that the terms of the peace are not going to go over well in some circles,” Cor stated, watching as Regis allowed for a short display of his fatigue, his head falling into his crossed arms.

“We are getting too old for this, Cor. You, me, Clarus- we work, and we work, and we wait for the end. I know Noctis will be a good king, but I’m still hoping I can delay the inevitable as much as possible.” Regis’s muffled voice was still easy to understand, and Cor sighed as Regis lifted his head. “Tell me, old friend, what would you consider to be your worst fear?”

Cor sucked in a shocked breath. He knew exactly what that was, it was the very reason the goddess had been able to sway him into accepting her calling. “That I alone survive out of all my friends and comrades; that I would see the world come to ruin and not be able to do a damn thing to stop it.” Regis’s bowed head shot up, and the two men locked eyes over the desk.

“So the immortal would rather not be if it comes to that,” Regis mused, and Cor shrugged. “I suppose mine would be rather similar; I’m alive but cannot raise the wall any longer, my son and everyone I’ve ever cared about is dead, the prophecy is shattered,  and I watch as the empire tramples through the streets of my home as the sun never shines again.”

Cor let his face fall into his hands as the king spoke. “We are a bunch of fucked up people, you know that?” Cor mumbled, and Regis did a rather unkingly snort in response.

“You’ve just realized that, Cor? Clearly, you aren’t as sharp as I thought you were,” Regis commented, and Cor barely managed to restrain himself from giving a one-fingered reply. A glance at the wall clock, and Cor got himself to his feet.

“Well, I better get ready to depart, your majesty. You will see me no later than the morning of May fourteenth. Unless it is an absolute emergency, it’s probably best to maintain radio silence for now,” Cor said, and Regis stood and extended a hand.

“Safe travels, Marshal. Bring yourself and the princess back in one piece.” Cor saluted and left, a ghost in the hallways until he reached his quarters once more. As he packed his pack, he had a bit of deja vu to almost twenty years ago, but instead of fetching a little boy, he was fetching a grown woman, and probably the most famous woman in the world to boot. That reminded him. Cor dug around in a box of old clothes, and pulled out a pair of drawstring pants and a few shirts that hadn’t fit him since he was twenty, topping it off with a hooded sweatshirt that was similar in age. The princess would likely not have time to pack a bag before he spirited her away, and it was best that she wore something that would allow her to blend in. His bag packed, he gave Monica a quick call, let her know that he would be unreachable until the night before the imperial delegation arrives unless he updated her otherwise, and made sure she was up to date on what she needed to know.

A short trip to the parking garage, and he was on his motorcycle heading out of town. Unlike much of the general population, he was cleared to leave at any time, and he got waved through by a Crownsguard at the West Gate without even having to stop completely. He rode to that same section of the old wall in Leide, but made sure his bike was a little better concealed this time. With the empire currently crawling all over, it was best to not tempt fate. Cor took a deep breath. He had actually gone out of his way to practice improving his distance over the years, just in case something came up, and well, it had.

Cor stepped. He got himself to Lestallum with only a prickling headache this time, and he decided to call it a day. The next morning, he made it to the outskirts of Galahd, and booked his ferry ticket for the next day...and had a worrying conversation with the ticket seller. He hadn’t considered that the empire would stop the ferries, and he overheard rumors of them planning as such. But for now, luckily, they were still running. The announcement of the ceasefire and treaty had gone out the morning he had left, and everywhere he went, the populace was talking about it. As Cor had told the king, many were not happy with it, but just as many seemed to realize that they had been all but under imperial control anyway, and it wasn’t going to make a large difference. The MTs were doing closer checks than they had been seventeen years ago, and he had to make himself scarce at least a few times before he got on the ferry. The ferry had a few officers, but they were fully human, not MTs, and they were easy enough to avoid by himself. Within a few days, he was back in the dusty plains of Succarpe, and was just as unimpressed as the last time around. Provided they all survived the month, maybe he would come back and do the tourist thing and see the area in a new light, but he had his doubts. Once he got off the train and by himself, he stepped northwest.

The evening of the fifth day since his departure saw him just outside the main bridge to Fenestala Manor, keeping to the shadows. If the princess still dwelled in the same rooms she resided in seventeen years ago, he actually knew where to go; he had been forced to go there on several occasions when Prompto would be following Lunafreya around like an obsessed duckling and he would have to go fetch him. The princess thought it was sweet, and although Cor had agreed, he had panicked every time his little charge had gone missing. It was rather appropriate that it might just help him out now, though.

He managed to step closer to her rooms, swiftly hiding within a copse of trees clinging to the cliffside. There were MTs everywhere, although it was clear after Cor observed for an hour that they did not enter the manor proper, staying strictly to the exterior. He could work with that. The problem now was while it was actually pretty straightforward to step pretty loosely in wide open spaces, doing so in close quarters without line of sight was difficult. While he hadn’t done it yet, Eos had warned him that it wasn’t very pleasant to get stuck in a wall or other immovable object, and this was about the worst day to test that theory. He would have to do it in mini- steps.

Over the course of another hour, he inched forward, avoiding the MT patrols as he moved closer to what he sincerely hoped was the princesses’ balcony. Once the lights moved away from the balcony, he stepped. There was a light on inside the room over by what appeared to be a writing desk, the room was illuminated just enough for him to see a striking white dress on a mannequin, a wedding dress , and Cor breathed a silent sigh of relief. She hadn’t moved rooms. The doors to the inside were locked, so he picked the darkest spot he could see inside and stepped again.

Then the dogs came. Two rather adorable pooches came bounding up to him, one with a creamy coat, one with a smoky grey; he tensed to step away, only to have the lighter furred pup run off into what Cor guessed was the sitting room, and return with none other than the princess herself, dressed in probably the most normal outfit she owned, grey trousers, a white tunic, a fashionable jacket, and short heeled boots. He probably looked like more the town drunk than what she would have remembered, but he hadn’t wanted to shave. His face was known to certain Imperial elements, and it had been best to remove the issue.

“Herald, I am so pleased to see you,” Lunafreya said softly, and Cor could have cried at her composure. He bowed deeply to the Oracle, straightening when he felt a hand on his arm. “Do not bow to me, Herald of Eos. Gentiana told me to expect someone from Lucis, I hoped against hope it would be you.” Cor met the Oracle’s sweet smile with a tired one of his own.

“Then I do not need to explain the importance of haste, my lady,” Cor stated, and Lunafreya shook her head.

“I packed a small bag, let me retrieve it and we can depart.” Lunafreya ran out of view for a long tense moment; Cor hugged the shadows just in case the MTs thought to shine a light in the windows, but to their luck, nothing happened. The Oracle reappeared at his side, bag hitched over her shoulder, and after a quick pat to both of her dogs, Lunafreya stood in front of him. “How does this work?”

Cor reached out an arm, and when the princess nodded, he wrapped it around her waist. “This will probably be rather disorienting to you, my lady. We need to be far afield of here, however, so I plan to send us as far as I can manage. I will admit, the first time I stretched myself decently far, I nearly lost my lunch.”

Lunafreya took a deep breath, and nodded. “I will handle it, Herald. I am not unused to discomfort.”

“Cor. Call me Cor. No one else knows me as the Herald.”

“Then I must ask you to call me Luna.” Just as Luna finished her statement, Cor could hear footsteps approaching from the outside. They had to leave.

“Now!” Cor grabbed Luna probably a bit too tight as he stepped, but he needed to make sure she was secure.  They reappeared about forty miles southeast of the manor, only footsteps away from a haven in a lightly wooded area, and the rather green Oracle fell to her knees, gagging. “I’m so sorry, your maj-I mean, Luna-” She waved him off with a rather uncoordinated arm flail, and he stepped back to give her some space.

“You warned me, Cor-” Luna coughed into her palm a few times before rising to her feet, her eyes meeting his for a second, her expression odd for just a moment before it passed. “It was a bit unpleasant, I will not lie, but I will live. Besides, it’s such a useful skill, I must admit I’ve always envied Gentiana’s ability to do something similar.” Luna closed her eyes and took several deep breaths as Cor watched, clearly looking to settle her stomach. “Now that we appear to be well away from the manor, I suppose we should talk as to your plans.” Cor nodded, and after a quick look around, he located a nice patch of soft grasses they could sit on right next to the haven, and they lowered themselves to the ground on top of them.

Cor leaned forward, meeting the Oracle’s eyes. “The king’s original plan was to see you to Altissia, but I convinced him that it was better we have you come to Insomnia instead; the First Secretary is an honorable woman, but I doubt she would be able to keep the Imperials at bay long enough to keep you safe.” Cor said, and Luna tilted her head.

“You are leaving something out, Cor. I can tell,” Luna smiled, and Cor nodded a bit sheepishly.

“I forget who you are, Luna. My apologies. I’ll be honest, every instinct I have, perhaps my own, perhaps through the gifts I have been given, they are all screaming at me that we must all be together in Insomnia for what is to come. I couldn’t tell the king that, as you might suspect, so I went with my former statement.” Luna closed her eyes again, perhaps in thought, perhaps calling out to the astrals for advice, Cor did not know, but he stayed silent, his fingers threading through the grasses at his sides as he waited. After a minute or so had passed, Luna gave a sharp nod, her eyes still closed, then raised her head with a smile.

“I concur completely, Cor. Something very important is going to happen, and I believe the same as you. We must all be present, the King and Noctis, you and Prompto, myself, and...the Emperor? No, the last part doesn’t feel right, but perhaps someone with him?” Cor breathed a small sigh of relief. He wasn’t going mad, he was truly on to something. Luna interrupted his musings before he could get too out of hand. “I suppose that means we should actually press on, we still have a sea crossing to achieve, yes?”

“Yes, the distance is far too great for myself alone, and certainly not with a...passenger. There’s a ferry that runs from the east coast of Succarpe to Galahd, then it’s overland from there.” Cor looked at the still too-clean Luna, and tried to figure out how to phrase this. “Ah, my lady, er, Luna, I’m afraid you might need to do some mild...tweaks to your appearance. You are simply too well known, and we cannot run the risk that you will be seen before we have you safe inside the Citadel.”

Luna, to her credit, gave only a small twist of the mouth to indicate any displeasure before looking down at her attire. “What do you propose?” Cor opened up his pack and dug to the bottom, pulling out the old clothes he had packed.

“I can’t promise they will fit very well, but I brought along some old clothes that I outgrew a very long time ago that I never got around to disposing of. Plain, boring, and just worn enough to not look contrived.” Luna plucked one of the t-shirts out of his hand, a soft grey that had faded a bit with washing, and also took the pants he had brought. After a moment, Cor watched as she rose to her feet with her chosen items and pulled off her jacket, then reached for the bottom hem of her tunic. Cor immediately turned the other way as he heard her shuck her shirt, followed by her trousers; he inspected the grass in front of him as she shimmied into her borrowed attire behind him.

“It’s safe, Cor.” Cor turned back around to see Luna in his old clothing, the drawstrings on the pants were tightened probably as far as they could go, but the shirt was only a bit large, and the pants were long enough to cover up most of her obviously expensive boots. Cor reached out and folded her discarded clothing, packing it with the rest of his at the bottom of his pack. He considered her for a minute before thinking of a few more things to do.

“We need to dirty up your shoes and bag a bit. Doesn’t have to be drastic, something that can be professionally cleaned later if you wish, hell, I’ll even pay for it, but they are obviously quite expensive. They will stand out.” Luna nodded, and Cor reached for a soggy clump of grass off to the side of where they were resting, pulling it out and reaching for her bag. A few minutes later, Luna’s shoes and bag had been rubbed with the grassy mud, and sloppily cleaned off. It made both items look far more worn than before, but without compromising usefulness. Luna seemed to take the abuse of her stuff in stride, but Cor wasn’t sure his last idea was going to go over so well.

“One last thing,” Cor said as he got to his feet. “I think we need to dye your hair.”

Luna looked absolutely aghast, and for some reason, that made Cor feel better about the situation. Despite all that the Oracle had been through, all the focus on duty, she still had a little natural selfishness and personal pride. It was good to see. “I don’t see why I can’t just hide it in that hooded jacket you brought with you.”

Cor shook his head. “You must know how recognizable you are. I’m not talking anything permanent, but there is a clay I can see in the soil around us that will darken your hair considerably for a few days, make it look more brown than blonde. That, plus perhaps a little bit of makeup or something else to add some age to your eyes, and that should do the trick.” Luna looked downright rebellious for a moment, frowning down at the ground and the mud around them before huffing and giving a rather strangled chuckle.

“Alright, you win,” Luna said wryly, but looked at the sky. “Perhaps we should wait for morning?”

“Probably best.” Cor agreed. They moved to the stone surface of the haven proper, and he managed to dig out some light blankets for the two of them. “I’m afraid I don’t have anything more, Luna. This will not be a luxurious trip.” Luna smiled as she wrapped the blanket around herself.

“I have always been able to fall asleep anywhere, while Ravus always needed a proper bed just to even doze off; my mother once found me asleep in the boiler room in the basement, which is possibly the loudest place on the continent outside of Gralea itself. Out like a light, she said. I didn’t even budge when she picked me up and carried me back to my room.” Cor barked a surprised laugh at her impish expression as he wrapped his own blanket around himself.

“Sounds like you have a possible backup career with the military if your Oracle gig doesn’t work out,” Cor mused, and watched with glee as Luna too broke down into laughter.

“It’s always the stern ones. Thank you, Cor. For coming all this way.” Cor returned her thanks with a tired smile, but said nothing more. Both using their packs for pillows, they settled down and let their eyelids wait for the morning.

The next morning, for all of her grudging acceptance, Luna was clearly uncertain of the whole dyeing thing. Cor had to brutally suppress a smile more than once as the young lady looked quizzically at the mud.

“How does it work?” Cor reached into his bag again and pulled out a metal bowl he used for eating, then leaned over to inspect the mud. When he found what he was looking for, he grabbed a clump of the clay-rich mud and plopped it in the bowl, before pulling out his water bottle and pouring some in, quickly diluting the mixture. After a rather awkward exchange when Cor realized that Luna really needed to take her shirt off so he didn’t get it too dirty, Luna lay on her back in front of him, her shirt covering her front while Cor finger-combed the mixture through her hair as it rested on the dry grasses they had been sitting on. He had only done this once to himself to change his look a bit during a mission, but Luna’s far lighter hair took to the technique like a champ. After letting it rest on her head for about ten minutes, he grabbed his water bottle and rinsed it out. Pulling out a worn undershirt that was always kept in the bag for emergencies, he gently squeezed the bulk of the water out of her hair. Cor inspected his work as he dried her hair; the golden blonde locks were now a reddish-brown, which immediately gave her an entirely different look.

“Worked perfectly, your highness.” Luna sat up, and Cor looked strictly at her head as she dug in her bag for a mirror. After producing it, Cor watched her face in the reflection as she saw her new look.

“Well, if I ever wanted to know what I would look like with dirty auburn hair, I guess I’ll have that for the future,” Luna remarked as she got to her feet, and before Cor could look away, she yanked the t-shirt back over her head, pulling her hair through the neck and tying it back into a messy braid. “What’s our plan for today?” Cor pulled the hoodie out of his bag, grabbed the few things that hadn’t been packed yet and stuffed them in.

“We move for the coast, and hope that the empire hasn’t shut down the ferry, otherwise, we are going to be having a very unpleasant crossing.” Cor handed Luna the hoodie, which she dutifully put on, and picked up both of their bags. “Shall we go?”

Luna flipped up the hood and pulled it loosely over her face, giving her a rather messy appearance with her new hair color. “Yes.”

Cor wrapped his arm around her waist, glanced around at their campsite one last time to make sure they hadn’t forgotten anything, then stepped. Luna’s only indication of her discomfort this time was a quiet groan, he gave her a few moments, then stepped again. Two more later and a wan and wrung out Luna and tired Cor travelled over to the ticket booth for the ferry, and Cor managed to buy two tickets back to Galahd with a warning from the seller that it might be the last one for awhile, if the rumors held, and to make sure they were there when embarking started in an hour.

“So what I heard earlier appears to be holding water. Interesting that they are halting transportation between already occupied territories,” Cor murmured to Luna, who was starting to regain some color in her face.

“They probably want to make sure that there isn’t any Lucian agents running around,” Luna said with a little smile, and Cor had to stifle a laugh.

“I was figuring more control of refugees, but that works too,” Cor replied. The two settled down in an out of the way alcove, where Luna took the small makeup kit she had stashed in her bag and made herself look twenty years older in a matter of minutes, which was, as far as Cor was concerned, as magical as anything he could do. If anyone asked, they were a couple with the ever-so inventive names of Lou and Leo, but hopefully they would just be left alone.

“How is Prompto doing? He saved Pryna about ten years ago, but I realized after I sent him a letter that he did not remember me, and decided to not bother him further. I hear a bit about him from Noctis sometimes, he’s grown into quite the charming young man, from what I can gather,” Luna suddenly asked, and Cor froze, then turned and looked out towards the ferry.

“He’s doing well, he’s going into the Crownsguard soon, wants to be able to help Noctis. The goddess has been summoning him incessantly, though, trying to stuff more training in before this indeterminate event happens. Because of this, he’s passing out spontaneously, and I know he’s spooked Noctis and his friends, as they’ve all but locked him inside Noctis’s apartment over the last few weeks since the new round of summons has started,” Cor stated, and Luna gave him the oddest look in response.

“You know, Cor...when I first met you, I thought you were going to take Prompto in yourself when you returned to Ins-” Luna looked around, then spoke even softer. “-your home. Did it...not work out?” Cor crushed his eyes closed, and could not bring himself to look at her. Of all the things for her to ask- “I’m sorry, Cor. It was not my place to say anything.” Her voice was contrite, and he forced himself to shake his head.

“Don’t- don’t worry about it. It’s better this way.” Luna seemed unconvinced, but luckily, she dropped it.

The ferry was absolutely packed, and Cor had to convince a few people to move their damn luggage so he and Luna could eke out a spot to sit. He couldn’t help but remain tense until the ferry got underway, but not ten minutes out from the coast, Cor could see a human officer and MT pair doing checks, and it was clear they were being more particular than usual. The word had certainly gotten out that the Oracle had gone missing, and the ferry would be an obvious place for a search. Cor lowered his head to Luna’s ear, who was plastered against his side pretending to be asleep. “Here goes.” Luna’s head bobbed just the smallest amount, but otherwise did not move. Cor let his eyes slip closed as well, opening them only when his foot was kicked.

“What’s your business, citizen?” The lieutenant glared down at him, and Cor, six days into a decent beard and looking rather like someone the Coeurl had dragged in, did a rather lazy roll of his neck and indicated the still apparently sleeping Luna.

“Me and my lady are going to visit my mother, sir.” Cor dragged out every bit of his poor as dirt roots, mixed in with a liberal splash of the Galahdian accent that was quite common in the Kingsglaive, and the Niflheim officer gave him a disgusted look and pointed to Luna.

“Wake her, I need to see her face.” Cor jostled Luna, who lifted her head with a yawn.

“What’s goin’ on?” Luna drawled, and Cor realized that she was imitating the accent of some of the palace servants, that of the average born Tenebraean. The officer leaned in a bit, staring at her features.

“Pull back your hood, woman,” the officer barked, and Cor watched as Luna let her face scrunch up in displeasure as she yanked the hoodie back; the officer leaned in further, looked over her scowling face, and stepped back. “Carry on.” The lieutenant signaled to the MT and they proceeded down the row to question someone else; Luna hitched back up her hood and Cor closed his eyes again, listening carefully until the two went out of earshot.

“Good.” Cor didn’t dare say anything else in such close quarters, but Luna tightened her grip on his arm in response. Cor allowed himself to slump a bit against the wall they were resting against. Now to just make it back to Lucis.

Cor didn’t dare sleep more than a few hours at a time out of worry that they would be checked out again by a more discerning officer, but after the initial inspection, the two of them were left entirely alone by the others on the ferry. When he and Luna stepped off the boat into the moist Galahdian air, he actually had to take a moment and just breathe. They had made it through the most risky part of their journey, now he just had to get them back the rest of the way.

“Cor?” Luna gently inquired, and Cor roused himself from his reverie.

“Sorry, just a little tired. We should get out of here,” Cor said, and began to walk towards a convenient alleyway he had used to leave on his previous visit, Luna at his side. As they travelled into the dark, he wrapped his arm around the Oracle’s waist and without even pausing, stepped.

He had wanted to reach Lestallum before they rested again, but between stepping with a passenger and lack of sleep, he didn’t want to risk ending up in a tree or something equally disastrous. So instead, he aimed for the haven by the Vesterpool.

“I felt like I haven’t bathed in a month.” Luna groaned as she dropped her bag onto the glowing stone, and Cor understood completely. His beard was swiftly surpassing rugged and heading straight into mountain hermit territory, and poor Luna looked like she hadn’t cleaned off her makeup, but had simply caked on more. They were quite the pair.

“I hate to say it, but I would suggest we press on to Insomnia as fast as possible. That means a haven tomorrow night, then the city proper the next. I’m afraid I can’t offer you a shower until we reach the Citadel. The Vesperpool’s water is fresh, however, you should be able to clean yourself up a bit in the morning before we move on.” Cor gave the Oracle a small chagrined smile, but she waved him off.

“I’m just grousing, Cor. I’ll feel better after some proper rest and a bit of a scrub in the morning.” Luna pulled out her blanket and pulled it around her, and Cor watched with tired amusement as she tipped sideways, her head bouncing onto her bag. “I am truly appreciative, Cor. I hope you know that.” Cor shook his head and followed her lead, laying his head down on his own bag. After several minutes of listening to the crickets, Luna piped back up again. “While the empire would have given me far more comfortable accommodations to Insomnia, I’m afraid the company I am with at present far exceeds anything they could ever offer.”

Cor laughed into his pack, but then something- “Wait, Luna, are you including your brother as part of that group?”

“You know what? At this point in time, I am. I would rather be filthy and half-dead in the mountains with you than deal with his nonsense right now,” Luna growled, and Cor sucked in a breath. Probably best to not bring him up again.

“Well, I’ve achieved your goal,” Cor remarked drily, and Luna giggled.

“That you did.”

The next morning, Luna and Cor both separately indulged in a quick wash at the Vesperpool; Luna scrubbed all the makeup off her face, Cor didn’t bother shaving, as he would need his good razor to take care of this mess, then they dressed in the cleanest clothes they could scrounge out of Cor’s selection and departed.  They made it to the haven at Rydielle Ley still wrung out from their whirlwind trip, and Cor called it an evening for both their sakes. Tomorrow was Insomnia.

Just before twenty-two hundred hours on the evening of May thirteenth, Cor and Luna rolled up to Crownsguard Flavia, a sultry old cuss who had been manning the West Gate checkpoint since Cor’s father was in diapers, and Cor rather enjoyed the completely horrified expression on the old man’s face when he looked the two of them over.

“What the hell died on your face, Marshal?” Flavia commented, then turned a gimlet eye on Luna, who had thrown the tired hoodie back on when they had gotten on the bike and who looked more like Cor’s ill advised pickup rather than the Oracle. “And who’s the girl?” Cor actually smiled at Flavia, showing just a bit too much teeth, which caused the old man to give Cor a somewhat dubious look and take a step back into his booth.

“Flavia, good to see you. I’m wrapping up some royal business, I’m afraid, so forgive me if I don’t stay and chat. The lady is part of the same, she’s already been cleared,” Cor stated, threading a hint of steel into his voice. Flavia had lasted more than long enough to know when to not ask questions, so after he gave Cor and Luna the eye one final time, the gate opened and he saluted Cor on.

Traffic wasn’t too bad, considering it was a Thursday night, and Cor split lanes all the way to the parking structure next to the Citadel, driving in and parking in his spot. Luna hopped off the bike as Cor popped the kickstand.

“I must admit, Cor, I didn’t expect for my first visit to Insomnia to be quite like this, but I thank you again. You’ve done so much for me, I’m sure I would have been found immediately with anyone else.” Cor grabbed both of their bags from the bike’s saddlebags, Luna taking hers from his arm and hitching it over her shoulder as they began to walk. Suddenly, Luna came to a complete halt.

“Luna? Is there a problem?” Cor said, and suddenly he had a eyeful of bedraggled, somewhat dirty Oracle six inches from his face, looking vaguely panicked.

“Cor, Herald, Marshal of the Crownsguard, I love you, you’ve been wonderful, but if the king sees me like this, I will have to find some way to kill you. Gentiana does have my trident, it would be perfectly efficient,” Luna threatened, and Cor took one look at her face and burst out into more-than slightly manic laughter at the utter seriousness of her look. He may have been a more than a bit punch-drunk out of sheer fatigue, but he couldn’t help himself.

“Yes, yes, Princess, I understand. We are going in the employee entrance, keep your hood up, and you can at least wash up and clean what’s left of the dye out of your hair at my quarters while I see where they want to put you,” Cor chuckled, and Luna gave him an annoyed smack on the arm as they walked into the Citadel proper.

Everyone who passed in the hallways took one look at Cor’s dirty bearded face and general state and either stopped and goggled (the stupid ones,) or turned and went the other way (the smart ones.) Most were so stunned by his appearance that they barely spared a look for the sullen looking woman wearing a worn and filthy hoodie at his side. Cor sighed. After Luna used it, he was going to shower for a week. But first things first. Cor punched in the code and let Luna enter his quarters first before following, closing and locking the door behind him.

“The bathroom is through there, while it’s not fancy, there is shampoo and soap in the shower, and the extra towels are in the cabinet to the left of the vanity. Do you want me to dig up something else out of my closet for you to wear temporarily?” Luna was marching into his bathroom before he even finished speaking, and he was more than amused that not thirty seconds later, the door cracked just enough to dump everything she had been wearing, shoes and all, into a dusty pile.

“Yes, please, and feel free to burn this at your leisure,” Luna said haughtily, and Cor snorted. After pulling off his own destroyed jacket and shirt, adding them to Luna’s pile and washing his hands and arms, he dug in his closet and managed to produce another pair of drawstring pants and several shirts for her perusal. After fetching a trash bag and stuffing all the ruined clothing in it, he set the clean clothes on the table outside the bathroom. He needed to contact the king. Before he could even boot his phone up to call, however, there was a knock at the door.

“I’m not really ready for visitors, whoever you are. We can talk tomorrow-” Cor could hear the lock slide open, and before he could even react, the door opened to reveal King Regis himself standing there, Clarus at his side; the two men looked blankly at Cor, Regis and Clarus who were clean, neat, and impeccably dressed, and Cor, who was shirtless, filthy, and looked like a garula had died on his face. The fact that his shower was audibly running in the background just added to the whole set piece.

“Well, I must say it's been some time since I've seen you like this, Cor,” Regis said as he walked into Cor’s living room like he hadn't just barged in on his rather ripe friend in a state of undress. Clarus looked like he really wanted to say something, Cor could see his mouth twitching, but the older man kept it to himself.

Sighing, Cor plugged in his phone and turned back to Regis. “News travels fast, I suppose.”

“Well, I heard that someone that appeared to be the Marshal was walking through the halls looking like he had gotten lost in the wilderness for a few weeks, accompanied by an equally grimy woman in a hoodie with dark blonde hair who kept her head down and her face out of sight,” Regis remarked, the dry amusement in his voice was enough to eke a smile out of the exhausted Cor, who shrugged.

“I was actually just about to call you, actually. The package has been retrieved, obviously, and said package informed me on the way into the Citadel that she was taking the first shower, and well, I wasn’t going to argue,” Cor smirked and indicated the running water with a tilt of his head. “I assume you’ve gotten a room set up for her?”

Clarus nodded. “We’ve actually put her in the old Princesses’ room in the royal wing; we’ve also taken the liberty of acquiring a small selection of clothing for her in case she would need it.”

“She’ll need it. She now has no shoes, as far as I know, and only one change of clothing that would need to be washed. We were forced to leave in a hurry, as you might imagine. It was close.” Cor stretched his arms over his head, feeling as his vertebrae all cracked in a musical tone, then he made the mistake of taking too big of a sniff and immediately dropped his arms. He couldn’t remember the last time he was this dirty.

“You made excellent time, Cor. Quite extraordinary. Regis told me that you volunteered for the mission,” Clarus said, and Cor grunted in response.

“I knew I could do it,” Cor said simply, then held up a hand and went to the door. “Princess, I hate to interrupt, but I wanted to let you know that we have visitors.”

The voice from within was muffled, but the quietly squawked “What?” was crystal clear; Cor glanced over to see that both Regis and Clarus had been struck momentarily deaf, and were looking warily at the dust covered thing that used to be Cor’s favorite pack with exaggerated intensity. After a moment, Luna’s voice came through the door once more. “Would it be possible for you to put the clothes on the vanity, please?” Cor grabbed the pile and slowly cracked the door, allowing a massive cloud of steam to roll right over him, which immediately made him feel even more disgusting. With a huff, he closed his eyes and leaned in, plopping the clothing on top of the vanity, and then closed the door again. “Thank you!”

Cor rubbed at his face, then looked at his now-dirt covered hands with a groan. Pretending the king and the shield weren’t standing in the middle of his living room, he walked right past them into his kitchen, where he filled up the sink halfway with hot water, grabbed a pair of scissors, and washed his face as well as he could manage, then began to trim off the length of the beard with the scissors as best he could without a mirror. He heard the water turn off in the bathroom as he worked, and continued to ignore the amusement he could just feel pouring off both Regis and Clarus.

“How is she, truly?” Cor jerked the scissors away from his face when Regis’s voice sounded quietly in his ear, and he glared at his suddenly least-favorite king as he stood not two feet from him, probably getting his nice clothing dirty just by being downwind of him. But still, the question was a legitimate one, and he put down the scissors with a sigh.

“She’s completely exhausted, she’s not happy with the empire or her brother, but I sense the brother part is an ongoing affair, and she is truly looking forward to being here. Besides a mild disagreement over one disguise measure that we needed to do, she was probably the best person I’ve ever had to do a long, thankless trek with scant supplies and pretty much no soap with. And I include you two in that assessment,” Cor said. “How has the preparations been going? How is the Glaive doing?”

“The preparations have gone quite smoothly, actually. I’m planning on sending Noctis ahead to Altissia before the Imperials get here, I want him out of the city. Gladiolus and Ignis will definitely be going with him, I was also planning on allowing Mr. Argentum to go as well, as an official member of the Crownsguard if you approve,” Regis said, and Cor nearly swallowed his tongue. Everyone needed to be here in Insomnia for the duration, not split up all over the damn place. Luna even agreed with him, but he couldn’t just come out and tell the king that. Wait. The ferries.

“Regis, they aren’t going to be able to get to Altissia, the empire is suspending all traffic to and from the Lucian mainland. Perhaps send them after the signing with the Princess? I’m sure they’d all have fun travelling together.” Cor struggled to find anything else to convince the king without looking suspicious, but he couldn’t think of anything.

“I’m afraid this point is non-negotiable, Cor. I need my son out of this city, he’s too important to be killed here if everything goes south.” Regis’s voice was laced with steel and magic, and Cor knew he would go nowhere arguing this.

“When do you plan to have them leave?” Cor asked, and Clarus answered.

“The morning of the fifteenth, the delegation is supposed to arrive in the mid-afternoon,” Clarus stated.

“I’ll get Prompto set up first thing tomorrow,” Cor said, then he paused. “The Glaive?” Regis frowned, and Clarus looked troubled at the comment, and worry began to spread in Cor’s veins. “Has it gotten so bad?”

“It’s not great. Drautos has talked to the more vocal ones several times since the peace terms were announced, but morale is in the toilet. Many of them feel we’ve abandoned their homelands and families by accepting the agreement, which is...not an unreasonable assessment. We were going to station the Glaive here and the Crownsguard on the perimeter, which Drautos has pushed for, but I’m not entirely certain I trust many of them to hold their tongues or worse when the Niffs get here,” Clarus quietly stated, and Cor pinched the bridge of his nose in sympathy. “Regis plans to address them tomorrow afternoon, we’ll finalize troop placement depending on how that goes.”

“I’ll be there to keep an eye on things,” Cor assured the two men as the bathroom door opened behind them; all three men turned around in sync to see Lunafreya, Princess of Tenebrae and Oracle of the Astrals, emerge with far more grace in no shoes, a borrowed pair of pants, and an old t-shirt than Cor had seen many nobles bedecked in their full finery ever pull off. Regis and Clarus drew themselves to full attention next to Cor as the young woman walked out into his living room with a smile, but then Cor saw her eyes travel over to him for a minute, and the spark of amusement in them was impossible for her to hide.

“Your majesty,” Luna addressed the king, who had moved out of the kitchen to approach her, Clarus at his heels. Cor and his personal dirt cloud decided to wait in the kitchen for now, he wasn’t needed for reintroductions. Letting his mind drift, he returned to working on his face in preparation for the glorious shave he was definitely looking forward to-

“-Cor!” Cor jerked out of his reverie at the sound of Regis’s voice, and he looked up to see the three of them looking at him with a mix of amusement and concern. Oops.

“Sorry, your majesty, what did you need?” Cor said, and Regis shook his head.

“I just wanted to inform you that we will be escorting the Princess to her quarters. Get yourself a shower and some rest,” Regis said, and Clarus nodded behind him in agreement.

“Of course, your majesty,” Cor replied, then he turned to Luna. “Have a good night’s rest, Princess, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

The king, princess, and shield all headed to the door of Cor’s quarters once Luna collected her bag, but right after the two men stepped out, Cor heard as Luna asked them to wait for one moment and closed the door between them.

“Luna?” Before Cor could say anything further, the Oracle had run up to him and given him a kiss on his rather rough cheek.

“Thank you, Cor, Dawn Herald- whatever happens over the next few days, please always remember that you have my support, even over the king, if need be. Too much is at stake,” Luna stated quietly, and the feeling of her trust warmed him from head to toe. Cor suddenly realized there was something that Luna needed to know, and grabbed her shoulders to keep her from leaving.

“I’m sure he will not mention it, but the king plans to have Noctis and his friends, including Prompto, all leave Insomnia the morning before the delegation from Niflheim gets here. He will not be budged on this point, and I am positive it will lead to disaster if they leave,” Cor said quickly, and Luna’s face darkened.

“We will just have to have faith and hope that it works out,” Luna replied, and headed to the door. “Good night, Cor.”

When the door clicked closed behind her, Cor walked over, made sure it was locked, then stripped out of the rest of his ruined clothes and threw them in the direction of the trash bag before stalking into his bathroom and hurling himself into the shower with a relieved groan. As he scrubbed himself down, he tried to break down everything that had happened. He had fetched Luna, and gotten in the night before his original estimate. The Kingsglaive was in disarray, if he heard Clarus correctly, but that wasn’t a giant surprise. Insomnia could be unfortunately very xenophobic, and the fact that the vast majority of the Glaive was comprised of refugees from other areas, especially Galahd, had made for a rough transition. Sometimes, it seemed as if Drautos had kept them together out of force of personality and little else, but the treaty may have been one step in the sand too far.

Then there was the problem with Prompto and Noctis leaving. Cor could fetch the four of them back if things come to it, but that would be in direct disobedience to the king, which he absolutely did not want to do unless it was literally a matter of the world ending. He rested his forehead against the wall of the shower and closed his eyes. For all he knew, everything could happen tomorrow, and all the plans that had been set would go up in smoke. The fallen king, whoever they were, was almost certainly part of the Niflheim delegation, so that part of the puzzle still had to be determined.

Cor finished shaving, and after the layers of grime and fuzz were taken care of, he looked himself again. He needed to get some proper sleep, and, if only for a moment, leave the fate of the world to itself for a few hours.

Chapter Text

 

“You are prepared as you can be at this time, my light. I know I have caused you great strain amongst your friends and peers by constantly summoning you to my side, but it was a necessary action that needed to be done. While there is always more to learn, and you will learn how to control your abilities in the waking world over time, you have mastered what you should require for what is to come,” the Dawn Mother said to Prompto, who was staring out into the endless meadow like he hadn’t already seen it five hundred times before. This was it, supposedly. Whatever was going to happen, it was imminent.

“I’m scared,” Prompto whispered to himself, and the goddess raised her arms and swept him to her bosom. He found himself clinging to her as he hadn’t clung to his mother in at least ten years; he wasn’t sure when the tears started, but he didn’t bother wiping them away as they rolled down his cheeks.

“I cannot be there in body, but I will be there in spirit, Prompto. Fear is natural, but your heart is up to the challenge, and the herald and your friends will all be there with you when it comes to do your part. You are among the best of us, my light, and it is time the rest of the waking world to know that as well.” Prompto felt as the Dawn Mother kissed the side of his head, causing soothing waves of calm to flow through him like a benediction. It was wonderful, and just what he needed. Taking a deep breath, Prompto stepped backwards out of her arms with a tremulous smile.

“I can do this, whatever this ends up being,” Prompto said solemnly to the goddess, and she nodded her head in reply. “No matter what happens, thank you for choosing me, even if a little part of me still thinks you grabbed the wrong one,” he said.

“You have always been exactly who you need to be, Prompto. Do not live for myself, nor for anyone else, but for you. If I reached out to your friends, I am sure they would say much the same. Be yourself, and all that you are and can be will shine forth.”

“I better go, then. I’ll..see you later?” Prompto questioned, and Eos lifted a hand to her chest and dipped her head.

“Of course.” Prompto’s vision of the eternal meadow began to fade, and he stared as hard as he could at everything to commit it to memory, in case it was the last time. Just as the last blades of grass disappeared from his sight, he heard her speak one final time.

“Go forth with the love of the earth and sky, my light, go forth with the respect of the dead and the living; we will all wait patiently for you to sing, Voice of the Dawn.”

Prompto gasped and shot upright as her voice faded, and to the horror of Noct, Iggy, and Gladio, who had clearly all been waiting for him to wake up, he broke down and sobbed like a child. He didn’t know why he was so sad, but the tears wouldn’t stop; he could hear his friends try to talk to him, ask him what was wrong, but he couldn’t even calm down enough to answer them, his own wails sounding alien to his ears. He could feel movement around him, then large arms wrapped around his torso from behind, lightly squeezing as they drew him into an embrace, he felt a pair of hands take one of his from where it lay as he gasped and cried, and then his legs were lifted momentarily then placed back down on top of someone’s lap and the other hand taken up as well. It all felt so amazing, and he could feel their care and concern blanket him as he cried so hard he gasped for breath; after what felt like a lifetime, Prompto’s sobs slowed to hiccups and wheezing cries as he gradually managed to get his himself under control.

“Breathe, Prompto. You can do this. Don’t try to talk, just breathe.” Prompto was so out of it from his fit that it took him a while to realize that Ignis was the one speaking, trying to soothe him from where he sat on the rug next to the sofa; it was Gladio’s strong arms around his stomach, and Noctis’s lap his legs were resting on. If he hadn’t just cried out every bit of energy he possessed, he’d be trying to escape the apartment out of shame and going to find a hole to die quietly in, but he couldn’t. He simply couldn’t move, and not just because his best friends were all holding on to him.

“You feeling alright, Prompto?” Gladio’s voice rumbled through Prompto’s chest from where they touched, and Prompto managed a weak nod before slowly opening his eyes. It was Noctis sitting in front of him, of course, and Prompto just knew he looked completely unhinged, he needed to get up, he needed to be anywhere but here-

“Hey, idiot, knock it off. I can see you trying to figure out how to escape from here. It’s okay, Prom. It’s okay.” Only Noctis would insult someone while trying to calm them down, but it was so him that Prompto couldn’t help the watery laugh that trickled up his throat in response.

“Oh- oh fuck you, Noct. Can’t even have a random meltdown without your princely ass insulting me,” Prompto choked out, and Noct barked out a laugh, making Prompto’s legs bounce where they rested.

No one spoke for awhile as they all sat together, Gladio still holding him around the middle and Ignis still grasping his left hand and Noctis his right; when his face mostly felt like it was back to normal and he could breathe normally again, he gently tugged his hands out of theirs and made a valiant attempt to sit up on his own, Gladio graciously letting go and scooting sideways to let him have his space.

“Are you willing to tell us, Prompto?” Ignis said quietly, and Prompto sighed.

“I don’t even know why I did that, Iggy,” he said, but the looks on everyone’s faces made him cringe. “Really, I don’t! I just- I just felt like I needed to, I don’t know, let it all out. I’m sorry.”

Ignis huffed, but reached out a hand and touched Prompto’s cheek, still warm from his...prior activity. “You have over-exerted yourself. Why don’t you go to bed, you’ll feel better in the morning.”

“This early? It’s only eight-” Prompto felt the need to argue, but if he laid down anywhere, he knew he’d pass right out. Gladio reached over and ruffled his already destroyed hairdo, and Prompto slumped forward with a pout.

“Come on, Prom, we’ll need you to help with the packing tomorrow,” Gladio commented, and Prompto dragged himself to his feet just so he could glare down at him.

“You just want me for my manual labor, I see how it is,” Prompto snarked, but just getting to his feet had worn him right back out again, and he knew they could all see it. “Can’t believe we are packing this place up, it’s been so long.” Noctis also rose to his feet, and gave him a little shove.

“Listen to Iggy, Prom,” Noct said, who then put his hands on Prompto’s shoulders and gently pushed him into the bedroom, then immediately backing out and closing the door. “Good night!”

Prompto stood in the dark bedroom, blinking until his eyes had adjusted enough to move without tripping over something. “Thanks, Noct. Really,” he grumbled. That being said, the fatigue from before was reemerging with speed, and he had no real reason to resist it anymore. Prompto pulled off his pants and fell into bed, barely managing to wiggle under the sheets before his eyelids drooped. “I’ll do my best, goddess. I promise.”

When he awoke the next morning, Prompto felt as if he had been scrubbed clean, body and soul; crying really could be cathartic, he knew that, although that was probably one of the worst rounds of it he had ever done. He also knew that he would receive no more summons for now, as he waited for whatever was to come. However, he could hardly tell his friends that, so he could feel their eyes on his back as he helped box up Noctis’s stuff, knowing they were waiting for him to collapse again. Sure enough, he reached the end of the day without any sort of issue, and he could see them start to relax a bit.

The next day saw Ignis and Gladio back to work at the Citadel, so it was just Noct and him continuing on with the packing. Noct kept a casual eye on him, but Prompto stayed awake, as he knew he would. By the time two o’clock rolled around, the apartment was almost three quarters packed, then Noctis received a call, which he stepped out onto the balcony to take. After a few minutes, Noct walked back in, a serious look on his face.

“Hey Prom.”

Prompto finished taping shut a box of kitchen goods, then looked up at his friend. “What’s up?” Noctis stuck his hands in his pockets and frowned, Prompto got up and put the box with the others before walking up to him. “Anything going on?”

“We’re both wanted at the Citadel. Meeting with my father,” Noctis frowned again, but then looked up at Prompto. “I’m not going to force you if you don’t wanna go.”

Prompto looked at Noct with what he was sure was a stupid expression. “Why would your dad need to speak to me?”

“It’s about the wedd- our trip, I’ve been trying to convince him to let you come along, but you not being Crownsguard has made him hesitant. I’m hoping this means he’s caved, because you are coming along even if I have to pack you in the damn trunk,” Noctis smirked, and Prompto groaned.

“That sounds really uncomfortable, y’know,” he grumbled, then Noctis smacked him on the back as he walked by.

“Deal with it.”

It only took them a few minutes to get ready to go out, but not two steps out of the apartment building, they heard a car horn sound. Prompto turned around to see the Regalia rolling to a stop right by them, and the window lowered to reveal the Kingsglaive Nyx Ulric, who gave the two of them a grin. Noctis snorted back a surprised laugh and clasped the man’s hand through the window, while Prompto gave him a little wave. “What the hell are you doing here, Ulric?”

“I think his majesty was tired of me moping around his doorstep and asked if I could come fetch you two,” Nyx said as he leaned out and opened the rear door, allowing Prompto and Noct to slide in. The doors clicked closed as Nyx pulled the car away from the curb, and Prompto settled in on the soft leather with a happy sigh. He had only ridden in the Regalia a few times, but it was a really nice car.

“So why have you been moping around the Citadel, Nyx?” Prompto asked, and he could see the Glaive shrug.

“With your current roomie, I’m sure you know that we were recalled inside the wall a week ago, ever since all this shit went down with Niflheim. I’ve been reassigned to guard duty for now, but well, it’s never been my best skill,” Nyx said wryly, and Noctis and Prompto both laughed.

“Too much time kicking ass and saving people’s lives to like the slow life, eh Ulric?” Noctis snarked, and Nyx brought up a hand and dramatically ran his fingers through his hair.

“You know it.” The car fell silent as Nyx drove, but then something came to Prompto’s mind.

“How is-” he started, and felt both Noct’s and Nyx’s eyes on him.

“Hmm?” Nyx urged, and Prompto met his eyes in the rearview mirror.

“How is the Glaive doing? I mean, with the terms of the treaty, I know a lot of the Kingsglaive are from the outer regions, and I know a bunch of you are from Galahd. I- I can’t imagine everyone is happy with this,” Prompto said quietly, and he could hear as Nyx hissed in a breath. Noct was looking at him like he had never seen him before, which he found a bit insulting. He may not actually work at the Citadel, but he had been hanging around there for years, he was pretty sure he had met the majority of the people there over the years, standard employee, Crownsguard, and Kingsglaive alike. He remembered these things.

“Well, damn, blondie, you just went for it. Well, you aren’t wrong. At all. A lot of the Glaive are pissed, some of them feel like they’ve been slapped in the face after their years of service, and others are just angry that the king is giving up after all this time,” Nyx commented, and Prompto could see Noct bristle next to him.

“He’s not just giving up, he’s trying to save lives!” Noct said at twice his usual volume, and Prompto watched as Nyx sighed and rubbed at his forehead.

“I know that, your majesty. Hell, I think most of the Glaive knows that in their mind, but the heart is a finicky thing. They want the war to end on the one hand, but they want the Imperials out of their homelands with the other. Many don’t want to admit that we don’t have the resources or the manpower, not with their never-ending swarms of MTs and ever larger daemons. There’s simply not enough of us. But that’s just logic, and well, logic isn’t the first thing to come to mind when you hear that all territory outside of this place is being ceded to Niflheim. It’s been rough for most of them,” Nyx finished as he rolled up to the employee entrance with a sigh, throwing the car into park.

“What about you, Ulric?” Noct asked, his tone curious, and Nyx gave a cold laugh.

“Galahd got taken by the empire years ago, your majesty; while there were times where they were largely expelled, they were never fully gone. The treaty, the ceasefire, nothing is going to change for us, for them. I have tried to tell some of my fellow Glaives this, but while most of them generally understand, some are less willing to listen. The power of the symbolic is strong, but Mother willing, we can weather this.” Nyx opened the door and got out, with Prompto and Noct following his lead. “I’m going to go park the car, go ahead and go up. Oh, and Prompto?” Nyx clasped Prompto’s shoulder and leaned in to whisper in his ear. “You are a lot more observant than people give you credit for. Keep your eyes sharp and your ears open, this is going to be a rough time until this treaty bullshit is over and done with.” Nyx patted his shoulder and got back into the car and left, and Prompto stood there worrying at his knuckle until Noct jabbed at his arm.

“What was that about?” Noct asked, and Prompto shrugged.

“He just told me to keep an eye out,” he replied, and after Noct gave him a long look, they both turned and headed into the Citadel proper. The Glaive was everywhere, and like Nyx, many of them looked at loose ends, a few were stationed at major entrances, but just as many looked like they were just told to remain in the area without any further direction. Most nodded respectfully to Noctis as they passed, but at least a few snorted or clicked their tongue and looked away instead of acknowledging him. Prompto got more congenial looks, and he shared a smile with a few he knew better, like Libertus and Crowe, before they ended up outside the king’s office. Noctis rapped his knuckles on the mahogany door a few times, and waited; the door opened to reveal Lord Amicitia, Gladio and Iris’s father, who Prompto had only met a handful of times over the years. He stepped back for them to enter, and the King waved them both to the chairs in front of his desk before anything was said. Lord Amicitia sat down in a chair positioned to the side of the King’s desk, and no one spoke for a very awkward moment.

“Thank you for coming on such short notice, Noctis, Mr. Argentum. I know you’ve been packing up your apartment,” the King said, and Prompto immediately started shaking his head in denial.

“No, it’s fine, your majesty, thanks for sending Nyx- er, Glaive Ulric to pick us up,” Prompto stuttered through his reply, and he watched as the King smiled a bit as he finishes babbling. Smooth, real smooth.

Next to him, Noct leaned forward in his chair. “So what’s going on, dad? Something new with the trip?”

“You mean your marriage, Noctis?” the King said with a tiny smirk, and Prompto was suddenly positive that no matter what sort of person Noct’s mother was (seeing her spirit when he was singing definitely didn't count,) he got all his sarcasm from his father. Noct groaned in reply, letting his chin fall to his chest; Prompto watched Lord Amicitia give a rather exaggerated eye roll that reminded him entirely of Gladio, and even the King stifled a laugh behind a hand. “But yes, this is about your trip. I know you have been considering joining the Crownsguard, Mr. Argentum, and there are quite a few that believe you would be excellent at it. However, there are some concerns. You’ve had some unnamed health problems in the past, and it’s not exactly secret that you’ve been under the weather for the last few weeks. Also, while you have been getting training from Gladiolus, it’s not quite the comprehensive training we normally provide to the Crownsguard. However, there is no time, and I am quite aware that Noctis will somehow fit you into the trunk of the Regalia if I do not explicitly let you accompany him- and son, you do remember that the Regalia is a hard-top? Where do you think the roof goes when you put it down?” the King paused, giving Noct a rather focused look. “So I have a proposition for you, Mr. Argentum. I will name you Crownsguard, and you may join my son on his trip to his wedding-”

“Awesome! Thanks Da-” Noctis cut in, but just as quickly was cut off himself.

“-on one condition. We are going to get you outfitted, but nothing is official until the marshal signs off on it,” the king finished as if Noct hadn’t cut in. Noct and his father looked at each other while Prompto sat there a bit stunned; he hadn’t expected this, he figured he would either be left behind or, as both father and son had stated, stuffed in the trunk, but never straight up just told he would be named Crownsguard. It was amazing, and something he had been dreaming about before everything started...with the goddess. Shit, he had almost forgotten. She had told him that everything was going to happen soon, but the king’s words had made him forget for a minute. Could he leave? He might be needed here-

“-in other words, he’s an official Crownsguard,” Noctis drawled, snapping Prompto out of his thoughts, and even Lord Amicitia failed to stifle a laugh behind his hand in response. “Come on, Dad, we all know that Cor’s tough facade hides a soft squishy center as far as Prompto is concerned for some reason, and on a more relevant note, Cor knows damn good and well how perfectly Prom shoots. Gladio, Ignis, and I can help fill in some of the training things where he’s not quite up to speed. Where is he? We’ll go ask him now,” Noct said as he hopped to his feet, only to be stopped by a raised hand from the king.

“The marshal is unavailable at the moment, he’s on a mission and is not expected back until the fourteenth.”

“But we are leaving on the fifteenth! Isn’t that a little close?” Noctis crossed his arms and stared his dad down, but Prompto could tell that the king had been on the tail end of staredowns far more frightening than his twenty year old son; the effort just brought a bit of a smile to the king’s face.

“It’ll be fine, son. Now, Mr. Argentum, I’ve not actually heard a word out of you for this whole conversation, thanks to Noctis, so tell me, what do you think?” the King said, and Prompto could feel his face turning red.

“It’s- it’s everything I could have wanted, sir, er, your majesty, thank you for your consideration,” Prompto forced out, his nerves completely shot; the joy of getting to be Crownsguard was combining with his knowledge that he would be needed soon in the thing he had been training for for almost three years, and it was overwhelming. The King leaned forward on his desk, looking squarely at him, and Prompto began to bite at his lower lip. Had he said something wrong?

“Are you sure you are up to this, Mr. Argentum?” the King asked, and Prompto could feel the warmth in his cheeks, he had said something wrong-

“Dad-” Noctis started to intervene, but a cutting motion from his father stopped him cold.

“Mr. Argentum?” The King was looking a bit concerned, but Prompto managed to take a deep breath and calm himself down a bit.

“I apologize, er, your majesty, I’m just a little- I can do this. I’m totally ready to do this, I promise.” Lord Amicitia looked a bit uncertain of the whole affair, but the King thankfully nodded at him after he finished speaking.

“I’m glad to hear that. Welcome to the Crownsguard, such as it is, I’m sure the marshal will be happy to fill you in on everything you need to know as soon as he returns,” the King said, giving Prompto a smile. “Now, forgive me if this seems abrupt, but I would like to talk to my son for a few minutes.” Lord Amicitia nodded and got to his feet, signalling for Prompto to follow; Prompto smiled at Noct as he trotted out after Gladio’s father, truly seeing the resemblance more in how he carried himself than how he looked; Lord Amicitia was lighter in complexion than his son, his eyes blue to his son’s amber, but the two walked and moved in a very similar way, and although Prompto was pretty sure that the older man thought him little more than a nuisance, he tried to look as serene and self-assured as he could pull off. He didn’t want to get on Lord Amicitia’s bad side.

The two men walked down the hall, stopping before another office door; Lord Amicitia unlocked it and waved Prompto in, motioning to a sofa before himself sitting in a rather comfortable looking armchair. Prompto sat down slowly, not knowing what to expect, but he couldn’t bring himself to speak.

“My son is quite fond of you, Mr. Argentum,” Lord Amicitia said, and Prompto blinked for a long moment at the unexpected statement before finding his tongue.

“Ah, Gladio is a great friend, sir, he’s helped me out a lot over the years,” Prompto replied, and again the two lapsed in a definitely awkward silence. Prompto shifted several times on the sofa, trying not to look too thrown by the whole encounter, but nothing was said until the older man leaned forward and looked at him, almost the exact same way the king had been inspecting him not ten minutes earlier.

“I’ll be honest, Mr. Argentum, you seem to be a good-natured young man with a talent of collecting very loyal friends, making even the most unlikely people root for you, and you do appear to have exceptional skill in firearms; I have seen your evaluation scores. However-” Clarus Amicitia’s face turned to stone, and Prompto could feel himself starting to sweat. “-you apparently have the prince, Lord Scientia, and my son wrapped around your finger, which frankly, I’m not very comfortable with. You have a problem, and they all seem to drop everything to come running.” Prompto could feel the blood draining out of his face. What the heck was he talking about? It wasn’t anything like that- “-and then we have Cor. As far as I can tell, you two barely cross paths, yet he’s usually the first to advocate for you along with the prince. What is it about you that inspires such loyalty?”

Oh hell no, Prompto wasn’t going to just sit here and listen to this. He leaned forward in much the same position as Lord Amicitia, making sure he was looking the man in the eye. “Sir, I certainly can’t speak for the marshal, except that he has always been kind to me, and no, I have no idea why. I’m certainly not going to question it. As for my friends, they are my friends. Any one of us would drop everything to help each other, why is it so different for me? I know I’m not of the right background or whatever, we all know I’m adopted, but don’t make my relationship with my friends into something malicious,” Prompto said firmly. “Sir.”

The two continued looking at each other for what felt like an eternity to Prompto, but suddenly, the elder Amicitia grinned, looking like the spitting image of his son, and sat back in his chair. “That’s what I wanted to see.” What? Prompto knew he was staring like an idiot now.

“I’m sorry?”

“Look, Mr. Argentum, we’ve only talked a few times before this, and only for a minute or so probably in total. I hear stories of your skill at the shooting range, of your adventures here in town with the prince, but every time I’ve seen you face to face, you’ve been hiding in the shadow of whoever you are here with, looking like you want to fall through the floor. Gladio doesn’t befriend just anyone, as you can probably guess, so I wanted to see the young man he actually became friends with and not the scared waif that haunts his friend’s footsteps,” Lord Amicitia stated with a raised eyebrow, and Prompto groaned.

“I’m not a natural around all this royalty stuff, okay? I’m half-afraid I’m going to accidentally insult someone by holding my pinkie the wrong way or something and get myself thrown out of the Citadel by my fingernails. Sometimes it’s easiest to survive by just blending in with the background,” Prompto stated, and the elder Amicitia started laughing.

“Throwing someone out by the fingernails sounds a bit unwieldy, to be honest. Didn’t one of those three just tell you to relax?” Prompto couldn’t believe what he was hearing, where the hell was this guy ten minutes ago?

“Would you really believe them? I mean, this is Noct and Gladio we are talking about,” Prompto snorted, and Amicitia chuckled.

“What about Ignis?”

“Are you kidding, he’s the worst of the bunch sometimes,” Prompto replied. “He’ll say this stuff with a straight face, and you think he’s being totally honest, but then boom, he’s gotten you hook, line, and sinker and you have no idea what the hell just happened.” Lord Amicitia laughed again, then sobered, crossing his arms and fixing him with a serious look.

“You understand what it means to be Crownsguard, right? While you protect each other, the safety of the prince and the royal family is paramount. If it’s you or him that’s going to jump in front of that bullet, it’s you. You do understand that, correct?” Prompto nodded.

“Yes sir, I know.”

Clarus Amicitia got to his feet after Prompto finished speaking and held out a hand. “Then allow me to welcome you to the Crownsguard, Prompto Argentum.” Prompto stared at the offered hand for far longer than was socially acceptable, but after Lord Amicitia cleared his throat and gave him a rather significant look, he scrambled to his feet and took the man’s hand.

“Thank you, sir.”

That night was the last night they spent back at Noctis’s apartment, as almost everything was packed. Shortly after Prompto, who was still reeling from all his whirlwind conversations with terrifying people, and Noctis, who had been quiet ever since they had gotten back from the Citadel, started to relax, they were joined by Gladio and Ignis, who both were in good spirits.

“Whatever you said to my dad, Prom, you appear to have appeased him on your suitability for the Crownsguard, he had been...well, let’s just say he had been on the fence before this,” Gladio said with a grin as he grabbed Prompto in a headlock and gave him a serious noogie, which ended with the two of them tumbling onto the couch; Prompto was laughing so hard he started hiccuping, and Gladio, who had ended up on top of him in the ensuing struggle, was forced to get off as Prompto started wheezing.

“You know, Gladio, it will be difficult for Prompto to go with us if you kill him first,” Ignis drawled from the armchair to the left of the sofa, and Prompto took the ensuing argument between Gladio and Iggy to gasp for breath. It seemed to be the season for major emotional outbursts, but hell, it helped. It all helped.

He looked over at Noctis, who was looking at his phone with a flat expression, but Prompto could see the storm in his friend’s eyes. Told with only two weeks notice that he was to head to Altissia to get married, to a woman that he loved, but perhaps only in a sisterly way? Prompto wasn’t entirely sure on that part, but he certainly didn’t act like a man in love in his opinion...but what did he know? Iggy and Gladio seemed largely unaffected by the announcement; Gladio was one who rolled with the punches both literally and metaphorically, and had taken the sudden upheaval of all their lives with as much aplomb. Iggy was a planner, so he immediately had set to his work, but had shown little evidence of being worried for his own sake.

It must be nice.

It had been a lot of fun staying with Noct over the last few weeks, even with the summons causing some serious tension between the four of them. Prompto had talked with his parents on the phone once, but like usual, they were out of town or otherwise busy, and he honestly hadn’t wanted to risk being summoned in front of them. Even they would have noticed that, and while they weren’t close, he certainly didn’t want to worry them. Something would be happening soon, and he wanted to see if he could see them, even if it was for the last time. After his heart rate had largely returned to normal, Prompto sat back up and addressed the room.

“I’m going to go home tomorrow, just for a few nights. I want to see if I can see my parents before we leave.” That got everyone’s attention. Iggy and Gladio both turned to look at him, and Noctis looked up from his phone.

“You sure, Prom?” Noct said quietly, and Prompto nodded. “You’ll leave in the morning?”

“Yeah, I’ll stay tonight. Don’t have my stuff packed yet anyway,” Prompto replied, and Noct gave him a tiny smile.

“Sounds good.” Iggy looked like he wanted to say something, but he settled for looking at Prompto for a long moment before tipping his head to him and going back to whatever he was doing on a tablet. Gladio just gave him a raised eyebrow, which he answered with a smile, and that was that.

The next morning saw him help load the last five years of Noctis’s life into a moving truck, with Gladio taking care of most of the larger furniture items while he, Iggy, and Noct took care of the boxes. After everything was packed, Prompto grabbed his duffle bag and waved to the others, who had all looked a tiny bit worried but said nothing, thank goodness, and went home for the first time in almost a month. It actually took Prompto several minutes to find his keys, but once he entered, it actually took him a moment to adjust. He had been gone long enough that he had to acclimate to the smells of his home again, the smell of old coffee and dust, and he shouted that he was home on principle, but he knew they weren’t there. With a sigh, Prompto trudged up the stairs to his room and opened the door to find the mess he expected, his bed still unmade from the day he had headed to that fateful get-together where he clocked out so suddenly he had scared everyone, including himself.

That was the beginning of the end, in a way. First came the promise that they would certainly be collecting in a matter of days, where he would try to convince them he wasn’t crazy, then probably soon after, it would be the world that knew, although if the goddess was right, only a small amount of people would even know what he was in the first place. Already he could feel a melody in his throat, and words on his lips, but it wasn’t the time. Not yet, but soon.

He just wished his parents were here. They had made no secret of him being adopted, not that he hadn’t noticed even as a young child that he didn’t resemble them in the slightest, but they had raised him well, and had been there to help him as he had grown. But once he was old enough to be on his own, they were gone constantly. Prompto sometimes wondered if he was little more than an obligation to them. Had they even wanted him to begin with?

Prompto sighed, and looked at the mess of his room. Maybe following Noct’s lead with his apartment, at least to an extent, was a good idea. It would get his mind off of things. Prompto dug up some boxes from around the house, and set to work. He began to hum, a song from a movie he had seen with Noct a few years back, a dark tune that set the tone of his mood rather succinctly. He almost started singing the words, but held off; the Dawn Mother had warned him that his voice had power, and once he had truly used it in the waking world, there would be no going back. While he had sung a song or two in the shower since her training had started, he had not done so in close to a year, due to her warnings. He missed it.

Prompto had cleaned most of his room and even part of the house by the time night rolled around, and was actually somewhat surprised that none of the guys had messaged or called him, but he figured they were giving him some space. He had just spent close to a month with them without any real time to himself, and it was strange to be alone again. For the last bit of cleaning, he stripped his bed and remade it with fresh sheets, stuffing the dirty ones in the laundry basket. A quick shower and he fell into his unfamiliar bed, checking his phone one last time, only to discover he had missed a message from Iggy, telling him that he needed to be at the Citadel by ten tomorrow morning for uniform fitting and a general fitness evaluation. That’s right, Crownsguard stuff. He really wasn’t sure about it now, not with everything feeling so imminent, but there was no other choice but to go along with it. Who knew what was soon to a goddesses’ perspective, was she talking a week, or a year? He certainly didn’t know, and until then, Crownsguard it was. Prompto sent Iggy a confirmation he would be there, along with a good night. He was asleep only minutes later.

Prompto was up, dressed, and out the door by nine, and he set a good pace jogging to the subway, where he hopped on the Crown Line to the Citadel. No sign of his parents again, and he had received no answer to his text either. He told himself that it didn’t disappoint him anymore, but he knew that would be a lie.

The train arrived at the Citadel stop, and he disembarked, heading up to the side gates. He was there so often that he was usually waved through, and today was no exception; the guard simply smiled and unlatched the small security door, and he jogged on in. Iggy had told him to report directly to the Crownsguard offices for the uniform session, and if he hadn’t known where they were anyway, the Marshal helping him out the other day while Noct was in his council meeting had informed him. He was almost to the elevator when he heard a voice behind him.

“Hey, Prompto! Did I hear the news right?” Prompto turned to see Glaive Crowe Altius walking up to him with Libertus, leg in a cast, at her side. He hadn’t noticed the cast the other day.

“Hear what?” Prompto said, and Crowe glared at him.

“You know what. Heard you’ve been accepted into the Crownsguard! Quite a feat for people like us,” Crowe stated, and Prompto sadly knew exactly what she meant. While the Kingsglaive was probably close to one hundred percent immigrant, the Crownsguard was probably less than ten. There was simply too much of a tradition of children of higher-born Insomnian families going into it, and it was relatively uncommon for them to accept anyone who didn’t come from a respectable background.

“Thanks, Crowe. It’s not officialofficial yet, the marshal has to sign off on it, but-” Crowe waved a hand in dismissal.

“Of all the people in the Crownsguard, the two I actually respect the most are Leonis and his deputy, Elshett. While the marshal was born here in the city, I understand that his family actually lived on the outskirts on what is now the Galahdian sector, in other words, the fucking poor area. Yet here he is. Elshett was born more proper, but she doesn’t seem to have a prejudiced bone in her body. Makes them leagues better than a lot of the rank and file there,” Crowe paused, then gave Prompto a sly look. “Besides, the whole damn building knows that Leonis likes you for some reason. Guess you turned those pretty eyes of yours on him at some point.”

Prompto could feel himself blushing. He still had no idea why the marshal seemed to take an interest in him, but when they actually spoke, he had never felt anything but safe around him. Especially recently, with those damn scents-

“Please tell me you aren’t actually sleepin’ with him, kid. My heart couldn’t take it, he’s twenty-something years older than you,” Libertus interjected, and Prompto’s jaw dropped.

“Please tell me that no one is claiming that, I mean, he’s a good looking man, but he’s a little old for me,” Prompto squeaked out, and Libertus shrugged.

“Only a few, but there’s never been any proof, and I think most people assume that you’re sleeping with the prince at this point.” Prompto slapped his palms against his face in complete mortification as Libertus finished his statement.

“I hate everyone.”

Crowe patted him on the back and gave him a friendly push towards the elevators. “You should, it’s healthy. Keeps you alive.” Crowe waved to him and walked off, and Libertus smiled at Prompto then turned and hobbled after her. Well shit. Prompto looked down at his phone, only to realize that he was going to be late if he didn’t hustle. One hasty elevator ride up, and Prompto was walking up to the Crownsguard offices, where Iggy was waiting for him. They both walked into the main office together without a word, cutting through to the back where Uniform Services was.

“Cut that a bit late, Prompto,” Ignis whispered in his ear after they were asked to sit, and Prompto groaned.

“I got accosted by Crowe and Libertus,” Prompto grumbled, and while Iggy was clearly curious, Prompto was saved from explaining by the Crownsguard in charge of the department, Livia, who shambled over, dropped a sizable binder in Prompto’s lap, then returned to her chair without a word.

“You’ll need to peruse this, find a style that you would like. They can do some modifications if you find something close but not quite what you were thinking of,” Iggy said as he leaned over and opened the binder, spreading it across Prompto’s lap. Prompto plucked through the pages, looking at the wide range of options, but his heart wasn’t in it. Everything was happening so fast, and he was beginning to have the premonition that even if he survived everything that was to happen, he certainly wouldn’t be part of the Crownsguard after it was all said and done. Iggy obviously noticed his reticence, however, as there was suddenly a hand on the side of his neck, turning his face towards the other man. “Prompto, are you alright?”

Prompto flinched at Ignis’s words, and looked down at the folder. What was he going to say? He couldn’t tell Iggy that he was pretty sure that it wasn’t going to work out, that would screw everything over, and besides, he still wanted this, he just was pretty certain he couldn’t have it-

“Prompto, do you need a moment?” Ignis whispered, and Prompto forced himself to shake his head.

“You- you know Noct and I had been talking about designs back in the day, it’s weird looking at these without him here. Was he busy?” Prompto fumbled his words, but he realized that he was telling the truth, he loved Iggy, don’t get him wrong, but this was always he and Noct’s dream, not Iggy’s. Ignis’s mouth opened in a silent oh , and he sat back in his seat.

“Unfortunately, Noctis is in meetings most the majority of the day, they want to make sure he’s prepared,” Ignis said, his tone sympathetic. “If these are going to be done in time, it must be decided now.” Prompto nodded his head and returned to the binder. He could do this.

A half hour later, he had made his selections, only needing a minor tweak or two for his taste. He asked the Crownsguard in charge if he could add patches on the finished vest beyond what would be on there anyway, and received grumbling assent. Just had to be black or near-black, and nothing too scandalous. He could work with that.

After the paperwork was done, the woman got to her feet with a tape measure and got to work, occasionally smacking Prompto’s limbs into compliance as she wrote down measurements. Prompto shot more than one pleading look to Iggy, but the advisor was dutifully reading something on that stupid tablet and thoroughly ignoring him. Ugh. In what felt like years, but was probably no more than five minutes, Crownsguard Livia had what she needed, and ordered him to return the following day between noon and one to pick everything up.

“I can’t believe we are supposed to leave in just two days,” Prompto commented to Iggy as they headed out of the Crownsguard offices, and received a rare groan in response. “Iggy?”

“You may not be able to believe it, but I unfortunately am well aware we are leaving soon with the amount of duties I need to complete beforehand,” Ignis stated with more than a little bit of stress, and Prompto reached out and patted Iggy on the shoulder.

“Thanks for everything, Iggy. I always appreciate it, and I know the others do too.” Ignis gave him a soft smile in response as they entered the elevator to head to the training rooms. They rode the elevator down in silence until Iggy looked up from his tablet and met Prompto’s eyes.

“Don’t think I, or any of the others, have forgotten about your promise, Prompto. We still want to know what is going on with you. Sounds like it will be a perfect road trip discussion,” Ignis stated, and Prompto sighed. No, he knew they weren’t going to forget. Honestly, he would have been shocked if they had.

“Yeah, it’ll be an interesting one.”

Ignis left him at the training halls before rushing off to do whatever thing on that giant list that he needed to take care of next, and Prompto walked in the main hall to face none other than Clarus Amicitia, who was wearing a far more practical Crownsguard-style uniform, similar in cut to the marshal’s. His usual council robes were probably not the best for sparring , Prompto thought with a tinge of hysteria. Despite the instinctive bolt of terror that blasted through him at the sight, he took a deep breath, stiffened his spine, and walked up to the man with as little hesitation as he could pull off.

“It’s good to see you again, Mr. Argentum. Normally the marshal would be here to handle any specialized training or entrance evaluations, but as you know, he is currently unavailable. Considering the somewhat...unusual circumstances, I have volunteered myself,” Lord Amicitia said, looking amused at whatever expression Prompto had on his face, but did not comment further. “First, I want to see your skill with evasion. While you specialized in firearms, you still need to know how to avoid being hit both in close quarters and at distance. I believe that my son was focusing on this with his training sessions with you, correct?”

Prompto nodded. “Yes, sir.” He expected Lord Amicitia to walk over to the training weapons rack, but instead the older man summoned his sword, an imposing blade that was similar in size to what his son preferred. He was doomed.

“You will simply do your best to avoid me, do not attempt to counterattack at this time,” the second scariest man on the planet stated, and then lifted his sword and lunged at Prompto. While he was convinced it would be a rout, Prompto actually surprised himself with how well he responded after the first few failures; Lord Amicitia seemed to realize that a lot of the early screw-ups were due to lack of confidence against him, and said nothing, only pressing the attack.

When Prompto managed to avoid that sword getting anywhere near him for more than a minute, Amicitia called off the offensive, and allowed his blade to return to its magical storage. “Once you get warmed up, I can see that you have been taking your training seriously. While there are areas that need work, there’s nothing like actually being in an old fashioned fight to practice. Be proud of your progress, Mr. Argentum, you are actually in a far better state than I gathered from the earlier casual evaluations.” Amicitia turned and walked away, signalling for Prompto to follow. “Next is your skill with firearms. I’ve heard reports, but I want to see for myself.”

Prompto was well acquainted with the shooting range, and he signed out several weapons at Lord Amicitia’s request, as well as reserved time at the dynamic range instead of the regular static range. This was his element, and even the imposing presence of the head of the Crownsguard couldn’t keep him from showing his skill. His specialty was handguns, but Lord Amicitia wanted to see that he could handle rifles and shotguns as well, so he started with those. Shotguns were his least favorite, too much spread and not as much accuracy, but they were handy in cases where a line of opponents would need to be taken out. Also, they were rather easy to find in the Lucian countryside in case of emergency, according to something the marshal had told him awhile back. The target’s move patterns could be set to different styles of fighting, and for the next hour, Lord Amicitia had him firing everything from an old shotgun to a top of the line sniper rifle before finally letting him switch over to his pistols. Prompto grinned to himself as he lifted his guns. Some people had yoga, he had singing, photography, and shooting. And since he couldn’t sing yet, and he had been largely stuck inside for the last month, target practice it was.

By the time he was done, his ears were ringing even through the heavy duty earmuffs, but he was the calmest he had been in days. Completely forgetting about his audience for a moment, Prompto immediately set to disassembling and cleaning his guns at the table provided out of habit. It took a throat clearing behind him before he remembered exactly why he was there, and he froze. Oops.

“Well, Mr. Argentum. I had heard good things, but I admit I wasn’t expecting that.” Lord Amicitia sat down next to him on the bench facing outwards with a near-silent grunt, then crossed his arms and leaned back against the table, looking right at Prompto. “You really are a natural, aren’t you? I can tell you aren’t very fond of the larger guns, but you still handle them with far greater skill than almost everyone I’ve seen here. I’m not a man who is easily impressed, Mr. Argentum, but consider me such,” Lord Amicitia stated, reaching over and clasping Prompto’s shoulder before rising to his feet again. “Keep working on your footwork and evasion, and you’ll easily be the best firearms specialist we’ve ever had in the Crownsguard.”

Prompto jumped to his feet, his mouth hanging open, and Lord Amicitia smiled, again looking just like his son. “Thank- thank you, sir!”

“Finish up what you need to do, Crownsguard Argentum, then you are free to do whatever you need to do until you hear from the marshal.” With that, Prompto was left alone to his thoughts.

After he was finished with servicing his weapons, he considered sending Gladio a message to see if he wanted to hangout, but then decided against it. He wanted one more night of peace and quiet. Prompto left the Citadel with a smile, waving to everyone he knew as he exited the gates. The sunlight glinted just right off of a fountain outside, and for the first time in weeks, Prompto pulled out his camera with a grin, and set to work.

Much later that evening, after the sun had long set, Prompto gradually worked his way home. It was quite the walk from the Citadel to his house, but he enjoyed the cool air and the sights and sounds of the city at night. This was very likely the final night he’d be able to do this, as they were scheduled to leave in less than two days, and he wanted to savor it. Somewhere around ten in the evening, he made the turn off the main drag towards his house, only to be stopped by a very familiar scent blowing past, disappearing almost as soon as it had appeared.

Prompto turned to see the brake lights of a motorcycle fading into the distance, and smiled. Looked like the marshal was home a bit early. If Gladio’s dad was right, he would probably hear from him at some point tomorrow. Prompto turned and headed home, again fumbling for his keys before opening the door and stepping in. The house was dark and silent, and he brutally suppressed his disappointment before deciding to shower and head to bed. It was probably going to be a busy day tomorrow, after all.

Prompto’s phone woke him at around eight in the morning; he groaned and rolled over to grab it off the nightstand, and squinted at it with little comprehension until his brain started to wake up. He didn’t recognize the number, but that didn’t always mean anything. Noctis had to change his number occasionally, as the press would somehow find out and he would have to get a new one. Poking at his screen, he finally achieved enough fine motor skills to access what he needed to read the message. Maybe he’d get another hour of sleep after he read it-

Congratulations, Crownsguard Argentum. Meet me at the Crownsguard offices at noon so we can finalize everything. -Cor Leonis

Well, that answered that. Prompto shot up in bed, rereading the message several more times before grinning at the screen. He wasn’t surprised, everyone had commented that the marshal would rubberstamp him in, but it was one thing to hear it, and another to see it. It was definitely time to get up now. Jumping out of bed, he finally set to packing his bag for the trip, and before he even noticed, he was singing, clapping his hands and stomping his feet as he was yanking clothing out of his drawers to an upbeat and happy tune that was popular a few years back; it wasn’t until he was joined by several other voices that he realized what he was doing, and he dropped the pants he was holding with a gasp. The spirits lining his room signalled for him to continue, and he did so, even as he felt ice trickle down his spine. He hadn’t even noticed. Oh shit . The spirits smiled and disappeared as he finished the song, but the panic remained.

He had sung with the spirits in the Dawn Mother’s haven, but he- he really could call them. This was really happening, it wasn’t just a concept from his waking dreams, it was actually something he could do-

Prompto staggered backwards until the back of his legs hit his bed, and he fell, landing on his back on top of the covers. It took him several minutes before he calmed down enough to breathe properly. It was one thing to be trained in another dimension or whatever the hell her meadow was, but it was totally another to actually use said training in the real world. Well, Prompto thought, trying not to panic, it would make it easy to show the guys, that’s for sure. He finally got back to his feet, and slowly finished packing, this time in perfect silence. He didn’t have time for a meltdown, not today. Maybe he would fit it in next week during their trip. Prompto dug his phone from where he had left it, buried in his sheets, and checked the time. It was almost ten. Shit, he really needed to go. Making sure he had his charger and his gun kit, he did one last check around the room, grabbed his backpack and duffle, then closed the door. He would have sworn that the closing click was far louder than usual.

He thought about leaving a note for his parents, but he decided against it. If they wanted to talk, or even say hi, they had his number. Without another glance back up the stairs, he grabbed a soda out of the fridge, shoved it in his backpack, shouldered his duffle, and walked out the door. It was time for the rest of his life.

Prompto stopped by a fun clothing and accessory shop he liked and picked out some extra patches for his uniform, then stopped into the craft store a few doors down and bought a sewing kit and a basic rivet set so he could put them on later. He checked his phone one more time, then headed straight to the subway and hopped on the Crown Line. It wouldn’t do to be late to a meeting with the marshal, not after he had done so much for him-

Prompto blinked. Where had that come from? The marshal was kind, and had helped him with training occasionally in the past, but- huh. Prompto lost the thread of his thoughts when the train pulled into the Citadel station, and he grabbed his bags and bustled out of the station, only to run into a large group of protesters. They were angry about the treaty, Prompto could see that, the writing on the signs was quite clear. He could also probably guess that the majority of them were probably not native Insomnians, based on their looks and attitudes, because he knew damn good and well a decent amount of the natives could give a rat’s ass about the rest of the world as long as Insomnia was safe. Luckily, in a crowd filled with largely immigrants, a probably non-native blond got little attention, and he managed to weave through the crowd and out the other side, only to be stopped by one of the royal guard when he headed to his usual gate.

“Where do you think you are going, kid?” Prompto looked at the guard in dismay. It figured, he had gotten the one guard left in the Citadel who didn’t know him, and with the protesters not a block away, he could guess this looked bad.

“Ah, my name is Prompto Argentum, I’ve got a meeting with the marshal at the Crownsguard offices at noon, sir,” Prompto stated, and got little more than a snort for his trouble.

“Pull the other one, kid, why the hell would the marshal want to talk to you?” Well shit.

“Because I’m his newest Crownsguard, we are finalizing the paperwork and I’m picking up my uniform.” He could see the stormclouds form over the guard’s features as he spoke, and he knew this wasn’t going well. At all.

“Put your bags down and put your hands on the back of your head, you lying son of a-”

“Prompto, is that you?” Prompto could have cried as Nyx Ulric walked up, the Kingsglaive looking between him and the angry guard in confusion. “Fortis, what are you doing? You’ve got to be the only guard left in this place that doesn’t just wave him through.” Prompto decided it would be best to stand quietly and wait. Fortis looked at Nyx like he had grown a second head, and pointed at Prompto.

“Wave him through? This kid claims he’s Crownsguard! They aren’t the Glaive, they don’t hire outsiders-” Nyx shook his head at the guard’s words, then looked back at Prompto.

“Hey, when did you get the word? Crowe said she talked with you about it yesterday,” Nyx asked, and Prompto smiled at him.

“Both the king and Lord Amicitia confirmed it with me three days ago, and the marshal confirmed it again this morning.” Nyx clapped him on the back, then smirked at the guard.

“Come on, Fortis, let the kid through. Seriously, you ask any one of your fellow guards about him, and they’ll all say you mean the Prince’s best friend? What, did you stop him from entering? and then they will all laugh at you.” Prompto stood stock still as the guard gave him one more once over, then the man sighed and stood back, triggering the lock on the gate.

“You better be right about this, Ulric.” Prompto reached down for his duffle, but Nyx had already grabbed it. Before the guard could reconsider, he followed Nyx through the gate, hearing it close behind him. He sped up and came up alongside the older man, who was still holding his duffle as they walked.

“Thank you, Nyx, I really appreciate it,” Prompto said, and Nyx shook his head and handed over the duffle.

“Fortis isn’t a bad guy, but he is unfortunately a man of his upbringing. Loyal to a fault to the crown, but super distrustful of us immigrants. I think I’m the only Glaive he’ll do more than grunt at half the time.”

“Well, thank you anyway. I’ve really got to run if I’m going to make it, I’m supposed to be meeting the marshal at noon, and it’s-” Prompto checked his phone. “Oh crap, I’ve only got ten minutes! I’ll see you later, Nyx!” He saw the Glaive wave out of the corner of his eye as he dashed into the building, skidding down the hallway and diving into the first elevator he got to, punching the button for the right floor. This was going to be close. The elevator dinged at the correct floor, and Prompto got out and speed walked as fast as he could pull off without looking like he was running, then slowing to a normal speed when the Crownsguard offices came into view, with none other than the marshal leaning against the door frame, and that wonderful cherry and sword polish scent washing over him.

“Good afternoon, Crownsguard Argentum,” the marshal said with a raised eyebrow, and Prompto flushed in embarrassment. He could see a clock inside the office, and- he had made it. By one minute.

“Good- good afternoon, sir,” Prompto got out, and the marshal snorted what could almost be a laugh and signalled him to follow. A short walk back to a familiar office, and the marshal sat in his chair and motioned for him to do the same. Prompto set his luggage down and sat down in the same couch he had dozed off on not two weeks ago.

“Problems at the gate?” the marshal asked, and Prompto’s jaw dropped. How did he-

“Yes, sir. I thought I knew all the guards, but I guess I was mistaken, and there are protesters outside-” The marshal nodded, and seeing him one on one like this, Prompto thought he looked a bit tired. And maybe a bit sunburnt, but who knows what sort of mission he had been on.

“While you shouldn’t cut it quite so close, Glaive Ulric called me and informed me that you were held up. The guard will be spoken to later about his comments.” Prompto’s eyes widened. Oh no, that was the last thing he wanted, he didn’t need to be making enemies right at the beginning of his potential career.

“It’s alright, sir, he was just doing his job, after all, there were a lot of protesters nearby…” Prompto trailed off at the knowing look on the marshal’s face, and looked away. He heard the marshal sigh, and turned back to look at the man, who was pinching the bridge of his nose.

“If it’s just us, or you aren’t under my direct command, cut it out with the sir, Prompto. I work for a living. Just call me marshal or Cor,” Cor said, and Prompto gave the other man a shaky grin, even as that ever-present scent calmed him.

“Yes si- Cor?” Prompto squeaked out, and Cor nodded.

“Better. Now, we need to take care of the boring stuff first, so no falling asleep on me,” Cor stood up and grabbed an extra chair that had been resting off to the side and moved it in front of his desk, then patted the back of it and sat back in his own chair. Prompto could take a hint. Leaving his bags on the sofa, he sat down in the chair offered, and Cor pushed forward a folder and a pen. Paperwork, oh goodie. Flipping through the contents, he noticed a lot of the usual employment things, personal information, background checks, taxes, and remuneration. The latter required him to go back and look at the numbers again, where he sat there and goggled at it for a minute. He knew that obviously it was a legit job, but his admission to the Crownsguard hadn’t been like a normal recruitment by any stretch of the imagination, and he hadn’t given much thought to regular things like pay, not when he was so preoccupied with the rest of his life. But provided he survived the next few weeks or what was to come, he wouldn’t need to worry about money in the future.

“You hadn’t even thought about it, had you?” Prompto looked up from the paperwork to see Cor straight-lipped and as dour looking as usual, but the twinkle Prompto could see in his eyes betrayed his amusement. He knew he was blushing again, but he couldn’t help it.

“Life has been so crazy lately, si-Cor, that I honestly hadn’t really thought about it. I just thought it would nice to be able to help Noct and everyone, and to do so from a position with at least some knowledge,” Prompto said as he worked through the paperwork, signing and initialing as needed, he could hear Cor shift in his chair, but he continued on with the stack until he finished. Closing the folder, he slid it and the pen back across the desk, where Cor re-opened it, glanced through everything, and closed it again.

“Well, as motivations go, that’s an admirable one. Some people join the Crownsguard out of patriotism, some join out of desperation, and a rather sizable amount get in because their families have influence here in the city and it’s seen as a respectable position for the spares to go into. Not many would say that they went into it so they could help out their friends,” Cor commented, and Prompto found himself opening his mouth without really thinking about it.

“And which one were you, Cor?” Prompto said, then grimaced. “Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that-”

“A bit of door number one, a whole lot of door number two. The fact I didn’t come from a blue-blood background like many of the others is pretty well known, I’m not bothered by it,” Cor said as he leaned forward, his tone serious. “There will be those who will try to tell you that you are lesser due to your background, but you do what you need to do and ignore them. In the end, you’ll be judged on what you do, not on where you were born. The king, the prince, they don’t care. We all just do what we need to do.” Prompto nodded again, trying not to smile at the older man. He had no clue what he had done to deserve his favor, but he was glad for it.

“Thank you, Cor, I appreciate it.” Cor got to his feet and rounded the desk, his hand coming to rest on Prompto’s left shoulder as he walked behind him.

“Leave your bags, we’ll come back for it after we are all done. It’ll be fine in here,” Cor stated, and with a light squeeze, he released Prompto’s shoulder and headed out of his office. Prompto brought a hand up to where Cor’s had been, taking a deep breath. He hadn’t felt this calm all day, and now-

“Argentum!” Oops. Prompto jumped to his feet and scrambled after the marshal, who was waiting outside his office with- well, he looked more amused than annoyed. He’d take it.

“Sorry, si-er, marshal, just thinking,” he said as he trotted next to the older man, who was leading him back to Uniform Services. Oh yeah, that’s right, she said it would be done around this time. Cor opened the door and let him in, nodding to Crownsguard Livia, who looked as unhappy as she had yesterday.

“Marshal, Argentum.” Livia pulled out a paper-wrapped parcel and a shoe box, thumping both on her desk. “Just got your uniform back, go try it on.” Prompto walked forward and picked up the stack, but had no idea where he was supposed to go, and Livia was not helping.

“Room to the back right, Prompto,” Cor stated, and Prompto smiled and headed to the indicated area. He unwrapped the clothing first, and couldn’t keep from grinning as the dark fabric spilled out over his hands. He stripped out of his own clothes and began pulling everything on, admiring the fit and fabric, which was heavier than he expected; holding the shirt up close to his eyes showed him that there appeared to be unusual fibers woven in, and he figured that it was meant for extra protection. Hopefully he could use the sewing kit he bought through this stuff. Vest was a bit plain, but that would be fixed soon enough. Shoes came next, and the boots looked great enough, but what really sold them was the red soles. He hadn’t even noticed that in the book. After he was done, he inspected himself in the mirror mounted on the wall. Honestly, it was the least uniform-y style uniform he had ever seen, but he thought he looked great. Like he belonged here, among all of these people also dressed in blacks and greys, among people like Cor, Gladio, Ignis, and Noct-

A noise from outside the room threw Prompto out of his fugue, and he smiled at his reflection one last time before turning to his mess. He carefully folded his old clothes, stashing them in the shoe box, then picked up the discarded paper and carrying the lot to the door.

“What do you want me to do with the trash?” Prompto asked Crownsguard Livia, who actually looked a bit surprised as she indicated a can off to the side. “Thank you, ma’am, everything looks amazing. And so fast, too! That’s really awesome,” Prompto gave the woman a grin, and actually got something that he would consider a smile out of her for a moment. Maybe she was just used to the unappreciative coming in instead of people like him?

“Well, Crownsguard Argentum, you are really starting to look the part,” Cor commented from where he was leaning against the wall, and Prompto couldn’t help a little preening pose in response.

“That’s just what I was thinking, marshal. Makes it a little more real, huh?” Cor gave him a small smile of his own, and Prompto could actually feel his pride in him- huh? Prompto almost stumbled at the sensation washing over him, mixed in with that cherry and polish, and couldn’t help but stare at the man for a moment.

“If you are done daydreaming, Prompto, why don’t we get your things and drop them off at the prince’s quarters,” Cor’s voice was dry, and Prompto bit back a groan as he tightened the grip on his box and headed out of Uniform Services, trying to pretend that he hadn’t just zoned out. He had no clue what his brain was about in regards to Cor, but he needed to get it together. Cor hadn’t locked his office door, and Prompto popped in to grab his backpack and duffle, hitched them both up on his shoulders, then left the office.

Seeing Cor leaning against the outside wall of his own office, Prompto realized something. “Marshal, I know where Noct’s, er, his majesties’ quarters are, I can run these up and meet you afterwards. I’m sure you’re busy-” Cor huffed and started walking out of the room, and Prompto sighed. Well, he tried. He sped up and caught up with the older man, whose much longer legs made for a faster stride, and resigned himself to speed-walking while with Cor. A few elevator rides later, and he was outside the familiar quarters. Cor leaned over and unlocked the door, and Prompto bounded in and dropped his bags off on the oversized soda, before pulling the can of soda out of his backpack and shoving it in Noct’s fridge. A phone rang behind him, and he turned around to see Cor on his cell phone, a serious expression on his face.

“Acknowledged. I’ll be there shortly.” Cor put away his phone and met Prompto’s eyes. “Are you ready to go? I’ve been asked to sit in on a...meeting with the king and the Kingsglaive, and I think you should go with me. Might be enlightening for you,” Cor stated, and Prompto blinked.

“Are you sure, Cor? I am just the newbie-” Cor waved away his complaints, and Prompto nodded. “Sure, anything you want.”

Cor snorted. “Be careful who you say that to around here, you may find yourself strung into one of Iris’s schemes, and where would you be then?” Cor turned and headed out the door of Noct’s apartment, and this time Prompto was ready, following and making sure the door was latched behind them. Once the lock engaged, it hit him what the marshal had said.

“Iris? She’s usually really nice, what sort of schemes does she get up to?” Prompto asked as they got back into the elevator, and was levelled with the sort of look from the marshal that he usually associated with Iggy, that of the long-suffering tortured soul doomed for eternity, and he figured he would drop the subject. “Ah, er, so where are we going?”

“The primary assembly room. It’s sort of a general use room, parties, trials, meetings, it’s all been done there at some point,” Cor commented, and Prompto hummed in response. Then it hit him, this was supposed to be a meeting with the Kingsglaive.

“Considering that the imperial delegation is supposed to be here tomorrow afternoon, is this just a orders meeting or something?” Cor grimaced, and shook his head.

“Not quite. Considering I know you consider at least a few of the Glaives friends of a sort, I’m sure you’ve heard that there have been some....issues.” Oh, it was what he had been talking to Nyx about the other day.

“Have they gotten so bad since the treaty terms were announced? I spoke with Nyx about it the other day, about how a lot of them probably aren’t happy; he said he had tried to talk to them, but that the really angry ones weren’t really listening,” Prompto said quietly, and Cor’s eyes widened a bit in surprise.

“Sounds like you are better informed than I thought. Yes, there’s been some insubordination, but it’s starting to rapidly grow to outright rebellion. This meeting will be a last ditch attempt to air grievances, and if we don’t like the result, the Glaive will either be stood down, or assigned to the wall. The original plan was to have them as security here at the Citadel when the Empire got here, but the council’s faith in them is shaken, to say the least. While there are specific Glaives that both myself and the king are certain are perfectly fine, Ulric among them, we are concerned about the whole. The last thing we want is an elite force, even if they only number around a hundred, going out of control or worse.” The elevator opened, and Prompto and Cor headed down yet another hallway, not one that Prompto remembered, and they passed by several sets of double doors before rounding a corner and entering through a side door.

Cor had called it an assembly room, and it was quite large to match; like the rest of the Citadel, the decor was elegant, and the room easily fit what Prompto realized must be the entirety of the Kingsglaive, plus the King and Lord Amicitia. A few heads turned to look at them as they entered, and from the look on the king’s face, Prompto could guess that Cor hadn’t told them that he was bringing him along. Libertus and Pelna met his eyes for a moment in surprise before looking away, and Prompto decided that the best thing to do was to stand off to the side and pretend he didn’t exist.

They were clearly waiting on Cor to arrive, because once he flanked the king along with Lord Amicitia, His Majesty opened his mouth and spoke.

“Brave soldiers of the Kingsglaive, thank you for your continued service. I called this meeting so we might discuss recent matters face to face, instead of miscommunicating through rumors and hearsay,” The King paused, looking out onto his soldiers; Prompto could already see some of them scowling and muttering under their breath, and he had a bad feeling this so-called meeting wasn’t going to go well. “I understand that the terms of the treaty may not have sat well with some of you-”

“You’re abandoning our families! Of course we aren’t happy!” That came from the back, and Prompto began to feel something grip at his chest, a sensation that was not unfamiliar, one that had overtaken him for a few minutes just that morning, and if anyone had looked at him at that point, he was sure he was as white as death. This was the time? He looked about the room, and Prompto realized that the head of the Kingsglaive wasn’t even there, and choked back a gasp. No, not yet!   

The King pressed ahead as Prompto tried to keep himself together, but it was clear that he no longer had control of the conversation. Some of the Glaives just looked unhappy, but a shocking amount were beginning to move forward, out of the rows they had been in when he had arrived-

“We’ve done what you wanted, been your damn rats, and now you throw away everything just to save your precious city!” That voice was right up front, and Prompto watched as a Glaive he had seen around stalked a few steps towards the king, still shouting, and he could see Nyx and Crowe both trying to keep a few of them back as well, but was clearly having little success.

“Maybe if you were removed from the equation, your majesty, maybe the Empire would be willing to let our homes go-” Holy shit that was a direct threat- Prompto’s heart was racing a mile a minute as Lord Amicitia looked two seconds from summoning his blade, and his chest was about to burst-

Then Drautos entered the room, his stench clouding the room beyond all comprehension, and stood by a pillar near the back wall, looking oddly unconcerned by the chaos around him. A song was in Prompto’s throat, and he looked around wildly to meet Cor’s gaze, the other man’s eyes just as frantic as his own, but there was understanding as well, and oh, that’s why he always felt safe with him-

It was time.

Prompto stepped forward, and without even making a sound, the spirits came to his unvoiced call and began to sing; he could see their shades lining the walls as he stepped forward to the center of the room and joined them in song. He sang a song of betrayal, of friends lost and forsaken, the words haunting and sad. All other sound ceased as they sang, and not a soul moved as he entered into the mass of Glaives; he barely registered the bodies collapsing around him as he made his way back to Drautos. Drautos, who stank of treason, of hatred-

Standing before the man, the smell of burning metal was overwhelming, and Prompto had to force himself to sing through it; he slowly brought his hands up to cup the man’s face as he sung to him directly, the beautiful swirling light flowing over the rebel Kingsglaive and combating the stench. Then the smell sharpened, and he took a step back as liquid metal seemed to flow from Drautos’s skin, wrapping the traitor in unholy armor, in which he seemed to have some ability to move against the light; Prompto continued singing as the armored man lifted a sword in a clear attempt to strike him, only for the light to prevail, and the room shook as Drautos fell to the ground. The spirits flowed from the edges to the room to his side for a moment, caressing his cheeks and ruffling his hair before dispersing, the song at an end.

Prompto had no sense of time as he looked upon the near-supine Drautos, and only when a voice that he realized that he knew far better than he thought he had sounded at some distance behind him did he realize that the room was still full of people, loyal and traitors alike, and they were all at his back. He began to turn, only to feel the presence of Cor, the Herald that the Dawn Mother had promised he would meet soon, and he smiled up at the man, an soft open-mouthed smile as he took in the light of power in Cor’s eyes. They needed to cleanse the traitor of the metal, Prompto realized, and he turned back towards the prone Drautos in silence.

From another part of the room, he could hear shouting from a voice he knew, and Prompto did not comprehend what the words were until the Dawn Mother was mentioned; he gasped when he remembered what she had said to him so long ago, about how the people of Galahd would know them when all others forgot-

Prompto and Cor looked down at the fallen Kingsglaive, and then Prompto and the spirits began to sing once more, a tune that started as a wordless melody. Next to him, the herald lifted his sword, and when Prompto began to sing the ancient words, Cor joined in as well as they split the armor away from the traitor with blade and song, with power and light; he could hear Drautos screaming as it was cut away, the pieces falling to the ground to be destroyed by the all-encompassing light that was all around them. The song came to its crescendo, and with a blinding burst of light, Drautos was gone, the final remains of his armor gone as well. The spirits lingered this time, and Prompto looked at them in gratitude as they faced him and nodded before dispersing once more.

Prompto blinked, looking down at his glowing hands, then back up at the also-shimmering Cor, who was looking at him as if he was something special, something precious-

He looked back at his hands one last time, radiant and eerie, then his knees gave out and he knew no more.

 

---

 

When the singing first started, Nyx froze in shock. Voices were seemingly coming from everywhere, and Nyx’s throat closed up when Prompto moved towards the angry Glaives with the strangest expression on his face; he tried to yell, to warn him away, but he found he could not move. He could see some of the others straining, but they too were frozen as the young man opened his mouth and sang.

The words were frightening to Nyx, a treatise to anger and betrayal, and as Prompto sang, his beautiful voice reaching all points of the room, and probably beyond, he began to glow with a luminous golden and rainbow hued light, which spread across the room like the tide, ebbing and flowing. Along the walls, Nyx realized that the other voices were ghosts, or maybe spirits; he could see some of his fellow Glaives registering this as well, even if they could only move their heads.

Nyx sucked in a strangled gasp of air as he watched Prompto walk around the room as he sang, golden tinted rainbow light dancing off his skin, those blue amethyst eyes glowing as one by one, the more mutinous members of the Kingsglaive collapsed to the ground, still conscious, he could see their eyes rotating wildly, trying to see what what happening, but unable to move. The spirit beings harmonizing with him started moving away from the walls, but it wasn’t until he approached the Captain until things took a truly dark turn.

The golden light flowing from Prompto as he sang flooded over Drautos, and Nyx watched in shock as metal seemed to emerge from the very pores of the Kingsglaive as the light overran him, Drautos was quickly subsumed, replaced by none other than...General Glauca. Nyx choked on his own spit at the sight.

No.

In his armor, Glauca seemed to have some ability to move, and Nyx watched in horror unable to do a damn thing as he summoned a sword to strike Prompto down. Despite being only feet away from one of the most deadly people on the planet, Prompto didn’t even hesitate; Nyx’s fear changed back firmly to awe as Glauca too fell back against the pillar he had been resting against, sliding to the ground under the power of the young man’s voice- Voice. Oh Mother, I’m so sorry for my ignorance! Nyx screamed silently, his eyes fixed on the dazzling vision that had confused him so strongly when they first had met.

The first time Nyx had met the prince’s peppy young friend, on what had been Prompto’s eighteenth birthday, he had been so overtaken by an alien emotion he had been unable to get within ten feet of him without wanting to flee or conversely, grab the boy; he thought it was some twisted form of uncontrolled lust at first, which had spooked him so much that he had avoided Prompto for months. He had nine years on the kid, and he had never gone for people that much younger than him before, and especially not someone who seemed to exude such purity? Sweetness? He couldn’t put a finger on it, but the point was there. He had confessed this to Libertus, saying he had no idea why Prompto incited such a visceral reaction from him, and his friend had told him that the kid seemed to attract all types, but suggested that Nyx keep his space until he get his head on straight. Libertus had good ideas sometimes. He had done so, and that overwhelming emotion had calmed to a strong sense of protectiveness within the year. He could handle that, and he stopped talking to Prompto from the opposite side of the hallways and streets when they ran into each other. Now looking upon the young man, he now knew it had been something akin to awe that had stabbed through him that day, that something deep inside himself had recognized just what he was looking upon-   

When Prompto’s song ended, and the spirits bid him farewell, he stood silent next to the prone traitor Captain (and that hurt, it truly did, Drautos had trained him, had helped him, he had been a friend - and it had ended up like this shit, he didn’t understand-) the room still wrapped in an unnatural silence. Then from over by the King, a voice spoke, and Nyx was barely able to move enough to see who it was.

“I wish to apologize, your majesty, Lord Amicitia; I’m afraid I’m going to owe you one hell of an explanation later.” With that, Cor Leonis, the legendary marshal of the Crownsguard, one of the few of the Crownsguard the Kingsglaive could trust to be fair and even with everyone, native Insomnian or not, walked away from his king and towards Prompto without issue or hinderance from Prompto’s song, his ice blue eyes emitting their own eerie light as he summoned his katana, and Nyx knew in his heart of hearts exactly what and who he was looking upon. Was he the only one who saw it? At least a quarter of the room was from Galahd, and while there was a handful on the floor, most remained standing. Had they all lost so much of their heritage over the years? Oh, hell no, Nyx couldn’t handle this. Straightening as much as the magic would allow, he opened his mouth and shouted to the room.

“Sons and daughters of Galahd, have we grown so lax that we have forgotten the Dawn Mother? The Mother we praised when the spring rains came? The Mother we prayed to when the land remained fallow and the hunts poor? Do we not remember the Mother who once blessed us with her chosen Voices, and protected us with her honored Heralds? The rest of the world may have left her behind, wrapped up solely in their faith in the Six, but we of Galahd cannot have forgotten!” Nyx shouted, and he listened as his fellow Galahdians gasped and turned as best they could at the shimmering pair standing over Drautos, no, Glauca, the Immortal unsheathing his golden-lit sword as Prompto, the Voice of Eos, the Dawn Mother , began to sing once more.

This was a song of power, short and strong, with words that came from another place and time, and it only partially surprised him when the Marshal actually joined in as he raised his blade and carved the wicked armor from Glauca piece by piece until Drautos alone remained, his armor melting away under the combined strength of the light from both Voice and Herald. It was done. Prompto’s voice faded as the song ended, and in a mighty burst of light, all who had fallen vanished from sight, Drautos included, leaving behind nothing but dust on the air.

Prompto swayed in place for a long moment, alternating between staring at his still-shimmering hands and the marshal, the fucking Herald of Eos; Nyx realized he could move again, but he held his breath with the rest until Prompto’s knees finally gave out and he crumpled. The room descended into chaos as the marshal grabbed the unconscious voice before he hit the ground and swung him into his arms. Out of nowhere the prince, Scientia, and the younger Amicitia, who had obviously entered the room at some point during the song, all started to run towards the two of them, but they all skidded to a halt when they met the herald’s eyes.

The last of the spell was broken when someone screamed murderers! behind Nyx, and one of the newest Glaives, a young man from the Caem area, leapt at the marshal and Prompto, who was still out, his head resting on his herald’s shoulder, and Leonis had no hands free to defend them-

The herald moved , and the Glaive ended up staggering in empty space as the herald and voice appeared clear on the other side of the room looking for all the world like they had just stepped through a doorway. Holy shit.

He hadn’t even thought of looking at the king, but the change in the direction of all the excitement lead him to see him head on, and what he saw was the dictionary definition of the word ‘floored.’ Next to him, Lord Amicitia looked torn between shock and fury, but hadn’t tried to do anything about it yet, instead staying by his king. Nyx was savvy enough about the king’s early history that he knew that the King, his shield, and the marshall had all travelled and fought together as young men all the way to the present, and to realize that one of them was hiding such a giant fucking secret? Well, he understood how they felt. At least the marshal’s secret was a positive one, unlike the captain’s.

Nyx paused. Speaking of, where did everyone who disappeared go? He sincerely doubted they were even harmed, if the old stories were true, the Voices and Heralds of Eos tended to have pretty sparkling reputations, if he remembered them right, and the mass murder of a bunch of possible traitors wouldn’t look good to go along with that.

“Before anyone else tries to attack, they’ve been dumped unharmed in the holding cells,” the marshal stated with a voice drier than the Lucian frontier as he walked through the crowd towards the king, still holding Prompto in his arms; everyone moved out of his way without a word as he approached his majesty. When he reached about eight feet away, the herald shifted Prompto so he could free his right arm, then summoned his sword. The king stayed perfectly still, but Nyx saw Amicitia flinch and lift his hand away to also summon his blade, but he refrained. In what should have been the most awkward pose ever, but became somehow ceremonial instead, the marshal sank to his knees, still holding Prompto, then placed the sheathed sword on the floor in front of him, the blade facing towards themselves. It was a very clear statement of intent, at least from Nyx’s point of view.

Nyx waited with bated breath along with the rest of the room for something to happen, for the king to say something, anything; he could see the the prince and company inching forward, and also out of nowhere was the oracle, who he hadn’t even known was in Lucis, let alone the Citadel, doing much the same from the opposite side of the room.

The king took a deep breath, levelling a sigh that could have downed an airship before stepping right up to the presented katana, Clarus Amicitia only a half-step back. “Damnit, Cor, get up.” The two men looked at each other for a long moment, the marshal’s still illuminated eyes meeting the king’s with an apology that Nyx could see plainly even from twenty feet away, and he had to look away from what felt like an utterly private moment. He looked back to see the marshal’s head down and his eyes tightly closed, and a visibly distressed monarch looking like he wanted to speak again, but could not bring himself to do so.

Leonis then shifted Prompto again and stood, leaving his sword where he had laid it. The prince and his friends had reached within ten feet of the pair, but the king raised a hand, signalling them to stop. The oracle had also approached to that distance, but did not stop when the king tried to signal her to do so like he had his son, instead coming right up to the marshal, reaching out and touching a hand to both his face and Prompto’s in succession.

“Perhaps we might want to set the voice down, my lord herald,” the oracle said urgingly, and at that, the last of the otherness seemed to fall away from the Marshal, the glow fading from his eyes, and he sagged visibly. “Maybe we should all go somewhere more comfortable, your majesty, my lords.”

The king seemed to finally snap out of the partial fugue he was in, and he looked over to the elder Amicitia. “Signal for a limited lockdown. All non-essential employees are to be sent home, and all Crownsguard and Glaives are to remain in the building. Send Elshett down to check the holding cells and report what she finds back to me.” Amicitia nodded and pulled out a phone, and was barking orders at someone almost immediately, while Nyx and his fellow Glaives all seemed uncertain as to what to do.

Nyx knew he had no interest in leaving if he wasn’t forced to, as he and the oracle appeared to be the only ones who had known what they were looking at a few minutes ago, and he really didn’t want to acknowledge at the moment that at least a third of their number, Drautos included, apparently were a bunch of fucking traitors. As he looked one more time at the marshal and Prompto, the sheer exhaustion on the herald’s face was so stark that he almost overcame his trepidation to go help the man with the unconscious young man in his arms, but he held back.

Libertus, Crowe, and Pelna, who were all thankfully still there and not rotting in the holding cells had all come up to him as he wrestled with his own thoughts, each giving him a pat on the back or the shoulder, which helped ground him.

“You told me a few years ago that something about the kid made you go nutty, and I think we’ve all figured out why,” Libertus said quietly in Nyx’s ear, and Nyx nodded.

“Yeah, we have. We can’t just leave him, we owe the Dawn Mother to keep an eye on the two of them. The marshal looks two seconds from collapsing, but he won’t put Prompto down,” Nyx muttered, and after a quick glance to the left, he realized that Scientia was listening in; he acknowledged the other man with a tilt of the head before turning back to the others.

“Isn’t there a sitting room of sorts just next door? If I remember, it has chairs and whatnot, unless it’s been reorganized,” Pelna waved his hand in a vague direction, but Nyx got his meaning.

Turning towards Scientia, he gave him a significant look out of the corner of his eye, and luckily, the other man got the hint.

“Your majesty, I believe there is a much more relaxed meeting room next door, complete with furniture. It might be ideal for those allowed to adjourn there,” Scientia spoke up loud enough to be heard over the rising voices of those still in the room, and thankfully, the King heard and addressed the room.

“I would ask that those of you not directly involved please return to the dormitories for now, and please do not speak of this to anyone at this time. As for those who were...sent away, rest assured there will be a full investigation.” Although there was some clear hesitation, confused and angry eyes darting between the king, the marshal, and some even at himself, the remaining Glaives that weren’t from Galahd began to file out, with the exception of Crowe and Pelna, who lingered behind with Nyx and Libertus. The king looked at the Glaives that had stayed with some trepidation, but it was clear that he realized just who had remained behind.

“Why don’t we just have you and Libs stay, if they’ll let you, and you can fill us all in later,” Pelna stated, looking back at the rest of the milling Galahdian soldiers. “Probably a bit silly trying to fit us all in there anyway.” At Pelna’s statement, Nyx looked around and managed to catch the king’s eye, hoping that his request was clear. The king held his gaze without blinking for a long moment, clearly searching for something that Nyx wasn’t entirely certain about, before giving a slow nod. Nyx shot the king a grateful smile before turning to Pelna, who gave Nyx a lazy salute before turning and shepherding the other Glaives out the door. The room was blanketed with an immediate oppressive silence, now that they were down to only- eleven? Nyx looked to his side to see Crowe still standing there with them, and couldn’t help but smile at the impish glance she shot him.

The oracle started to walk from the room, the herald behind her still holding Prompto, and Nyx watched as the prince and his retinue followed, finally disregarding the king’s orders to keep away from the two of them. Nyx moved forward with Libertus and Crowe and slotted in behind Amicitia as they all filed out, crossing the hallway to enter a much more intimate space with a long table and armchairs, and thankfully, several chaise lounges. The marshal cut around the oracle and walked up to the first one he got to, gently laying Prompto down on the lounger before snagging one of the armchairs from the table and straddling it, dropping his head into his folded arms. The oracle did not sit, but stood behind the marshal like a shadow; the prince and the other two all grabbed chairs of their own and positioned them around Prompto like a confused honor guard, but Nyx was quick to note as he took a seat of his own that none of the three had tried to touch their friend. The Prince in particular was clearly agitated, his eyes kept darting from Prompto to the oracle, then onto the marshal before looking back at everyone else.  

The king and Amicitia entered last, their eyes sweeping the room before they too found chairs of their own from the table, the king sitting down heavily as Amicitia finished up his phone call and followed his liege’s lead.

“Citadel is mostly clear as per your orders, your majesty; Elshett inspected the holding cells and discovered thirty-seven Glaives split between the cells, all apparently unharmed but rather unhappy, and Drautos, who was unconscious in a cell of his own. I advised her to allow no one in the cellblock until she received further instruction,” Amicitia, who was doing an admirable job of keeping the fact that he was clearly completely furious from taking control, informed the room, and Nyx watched as the king closed his eyes at the news, strain making the man look thirty years older than he truly was.

“Well, Cor, you and Mr. Argentum appear to have done us a favor,” the king stated blandly as the marshal lifted his head from his arms and looked completely wrecked as he met his king’s eyes. “I just wish I had had some...warning, perhaps? It appears that the princess and Glaive Ulric were the only ones that seemed to know what in the hell was actually happening.”

“Your majesty, I-” The marshal was cut off by Amicitia, who threw himself out of his chair and stormed up to the herald, who did not meet his eyes.

“Did you know, Leonis? About Drautos?” Amicitia reached out to grab the herald’s arm, but the oracle intervened with a hand on the shield’s arm; the massive man shook her off, but stepped back and decided to glare instead. The marshal sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Of course not. I would have gutted him years ago if I had known.”

“Then how- what the hell is going on? Argentum appears to be able to sing magic , which is absolutely mad, and then there’s you, and what the hell was that back there-”

“Herald.” The entire room spun at the sound, only to see a regal-looking woman dressed mostly in black smiling benevolently, and Nyx felt a cold rush down his spine. This was no ordinary woman. Leonis rose to his feet and turned towards her, greeting her with a polite tilt of the head.

“Messenger.” They definitely knew each other, and the oracle seemed thrilled that the woman was there, a bright smile lighting her features. The prince and the king had rose to their feet at the sight of her, leaving the last few of them wondering if they should do the same.

“Gentiana!” The oracle exclaimed, and then it hit Nyx. This woman was a messenger of the Astrals, just as Leonis was a messenger of sorts for the Dawn Mother. This was crazy.

“Is this just your lives? All the time? Magic and Astrals, gods and chosen ones- doesn’t all this get tiring?” Nyx blurted out, and the whole room, messenger and all, turned towards him as one. Oops.

“Well, for my part, Glaive Ulric, there is quite a bit more of all of what you speak of here before us than I think most of us knew not twenty minutes ago, so no, it’s not all the time,” the dry tone from the king was gold, and Nyx actually had to force back a cackle that wanted to escape.

“You told me once that you were uncertain as to how you would handle your exposure, herald. Is it what you thought it would be?” Gentiana spoke, her exotic voice lilting, and the marshal fell back onto his chair with a snort.

“I had no fucking clue what I thought any of this would be, messenger, the goddess prefers letting us figure out our own shit unless absolutely necessary.”

“The Dawn Mother always favored having mortals as her chosen two, as she had no interest in mindless tools; early messengers of the Astrals tended to be little more than dry automatons for all the care they exuded, embodied within the remoteness of the stars as opposed the warmth of the earth. You and Prompto are exactly the type she would seek out, your hearts beat with love and loyalty for your friends and our world,” the messenger smiled again, and turned to the rest of the room. “Do not be angry with them, my lords, they have had a heavy burden set upon them, and they have taken it gladly for your sakes. The prophecy, such as it is, hangs in the balance, and it is by the actions of a few that the world might be saved.” Gentiana took a step backwards and vanished, and Nyx let his head fall to the table with a thud.

“Definitely going to take some getting used to,” he mumbled into the tabletop.

 

---

 

Regis had known Cor since he was a boy of thirteen, a prodigy with an impetuous streak that had impressed everyone so much that he had been promoted to his father’s personal guard only two years later. Cor had been all vim and vigor then, always running off to the next battle, the next fight; Regis may only have been five years older, but at that time he had felt like he had fifty years on the rambunctious teenager, and he was quite sure that poor Clarus, being five years older than him and ten older than Cor, had thought them both half-mad children. But then Cor went and challenged Gilgamesh. The Cor that had left for that trial and the Cor that had returned had been different people. While he could still be rambunctious, he had learned restraint and patience, and Regis and Clarus had watched in shock over time as the energetic boy matured into a man of stoic restraint, where laughter did not always come easily and he was too apt to get lost in his own sense of duty. But Regis knew his heart was true, his loyalty above reproach, and had never had reason to doubt him.

Until today. When Cor had apologized and walked forward with magic in his eyes and sorcery in his skin to join the shimmering Prompto in carving that evil armor away from Glauca- Drautos, Regis had thought his world on a precipice, with his ability to trust clinging to the escarpment like so much lichen. Then Cor returned, the boy carefully balanced in his arms as he fell to his knees and presented Regis with his katana, sheathed but with the blade facing towards himself, Regis knew that Cor had not abandoned him. Lied to him for what was probably decades, but he had not betrayed him. He was beyond angry, but that would wait for now. He had a cellblock full of probable traitors to focus that anger on later.

Prompto now lay on a chaise, still dead to the world. Nearby, Cor had straddled a chair and looked like all he wanted was to sleep until the end of said world. His son, Ignis, and Gladiolus had all pulled up chairs by their young friend, clearly uncertain how to handle the situation. Standing over by Cor, Clarus looked like he wanted to punch something, and Regis found that he rather understood him for once. Luna had held Clarus back, and she was another conundrum. From all appearances, she had known exactly who Cor was, whatever he was; the Galahdians had named him Herald and Prompto Voice, and all three of the Glaives he had allowed to accompany them, especially Ulric and Ostium, were looking at the two men like they were the Astrals themselves.

Then Gentiana showed up. Regis and Gentiana had met when Noctis had convalesced in Tenebrae, and he was well aware that she was a messenger of the Astrals. So when Gentiana had named Cor Herald, and he addressed her as Messenger, Regis realized that they had met before. He rose to his feet to greet her properly, then Ulric piped up.

“Is this just your lives? All the time? Magic and Astrals, Gods and chosen ones- doesn’t all this get tiring?” Regis was still in a fog of anger, confusion, and even curiosity, but he couldn’t help but respond to the Glaive’s obviously uncontrolled question.

“Well, for my part, Glaive Ulric, there is quite a bit more of all of what you speak of here before us than I think most of us knew not twenty minutes ago, so no, it’s not all the time,” he drawled, and he found his heart lightened a bit when Ulric obviously had to fight back a laugh.

Then Gentiana turned to Cor once more, and the answer to her question brought the whole idea of Cor as a Herald of Eos to the forefront as the man casually invoked her in his response; Gentiana then assured Cor that he and Prompto were exactly what the goddess liked in her chosen messengers, which was oddly reassuring to Regis for some reason. Then she addressed the rest of them.

“Do not be angry with them, my lords, they have had a heavy burden set upon them, and they have taken it gladly for your sakes. The prophecy, such as it is, hangs in the balance, and it is by the actions of a few that the world might be saved.” Within the space of a breath, she was gone, and Regis watched Clarus’s shoulders slump as he looked down at his old friend.

“I assume Mr. Argentum will be fine, Cor?” Clarus said gruffly as he returned to his seat, and Cor nodded.

“I suspect it’s more shock than anything, he’ll wake up soon,” Cor said, his eyes sliding over to rest on the unconscious young man, and Regis could see his gaze soften, even if just for a second. Another question for later.

“Cor, I would appreciate at least a basic explanation for now, the detailed one can wait,” Regis said, and the younger man sat up in his chair, pinched the bridge of his nose, and took a deep breath.

“I was contacted by the Dawn Mother the night before your coronation,” Cor said, and Regis stiffened. “Sparing a lot of the details, she basically stated that she knew how the prophecy would end if allowed to go ahead unchecked, and offered a way to possibly improve on the situation. I was not immediately convinced, but then-” He trailed off, and pain, sharp and true, flashed across his features, and Regis was reminded of the conversation he had had with him not even two weeks prior. “-she convinced me. From there, I would be summoned to her perhaps three to five times a year, always when I was asleep, where she would teach me skills and tell me of the world, of history, even of the Astrals. When I was around twenty-eight, she gave me my first mission, as it were.”

Regis tried to remember back to those times, and one thing stood out. “You asked for a leave of absence, said you wanted to see the world.” Cor snorted a humorless laugh.

“Well, I wasn’t completely lying, but-” Cor sighed and looked down. “She told me that her chosen voice was in grave danger, and needed to be brought back to a place of safety as soon as possible. So for my adventure, I packed a large backpack, took my motorcycle and ditched it in Leide, then made my way there in my own way.”

“What you did back in the other room, it wasn’t really like warping, it was more like how Gentiana can just appear,” Noctis, piping up for the first time, spoke, and Regis raised an eyebrow.

“Basically. I doubt I have her range, but it definitely has its advantages.” Cor acknowledged. Next to Regis, Clarus shifted, leaning forward with his arm braced on the table.

“Now I know how you and the princess made it back here in such time,” he commented, and Luna smiled and gave Cor a pat on his shoulder before finally taking a seat.

“Exactly. He knew that I was aware of who he was, and probably figured that he was my best shot out of Tenebrae. Security was very tight, only a person that could literally move between such as the herald would have had any success,” Luna said, nodding towards Cor. “I thank you again, Cor. We are where we need to be.”

Regis waited as Cor gathered his thoughts, his own mind racing. For years, captured human troops and even his own men had sworn that they had seen the marshal in at least four or five different places on the battlefield practically at the same time, but it was always dismissed as battle fatigue and no tracking of time. They had been right all along. Regis thought to himself. Talk about a handy skill.

“Around a week later, I found myself sneaking into Zegnautus Keep.” The whole room hissed in a breath at that statement, their eyes immediately shifting to the sleeping Prompto. “I will not go into detail, but let’s just say that the goddess was completely right on his future prospects. I managed to escape Gralea with him and a small group of other children in a similar situation, and on my way back with them, I was stopped at Tenebrae and invited to see the oracle. I met the princess and Gentiana at that time as well. I stayed with them for around a week, then with the queen’s assistance, returned to Lucis. I brought Prompto to Insomnia, and I-” Cor’s face twisted, and Regis realized that he didn’t want his friend to have to say anything further on this topic in front of everyone.

“Cor, how about recent developments?” Regis offered, and watched with sympathy as Cor pinched the bridge of his nose again, but he couldn’t entirely hide the sheen of unshed tears.

“Ah...well, the goddess began summoning Prompto for his own training around the time he turned eighteen, but she got a bit overzealous and the poor kid didn’t handle it well for awhile. I was able to convince her to let Prompto sleep occasionally, and things largely went back to normal.” Noctis, Gladiolus, and Ignis all hissed in surprise, and Ignis leaned forward to address Cor.

“Marshal, are you saying that all these times, recently and in the past, he’s being summoned by the Dawn Mother?” Ignis looked back at Prompto perplexed, and Regis was pretty sure that he understood how he felt.

“When we are summoned to her haven while we are sleeping, we are no longer actually asleep, and she admitted to me later that she had quite forgotten how much rest mortals need. As for recently, she only got me once, but I know that Prompto was having it rough. She wanted to make sure he was ready for what is to come,” Cor answered, and Regis watched as his son and his friends seemed to run through the gamut of emotions, finally settling on relief.

“He said we’d think he was crazy,” Gladiolus stated, then the future shield shot to his feet, pointing a finger at Cor. “He didn’t know you were his, er, herald, did he? This whole time, and you never told him?”

Cor’s eyes shifted to the floor, and Regis sighed. “Let me guess, Cor, the Dawn Mother suggested not saying anything?”

“She...she left it up to me, but told me that she hoped that we could live normal lives until we had to step forward. I think she was afraid that it might overwhelm Prompto, and I figured it would be somewhat suspicious on my part if I was suddenly associating with a man much younger than me with no good reason.” It was a pretty lame excuse on Cor’s part, but the guilt Regis could feel pouring off the man was palpable, and he decided to redirect the conversation again.

“You’ve been skirting around it, but what is supposed to happen? What about the prophecy?” Regis asks, and Cor shut down instantly, his body stiffening as he glanced between Prompto and Noctis. Off to his side, even Luna looked nervous, and then suddenly all the anger that had been fading as they spoke came rushing back, his chest tightened as neither of the supposed divine chosen would meet him in the eye. “What the hell is supposed to happen, Cor? Why was Gentiana, a messenger of the damn Astrals, sounding as if the prophecy was something to be changed?” Regis had risen to his feet as he spoke, his voice rising steadily in volume, and even Noctis seemed stunned by the fact that he was yelling at Cor. He couldn’t even remember the last time he had raised his voice to the man, but there he was. In the end, it was Clarus that stopped him from going too far, who put a hand on his arm and stopped his rant before it could fully begin. Ulric had also risen to his feet, but had not managed to speak before Clarus had intervened.

“Perhaps we could talk about this part in a more...private setting, your majesty,” Clarus whispered into his ear, and Regis sagged. Clarus was right, of course; Cor looked like he wanted to throw himself on his own sword, Luna was clearly tired, Noctis, Ignis, and Gladiolus all looked like they had been stabbed in the gut, their concern for both him and Prompto, even Cor, was clear. The Glaives, especially Ulric and Ostium, were clearly horrified that he had started yelling at Cor, their Herald, but were clearly waiting to see how things would play out.

Then there was Prompto. The boy had shifted a few times on the chaise since they had come into the room, but there was still no sign of him reaching consciousness any time soon. Regis fell back into the chair with a groan, and sat for a minute messaging his knee. He would not apologize, as Cor owed him one hell of an explanation, as he had promised earlier, but he knew that yelling at his old friend would solve nothing.

“Cor, would it be alright if my son takes Prompto back to his quarters to rest for now?” Regis asked sotto voce, and Cor shook his head.

“It should be just fine, he should wake up any time.” That’s all Regis needed to hear, and he signalled to Gladiolus, who immediately got to his feet and scooped Prompto into his arms. Ignis and Noctis both rose from their seats as well, and Regis tilted his head to his son.

“I’ll contact you later, stay with him for now.” Noctis, for once, did not argue, and the four of them departed together, clustered around each other. Luna looked between him and the departing foursome before nodding and following them out. He had wanted to talk to her further, but he could probably glean the same information from Cor.

The Glaives looked torn, and had watched Prompto and company leave with reservation. Regis knew without question that if he ordered them to watch the Prince’s room, they’d do so in a heartbeat, leg cast or not in the case of Ostium, but it was probably better to send them back to the barracks and let them talk to the others. “Glaives. I would ask that you return to the barracks for now. The Kingsglaive are officially being stood down for now, but that may change depending on still undecided factors. Please let your fellow Glaives know that all grievances will be investigated and heard properly after the Niflheim delegation has departed, and all currently detained Glaives will be granted their time to explain themselves before anything else is decided.” The three Glaives rose to their feet as one and bowed, before turning and leaving without further word. And then there was three. Regis dragged himself to his feet again, his hand clenching around his cane as he stepped towards Cor, Clarus following in his wake. “Come on, old friend, we’ll talk in my office.”

The procession to said office made Regis feel as if he was a headmaster leading a naughty pupil for all that Cor slunk behind them, silent and guilt-ridden, and it was like thirty years hadn’t happened, that he was listening to Clarus trying to convince Cor not to go fight a challenging wraith that had killed all others who had attempted it, and young Cor, stubborn to a fault, had just shut down and ignored the lot of them. Things were even more at stake this time, though, and he needed to know what was going on. This could change everything. Reaching his office, he unlocked the door and waited until both Clarus and Cor had entered before following, shutting the door behind them. Regis and Clarus both headed to their usual seats, but before Regis could actually sit, Cor made the strangest sound, a choked-off groan, and stumbled.

“Cor!” Clarus jumped back to his feet, but Cor staggered back with a gasp and collapsed into his chair, his eyes rolling back in his head as Regis and Clarus both rushed to his side; his head snapped back, and Regis could see that glow in his eyes again flash for a moment as he communed with something they could not see, his lips moving as he spoke in unvoiced words.

Regis met Clarus’s eyes in horror as they held Cor up in his chair. Was it always like this for them? He knew that Prompto had passed out in front of the Citadel several years ago, but he hadn’t heard of anything like this.

“I don’t like this, Regis. On the eve of the damn Niffs showing up, and everything hits the fan. Drautos is General Glauca, and we both know that if there was any fucking doubt about this peace being a front to invade, I think we just got it taken care of. Argentum is some sort of sacred singer of a near-forgotten goddess, Cor is a warrior messenger...whatever of the same goddess, the princess appears to be at the least decently well-acquainted with what was happening, and then there was that astral messenger, Gentiana, who also appeared to support whatever Cor and Argentum were up to. I know the jist of the prophecy, Regis, how Noctis will have to claim the power of both his ancestors and the Astrals to stop the scourge once and for all, and it will probably kill him. What could be changing about that?” Regis let go of Cor as his knee gave out, sinking to the floor next to Cor’s chair with a grunt.

“I don’t know, Clarus, but I have the feeling that everything has just changed, or, perhaps, was changing all along. The crystal does not like Prompto, I realized this some time back, but it never seemed to have an opinion on Cor,” Regis sighed, letting his head thump into the side of the chair. “Gentiana said that they were trying to help, had taken on their burdens for us, but what does that mean?” He could feel Clarus’s eyes on him, and looked up at his friend, still holding onto the stricken Cor. “What?”

“What do you mean the crystal doesn’t like Prompto?” Clarus was frowning, and Regis reviewed what he had just said. Oh.

“The first night Prompto stayed here, I had a horrid dream that I could not shake. It happened several times more over the first year of his habitual visitation before it finally gave up. I had originally thought it was just that, a dream, but I realized that the crystal’s energy was spiking on those nights when I reviewed the records, and I came to the rather unfortunate conclusion,” Regis looked down at the carpet, and let his fingers trace the pattern.

“Well, what was the dream?” Clarus asked, and Regis slammed his eyes closed. Such a simple question-

“The dream told me that Prompto would lead to the death of us all, was ruination incarnate in body and mind, and told me to kill him. It was...it was always accompanied by a vision of me doing just that, usually by sneaking into Noctis’s room and slitting the poor boy’s throat. It was...I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, especially after I realized that the crystal was surging on those nights. I was afraid to go near him until the dreams finally faded.” Regis heard Clarus’s intake of breath, and then watched as the large man sat on the other side of Cor’s chair, his arm slung around Cor’s waist to keep him stable.

“The...the crystal, per legend, was gifted to the Caelum line by Bahamut himself, correct?” Clarus asked matter of factly, and Regis nodded. “Perhaps the Dawn Mother and Bahamut don’t get along?” Regis actually choked out a laugh. Could it be such a basic thing? In the grand scheme of things, vendettas between gods and astrals was pretty par for the course. But for it to happen on the eve of their very possible destruction-

Cor suddenly lurched forward, coughing and gasping, and it took both Regis and Clarus grabbing at his waist to keep him from tumbling to the ground. “R-regis? Clarus? Wha- what are you doing on the floor?” Cor said between coughs, and Regis couldn’t help but laugh.

A few minutes later, Regis was back in his nice comfy chair, Clarus was back in his, and Cor, looking tired but otherwise unharmed, was rubbing at his temples with a nearly-silent moan.

“Was that the Dawn Mother summoning you, Cor?” Regis asked softly, and Cor grunted. “Anything we need to know?” Cor looked into the middle distance, his eyes not quite focusing, Regis waited for him to speak.

“What did you think of the chancellor of Niflheim, Regis? I didn’t get to meet him myself, but there is something-” Cor trailed off, looking thoughtful, and Regis frowned.

“You mean Ardyn Izunia? He’s a scheming bastard wrapped up in a deceptively pleasant demeanor. He made me ill just being in his presence,” Clarus snarled, and Regis didn’t disagree. There was something wrong about the man, but nothing he could articulate.

“She...I mean the Dawn Mother, told me that the unspoken part of the prophecy was to destroy the Accursed, which is what Astrals call him. He’s a man who was a great healer in his day, but took in so much of the Starscourge that he’s actually become the seat of it. She...she calls him the Fallen King. She doesn’t know what he looks like or who he is, but she did tell me that she was sure he had already been here, and recently.” Regis could have killed Cor. And possibly everyone else that had pissed him off today. Drautos couldn’t be that much of a challenge without his damn armor-

“Cor, who in the hell is the Accursed? And why does this sound like something we needed to know ten years ago?” Clarus growled as he put his hand on Regis’s arm, and Cor actually went a touch pale, which spooked Regis as much as pissed him off further. Cor just didn’t do things like this, touched by the divine or not, and Regis’s stomach was starting to churn.

“She brought him up the night she asked me to join her, basically as just part of the prophecy. She didn’t so much as mention him again until I was summoned around a month ago,” Cor muttered, and Regis realized something that almost made it better.

“You completely forgot until then, didn’t you?” Regis mused, and Cor’s pallor reversed to a blotchy flush. He was a handsome man, but it wasn’t his best look. “Why does she call him the fallen king?”

“She said that he was the first attempt at the Chosen King, the True King, and when he didn’t follow the script, he was rejected by the Astrals. He can’t be killed by ordinary means, as he has literally become the very essence of the Scourge, but unfortunately, she didn’t quite state how this would be achieved, only that we would be part of it. I think...she was somewhat unsure herself,” Cor said, and Regis narrowed his eyes at him.

“We. My son is part of this, isn’t he? That’s what you don’t want to say? If this is a way of making the prophecy better, I know he’s involved,” he said, and Cor frowned, but did not deny it. “Cor, what did the goddess tell you to make you so convinced?” Regis watched as Cor’s gaze dropped to his lap, and the three of them sat in silence for what felt like a lifetime.

“Do you remember what you asked me the night before I went to fetch Luna?” Cor said, and Regis blinked for a moment, before he realized exactly what conversation he was referring to.

“She showed you that you alone would survive, with the rest of us dead and gone. Or something to that effect. Am I right?” Cor’s eyes shifted to the side, but he didn’t deny it. “What else, then? There’s something more, I know there is.”

“Over half the planet.” Both Regis and Clarus leaned in at that.

“What?”

“Insomnia overrun by daemons, Niflheim overrun by daemons, the line of the oracle dead and gone, over half the fucking planet dead and gone, the rest scraping for life in the eternal dark waiting for their savior, who was taken into the damn crystal to supposedly prepare him for what was to come. Noctis eventually returns, saves the day, kills the accursed, which brings back the sun, but there’s only a fraction of the population left to enjoy it. Which, of course, doesn’t include him, because he had to offer himself up on a platter for a prophecy that had very possibly led to the near-eternal enslavement of his entire ancestral line,” Cor’s monotone delivery sent ice down his spine and Regis shivered uncontrollably. What he had just described, that couldn’t be true, it just couldn’t, why would the Astrals do such a thing-

“You’re dead serious. Of course you are, because that’s about what it would take for you to go along with such a thing. Are you sure this isn’t actually part of a grudge match between the Dawn Mother and the Astrals? Can you trust what she is telling you?” Clarus said, his own face pale from Cor’s explanation. He made a good point, though, except-

“Gentiana,” Regis muttered to himself, and both Cor and Clarus looked quizzically at him.

“Regis?”

“You make a good point, Clarus, but there’s one thing that might actually prove that the Dawn Mother may actually be telling the truth. If this was truly just a divine in-fight, why would both Gentiana, a messenger of the Astrals, and Luna, the oracle of the Astrals, clearly be supporting Cor and Prompto?” Regis, still furious, with his stomach roiling and his chest tight, realized that they had to take Cor at his word, because if the alternative is a near-extinction event, they had to at least try to do something. The three of them looked at each other, weary eyes meeting like, before it was Clarus who looked away first.

“So where does Izunia come into this?” Clarus asked as Regis leaned forward onto his desk, and Cor folded his arms and sat back in his chair.

“He may be nothing, but he may be everything.” Cor stated, and Regis grimaced. He was doomed to live within a miasma of uncertainties, of this he was certain. “If Ardyn is the one she spoke of, there must be some record of his existence. The Dawn Mother made it sound as if he was early among the line.” Regis got to his feet at that, walking slowly back to an old bookshelf he rarely even looked in the direction of anymore, carefully pulling out a book so old that both pages and binding were in cracked and flaking garula skin instead of paper. He moved back to his desk and set the book down gently, ignoring the cloud of dust and decay that erupted from the pages as he did so.

“Is that the Book of Lineage? I’ve never seen you even look at it,” Clarus inquired, leaning in to look; Cor scooted his chair closer as well, and Regis carefully opened the beginning of the book. Pages upon pages of kings, queens, princesses, and princes tracing back to the pre-royal line, when the Lucis Caelums were a line of noble sorcerers from Solheim. He skipped the Solheim ancestors, as they were far too early, and started with the first King. Who had some twenty five children, most of which had survived to adulthood. Where did he get the time? Luckily, Cor pointed out that if Eos’s description was accurate, they would be in the main line of inheritance and not the fifteenth down the list buried in a cadet branch. They continued on, from King Severus to King Marcus to King Ventus and beyond, before reaching the twelfth king, King Aurelius. The king had had many children, but only one made it to adulthood, one Ardyn Lucis Caelum. The next closest heir was the grandson of the brother of the eleventh king, one Izunia Lucis Caelum.

“That cannot be a coincidence,” Cor murmured as they all squinted at the ancient text, and while Regis agreed, he raised an eyebrow at his friend.

“Cor, can you even read ancient Lucian?” Cor colored slightly, but shrugged.

“Only a little, but these are almost all names, I think I can figure it out,” Cor snarked right back, and Regis couldn’t help a little smile at the sound. “But anyway, son of the twelfth king. What happened to him?” Regis looked back at the faded text, leaned in until his nose was almost touching the page, ignored the snort from Clarus, and then fumbled for his reading glasses. ...much better. He did a little translation on the fly as he read aloud.

“Beloved healer, took the sins of the people into himself and was rejected by the crystal and removed from the line of inheritance due to his darkness, no matter that he gained as such by his service. Whoever wrote the update appeared to be sympathetic to him, at least. There’s no death date listed, he’s officially entered as lost. First I’ve seen without at least an assumed date.” Regis stated, then looked up at his companions. “As you can guess, Izunia succeeds his claim, and the line of Aurelius dies out.”

“It cannot be that easy.” Cor said, a bit dumbly, and Regis grinned.

“Maybe it can, it’s not like we would have ever looked in here had you not brought him up, Cor. Is it not sometimes the smallest things that can stem the tide?”

From there, the conversation turned to the inevitable invasion that was on the horizon, and they all realized that if this was all true, they would have to move quickly to isolate Ardyn from the rest of the Imperial entourage and see if they were correct with their half-baked theory. Because they sure as hell didn’t have anything else up their sleeve, not with Regis unable to do more than hold the wall, and both the Kingsglaive and Crownsguard down so much on strength. And then there was Prompto and Noctis, who clearly had parts to play of their own.

“We seem to have some ability of communal understanding through our mutual calling, but I won’t be able to order Prompto to do anything, I have a feeling he will sing when instinct calls for it,” Cor stated, and Regis nodded.

“Well, it worked out today, and if he can somehow work in concert with Noctis…” Regis replied, and next to him, Clarus covered his face with his hands.

“You do realize how ridiculous this all sounds, right? Grab Ardyn, hope he’s a two thousand year old relative of yours that’s gone off the rocker, then figure out how to kill him, which will hopefully keep the empire from invading? Do you both realize how mad this is?” Clarus moaned, and Cor, twisted smirk plain on his face, rose to his feet.

“Now you know how I’ve felt since the day before Regis’s coronation, Clarus,” Cor drawled, then turned back to Regis, features set in stone. “Noctis, Prompto, any of them...they cannot leave tomorrow, Regis. If the worst comes, I can always get them out in my own way.” Regis looked down at his table, the ancient book still open to the page with the mysterious Ardyn on it.

“You didn’t want them to leave anyway, because you and your goddess-powered omens are sure they would need to be here, correct?” Regis stated, and Cor huffed.

“To be fair, Lunafreya agrees with me, and I have a feeling Prompto would as well.” Regis waved a hand and rose to his feet as well, waving them both to the door.

“We should try to get a few hours of sleep, we have a very busy day tomorrow.” After shooing Clarus and Cor out of his office, Regis slumped back in his chair and sighed. As Clarus said, this was madness, wrought with the best and worst intentions, and he wasn’t entirely sure he’d be alive to see tomorrow evening to sort it out either way. If Cor was right, they needed to do whatever they could to save the world. If he was wrong? Well, he really hoped it didn’t come to that. Then there was Prompto, whose powers seemed somewhat...undefined? If all the young man could do is what they saw earlier, then that surely wasn’t going to be enough.

Regis ran a hand roughly down his face, feeling the edges of his old scar. Time to follow his own damn advice. Rising to his feet, he grabbed his cane and walked out of his office, closing and locking the door behind him.

It would wait until morning.

 

---

 

Luna felt like the third, or rather, fifth wheel, but she followed Noctis and his friends into the opulent rooms anyway, watching as Gladiolus lowered Prompto to a large settee with oddly practiced motions, before giving his hair a gentle scuff and stepping back to sit in an armchair nearby. Ignis followed, sitting in another available chair by the settee. Noctis, however, remained standing, his eyes darting between Prompto and her. The king hadn’t told him that she was there, obviously, which she had expected based on what Cor had told her the previous evening, but the stunned expression coming from Noctis was still a bit painful to see.

“How...when did you get to Insomnia, Luna?” Noctis asked, clearly wanting to move closer; Luna smiled and turned towards her old friend, holding out her arms. Noctis didn’t hesitate, and Luna wrapped her arms around him, giving him a kiss on the temple. The two of them stood there, wrapped in each other’s warmth, before Luna loosened her grip and stepped back. One more sofa remained unused, and she lowered herself onto the cushion, Noctis bouncing down right next to her.

“The herald came and got me personally, we arrived last night. Security at the manor was extremely tight, and Ravus has been watching every move I make. Cor was very possibly the only person who could gotten in, and even he said that it was not easy. While Gentiana can do much the same as him, I have never seen her take another along with her,” Luna trailed off, looking over at the resting Prompto. “For someone who was hand-picked by the Dawn Mother, Cor is rather...matter of fact about what he can do. He did not let it change who he was at his core. I have read a bit about heralds and voices of antiquity, and some of them preferred to be treated almost like demi-gods. There have been oracles that held such airs as well, so I was concerned at first that he would have changed from when I met him seventeen years ago, but he was much the same,” she said, smiling at the memory. “Of course, the last time I saw Prompto he wasn’t even four years old yet, so needless to say he’s changed quite a bit.”

Prompto had been a far too thin child when Luna had first met him, his skin tone unhealthily pale and his eyes dull until her mother had managed to heal him of the blight that he had been inflicted with, but he had grown up well; his hair was still like sunshine, his skin, while still pale, had the flush of health combined with an endearing smattering of freckles, and his eyes. While closed now, the amethyst blue light that had emanated from them as he sang had been spellbinding, the exact opposite of the faded blue they had been all those years ago.

Noctis, on the other hand, she had had the luxury of seeing photos of as he had grown, so his appearance wasn’t quite the surprise, but seeing him in person was refreshing.

“If this marriage is supposed to take place in Altissia, why are you here? Not- not that I’m complaining, but...yeah,” Noctis asked, and Luna sat back in her seat and looked at the ceiling.

“That was actually the original plan, but Cor and I both agreed that we needed to be here. Also, I believe he made the point that Altissia’s security wouldn’t be able to hold me if Ravus or the chancellor had demanded me back. So here I am, a day before I would have otherwise shown up. Ravus is going to be furious,” she smirked, and Gladiolus barked out a laugh.

“Well, I know Prince Hopeless over there isn’t going to say anything, but it’s good to have you here. Especially since it looks like you have some idea of what the hell is going on,” Gladiolus stated, and Ignis nodded. Next to her, Noctis grumbled inarticulately, and she barely restrained a giggle.

“Yes, it is good to have you here, princess. I’m sure it has already been said, but welcome to Insomnia.” Ignis tilted his head to Luna, who returned the gesture.

“Thank you, Gladiolus, Ignis,” she replied. “I can try to answer some of your questions, although I am sure the herald will be your best source of information.” Ignis leaned forward in his chair, bracing his elbows on his knees, and Luna waited for him to speak.

“The marshal and Prompto, they both appear to have a rather...sizable secret, if I am correct? Everyone was speaking of the Dawn Mother, but beyond some references I remember from my history lessons, I do not recall any details. Something about a goddess that dwelled in the earth, versus in the heavens like the Astrals are said to?” Ignis asked, and Luna nodded. This, she could do, she had looked into it after she had met Cor as a child, and Gentiana had helped her with some of the research.

“In the beginning, there was the Astrals and the Dawn Mother, they were of the stars, she was of the earth. They worked together to build the world, make it what it is today, but, if the old stories are to be believed, one of two things happened. One view posits that she preferred to ignore the world after they were done with their work, retreating to her havens beyond and leaving the Astrals to keep an eye on everything, but that directly contradicts the fact that she was known for engaging with humanity with her chosen two, and it was always two, her herald and voice. The other idea, which appears to be held in the Galahd region of Lucis, states that the Mother was driven into hiding by the Astrals, who decided they no longer wished to work with the outsider when they outnumbered her handily. There’s actually an old Galahdian belief that the crystal of Lucis was actually part of her heart ripped from the core of the world by Bahamut, but I do not know the veracity of that,” Luna said, and looked with a bit of bemusement at the wide eyes on the awake men in the room.

“So this goddess picks two regular people to be her representatives? It’s pretty obvious that special abilities seem to part of the whole thing,” Gladiolus asked, and Luna nodded.

“Yes, the herald is usually a warrior who is gifted special talents through the Dawn Mother, I also believe he too learns some special or sacred songs as well, although I believe they only sing with the voice, not separately. They are supposed to be the...how did Gentiana put it- the heart of truth; they speak with the wisdom of the goddess, and used to be commonly involved in adjudicating disputes back in antiquity. Hierarchy is quite different here in our time, though, so I doubt he’ll be acting in that position much- if at all. They do act in concert with the Voice, possibly as a guardian of sorts. I believe they can sense each other, such as their location and general condition, and I think that I read something about how they can can channel energy from each other? Again, ancient hearsay on that one. Even Gentiana was uncertain on some of it, as it’s been around twenty five hundred years since the last set,” Luna mused, her audience clearly enraptured, then Noctis nudged her arm.

“What about the voice?” Noctis was looking at Prompto as he spoke, and Luna nudged him right back.

“Well, as you can probably figure, their singing, their very voice itself is supposed to have power. Records on what exactly that means are somewhat unclear, but they all agree that the voice is a beautiful singer, is almost always younger than the herald, and are usually credited with performing miracles. Gentiana never confirmed it, but I got the impression that the idea of the oracle was inspired somewhat from the Voices,” she said quietly, getting up from the sofa to stroke her fingers through Prompto’s hair. “We saw what he did today, clearly from an instinct that he himself may not entirely understand yet; I suspect there is only more to come.” Luna felt movement under her hand, and swiftly stepped back as Prompto groaned and grabbed at the fabric of the settee blindly, pulling himself into a seated position.

“You know, it gets really old to be constantly passing out around you guys,” Prompto grumbled, and Luna couldn’t help a giggle this time, which caused him to look up in shock. “Lu-Lunafreya? I mean, your majesty! When did you-”

“Last night, but I didn’t come out of my room until something told me I should, I came in right as you began to sing,” Luna reached out and took one of Prompto’s hands, lowering herself to her knees in front of him just as the color fled his cheeks.

“That...that really did happen. The Kingsglaive...Drautos, I sang, just like she said, and it-” Prompto trailed off, and Luna watched as all three of the others crowded in, waiting to hear what else he said. “Traitors,” Prompto’s eyes darkened as he snarled, and Luna was stunned by the sheer venom in the normally kind features. “Betrayers. Murderers. The King does the best he can, and how is he repaid? With a two-faced murderer leading a pack of traitorous wolves,” Prompto pulled his hand from Luna’s and rose to his feet, his face still twisted in anger as he threaded through Noctis and the rest and went over to the window. Luna watched as he rested his forehead against the glass and closed his eyes.

“Prompto?” Noctis had gotten to his feet and was slowly approaching their friend, followed by both Ignis and Gladiolus. Luna decided to stay back and let them speak; she retook her seat on the sofa and listened instead.

“Prompto, do you realize who that was? What Drautos turned into?” said Gladiolus, his voice flat. Prompto looked directly at his friends for the first time, his anger bleeding away to fatigue.

“No, but that armor wasn’t Lucian, I know that. It was wrong, he was wrong, he smelled like hatred and death when I first met him, and now I know why-” Prompto spat out, and Gladiolus nodded.

“You ended up being right all along. Who you met while you were doing your...thing was the head of the Imperial armies, General Glauca. Appears that Drautos was a very busy man.” Gladiolus shrugged. “I don’t think there’s anyway they’ll be able to repay you for revealing this, Prom.” Prompto sagged against the window, and it was Ignis who wrapped an arm around his friend, giving him a careful hug.

“So you said you thought we would think you mad, correct? Well, Prompto, we’ve been informed that you are a chosen representative of the Dawn Mother and can apparently sing magic, so I’m guessing that covers the jist of what you were going to be originally telling us in a few days?” Ignis said lightly, and Prompto snorted, but actually cracked a smile. Over from her own perch, Luna was relieved to see it, as it looked much more natural than the rage that had been there only a minute before.

“Well, would you have believed me? I figured I would actually have to sing to prove it to you,” Prompto commented, and Noctis smirked.

“What’s wrong with that? You have a pretty awesome voice, after all, magic shit or not,” Noctis commented, and Prompto flushed red, his freckles standing out starkly against his skin. Luna thought it was adorable.

“So what happens now? I doubt- I doubt we’ll be going tomorrow after all, not with everything that has happened,” Prompto murmured, and Noctis crossed his arms.

“No, I think we need to be here. Something big is going down, and it’s not just the supposed treaty signing. You, Cor, Luna...you all seem to think that something is going to happen,” Noctis said, looking between Prompto and Luna.

Luna rose to her feet and joined the rest of them as they crowded around Prompto, Ignis with his arm still around the younger man’s shoulders. “While Niflheim is most certainly a threat, the true world-spanning threat is among their entourage, we think. And I’m quite sure that it’s not the emperor, and while he never articulated as such, I think Cor agrees with me on that. Perhaps he’ll have thought on it when we talk tomorrow,” Luna said, then looked over at Prompto again. “Forgive me if this sounds forward, but what did it feel like?”

Gladiolus barked out a laugh. “Well, Princess, you’re a lot more bold than I pictured.” Luna felt her cheeks warm, and without even thinking about it, she smacked the much larger man on the arm, leading to everyone else bursting into laughter.

“Ah, ha, oh man, I needed that. But-” Prompto choked out, but then quickly sobered. “I walked in the room with Cor, decided to stay quiet and out of the way. The meeting was for the Kingsglaive to speak with the King, so he could gauge their mood because the treaty stuff really ruffled some feathers, but not thirty seconds after it started, people started shouting-” he trailed off, and Luna and everyone waited. “Then something in my head, my chest, I don’t know, told me it was time, but then I noticed that Drautos wasn’t even in the room yet, and I just knew I had to wait. The feeling got more insistent as the accusations and shouting got worse, I was literally having to hold my mouth shut to keep from singing. Then Drautos came in, and I...sang. I just knew it was right. The spirits seemed to know what song to sing even though I didn’t tell them anything...anyway, everything is a bit of a blur after that. I remember Cor coming up, and we both sang the song of the legendary…” Prompto had wrapped his arms around his torso as he spoke, looking more and more pensive. Noctis wriggled under his friend’s arm, nearly taking Ignis’s hand to the face as he maneuvered himself into position, wrapping an arm around Prompto’s waist. Luna watched as Gladiolus clenched his fists a few times, clearly trying to figure out something, and he finally just reached out and took Prompto’s only available hand between both of his, cradling it far more gently than one would expect of a man his size.

Luna was really starting to feel like she was intruding. But she powered through anyway, thinking about what Prompto had said. He had just known the time was right, but had enough insight or control to wait until the final factor, Glauca, was in play. From what it sounded like, it had been the first actual use of his ability, and it had gone quite smoothly. She brutally quashed a yawn. They needed to rest. They all did. Who knew what awaited them tomorrow?

“Thank you, Prompto, I was dreadfully curious. I think you’ll do just fine, whatever happens,” Luna smiled, then stepped away from the group. “I think I will go get some rest, I have a very strong suspicion we are all going to need it.”

“Luna, thank you. I’m glad you’re here. We’ll talk tomorrow morning?” Noctis asked, and Luna nodded.

“Yes, certainly. Have a good night, everyone!” Luna headed to the door and opened it, only to freeze at a very deliberate intake of breath behind her. She turned to see Prompto’s eyes shimmering again, and she quickly closed the door again as he opened his mouth.

The song that came forth from his lips was melancholy, its tune and lyrics bittersweet but beautiful. He sang alone at first, with no otherworldly help; only after a few lines did she see them appear, their features too faint to make out detail as they sang along quietly with the Voice. But the song was short, and they disappeared almost as fast as they had come; Noctis, Ignis, and Gladiolus, who had not let go of Prompto even as he sang, were all looking at him like he was something they had never seen before, such was the wonder in their faces.

Luna looked over the four men one last time with a smile, then finally left and returned to her allotted rooms. A short shower and a change into a soft nightgown later, she let herself luxuriate in the silken sheets of her borrowed bed with a happy sigh. The song she had just heard resonated in her head, the words rumbling under her skin as she tried to get comfortable; Prompto had invoked a calming energy with his song, somber as it was, and it was only a few minutes before she felt herself drifting off to sleep.

A sharp knock on her door woke her, and she looked over at the clock to see that it was only… six in the morning. She couldn’t help a tired groan, but dragged herself from the sheets, combed her fingers through her hair and smoothed her nightgown down before sitting down on the edge of the bed.

“Enter!” It was the king, accompanied by Cor, and she immediately got to her feet. They both looked exhausted, but otherwise in one piece. Considering the anger in the king’s countenance yesterday when they had left, she had been a bit concerned. “Your majesty! Lord Herald! I am pleased to see you.”

“Ah, my apologies for waking you, princess, but time is at a luxury today and we have much to discuss,” Regis said, and she could not disagree. They moved over to a small seating area off to the side of the room, Cor waiting for the two of them to take their seats before following suit. It made her a bit uncomfortable for him to be doing such a thing, considering his position, but she knew it was habit. The king looked over at Cor, who nodded and leaned forward.

“I was summoned shortly after we parted last night. The goddess believes that the one who has become the Scourge itself has been here at least once before, and will be returning with the Imperial entourage. After some discussion with his majesty and Lord Amicitia, we believe we have figured out who this might be referring to,” Cor stated, and every bit of Luna’s morning fatigue was washed away at his words.

“The Dawn Mother has said this, that there is one who has actually become the personification of the Starscourge itself?” Luna gasped, and Cor nodded absently, his eyes focused on something she did not see. “This- this makes perfect sense. My predecessors even said that the meteor showed no sign of it anymore, and we were uncertain as to where it continued to arise. Who is this person?” At that, both Cor and the king leaned back in their seat, sharing a worried look. Not the most reassuring moment, but Luna waited.

“There’s only one that was here before, and we fully expect that same person to return with the others this afternoon. The terms of the treaty were presented by the chancellor of Niflheim, Ardyn Izunia. It’s a bit of a stretch, but something Cor mentioned made it possible to look for a possible alternative identification,” the king said, and again turned to the herald.

“She calls him many names, but the fallen king or the forgotten king have both been used, and she stated straight out that this person is of the royal line, but very early.” Luna frowned, and tried to remember the list of early kings. She had only met the chancellor once, and it had been over ten years prior, before she had become the oracle. She had thought him very strange, and did not like the feeling that she had being in his presence. Sounds like she might have had a good reason not to.

“You said you might have figured it out?” she asked, and the king pulled out his phone, poked at it a few times, then passed it over. It was an image from what appeared to be a very old book, and she pinched at it to zoom in on information on an Ardyn Lucis Caelum, and went white. “Oh- oh my word. Why have I not heard of this before?”

“We think that might be the only place his name wasn’t removed, I glanced through a few standard Lucian royal history books in the library this morning, and every one I found states that King Aurelius died childless, with all of his offspring perishing in their youth. What you see before you is from the Book of Lineage, which is generally access-restricted to the royal family only, and is well-known to have ancient enchantments to prevent forgeries of people being added...or removed,” the king stated, and Luna nodded, looking again at the picture.

“This is extraordinary. This means if he is this person, and the goddess is right- if he is defeated, the Scourge itself might be destroyed. We must figure out if this is true or not as soon as we can,” she proclaimed, and was relieved to see twin nods from both men.

“We we are hoping that either you or Prompto will be able to tell, I honestly don’t know if sniffing out evil is something I can do,” Cor said, and Luna laughed...then remembered something Prompto had said.

“I think you might be onto something there, Cor. Something Prompto said last night-” Cor’s attention hyper-focused on her, and it actually made her shiver. Prompto was in the safest hands with Cor, she was certain of it. She actually felt the tiniest touch of envy at the thought of it.

“How was he doing? No signs of any issues?” Cor said, and she shook her head.

“No, he woke up about ten minutes after we laid him down in the apartment, he seemed fine. He...he was aware of what had happened, we talked about it a bit,” Luna stopped awkwardly, not really wanting to say too much, but Cor looked two seconds from heading over to Noctis’s quarters and finding out himself, and she sighed. “He strikes me as one who smiles easily, laughs easily, keeps major issues to himself?” Neither man responded, but she knew she was right. “He was furious, enraged even, as he recounted the feeling he had towards the betrayers, the others got him calmed down, although I could tell they were unused to him in such a state, and we spoke a bit. He didn’t recognize General Glauca, only that he wasn’t supposed to be there. We spoke about how he felt when he started singing, the instinct that drove him to it, then right as I was about to leave for the evening, he sang once more.” That got their attention, and both the king and Cor leaned forward.

“Anything...important?” The king asked, and Luna wrung her hands together.

“I think anything Prompto sings for the duration is important, but this one was more...introspective than anything. It sounded more like a poem than a song, honestly, it was very short. The spirits did join in for a few seconds, though. It was very soothing.” Cor got to his feet when she was done speaking, gave her and the king a quick nod, then left the room without another word. Luna blinked, then turned to the king. “Is everything alright, your majesty? I know it was a lot to find out, and well, Cor is an exceptional person, but he’s not the most-”

“Talkative? No, he’s not. He almost gave Clarus and I a heart attack last night when he was summoned, and even after he woke back up, getting anything out of him was like pulling teeth,” the king grumbled, and Luna reached out and took his hand, giving it a light squeeze. He smiled and patted her hand with his free one, before gently disengaging. “So you think this idea of the Accursed has merit?”

“I do, and that might explain why the chancellor avoids Tenebrae if he is worried I would notice something unusual about him,” she said, then something came to mind. “I must inquire, what has been done with the detained Kingsglaive? If it goes poorly, you know they will be let loose somehow, creating an obvious issue.” The king gave her a nod and a slight smile, but seemed unconcerned.

“While I will not do anything drastic until they can have a fair trial, I have already severed their ability to use my magic, and the cells are heavily reinforced. As for Glauca, he was unconscious most of the night, and is not all that coherent even now, apparently their slicing away of his armor was rather traumatic. Forgive me if I sound a bit...blasé about this, but, well…” he coughed once, then continued. “But same as the other Glaives, he has no access to my magic either. I do not know if he has anything else up his sleeve, per se, but we don’t really have the time to investigate now. I’m sure it will become apparent to Niflheim when Drautos does not show when they get here.”

“Might I ask the itinerary at this point?”

“They are supposed to be here around sixteen-hundred hours, reception at the Via at nineteen-hundred. Signing is supposed to be at noon tomorrow, but I have a feeling we aren’t going to be getting there,” the king stated, then grabbed his cane and got to his feet. “I need to finalize arrangements for security for today. As you can probably suspect, the lack of the Kingsglaive has caused quite the upheaval.” Luna rose to her feet as well, tapping a finger against her bottom lip.

“You might wish to consider some of the Glaive possible reserves, however, such as the ones who you allowed in the room after everything happened. They were from Galahd, correct?” Luna inquired, and the king smiled.

“That is an excellent point, my dear. And yes, I know Ulric and Ostium are, I’m not quite as sure about Crowe, but she was there anyway. Are you thinking even if they aren’t exactly happy with me, they might be willing to support the Dawn Mother’s herald and voice?” the king stood in the doorway, and Luna smiled in agreement.

“That’s exactly what I was thinking. You did hear what...Ulric? said yesterday.”

“Yes, I did, and I will definitely consider your proposal. We may need it. I will see you shortly, princess,” the king bowed slightly to her, then departed.

Luna returned to her bed, sitting on the edge again. An ancient cursed near-king that may be the source of the Starscourge. It sounded crazy, but if it’s coming from Cor and the Dawn Mother…

She would need her trident. That she was certain. The whole prophecy, Noctis gathering the covenants of the Astrals, gathering the weapons of his ancestors...but that part might be optional...why would he need to do all of that? Was Noctis supposed to fight against a disease with the Astrals and ancient kings help? It doesn’t make much sense...unless there was a specific target.

“Damn.” She wasn’t one for cursing, but, well, the situation called for it. If they could dispatch the source of the Scourge without having to sacrifice Noctis, and hopefully no one else, either…

It sounded like a child’s dream, but it was a dream she would fight for. She didn’t want to see anyone else die.

 

---

 

No one answered when Cor knocked, so after trying again, he sighed and let himself into the prince’s quarters. He needed to see how Prompto was, every damn stunted part of his heart was telling him that he needed to check on his counterpart, his voice, and well, he was tired of having to be subtle. Also, they needed to talk about what was very likely to happen within the next twenty-four hours. There was no sign of anyone in the main sitting room, so after a glance in the kitchen, he headed for the bedroom.

The door was closed, so he knocked one more time, again receiving no response. Oh boy. He knew the four were close, but he was really hoping it wasn’t that close. He didn’t really think he could handle that right now on top of all the other shit that was waiting in the wings. Slowly opening the door, he peeked in to discover all four of the boys, all fully dressed (thank the goddess, his heart couldn’t take anything else today) sleeping in a well-entangled heap on the prince’s gigantic bed. It was actually rather endearing, and Cor could make out Prompto curled halfway on top of Gladiolus, drooling onto his chest.

Saving the world with a bunch of children. He was beginning to think it would actually work, but if anyone asked him why he felt that, he’d never be able to articulate it. Hell, he had gotten into this sort of thing even younger than them, so he certainly couldn’t talk. He amused himself with the scene in front of him for another moment before raising his fist and rapping the side of the doorframe with his knuckles. The response was immediate; Ignis, who was on the edge of the bed closer to the door, Noctis’s head buried in his stomach, shot straight up into a seated position, causing the poor Prince’s head to get thrown onto Ignis’s thigh, which caused him to kick his legs, which led to Gladiolus rolling over...which promptly squashed Prompto, who shrieked in sleepy protest. Cor didn’t laugh, but it was a close thing, and he crushed his lips together and looked at the ceiling with a little too much intensity for a moment to recover as he listened to the sounds of everyone scrambling awake.

“Marshal?” Ignis spoke, and Cor looked back down to see the man standing next to the bed smoothing down his shirt with his hands, clearly trying not to look like he had slept in his clothes from the day before.

“Ignis, good morning. I tried knocking several times on both the outer and inner doors, and I got no response,” Cor stated, trying rather badly to look apologetic; the irritated look from Noctis and the half-awake expressions on both Prompto and Gladiolus’s faces made it quite clear he wasn’t successful. “Prompto, could I speak with you for a moment?” he asked, and was pleased when the boy untangled himself the rest of the way from the clump and hopped out of bed, his normally meticulously styled hair flopped around his face. It made him look older in a way, but not so much that it overcame those giant eyes of his. He signalled for Prompto to follow and headed out of the apartment, crossing over to a set of unused rooms across the hall and letting them in and shutting the door, then sitting down on a slightly dusty sofa. “How are you doing, Prompto? I’m sorry I wasn’t there when you woke up last night, I was speaking with the King about what had happened.”

Prompto walked up to him as he spoke, but he didn’t speak, simply standing there and looking at Cor with a somewhat torn expression. Cor met his eyes, but said nothing more, waiting for the younger man to make up his mind.

“So you really did know all along. You knew even before she contacted me, didn’t you?” Prompto said quietly, and Cor tilted his head in agreement. Prompto ran a shaking hand through his messy hair, then let it drop to his side. “Cor, how did I get to Insomnia? I know I wasn’t born here. You talked about it a bit while I was out yesterday, right?” Cor bowed his head and took a deep breath, letting his fingers twist together before answering.

“I was sent to retrieve you by the goddess, as you might imagine. She feared for your safety where you were, and I entirely agreed with her statement when I found you.” Prompto remained standing as Cor spoke, and he took another breath and continued on. “If you are wondering if I took you away from any parents, I don’t believe so. I found you in Gralea...in Zegnautus Keep. You were part of a MT breeding program, from what I could see. I don’t know if you were stolen as an infant, or born in-house, but you lived in a dorm with about twenty other children. You seemed to recognize me in some way the instant I came in, you convinced all of your roommates to come along with us as well. I-” Cor trailed off and looked up as Prompto sighed and sat down next to him on the sofa.

“I think I actually remember a tiny bit of that. We took a train, I think? I remember a pretty house, and a friendly girl…” Prompto muttered, biting at his bottom lip.

“Yes, you are right. Do you remember who the girl was?” Cor inquired, and watched as Prompto blinked for a moment, then a slow smile crept onto his face.

“It was Luna, wasn’t it?” Prompto asked, and Cor couldn’t help but give him a little smile in response. “Wow, that makes sense, I just felt like I had really met her before when she sent me a letter all those years ago, and when I saw her last night, I felt the same way.” Prompto kicked his feet for a moment, then turned to face Cor. “You know, if you were trying to hide that you knew me, you were doing a pretty lousy job. Do you know how many people joked with me about you having a soft spot for me? I was really confused, because I didn’t know where it was coming from,” Prompto groused, and Cor pinched the bridge of his nose. The kid had a point, but, well, there’s a reason he was never considered for long term spy work. He just wasn’t cut out for it.

“My apologies, Prompto. I have much to answer for, I know-” Cor was stopped by Prompto wrapping his arms around his waist, his head coming to rest on his upper arm, and he couldn’t bring himself to speak.

“Thank you, Cor, I’d be dead if it wasn’t for you...you went all the way to the empire and back for me, helped me find a home here...I would have never met Noct and the others if you hadn’t saved me,” Prompto stated quietly, his arms tightening around Cor’s waist; Cor hesitated for a moment before letting his arm rest on Prompto’s back and leaning into him.

“Don’t thank me, Prompto. You- you deserve everything, to do whatever you want to do; we just need to get through the next day or two and you’ll have the rest of your life ahead of you,” Cor breathed in shakily, causing Prompto to look up at him. “I’m going to do my damndest to make sure you and everyone else survives whatever is to come, I promise.” Prompto’s eyes were as wide as he had ever seen them, and Cor couldn’t look anymore. He closed his eyes and faced his head forward, letting the silence fall between them.

“Did you know that I could smell that something was really off about Drautos? Like, literally smelled? All I wanted to do is vomit around him, I didn’t know where it was coming from,” Prompto commented out of nowhere, and Cor looked back down at him, his heart beginning to race. “Then there was you. This is gonna sound really weird, but you smell amazing. Like cherry and polish, which is a strange combo, but it really works for you. It makes me-” Prompto cut off abruptly, letting go of Cor and sitting up. Cor missed Prompto’s presence immediately, but said nothing, waiting for the blond to finish his statement. “-it makes me feel safe.” Prompto’s freckles stood out sharply as the young man flushed a brilliant red, leaning forward and covering his face with his hands. “I’m sorry!” Prompto’s voice was muffled, and Cor barely heard it; but he huffed out a bemused sigh and put his hand on Prompto’s head, lightly ruffling his hair.

“I’ll take it as a compliment, Prompto. What you said, though, about Drautos...did you have to focus to do that? Or did it just start spontaneously? That skill might be very important in the very near future,” Cor said, and Prompto dropped his hands and looked back up at him.

“It just started happening, but...you expect that one of the Niffs that’s coming is hiding something, don’t you?” Cor nodded.

“She told you a bit about the prophecy and the whole source of the Scourge, correct?” Cor asked, and Prompto nodded.

“Yeah, said that the Accursed had to be defeated, and she was hoping that with us in the mix, Noct and the others might be able to survive it. She told me a story of another way everything plays out, where almost everyone is dead or really fucked up at the end of it, and said she was really tired of the endless waste of life happening. It’s- it’s really intimidating, honestly. I sometimes wonder how Noct deals with the idea, as he’s known about at least parts of his prophecy for awhile,” Prompto said, and Cor shook his head.

“We think the Accursed may be the chancellor of Niflheim. I was summoned by the goddess last night, she told me that she was positive the bastard had already been in Insomnia recently, and she was sure he would come again. After a bit of research, we really think it’s the chancellor,” Cor paused, and looked over at Prompto. “Prompto, we are pretty much relying on you and Luna to try and sniff this guy out, literally or otherwise. You’ll need to do it subtly, we don’t want him realizing that there is something different about you.”

Prompto gave him a lopsided grin, and Cor couldn’t help but smile back. “I’ll do it, hell, I’ll sniff everyone who comes just in case.” A knock sounded at the door, and Prompto bounced to his feet. “Well, if we are going to be busy today, I better get in a shower and a change of clothes now.” Cor got to his feet as well, following the younger man to the door. Just as Prompto was about to open it, Cor reached out and took his arm. “What’s up?”

“If everything goes belly up, I’ll be getting the lot of you out of the city. You are all too important to die here,” Cor stated quietly, and Prompto scowled.

“And leave everyone else here?” Prompto hissed, shaking off Cor’s hand. “We can’t do that!”

“You and Noctis may be the last hope for anything if this doesn’t work out, Prompto. I’m not saying I’m abandoning the city, but I’ll be getting you all out first.” Prompto’s scowl deepened, but he settled for crossing his arms for a moment then reaching for the door.

“I’m not talking about this now, Cor. I’ll see you later,” Prompto hissed once more as he wrenched open the door, revealing Noctis’s wide-eyed face. “Hey, Noct, I need a shower like yesterday-” Cor watched as Prompto grabbed the prince’s arm and dragged him back across the hall and back into their quarters. He heaved one more sigh, pinched the bridge of his nose, and settled off towards his office. He had security and defenses to prepare.

Monica stood from where she was relaxing at Dustin’s desk as he entered the Crownsguard offices, followed immediately by the rest of the office. He wasn’t stupid, they have to have heard some version of what happened, probably from a few of the Kingsglaive, but he wasn’t sure exactly what they would have been told.

“Well, get it out of your system,” Cor said, and no one spoke until Monica crossed her arms and stared at him.

“Is it true? About you, about Argentum? One of the Glaives said you both could use magic, and babbled something about the Dawn Mother. We couldn’t get anything clear out of any of them, and Ulric just smirked and told us that we’d find out tomorrow,” Monica commented, and Cor stood there, thinking for a moment, then looked towards his office and stepped. He unlocked his office from the inside, then opened the door and leaned against the frame without a word.

“By the Six-” That came from Dustin, who looked completely flabbergasted. The rest of the office didn’t seem to be sure what to think, with a mix of gaping mouths and wide eyes looking back at him.

“That’s a handy trick, marshal,” Monica commented, her face a bit paler than usual, and he couldn’t help but smirk, then let himself step again to the other side of the room.

“Thank you, it has been rather useful over the years,” he stated, then stepped back to the door of his office again. “Everyone get it out of their system yet? You can all shake me for answers later, but for now, we have a probable invasion to try and circumvent,” Cor said, and turned to Dustin, who was still looking rather stunned. “And Dustin? The Six have nothing to do with this. As for Prompto, he sings magic. I’ll not get into it for now. Now, you didn’t ask me the most important question.” Cor looked about the room, and was not surprised when it was Monica who stepped forward.

“Why the hell is a third of the Kingsglaive, including Captain Drautos, rotting in the holding cells?” Monica drawled, and Cor shot her a grateful look.

“That’s the right question. Drautos, we discovered yesterday, appears to have been living an incredibly busy double life as both the head of the Kingsglaive and the head of Niflheim’s armies. He had been quietly working at trying to get as much of the Glaive as he could to betray the crown at the worst possible time, which we are pretty sure would have been either today or tomorrow when the Niffs were here.” The massive intake of breath was expected, but still a bit jarring; Cor could feel the headache rushing back and pinched at the bridge of his nose.

“Are you saying that Drautos is General Glauca? That’s mad-” Cor looked over at the speaker, an older man that he had worked with for years. Crownsguard Thrax was a political appointment that had done decently well in the guard, but had never endeared himself to most of his comrades, including Cor. “-I just had luncheon with the man earlier this week, you must be mistaken,” Thrax stated, meeting Cor’s eyes. “Are you certain you aren’t just-” Cor could have laughed at the idiot, but anger quickly overrode that. Walking with a deliberate pace over to the man, he stopped about two feet back and stared, noting the flinch with a bit of absent-minded bemusement.

“Thrax, I carved his fucking armor off with my own sword in front of the King himself and about a hundred witnesses, I am absolutely certain of which I speak. Does anyone else want to accuse me of something completely ridiculous?” Cor growled, and then noticed the petrified look on the man’s face. “What?” Thrax and a few of the others actually backed up away from him, all looking spooked.

“Your eyes are glowing. Your eyes are fucking glowing- what the hell are you?” Thrax gasped out, and Cor actually took a step back in surprise. Shit, yesterday had just opened all the floodgates, and he brought a hand up to his face, letting it cover his eyes for a moment and forced himself to take a deep breath. He had been warned by the goddess that once he had truly started using his abilities more than the very occasional stepping that there would be no turning back, and she was apparently right. Damn. The last thing they needed was to cause a breakdown amongst the Crownsguard as well, and scaring the shit out of them was not a good way to start.

“Hey, sorry for the intrusion, but is the Marshal here- oh shit.” Cor let his hand fall away from his face at the voice, the responding twitch from Thrax telling him that his eyes were still not back to normal, to look up at Nyx Ulric, who was dressed in his full uniform, stood down or not. Well, Ulric wasn’t stupid, he knew that they had a fight on their hands and that they might as well be ready. “Marshal? Herald? Are you alright?” In contrast to the others, Ulric was the opposite of spooked, and came up to him freely, clearly concerned.

“Yes, I’m fine. I’m still a bit out of sorts from yesterday,” Cor admitted, and Ulric shrugged, but Cor could see the touch of wonder in the man’s eyes. It was both comforting and discomfiting at the same time.

“Well, you did slice the armor off my former captain like you were peeling a damn potato, so I’m not all that surprised. You two were glowing like the sun itself while you were doing it, it was-” Ulric trailed off, his eyes growing distant for a moment. “It was awe-inspiring. Never thought I’d be here when the Dawn Mother called for her champions.” The faraway look transformed to a cocky smirk, and Cor felt inexplicably better. “But I’m glad I was, because it appears that only myself and the oracle seemed to know what the hell was going on in that room last night.”

“I appreciate your help, Ulric.” And he did. It had actually been quite helpful to have a clear base of support suddenly bolstered by around thirty or so people, it seemed to have reassured the king to an extent. Cor sighed and turned to Thrax and the others who had looked so spooked, somewhat relieved to see that they now looked more pensive than frightened. “My apologies. As you have just heard corroborated, all the detained Glaives are being held on suspicion of treason until after the Niflheim delegation has departed. Formal inquiries will be conducted at that time.” Cor nodded to Ulric, who actually gave a slight bow in response, then headed back to his office. “I’ll be out in a few minutes.”

He heard Ulric mention something about watching the security footage to Monica as he closed the door, stumbling to his desk and letting his head thump to the surface. He needed to get it together, he’d already managed to tick off Prompto and frighten half the Crownsguard, and they had the Niffs coming in only eight hours. There actually was a small mirror in his office for some damn reason, and Cor got back to his feet and looked at his reflection. Then looked again. Alright, he could admit that the glowing eyes were intimidating, and he had no clue how to turn them off. He could probably punch his damn desk in half with a single finger, he felt so overwhelmed by the magics he had only barely touched upon over the years. Letting himself fall back into his chair, he closed his eyes and took deep, measured breaths, letting his mind drift. He certainly couldn’t meet the delegation with his hackles up and his eyes glowing. After several minutes, Cor began to feel like he was settled in his skin again, and let himself look in the mirror once more.

His normal blue eyes met him, and Cor traced his features with a hand, noting every line, sunspot and scar with relief. He looked like himself, he had not been unduly changed by channelling the magics he had been gifted with. He sat back down and allowed himself one moment of weakness, emitting a massive shuddering sigh and letting his hands run over his face and hair, pressing his palms into his eye sockets. He could do this. He had no other choice.

Cor got out of his chair and headed to the door of his office, took one last deep breath, then opened it. He was again met with a silent crowd, but the atmosphere felt different this time; Ulric waggled his fingers from Dustin’s desk and shot him a cocky grin, and Cor snorted.

“I had them watch the security footage from last night. Turns out Lord Amicitia had locked it down, but he let me access it when I told him why,” Ulric stated, and Cor didn’t know what to say. “I’ve gotta say, it’s even crazier seeing it from the outside then it was standing in there. Prompto’s got one hell of a set of pipes on him, spirit choir for backup or not.” Ulric’s smirk turned into a soft smile, and Cor shook his head. The kid managed to get under everyone’s skin without even trying.

“Marshal?” Thrax again, and Cor took a moment to compose himself before turning around. The sight that met him was of an apologetic man, and his eyebrows lifted involuntarily.

“Yes, Thrax?”

“My apologies for earlier, sir. I- I was just shocked by the news, I considered the man...if not a friend, but at least someone I was on friendly terms with.” Cor understood. He really did understand, even if Thrax had needed to articulate that a bit better than he had.

“No harm done, it’s an understandable feeling with what has happened. Now, if everyone has gotten their fill of how I’m a little strange for today, we need to discuss security arrangements for this evening and tomorrow,” Cor said, and was pleased when everyone turned to him without further reservation. He spared Ulric one final look before he started to speak, and received a subtle salute in silent reply, his fist rested against his chest with a shallow tilt of the head.

He wasn’t quite sure what he thought of the almost instant loyalty he had felt from Ulric and the other Galahdians, but he didn’t have time to process his thoughts on the matter. It would have to do for now.

 

---

 

“I don’t know whether I want to hit him over the head or hug him, and while that’s my usual reaction to you sometimes, Noct-”

“Hey!”

“It’s kinda weird when I’m talking about Cor, the Marshal, the Immortal, whatever the hell he goes by,” Prompto grumbled as he finished drying his hair, then hung up the towel and stomped out of the bathroom in a cloud of steam, his nice clean uniform sticking to his skin.

“So you two chatted about how you got here, then he told you that he planned to save us if everything went sideways,” Noctis asked, and Prompto nodded. “While I get the whole abandoning Insomnia feeling, it sounds like he plans to come back and help if it got to that?”

“That’s the point! He basically said, I’ll save you guys, then come back and get myself killed. I just finally meet him for real, know who he really is, only for him to say this shit in like our first real conversation. Argh!” Prompto rubbed at his hair with irritation, only for Noct to smile at him. “ What?

“I think he was trying to say in his emotionally-stunted Cor Leonis way that he was going to protect you, Prom. He’s so used to throwing himself into battles and problems that he probably didn’t even think of it like that,” Noct stated, and Prompto stared at the other man.

“You- you think so?” he whispered, and was relieved when Noct wrapped an arm around his waist, bringing him in for a side hug.

“I know I’m not the usual one for the deep conversations, but I’ve known Cor my whole life. He’s always been a bit awkward with emotional stuff, it’s just who he is. Dad said he was like this even as a teenager, he just blustered and yelled a lot more then. So, yeah, don’t read too much into it yet. Besides, we’ve gotta hope for the best, not the worst. We’ll let Cor and dad plan for the worst.” Noctis leaned over and bonked his head into Prompto’s, and he couldn’t help but laugh.

“Alright, I’ll not be mad at him. For now. He does that again, I’m going to be really unhappy,” Prompto said, and Noct waved a hand and they walked out of the room together, only to discover that Ignis had returned, freshly bathed and dressed and was making them breakfast. “Is Gladio coming back?” Prompto asked Iggy as he sat down at the dinette in the kitchen, Noct falling into the chair next to him.

Iggy looked up from his skillet to answer, his spatula in his hand. “He should be back in a little while to join us, he wanted to get ready for the day and speak with his father and sister.”

“Right, sounds good,” Prompto replied, looking down at his finger as it traced the tabletop and let his thoughts wander. Their primary target may be with the Niflheim contingent, and Cor had basically said that it was up to him and Luna to see if their theory was right. No pressure whatsoever. He could do this.

He liked Insomnia, he knew it wasn’t perfect, he knew there was a lot of xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment, just as he knew some of the institutions of the city had been taking full advantage of an aging king and distracted council to get away with shit they never would have gotten away with even ten years prior. Military enlistment of any type was in the toilet, they had averaged only about twenty new Crownsguard a year for the last few years, according to what Ignis had told him awhile back, and the Kingsglaive had been at an almost recruiting standstill for the most part for over a year.

People didn’t want to accept that their comfortable lives were padded with the bodies of the those who threw themselves past the wall to drive back the Niffs, and they were probably going to be getting a rude awakening if what they all suspected, even if some hadn’t said it, was about to happen...happened.

“Prompto, what would you like to drink?” Ignis’s inquiry interrupted his increasingly gloomy train of thought, and Prompto looked up from the table and smiled.

“Apple juice would be awesome, if you have any,” he answered, and the requested glass of juice was in front of him in a matter of seconds, and Prompto took a sip. They would have to be enough, because there wasn’t anyone else.

Gladio came back a short time later, also fresh and dressed in his Crownsguard uniform with a shirt, because even the rather relaxed dress code of the Guard didn’t extend to him being partially undressed in front of their...esteemed guests. After breakfast, where discussion didn’t really get beyond a few awkward starts and stops, they all travelled up together to a different assembly room from the previous day. Prompto looked around to see a sizable slice of the Crownsguard, about thirty Glaives, Nyx at the lead, several council members, the heads of the Citadel guard, Luna, and of course the king, Lord Amicitia, and Cor, who nodded to him as they entered. Considering the original plan had been that they would have all been on the road to Galdin Quay right now, their own presence felt a bit extraneous to Prompto, but well, circumstances had definitely changed. Noct led them to the foot of the stage, but they did not ascend.

“Everyone, thank you for coming on such short notice. Rumors have abounded in the last sixteen hours or so, and I felt it appropriate need to clarify a few things in person,” the king spoke from the stage at the end of the hall, and everyone quieted down immediately. “First, the things you have heard about the Kingsglaive. Due to the actions of some rather specialized help, we have discovered that now-former Captain Drautos was actually a double-agent for Niflheim, and was in truth General Glauca-” The king was cut off by an outcry from parts of the room, clearly marking those who hadn’t heard the news. “-and had apparently been actively trying to undermine the Glaive and swing as many as possible to his side. Due to the circumstances, they will remain in holding until after our guests depart. The Glaives that are here are vetted and have volunteered to work alongside the Crownsguard as a temporary measure. There is a contingent that is not here and not in custody, they are remaining on reserve at this time. I will expect that everyone here will be sensible and keep any opinions on the situation to yourself for the time being, we all need to work together,” the king said, looking around the room and nodding to the Glaives, who all saluted in return.

“Secondly, while we were all hoping, the presence of Glauca has led to the obvious conclusion that this so-called treaty signing is probably little more than a diversion. If you are surprised that I would come straight out and say it, do not be, I know the vast majority of you were thinking it already and were waiting for myself to reach the same conclusion. That being said, we will be treating our guests with the utmost professionalism, and will proceed as if nothing has changed. Perhaps they will go ahead with it after all. There will be no mention of Drautos or Glauca to any of the imperials, and if you are asked, you know nothing,” he said, his gaze sweeping the room. Prompto had never really gotten to see the king as the King for the most part, and it was actually really intimidating. Especially because he had a more receptive audience this time. “If you see anything unusual, anything out of the ordinary, contact Lord Amicitia or Marshal Leonis immediately, do not delay. Lastly, as you can all see, her highness Princess Lunafreya is here in Insomnia, in preparations for departing with the prince to Altissia. I wish I could have given her a more appropriate welcome, but much has happened and I’m afraid we will have to skip such an event for now,” the king tilted his head to Luna, who smiled and gave a quick shallow bow.

“Thank you for having me, your majesty. I am pleased to be here,” Luna said, and Prompto noted that much of the crowd smiled at her voice, including Noct and the others.

“Always a pleasure, princess,” the king smiled at Luna, before returning his attention to the assembled. “Your assignments were given out by the marshal, for most of you, and by Lord Amicitia for the rest. We must all work to the best of our abilities, and be ready for anything. Insomnia, and very possibly Lucis itself, is depending on us.” The king stepped back and nodded solemnly to the crowd. “Thank you.”

The crowd milled about for a moment before largely dispersing; the Glaives came up to the stage as one and bowed and saluted again, this one clearly including Cor in it as well; Prompto was flustered when the majority of them looked to him before they straightened up completely, Nyx, Libertus, and some of the others giving him a look that he would definitely read as respectful. After that, they turned and left as well, Libertus’s new walking boot thumping along the floor as they went. The council looked a bit rattled at the sight, clearly looking closer at both Cor and him before turning to their king, who summoned the lot of them on stage.

“As you can see, due to the events of last night, the plan for the prince to depart early has been cancelled for now. The prince and his personal guard will be present when we greet our guests, and will be attending the scheduled events unless circumstances change once again.” The council members present still looked somewhat unhappy, but they all bowed to the king and departed, leaving just the four of them, the king, Gladio’s dad, Luna, and Cor. Lord Amicitia stepped forward and looked at the lot of them in clear concern, before sighing and waving his hands at Prompto and Cor.

“The tentative plan is that Cor and Argentum will actually be the escorts for both the emperor and chancellor, driving them from the wall to the Citadel. This should hopefully give them plenty of time to further...inspect our guests, see if there is anything unusual about either of them. I plan to have several of the Glaives drive the other Niffs in behind you two. Once here, you and Cor will join us. The Glaives know what to do. Argentum, you will report if you sense anything out of the ordinary about any of them immediately, or at first opportunity. We have more than just Insomnia to save, it’s looking like the entire damn world if you all are correct. We are probably only going to have one shot at this,” Lord Amicitia stated with a frown, and Prompto knew his eyes were probably as wide as saucers, but- it made sense.

“Yes, sir. This may sound weird, but I’ve literally been training for this,” Prompto found himself saying, and both the king and Lord Amicitia exchanged a weighty look.

“Prompto, that’s exactly what we are counting on.”

And that was that. After Cor told Prompto to meet him at the parking garage at fourteen hundred hours, the five of them, Luna tagging along, left the hall, and headed back up to the royal quarters.

“So, Prom, you wanna try practicing?” Gladio commented as they entered, and Prompto shot him a confused look as he flopped back onto the sofa, with Luna sitting down delicately next to him.

“Practicing?” Ignis sat down in an armchair and nodded.

“You were the one that told us you could smell both Drautos and the marshal, and it turned out your descriptions were completely spot on. Perhaps it might be possible to turn that ability on as needed, instead of hoping that it comes to you unbidden,” Ignis said, and Prompto crossed his arms and leaned back in his seat. Maybe they had a point, but how would he go about that? A small pale hand touched his forearm, and he looked over at Luna.

“What do you think, Prompto? Perhaps I can help?” Luna said, and Prompto blinked at her. Well, she probably had all sorts of far more relevant experience in this sort of thing, it wouldn’t hurt to try.

“How do you think I should go about this?” Luna moved sideways towards him as far as she could without folding her legs, and beckoned for him to do the same.

“Try closing your eyes, and focus your mind on me.” Prompto did so, taking a deep breath and letting the world fade to black. He could feel the warmth from Luna’s legs next to his, and could detect the faint scents of a mild floral perfume, but-

He imagined that she had just risen from a bath, all artificial scents gone as the sun warmed her skin; his nostrils flared as the sweet aroma of an unknown flower came across his senses, followed by a pleasant mix of spices he also didn’t recognize. Wrapping up the the whole package was an undercurrent of something that tickled his tongue, made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end; Prompto could only label it power , pure and true, the essence of the oracle all bound up in flower blossoms and life. He could feel himself smiling, and Noct’s voice cut in.

“You’ve got something, don’t you? I’m guessing she smells nice to you,” Noct said, and Prompto chuckled and opened his eyes, grinning at Luna.

“You smell like a flower I don’t know and life , it’s wonderful,” he said, and Luna returned his smile, reaching out and patting his arm.

“Try again? One of the others?” Luna asked, and Prompto let his eyes fall closed again, this time reaching out for Gladio. His wasn’t all that surprising, but still nice, tones of clean sweat, the subtle fragrance of his namesake, pages of an old book, and a pervading sense of...reliability? Loyalty? He wasn’t quite sure how he would describe it, but it was quite nice. Before he could move on to Ignis, though, Luna’s hand patted his arm again. “Now you need to try with your eyes open.”

Oh, that’s probably a good idea, Prompto thought, then opened his eyes and tried to not stare completely at Ignis, instead looking at a point past his shoulder. This time it didn’t come to him so easily, as he kept getting distracted by every little movement one of them made. He finally just took a deep breath and relaxed back in his chair, focusing mentally on Iggy. He smelled like a bakery, sweet, savory, and yeasty all mixed together with something rather similar to Gladio, actually- except he’d probably label it competence and loyalty in Iggy’s case.

Then there was Noct. Prompto found that he was actually a bit tentative in reaching out for Noct’s essence, although he wasn’t entirely sure why. He could see the others shift around awkwardly as they waited for him to be done, and he knew he just needed to go for it. He barely got in a breath before the same feeling of power that he had gotten from Luna slammed into him, but only far more intense and uncontrolled, he could feel sweat running down the back of his neck as he continued to focus on Noct. The scent of a fruit tart, a hint of the same flower from before, the smell of the city after a rainstorm- they were all there. But there was one thing that was there, underneath the surface, and it scared him. Prompto had once tried to have a pet rat, a little thing that he had snuck into the house and tried to take care of as a child, only for the rodent to vanish about six months later. He looked and he looked, but only a few days later, he had come across what was left of him. The smell had been what had alerted him to the poor creature's location, and he had never forgotten that.

Why would Noct have a touch of death clinging to him? Did it have to do with the prophecy? Or was it from the attack from when he was a kid? Prompto didn’t know, but either way, he didn’t like it.

“You doin’ alright there, Prompto?” Gladio said, and it threw Prompto out of his contemplation over Noct’s scent handily. He could have kissed the guy.

“Yeah, doing great,” Prompto said a little too quickly, and ruthlessly ignored the looks from the others. “I think I have this down, it’s just a matter of focus. I don’t think I could have done this before yesterday, though. My head is still spinning a bit.” Prompto closed his eyes for a moment and massaged his temples, trying to calm his mind. Luna’s leg nudged his, and he sighed and opened his eyes again.

“We are counting on you, Prompto. I’m sure you will do just fine.” Prompto looked up at Iggy, who looked...fond, which was reassuring, and he nodded to the older man.

“I’m going to do my best,” he replied, and was pleased when Iggy gave him a honest grin in return. He could tell that they wanted to ask what he had sensed from them, but no one spoke up, and they all sat in silence for far too long until Gladio spoke up again.

“So you find who you, the King, and the Marshal are looking for, which I still don’t quite understand, and what’s going to happen?” Gladio said, and Luna and Prompto exchanged a startled look. That’s right, they hadn’t been told about the whole Accursed thing, Prompto realized with a groan. He gave Luna a desperate look, and the oracle did the mature thing and rolled her eyes a bit at him. Right, he should really have brought it up earlier-

“-I’m going to kill whoever you are looking for, if I’m guessing correctly,” Noct stated bluntly, and the blood in Prompto’s face plummeted to his toes. Noct- probably wasn’t wrong. Luna froze next to him, and he could see Gladio and Ignis’s faces go tense. Noct seemed remarkably unconcerned, leaning back in his chair and shrugging his crossed arms. “References to the prophecy have been thrown around a few times in the last twenty four hours, it wasn’t all that hard to figure out. I’m just not certain of the details.”

“The one we are looking for is the real target of that prophecy you grew up with, he’s called the Accursed, he’s supposed to be the first attempt at the chosen king, only he kinda screwed up really bad and pissed off the astrals. Supposedly the goddess thinks it might be the chancellor, but we aren’t entirely sure yet,” Prompto said quietly, looking again to Luna for support, this time receiving a nod.

“If all we have heard is true, this Accursed is now the sole source of the Starscourge. If he could be defeated, it is very possible that the Scourge could be purged once and for all,” Luna finished, and Noct’s brow furrowed.

“That would save the world, but how about the city? Lucis?” Noct asked, and Prompto slumped forward.

“We don’t know, it might fix everything, it may only fix the Scourge and we cause a giant incident,” he said, but next to him, Luna looked thoughtful.

“I think it will take care of a lot, Prompto. You do know what MTs are, right?” Luna asked, and he froze. He knew exactly what they were, even if the memories were spotty at best. Shit. “My mother, thanks to unexpected assistance from the Herald, discovered that MTs are humans that have been deliberately exposed to the Scourge over time in some way, so they can be molded into demonic soldiers. If destroying the Accursed removes the Scourge, it’s very possible that Niflheim will be down the vast majority of their army.” Everyone’s eyes had swiveled to Prompto as Luna spoke, and he hunched down further in his seat.

“Didn’t the marshal state that he had found you in a dangerous situation in Gralea?” Iggy asked, and Prompto groaned, but sat back up and fiddled with his wristband, unsnapping then pulling it off. He opened his mouth to say something, but instead just raised his bare wrist, where the barcode was plain to see. All three of the guys leaned in to look, before Noct wrapped his fingers around Prompto’s wrist gently and lowering his arm.

“Hey, you’re here, you are obviously not a death robot daemon thing, and if you ever wanna think otherwise- I may not know much of anything about her, but I sincerely doubt that the Dawn Mother would pick someone any less than perfect for her chosen. Right, Luna?” Noct said, as Prompto tried not to freak out.

“You are absolutely correct, Noctis. My mother cleansed you of any trace of the Scourge when you were brought to Tenebrae, you are not in any way an MT. That tattoo is the only thing that remains of your very early life, if I am correct. Do not dwell on it further, Prompto,” Luna stated as she raised a hand to Prompto’s cheek, and he let himself lean into it for a moment.

“My apologies for bringing up such a difficult subject, Prompto, I’m glad you were able to make it here to Insomnia and flourish here,” Ignis said with a regretful frown, and Prompto gave him a tired smile.

“It’s alright, I understand. It needed to be said, I’m tired of keeping things from you guys.” Gladio hadn’t said anything yet, and he was starting to get a little nervous. He forced himself to look over at the large man, hoping he wouldn’t see something he couldn’t handle right now; instead, he saw amber eyes with a very suspicious sheen to them that made his heart stutter in his chest, and he looked away as he began to blink back tears of his own.

“Damn it, Prompto, you’ve been dealing with all of this forever, and you just keep ticking along and acting like nothing’s wrong, even when you haven’t slept properly in months because you keep being summoned by a damn goddess, collapsing multiple times a day, or trying not to freak out over everything that was happening...and don’t try and tell me you haven’t been, you’ve just been decent in hiding it,” Gladio stated, as quietly as Prompto had ever heard him speak, and he had to force back a sob. “You’ve got this, Prom, because you are one of the bravest people I’ve ever met, and I’ve met some pretty brave people through the years. And if there’s going to be a fight, you know we’ve all got you and Noct’s back.” Prompto hopped to his feet, and stomped over to Gladio, still holding back tears.

“Sounds like it’s time for a group hug, you asshole,” Prompto said, but immediately snuffled afterwards, which completely killed any chance of being taken seriously. But Gladio gamely got to his feet, enfolding Prompto in his enormous arms; Prompto felt as several more sets wrapped around them, and he couldn’t help but let loose a few tears. Gladio, luckily, made no comment. “Luna, if you aren’t in the hug, get over here!” He heard a rather-wet sounding laugh, then a final set of arms wrapped around the pile. “We should totally do this more often, Gladio is a great base for a group hug.”

“Did I say you could volunteer me?”

In a blink of an eye, it was time for Prompto to meet Cor at the parking garage, and the whole lot of them followed him down, only to be stopped by the king and Lord Amicitia, who had clearly expected this.

“Good luck, Prompto, Cor, everyone, we will be ready here when you arrive,” the king said, and with that (and a muffled protest from Noctis,) they were left alone with the Glaives, who were already by their cars.

“Are you ready for this, Prompto?” Cor said as he opened the driver’s door and sliding in; Prompto quickly followed on the passenger side, buckling in and taking a deep breath.

“I’m as ready as I think I’ll get, Cor.” Prompto saw Cor’s mouth twitch up a bit before it returned to its previous flat expression, and he settled back in his seat as the whole convoy set off for the wall.

When they were about halfway there, Prompto caught Cor’s eye at a stoplight, and just as quickly looked at his feet. This was awkward. They had spoken just fine in the morning, until Cor had all but announced his suicidal sounding plan to save them, and now-

“Prompto. I realize that I came off as a bit flippant this morning, and I wish to apologize,” Cor said, and Prompto looked over at the older man.

“Do you get why I was mad?” he replied, and he could see Cor’s mouth tighten. “I’ve just met you for real, and in our first real conversation, you make it sound like you plan on getting yourself killed trying to save us. The Dawn Mother has had held me off for years telling me how amazing you are and how we would get along great, and I don’t doubt it, but to hear something like that right away-” he bit at his lip when he trailed off, and he heard Cor sigh.

“That wasn’t my intent, Prompto. I’m not exactly used to being the one giving the reassuring speeches, and I didn’t even think about how it sounded.” Prompto, against all reason, almost giggled. Noct actually had pinned down Cor’s personality pretty well, which was actually pretty reassuring. He sobered quickly, though, and reached over and touched the older man’s shoulder.

“I mean, if we die here today or tomorrow, we die. But I’m not planning on just cutting and running when we still have things we can do.” The soft-eyed look he received from Cor in response was completely heartwarming, and Prompto sat back up in his chair as they were being saluted through the inner gate.

“Damn straight,” Cor muttered, and Prompto laughed as they slowed and came to a stop. He could see something flying on the horizon, and he squinted out the window.

“What is that?”

“A Magitech troop carrier. Primarily used for transport of MTs, as you can probably guess, but obviously they are using it for VIP transportation in this instance.”

“It would definitely be handy to be able to fly everywhere, that’s for sure,” Prompto stated as it descended down to land about fifty feet from where they parked. Cor turned to Prompto, as stone-faced as he had ever seen the man.

“Stay in the car, but roll the window down and pay attention. I shouldn’t need you to get out, but just in case I signal for you-” Cor met Prompto’s eyes, and Prompto bobbed his head rapidly. “Excellent,” Cor stated, and he reached over and patted Prompto’s thigh. “We’ve got this.” Cor got out of the car, closing the door behind him. Prompto lowered the window as he watched the driver of each car do the same, including Libertus, who was driving the car that was behind them.

The massive hatch to the carrier opened up, and out stepped the Emperor of Niflheim himself, followed by a jauntily dressed man with maroon hair and a cold faced soldier that reminded Prompto a little of Luna for some reason- his eyes widened. Oh, it must be her brother. He had forgotten that he had joined the imperial army after Tenebrae fell entirely, which Prompto thought was really fucking backwards, considering they had killed their mother. An assortment of several dozen or so ministers and military-types followed, then the carrier closed behind them. Cor stepped forward and affected a dignified bow, which the Glaives copied almost perfectly.

“Welcome to Insomnia, your majesty. I am Cor Leonis, marshal of the Crownsguard, and I am here to escort you and your retinue to the Citadel.” The emperor strode forward, looking Cor up and down like he was sizing up a prized chocobo, and Prompto had to force himself to remain seated.

“Marshal Leonis, I have heard of you. The one man army of Lucis. You are probably responsible for more decimation of my forces over the last thirty years than any one man,” the emperor smirked. “It’s an honor.” Cor bowed his head slightly in response, and Prompto tried not to tense as he led the emperor and the red-haired man towards their car...who had to be the chancellor. Holy shit I’m an idiot , Prompto screamed internally, then forced a pleasant smile on his face as the rear door was opened, and the chancellor slid in, followed by the emperor. Cor closed the rear passenger door, then a moment later, opened the driver’s door and got back in, firing up the engine.

“It should be about a half-hour to the Citadel, your majesty, chancellor. Sit back and relax.” Cor shifted into drive and turned back towards the gate, and to Prompto’s intense relief, no one spoke until they were well inside the wall.

“You didn’t introduce us to your fetching copilot, marshal.” The chancellor’s voice was lilting and honestly a bit unnerving, but Cor waved a hand towards him and he forced himself to turn slightly and smile.

“Ah, this is Crownsguard Argentum. He’s actually my newest recruit, I figured it would be good experience for him to be here.” The chancellor chuckled, and Prompto again forced himself not to squirm in his seat.

“It certainly is.” No more was said after that, and Prompto actually let his eyes close for a moment as he let himself focus. It was showtime. He opened his eyes again and reached out with his mind to the emperor. The smell of decay and old age wrapped around him, badly covered by a metallic-tinged spice and more than a hint of something that he didn’t want to identify...and sickness. Not just any sickness, but Prompto would have put money on the emperor having the beginning stages of the Scourge. Unpleasant, but none of it except the sickness part was surprising. Prompto let his mind clear for a moment, then finally, tentatively, he reached out for the chancellor-

-and nearly lost his lunch. He barely registered the flash of alarm that Cor shot from the corner of his eye as Prompto tried to process what he was sensing. If Noct had a small touch of death upon him, the chancellor was riddled with it; nothing but the stench of burning flesh, rancid blood, and putrefaction met him, all bundled together with the horrifying feeling that there was more than one presence inside the man, scents coming forth and fading just as quickly from this accursed being, and Prompto had absolutely no doubt that the chancellor was the one they sought. Pulling his senses back before he actually vomited, he forced himself to take several quiet breaths as they came in clear sight of the Citadel. They were almost there, and he had managed to secure what they had needed to know. Now to figure out what to do with it.

Cor pulled around the fountain and they came to a stop, immediately getting out of the car and opening the rear door for the emperor and the chancellor. After both men got out, Cor leaned in and tilted his head, and Prompto scrambled to get out, rounding the car to stand by the older man. Just in time, too, as the look on Luna’s brother’s face as he saw his sister standing with the rest of the royal retinue on the stairs was classic.

 

---

 

Ignis stood silently behind Noctis as the emperor got out of the vehicle, followed by the chancellor; from the second car came Ravus Nox Fleuret, whose pinched expression took on a new dimension when he laid eyes on the princess, who looked like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. Ignis could see Noctis’s shoulders shaking, and he knew he was trying his best not to laugh at the clearly pissed off Ravus, but still-

A firm poke to the prince’s back calmed him down as the emperor and his entourage ascended the steps of the Citadel, and Ignis watched as the king set his spine and smiled politely to the emperor, who returned an equally insincere grin.

“Welcome to Insomnia, your majesty. We hope this will be a fruitful visit for us all,” the king spoke, and Aldercapt nodded regally.

“Thank you for our welcome to your beautiful city, Your Highness. I also hope for a successful conclusion to our visit.” Ignis had no doubt that both men had very different definitions of success, but that was neither here nor there. Ravus had managed to get himself within six feet or so of his sister, and he wasn’t bothering trying to hide the looks that he kept sending her, only to be utterly ignored. It was rather amusing to watch, Ignis had to agree, but they couldn’t show that now. The chancellor had bowed to the king when he approached, but was otherwise focused on everyone else, especially Noctis. Ignis didn’t like it in the slightest, the man made his skin crawl just by being in his general vicinity. A quick look down to the street showed that the marshal and Prompto had left their car and had been replaced by Glaives Ulric and Altius; he really wanted to know what Prompto had uncovered, but he had to be patient. After a few more pointless political statements, the emperor turned around and descended the stairs again, followed by the rest of the entourage. Ravus clearly was trying to convince the princess to travel with him, but she was still pretending that he wasn’t there, and he finally had to give up and hurried down the steps with the rest, getting into their cars and departing. They would all see each other later at the party at the Caelum Via Hotel anyway, and he was sure that Ravus would be able to speak with his sister then.

After the cars were out of sight, the king turned to Noctis and nodded. “We should go speak with the marshal about his impression of our guests,” he said, and Ignis nodded along with the rest as they turned and headed back into the Citadel. A few minutes later saw them entering a small meeting room, where Prompto and the marshal were already seated. The younger man’s head was buried in his folded arms as they rested on the table, with Cor’s hand resting on his hair in a clear attempt to soothe him, and Ignis frowned. “Are you alright, Prompto?” the king asked, and Prompto groaned, but did not raise his head.

“Forgive the lack of response, your majesty, Mr. Argentum just had a rather violent moment of sickness and could use a minute to recover,” the marshal stated, his hand still resting on Prompto’s head; Noctis immediately ran to his friend’s side and sat, and Ignis followed close behind, sitting down in the chair next to the prince.

“Is it...what we feared? Who we suspected?” Ignis asking the question they all wanted to know as he looked at the marshal, and the stern man nodded.

“Yes, it is. He seemed quite positive,” the marshal said, and everyone shifted in their chairs.

“I- I am positive. I’ve never smelled anything so horrible in my life, he was like death and decay incarnate, and it was like there was more than one of him, the scents kept changing...there was so much anger in him-” Prompto jumped to his feet and fled to the attached bathroom, where they all winced at the retching that could be clearly heard from within. After an uncomfortable moment where they all tried to decide whether to go check on him or stay put, the king leaned forward and spoke.

“Then we must figure out our course of action. The chancellor cannot be allowed to leave Insomnia alive.” Ignis couldn’t ignore the sad noises coming from the restroom any longer, and he rose to his feet, bowed to the king, then went to go see how Prompto was doing.

Ignis entered the unlocked stall to find Prompto curled up on the tile in front of the toilet, his forehead resting against the porcelain bowl. He looked miserable, and Ignis carefully lowered himself to the ground next to him, resting his hand on the younger man’s back. “Do you wish to talk about it?” Prompto sighed, and Ignis let his hand run up to the back of Prompto’s neck, giving it a light squeeze.

“It bothered me some at first when I reached out, but I knew I had to hold it together. But after we dropped them off, I suddenly got super nauseous, and Cor signalled for a few Glaives to take our place while I went to go die for awhile,” Prompto croaked out, his throat scratchy from his recent activities, and Ignis gave his neck a pat before getting back up to fetch a glass of water for his friend. After a few gulps, Prompto sat up enough to lean against the wall, still clutching the glass of water. “I didn’t even have to say anything, he just knew.” Prompto’s lips inched up, and Ignis waited. “It was nice.”

“Marshal Leonis seems to care for you, Prompto, and I have a feeling that you two have a certain bond that the rest of us will never fully understand due to your shared circumstances. You should treasure it,” Ignis said as he pushed his glasses up his nose. A shaky grin from Prompto made him turn towards the other man, and he suddenly found himself wrapped in Prompto’s arms.

“Cor is awesome, and I truly hope I can get to know him better if we don’t all die trying to fix stuff, but you guys were there for me first. Don’t forget that. I pulled so much shit that most reasonable people would have kicked me to the curb for over the last few years since this all started-” Prompto whispered into Ignis’s ear, and he raised his arms and wrapped them around the younger man, giving him a light squeeze.

“We would have done no such thing, Prompto. Don’t assume us to be reasonable, have you seen Noct?” Ignis drawled, and Prompto chortled in his ear. “Now, we should be getting back before the rest of them try to fit in here as well.” Ignis got to his feet, pulling Prompto up with him, and the two of them returned to the meeting room, Prompto returning to his spot next to Cor and Noctis, and Ignis to his on the other side of his prince. “Please forgive our absence, your majesty,” he said to the king, who waved a hand in dismissal.

“Thank you again for your assistance, Prompto. Do you feel well enough to attend the party this evening, or do you wish to stay here?” the king asked, and Prompto waved away his concerns.

“I’ll be just fine, but thank you. I can turn off the scent thing, so I should be good to go.” The king smiled, and turned to the princess, who lowered her eyes to the table for a moment before meeting everyone’s eyes.

“I will circulate the party, as I am expected to anyway due to my position, and I will see if I can speak for a little while with the chancellor; perhaps if I can figure out any plans or motivations of his before we try our move tomorrow,” Luna stated, and everyone nodded in agreement. The King looked around the room one last time, then rose to his feet. After a moment of surveying his forces, as it were, he spoke.

“The Crownsguard and the Glaives have their orders already, so let me go over all of yours briefly. Gladiolus, Ignis, you two are to stay with Noctis at all times. Prompto, it would probably be best if you stay with Cor, but otherwise with my son. Cor, general patrol, we are not trying to start a fight this evening. Clarus, you’ll be with me, of course. Luna, do what you need to do, but I would suggest not leaving the party without alerting one of us first. While Drautos and his recruits have been removed from the equation for now, we do not know if there are other agents that are in the city working against us. It is best to remain in sight at all times. If any of you see anything that you believe needs to be known, go through Cor, as he has demonstrated that he has ways of moving about that won’t attract attention. While we need to keep track of the entire group, Ardyn Izunia, the chancellor, is our specific focus. Glaives Ulric, Khara, and Altius have been specifically assigned to keep eyes on the emperor and the chancellor at all times until the time of the signing.” His Majesty looked around the room, and Ignis nodded his understanding when the man’s eyes swept past his. “Is there anything else that anyone wishes to impart before we prepare for this evening?”

Prompto raised his hand like he was in class, and even the king couldn’t hold back a chuckle. “It’s probably nothing, but I’m, like, eighty five percent sure that the emperor is in the early stages of Starscourge infection. He smelled of sickness, not a lot, but it was there- and it didn’t feel...natural.” Ignis saw Lunafreya’s eyes widen at Prompto’s statement, then narrow in thought.

“If the emperor has the Scourge, then...interesting. That is something I can definitely investigate,” the princess stated, rising to her feet as she spoke. “Well, I better change for the party, it would be only proper.”

At that, the group broke up, with Luna heading out first, then everyone went their separate ways to get prepared for the evening. Prompto waved to Ignis as he left with Noctis, and then Ignis was alone. He could have gone on the same elevator as them, but he wanted a moment to think.

“You need to be less distracted, Scientia.” Ignis barely refrained from jumping as the marshal came around from behind him, and he would have sworn on the crystal that the man had not been there ten seconds earlier. Then it hit him, the marshal could move between realities, if he understood correctly. He could travel large distances in a matter of seconds. It was very likely that he hadn’t been there ten seconds earlier.

“That seems like an incredibly useful skill, marshal, in case I hadn’t mentioned it before.” The older man actually smirked a bit, but nodded.

“It is. How is he?” Abrupt, but that was the way the man talked much of the time. Ignis didn’t disapprove.

“He’s probably going to have a sore throat for another hour or so, but he should be fine. He was...pleasantly surprised that you noticed that he was getting ill,” Ignis said, and the marshal gave a somewhat strained look, then reached up and tapped at his own skull with a finger.

“I’ve not exactly told him yet, but I have a connection of sorts to him. I can tell where he is, and I can get hints of very strong emotion, and I can feel if he’s not well. It’ll probably become two-sided over time. Before you ask, I’m not spying on his thoughts, I just get flashes of feeling, basically. I always knew when he was being summoned. When he reached out to inspect the emperor and the chancellor, I was getting a bit more than usual, but that was probably because we were only a foot or so away from each other. When he went for Izunia,  his disgust was so strong that even my stomach complained for a minute, and I know I was just getting a hint of what he was experiencing,” the marshal’s gaze drifted to a wall across the way, and Ignis stared at the man. Things were moving too fast, and he hoped that things like what the marshal had just described wouldn’t be forgotten in the shuffle.

“You’ll tell him, once it’s all over,” Ignis all but demanded, but the marshal pinched the bridge of his nose and bobbed his head.

“Yes, I know. We have a lot to catch up on,” Leonis stated, and well, there was nothing else to it for now, they had more immediate concerns in front of them. Ignis tilted his head in acknowledgement, then headed for the elevator. It was time for a party.

Chapter Text

Whoever had made the outfits that had placed in her borrowed quarters was exceptionally skilled, and Luna was enjoying perusing the small collection to decide what she would wear to the so-called welcoming party. After trying on several of the dresses, she settled on one that had a long skirt, but lots of movement; it would be child’s play to tear the skirt shorter if something came up. She looked at herself in the mirror, even giving a twirl to enjoy the skirt’s fluttering about her calves before sobering. If Prompto was right, and she was quite sure he was, the chancellor was diseased beyond comprehension, the true cursed being, and even the emperor might have the beginning stages of the Scourge. Something had been rotten in the state of the empire for years, but to this extent- She would not have believed it until recently.

Luna dug in her bag, the one thing she had brought out with her from Tenebrae, still filthy from the hard trip, and fetched out a brooch, pinning the crest of her house to her chest. While the Lucian-made dress was beautiful, she had to have a touch of home. Home. She could not avoid Ravus any longer, she would have to speak with him this evening. He had looked so furious, but at the same time, it had been heartening to see a touch of concern in his eyes. He had been genuinely worried for her, she could tell, and she knew that he was dying to know how she escaped. Well, that he would probably find out on his own very soon, if things go sideways tomorrow. She looked at herself in the mirror one last time, then turned away. It was almost time to go. She just needed to take care of her hair. Before she could head to the restroom, a very familiar presence tickled the edge of her perception, and she turned around and smiled at Gentiana.

“It is good to see you, Gentiana,” Luna said, and the messenger gave one of her mysterious smiles and nodded.

“I am pleased to see you well, Oracle. Events move quickly, and time grows short. The Voice has located the Accursed, assisted by the Herald’s knowledge and strength, and it will soon be time for the King of the Stone to do his work. However, there is a conundrum, Oracle, a problem that even the Mother of the Dawn may not have anticipated.” Gentiana’s voice was as calm and collected as always, but that last line-

“What is the problem? Is it something I can help with?” Luna exclaimed, worry slicing through her breast, and Gentiana met her eyes.

“Bound to the crystal, the Kings of Lucis are, even the uncrowned Kings; the Accursed will not go easily to his rest whilst he is still held by its power,” the messenger spoke, and Luna could feel the warmth leaving her body, the bottom falling out of her stomach. Bound to the crystal. How could they overcome that? The Voice seemed to have some ability to cleave the realms between for the spirits to join him in song, but that hardly meant that he could manipulate the crystal. In fact, she had a suspicion that the crystal wouldn’t respond in the slightest to either him or the Herald, being strictly of Bahamut’s design; Gentiana had implied in the past that the Dawn Mother and Bahamut didn’t see eye to eye on many things, and she had no reason to doubt her. What could be done? “Call for me, and I will come.” Luna looked back up to see that Gentiana was gone, and couldn’t help a small sigh.

The messenger gave advice, but it was left to them to decide what to do with it. It was her position, after all, but still, she wouldn’t have minded a clear instruction or two on occasion. Luna went into the restroom, and worked her hair into a upswept style for the party, all the while thinking of what they could do. Perhaps she could try to reach out to the crystal, convince it to sever its link with the ancient not-king? Would that even be possible?

Luna didn’t know. She would have to figure it out soon, though, if their plans to, bluntly, assassinate the chancellor were to go ahead. It wouldn’t do for the Accursed to be cut down, only to rise again. This needed to be final.

She wiggled her feet into her shoes, ran her hands down the front of her dress, then nodded. Time to go.

One of the Crownsguard, a kind, utterly competent woman who turned out to be the second in command under the marshal, drove her over to the hotel separately from the rest. It would be appropriate for her to circulate the party a bit earlier, being the oracle, and she did truly need the time to speak with Ravus. Bidding Monica farewell at the threshold, she followed the ushers to the roof, which was set up for a lovely dinner party, and she was completely impressed by the stunning aquarium of fish set in crystal-like blue glass as the centerpiece to the whole affair. The whole scene could lead one to believe that all that was going on was an average royal party, and not the precursor to what could be the beginning of the end.

Luna went around greeting the guests for the next half hour, even speaking with a few of the imperial council and generals who were clearly trying to be on their best behavior for now. She received no sign that they had something planned, but she would have been surprised if they had slipped. They were too well versed in intrigue to make such errors.

“Lunafreya.” Ravus. She had not even noticed that he had arrived. Distraction could be a dangerous proposition at this point in time, she needed to pay attention. She took a slow, calming breath then turned to face her brother, his countenance luckily far better composed from earlier.

“Brother, it is good to see you,” Luna said, and for the most part, she meant it. While they had been rapidly drifting apart over the last few years, she still loved him very much, even if she did not understand his choices, and as he had by and large refused to accept hers. He offered his hand and she took it, and he led them to an alcove off to the side of the aquarium.

“Same to you, sister. I’m glad to see you well,” Ravus said, then he looked to the side, away from her. “I must ask, how did you manage to get here?” Luna quirked an eyebrow at her brother.

“You mean, how did I manage to get around your defenses?” she commented, and Ravus scowled at her.

“Sister, they are there for your protection.”

“They are there to keep me in, and you know it. Don’t try to dress up the situation with words. As for your question, I have friends with unique skills, and they came to my aid. I will tell you no more,” Luna smiled, but it was all teeth; she watched as Ravus’s eyes narrowed in either anger or frustration, which she expected.

“Gentiana does not take others in her travels,” Ravus stated, and Luna shrugged.

“Did I mention her?” Ravus’s eyebrows drew together, and Luna patted his arm.

“Relax, Ravus, we are both here now. The details are not important,” she said, and watched as her brother ground his teeth before sighing and looking off towards the last colors of the sunset. A few minutes passed with no speaking, with the two of them simply standing next to each other. It was quite comfortable, and Luna had to fight to keep the smile on her face. If only it could always be like this , she thought.

“We- we did not expect the immortal to be our initial escort. We had been informed that it would be the Captain of the Kingsglaive instead,” Ravus stated sotto voce, and Luna could have cried with both fondness and amusement. Of all of them she had spoken with, it was her dear brother that slipped first.

“I wouldn’t know, Ravus. I was not privy to such details, only that you would be met and escorted in,” Luna replied, and Ravus nodded absently, clearly taking her at her word.

“Of course. Since you arrived here before us, how is your precious Noctis?” Ravus couldn’t even say his name without a sneer in his tone, and Luna scarcely refrained from rolling her eyes. Considering the man he was inquiring about just moments earlier was the same man who had murdered their mother, one would think he would see the strangeness of his hatred towards the prince.

But logic and Ravus seemed to have separated quite permanently that day twelve years ago, and she had largely given up hope that he would reclaim it. Maybe if this plan actually worked out... “Noctis is well, thank you for your concern. We were very happy to see each other again, and are looking forward to the future.” Ravus’s sneer became far more obvious, and she couldn’t help a sigh. “I’m going to talk with everyone some more, Ravus. I’ll speak with you later.”

Before he could complain or hold her back, Luna slipped out of the alcove, nearly running into a Glaive, who grabbed her gently by the shoulders before she could slip. “You alright, princess?” She knew his voice, and looked up to see Glaive Ulric, the one who had helped so much the other day. He had an absolutely lovely smile, and the corners of his eyes were crinkling up so sweetly- Luna mentally shook her head. She could feel warmth rushing to her cheeks, but this wasn’t the time; besides, she was quite sure that her brother was watching them, which sobered her quickly.

“I’m quite well, thank you sir. My apologies for nearly bowling you over,” Luna managed to say, and Ulric nodded, giving her a quick glance then looking towards the emperor. Of course, she had a job to do.

“Enjoy your evening, your highness.” Ulric moved off, and Luna rallied herself. She still needed to approach both the emperor and Izunia, she didn’t have time for distractions. It was easy to approach the emperor, say a few pleasantries while reaching out with her own power. Prompto was right, she could feel the Scourge beginning its path through the old man. She doubted he had more than a few months without intervention. While every part of her wished to reach out and heal him now, emperor or not, she forced herself to stay her hand. She could always do so later if it was necessary.

Ardyn Izunia was leaning against the handrail of the aquarium terrace, sipping from a glass of champagne and looking mildly amused at everything going on around him. He made Luna’s skin crawl. She looked around the rooftop, noting that her brother had seated himself and was eating below. The king was talking to the emperor, Lord Amicitia standing a few steps behind him; the monarch looked like he wanted to jump off the roof when he thought no one was paying attention. She had to force herself not to smile at the sight. It was nice to see that he and Noctis were actually quite alike sometimes, especially in such trying times. As for Noctis himself, he was chatting with a young woman, with Gladiolus and Ignis right behind him; Prompto was...not there, and neither was Cor. She wasn’t too worried about them, however, Cor would keep them both safe. So approaching Izunia it was. Luna put on her friendliest smile she could and approached the red-haired man, who raised an eyebrow and his glass at her approach.

“Lady Lunafreya. To what do I owe the honor?” Izunia said, and Luna managed a polite little bow.

“My Lord Chancellor, I thought I would come and speak with you, as it has been many years since you have visited Tenebrae. Have you been well?” She forced herself to move closer to the man, even as the hair began to stand up on the back of her neck. She needed to see, to know what Prompto had felt-

“Your home is very beautiful, my lady, but I find it much too...peaceful for my taste much of the time. I’ve grown too accustomed to the constant noise and ruckus of Gralea in my old age. Forgive me if you felt that I was avoiding you, as I would never think of doing such a thing,” Izunia said with what most would think was a friendly smile, but she could see the darkness behind it; she reached out with her power, just a small amount, and immediately pulled back as the chancellor jerked, nearly dropping his glass. She lunged forward, ostensibly to stabilize his drink, but placed her hands directly on his.

“My lord chancellor, are you alright?” Luna said as she pretended to reaffirm his grip on his goblet. The voice was right, even the tiniest touch of the light brought forth the daemons within, and she knew that no power she had would ever heal this man completely. The fact made her pity him, even though she knew he was responsible for much sadness and death himself. He had not been truly human in a very long time.

“Must have been a chill, my dear. Thank you for your assistance,” Izunia backed up a step, breaking her loose grip. Luna let her hands fall to her sides as she gave a slight bow.

“I am happy to serve. I do hope to see you tomorrow, as I understand that this treaty was of your design? I am honored to be part of it, to be able to help secure a lasting peace between Lucis and Niflheim.” Luna smiled at the chancellor once more, and got the nod she was hoping for.

“You will see me at the signing, my lady; may it be a bountiful day for us all.” Izunia gave her a smile that was little more than a quirk of the lips, tipped his hat to her, and departed. She watched him walk away for a moment, then turned and headed down the stairs, her skirt swishing behind her. Ravus was still eating, and before he could see her, she proceeded to a side exit, meeting Ulric’s eyes as she slipped inside. Once inside, she let herself fall sideways against the wall of the corridor. While she had believed Prompto, and Gentiana had even confirmed his account, there had been part of her that had wanted to see for herself all that had been discussed. There was no question in her mind now, Ardyn Izunia was the Accursed, the fallen king, the source of the Starscourge. It was a daunting concept.

“Everything alright?” Luna jumped as Cor’s voice came from behind her, and she put her hands on her hips and scowled at the older man.

“Why do I have a feeling that the whole Citadel is going to want to hit you after a few weeks, marshal?” Luna muttered, but there was no heat in it. Cor crossed his arms and waited, his stern face never so much as twitching, and Luna sighed. “You were right. Prompto was right. Gentiana was right. He’s...not even human anymore. The core of who he used to be is in there, I think, but he’s been entirely subsumed by daemons, countless beyond measure. There could be ten oracles standing here right now, and I don’t think it would be enough to heal him.”

“Then we move forward. Do you think he suspects anything? It looked like he almost dropped his glass while you were talking to him,” Cor inquired, and Luna thought about it for a moment before shaking her head.

“He did feel when I reached out, unfortunately, but I did my best to play the fool and pretended to help him steady his drink. If he suspects anything, I’m hoping he thinks it was instinctual for me. I now realize that he never went to Tenebrae after I became oracle to avoid me, otherwise, I would have certainly seen that something was wrong about him before.” Cor frowned marginally, but nodded. “He did say we would see him at the signing.”

“Good. We will be maintaining surveillance on him until we have him in front of the Citadel tomorrow morning, then we will proceed,” Cor stated, and Luna wrung her hands together before nodding. To be a part of such intrigue was strange to her, and another part of her was shouting that this was against the prophecy, but- it needed to be done. To save the world from the Scourge before the world could fall to darkness...it still sounded like a pipedream, but it was one she wanted to put her faith into. In-between one blink and the next, Cor was gone, and she allowed herself to lean against the wall again. Now to just figure out the problem with the crystal.

 

---

 

Luna was hiding something. Or, at the least, she was neglecting to say it, which was the same damn thing. But something told him that it wasn’t malicious, and Cor figured there was more important things to focus on.

Like the fact they needed to somehow kill a daemon-infested immortal tomorrow. Cor stepped into the shadows near Regis just long enough for the king to catch his eye, giving him a careful nod before stepping again, this time appearing near the prince. Gladio saw him first, and he again nodded before moving to Prompto’s side, who was waiting in the hallway opposite to the one he had left Luna.

“It’s been doubly confirmed, Prompto,” Cor said, and Prompto bit his lower lip and sighed in response.

“So tomorrow it is, then. Do we need to stick around here?” Prompto replied, and Cor shook his head.

“I’ll take you back to the Citadel now, but the others will be expected to leave more...traditionally. No one at the party will notice that you’ve gone.” Prompto snorted, but seemed to take it in good humor, throwing an arm around Cor’s.

“Right, because just I’m the commoner that hangs out with the prince occasionally. Well, it’s good camouflage.” Prompto jostled Cor’s arm, a curious look on his face. “How does this work?” Cor looked down at Prompto, the sweet kid that should have...no, this wasn’t the time- and smiled indulgently.

Then stepped. They emerged in the hallway of the royal quarters, only feet from the prince’s door, and Prompto swayed on his feet for a moment before jumping up and down in clear excitement, never letting go of Cor’s arm. Cor was so amused by Prompto’s reaction that he let himself get jerked around by the exhilarated blond without even a word.

“Holy shit! That was awesome! It was like walking through a doorway, it was so fast!” Cor chuckled as the younger man hopped away for a moment, before returning to his side. “How did you resist not doing that all the time? I would have been all over town, I would have totally been caught like two minutes in...” Cor reached up and pinched the bridge of his nose, failing to keep the smile off his face.

“You answered your own question, Prompto. But I do admit to sneaking in and out of town a few times for fun back when I was first learning how to do this,” Cor commented, and Prompto grinned again.

“After this is all over, we should totally do-” Prompto cut himself off, his mouth twisting, and Cor watched his shoulders fall. “Do you think we are going to be still alive this time tomorrow?” Prompto muttered, and Cor closed his eyes.

“We are going to do our best to be so. We have no other choice.”

“I’m afraid that the chancellor is going to have something crazy up his sleeve when we confront him,” Prompto groaned, and Cor reached out and clasped his shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze.

“We need to assume that he will, Prompto. To hope that he’ll just lay down and let us kill him is only a fool’s hope; one does not reach an incredibly advanced age without having some resources. Whether they will be daemons or something else entirely, we’ll have to do the best we can.” And if they failed, he would be getting Prompto and Noctis out of Insomnia, by force if need be. He’d rather the world be saved then avoid the hatred that would certainly erupt from him taking away that choice from them.

“You still kinda suck at reassuring people, but I’ll take it,” Prompto grumbled, but Cor noticed that Prompto didn’t try to move away. “Well, good thing I’m a good shot, I might actually have to use my training.”

“That is a possibility. Make sure you are in your uniform tomorrow, it has some protections woven into the fabric that will probably be of use,” he said, and Prompto gave him a somewhat wobbly salute. Cor squeezed his shoulder one more time then took a step back. He needed to return to the party. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning, Prompto.” Prompto gave him a little wave, and he turned to go, only to remember something. “Prompto, what you said earlier about being the commoner of the group? Don’t expect that to last past tomorrow if everything goes well.” The last thing Cor saw was the younger man’s eyes widening as he stepped back to the hotel, and he couldn’t help but sigh. The same held for him, of course, but he had been at least exposed to the public through his long service to the crown, his position as marshal of the Crownsguard was public knowledge. However, Prompto truly had been just a friend, and little else, to the prince, so far as anyone would have seen it. His official admission to the Crownsguard was less than two days old, and if it had been an ordinary hiring, there would have been a few comments on giving the prince’s friends jobs before it blew over. But times were far from ordinary, and the media, provided they existed in a few days, would soon have far more to report on.

Cor did a quick phone call to confirm that the king’s car was ready, then walked out of the secluded spot he had travelled to approach the king, who was politely speaking with one of the Niflheim representatives, but Cor could see the scar around his eye starting to twitch. Regis had gotten little sleep the night before, and they would all need their strength. Clarus noticed him first and gave him a smile that was little more than a quirk of the lips.

“Marshal, is it that time?” Clarus asked, and Cor gave a shallow bow in response. Clarus then turned to the king, an apologetic smile on his face. “Your majesty, general, my apologies for the interruption, but your car is ready.” Only thirty-two years of exposure to Regis made him swallow his smirk at the barely-concealed look of relief on the older man’s face.

“Ah, I see. General, it was good speaking with you. I will see you tomorrow at the signing,” Regis stated, and the general gave a polite bow and withdrew without complaint. Regis leaned towards Cor. “Let’s get out of here.” He debated leading the two men to the elevators, then gave the two a quick side-eye.

“Want a shortcut?”

The three men emerged down behind the base of the service stairs on the ground floor, and Cor watched as the two blinked and looked around in momentary disorientation before looking at him once more.

“I am shocked you managed to keep this to yourself all these years, Cor,” Regis finally said, and Clarus bobbed his head in agreement. “Years of hearing people swear that you were in multiple places at once on the battlefield, and it turns out they were probably right. This...teleporting you do is quite seamless. There are no side effects?”

“Short distances are pretty much effortless. However, the more people I take, and the further I go, I can get exhausted rather quickly. I can step about seventy-five miles solo with only a mild headache for my troubles. If I do that several times in succession, it does tire me out after awhile. Add a second person in, and I prefer to do around fifty mile hops at most. Luna and I travelled this way except for the sea crossing, as I didn’t want to risk trying this in the water with a passenger.” Cor explained quietly as they departed the stairwell back into the lobby area, heading out to the waiting car. He dismissed the Glaive who had driven it in, then opened the door for Regis and Clarus. “Like old times, your majesty.”

Regis huffed a laugh as he followed Clarus into the car. “You were a decent chauffeur back in the day, Cor. Alas, I think you are far better suited to where you are now.” Cor shut the door and got into the car, firing it up and pulling away from the curb. After a few minutes, he glanced back at the king and Clarus through the rear-view mirror.

“If everything goes to shit tomorrow, I can get probably ten to fifteen out at one time safely, even you two if need be. I don’t know if I could do a second round of that, though, when I was getting Prompto out of Gralea, I took twenty-four about twenty miles and was unconscious for a full day. It...wasn’t pleasant.” He could see both men’s eyes widen in the mirror at the news, before Regis rallied and nodded.

“Priority is always Noctis, his friends, and the princess, if it reaches that point, he’ll need their support. As for us old men, I’d rather you survive than myself, as your skills would be invaluable for any campaign that would be needed. And don’t argue with me, Cor, I can see you bristling already,” Regis stated, his eyes giving no quarter, and Cor swallowed his automatic denial.

“Damn it, Regis-” Cor grumbled, and Clarus snorted behind him.

“No use arguing with him, Cor, you know how he gets,” the older man drawled. “Looks like we’ve just got to survive this mess, now don’t we?”

Cor only allowed himself one good moment with his forehead pressed to the steering wheel at the next light along with one aggravated moan, then said nothing more.

The three men parted at the Citadel in silence, only a brotherly clasp of shoulders to convey what they all felt; if tomorrow was going to be it, they better make it one to remember. Cor didn’t look back when he walked away, stepping back to his quarters with no attempt to disguise his passage. All civilian employees had been stood down anyway, and there was only Crownsguard, Glaives, and the Citadel guards left in the building. He stood in his quarters for a moment, allowing himself to decompress. The planning was done, all that remained was to confront Izunia and handle what happened after. Some faint noises from his neighbor did bring something to mind, and Cor left his quarters and knocked on Monica’s door.

“Yes?” Monica opened her door, clearly surprised to see him standing there. “Marshal! What do you need?” She backed into her quarters and waved him in, both of them settling down on her couches. Cor gave a bemused look at Monica as her giant cat promptly plopped into his lap, claws pricking at his pants before she rotated herself into a comfortable position. “You know she likes you, Cor.”

“You mean she likes shedding a few tons of fur on me, you mean,” Cor commented, but he was already petting the furball and really had no leg to stand on. Monica laughed, then leaned in and fixed him with a serious look. “What’s going on?”

“What I’m going to tell you is not to be discussed at all with anyone outside of the king himself, Lord Amicitia, myself, or the prince and his crew, the princess is also permitted if absolutely necessary,” he paused, scratching between the cat’s ears. “As you heard earlier at the meeting, we know this signing is a trap, and we plan to spring it right back at them,” Cor said, and Monica boggled.

“What- what are you planning?” Cor stroked the cat’s soft fur for a moment, letting himself breathe.

“Our real target is the chancellor, Ardyn Izunia. He’s not exactly what he appears to be,” he said, and Monica sat back and crossed her arms, waiting. “We have some rather strong evidence to believe that he is actually a long distant member of the royal family, the only child of the thirteenth king.”

“Cor, that would make him close to two thousand years old, that’s mad!” Cor acceded to her statement, but shook his head.

“He’s not truly human anymore. He’s become a creature the Dawn Mother and Gentiana, a messenger of the astrals refers to as the Accursed; he was a great healer back in his day, but he healed the Starscourge by absorbing it instead of dispersing it. He’s literally become the Scourge itself, and that’s the real reason myself and Prompto were chosen, why there is a chosen king, why all of this has happened. Our goal is to figure out how to kill him, and the main reason I’m telling you all of this is that we are positive he will not go down lightly. All hands will probably be needed if he fights back as expected, no matter what he conjures. We are not actively targeting the emperor, but he may need to be detained or neutralized if he interferes,” Cor finished, and waited for Monica to process this. “I know it’s a lot at one time, Monica, but realized it was unfair to keep you out of the loop, as you will probably be doing the bulk of any commanding tomorrow.”

“Damn Cor, when you get talkative, you just drop world-shaking truths like discussing the weather. Okay, say you all kill Izunia, I’m guessing the Scourge is gone then, but we’ll still probably have half the Niflheim army at our doorstep, and it will definitely attack considering we’ve just murdered their damn chancellor,” Monica stated bluntly, and it was an entirely fair assessment. But Cor had been to the heart of their MT factory, as it were, and he knew the truth.

“If the Starscourge is obliterated, there is no more daemons either. MTs are human children that were intentionally injected with the Scourge as they aged to mold them into purpose-made daemon soldiers.”

“What.”

“I may have travelled to Gralea to rescue Prompto from this very specific fate about seventeen years ago.”

What.”

“It’s a lot easier to get in and out of a place when I can teleport, as the king put it, large distances. Queen Sylva helped me out at that time, cleansed Prompto of the Scourge so I could bring him back here.” At that point, Monica seemed to have lost any ability to form words, and Cor took mercy on her. “Look, Monica, our hope is dead chancellor means no more MTs, which means probably eighty to ninety percent of Niflheim’s army is simply gone. If it doesn’t work out, well, we do the best to repel the invaders as we try and get the city evacuated.”

“Cor, if we survive this, I’m going to turn you upside down and shake you until you tell me everything, you hear me?” Monica growled, and Cor cringed both at her and the feeling of her startled cat taking flight from his lap. After she was done levelling her scorching glare on him, Monica leaned in and took one of his hands. “Do you all have a plan to get rid of the chancellor, or are you just hoping that one of you can make it stick?”

“A bit of column A, a bit of column B,” he mumbled, a bit embarrassed to admit it, and Monica laughed and patted his hand.

“Sounds like usual, then. Good times for everyone,” Monica commented, then she paused. “What about the Glaives in reserve? Do you want me to bring them up if it gets bad?” Cor thought about it for a minute; the Glaives that were being held back had not been included in Prompto’s magical sweep, but had some of the more vocal dissenters otherwise. While they were probably fine, especially facing an alternative of death by daemon or whatever Izunia would bring, he was a bit concerned-

“Yes, if you think we need the manpower. The ones we held back were mostly the vocal dissenters that hadn’t done anything more than complain, we don’t think they pose a serious threat.” Monica understood what he hadn’t said, he knew, and she nodded, then patted his hand one more time and stood.

“Well, time for all divinely ordained types and those strung along with you to go to bed. I’ll see you in the morning, marshal.” Cor found himself hustled out the door before he could even say good night, and with a snort, headed back into his own quarters. She had a good point. A quick shower and shave later, and he collapsed into bed. Almost thirty years of waiting were coming down to tomorrow, he needed his rest.

The next morning, Cor showered one more time just to wake himself up, then dressed in his newest uniform and looked around his quarters one last time, noting all the knickknacks and nonsense that he had collected over the years. Then he straightened his spine, set his shoulders, and stepped to the lobby, where the main group was gathering. Everyone looked up at his appearance. Cor was getting used to the double-takes already, and he walked right up to the king without pausing.

“Good morning, your majesty,” he said as he looked around the room; Prompto smiled and waved as his gaze passed over him, Gladiolus and Ignis dipped their heads in acknowledgement, Monica nodded to him from the back of the room. The prince was standing up by his father looking half-asleep, but this was Noctis’s usual expression in the morning. He knew the kid could perform if needed, morning or not. Luna stood by the prince with a distant smile, but she met his eyes and nodded as well. Flanking the lobby doors, Ulric and Ostium both gave him a formal salute, fist curled against to the chest with a bow, and he gave them a nod.

“Last one here, Cor,” Regis said, and Cor pretended to look around before meeting the king’s eyes again.

“I don’t see Lord Amicitia, will he be joining us?” Regis barked out a laugh, but nodded.

“Okay, perhaps you aren’t the last one, marshal. Clarus should be here any moment,” Regis stated, and Cor lifted a hand to indicate Clarus, who had walked into the room as they were speaking.

“Last one, I see. My apologies, your majesty,” Clarus said as he clasped Cor’s and Regis’s hands; the three men stood in a circle looking at each other and those around them, seeing what they could lose, and what they were trying to protect. Cor let go first, crossing his arms and nodding, a bittersweet smile on his face.

“We follow your lead, your majesty.”

 

---

 

Prompto and Cor remained right inside the main entrance doors as the king, Noctis, Lord Amicitia, Luna, Ignis, and Gladio headed out to the bottom of the steps as a group, followed by Nyx and Crowe. Libertus was standing back inside with them, his walking boot making him less than ideal to send out with the first group. The other Glaives all waited at set locations around the lower floors of the Citadel, waiting for a signal. The rest of the council, who had been largely left out of the loop, as far as Prompto could tell, had called down to Cor right after everyone else had left, clearly wondering what the hell was going on. He told them to prepare to evacuate, and then hung up.

“Y’know, that probably didn’t help,” Prompto commented, looking over at the older man. Cor shrugged.

“They all are trained fighters, they can handle it.” Cor leaned around the doorframe for a second then righted himself. “The Niffs will be to the steps in about two minutes.” Prompto’s heart squeezed tight, and he could start feeling that urge in his throat, that one that screamed that it was time to sing- “Prompto, I know, just hold on,” Cor had moved to his side without him noticing, Cor’s arms coming up to wrap around his shoulders; Prompto allowed himself to lean back into the taller man for a moment, enjoying the sensation of utter security that blanketed him.

“If things go badly, Cor, it was really great that I finally got to meet you. I want you to remember that,” he said quietly, Cor’s arms tightening around his shoulders in wordless reply before he let him go. Prompto heard the sound of cars braking outside, and he stiffened. “Showtime.” He turned to Libertus, who had been solemnly watching their whole exchange. “Ready for whatever the hell is going to happen, Libs?”

“Damn straight, Prompto. We’ve got this,” Libertus stated confidently, even as he clomped forward on his walking boot. Cor pinched the bridge of his nose, something Prompto noticed he did when he didn’t feel like talking, and they all sidled to the doorway to listen in.

“Welcome to the Citadel, your majesty,” the king spoke, formal and regal, and the emperor smirked and started walking up the stairs.

“We are honored to be here, your highness,” the emperor replied, and the three of them watched around the doorframe as the entourage, Izunia included, walked up to the middle landing. The king and everyone else were waiting a few steps further up, but once the imperials reached the landing, they descended to join them.

We are pleased to be here in this place on a most historic day with our former adversaries, and we hope that our actions today are leading to a brighter future for us all,” the king said, and Prompto could see Ravus rolling his eyes. “However, we do have one matter of business that we need to resolve with a member of your party before we continue.” That got everyone’s attention, and Prompto was forced to swallow heavily again to keep down the urge as the Niflheim group all turned to face the king directly.

“Surely any discussion that needs to be had can wait until after the signing is complete,” the emperor stated, clearly nonplussed by the king’s words. The king shook his head and stepped a single step forward, towards the Niffs.

“I’m afraid not, your majesty. This business is ancient, and predates our...difficulties by some time.” The king stepped forward again, then looked directly at Izunia. “Ardyn Izunia, by ancient warrant and will of the gods, we demand your immediate surrender.” The outcry was instantaneous, with Ardyn actually stepping forward as the emperor exclaimed his disbelief loudly in the background, all the other Niflheim ministers and generals doing much the same; the only exception Prompto could see was Ravus, whose eyes had shot up to his sister’s in surprise, but had otherwise said nothing. Ardyn stepped forward again and raised his arms in a grand sweeping gesture.

“Now now, this must be some mistake, why in the world would you want me? I’m nothing special, just a man of no-”

“Perhaps I should address you more accurately, chancellor. We are family of a sort, after all,” the King said, and Prompto could see the instant the innocent look left Izunia’s face, his eyes narrowing and his jaw tightening. “Is that not right, Ardyn Lucis Caelum, the forgotten son of the Philosopher King himself. I’d be honored, but I’m afraid you’ve quietly made quite the reputation over the years, and you’ve attracted some rather serious notice.” The king and Izunia stared at each other for a long time, so long that Prompto was actually worried, but then the chancellor laughed and ran a hand through his bangs. The pressure in Prompto’s chest was reaching the bursting point, and he looked up at Cor, who blinked his understanding and wrapped a hand around Prompto’s forearm.

“Such fantasy, your majesty! How very interesting to hear such a story, but perhaps another day would be more appropriate.” Izunia turned towards the emperor, giving him a bow. “Since my presence here is obviously causing some confusion, it is best I depart for now for the events to be concluded,” Izunia said, then turned and headed towards the stairs.

“I am afraid you’ll be going nowhere, Ardyn.” Noct’s voice cut through the others, and Ardyn froze shortly before the edge of the landing. Cor’s hand tightened around Prompto’s forearm, and in a flash, they were about half-way down the bottom flight of stairs. They were not noticed at first, as Ardyn had actually turned towards Noct after he spoke, but after climbing a few steps, the chancellor’s head swivelled back to them.

“The Immortal and his fetching trainee. Are you here to stop me? You’ll find I’m not the easiest target, marshal,” Ardyn commented, and Cor said nothing, but simply let go of Prompto’s arm. It was time. He took a deep breath, feeling the power rise from his chest, and out of some odd instinct, gave a polite bow to the ancient would-be king.

The spirits came to his unspoken call, and Prompto opened his mouth and sang; he sang of an ancient king, of his wondrous rule in a time long forgotten in antiquity as he ascended the stairs, Cor a step behind him. He could see the moment when Ardyn realized he could not move, his once-laughing eyes transforming with rage; he realized in absent amusement a few moments later that neither could any of the others from Niflheim. He climbed until he was on the landing only feet away from Ardyn, his skin glowing with shimmering golden light; the spirits began to multiply as he reached the crescendo of the song, their voices melding with his as the light exploded from his body, wrapping around Ardyn and driving him to his knees. Next to him, Cor was also glowing, not as brightly, but his electric blue eyes stood out more radiant than any light Prompto had ever seen before as he summoned his katana, drawing the blade from the scabbard and holding it to his side.

Prompto’s voice faded away as the song came to an end, and not a sound was heard as the spirits vanished back into the ether as he looked down at the trapped Ardyn. The ancient man was looking at him and Cor with actual surprise, a wry smile on his face.

“One can plan for almost anything, and there is always something there to screw everything up,” Ardyn laughed as he spoke, but the coldness in his voice was obvious. “So the Dawn Mother gathered enough strength to field her own champions. She’s been all but silent for over two thousand years, and she finally decides to join the game.” The muscles in Ardyn’s neck were straining as he fought the magic that had trapped him, even as Cor brought up his arm and held the sword near the man’s throat.

“Ardyn, what in the hell is going on?” The emperor yelled, and Prompto watched as Ardyn rolled his eyes.

“Damn, he’s annoying,” Ardyn muttered under his breath, and Prompto had to restrain himself from a manic giggle, and even Cor looked a touch bemused. This was not how he was picturing this happening, even if he honestly hadn’t quite pictured anything at all- “So how did you actually expect this to go? I sit here, trapped under your power until I just expire from boredom? Considering you all seem to be quite aware of who I am, which I must tell you is rather disconcerting, you must have had some sort of plan,” Ardyn sniffed, looking rather put out.

“We could just try knocking your head off, Accursed, see if that works,” Gladio said, and Ardyn snorted.

“You could try, Shield, but you’ll not get the results you are hoping for.”

Prompto looked over at Cor, a strange feeling coming upon him; he summoned spirits from their rest for his music, perhaps he could loosen the chancellor’s hold on life by trying much the same, even if it was just enough to for Noct to finish the job. He took a step back and opened his mouth, the spirits coming to his convoking once again as he sang. This time it was a dark tune, lyrics invoking death and hypocrisy, the end that all mortals had to look forward to; the golden light pouring from Prompto changed in color, dark strands coming forth to bind around the now-snarling Ardyn’s arms, his throat, even his legs. The blue strands started crawling up the Accursed’s face, digging into his mouth and nose, and for the first time since they had confronted him, Ardyn looked otherworldly , the whites of his eyes turning black, and the irises a mockery of the golden hue that Prompto knew he was still giving off, even as his dark song came to a quiet conclusion. Cor’s sword was now at his side, but Prompto knew that one twitch and he’d cut Ardyn in two. Over by the rest of the Niflheim contingent, some of them were gasping at their chancellor’s appearance, while Ravus? Prompto actually gave him a second look. Ravus was alarmed and confused, that was plain, but his expression made him think that Luna’s big brother would be just as willing to behead Ardyn as they would. Huh.

Prompto twitched as he felt a pull to the magic he had just woven with his voice, and his head swivelled back to Ardyn, who was actually having some luck at fighting against the light that bound him. Prompto actually gasped, his chest twanging painfully when the man managed to free an arm, Cor pushing him back behind him as the black ichor seemed to spread on the Accursed’s face; the eerie mood that had settled after he had sung his first song turned swiftly sinister as Ardyn managed to free his other arm as well, and Prompto actually choked, his heart stuttering as his head fell to rest against Cor’s back for a moment. The Dawn Mother had never actually mentioned what would happen if the magic recoiled, but he was finding out now. It hurt.

“Did you really think you would be able to take me down so easily, o’ Voice of the Dawn? You’ll find I’ve learned a lot of tricks over my ridiculously long life,” Ardyn snarled, and Cor was pretty much the only reason Prompto was still standing at this point, the energy snapping back towards him, sharp and biting; the only reason he was pretty sure Cor hadn’t knocked Ardyn’s damn head off was it would probably send Prompto to the ground. “But more importantly, I have an ally who would love to take care of you for me, he would probably like nothing more than to kill off all of the world’s leaders in one stroke,” Ardyn’s black rimmed face grinned as heat seemed to come from nowhere, a mighty blast that sent everyone scurrying away from the chancellor, the force rousing Prompto from his growing fugue to run over to where the king, Noct, and the rest stood, Cor still only inches from his side.

“Izunia! Explain yourself!” Prompto had let go of most of the magic holding everyone else down when Ardyn had started fighting against it, and the emperor’s entourage had managed to back away from the chancellor as well. The emperor was clearly furious and confused, which could be a dangerous proposition; Ardyn was laughing quietly as the heat pouring from around him started to coalesce, the very air rippling and refracting from the growing energy.

“Don’t worry yourself, your majesty, I’m just going to be taking care of a few little problems.” Ardyn still hadn’t managed to regain his feet, enough of the magic still holding him in place, but as Prompto watched in horror as a wall of flames burst into being in between all of them and the Citadel, it was obvious he wasn’t trying all that hard to escape. “The Infernian isn’t too fond of humanity, unlike some of the other astrals, but I’m sure he’ll be a fiery conversationalist much the same.”

Everyone, from Prompto down to the Niflheim generals and ministers, gasped in shock as a massive horned form, oddly human and not all at the same time, appeared, sitting on a massive throne and looking...bored. Heavy scarring traced down the Astral’s left arm, and Prompto had no doubt they were remnants of the last time the flame-covered being had been set upon the world. Weapons were summoned all around, Prompto calling a pistol to his hand as Ifrit, the Infernian, waved that scarred left arm, and the world burst into heat and light. He could hear Cor grunt as he left his side, and he couldn’t get himself to budge-

“Prompto, we’ve gotta keep moving!” Noct’s voice pierced through his shock, the realization that this was his first real battle, and it was pretty much the ultimate one- a hand grabbed onto his collar and dragged him back just as a ball of flame smashed into where he had been standing.

“Prom, snap out of it, we’re going to need you!” Gladio let go of his collar, and Prompto could feel cold sweat running down his back, completely at odds against the incredible heat flowing around the entire area, but he managed to meet Gladio’s eyes and give a shaky nod, bringing up his pistol and firing at the astral. Cor, still luminous and golden, had charged Ifrit, slashing at anything he could reach, great gashes appearing and healing on the divine being as he struck; the king had summoned his armiger, which was both insanely cool and utterly terrifying as the crystalline weapons shot away from the monarch and towards his foe, and Gladio, his father, Libertus, and Ignis were also charging the mighty being with their blades. Nyx and Noct were warping around the Infernian, landing blows all over, while Crowe was summoning ice magic and attacking between the others.

Most of the Niffs had retreated back, staying out of the way, but Prompto couldn’t help but smile when Ravus surged forward, pulling his own blade and attacking Ifrit as well, his sister alongside him, her own power seeming to bolster her brother’s strength. Prompto continued to run and fire, the Infernian now on his feet and walking about the courtyard. The massive flames brushed him more than once as he dodged and fired, then suddenly he could hear shouts from the Citadel; he looked to see what appeared to be most of the Kingsglaive jumping and warping from the floors above down to the fight, joined by a large majority of the Crownsguard. With so many people now in the fight, Prompto was a bit afraid to fire his gun, worried that he would hit an ally, but-

“He’s not going to go down easily, Argentum. Have you any of that song magic that might help?” He was so distracted trying to fire at the astral that he hadn’t noticed Lord Amicitia at his side, his council robes half-burned away and a nasty scorch across his forehead, he looked at the older man in bewilderment before raising his arm and firing again.

“Usually the urge comes to me, I’m not all that great at controlling it yet-” two hands this time grabbed his collar, yanking him out of the way of a fireball from the vengeful astral; Ignis gave him a worried look before patting him on the shoulder and heading back to fight, Lord Amicitia looked both worried and annoyed. “Sir, I-” Then Prompto looked down the stairs leading away from the Citadel to see the Accursed trying to escape, the man all but dragging himself down the steps, the residual magic luckily keeping him from moving quickly. Oh hell no, not after all this- and any trepidation Prompto still had about using this gift he had been given melted away on the spot, and he looked straight at Ifrit and breathed in deep.

And sang.

No spirits joined in at first, but his voice cut through the hundred or so squished on the field of battle just the same as he glared at the Infernian before spinning to extend a hand to the Accursed, the gold and saffron light binding the man again before throwing him into the air to smash against the wall of the Citadel, stitching him to the side of the building; the spirits that joined in singing were old, their archaic clothing quite clear as they flew around the battlefield and as close to Ifrit as they dared. The song spoke of fire and saving the world from the dark, saving his brothers-

The Infernian stopped attacking the others and turned towards Prompto head-on, and he was stunned to see sadness flicker across the human-like features as he continued to sing, the growing light protecting everyone from the flames as Cor returned to his side, his eyes still filled with power. Ifrit, for the first time since he appeared, opened his mouth and spoke, his voice strange and ethereal as he addressed Prompto and Cor.

“Even Eos sends her champions against me- has she sided with the Draconian? The one who tore her heart from her breast, who had hoped she would fade away as the mortals forgot? Has she sided with the same Astrals who abandoned her, who ignored her even though she was the heart of this world?”

It was Cor who replied, cloaked in light and power, and Prompto could only stand by his side as the older man looked up at the astral, his stoic visage as constant as the dawn they represented. “The Dawn Mother’s only goal is to stop the death and destruction that has torn apart the planet, she sides with none but those who seek peace and the healing of the Scourge.” Cor stepped forward, and to Prompto’s amazement, Ifrit actually took a step back in response. “She has not forgotten you, Infernian, nor forgotten your ancient friendship, but your alliance with the source of the Scourge and your continued malice towards all that live on the planet leave each other's paths incompatible,” Cor spoke, his deep voice resonating across the massive courtyard as he stepped closer to the astral. “In her name, I will ask you once. Will you withdraw? Our quarrel is not with you this day.” Everyone seemed to struck dumb by the sight of Cor talking with an astral so plainly, even Ardyn, still stuck to the building, seemed somewhat surprised, but it was to no avail. Ifrit snarled and raised his massive sword, and the spell was broken.

“You presume much, Dawnsworn, but you will die here with the rest!” Ifrit shouted, and fire exploded around the whole area, and the only reason Prompto managed to keep his feet was the light he had summoned was still shielding him. Cor’s own power had managed to negate the worst of the blast towards him, but he had still been thrown to the ground, clearly dazed; Prompto immediately ran to his side, trying to help him to his feet, but a burst of painful heat caused him to look up into a ball of flame too close to deflect, and holy shit, this was it-

“You two cannot get yourselves killed now!” A bright flash of light, and a wall of ice appeared between them and the fireball, and Prompto threw himself over Cor and another form threw itself on top of both of them as the wall exploded from the force of the blow; Prompto couldn’t help a shriek as the ice cut at his skin, but he stayed in place, his face burrowed in Cor’s neck and his arms covering the man’s face until the weight lifted off both of them. Prompto looked up to see the king rise to his feet, brushing off flakes of ice. The man was sweating and pale, and covered in fine scratches, but he still extended a hand to help both he and Cor to his feet.

Prompto couldn’t avoid a small hiss of pain when Cor grabbed at his neck, his eyes wide with concern, but he brought up a hand and patted at the older man’s arm, which got him to let go.

“I’m fine, Cor, we’ve gotta figure out how to bring him down!” Prompto yelled, and Cor gave him one more once over before nodding and running back to the king’s side, his light brightening once more as he drew his sword. Prompto started firing again, but nothing was having any serious effect on the Infernian, the immortal’s wounds seemingly shallow at best as near a hundred blades hacked away at him; Gladio, Noct, and Ignis were attacking as one unit, the king, Lord Amicitia, and Cor were another, Luna and Ravus were both bruised and battered, but they were still on their feet. Prompto’s vision began to blur as screams of pain, both sustained and cut off, continued to grow across the courtyard, and he started singing once again even as he still darted about firing, reloading, firing-

Luna went crashing to the ground right in front of him, her clothes torn and burnt, but she managed to regain her feet right as her brother approached, and she looked over at Prompto in a resolution he wasn’t sure he felt himself, even as he sang of it. He could feel his own strength flagging as he continued letting the light of his music wrap around everyone, protecting them from the flames, golden and true as he reached her side, and suddenly, Luna’s eyes grew distant, and he knew he was looking upon the Oracle, not just Luna; the woman stood front and center as Ifrit turned towards her and Prompto, the bulk of the defenders coming up alongside them together as Luna raised her blood-streaked hands to the heavens.

“Gentiana, please!”

Time seemed to slow to a near-halt as the messenger appeared, and Prompto remembered her from his childhood, her cryptic smile never wavering as she walked forward, her raised hands brushing Cor’s cheek, the king’s, Noct’s, Luna’s, even Ravus’s, and finally his own, the cold touch causing him to shiver as her black clothing seemed to melt away, replaced by a beautiful sky blue- no, ice blue! Prompto gasped as Gentiana’s black hair turned snow white, and she was gone, and the Glacian, Shiva , was in her place, and the otherworldly beauty that she exuded stopped all in their tracks, including the Infernian, who let out a strangled scream as she began to multiply, a dozen versions of her flying and floating around the fiery astral as he tried to charge them all, only to be completely subsumed by ice, his heat quashed in a matter of seconds. The original Shiva had stayed by them, and as Ifrit’s charge was halted, she turned to all of them, smiled, and took to the air; with a moment of oddly hesitant delicacy, her tiny lips brushed the massive Ifrit’s, and then she pushed herself back as the Infernian exploded into magic and ice crystals. Shiva turned once more towards the lot of them, gave an elegant nod, and flew off.

Ice covered the ground and pretty much all of them, but the Infernian had been defeated. For once in his life, Prompto really wished he had sleeves. But the ice melted unnaturally quickly, and they all stood around catching their breath, the Glaives and Crownsguard taking the lull to run over to their fallen comrades and carry them inside the building. Prompto felt another pull, and looked up at Ardyn, only to see the man again fighting free of his bonds.

“We aren’t done yet!” Noct yelled, and with a painful yelp, Prompto almost collapsed as Ardyn escaped, the man summoning a red-tinted crystalline weapon and throwing it to the ground, warping in behind it. If there had needed to be any more proof that their guess of his identity was accurate, he had just provided it; Prompto was kept standing by Ignis and Gladio, who had come up and flanked him at some point, each wrapping a hand around his arms. He gave them each a grateful look, before turning his attention back to Ardyn.

“Even the Glacian has decided to rebel against the prophecy, interesting. But that does not mean you will prevail against me, as the so-called chosen king is a stripling who has not claimed the power of his ancestors, and the current king is one foot in the grave. What do you think you can do?” Ardyn drawled, his arms raised in the air as he walked towards the assembled force. Ravus pushed Luna behind him, and Cor stepped in front of Prompto as Ardyn’s armiger exploded into life around him, and then it was on.

Red crystalline blades and weapons shot out in all directions as everyone scattered, Noct and his father throwing themselves at the Accursed followed by just about everyone else, and Prompto actually backed up, reloaded his gun, and began to fire once more. A cry of pain near to him caused him to spin around to see Lord Amicitia fall to his knees, a horrendous gash cutting him from collar bone to belly, blood splashing to the ground; Prompto ran to his side, his fatigue growing with every minute that passed, but he managed to get his hands under the much larger man’s arms and dragged him off to the side of the Citadel, hopefully out of range of the fighting. Ardyn was occupied with the king, Noct, and various members of the Kingsglaive as they all warped and attacked at a rapid-fire rate, Ravus and various members of the Crownsguard joining in when their target was within striking range, and Prompto realized that both Luna and Cor were nowhere to be found. Just as he was about to panic, Cor reappeared and immediately jumped back into the fray, moving between from spot to spot to strike the Accursed, and Prompto froze.

“I don’t know what to do,” Prompto mumbled under his breath, then watched as both Nyx and Libertus warped on top of Ardyn, slashing down simultaneously with their weapons, then warping again before he could counterattack. He had always thought that warping looked awesome, they all looked so free, so- “Holy shit.” Prompto exclaimed, running back towards the battle. That had to be it. Freedom. A word that meant so much to people, freedom from want, freedom from war, or- Prompto looked at the Accursed, a man who should have been the thirteenth king almost two thousand years ago, fighting the one hundred and thirteenth and eventually one hundred and fourteenth kings...freedom from life. Spite and obstinate hatred seemed to be the only things still animating Ardyn besides the Scourge, and that was no way to live, no true life. Once again, that spark, that pull started in his chest, he Dawn Mother had bade him practice this many times, and he knew now that there was a reason why. He threw himself to the edge of the battle and took a deep breath, feeling the spirits respond to him as he began to sing once more.

This song was ancient, in a language he did not understand, but the words, the heart of it dug to his core, dredging forth every bit of energy he had; golden and saffron light flooded the courtyard, all the attackers save Noct falling away from Ardyn, who had frozen as the light danced about him, gentle and warm in contrast to the threads that had entrapped him before, and Prompto watched in shock as the ancient man, his eyes glassy and wide with shock, stared straight at him and dropped to his knees, his armiger fading away as he raised his arms one more time, and tilted his head back towards Noct.

“I never thought I would hear this song again. I suppose this is a sign, chosen king; the last time I heard this my mother sang it to me, and I hear her voice in the echoes of his. Do your duty, cousin, and perhaps this time I may be free to see my family again,” Ardyn spoke, then turned his head back towards Prompto, his eyes more human than he had ever seen them, his mouth moving in the words of the song, who approached Ardyn and fell to one knee about five feet away right as he continued to sing; behind Ardyn, Noct raised his sword, and as Prompto came to the end of the rousing chorus, ran the Accursed through. They all stayed in that position, Prompto singing, the coda slow and deliberate as the light wrapped around everyone, but especially the king. He was too exhausted to rise again. Noctis still held onto the sword buried in Ardyn, the Accursed bleeding from his eyes and mouth as he waited for death, at the corner of his eye, he saw Cor running towards the light-smothered king, and as Prompto brought the song to a close, a flash of blue light erupted from above, and he watched as Cor ripped the ring from the king’s finger, the black loop flying into the air as the blue light exploded, knocking everyone to the ground. Prompto heard both Ardyn and Noct fall to the ground near him, and he watched as the wall, the wall that protected Insomnia, the only reason the city hadn’t been overrun by the same Imperials that were probably still cowering at the edge of the Citadel’s courtyard, collapsed, the barrier of distant distortion fading away before his eyes, the blue light that had knocked them all flat chasing it away. He felt like he hadn’t slept in a year, his skin was clammy, his eyes could barely focus, but he managed to haul himself back to a seated position, and looked over at Noct and Ardyn only for all the blood to rush from his body. Ardyn lay unmoving, Noct’s sword still buried in his chest, and Prompto knew that the man was finally dead. But Noct-

“Noct!” he screamed, and horror overtook every cell in his body as he looked upon his best friend lying upon the floor, his sapphire blue eyes fixed and staring at nothing. “No, this wasn’t supposed to happen-” He could hear shouting from around them, and into view came Iggy, Gladio, and the barely-conscious king, who grabbed at his son with tears pouring from his eyes.

“Noctis, wake up!” Noctis’s father shouted, and Prompto gasped as his own tears hit the tiles under him, and he looked once more at Noct, who was dead , and he scraped together every scrap of energy he could find and crawled forward towards his friend, gathering his black-haired head into his lap, and for one last time, he began to sing.

He sang of life, of death, of the beauty in the lands beyond life, that it was nothing to fear, the gentleness of the world would comfort everyone- he held Noct’s cold cheeks in his shaking hands, and sang with his forehead only inches from his friend’s unmoving face, and watched in marvel as color flooded the fine features, and he let go as Noct gasped like he had broken through the surface of a mighty lake, falling to the side and coughing his lungs out. He kept singing for some reason, he wasn’t sure why, even as he fell sideways to the ground himself; his world, which was growing ever fuzzier, tilted sharply as he felt himself lifted up and carried at a high rate of speed, and Prompto couldn’t keep his eyes open, but he kept singing. After only a verse, he felt himself being carried over an uneven surface, then come to a stop; his eyes opened to make out Luna , lying in a massive pool of blood, he rolled out of Gladio’s arms and fell to his knees in the rubble, and once again, clutched to a dead friend and sang. The last thing he remembered after he finished was Luna’s choking gasp, and falling, then nothing.

 

---

 

Such was the chaos in front of the Citadel that Luna had to shout directly into Cor’s ear for him to hear her, and even then she was forced to dive out of the way as a weapon from Izunia’s own red-tinted armiger headed straight for her, only to be deflected by the Herald’s golden-lit blade. She wrapped her hand around his arm and screamed again.

“I must get to the crystal!” Cor’s glowing eyes met hers, a moment that seemed to stretch for a lifetime, and then he nodded. He hooked his arm around hers and stepped , the two of them emerging in an unfamiliar hallway outside enormous, beautiful doors.

“This is as far as I go, Luna. Good luck.” Cor’s eyes met hers one more time, his gaze softening as he let go of her arm. With a bow, he was gone, and Luna was there to face the crystal alone. There was no latch or lock she could see, and she reached forward with both hands and pushed.

This is not your place, oracle. You should be at your king’s side, preparing to do your duty. As Luna entered the large chamber, the towering glass panels around the center moved apart, revealing the crystal in its glory. It was beautiful to look upon, but also frightening. It gleamed shining notes of sapphire blue from its geode-like maw, and her heart began beating wildly within her breast.

“Crystal of Lucis, I beg you for your help!” she announced as she started to walk into the room proper, only for an unseen force to push her back.

The crystal does not give boons, oracle. You will find no aid here. Luna gritted her teeth and took a step, then another; it felt like trying to walk through mud, all resistance, but she had to persist.

“The Accursed is held to life by your hand, I would ask that you free him!” The pressure became intolerably intense, and she was barely able to keep her feet as the crystal began to bombard her with voices, raging in Luna’s head; it screamed at her to leave, to let events unfold as they should, to disregard the Dawn Mother’s puppets-

“Please! If you could just release your hold on the Accursed, the Scourge would be gone, and the world would be saved!” Luna cried right back at the glowing jewel, and its gleam turned ominous.

This is not your path, you have but one purpose in life, to sacrifice yourself for the chosen king so the world can be cleansed and remade! The Accursed will be destroyed in time, but he has his own part in the prophecy to play.

“You would see so many die first, just so the prophecy plays out exactly the way you wish it, Lord Bahamut? This cannot be true!” Luna screamed again, her chest feeling like it was about to explode; if she died here, so be it, but the Draconian must be convinced to loosen the chains holding the kings to the stone, there was no other choice.

The chosen king fights the Accursed, but he is not ready; he has not gathered the strength of his forebears, he has not given his life over to the will of the crystal. If he dies here, then all will be lost.

“Then don’t let Noctis die here! Sever the connection between the place beyond the crystal and Ardyn Lucis Caelum! Allow him to die in peace, the way he was denied so long ago!” The light from the stone was still trying to push her back, but she started inching forward, quarter step by quarter step. She could feel the blood running from her nostrils, her mouth, her ears as she forced herself closer to the crystal, but she ignored it and continued on.

It cannot be done! The world must be cleansed, all things must proceed as foretold! Oracle, you know your place, return to it!

“No! I will not stand idly by as the world falls to darkness and death if there is another way!” Her eyes were beginning to blur, but she was almost to the crystal; blood was soaking into her dress at an alarming rate, but she could not stop now-

Golden light came from behind her, reflecting off the mirrors and panels of the crystal room, and a beloved voice began to sing far away, but she could still hear the words as clearly as if he had been standing next to her-

Enough! You and the chosen king are cowards who would throw away the sacrifices of your ancestors for your own miserable mortality! The crystal shone brightly, and Luna was thrown to the ground, gasping for air. There would be no reasoning with the crystal, with the Draconian, and against every fibre of her being, every teaching she had received, every misgiving and admonishment her mind screamed at her- she knew what would need to be done. Prompto’s voice continued, the song the most beautiful thing she had ever heard; Luna’s fingernails scraped at the tile as she forced herself to her knees, choking around the blood still running down her face. She gathered her breath one more time, and yelled.

“Gentiana!” The woman did not appear, but Luna’s trident did; shimmering with its own power, she clutched at it and used it as a crutch to rise to her feet. “Will you not be reasoned with, o’ astral?”

All must proceed as prophecy has foretold, no holy songs, no weapons, no betraying kin, nothing will change that. This is your final warning, oracle. The Ccrystal’s light seemed to be focusing, the light turning forbidding and intense, and Luna knew she was out of time; the song was coming to an end, and it had to be now.

Luna raised the trident above her head, her power making it glow like the sun. “We choose life, and our own destiny!” Luna shouted, and with a mighty swing of her arm, plunged it into the center of the great stone. All time seemed to cease for a moment, then the trident exploded; Luna was thrown clear across the room, her back slamming into the wall. She watched dazed as cracks formed rapidly in the crystal, its light surging and dimming with each new flaw; she managed to fall flat to the floor and cover her head as the light overtook all others, but then a great wave of power slammed into her, and she knew no more.

 

---

 

Gladio and Ignis ran to the elevators as fast as they could, Prompto, who was growing increasingly grey and cold, was still singing as he lay in Gladio’s arms, his spirit choir following them as they moved. The elevator shot up the center of the Citadel, and the three emerged on the top floor to find the giant doors guarding the crystal room blown off their hinges and laying on the floor.

“She cannot be still-” Ignis cut himself off, as Prompto’s song was reaching the next chorus; they jumped over the debris and entered what was left of the room. The crystal was gone, not a shard appeared to remain, and they both looked around wildly to discover Luna’s broken form against a wall, lying in a pool of her own blood. Prompto threw himself from Gladio’s arms and to the floor by the fallen oracle, dragging her into his lap as his light surrounded her and the voices of the spirits rose; Ignis could feel fresh tears on his cheeks as Luna’s body jerked as his song came to an end, and she fell to the side of Prompto’s lap coughing and choking like Noct had done just a few minutes earlier. She was covered in blood, her face almost completely red with it. But she was alive. The moment was dashed when Prompto slumped, nearly collapsing into the blood on the floor; Gladio reached over and pulled the barely breathing young man into his arms, and Ignis followed with the shaking Luna, turning and dashing back out of the broken room.

While it was probably only a minute, it felt like forever had passed until they emerged out into the half-ruined courtyard, even running as fast as they could, they emerged to quite a sight. His majesty was still clutching Noctis to him, looking half-dead himself, but they could see the rise and fall of their friend’s chest. Then suddenly Ravus was at their side, Ignis immediately surrendering his sister to him; the older man clutched her to his chest with a sob as she coughed and gasped in his arms. Then there was the marshal, the Herald of the Dawn, collapsed not far away from his king and prince, his eyes open, but clearly holding a very fragile grasp on consciousness. Ignis pulled on Gladio’s sleeve, and they ran to the fallen man’s side, and at his beckoning, gently lowered the grey, almost-lifeless Prompto to the ground next to him. Cor’s shaking arms immediately wrapped around their friend, pulling him to his chest. The two of them watched in amazement as Prompto’s color began to improve, his breathing becoming more steady, and Cor gave them a grateful look before his eyes rolled back in his head and he followed Prompto into unconsciousness.

“We need to get everyone injured to the infirmary, they just can’t stay out here!” Gladio stated, and Ignis nodded, only to see-

“We forgot all about them in the chaos,” Ignis gasped as he jumped to his feet, summoning his knives to his hands as the emperor and the remaining members of his entourage approached them, guns drawn; Ulric, bleeding copiously from his scalp and his left arm hanging limp raised his right, but light flashed and faded, no holding barrier spell to be seen, and Ignis realized something. “The crystal is gone, so the king’s magic is…”

“Different, it’s still there, but it’s not the same,we can still summon our blades,” said Ostium, who limped in alongside his friend, his kukri out and waiting for the Imperials to approach further. “I wouldn’t try to use anything more, neither the king or the prince are in very good shape right now.” Gladio had already fetched his blade, and was waiting along side Ignis to see what would happen.

“Do we try to take them prisoner?” Ignis looked over to see Monica Elshett, dirty and bruised but still upright and holding a rapier, and he paused. While trying to seize them would be tempting, they had enough on their plate.

“Only if we have to, I think it would be better if they leave,” he muttered, and Elshett nodded her understanding.

“They’ve ruined everything! My victory, my troops, my crystal, my ring, it’s all been ruined! I’ll see every last one of you dead for this!” The emperor was practically frothing at the mouth, and everyone still standing raised their weapons. A familiar voice, soft with fatigue and pain, came from the side of them, and only the threat of the imperials kept them from turning around completely.

Your crystal? Your ring? Was that your true plan all along, Aldercapt? Destroy the city, steal the crystal? To what end? A warprize?” His majesty spoke as he carefully laid Noct onto the broken tiles before slowly rising to his feet. “Or did you have some delusion that you could use the ring and the crystal yourself? It would not have followed your bidding, Iedolas. You would have been burned alive the instant it rested on your finger.” Ignis watched as the king took a deep shuddering breath, before his armiger flared to life, the crystalline weapons flying about him at a rapid rate. “Our agreement is no longer on the table, your highness. I suggest you depart, or you will be made to.” The emperor had gone purple with rage, he looked two seconds from a heart attack but further commentary was arrested when a single Niflheim troop ship flew overhead, landing away from the bulk of the battlefield. “Your ride is here, Iedolas. I would take it.” Ignis stepped towards the emperor, weapons brandished, followed by Gladio and the rest, and the old man sneered before spinning on his heel and heading to his ship. As soon as the ship lifted off, the king swayed on his feet, and only Gladio’s swift movement saved him from going down.

“To return to what Gladio had started to say earlier, we need to get everyone inside and the injured to the infirmary,” Ignis stated, and he was relieved when everyone still easily standing immediately branched out to check those who were down, and Gladio helped the king to sit down, Ignis noting that the king’s ring finger was swollen and crooked. Such a small thing, but it was an odd wound. “Your finger-” The king shook his head, before looking over at Cor, who was still wrapped around Prompto.

“He probably didn’t even realize he had done it. He saved my life, the ring exploded at the same time as the crystal. It is nothing, it will heal.” The king continued to look at Cor and Prompto, his gaze distant. “We’d probably all be dead if it wasn’t for them, Insomnia overrun, the crystal in the hands of the Empire-” Noctis groaned next to the king, and he trailed off, his hand running through his son’s hair. “We owe them, and Lunafreya as well, even if I really want to know why she did it, a great deal.”

“Father!” Ignis spun around at the sound of Gladio’s strained voice, only to discover him over by the base of the west tower of the Citadel, far away from the bulk of the battlefield, falling to his knees. He took off at a run, coming up to Gladio delicately lifting his father into his arms, and Ignis couldn’t help but gasp at the wicked injury nearly dissecting the man.

“I’m not dead yet, son. I could probably use a whole lot of stitches and a hard drink, though,” Lord Amicitia gasped, his pain obvious to anyone; Ignis put his hand on Gladio’s shoulder to stop him from moving his father further.

“It’s better we get a gurney, Gladio, his wound is too sensitive to try and move unless we absolutely have to,” Ignis said, and his friend clenched his teeth but complied, gently lowering him back to the floor. “How in the world did you get all the way over here?” Lord Amicitia grinned, a macabre sight with blood staining his teeth.

“That magical kid of Cor’s has quite the muscle when he uses it. Prompto saw me go down and dragged me all the way over here to get me out of the way. Not bad considering I’ve got almost a foot in height and probably close to a hundred pounds on him.” Ignis and Gladio both smiled as his father spoke, before Ignis saw movement out of the corner of his eye.

“Bring a gurney over here!” he yelled at the medic, who waved a hand and dashed off, presumably to bring one. The grin on Lord Amicitia’s face had transformed into a pained grimace, but he clutched at both his son and Ignis.

“Please tell me they aren’t dead.”

“The King is fine, injured, but fine. Noctis...had a close call, but I think he will also be well,” Ignis replied, but Lord Amicitia gave a tiny shake of his head.

“No, I could hear Regis, but Cor...Prompto...did they make it? I heard the kid’s songs, but-” the older man trailed off, and Ignis and Gladio shared a look.

“They are both alive, milord, but unconscious. I don’t know if you could see what happened, but the recoil of the crystal’s destruction killed Noctis and Princess Lunafreya, but Prompto-” Ignis swallowed heavily, and Gladio squeezed his shoulder. “Prompto sang one final song, which brought both of them back to life, but I fear it was at the cost of his own strength; only when we placed Prompto by the marshal, who had collapsed at some point during the resurrection song, did he look like he was more than seconds from death. The marshal doesn’t look much better. I am only theorizing, but I believe that he lent Prompto his own strength, as it were, so Prompto could finish his own work.” Lord Amicitia sighed, groaned, then sighed again.

“Sounds like the two of them are rather similar, both are self-sacrificing pains in the ass. Singing people back to life-” Lord Amicitia trailed off as a gurney rolled up, and they helped the medic lift the wounded lord onto it. Sending Gladio off with his father, Ignis walked around the courtyard, making sure that everyone that needed transport was getting it. After a few minutes, an argument caught his ear, and he turned to see Ulric, Ostium, Khara, and several other Glaives arguing with the medics over something, and he approached to find Ulric keeping the medics from taking Prompto and Cor- no, he was keeping them from separating the two.

“What seems to be the problem?” he asked, and the Glaives seemed relieved that he had walked up, Ulric pointing his good arm at the medic with irritation plain on his face.

“We keep telling them that they need to remain together until they are stable, but these fucking medics won’t listen-” Ulric growled, and Ignis could see the disdain in the medic’s features. Of all the times to get a difficult person-

“Glaive Ulric is entirely correct, the two need to be transported together. They should have already been transported, but you seem to be resistant to the idea,” he bit out, and the medic paled.

“Sir, it’s not usual procedure, and I don’t think they’ll fit-” Ignis cut a hand through the air, cutting the man off.

“Just do it, we’ll make sure they won’t fall off.” Luckily, the medic argued no longer, and he helped the Glaives lift the two men onto the gurney, and together, they made a somewhat battered and bruised honor guard as they entered the Citadel, crushing into the service elevator and heading to the overflowing infirmary. They were stopped at the door by a compact old woman, who looked down at the gurney and looked like she wanted to murder someone. Everyone down to the troublesome medic cringed, and backed a half-step away from the fuming woman.

Dr. Domitia, as she preferred to be called, was an approximately eighty year old woman who had run the Citadel’s infirmary before most of its current residents were even alive, and tended to treat just about everyone like a troublesome child, all the way down to the king. It was also well known that she thought of Cor as an honorary grandson, as she had been treating him since he was knee-high to a chocobo , as she had been recorded as saying once, which had been joked and bandied about the Citadel for probably longer than Ignis had been alive, but always carefully out of the intimidating marshal’s earshot.

“Why are they on the same gurney?” the doctor hissed, and Ignis took one for the team and answered.

“Doctor, they are...it’s…” The woman grumbled at him before attempting to push the gurney herself, causing everyone to leap to her aid.

“The two of them had something to do with that whole mess down there, I’m guessing?” the doctor asked as she directed them towards a room near the back with probably the only unused beds in the place, based on what he was seeing and hearing as they went down the corridor.

“We’d probably all be dead if it wasn’t for them, or at the very least severely encumbered. They have a special magic they can use, and a special bond; I believe that they are stabilizing each other through physical contact. Prompto was probably moments from death until we placed him into the marshal’s arms.” Dr. Domitia looked at the beds, then looked back at her patients.

“We’ll have to separate them for a moment so we can get them on the beds, but maybe they can make this work with just holding hands?” Ignis nodded, and went over to the pair, gently untangling Prompto from the marshal. Then without asking, he lifted his friend up and placed him in one of the beds, with Ostium and Khara lifting the marshal into the other. The doctor and Ostium then pushed the beds together, and Ignis was heartened when the marshal’s hand slowly reached out and wrapped around Prompto’s. The old woman’s eyebrows flew up at the contact, and she turned to Ignis with a wry smile.

“You appear to have a point, even if this boy is way too young for my boy.” Ignis bit back a surprised chuckle at her words, even as she shooed them out of the room.

“It’s not like that, Doctor, it’s more…” he thought about it for a moment, before calling it what it was. “It’s more paternal.” Next to him, Ostium nodded solemnly.

“Prompto promised me that it was nothing like that, I told him my heart couldn’t take it if it was,” the Glaive muttered, and Ulric, still clutching his left arm, wheezed out a laugh.

“I can’t believe this shit all happened. The Niffs driven out, the Starscourge possibly gone, the crystal destroyed, it’s all mad,” Ulric grinned. “I love it.”

“Well, let’s not count our birdbeast eggs before they hatch, but I do agree that things are looking up,” Ignis replied, and Ulric’s laugh turned to a squawk of pain as the good doctor grabbed Ulric by the front of his jacket and pushed him into a chair; Ignis tilted his head in farewell and abandoned the Glaive to her mercies. He needed to check on everyone else.

 

---

Regis ignored the ever-present ache in his left hand as he read the preliminary report. Nine Glaives dead, fourteen seriously injured. Pretty much every Glaive had gotten banged up in some form or another, including the ones on reserve; Elshett had allowed them to join the fight shortly after Ifrit had appeared, and most had already been at the doors waiting for permission. While it wasn’t a complete fix-it to their prior animosity, it was a start. He continued down the paper. Eleven dead Crownsguard, twelve seriously injured, not including Cor and Prompto; several stationed along the old wall had been injured by debris from falling MT troop carriers, and that was a whole other issue. When the crystal was destroyed and Ardyn fell, the shockwave deactivated the wall, leaving the city open to the pending attack from the carriers that had been waiting for that very moment, but within seconds of the first, they all started plummeting from the sky, only to be pushed to the edges of the city by what witnesses had described as a wave of blue armor-clad ghosts surging in all directions away from the Citadel, and damn if that description hadn’t left him speechless when he had first heard about it. He had seen his ancestors the first time he had shakily put the ring on his skinny twenty-three year old finger, surrounding him and judging him, and he knew exactly who had saved the city from some serious collateral damage. The ring was gone, a throbbing finger broken in two places left behind, the crystal was gone, and while Regis hadn’t even begun to process everything that had happened, he had to start somewhere.

Luckily, there had been no escapes or even any serious attempts from the detained Glaives during the fight, besides hearing Prompto singing, they hadn’t really known what was going on. When he had taken a minute to review the surveillance footage, Drautos had paced around his cell around the same time as the fight, frowning each time he heard singing, and had sighed and slumped onto his bed when the last song had finished. The noise from the MT carrier had been audible in the cells, and Drautos had listened carefully to it until it too faded away. Regis knew that he was going to need to invest some serious time into figuring out what to do with the lot of them, but they could wait for a little longer.

It didn’t help that all of the most knowledgeable people had been unconscious since the end of the battle, and he could only wait until someone, anyone , woke up. Regis let his head fall into his hands with a sigh, then a hiss when his splinted finger was jostled. Medical supplies had been scarce immediately following the battle, and while they had offered to give him a potion to speed up healing, he had declined, knowing there was others that needed it far more. He had no reason to not get it fixed now, as most of the serious patients had been moved to Crown General as soon as they had been stabilized and their stocks had been replenished from the surrounding hospitals, but- Regis looked at the finger, and sighed. He’d get it fixed later. Cor would probably feel guilty if he saw it was broken when he woke up, which is the last thing he wanted.

Regis groaned, then got to his feet, grabbing for his cane. Ignoring the minor ache of his hand, he walked out of his office and headed towards the infirmary, feeling better than he had...in a long time, actually. With the crystal and ring gone, the constant strain on his body had lifted, and he was moving like he had been five years prior, only truly using the cane on occasion. He wasn’t going to count on it continuing, though, because who knew what would happen now? Regis stopped outside the entrance to the infirmary and took a deep breath. The only ones remaining were the high-security patients, such as his son, Lunafreya, Cor, Prompto, and Clarus, the latter of which had been deemed too risky to move anyway. He grumbled to himself, then pushed open the door, stepping inside the infirmary. Clarus had nearly gotten himself dissected, if the description of the wound was accurate, and while he had been conscious when they had brought him in, that had quickly changed. Regis bit back a grumble. Damn old man wasn’t allowed to die on him.

“Your majesty! We were just about to send up a messenger. The princess has awakened, and by his increased movements, we believe that the prince isn’t far behind. Prince Ravus is with his sister now.” Regis looked down at the nurse that had darted in front of him, blinking before what he had said caught up with him.

“They are waking up?” he asked, a smile pulling at his lips, and the nurse nodded.

“Well, Prince Noctis and Princess Lunafreya are, but unfortunately, there’s no change from either the marshal or Crownsguard Argentum. Their physical wounds were minor and easily healed, as you know, but they simply aren’t responding to any stimuli at this point. Lord Amicitia has improved so much with the liberal application of potions that we expect to be releasing him tomorrow,” the nurse said, and Regis could feel a thread of relief settling into his chest.

“That is excellent news, well, for the most part. My thanks. I’ll go visit with my son for now.” The nurse bowed and left him, and he headed down the hallway to his son’s room, only to pause outside the door to Cor and Prompto’s. No response to stimuli, hm. Before he could think on it further, he punched in his code on the door and headed inside, looking down on the two beds that were still pushed closely together, Cor and Prompto still joined at their hands. No response to stimuli wasn’t quite true, as Regis knew, because every time the doctors tried to separate their clasped hands, Cor immediately reached out again and grabbed Prompto. They had given up after the fourth time. Regis walked up to his old friend’s bedside, noting the IV and the small tube in his nose before reaching out and taking Cor’s free hand, cool and still under his fingers, giving it a light squeeze. “You two need to wake up soon, you don’t get to save our asses and not get to deal with the aftermath. I’m not letting you stick me, Clarus, and Elshett with all of your paperwork, Cor. I refuse to do it, and I’m not going to let Clarus or Elshett do it. I’m going to make sure it piles up on your desk untouched until you get out of here,” Regis said to the unmoving Cor, blinking his eyes a bit more rapidly than he would ever admit. He stood by Cor’s bedside for several minutes, listening to the machines beep by both beds before sighing once again. “I’ll be back tomorrow,” he said, tightening his grip once more before gently setting Cor’s hand back on the bed. Walking a few steps over to Prompto’s bed, he took the young man’s hand, also giving it a light squeeze before setting it back down, keeping his hand on top of the pale fingers. “You are going to make my son very unhappy if you don’t wake up soon, Prompto. Gladiolus has been hovering over both you and his father, and Ignis is trying to organize everything he can think of within an inch of its life. He’s fretting, and fretting Scientias are dangerous to be around, it adds to the paperwork load. Oh, and I managed to reach your parents...they said they were out of town, but would visit if they could.” Regis sighed, then patted the kid’s hand, then headed for the door, looking back at the two prone people with worry, before leaving the room and closing the door behind him.

Noctis’s room was only two doors down from Cor and Prompto’s, and he let himself in, relieved at the sight of Noctis shifting and grumbling in his sleep, a stark contrast to the two pale and still people he had just seen. The chair he had been using was still there, and Regis settled himself into it with a grunt, reaching out and taking his son’s hand.

“Come on, son, it’s time to wake up now. Lunafreya’s already beat you to it,” he said, letting his thumb run back and forth across Noctis’s fingers. He was awarded with another groan, and he leaned towards the bed, a smile working his way onto his face. “That’s it, Noctis, just open those eyes of yours.” Another groan, and Regis got back to his feet to look at his son’s face more clearly, and his heart lightened to see long familiar eyelashes fluttering, a thin flash of blue appearing before Noctis’s eyelids drifted closed again. “Just a little more, son-”

“...dad?” Noctis croaked, then immediately set to coughing, his body jerking to the side as he strained against his lungs; Regis rounded the bed to grab the water cup that was sitting on the nightstand, filling it from a bottle sitting right next to it. Putting his arm around Noctis’s back, he got him into a sitting position, then made sure his groggy son could hold the cup before releasing his hands and letting Noctis drink.

“Take it easy, Noctis, small sips. You’ve been asleep for over two days,” he said as Noctis drank, then took the cup from him when his son’s arms started to droop.

“Two...two days? Who else is hurt?” Noctis asked, and Regis smiled wryly. First thing he asks, and it’s about the others-

“I won’t mince words, son, we had some fatalities in both the Kingsglaive and the Crownsguard. As for you and the princess...well, you both-” he couldn’t say it. Nothing would ever let him forget the sound of Prompto’s horrified scream, the sight of Noctis’s sightless eyes staring at the sky as he lay on the ground by Izunia. He would also never forget the sound of Prompto’s ethereal voice literally singing his son back to life, even as he was draining himself, and possibly Cor, from the inside out.

“We died, didn’t we? I remember a blue flash, and I think I saw Luna…” Noctis whispered, and Regis bit his own knuckle to keep from saying something he’d probably regret. “If we died, how am I-” Noctis looked askance at him, and Regis managed a smile and a wave in the general direction of Luna’s room. “-how are we alive?” He frowned. Wasn’t that the question? Was this an ability Prompto would have normally? Was it a twice-in-a-lifetime affair? What many would give for such a skill, if it got out, he’d need around-the-clock security- “Dad?” Regis blinked at his son, then shook his head.

“Who do you think? Prompto dragged himself over to your- you, and sang until he was grey in the face, then Gladiolus and Ignis picked him up and carried him up to Lunafreya, where he did much the same. It was a miracle, Noctis, I still haven’t entirely processed what I saw.” Noctis scooted up straighter in his bed, his eyes wide with concern as Regis spoke.

“How is he? How is everyone?” Noctis asked, and Regis walked around back to the other side of the bed and sat down, propping his elbows on the bed and resting his chin on his hands.

“Gladiolus and Ignis sustained only mild injuries, they didn’t even bother seeking medical treatment until the serious cases were all triaged and taken care of. Lunafreya was in much the same state as you, along with a side of massive blood loss, however, she actually woke up about a hour ago. Clarus was seriously injured, and it was looking touch and go for a while, but he survived. He’s supposed to get out tomorrow. As for Prompto and Cor-” he trailed off, pensive, he watched Noctis grow pale in concern and he continued. “They are inseparable, and both unfortunately appear to be in a coma of sorts. Unlike you and Lunafreya, they’ve showed no sign of waking up yet.”

“What do you mean they are inseparable? This has to do with their Dawn Mother magic thing, doesn’t it?” Regis nodded, and Noctis frowned in response.

“We think so, Ignis had the theory that Cor was lending Prompto his own...energy, vitality, however you wish to put it, to him while he was singing the song that woke you and the princess, and he fell unconscious shortly after Prompto did. Ignis had Gladiolus put Prompto down with Cor when they got back to the courtyard with Luna, and Cor tucked him under his chin and promptly passed out. Won’t let go of Prompto’s hand, even now,” he mused, and Noctis actually chuckled.

“Prom would be so embarrassed if he was awake,” Noctis commented, then he sobered. “Do you think I could go see him?”

“Once the doctor says you can get out of bed, then of course.” Noctis nodded, his eyes growing distant; Regis waited for his son to gather his thoughts. After watching Noctis’s face contort into several expressions, he finally spoke.

“Did it work? I’m guessing because we are here that the city still stands-” Noctis said, and Regis hummed and crossed his arms.

“While it will take a little while for full confirmation, I sent out a recon group of Glaives and Crownsguard outside the old wall last night to see if there were any sign of MTs or daemons, and what they found was no daemons and the empty armor of the MTs that were in wait to attack the city. It’s looking good so far. As for the emperor, I let him leave. Far more of a problem to try and detain him. Prince Ravus stayed behind, as you probably could guess, and I believe he’s in with his sister right now.” Noctis heaved a relieved sigh, slouching down in the pillows, and Regis got back to his feet to help his son get comfortable, only to be stopped by Noctis grabbing at his left hand, causing a jolt of pain to run up his arm.

“What happened to your finger? And where’s the ring?” Noctis asked, and Regis realized that he had left out something really rather important.

“That’s right, you were unconscious. Do you remember that when you ran Ardyn through, how he didn’t die at that point?” Noctis nodded slowly, and Regis sighed and ran his free hand down his face.

“Turns out Lunafreya was working on her own plan, she had Cor take her to the crystal during the fight, shortly before Ardyn gave up with that last song you heard,” he said, then sighed again. “Based on the fragments we found in the room, we believe she stabbed the crystal with her trident, destroying it, her trident, k-killing her, you, and Ardyn. Prompto’s last song had wrapped everyone but you and Ardyn in some sort of shielding, and just a second or so before she destroyed it, Cor ripped the ring from my finger...which was a good thing, because it exploded as well. It probably would have killed me. He just wasn’t the most, er, delicate about it.”  Noctis’s eyes had gone as round as he had ever seen them and his mouth was open in an almost comical oh shape.

“Luna destroyed the crystal?”

“With prejudice, from the look of it. I look forward to asking her about shortly, but it seemed to be the only thing that allowed Ardyn to die, so she appeared to have the right idea,” he said, and Noctis finally seemed to remember that he had jaw muscles, closing his mouth and and blinking his still-wide eyes.

“Wow. But- the astrals, that stupid prophecy; I didn’t imagine Shiva doing us a solid and getting rid of Ifrit, right? Because if I did, then I clearly am on the good stuff,” Noctis said, jiggling the arm with the IV in it. Regis huffed out a noisy breath, then reached over and lightly poked the arm his son was wiggling around.

“I’m pretty sure that’s just fluids and nutrients, son. And yes, you do remember correctly, I don’t know about the other three, but I’m pretty sure that Bahamut was in play at some point. Something I need to ask Lunafreya,” he said, letting his hand drift up to brush through his yawning son’s hair. “Why don’t you get some rest, if you are well enough, they should be letting you out soon.” Noctis’s eyes were already drooping, and Regis smiled. “I’m going to go speak with Lunafreya while you rest, see if I can get some answers.”

“Sounds….good,” Noctis yawned, and within one breath and the next, he was out. Regis chuckled and tucked the blankets around his son, then patted his chest and headed to the door.

“Sleep well, son.”

He was still looking back at Noctis as he exited the room, and only a sharply cleared throat got him to stop, and Regis turned to see Ravus standing only a foot from him, looking...pensive. He was no fool, he knew that the Prince of Tenebrae hated him with a passion, and he had every right to. The two men looked at each other in stilted silence until Ravus grimaced and looked away, waving a loose hand down the hallway.

“She wants to speak with you,” Ravus stated, and Regis bowed his head in thanks.

“Thank you for letting me know.” They continued to stand there awkwardly, and Regis was about two seconds from throwing regality to the wind and just leaving without saying anything until Ravus made a rather alarming hissing noise and met his eyes again.

“How long were you planning all this? Cornering Izunia? Lunafreya told me that destroying the crystal was a last-ditch effort to make sure he actually died, which is-” Ravus scrubbed a hand through his hair. “How long?” Regis couldn’t help the dry laugh that slipped out, and the prince looked furious. “Do you find this funny, your majesty?”

“Would you believe me if I told you it was less than forty-eight hours of planning? Well, on my part, anyway. On Lunafreya’s, Cor’s, and Prompto’s part, I suspect it was a bit longer.” That garnered a reaction, with Ravus’s eyebrows drawing together sharply.

“The marshal...that’s how she got around the defenses at the palace, isn’t it? He seems to be able to move around similar to Gentiana...what is he? What are either of them? When he spoke to the Infernian, the Dawn Mother was mentioned?” Ravus’s ever-present scowl had faded in his curiosity, and Regis shook his head, recalling what he had been told.

“Back in the days of Solheim, the Dawn Mother had chosen representatives, known individually as the Herald and Voice of the Dawn, each with special abilities. If I understand correctly, Cor and Prompto are the first in well over two thousand years. I believe Izunia even mentioned that when he was confronted,” Regis said, and Ravus crossed his arms and frowned, but it was more thoughtful than before.

“You didn’t know, did you? About any of this?” He had no reason to deny it anymore, and he shook his head.

“No, Cor did an excellent job of hiding the whole damn thing from me, but in hindsight, it may have been for the best.” Ravus actually cracked a tiny smile at that, then dropped his arms and bowed.

“By your leave, your majesty, I will be departing tomorrow. An associate of mine will be fetching me in her customized troop carrier, would it be permissible for her to land in the courtyard for a few minutes? She has been busy securing Tenebrae for us with her mercenaries whilst I’ve been waiting for my sister to awaken, but Luna agrees that I should head out forthwith to take control of matters personally. The commodore has a reputation of honor, but it is appropriate that a Nox Fleuret lead any effort in our homeland.” Ravus stood at attention once he was done speaking, and Regis found himself impressed.

“You’ve been busy in the last two days, your majesty. As long as you give me at least an hour of forewarning, I see no problem with Commodore Highwind landing long enough to pick you up. Her unit was special in Niflheim, correct? One of the few that was entirely human?” Ravus looked surprised at his words, but tilted his head in agreement.

“Yes, she had no MTs assigned to her command. She thought them...unnatural, and she was right,” Ravus said. “And to answer your next question, it does appear that Izunia’s death killed every MT, from what she’s told me, not a functioning one has been found since.” Regis breathed out a tiny relieved sigh.

“I should go speak with the princess, your majesty. If I don’t see you before you leave, I wish you success with your endeavors,” he said, nodding to Ravus, who returned his nod, and departing. A short walk, and he knocked on the door to Lunafreya’s room, entering when he heard her welcome. Luna was sitting up in her bed, her face pale and tired, but otherwise healthy. “It’s good to see you looking so well, your highness.”

“Call me Luna, please, I think we’ve been through enough together for you to call me by my name.” Regis smiled at the young woman, then nodded.

“Of course, but the same goes to you, Luna. Call me Regis.” He sat down in the chair next to Luna and leaned back in his chair. “Has the doctor spoken with you yet?” Luna nodded.

“Yes, they said they should be able to release me sometime tomorrow, provided I’m doing well, she said, then she quieted. The silence ran long, but it didn’t hold quite the awkwardness it had with Ravus. Regis listened to her take a deep breath, then let it out, then take another; he didn’t want to rush her to say anything, but he couldn’t deny the tickle of impatience settling under his skin. He wanted to know why. One more deep breath, and Luna finally turned her head and met his eyes. “I’m sorry I didn’t say anything before...everything. I was hoping I could convince him, but he would not listen, he wanted everything done as he had decreed it should, regardless of the lives lost. I-” Regis’s brow furrowed in confusion.

“Luna, what in the world are you talking about? Who is he ?” he asked, and Luna’s hands flew to her mouth.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I mean the Draconian, Bahamut. Gentiana had warned me that all the kings, crowned or not, of Lucis were tied to the crystal, and I had hoped I would be able to reason with it...him so Ardyn could finally rest. As you can guess, it didn’t go well,” Luna said, her hands on her cheeks as she looked into the distance.

“Did Cor know what your plans were?” he asked with more than a hint of resignation, pretty much sure he knew the answer at this point, but to his surprise, Luna shrugged.

“I have the impression that he knew that the crystal might be an issue, but I honestly don’t think he really thought much beyond it. He trusted me to handle it, I’m guessing, considering he delivered me to it without a single question,” Luna tapped a finger on her lips. “Of course, it was the middle of a battle, he may not even have thought that far when he dropped me off up there.” Regis pursed his lips in irritation, but amusement followed just as swiftly on its heels.

“Cor thinks faster in battle than just about anyone I’ve ever met, he at least knew that you would be doing something with the crystal. From what it sounds like, you went up to negotiate with it?” Luna clasped her hands in her lap and gave a quick nod.

“I certainly didn’t go up with the idea of destroying it. I was hoping that the Draconian would listen to his Oracle’s pleas, but I feel that his mind was made up when our ancestors were still recovering from the fall of Solheim. He would not listen, and once Prompto started singing that final song, I just knew that I was running out of time-” Luna trailed off, and wrung her hands together. “He had been trying to force me to leave, my chest felt like it was going to explode; I’m pretty sure I was only half-conscious by that point, I know I was all over blood. I called for Gentiana, hoping against hope that she would help one last time, and my trident appeared. I called to Bahamut one final time, hoping he would reconsider, then, well, you know what I did.”

“Your trident was destroyed, you know that, right?” Regis stated, and Luna nodded.

“The Draconian making his opinion on the situation clear. Thus ends the line of the oracle,” Luna whispered, and he blinked. The trident was gone, but-

“Is your healing gone as well? I don’t believe you used the trident for it, correct?” he asked, and Luna’s eyebrows went up.

“You are right, I haven’t tried-” Luna looked down at Regis’s still splinted finger, and he lifted his left hand without thinking and placed it next to her. Her slender fingers gently removed the splint, exposing his swollen finger, he bit back a hiss as she carefully ran her own fingers down it. “This is the finger you wore the Ring of the Lucii on, isn’t it?” He nodded, and she looked back down at it. “What happened?”

“It exploded when you took care of the crystal, Cor seemed to know it was coming, and ripped the ring off my hand. He wasn’t gentle about it.” Luna grimaced in sympathy, then placed her hand over his broken finger and closed her eyes. Nothing happened for a few seconds, but then it started to tingle; he couldn’t help his grin as a subtle glow came from her palm, and after several ominous grinding noises, she lifted his hand and looked closely at it, a smile of her own spreading across her face.

“Try to move it,” she ordered, and he did. It was a bit sensitive, but it bent easily.

“Looks like you still have your healing touch, oracle.” Luna’s relief was plain on her face, and he patted her hand before pulling away. “I felt much the same after I realized the crystal was gone; it feels different, but I still have my magic. While the new wall is gone, I can call to the old wall and it still responds, something none of the Glaives I asked could do. Perhaps this is one thing that is still exclusive to the royal line,” he stated, and Luna smiled sweetly at him, even as tears began to drip down her face.

“Forgive me, Regis, I didn’t-” Luna took a shaky breath. “I didn’t even think about that, I just acted-” Regis shook his head and rose to his feet, clasping her hands in his own.

“My dear, we are alive, the city still stands, and it appears our efforts in eradicating the Scourge may have been a success. The state of my magic is the least of my worries. Do not dwell on it further.” Luna’s teary-eyed skeptical look was obvious, but she dropped the subject. After a few more minutes of updates and small talk, Regis took his leave.

Noctis and Luna were both discharged early afternoon the following day, Clarus shortly thereafter, not two hours before Ravus departed with the Commodore. Luna elected to stay behind, as she was not in peak condition, and Ravus wanted her away from any further fighting. All three of them joined the rotating crowd of visitors to Prompto and Cor, who still hadn’t moved beyond their joined hands.

On the afternoon of the fourth day, Cor finally released Prompto’s hand, and the medical staff waited in hope for further movement from either man, but there was no sign, and everyone continued their rotating vigil. Regis visited when he could, and he knew that his son and his friends were there constantly, along with various members of the Crownsguard, even Iris on occasion. The Glaives, mainly the Galahdian ones, seemed to have a rotation of their own going, and Cor and Prompto were never left alone except when Dr. Domitia needed to examine them.

Day five bled into day six, and everyone was growing steadily disheartened at the lack of anything, movement or otherwise, from either of them. Regis was especially irritated by the lack of any appearance by Prompto’s parents, who he had personally left several messages for, but had not been able to actually speak with besides their first conversation. What parents wouldn’t run to their child’s side in such a situation? When he asked Noctis, he admitted that according to Prompto, it wasn’t uncommon for him to only see his parents only once or twice a month. While Regis knew he wasn’t in the running for father of the year either, Noctis had said this had gone on for nigh on ten years. That was almost child abuse as far as he was concerned. But there was little he could do about it now, Prompto was an adult. But damn, it made his head hurt.

Day seven brought the news that Tenebrae had pronounced their independence from the empire, Altissia following just hours later. He and Clarus may have shared a drink after that bit of information came in, then had a short visit with the increasingly wan-looking Cor in the infirmary to let him and Prompto know.

Two hours before the start of day eight, Cor groaned and shifted in bed for the first time since they had been brought in off the shattered tile of the courtyard a week prior, and Glaive Khara, who had been in with them, actually cheered aloud before running from the room and scaring the shit out of half the medical staff. Dr. Domitia and at least ten of the Glaives were in there in a matter of minutes, Ulric calling Lord Amicitia, who called Regis, and they were all there looking at the marshal, who continued to move small amounts in his bed. Unfortunately, after about an hour of waiting, he showed no sign of waking, and everyone drifted despondently off to their own beds.

Elshett and Ulric were in the room together when the occasional groans and shifting evolved into something far more aware somewhere around noon on day eight, and yet again, within a matter of minutes, half the Citadel seemed to try and crush themselves inside a small infirmary room as Cor’s grunts and groans transitioned to something sounding more like words. Regis managed to get through the crowd up to his friend’s bedside, Clarus beside him, and they waited. This time, they were rewarded.

“Alright, Cor, you’ve been sleeping on the fucking job long enough. Time to get up,” Clarus said a bit louder than probably appropriate, but well, sometimes yelling at Cor produced results. Both he and Clarus had thirty-two years of practice, after all. Cor’s arm twitched up, and they were treated to him batting slowly in the air in Clarus’s direction. Over by Prompto’s bed, Gladiolus burst out laughing, Luna and Noctis both joining in, and Regis couldn’t help but smile at the sound of it.

“Looks like he acts the same way Iris does when you try to wake her up,” Gladiolus snorted, and Clarus rolled his eyes. Regis reached out and took Cor’s still-raised hand, giving it a squeeze.

“Come on, Cor, you haven’t slept this long since your teens. Time to tell us all to go away,” he said quietly, and well, Cor had never been good about disobeying a direct order.

“-g’way.” The cheering that erupted was deafening, and Dr. Domitia looked about ready to murder everyone in the room on the spot, which got the room silent in a matter of seconds. One of Cor’s eyes slid open, followed by the other one, and Regis watched as he squinted at the room. “Why’s it so noisy?” Cor mumbled drowsily, and Luna leaned over and patted his other hand.

“You’ve been sleeping for awhile, herald. We all have been wanting to see you,” Luna spoke with the lightest voice Regis had heard from her since she had come to Insomnia, which made him inexplicably happy. Now they just needed Prompto to wake up-

“How’s everybody? ...the hell is in my nose?” Cor’s gaze was sharpening, his ice-blue eyes darting from face to face, and Regis realized with a sinking feeling exactly when Cor realized who was missing from the crowded room. “Where’s Prompto?” If the room was silent before, there was no comparison now; there were louder tombs then that small infirmary room had become, and Cor’s eyes widened in swiftly growing panic until Luna and Noctis managed to maneuver away from the space between the beds, revealing the still-comatose Prompto hooked up to the same kind of machines Cor was. Regis watched as Cor went even paler, if that was possible, the man looking over at Prompto before raising a shaking hand to his own nose. “How- how long have we been out?” Cor’s voice was so quiet that Regis had to lean in to hear him, and he looked up at the doctor, who gave a sad grimace but no further guidance. Cor, while definitely incapacitated, was not one to give up, and Regis found a shuddering hand wrapping around his wrist. “How long.” He sighed and brought his other hand up to cup around his friend’s gripping fingers.

“You’ve been- it’s been eight days since you both lost consciousness. Almost to the minute. You just started showing signs of rousing late last night,” Regis said, and Cor looked over at Prompto once more before slumping back into his pillows, his eyes drooping. “Hopefully Prompto follows your lead soon.”

“Damn. Well, I suppose we could be dead,” Cor muttered, his words running together as his eyes began to slide shut; Regis smiled as much as he could as he detached Cor’s increasingly lax hand from his wrist, laying it down on the man’s stomach. “Tell me more later…” Cor mumbled, then his head slumped to the side, mild snores following shortly thereafter. Clarus smirked, gently ruffling Cor’s hair, then stepped back.

“He’s always been a quiet sleeper,” Clarus mused, turning to meet Regis’s eye, then turned to the rest of the room. “Alright everyone, unless you are visiting Prompto, let’s clear out and let the marshal get some regular sleep. Hopefully we’ll all be able to cheer for Prompto’s return to consciousness soon as well.” Everyone but Regis, Clarus, Dr. Domitia, Noctis, Ignis, Gladiolus, Luna, and Ostium left without complaint, Ostium taking up the rotating Glaive chair that had been occupied for almost a week. Luna leaned over and gave Cor a kiss on the forehead, then rejoined the boys as they turned back to Prompto, quietly speaking to him about whatever was going on in their lives. Regis and Clarus watched Domitia check Cor over without a word until she stepped away from their friend and looked up at the two of them.

“Everything looks like he’s returned to normal sleep. The fact he was tracking and conversing without issue was excellent, I’ll evaluate cognitive and other functions further after he wakes up again,” Domitia gave Regis a tiny bow, then shouldered her way past Noctis to Prompto’s bedside. Regis and Clarus exchanged a look, then nodded to Ostium and exited the room. They needed to go speak with the Crownsguard regarding both Cor and the case against the imprisoned Glaives.

Cor slept for almost a full day more before waking up again, but returned to a more average sleep cycle after that. He was still lethargic and slow to move, but Dr. Domitia was very pleased with his overall condition, and had pulled the feeding tube almost immediately, which was well received. Regis visited several times, but he was genuinely busy with the aftermath, and was more than happy to let the others fill in Cor on current events. As for Prompto, he still showed no change, and Regis had given his parents several more calls before finally giving up. The two week mark came and went, with Cor still in the infirmary, as he wasn’t getting his energy back as quickly as they had hoped. They had offered to move the marshal to his own room, but he refused to leave Prompto alone, especially after Regis had let him know that after probably a dozen calls to the kid’s parents, they had never once showed up. Regis had seen Cor pissed many a time over the years, but after his teens, he was more apt to stay quiet and let his actions speak his feelings for him. With him still laid up in bed most of the time, however, Cor wasn’t handling things perhaps quite as smoothly as he usually would have. With several people already having been subjected to his angry rants about Prompto’s situation, Regis knew it was time he intervened before it got out of hand. There was something going on with his friend, and from little things here and there he had noticed over the past month, he was starting to think this had a lot more to do with guilt than anger.

In the evening of the fifteenth day, he decided to go speak with the man. However, after catching Cor up on everything, their conversation came to an awkward halt. After a few minutes of him watching Cor’s eyes shoot between Prompto and him, he sighed and leaned towards Cor, still wan and a bit poorly in his hospital bed, and asked him the one question he had truly wanted to know after everything he had learned about his friend over the last month. “Cor, you told me only a few weeks ago what your greatest fear was, but considering how you’ve been handling things the last few days...I have a related question. You have something that you truly regret, don’t you? About Prompto?” He didn’t know what reaction he was expecting, but the tears that rapidly collected at the corners of Cor’s eyes told far more than words could probably ever explain.

“I left him at the damn orphanage, Regis. I told myself it was for the best, that the soldier lifestyle wasn’t a good fit for raising a child; I left him with them, and walked away. I can still hear him screaming when he realized I was leaving- I could barely see where I was going I was crying so hard. I told myself that if he wasn’t adopted within the year, I’d go back for him, I’d figure it out-” Cor folded in on himself as he broke down, his body shaking from his sobs; Regis got to his feet and clasped his friend’s arm. “-he should have been my son, Regis! Not the son of people who can’t even be bothered to come visit him, who left him alone for most of his life-” Regis could feel the tears running down his own cheeks, and he was stunned when a familiar set of large arms wrapped around both him and Cor, bringing them all together. “I should have been there for him!” Clarus simply squeezed a bit tighter as Cor fell apart, and there was no other sound then that of them weeping together, the ultimate cleansing. When Cor’s sobs calmed to hitching breaths, Clarus released them and then sat down on the end of Cor’s bed, gripping his friend’s ankle.

“You may or may not be Papa Cor, but I think you sure as hell can be an awesome Uncle Cor at the very least. When the kid wakes up, talk to him about it, okay?” Clarus told Cor, who was still shaking, and Regis could see the despair on Cor’s face at Clarus’s last comment. Oh damnit.

“Is he going to wake up? Did we do all this just for him to be-” Regis did something he hadn’t done to Cor in thirty years, and grabbed him by his earlobes hard enough for the man to wince and stop talking, leaning in until his forehead rested against his friend’s.

“Don’t you even start going down that path. Don’t. You helped me back when it was Noctis lying in the damn bed, when I was the one falling apart at the seams; you told me to stay strong, that he was a tough kid and he would get through this...and you were entirely right. So I’m going to say the same thing to you. Prompto is a strong young man with a good heart, and I have no doubt that he’s going to wake up again. It may be an hour from now, it may be weeks from now, but he’s going wake up and be really furious with you if you just keep moping around here, Cor. You need to take a deep breath, get out of this bed, and get back to being you, whether that’s the marshal, the herald, or just Cor, ” he said as he felt Cor stiffen under his hands, and the two men looked at each other for a long moment before the tension bled out of Cor’s body, and Regis found himself being shoved lightly away by a hand that was already far more stable than before.

“Damnit Regis, how am I supposed to argue with you when you are throwing my own words back in my face?” Cor grumbled somewhat wetly, the man trying to not to sniffle, and behind Regis, he could hear Clarus trying to choke back a laugh. The elbow Regis shoved into Clarus’s hip a second later was a complete accident, of course. “Fine. I was about ready to behead one of the damn nurses the other day after they said something stupid, this place is turning me into a basket case.”

“And we can’t have that, there’s enough crazy in this place as it is,” Clarus drawled, and deftly dodged another elbow from his king. “I mean, look at Regis here, does he look like the paragon of sanity to you? Don’t you remember how he got that scar on his face?” This time Regis aimed for his head, and Clarus didn’t quite get out of the way. “Ow. See?” Cor’s blotchy face (still not his best look, there’s a reason Regis couldn’t remember the last time he had ever seen Cor cry) was starting to clear, and Regis could see a hint of amusement in the red eyes at Clarus’s antics. That’s more like it.

“Want us to stay for longer, Cor? I brought the entertainment with me, as you can see,” Regis smirked at the other two, and was gladdened by the sight of Cor rolling his eyes, then pinching the bridge of his nose.

“Stay as long as you like, your majesty. ” Regis gave an exaggerated gasp at the sarcasm in Cor’s tone, which got everyone laughing.

Wake up soon, Prompto.

 

---

 

Gladio had been on good terms with the majority of the Glaives over the years, although he was well aware that a decent amount of them kept him at arm’s length due to his family name and who his father was, but over the last few weeks, he found himself getting to know a group of them rather well. Nyx was the one he spoke with the most, the other man pretty much the fount of all knowledge about the Dawn Mother and what that meant for Prom and the marshal, but Libertus was also pretty well versed in it as well. About fifteen of the Glaives, mostly the Galahdian ones, but Crowe and Pelna were also part of it, had set up a rotation to make certain that Prom and Cor were never left alone, and even old Doc Domitia hadn’t protested at the obviously heartfelt gesture. Gladio was just glad that there was always someone in there with them, especially with Prom. He had spent too much time alone throughout his life as it was.

When Cor woke up, groggy and increasingly grouchy, they weren’t quite sure how to handle it. He had known the man his whole life, and Cor had, with some minor exceptions, been the bastion of level-headed reason for the vast majority of that time, which was it was quite the shock to all of them to see him so...angry. Ignis had made the mistake of mentioning that Prom’s parents had not visited him yet sometime on day ten, and while Cor hadn’t yelled, Gladio was pretty sure his ears were still blistered from the resulting tirade. Day eleven brought much the same, and that’s when Noct got the bright idea of breaking into Prom’s house. They tried for a few days to change his mind, but in the end, as always, Noctis won.

“This is a bad idea, Noctis,” Iggy said, and Gladio agreed, even as he held open the window for Noctis to wiggle through. Well, if they were going to break in, they might as well do it right. A few moments later, Noct unlocked the door and let them in, and they fanned out around the house, looking for any sign that the Argentums had been there in the last two weeks. It didn’t take long. Iggy, who had been peering into the kitchen trash, delicately reached in and pulled out a piece of paper, looking at it with a frown.

“They bought dinner at the Duscaen restaurant down the street just two days ago, if this receipt is to be believed,” Iggy commented, and while Gladio wasn’t surprised, he had hoped, hoped that their suspicions would be proven wrong, but that was not to be.

“So they’ve been in town and they can’t even get up to the Citadel to see their damn kid,” Noct growled, and Gladio sighed and ran his hand through his hair. “Do they just...not care?” Noct said quietly, and no one had an answer for him. Gladio looked out the front window to see two somewhat familiar people walking up the street, and he snapped his fingers and pointed to the back door. Noct looked two seconds from rebelling, but allowed himself to be ushered out, Gladio closing the door behind them. After they put a block between the house and themselves, Noct stomped around and glared at the world. “I’m this close to going back and yelling at them, but-”

“I think it’s pretty clear that they haven’t had much of a relationship with Prom for years, Noct. I hate to say this, but we should leave it alone,” Gladio said, and raised a hand when Noct looked like he was going to argue. “Look, I get it. Part of me wants to do what you just said, but, y’know what? We are Prom’s family, his friends, and don’t tell me with the way Cor is acting that he doesn’t have another dad figure there. It’s their loss, our gain.” He didn’t have to imagine the look of approval on Iggy’s face, and he watched as Noctis thought over what he had just said, the younger man’s face going through a series of contortions before settling on a tired smirk.

“You know what, Gladio? You’re right. Fuck ‘em. They show up? Well, that’s between Prom and them. We got this now,” Noct stated, and there was no further conversation on the matter.

They returned to the Citadel and went their own ways, Gladio deciding that he would go visit Prom real quick before he headed off to do his afternoon training session with his father. But not two steps from the door to Cor and Prompto’s room, he froze at what he was hearing inside, and against his better judgement, listened in to the gut-wrenching sound of a man falling apart in his king’s, no his friend’s arms. Damn , they all knew Cor had been fond of Prompto, had treated him differently, but to hear the man admit that he’s the one who left him at the orphanage and had regretted that decision every day since? Gladio raised a hand and wiped away a few tears of his own. What would Prom have been like raised by Cor? Probably much the same, that bubbly personality was too ingrained, but with a father that would have been there for him and friends he would have met much younger- Gladio wiped away a few more tears. Shit. He almost laughed out loud at his dad’s comment about being Uncle Cor, but then Cor started wondering if Prom would ever wake up, and Gladio felt his heart stop. No, don’t fall down that hole, marshal, if you start, then we’ll all be a mess, he thought, and was relieved when the king promptly shook some sense back into him. When he could hear his dad start razzing the king, he knew it was time to slip away. He could visit later.

Gladio thought about telling the others about what he had overheard for a while, but in the end, decided not to. That was the most intimate thing he had ever heard from Cor, and he would respect his privacy in the aftermath, even if he hadn’t quite done so during. Either way, though, it appeared to be a watershed moment for the marshal, who was looking much better as each day went on and was out of his bed more than he was in it, and Gladio just happened to be there on day twenty-one with Nyx and Crowe watching gleefully on as Doc Domitia gave Cor a lecture on his health that a twelve year old would have cringed at, then gave the man a hug, patted him on the cheeks, and told him he was free to go. Cor looked like he had been caught up in a cyclone as the old lady left the room, Nyx bursting into delighted laughter at the bewildered look on the marshal’s face. Gladio and Crowe grinned at each other, then they all walked up and gave Cor a quick hug, which just increased the confusion.

“You going to head back to your quarters now, marshal?” Gladio asked, and after a few moments of waiting for the question to register, Cor nodded slowly.

“Yes, I suppose I will,” Cor said, clasping all three of them one by one by the shoulders as he headed over to Prompto’s bed. “I’ll be back soon, Prompto.” Gladio smiled wistfully as Cor leaned over and gave his friend a kiss on the forehead, then straightened and looked back at the three of them. “I’ll see you all later.” Cor took a step forward and was gone , and Gladio blinked.

“Hot damn, I forgot all about that, how did I forget about that,” he said aloud, and Nyx laughed again, shaking his head.

“I didn’t, but I think he figured that Dr. Domitia would find him no matter where he ended up and drag him back to the infirmary by his little toe, so he stayed put. He wasn’t in any condition to be trying any dawn magic hijinks out until the last day or two anyway,” Nyx stated as he slapped Gladio on the back, then slid the official Glaive chair closer to Prom’s bed and sat down, Crowe grabbing the other and sitting down next to Nyx. “One more to go.”

Easier said than done. While Prompto slept through it all, the Media Information Bureau of the crown had been repelling the media for the weeks since the so-called Battle of the Citadel, sticking only to general facts, but when you have a defeated astral and the chancellor of Niflheim dead on national TV, it made for a losing proposition. Especially when there had been a young man who sang magic, songs the whole city had heard , and then there was the head of the Crownsguard, who was a known figure, who also appeared to be able to do all sorts of interesting things. The wall had fallen, of course, and it wasn’t long after when people realized that the crystal had been destroyed as well. The city was still tense after that revelation, but the news of the demise of both the Niflheim armies and daemons in general had tempered that shock a bit. Then it got out that the oracle herself had destroyed the crystal, a leak from a janitor assigned to clean up the floor where the crystal was which appeared to be based in incompetence than maliciousness, and the city went mad again. The average citizen had no clue how the crystal had worked, what it had actually done beyond generating the wall, and to try and explain a tangled saga of ancient kings, angry astrals, and king turned Scourge to the general public was...daunting. Gladio was very happy he wasn’t in charge of that, he would have screwed everything up within minutes.

They had managed to keep the hordes at bay somehow; Luna had been strongly encouraged to stay inside the Citadel for the interim, the daily crowds outside the Citadel were generally behaving, and the detained Kingsglaives had started pointing fingers at each other, but mostly at Drautos, who had said maybe ten words since he had been discovered.

Then it got out on day twenty-three that the marshal was out of the infirmary.

“The media is demanding to speak with him, there’s been a lot of stories flying around of what he is and what everything that happened actually means, and for some mysterious reason, I’ve got probably a quarter of the Galahdian sector hanging out outside the Citadel at any given time. While they are being far more respectful than the media, they want to see the marshal as well. The council has agreed with us that this needs to be done, and swiftly,” Sulpicia, one of the heads of the Media Bureau said, and Gladio looked at the media liaison with some concern.

“Did they tell you why the Galahdians would be interested?” Sulpicia wobbled a hand in the air, and Gladio’s eyebrow inched up. “Something about how they never stopped worshipping the Dawn Mother? I wasn’t given all the details, which is common in my line of work, Lord Amicitia.” He chopped his hand through the air as she spoke.

“Gladiolus or just Amicitia, my father’s the lord.” The woman nodded and looked down at the papers in her lap, flipping through a few before looking back up.

“I think if he makes an appearance, we can at least get the Galahdians to disperse, because, I hate to say it, but everyday I have a giant group of them outside, the anti-immigrant crowd grows as well.” Gladio opened his mouth to say something, but she raised her hand. “Don’t get me wrong, my brother-in-law is Galahdian, I’ve got a few distant relatives who are as well, but we both know that many native Insomnians can be complete asses when it comes to immigrants and refugees. My job is to keep everyone calm and the situation stable, not start more shit on top of what we already have going on,” Sulpicia said, and Gladio barked out a laugh.

“Fair enough. The marshal will do it, I have no doubt, and I think myself and the prince will go out with him. Probably a few specific Glaives as well. A show of support from several different groups.” Gladio leaned forward towards the middle-aged woman with a saucy smile, and she rolled her eyes at him. It was oddly refreshing.

“Don’t even try that with me, I’m immune. I’m guessing you don’t think I’ll like your idea?”

“The marshal, myself, Prince Noctis, Lord Scientia, and Glaives Ulric, Ostium, Khara, and Altius. A nice little microcosm of Insomnia and Lucis all in one little clump.” He waited while Sulpicia considered his proposal, then she shrugged.

“Sounds like a good group. I’m counting on you, Gladiolus, to get the marshal out there. He’s always been a hard one to lasso down for press conferences, and I’m happy to defer the responsibility to another for once.” Gladio nodded and got to his feet.

“I’ve got this.” Famous last words. He ran into Pelna first when he checked in the Kingsglaive barracks, and he quickly explained what he needed.

“I’m good for it, Amicitia, but have you actually asked the Marshal yet?” Pelna commented, and Gladio shook his head. The friendly Glaive gave him a knowing look, and Gladio sighed and left to go find the others.

Everyone else including Noctis on board, Gladio spent a solid half-hour trying to find Cor; he wasn’t in his office, there was no sign at his quarters, not in the training room- he ground to a halt as he was about to pass by the infirmary, and face-palmed. Of course. Heading inside, he went to the new room they had moved Prom to after Cor had been discharged, knocking then entering. The usual sight of his friend pale and still on the bed, hooked up to multiple machines was something he could never and would never get used to, and he forced down his sorrow and looked over at the target of his search, who was sitting quietly in the Glaive chair reading paperwork.

“Hey marshal.” Cor looked up at him with his usual stoic expression, a question in his still-tired eyes, and Gladio took the opportunity to sit down in the second chair. “I hate to spring this on you, but we need your help.”

“This about the crowds outside?” Gladio blinks, then shakes his head. Figured that Cor already had an idea of what he was here for.

“Partially, yeah. They want to see you,” he said, and Cor snorted so quietly in response that he barely heard him.

“I’m not surprised. What’s the general mood?” Cor asked, and Gladio sat up and crossed his arms.

“A good amount just want answers, they’ve not released anything regarding you or Prom beyond basic statements about how you two were vital to the protection of the city, and you two are probably the biggest mystery of the whole affair. There’s a growing group of Galahdians outside as well, while we’ve not officially said anything regarding you and Prom’s...special status, it’s clear that they suspect something. Nyx swears that none of the Glaives have said anything, but well, we all saw how he figured you two out almost immediately,” he said, and Cor continued to look at him, still waiting, and Gladio chuckled. “Yeah, yeah, spit it out. The longer the Galahdians are out there, the more they are worried that the xenophobes will get out of hand. They’ve been increasing each day as well.” Cor grimaced, looking down his paperwork before closing the folder.

“I assume you’ve determined a group to go out with me?” Gladio nodded, and Cor leaned back in his own chair and closed his eyes. After a few minutes, Gladio got up to go say hello to Prom, leaving the marshal to his thoughts for a minute. He let his fingers trace the line of Prompto’s jaw before running them through the light yellow strands of his friend’s hair, before leaning over and carefully pressing his forehead to Prom’s.

“Aren’t you getting tired of sleeping so much? Since when did you decide to turn into Noct? We all really miss talking to you, dipshit,” he muttered, then he straightened, looking closely at Prom hoping to see something new, but he swallowed his disappointment and squeezed Prom’s hand before stepping away. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Prom. I expect results.” He looked over at Cor after speaking, seeing that the older man had opened his eyes again.

“What time did Media want to do this?” Cor’s eyes looked more tired than ever, but his expression radiated stoic acceptance.

“Around noon tomorrow, if that works for you.” Cor sighed and nodded his agreement, and Gladio headed to the door. “Get some rest, Cor. You need it.” The marshal gave no response, and after a pause, he headed out.

The look on Cor’s face the next morning was, to the unfamiliar, the same stoic expression he often had when he didn’t want to talk, but Gladio could see a thread of something he might call anxiety underneath. Nyx and Crowe were trying to get the marshal to loosen up, but their attempts were largely falling on deaf ears. Libertus stayed off to the side, his expression oddly twisted, and he couldn’t help but ask.

“You expecting something, Ostium?” Libertus huffed, then shook his head.

“Amicitia, we’ve been living in the barracks for over three weeks because we were all too chocobo-shit to go home and try to survive the interrogation...well, besides keeping the faith with the Marshal and Prompto, of course. I’ll be lucky if they don’t set my shitty apartment on fire after they see us all out there with the fucking Herald of the Dawn,” he grumbled, and Gladio’s eyebrows darted up.

“That bad?” Next to Libertus, Pelna laughed and elbowed the other man.

“He’s just working himself up, it’ll be fine. It’ll only be a few small fires, and every granny in the Galahdian sector yanking on his braids until he tells them everything,” Pelna chortled, and Libertus groaned.

“Nyx will laugh at me as he warps out of the fucking area, leaving me to them-”

“Are you that worried, Ostium?” Noct said as he walked up to the three of them, and Pelna started laughing harder. “You can always stay in the barracks, get your laughing pal to clean out your apartment.”

“Hey, not cool, your highness,” Pelna whined dramatically, and Gladio is positive that he actually heard Iggy roll his eyes behind the lot of them. The banter was refreshing, and if Prom had been there, it would have been-

“Time to go. Remember, marshal, you don’t need to speak if you don’t want to-” Sulpicia began, but Cor waved her off and headed to the door, Gladio and the others scrambling to catch up. Gladio could already hear the din building in the distance as people saw them coming out, and then he saw the marshal give a very mischievous look, a sly smirk inching up one cheek, a look he had never seen on the man. It made him look twenty years younger, Gladio thought with growing amazement.

“Some of the crowd wants a show, and the Galahdians want confirmation, right?” Cor said absently, and in unison, Gladio and Nyx each grabbed for the marshal’s arms, the others grabbing onto them only a second or so later as the lot of them went between , and Gladio didn’t have time to be freaked out before they were standing all the way outside the gate where the so-called optional microphone was set up on off to the side on a raised walkway. The mass of people standing outside went dead silent as everyone let go of each other with a lot less grace than they would normally carry, Gladio and Nyx letting go last. Cor stood a few steps apart from his entourage, his eyes glowing with sacred light and the air around his skin taking on a mild shimmer of gold. There was another pause as everyone looked at him, then, like a great wave surging towards the shore, every person in the area that wasn’t on the walkway went completely batshit; the Galahdians surged forward towards them, stopping just at the edge of the walkway and bowing and doing a variety of salutes. What Gladio would label as the general crowd starting yelling things he couldn’t even make out, there was so many people shouting; the group that Sulpicia had been worried about started to move towards the Galahdians-

Then Cor raised a single hand palm out to about the level of his waist, and they stopped dead, their own yells cutting off sharply. Holy shit. Gladio could barely keep his mouth closed from the shock, and he could see the others just about as flustered. Noct was probably the most composed, along with Nyx for some reason, but even Iggy looked stunned. An old woman, with her silver hair in well sculpted braids with a golden chain of stones looping from her center part to her ear, stepped forward out of the mass of people, looking directly at Cor.

“It had been since time immemorial since the champions of the Dawn Mother have walked the soil of this world, o’ herald, I am honored to be living in a time where her grace has touched us all once more,” the woman said as she bowed, and Cor stepped forward towards the woman, reappearing only a few feet from her as he reached forward and took her hands. Gladio and the rest of them moved quickly to the edge of the walkway, but did not try to leave it. This was the marshal’s game now.

“The Dawn Mother has not forgotten the people of Galahd for their long devotion to her, mistress, and she bids me to thank you all for it. May the fields of your homeland be fertile once more, and your people filled with joy,” Cor said, and Gladio realized exactly where he had heard this sort of speech before, except the audience was a lot more receptive than a pissed-off astral. The old woman was actually crying, and lifted Cor’s hands and kissed his knuckles as the rest of crowd surged forward, reaching out to touch the marshal, and Gladio could see the exact moment when Cor may have realized that he was a bit over his head, his back stiffening as people continued to paw at him, and he elbowed Libertus and Nyx, the latter of which was already looking like he was about to jump down.

“He doesn’t want to be the bad guy and zap himself back up here, you two need to intervene,” he hissed, and he was gladdened to see that neither questioned him as they both hopped off the walkway, landing heavily below before walking slowly up to the beleaguered herald. With a few smiles and nods to their fellow countrymen, they managed to get up to Cor, each grasping an arm and indicating the walkway with the other. A few seconds later, the three were back up with the rest of them, Cor looking a bit frazzled as he smoothed his jacket down.

“Deep breaths, Cor, I know you aren’t used to this.” Noct gave the marshal a small smile as he spoke, and Cor followed the prince’s advice with a rueful smile.

“It’s finally reached the point that the kid that followed me around everywhere for the first few years of his life is now advising me. Maybe it’s time to retire,” Cor muttered, and Gladio snorted.

“No chance of that, Marshal Herald Cor the Immortal of the Dawn, you are stuck with us upstart kids until you clock out for good,” he said, possibly the most ridiculous thing to ever come out of his mouth, and Cor just looked at him with an expression that guaranteed a solid beating in the training room at some point in the future.

“What the fuck did you just call me?” Cor grumbled as he turned towards the crowds again, and Gladio smiled.

“You heard me. That’s what you get for trying to take all the awesome, you know.”

In the end, Cor actually did answer a few questions, somewhat awkwardly, but he managed it. The crowd was somewhat appeased, their interest peaked in the concept of a mostly forgotten goddess having her own champions sent to help destroy the Starscourge. The only question that didn’t go over well was when someone inquired about Prom and the whole voice bit, and when they would get to see him too. Cor’s gaze went distant instantly, and Noctis actually intervened on that, telling the audience hopefully soon but staying vague. The Galahdians bowed and saluted once more as they turned towards the Citadel, and Gladio smirked as Cor crooked his elbows just the tiniest amount, and in almost the same exact move, they all found themselves only feet from the doors to the lobby, the same place they had left not thirty minutes prior.

As they walked back inside, a little honor guard of possibly the most normal? stoic? holy messenger person to probably ever walk the earth, it was Crowe that broke the ice.

“So, I don’t suppose it’s possible to teach that teleporting trick, is it? Warping is cool and all, but it still requires line of sight. Your thing, not so much,” Crowe asked as she sped up, and no one was surprised by Cor shaking his head.

“I don’t think anyone else can do it. Besides, it’s hard to explain something I was taught by a goddess, considering I’m not even sure I understood her half the time.” Crowe sighed rather dramatically, but it was clear she expected nothing else. Sulpicia came up to the marshal with a smile and her hand outstretched, and the two shook hands cordially.

“The majority of the crowd appears to be already dispersing, marshal. Thank you for your assistance,” Sulpicia said, and Gladio could see the touch of wonder in her eyes. Cor probably didn’t realize that his eyes were still glowing. He had no idea how Cor managed to keep all of the herald stuff under wraps this long with as sloppy as he seemed to be with the outward signs of it, but Gladio knew he had to consider that this was just a side effect of him actually not having to hide it anymore. Relief, basically. Even if it was still causing some serious double-takes from people. He met Ignis’s eyes with a hint of amusement, and Iggy responded by pushing his glasses up his nose with a finger and walking up to Cor.

“Marshal, you are aware your eyes-” Iggy started asking, only to be cut off by the beginnings of a mottled flush appearing on the older man’s cheeks. It wasn’t his best look, but the sheepish little smile that graced his face at the same time once again made the years melt off the Marshal’s face.

“I’m doing it again, aren’t I?” Cor muttered, and everyone else pretty much nodded in unison, including Sulpicia. “I never used to do this anywhere near the Citadel, I was concerned that- never mind. I should have realized something was up when the princess gave me a strange look when I first fetched her from Tenebrae.”

“It’s rather striking. I hate to say it, but I would expect more looks in the future unless you are able to keep the glowing to a minimum,” Iggy said, and Cor grimaced in response.

“Right.” Cor sighed. “I’ve got work to do, thanks for coming out with me, everyone.” He blinked out of existence only seconds later, leaving the rest of them to stand awkwardly around for a long moment before Noct snorted a laugh.

“I can see why Cor almost never smiles,” Noct commented, and it was Iggy who responded.

“I suspect he worries that no one will take him seriously. Even the smallest smile takes at least ten years off of him.” Gladio and Nyx both nodded in agreement, Pelna joining a half second later, Crowe and Libertus just stood there rolling their eyes at the lot of them.

“I get he’s the Herald of the Dawn Mother and all, Libs, but now they are talking about his fucking smile. Yes, he’s a cutie, we all know it, but really?” Crowe said, and out of the lot of them, only Iggy had the grace to look a bit embarrassed. Gladio gave no shits.

“Crowe, I’m pretty sure half the Citadel has wanted to fu-”

Gladio.” Iggy interrupted sharply, and Noct and Nyx promptly burst out laughing. Gladio shrugged and grinned, and even Libertus chuckled.

“You know it’s true!”

Iggy didn’t deny it in the end, which Gladio took as a win.

The next week passed in a slog of politics, media bullshit, training, and visits to Prom, who still hadn’t budged a single muscle in the month he had been in a coma. Doc Domitia and the nurses were still greeting them with friendly smiles, but Gladio could see the resignation in their eyes as they asked for updates, and they ran into Cor in Prom’s room more than any other, which just made it worse. Prom’s so-called parents never showed up once, and Cor and Ignis were quietly designated as his medical guardians by the council.

On the morning of the thirty-first day, Gladio and Noct accompanied Iggy to the infirmary for a meeting with Doc Domitia. Cor was already there, his eyes narrowed and his mouth pinched, and Gladio knew that he wasn’t going to like what the doctor was about to say in the slightest.

Doc Domitia gave all four of the men in her office a serious look, then sighed.

“We have reached the point where we need to consider moving Mr. Argentum to a long-term care facility. The Citadel infirmary was not really made for this sort of care, marshal, Lord Scientia. We understand the security concerns, but we can’t reasonably keep him here much longer. It’s not fair to my staff, and it’s not fair to him,” Doc Domitia stated bluntly, and Gladio could literally see the moment where Noct exploded, the younger man surging out of his chair with a shout.

“No way, he needs to stay here! We aren’t giving up on him now!” Gladio had to physically grab the angry prince to keep him from charging at the old doctor, Ignis also reaching out to grasp Noct’s arm. Doc Domitia didn’t seem all that surprised by Noct’s reaction, and a dark look from Cor finally got the squirrelly young man to calm down.

“I’m not saying we are giving up on him, your majesty, but he needs-” The strangest look passed over Cor’s face, and the man got to his feet, his muscles tight. Before Gladio could say anything, a knock at the door cut the doctor off, the door opening to a harried nurse.

“Doctor, his vitals are-” The scream that cut the nurse off sent everyone to their knees, even Cor; the glass window in Doc Domitia’s door shattered as it continued, and everyone scrambled to their feet, their hands over their ears as they rushed to Prompto’s room. Cor and Noct reached the bed first, where Prompto was thrashing about with such force he was almost out of the bed, his IV had been dislodged and blood was dripping down his arm as Noct and Cor grabbed him, trying to calm him down. Gladio and Ignis both lightly grabbed one of Prompto’s feet, hoping the contact would be grounding. Prom was still screaming, and Gladio felt like he was going to have a heart attack at the sound.

“Prom, it’s okay, it’s us, we’re here, Cor’s here, you’re in the infirmary, it’s okay-” Noctis was babbling, his hands running over Prompto’s cheeks as Cor clutched at his shoulders, the horrible sound finally trailing off after what felt like a lifetime as Noct tried to make himself heard. Gladio rubbed Prom’s ankle as soothingly as he could, feeling the too-thin legs shaking under the twisted blanket.

“Prompto, can you hear me?” Cor said softly, and slowly, slowly, long-missed eyes cracked open, blearily looking between Noct and Cor before looking down towards Gladio and Iggy. Gladio felt like weeping with relief, but he managed to keep a shaky smile on his face as Prom’s gaze turned back towards the two at his side.

“How-” Prompto tried to talk, but immediately started coughing; a short scramble for water later, Noct and Cor were helping Prom take small sips while Gladio moved up closer to the head of the bed, reaching out and taking one of the younger man’s hands.

“It’s good to see you, Prom,” he said, and across the bed, Iggy repeated much the same. Noctis lifted the glass away from Prompto’s lips, and they all watched as his eyes jumped from person to person before finally settling on his bleeding arm.

“How...how long have I been here?” Prompto’s voice was so quiet they had to lean in to hear him, and Gladio felt like he was having a bit of deja-vu, and a quick glance at the Marshal told him that he wasn’t the only one. Cor had only been out a little over a week, and while he definitely hadn’t been one-hundred percent after he woke up, his energy in the toilet, Prompto had been unconscious for a full month, getting thinner and paler by the day. He would be shocked if the usually sunny blond could even lift his camera right now, considering how thin his arms looked. Doc Domitia had come up to the bed behind Ignis, and they looked to her for instruction.

“Hello, Mr. Argentum, I’m Dr. Domitia. How are you feeling?” Prom’s still bleary gaze went to the doc, and he blinked.

“I feel like I’m a sponge that Gladio just squeezed every drop out of,” Prom said, and Gladio chuckled and patted his hand. “Is everyone...okay? How long has it been?” Even barely awake, Prom wasn’t an idiot, and after a few awkward moments of no one speaking, he scowled and tried to pull his hands away. Gladio decided that being truthful was the way to go, even as he tightened his grip just a little bit to keep hold of Prom, just in case he didn’t take it well. Not that he honestly expected him to.

“Prom, there was some casualties, but everyone is out of the hospital except-” he trailed off, and the younger man’s eyes widened. “-except for you. I don’t know how to say this, but you’ve been asleep for a month.” As he expected, the tiny bit of color in Prom’s face fled, and he gasped.

“A month? That’s-” Prompto looked between everyone again, finally settling on Noct. “Were you...okay? I remember singing to you-” The blond coughed again, and it was Cor this time who helped him drink. Noct’s smile was bittersweet as he leaned over and gave Prom a gentle hug before patting his cheek and backing off.

“You saved my life, Prom, mine and Luna’s. We were out of here in a few days.” Noct’s smile turned naughty. “You did have one roomie until a week ago, though.”

“Oh? Who?” Prom’s soft voice was curious, and Gladio snorted as Cor rolled his eyes as he put the water glass back down. Iggy decided to intervene, leaning over and brushing Prom’s limp hair out of his eyes before standing bone-straight like he was about to deliver a report.

“To be serious, there was legitimate concern involving the two of you. Neither of you would wake, and to have two of the big heroes of the whole affair comatose was...concerning,” Iggy stated, and Prom’s seemingly-permanent wide eyed gaze shifted to Cor, and Gladio could see Prom cataloguing the exhaustion, the slightly thinner face, the minute tremor in the Marshal’s hands that only seemed to show as he tired, even the fact that his usual coat seemed to hang just a tiny bit looser than usual, and to everyone’s horror, Prompto’s eyes filled up with tears.

“It’s all my fault, isn’t it? I think I was borrowing from you somehow near the end-” fat drops ran down Prom’s pale cheeks, and the sight made Gladio’s own eyes sting with the beginnings of his own. “I’m so sorry, Cor, I didn’t ask, I think I just-” Prompto’s voice was muffled by Cor leaning over and taking the frail young man into his arms, and Gladio didn’t try hiding his own tears as Prompto sobbed into the Marshal’s shoulder; he could hear Cor speaking into Prom’s ear, but he was so quiet he couldn’t make it out. Iggy’s eyes were glassy, and Noct was trying his best to not follow his best friend’s lead, his own tears barely held back. Even Doc Domitia, who had managed to wiggle between them to clean and replace Prom’s IV, was looking a bit shiny-eyed.

Cor finally managed to get Prom calmed back down, sobs trailing off to embarrassed sniffs, and it was no surprise to anyone that Prompto conked out almost immediately, Cor gently lowering him back to the mattress.

“Well, he’s definitely not leaving now,” Gladio commented, and Doc Domitia snorted.

“If that’s what it took to wake him up, I should have made the threat a week ago,” the doctor groused, but she was the one who carefully pulled the blanket back up to cover Prom’s chest, and no one called her out on it.

Gladio couldn’t help a relieved grin. Things were definitely starting to look up.

 

---

 

Prompto was swiftly finding out that waking up from a month long coma wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. The doctor refused to remove the feeding tube until she was satisfied he wasn’t going to choke on solid food, which sucked, and they still hadn’t let him look in a mirror, so the only real view he had gotten of himself was of his rather gaunt and pallid face when they had returned his cell phone. He may have freaked out a small amount after that, with Nyx and Luna comforting him before he could proceed towards another meltdown. That was when he realized that he almost always had someone in the room with him, with the nurses calling a specific chair near the door the Glaive Chair and all, and that had gone a long way to making him feel at least a little better.

When the feeding tube finally came out, he celebrated with a bowl of garula soup, with the promise of more hearty food in his near future. Something to make him feel better as he really got into the painful and humiliating reality that was physical therapy, which was the only time that he generally didn’t want any of his friends in with him. The only ones to ignore him and stay when it was time for his sessions were Cor, Gladio, and Libertus, and they all were very good about being helpful without being patronizing or overwhelming. It was nice.

It had taken him almost a week after he woke up before he realized that he hadn’t seen his parents once. He almost asked Noct, but something in his eyes made the words die in his throat. Iggy and Gladio just looked resigned when he started to bring them up, and he changed the subject quickly. It just felt wrong to ask Cor, who had been there constantly, a solid reliable presence that seemed be settling into the back of his mind like he had always been there, and, perhaps, he had. He always seemed to know when he was feeling like talking, and would otherwise just quietly work on paperwork or doze in the other chair when he thought Prompto was asleep. He figured the Glaives wouldn’t know, so he didn’t even bring it up when they were in with him. But then the king himself came to visit. The beginning of the visit was pleasant, with general inquiries about his health and the king thanking him for his help, which was something Prompto was never going to get over, but then he thought of his parents again, and he finally got the courage to ask.

“Your majesty, I hate to ask, but has anyone tried to contact my parents? I tried asking the others before, and, well-” Prompto trailed off, and the king’s smile went flat in response, which made his blood run cold. “Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to-” King Regis put up a hand, cutting him off. The older man’s expression was apologetic and angry all at the same time, and Prompto didn’t need to be a genius to know that they hadn’t even visited.

“Prompto, I’m sorry. I should have spoken to you sooner. Your parents were notified within hours of the battle, which was the only time I was able to reach them personally. I received a...noncommittal response. I called daily for the first week, and left messages. After that, I admit to giving up until you woke up, wherein I made one final attempt, and left one final message. And before you ask, I have had a few people do welfare checks, and they are doing fine, so-” Prompto wasn’t an idiot. They had been growing apart for a decade, and they had probably seen him staying at the Citadel as a way of finally being rid of him.

He had always been such a strange child, after all.

For all that he had cried since he had woken up, he just felt numb at this revelation. The king looked concerned with his lack of response, and Prompto forced himself to give the man a shaky smile.

“It’s...not that big of a surprise, but-” he mumbled, then remembered who he was talking to and forced himself to speak up. “-they cared for me, at first, we really felt like a family when I was little, but I had the stupid tattoo, and I don’t look anything like them...I think I became an obligation more than a son. Let’s not even get into the whole voice thing on top of that.” Prompto picked at his blanket, his fingernails snagging on the threads. “Everyone has been so nice, so-” he sighed. “I think everyone here has been more my family than I’ve had in a really long time.” There, he had said it. Noct, Iggy, Gladio, Nyx, Libertus, even the king and Luna, they had all been there, clearly wanting to help.

Then there was Cor. Cor was- he knew what he felt at the back of his mind was the herald, he had vague memories of the goddess explaining that they would have a bond of some sort, and he could feel the man’s generally calm nature helping to anchor him constantly. Prompto could feel if he was having any strong emotion, nothing overwhelming, but just an awareness. He wasn’t sure what Cor was to him yet, but he had rather dusty memories of what it felt like to have a father physically present, with the caring, the unconditional support, even the occasional hug that he imagined came with it, and it was starting to feel a little bit like that.

King Regis gave him a bittersweet smile before reaching out and taking his hand, clasping it between both of his. “Prompto, if you would like, I can send someone over to retrieve your belongings, if you have anything to want to have with you. I know you had packed for your original trip, but if there’s anything-” Prompto shook his head.

“When I packed my bags, I made sure to pack everything I would really want to keep. I think...maybe, I was planning on not going back either way,” he said more to himself than the king, but the king tightened his grip anyway. “You’ve all done so much for me, your majesty, and I’ll never know how to thank you all.”

“No thanks is needed, Prompto. You’ve done so much for everyone, and if it hadn’t been for your intervention, my son would be dead . The princess would be dead. Do not speak of thanks, my child, because I owe you everything that I could ever offer you,” King Regis spoke with absolute authority in his tone, his hands still wrapped around Prompto’s, and Prompto couldn’t bring himself to argue. After a comfortable pause, the king squeezed his hands one last time then let go, sitting back in his chair.

“Now onto other matters, Noctis is planning on installing you in his quarters here once Dr. Domitia releases you. Considering how he can be, I wanted to make sure this was something you wanted and not something he was going to spring on you two minutes after they wheeled you out of here,” the king stated drily, and Prompto snorted a laugh. Would Noct do that? Yeah, he would.

“No, it’s fine, if it’s okay with you-” The king’s eyes narrowed, and Prompto almost squeaked. “Sorry!” The older man sighed, and Prompto felt himself blush again.

Later that evening after his physical therapy session, he couldn’t help but let a few tears loose, a memorial to parents that he very likely would never see again. Do they even think of him anymore? Had he just been, hell, he didn’t know, a hobby? Hell if he knew, but still- He was thrown out of his thoughts by that sense of calm flickering at the back of his mind, the source of which appeared just seconds later only feet from his bed, a look of vague concern on his face. Prompto quickly turned away from from Cor, wiping at his eyes and ignoring the soft sigh from the older man.

“Prompto, how did your PT session go?” Cor asked, and after one more swipe at his eyes with his shirt, he turned back and managed a shaky smile.

“I managed to stand upright for a whole thirty seconds before collapsing like a leaky balloon, so I’ll call it a win.” Cor’s eyes betrayed his smile more than his mouth did, and Prompto gave a tired sigh as he leaned back onto his pillow. The older man said nothing, and he picked at his blanket for a moment before looking up at the ceiling. “I spoke with the king earlier.” He heard Cor sit down in the ever-present chair with a near inaudible grunt.

“I am aware. He said you wouldn’t stop thanking him for things, and you apologize far too much for things that are out of your control,” Cor said bluntly, and Prompto groaned.

“Sorry. Er, I mean-”

“Exactly,” Cor’s tone was wry, and Prompto let out a little whine before sighing once more.

“He told me that my parents hadn’t visited when I asked about them. They haven’t even sent a damn card.” The melancholy from earlier was beginning to shift to anger, heat rising in his face the more he thought about it. “I knew our relationship was crap, I could count on my hands the amount of times I had seen them in the last year, but to not even make a single visit to their comatose kid? Really? Would they have even paid for my fucking funeral if I had died?” He grabbed at his hair as he spoke, pulling hard enough for it to sting. “Was I just their pet kid until I was too old to be interesting anymore?” A warm hand cupped the back of his neck, but he only got angrier. “I mean, they paid for my stuff and let me live there, but I might as well have been at a hotel for the last decade for all of the parental-type stuff I got from them. They came to my graduation, but they were gone before they were even done calling out the names, I guess it was convenient for them that my last name starts with an A-”

“Prompto, breathe.”

“-they didn’t like when I started hanging out with Noct, they had told me that it wasn’t proper that someone of our station associate with the prince, but even then I knew they meant me-”

“Prompto, you need to let go of your hair.”

“-I mean, they never beat me or anything, but was it really a bad thing to actually want to see them more than once a month?”

“Prompto-”

“This wasn’t my fault, right? I tried to get good grades, I got in shape-”

“Prompto!” Hands firmly grasped his own, tightening just enough to force him to let go of his hair; he looked up to see Cor leaning over him, his eyes suspiciously glassy, and he let him pull his arms down to his lap without further resistance. Neither man spoke as Prompto tried to translate the expression on Cor’s face, and then it hit him. Oh no. Cor still hadn’t let go of his hands, and Prompto turned his wrists so he was holding the older man’s hands properly.

“It’s not your fault, Cor.” Cor’s eyes were wider than he had ever seen them, and he leaned over and let his head rest awkwardly against the Marshal’s chest. “ It’s not your fault. You didn’t think that I hadn’t figured out that you were the one who dropped me off at the orphanage? Unless you had passed me onto someone else before entering Insomnia, but that’s not how you work. You had your reasons for doing it, which I’m going to guess had a lot more to do with you than with me.” Cor’s chest shook under his head, and Prompto kept himself looking down as at least one drop of water hit the top of his head, finally just tilting his neck enough so he can whack his head against Cor’s chest with some force. “So stop feeling guilty. Remember what I said the day before everything went down? That still holds.”

“I’ve been feeling guilty for almost seventeen years, Prompto, it’s going to be a little hard for me to turn it off now,” Cor said, his voice so quiet that he wouldn’t have heard it if he wasn’t literally tucked against the man’s chest, and he sighed.

“Didn’t you spend several years out on an extended campaign in your early thirties? Noct told me that he probably saw you only three or four times in an almost three year period. Lucis needed you, and they were actually really good parents for the first seven or so years I was with them. I would have just been a burden on what needed to be done.”

“I could have made it work, I should have-” Prompto brought up a hand and smacked Cor’s arm.

“No. No wallowing, I’ve already taken all of the night’s angst credits, you aren’t allocated any today. Try again in fifty years.”

“Prompto-” Cor’s voice sounded a bit strangled, and Prompto leaned away from him and looked up at the man’s face, which was looking a touch blotchy, and he couldn’t help but smile. Crying wasn’t Cor’s best look.

“Look, Cor, you’re here now. We’re here now. We’ll figure it out,” he said, and Cor heaved a deep sigh and sat back down in his chair, but not before ruffling Prompto’s hair.

“That sounds perfect,” Cor said with a tentative smile, and Prompto got a great idea of what Cor probably looked like when he originally fetched him from Niflheim.

“Good, because I’m about ready to crawl out of here if I can’t leave soon. I may need your help.” The normally dour Herald of the Dawn barked out a laugh in reply, the first time he had ever seen the man do so, and Prompto cheered internally. It was a start.

Sadly, it didn’t get him out of the infirmary. Another week passed, full of visits and friends, with even the king stopped in a few times, if only for a few minutes. Gladio’s dad showed up once and thanked him for saving his life, which had been horribly awkward. Luckily, once the man had said his piece, he had immediately changed the subject and they had a rather pleasant conversation. He had been worried that Cor would start acting weird now that they had aired their squishier feelings, but he was there several times a day as he had been before, usually around the time of his dreaded physical therapy. By the end of two weeks awake, he could shuffle forward a few steps if someone was holding on to him, but his spindly legs were definitely behind the curve of his arms, which were at least starting to look like they wouldn’t snap off if he picked up anything heavier than his camera.

Luna was visiting on the morning of day sixteen or forty-seven, depending on who you asked, when Dr. Domitia came in to speak with him, the princess instantly getting to her feet.

“Should I go?” Prompto shook his head, and Luna delicately lowered herself back to the chair. The doctor looked between the two before actually gracing Prompto with a smile, which made him sit up straight.

“What’s going on?” Dr. Domitia gave him a slow visual inspection, her eyes cataloguing every little flaw before finally coming back up to his face. She pulled out a folder she had tucked under her arm and plopped a packet of paperwork on his lap.

“You come to your PT appointments religiously, you stick to a healthy diet, and you don’t let Cor or the prince coddle you too much,” the doctor said, and Prompto could feel the excitement building in his chest.

“Are you saying-” Prompto began, and the doctor replied by unlocking and moving the wheelchair up to the side of his bed. Luna let out a joyful laugh and hopped to her feet, and Prompto let out a cheer.

“Now?” Dr. Domitia nodded, and Luna, without saying a word, took the duffel that he had been living out of and started packing up the few loose items sitting around the room. Prompto winced.

“You don’t need to do that, Luna. I’ve got it-” She waved him off, then he was distracted by the shoes that the doctor had thrown at him, giving himself a point when he managed to catch them without knocking himself out. After taking a minute to wrestle them on his still bony feet, he carefully lowered his legs to the ground, standing for a moment before taking the single step needed to get into the wheelchair.

“Do you want me to get someone to push you?” It was a fair question, Prompto knew his arms wouldn’t hold up for a long trip, but again, Luna came to the rescue. Shouldering his bag, she stepped right up to his chair.

“No, I’ve got him.” The doctor gave her a considering look, but nodded. Prompto couldn’t stop smiling, and when a hand was offered for him to shake, he took it without a second thought.

“Thank you, Dr. Domitia. For everything,” he said, and the doctor smiled again.

“You are welcome. Now get out, I’m looking forward to not having any long-term patients for the first time in forever,” she snapped, but there was no heat in it and Prompto laughed again. “Don’t be a stranger if you need the help, kiddo. But otherwise, I hope to not see you again any time soon.”

“Thank you again, doctor.” Prompto met Luna’s eyes, and with a nod, she grabbed the handles of the chair and steered him out of the room, then out of the infirmary proper. She stopped at the elevators, hesitating at the buttons.

“You are staying in Noctis’s room, correct?” Luna asked, and Prompto nodded. “Would you like to go there first?”

“Yeah, I want to shower, and it would be silly for you to haul my stuff around everywhere. Thank you again, by the way,” he said, and Luna leaned over and pressed the Up button on the elevator, wheeling him in as soon as the doors opened.

“Don’t thank me, Prompto, I’m happy to help. Any time you need anything, just let me know. Even after I go home,” the princess stated firmly, and Prompto ducked his head to hide the embarrassed flush as they ascended to the upper floors of the Citadel. A short walk later, and they stood outside Noct’s rooms, where Prompto punched in the familiar code, then leaned forward and opened the door.

“Noct? Anyone here?” There was no answer, and Prompto and Luna headed inside. “It’s a good thing there’s only a few rugs in here, it’ll would be hard to push this thing otherwise.”

“That is a good point. Wheelchairs are quite problematic on uneven surfaces,” Luna commented as she pushed him into the bedroom, placing his bag onto the bed. “Did you need any help from here?” Prompto waved his hands wildly in the air in front of him, his cheeks flushing again.

“No no, I think I’m good, thank you though.” Luna shook her head as she headed out of the bedroom.

“I will stay until you are finished, Prompto, just in case there are any issues. You did just get out of the hospital, after all.” Well, he couldn’t argue with that. Luna closed the door behind her, and he slowly pushed his way into the bathroom. The ridiculous bathroom was more than large enough for him to maneuver around in the chair, and he wiggled out of his clothes, then opened the shower door to discover a little stool sitting right in the middle.

“Okay, that’s awesome. I bet it was Iggy’s idea,” he said to himself, then locked his chair and carefully got to his feet, taking a few shaky steps into the shower and sitting down on the little stool.

It took some getting used to, but a half-hour later saw him scrubbed clean and back in the bedroom getting dressed. He felt like a new person; it was amazing what just being able to do the basic things like showering on your own did for general sanity. Prompto finger-combed his hair into a semblance of order then rolled to the door, opening to discover that yes, Luna had stuck around, she was in the attached small kitchen looking dubiously at the contents of Noct’s fridge. He rolled up behind her and laughed.

“That bad, huh?” Luna gave a soft huff in reply before reaching in and grabbing a soda out of the fridge. Wait. Noct hated that brand, he wouldn’t keep one in there- “I think that’s the soda I brought from my house the morning everything started going crazy.” Prompto stared at the innocuous drink with bemusement, and Luna held it out to him without a word. “No, have it. Probably the last thing I’ll ever take from there, kind of fitting that it’s just a stupid cheap soda.” Luna looked at him with intensity, then grabbed two glasses out of the cabinet, splitting the soda between them. “Luna-” The princess thrust the glass into his hands, then delicately wrapped his fingers around it.

“Have your soda, Prompto. Did you not just tell me the other day that you were sick of the infirmary food?” Luna said, and he nodded hesitantly. “Then enjoy your drink.” There was something in her voice that brooked no discussion on the matter, and he did just that. “What do you wish to do until the others realize you are here?” Prompto looked out towards the windows, a wistful look on his face.

“Can we go sit on the balcony?” Fresh air sounded amazing, he hadn’t seen the sun without glass being in the way since the battle, and Luna clearly understood.

“That sounds wonderful, Prompto.”

Prompto and Luna went out to the balcony, where he switched from his chair to the lounger, and allowed himself to relax as they chatted for at least an hour, before general fatigue and the warmth of the sun caused him to doze off, Luna’s smiling face the last thing he saw before everything faded away.

“-ey, Prom, you’re gonna get a sunburn if you stay out here too long.” Prompto could hear someone speaking, but he was warm and comfortable, and he waved an annoyed hand and snuggled back down into the padding. He could hear someone chuckling, then an arm threaded under his knees and another around his shoulders and picked him up; he grumbled a few times, but the body against his was also warm, and he pushed his head into the person’s chest and dropped back into sleep.

“It is good to see you well, my voice.” A familiar meadow stretched before him, and he felt tears spring to his eyes unbidden. The Dawn Mother moved to his side with a relieved smile, her hands coming up to cup his face. “I didn’t want to summon you whilst you were still in the hospital, you needed your rest.” Prompto raised his hands up to touch the goddess’s as the smile grew on his face, but he needed to know.

“Dawn Mother, did I- did I do alright? I think it’s largely worked out, but I wanted to know-” he began, before she moved a finger to his lips.

“Prompto, you and Cor, along with your friends and comrades, have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams; the Fallen King has gone to his rest, the crystal has returned home, and the Starscourge is at an end. The line of kings in Lucis is still intact, their own magic blooming without interference from the crystal and their ancestors, who were also freed, the oracle lives, and her help cannot be undervalued-” the goddess trailed off, her expression turning impish. “-and that old dragon can finally relax and stop driving the rest of us mad. Shiva has already been by to visit, and she said that she’s this close to freezing him if he doesn’t stop complaining about his grand plan being foiled.” Prompto boggled at her for a moment, before snorting out a laugh.

“You and the Draconian have no love lost between you, do you?” he asked, and the goddess let go of his face, raising a hand to her mouth to cover a laugh.

“No, I suppose not. Perhaps we will talk things over in the future, but it is probably best I give him a few decades first. He’s still rather irritated from the whole affair.” the goddess said, and Prompto snorted.

“You would know him best. I have a question, though...what about Ifrit? He seemed so surprised when he saw us, but even Cor couldn’t talk him down,” he inquired, and the Dawn Mother sighed, a sad sound that made his heart hurt. “Dawn Mother?” The goddess summoned her grassy stools, and they both sat, the breeze ruffling his hair.

“Ifrit was a dear friend many centuries ago, always a passionate and ebullient spirit; he was a wonderful companion in the early days of the world before even Solheim was a thought in the minds of your early ancestors. However, as the eons went on, he grew apart, he thought humanity too weak, even pointless, and thought the world would be better unencumbered by them. Needless to say, he disagreed with his fellow astrals and myself bitterly. The last time I spoke with him was shortly before he rebelled, and it did not go well. While Shiva helped guide him to his physical defeat, his spirit has fled once more, and while I hope he reconsiders once he has regained his strength, I have no doubt that there will be a confrontation at some point in the distant future. But do not worry, my child, that day will be long past the lifespan of any on your world now.” Prompto could not bear to hear the sadness in her voice, and he reached out and took one of her hands, and her lips curled into a sweet smile. “Oh Prompto, never lose that beautiful heart that lies within you. I could have chosen no better for my voice, just as I could have chosen no better for my herald. You two will continue to grow and discover just what are you are able to do with your gifts into the future, which I hope will be a bright one,” the goddess said, and Prompto grinned.

“I’ll be able to come see you, right? At least occasionally?” he asked, and the Dawn Mother squeezed his hands.

“Of course! Just because you have completed the main task I set for you does not mean I would abandon you now, my heart. Just call to me, and I will bring you to my side.”

“Thank you!” Prompto chirped, then something at the back of his mind flickered. “Dawn Mother? Why didn’t you ask us to do something about the crystal?” The goddess’s eyes widened, then she sighed once more.

“Honestly, Prompto, I did not think either of you could do anything, the crystal had too much of the Draconian’s power in it, and no sword or song was going to loosen his grip easily. I was hoping against hope that something would work out, because that had always been the weakest link of my rather feeble plan. But to obtain the Glacian’s support...she was the one that realized that only the Oracle could handle the task, and I will forever be grateful to the both of them.” Prompto blinked at the goddess, actually a bit annoyed until amusement overtook any hint of it.

“This really was a stretch, wasn’t it? All of this? One wrong step, or if Shiva and Luna had not been on board, and it probably would have blown up in our faces.” The Dawn Mother actually looked a bit embarrassed, but she nodded.

“I was desperate, dear heart. But even the gods pray sometimes, and I was praying for a miracle.”

“Well, lucky for all of us, your prayers were answered,” he murmured, and the goddess leaned forward and brushed back a lock of hair from Prompto’s face.

“Yes, they were indeed.”

Prompto came to covered in blankets on a familiar bed, and he could see his wheelchair positioned within reach next to him. The sound of pages being turned got his attention, and he looked to the right to see Gladio lounging on the bed next to him, well-loved book in hand. He wriggled once more under the weight of the covers, and the older man snapped his book closed and looked down at him, a broad smile on his face.

“Hanging out with the Dawn Mother, were you?” Gladio asked, and Prompto boggled at him in shock. Gladio saw the surprise on his face, and ran his fingers through his hair, giving a sheepish chuckle. “You wouldn’t wake even after I got you all settled in here, but before I panicked I called the marshal and asked him, and he didn’t even need to come visit you to answer what I had needed to know.” Gladio chuckled again, then reached over and ruffled Prompto’s hair. “I’m really glad to see you out of the infirmary, Prom.” Prompto squirmed away from Gladio’s hand on principle, and Gladio’s chuckles turned to full-fledged laughter as he reached over and scooped Prompto right out from under the covers, plopping him halfway in the larger man’s lap.

“Hey, hey, why all the manhandling?” Prompto groused, even as he unashamedly snuggled up into Gladio’s side. He was always warm. Gladio wrapped an arm loosely around his waist, and Prompto gave a happy sigh. Then he realized just how quiet the room was, and he looked up at Gladio. “Where’s Noct and Iggy?” The mischievous grin on the Shield’s features gave him away. “You didn’t tell them I was here, did you? Oh, and where’s Luna?”

“The Princess returned to her quarters after I carried you back in from the balcony, she told me to tell you that she would come by tomorrow. As for Noct and Iggy? Nope, they can find out when they get here,” Gladio said, his eyes soft as he looked down at Prompto, and Prompto couldn’t help the heat he could feel blooming across his cheeks. “It’s not like you told any of us that you were getting out, I walked in a few hours ago just to grab my book, only to discover you and Luna relaxing on the balcony.”

“I was planning on calling somebody, but the weather was so nice outside…” he trailed off, and Gladio snorted.

“Yeah, you were starting to get rather pink. Probably not the best place to conk out, especially after just getting out of the infirmary,” Gladio said, and Prompto groaned, shifting his legs. “When is your next therapy appointment?”

“Tomorrow, I think. The paperwork Dr. Domitia gave me is around here somewhere-” Prompto pulled away from Gladio, looking around for his bag, only for a familiar arm to pull back.

“You can look later, Prom, you should rest.” Prompto tried to pry himself away from his giant friend, but even at full strength, he would have been hard pressed to anyway, and thusly achieved little more than a mortifying display of squirming as Gladio chuckled at him some more.

“Gladio, let me loose, I’m fine-” The sound of the front door opening cut him off, and he could hear Iggy and Noct speaking as they came inside Noct’s quarters. After several banging noises and mostly inaudible discussion, Noct started shouting.

“Hey Gladio, we were thinking of going to see-” The bedroom door opened, and Noct’s yell died out instantly. Prompto grinned and waved a hand.

“Surprise?” Noctis’s expression was classic, but the shock quickly transformed to a brilliant smile, one that made Prompto’s mouth go dry as Noct spun around and shouted for Iggy before running and jumping into the bed with him and Gladio, maneuvering until Prompto was firmly sandwiched between the two of them. When Iggy appeared in the doorway, a lovely smile of his own on his face, the first thing that came to mind, certainly not for the first time, was why are all my friends so hot? Prompto grumbled internally, but when Ignis gracefully sat down in front of him on the bed, finishing the group, he slowly moved his legs out of the way with a grin.

“It appears that Gladiolus has been keeping you to himself, Prompto. When were you released?” Iggy asked, and Prompto was never going to stop blushing.

“Late morning, Luna helped me get back here. As I told Gladio earlier, I was going to call, but then we relaxed out on the balcony and I dozed off.” Noct snorted.

“That explains why you look a little red,” Noct commented, his hand coming up to cradle Prompto’s cheek, and if he was blushing before, he was pretty sure his head was going to explode. They had always been touchy-feely, but Prompto’s brain seemed to have forgotten this, and with an embarrassed whimper, he let himself fall back onto the pillows, bringing his hands up to cover his face. He could hear Iggy sigh, and felt a squeeze to his bony ankle.

“If we are all quite done flustering the poor man, perhaps we can consider dinner?”

Dinner ended up being one of Prompto’s favorites, a green curry dish with all sorts of lovely vegetables that Noct mostly kept his mouth shut about as they ate, Prompto almost crying at the taste of Iggy’s amazing cooking after weeks of hospital food. When they were almost done eating, Gladio looked over at him with a thoughtful look.

“What’s up?” Prompto asked, and the Shield leaned back in his seat and crossed his arms.

“So what did you talk with her about?” Gladio wasn’t talking about Luna. Prompto put down his spoon and pursed his lips, the other two men at the table clearly curious as to what was going on. He thought over what he was going to say for a minute before smiling at Gladio once more.

“I asked her if I...we had done alright, and she told me that it could not have gone better, basically. She praised all of us, talked about how the Glacian had already spoken with her about the Draconian being miffed, then I asked her about Ifrit.” Noct was looking at him with amazing intensity, and Iggy just looked thoughtful; he remembered what the Dawn Mother had said about the Infernian and his smile turned sad. “She said he had been a dear friend once, but they grew apart as humanity expanded across the world. He thought us pointless and weak, and wanted us gone. She said while his physical form was beaten again, he would eventually regain his strength; she said this would probably be many generations from now, though,” Prompto continued, his heart fluttering. “Then she implied that Cor and I still had more things to discover about our whole Herald and Voice gig.”

“I wonder if there are any ancient sources about your predecessors somewhere in the Citadel, or perhaps Galahd? We might be able read about prior examples,” Iggy said, and Prompto gave a distracted nod.

“That sounds great.” Noct leaned in and narrowed his eyes at him.

“There’s more, isn’t there?” Noct asked, and Prompto groaned.

“Yeah. I asked her about the crystal, and why she had never said anything to me or Cor. She admitted that she was sure that we couldn’t have done anything about it, as it was so steeped in Bahamut’s power, and it was pretty much sheer luck that Shiva decided to side with her over her fellow astral, as she’s the one who told Luna that it needed to be figured out,” Prompto muttered, and Gladio frowned.

“But Ardyn didn’t die until the crystal was destroyed,” Gladio pointed out, and Prompto nodded.

“Yeah, I think she realized I was a bit ticked when I realized that she had had a giant hole in her plan; she admitted it, and said she had been desperate. Then she said something that I don’t think I’ll be forgetting anytime soon.” Noct leaned in, his sapphire blue eyes flashing.

“And what’s that?” Prompto looked out the window at the star-filled sky, a wistful smile overtaking his features.

“That even the gods pray sometimes.”

After that, there wasn’t much to say. After cleaning up dinner, Iggy and Gladio reluctantly bid them goodnight. Prompto got ready for bed, rolling his chair around with relative ease as Noct watched with the strangest look on his face.

“You alright, Noct?” Noctis shook his head, seemingly to clear it, and gave a self-deprecating laugh.

“Just reminders of the old days, Prom. Don’t worry about it.” Noct helped him maneuver his chair next to the bed, then Prompto got to his feet carefully, taking the two steps with shaking legs before falling into the bed with an oof. Some wiggling later and he was nice and comfy under the covers, quickly sliding into sleep. “Prom?” He groaned and turned towards Noctis, who was curled up a few feet away on the stupidly large bed.

“Yeah?” Noct reached out with a hand, the tips of his fingers just barely reaching Prompto’s cheeks, then pulled it back. It tickled.

“Thank you. For everything.” Prompto sighed, but reached out and tweaked Noct’s hair.

“No thanks are ever needed, Noct. Seriously. More importantly, whose idea was the shower chair? That was so handy!” Prompto was awarded with a proud smile from the prince, and he could admit, he was surprised.

“I was in a wheelchair for months after the daemon attack, Prom, I figured me remembering some of that stuff in this case was a good thing,” Noct said, and Prompto bit his bottom lip in more than a touch of shame. He had completely forgotten about that.

“Hey, don’t worry about it, as I said, ancient history. Now, you just need to get your legs back in order so you can ditch yours, too,” Noct said, reaching out one more time and tweaking Prompto’s nose. “Good night.”

“Good night.”

The next morning saw Prompto and the gang, Luna included, all heading down to his physical therapy appointment together. Gladio and Noct kept fighting over who would push Prompto’s wheelchair, and he was starting to feel a bit seasick with the constant speed changes. Luckily, Luna and Iggy finally took a good look at his face and pushed the other two out of the way before Prompto decided to just vomit on whoever pushed him last, and the rest of the trip was spent with Iggy sedately pushing him along at a reasonable pace, Luna’s arms linked with both the prince and the shield. They somehow made it back to the room next to the infirmary in one piece. Cor was already in the room, along with Nyx, Libertus, Crowe, and Pelna, and Prompto found himself being plucked out of his chair by Libs, who gave him a giant hug before basically handing him over to Crowe and Pelna, who did the same. Nyx grabbed him from them, messing up his hair with a free hand, then the Glaive smirked and shoved him into Cor’s arms. Cor immediately stabilized him, letting him get his footing on the floor while looping an arm around his waist to keep him upright.

“Thanks, Cor,” he said, looking up at the herald’s face, and Cor smiled softly and tightened his arm.

“Always, Prompto. Always.”

Chapter Text

 

The cane was embarrassing, but the walker was worse, and Prompto was bound and determined to not use the walker out in anything that resembled the public. While his arms had mostly returned to normal, his legs were staying stubbornly weak. It stunk. He had been out of the infirmary for a month, and he was still wobbling around like a newborn catoblepas. The physical therapist was far more patient than he was, luckily, and kept trying to tell him that it’ll take time… Prompto groaned, and took a few tentative steps forward with the cane. It still sucked. Everyone was being super helpful, and there was almost always an arm ready to support him. While he would never get over how much everyone seemed to be truly wanting to help, he was getting more than a little tired of the constant attention. He couldn’t remember the last time he had more than an hour to himself, and if he didn’t get some peace and quiet soon, he was going to throw his cane off the balcony. He’d throw himself, but that would probably fuck up his legs even more.

Prompto hobbled to the kitchen and reached into the fridge, pulling out a bottle of orange juice. He cracked open the seal and took a swig, enjoying the tang of the drink. ...and waited. It didn’t take long. The front door to Noct’s quarters opened and shut, and he listened to the sounds of someone taking off their shoes in the entryway. Only one person was that quiet coming in the door.

“Prompto?” Iggy’s voice trailed in, and Prompto let out a near silent sigh.

“I’m in the kitchen!” he said, then slowly worked his way over to the table, sighing once more when Ignis appeared at his side, taking the drink from his hand and setting it down. “I was doing- never mind,” he grumbled, hooking the cane on the table and sitting. Iggy looked at him with a frown.

“How are you doing, Prompto?” Ignis asked, and Prompto took another swig of his juice instead of answering as he glowered at the tabletop. This time it was Iggy who sighed, and Prompto slumped forward as the older man placed a hand on his upper back. It was warm. “You are tired of everyone asking you that, aren’t you?”

“I mean, I appreciate everything you all are doing for me-” he began, and Iggy’s hand moved up his back to lightly squeeze the back of his neck. “It’s just-”

“I must apologize, Prompto. If I was in your place, I would have probably filleted someone by now. I’ve never liked being...ah, what would I call it? Constantly doted upon,” Ignis mused, squeezing Prompto’s neck one more time before sitting down in the chair next to him. Prompto nodded.

“Yeah, it’s just...I’m used to having time to myself sometimes, and it’s been months. That day I went back to my old place for those two nights before everything happened was it, and I think I’m going a little stir-crazy,” he admitted, and Iggy huffed out a laugh.

“Perfectly understandable, Prompto. Don’t feel guilty about it. Perhaps I can help?” The offer was generous, and he had just the idea.

“Can I stay somewhere else for a few days? Doesn’t need to be anything fancy, just something to let me relax for a little while.” Iggy’s brow furrowed, but Prompto kept his mouth shut and waited as his friend pondered.

“The quarters across the hall are furnished and are not being used. I will inquire with his majesty, but I see no issue with allowing you to go there to...recharge for a few days. That way if there are any issues we won’t be far,” Ignis stated, and Prompto brightened. “...and I’ll make sure that Noct and Gladio leave you alone.”

“Thank you, Iggy. Please don’t take it personally, but there’s always someone here, and I-” he started, then Ignis cut him off with a shake of his head.

“Say no more. I understand.”

The king had been more than happy to let Prompto use the other room for a few days, and after an awkward conversation with Noct, he grabbed a few changes of clothes and his toiletries and skedaddled, his friend’s somewhat hurt expression at his back. The room had been aired, and he happily flopped into the freshly washed blankets, his sore legs appreciating the rest as he pulled up King’s Knight on his cell and settled in.

Unfortunately, within forty-eight hours, he was bored stiff. He had played games on his phone, snapped a few photos from the balcony, and had read a bunch of articles and news on everything that had happened since the battle. Which was a lot, and it still weirded him out to realize he had been in a coma for such a long time. A whole month gone, just like that. It was surreal.

Tenebrae had held its borders handily against the first real incursion attempt from the empire since they had beaten them out while he was still...sleeping, which was good. Accordo had been left alone due to their relative remoteness, but they expected something to happen eventually. People were still super worried about the crystal being gone, but they didn’t really need the wall at the moment, and the king still had his magic, so they could deal, as far as Prompto was concerned. It’s not like they knew what it was really for beyond the wall anyway, hell, he didn’t even know. Areas of Lucis that had been under sustained occupation were working on clearing out any imperial remnants, especially the north; Galahd and the frontier towns were being reclaimed one village after another, and Prompto remembered that Nyx and Libertus has mentioned that more than a few of the Glaives were considering resigning their commissions and heading home to help. There was talk of publishing an ancient book from Solheim on the Dawn Mother and her chosen, which Prompto honestly really wanted to read. It was largely about Cor and him, after all. Maybe Noct could finagle him an advance copy? Or maybe Nyx or Libertus knew something about it? The article said the original was from Galahd, after all…

Prompto rolled over in his bed, letting his face smash against the pillow. Okay, he admitted it, he had gotten used to someone being around. He considered calling Noct, but refrained, instead letting his eyes drift closed. Maybe he would think of something to do after he took a nap.

An alert on his phone woke him up sometime later, and he lifted it up to his face and squinted at it. And read it again. “Oh hell, I don’t see this going well.” The court martials over the detained Kingsglaives had been a closed affair, kept entirely out of the public eye and sealed; the only person that the public was aware to be under some sort of investigation was Drautos, and details provided to the media on him had been exceptionally sparse. Prompto looked down at the headlines on his phone again, and grimaced.

Over Three Dozen Kingsglaives Arrested for Treason Day Before Citadel Battle

Well, that was generally the truth, if arrested meant being trapped via song magic and dumped into a holding cell. Prompto couldn’t help a little smirk at that one, even if his thoughts on the whole affair were a little...skewed.

Kingsglaive Captain Titus Drautos Named Ringleader in Plot Against Crown

That appeared to be entirely accurate, not that the man was saying much, from what he had heard from Cor.  

Can the Kingsglaive Be Trusted? Foreign Spies and Insurgents Among Us

Prompto groaned, swiping past that headline without reading further. That didn’t take long. The more...traditional papers and media outlets in Insomnia had been blaming everything even vaguely negative on the influx of refugees and immigrants for years, even if the perpetrator of whatever bad had happened was a native Insomnian who could trace their family back to the origins of the city.

Galahdian Kingsglaives: Loyal to the Crown, Or Loyal to the Dawnsworn?

Prompto boggled at that headline, his heart dropping into his stomach. How in the hell did they even get that idea? Of course they were loyal to the king, they just...acknowledged he and Cor a little more obviously. Where was all this information coming from? He dismissed the news page and called Nyx, the call going through to voicemail, and attempting to reach Libertus led to the same.

“Damn, maybe I should call Cor and see what’s going on,” he muttered, and dialed again, this time hearing the reassuring sounds of someone bringing a phone to their ear.

“Leonis.” Prompto settled down back into his pillows at the sound of the older man’s voice, a smile coming to his face unbidden. “Prompto, what did you need?” Oops.

“Hey Cor! Sorry, got distracted for a moment. I was taking a nap, and suddenly my phone went nuts with stuff on the Kingsglaive, was there a leak? And I’m worried about a headline I just saw-” he cut himself off when Cor sighed from the other end of the line. “Sorry, were you busy? I can call back later-” The phone call dropped, and Prompto didn’t even have time to look at his phone before Cor was standing by the door to the bedroom, his phone disappearing into a pocket. Prompto snorted out a laugh as he pushed himself to a sitting position. “I’m guessing cell coverage doesn’t extend to between ?” Cor rolled his eyes and sat down on the edge of the bed, and Prompto crawled forward and swung his legs over the side to sit next to him.

“Between the families of the accused demanding contact and incessant media presence, it was only a matter of time before the public got an idea of what was going on. The JAGs representing them are overworked due to the rather marked increase in cases, and we think that some of their assistants may have gotten a bit sloppy. It’s unfortunate, but it was inevitable. It would have gotten out at some point,” Cor stated, his tone deceptively bland, and Prompto nodded absently, his teeth worrying his bottom lip. “What headline concerned you?”  Instead of explaining, he reopened the news page again, and scrolled down to it before handing over his phone. Cor’s eyebrows actually raised at the sight of it, and Prompto bit his lip harder at the older man’s reaction, only to have a finger flick him on the cheek. “Knock that off.”

“Sorry,” he grumbled, and Cor hummed under his breath.

“They’ve definitely been...deferential at times, but this is-” Cor muttered, bringing a hand up to pinch at the bridge of his nose; Prompto crossed his arms and waited. “Either they are extrapolating this based on my public appearance from awhile back, or we’ve got someone trying to stir something up internally.”

“Do we need to do anything? I’ve kinda just been here being useless, so I feel like I should be helping out somehow,” he asked, and Cor frowned.

“It may be best if we don’t help with this, actually. If this sort of rhetoric is already being used, us trying to say anything will just reinforce whatever got them to this point anyway. Clarus or the king himself will probably have to address a few of these points, and soon,” Cor paused, his lips twisting, and Prompto could tell that he was remembering something specific. “It’s not entirely incorrect, there are a few that appear to be staying only because we are here, which worries me. They need to be persuaded to return home if that is the way they feel.” Prompto nodded, taking his phone back from Cor.

“Yeah, because that’s not awkward or anything. We didn’t ask to be...ugh, I don’t even know what to say,” Prompto said, letting himself flop back onto the mattress. Cor sighed again, letting his leg bump against Prompto’s.

“According to Ulric, there actually was a tradition of the herald and voice having an honor guard, usually a small unit that doubled as extra protection while travelling. Supposedly, he has a book that talks all about this, it’s the same one they are considering publishing.” Prompto perked up, and knocked his ankle against Cor’s leg.

“Oh hey, I was going to ask about that. Do you think I could borrow it?” Prompto asked, and Cor shrugged.

“You’ll have to ask him,” Cor said bluntly, and Prompto sat back up with a pout.

“I tried, but neither he or Libertus are picking up,” he whined, getting a bump of his own to the leg.

“I just saw Nyx a few hours ago, so I doubt he’s gone far. He’s still getting used to being the acting captain for the Kingsglaive, he probably just got busy. However, with all of this coming out, they’ll be sticking close to home for now.”

“Makes sense. I’ll try later,” Prompto said, and the two of them sat silently for a moment, enjoying each other’s company. He still would never get enough of it, just being able to do something like this with someone who seemed to...care; he certainly wasn’t slighting Noct and the rest, but with Cor, it felt different. It felt like something he should have had all along, but he refused to go down that road now. He started to vocalize a tune that he had heard several times on the radio over the last year or so, not singing the words, and Cor reached up and wrapped an arm around his shoulders as he sang. Prompto knew he wasn’t imagining the golden flecks of light lifting from his hands and arms, and he waved one hand in the air, delighted as they lingered in the path of his fingers; Cor reached out with his free hand to run his own fingers through the light, and Prompto’s heart skipped a beat at the wistful smile he could see curling the older man’s lips as the light twirled and bent under his fingertips. Before he had realized it, he had starting singing the words as well, clapping and lightly stomping a foot on the floor at the right moments, and for the first time since the day he went public, Prompto had the time to watch as the spirits appeared and joined in, their varied appearances and attire attesting to the different time periods they came from. He didn’t even register the knock at the door, only noticing when Cor raised a finger to his lips to quiet the newcomers.

The song came softly to its end, and Prompto let himself slump against Cor as the spirits came up to the both of them, their translucent fingers caressing their hair and cheeks before fading away like smoke.

“That’s never not going to be amazing, just to let you know,” Gladio’s voice startled Prompto out of the fugue he had dropped into, and he looked over to see Noct, Iggy, Gladio, and Luna all standing just inside the door to the bedroom, grins firmly on every one of their faces. Golden light still filled the room, little magical dust motes that lingered in the air, and Prompto blushed and looked down at his feet, which also didn’t help because he was still glowing as well.

“Uh, err...sorry, I just- I just felt like singing,” he mumbled, and he heard what sounded like one large group sigh pass right over his head, causing him to stare even harder at the floor.

“Damnit, Prom, would you stop apologizing for everything? This might possibly be the last thing you will ever need to apologize for ever, so knock it off,” Noct’s irritation was clear in his tone, and Prompto looked up and nodded sheepishly.

“Noctis speaks truly, Prompto. Enjoy your gift, my friend, do not be ashamed by it.” Luna, of course, and he was probably as red as a tomato as Iggy hummed an agreement as well. Cor’s fingers tightened reassuringly around his shoulder, but otherwise said nothing. Cor didn’t need to speak for Prompto to know that he agreed with them.

“Well, I must say that was invigorating. Do you somehow will what you wish the magic to do, or is it attached to the theme of the song?” Ignis inquired, and Prompto gave him a wide-eyed stare, blinking owlishly. He had never really thought about it, it just seemed instinctual to a point, but maybe he should try to focus it more in the future, now that he’s got the time- “Ah, forgive me, I didn’t mean to worry you,” Iggy broke into his thoughts, but Prompto immediately shook his head.

“No no, it’s okay, I honestly just hadn’t really thought about it before, I just kind of...do it, but you have a point; it would probably be hard to try and energize people with a dreary song,” he stated, and Noct snorted.

“That one you sang second before the fight really got going was definitely meant for a darker purpose, that’s for sure...something about corpses and hypocrites? Definitely not an uplifting song, Prom,” Noct commented, and Prompto had to think for a moment before he remembered.

“Oh, right, no, not the happiest song. I was trying to think of ways to bind Ardyn, so I was just trying different things.” Gladio shrugged and chuckled as he walked over to him, reaching out and ruffling his hair.

“Well, it all worked out somehow, even though there has been some bumps on the way,” Gladio stated, holding out his hand to Prompto, who stared at it stupidly. “Just gotta get you one hundred percent again, right?” Cor moved his arm from Prompto’s shoulders, lowering it to give him a light push on his back. Oh. He reached out and took Gladio’s proffered hand, letting the larger man pull him to his feet. He wobbled a bit as his center of gravity shifted, but Gladio kept ahold of his hand as he backed up, forcing Prompto to walk with him; his legs protested, but he remained upright as he moved forward slowly towards his friend. “Looking better already, Prom, how are they feeling?”

“Like someone is practicing their fire magic on them, but I can keep going,” he muttered, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other as Gladio led him in a circle around the bedroom. After four full rotations of the room, his left ankle decided that enough was enough and folded; luckily, Gladio was clearly expecting that and yanked him into his arms before he could fall, leaving Prompto’s face squashed against a set of well-defined pectoral muscles. “...fank you.” He pushed back enough to look up at Gladio’s face, and the soft look he saw there made him blush all over again.

“You may not think so, Prom, but you are doing much better than you were just a few weeks ago. You weren’t able to do even one loop then, and you just did four. It’ll just take a little more time. A month or two from now you’ll be pretty much back to normal,” Gladio said with authority, and Prompto looked over to see Cor and the others all nodding their agreement. He managed to stand solidly upright again, the twanging ache in his legs uncomfortable, but not too much to handle; Gladio did not let go of him, instead wrapping one of his giant arms around his waist.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, everyone, if I’m not entirely feeling it at this exact moment,” he said, wincing as he shifted. Cor pinched the bridge of his nose again, poorly concealing a tiny smile, and rose to his feet, walking over to Prompto.

“I need to get back to work, remember what I said about that headline. We need to stay out of it. I’ll speak with the king later, see what he wants to do,” Cor stated, and Prompto nodded. It was certainly above his paygrade anyway. Cor nodded to Noct, Luna, and the rest before vanishing; the inevitable awkward pause in his wake was shrinking as everyone got accustomed to it, but it was still there.

“What headline?” Noct asked as Prompto wobbled his way back over to the bed with Gladio’s help, sighing with relief as he sank back into the mattress. The shield took the opportunity to snag where Cor had been sitting, patting at Prompto’s sore thigh. “Prom?” Noct repeated, and Prompto sat back up to grab his phone.

“This one,” he said, handing the phone to Noct, who blinked at it in thought as he sat down next to Prompto on the bed, sandwiching him in with Gladio.

“Huh, okay, I can see why you were concerned,” Noctis agreed, and Prompto sagged.

“That’s when I called Cor...well, actually, I called Nyx and Libertus first, but neither were answering, so Cor it was. He told me what was going on with the leaks over the Glaive court martials, then we talked about that,” he said, waving in the direction of his phone. Noct grunted and handed the phone back to him.

“Cor’s got the right idea, probably best dad handles that,” Noct commented, threading an arm around Prompto’s waist. Ignis and Luna both pulled up chairs by Prompto instead of joining the rest of them on the bed, Iggy reaching out with a long-fingered hand to take Prompto’s own.

“How was your period of peace and quiet?” Iggy asked, and Prompto once again realized that he was surrounded on all sides by his friends, and he would be hard-pressed to explain if it was soothing, or just overwhelming. Maybe a bit of both. But Iggy had asked him a question, and well-

“At first it was relaxing, but after a few days, I realized it’s a lot more interesting to have time to yourself when you have the option of leaving the building. I was thinking of calling you guys after I got back up, but then I woke up to the news alerts about the Kingsglaive, and well, you know what happened after,” he replied, feeling a bit sheepish. “I didn’t want anyone to feel like I was, I don’t know, abandoning them, but I really just needed some time to decompress. I haven’t left the building in what, over two months? The walls aren’t quite closing in yet, but I think I’m getting there,” he said, looking down at Iggy’s long fingers where they were wrapped around his, knowing without a doubt that the other three were probably giving each other significant looks over his head.

“There was some concern about your safety if you travelled outside at this point, Prompto. As you know, the whole battle was televised and thusly everyone is quite aware of what you look like. While we know of no specific threats, the general public seems a bit confused as to what to think about you and the marshal, which is a cause for concern. Even the marshal has gone no further than just outside the outer walls since, and that was with a sizable group of people with him,” Iggy said, and Prompto looked back up at him in surprise.

“Cor’s not gone out either?” Gladio shifted next to him, and he turned to face the shield, who shrugged.

“Not that we know of, anyway. If he has, he’s been doing it his way. The king asked that he not go far, for similar reasons that Iggy just stated,” Gladio commented, and Prompto sighed, allowing himself to slump towards Noct. The prince dutifully adjusted his arm so he could get comfortable, and he unashamedly rested his cheek on Noct’s shoulder.

“For what it’s worth, Prompto, I’ve not been able to see much of the city either for similar concerns. Perhaps on a later visit, when affairs have fully stabilized,” Luna interjected, and Prompto sighed and nodded.

“Maybe soon? Even if just for a little while? Maybe to the park?” He was probably whining again, but he didn’t care at this point. His pillow’s arm tightened around his waist, and he watched Gladio and Iggy exchange another look.

“We’ll see what we can do.”

Prompto moved back to Noct’s room that evening, and for the first time since he was released, they all piled into Noct’s stupidly large bed, excepting Luna, of course, who had returned to her quarters, with even Iggy changing into pajamas and joining them. Prompto found himself pretty much right in the center in a giant cuddle pile of his friends, firmly tamping down any less than pure thoughts as he got comfortable. Just a sleepover. With his stupidly hot friends. The goddess was probably laughing at him right now. Then Gladio’s arm tightened around his waist, and he finally let himself be lured to sleep.

The next morning came with a bang, and not the proverbial kind. Prompto had woken up first, even beating Iggy, and after he carefully extracted himself from the puppy pile, he had carefully walked without his cane over to the balcony, wanting to get some fresh air. The sun was just beginning to come up as he settled into one of the loungers, and he let himself zone out, enjoying the cool morning air and the splash of colors as it flowed across the sky. For someone who was one of the Dawn Mother’s chosen, he didn’t actually see a lot of dawns, and the sight of the sun cresting the horizon was a rare treat. He could hear some sounds of the city even from as high as he was, with car horns blaring, random shouts, even some school bells far in the distance, but the sudden, sharp sound of the loudest firecracker he had ever heard definitely didn’t belong, followed by the sound of screaming; the sound of the explosion in the distance got him immediately to his feet with a gasp, and he didn’t even feel the usual burn in his recovering muscles as he stared at the rising plume of smoke. He was dialing Cor before conscious thought had really registered.

“Prompto, what’s wrong?” He had woken Cor up, he could tell, but he needed to tell him.

“Something exploded just outside the Citadel. I’m on the balcony at Noct’s, I heard it go off, there’s a big cloud of smoke-” The other man sucked in a breath.

“Get inside, close the door and the curtains. Now!” Cor barked, and Prompto immediately shuffled back in at his command, closing the sliding glass door and pulling the curtains shut. “I’ve got Clarus calling in, stay away from the windows for the time being. I’ll call later.” The line went dead, and Prompto blinked stupidly at his phone before heading back towards the bedroom, hoping that at the least Iggy was waking up. Sure enough, both Ignis and Gladio were sitting up in bed looking confused, and he wobbled in and sat down on the edge of the bed, letting his hands, still holding his phone, drop heavily into his lap.

“Prom, did I hear something?” Gladio asked blearily, and he gave the shield a wide-eyed look.

“I was standing on the balcony and there was an explosion outside the Citadel, I called Cor, he told me to go back inside and make sure the doors and curtains were closed-” Awareness came immediately to both Gladio and Ignis, who both jumped out of bed and lunged for their phones.

“A bomb?” Iggy asked, and Prompto shrugged.

“I don’t know, maybe? It definitely acted like one, unless there was a gas explosion or something,” he said, as he looked at the breaking news.

Reports of Explosions Near Citadel Square: Area on Lockdown

“Dad’ll be busy, I’ll call Elshett and see if she knows what’s going on,” Gladio started poking at his phone screen, but then a whimsical tune came from the only device that wasn’t being clutched at by its owner, and Ignis reached over and picked up Noct’s ringing phone, holding it up to his ear.

“Scientia speaking. Ah, your majesty, good morning, I’m afraid Noctis is still asleep. Yes, we just found out, Prompto was standing on the balcony when the explosion happened, he had just come in a minute or so ago to tell us about it. I believe he spoke with the marshal within seconds of it happening. Yes, sir, I understand. We’ll await further instruction.” Ignis tapped the phone, then placed it back on the nightstand. “The king wants us to inform both Noct and Luna about what just happened, and he asked that we otherwise remain here until we are contacted again.” Gladio nodded and threw his clothes on, leaving to speak with Luna; Prompto tried to get back up from the bed and was unable to get his legs to cooperate for a long embarrassing moment, leading to Ignis silently passing him his cane before he went over to rouse Noct.

Prompto’s cheeks were burning. He really had thought he was getting better, but- He scowled, gripping the cane. He wanted a moment to himself. Finally getting to his feet, Prompto walked slowly out of the bedroom, resisting the urge to peek out the window, and headed into the kitchen, grabbing a bottle of apple juice out of the fridge and sitting down at the table. He heard Gladio come back in, but kept his head down as he sipped his drink, ignoring the voices coming from the bedroom. Why would there be a bomb? It was a strange spot for an attack against the Citadel, especially so early. What would be the motivation? Setting his empty bottle on the table, he let his head fall into his arms for a moment. Things were still too unstable. An awareness at the back of his mind made him raise his head and reach for his phone, and Prompto raised it to his ear before the ringing could start.

“Hey Cor.”

“You can stand down, the ordinance was a modified flash bomb of sorts. Meant to scare the shit out of people and make a lot of noise, but there’s only a handful of injuries. There’s no sign of any others, the entire area has been inspected,” Cor stated, and Prompto heaved a sigh of relief.

“That’s good. How bad are the injuries?” He could hear Cor moving around on the other end of the line, the sound muffling for a moment as he spoke to someone else.

“Moderate at worst, mostly minor burns. Everyone will be fine.” Prompto hummed, then something came to mind.

“Does anyone know why?” he asked, and he could hear Cor sigh.

“We aren’t positive, but this may have been set by one of the protest groups that decided to move back in last night. We just aren’t sure if it’s the immigrant group or the anti group,” Cor said, and Prompto could hear the irritation in his voice.

“I’m guessing...this has to do with the stuff on the Kingsglaive coming out, right?”

“I think we can safely assume as such.” Prompto inexplicably felt a bit guilty, even if he knew that the situation wasn’t his fault. He had just- “Prompto, don’t even think about it,” Cor cut in, and he groaned, letting his head fall to the table.

“I know, I know. I just feel like I’ve made more work for everyone,” he muttered into the tabletop, and Cor’s answering snort was clearly audible through the phone.

“Considering the alternative, none of us mind the paperwork. You should have seen the stack that the king had oh-so-carefully left for me when I returned to work,” Cor grumbled, and Prompto started to laugh.

“Really?” he chuckled, and the sigh that came over the line sounded, perhaps, just a bit fond.

“Really.” The sound muffled once more, and Prompto was unsurprised by Cor’s next statement. “Need to go, I’ll be in contact later.” The call ended before he could reply, but he was starting to get used to that.

“Any news?” Prompto nearly fell out of his chair at the sound of Ignis’s voice, knocking his cane to the floor with a ridiculously noisy crash.

“Everything alright?” Gladio shouted from the other room, and Prompto sighed, accepting his cane back from an apologetic Iggy.

“Just knocked my cane over,” he yelled back, hooking the handle back on the table. “Cor said we can stand down, said it was a flash bomb of some sort. Just a handful injured, nothing serious.” Iggy nodded solemnly, setting down a plate of eggs and toast that Prompto never noticed him cooking. He definitely wasn’t used to getting up quite this early. A fork appeared a few seconds later, and he gave an internal shrug and started eating. Another plate was plopped onto the table to his left, and he looked up to see the usual sight of a half-awake Noct sliding into a chair, fork already stabbing into his own breakfast.

“Someone’s trying to cause a panic, from the sound of it,” Noct mumbled through bites of egg, and Gladio and Iggy both nodded their agreements as they also sat at the table. Prompto took another bite, chewing slowly as he set his fork down.

“Cor said two groups of protesters moved in overnight, they think one of them set the bomb,” Prompto said, and Noct sighed.

“This is about the Kingsglaive trials. Let me guess, one group is immigrants worried that the detained Glaives are being railroaded or framed, and the other is the usual anti-immigrant xenophobes who want them all executed or out, oh, and we should kick all the other immigrants out now too, they have a home to go back to now,” Noct drawled, and Prompto found himself impressed. Ignis just looked proud, and Gladio nodded his tired agreement.

“Well, he didn’t say quite that much, but I think you’re right,” Prompto agreed, and Noctis snorted. Everyone spent a minute finishing their breakfast, then Iggy and Gladio gathered up their plates as he and Noct fought valiantly to stay awake, the sudden spike of adrenaline from earlier long since dissipated. It didn’t go well, and he rested his head into his arms and dozed until he was tapped on the shoulder and carefully hauled to his feet. Prompto found himself being shepherded back to the bedroom by Gladio, and he was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.

A few hours later saw them being summoned to a meeting with the king, with orders for Prompto, Ignis, and Gladio to be dressed in their Crownsguard uniforms, and Noct to be dressed in more formal attire. It actually took Prompto some time to get ready, considering he had not worn his uniform since the day of the battle, but he unwrapped the new clothing (his old new set had been a write-off after the battle) with somewhat mixed emotions and donned the lot with a smile that did not quite reach his eyes. He had been hanging around the Citadel for a month since he woke up, and he still didn’t know what he was going to do with his life. Did he continue on as Crownsguard, like Cor? Was he meant to do something else? He had no idea. But, for now, he would just go with the flow. He certainly didn’t want to leave everyone. Fluffing his hair up one last time with his fingers, Prompto grabbed his cane and walked out of the bedroom, the other three already ready to go. Noct looked him over, an expression on his face that he didn’t recognize.

“You alright, Prom?” Noct asked, and Prompto looked down at the hand holding the cane, then looked back up, dredging up a smile.

“I’m okay.”

Noct looked like he wanted to say something further, but he and the others refrained. Together, they headed down to yet another meeting room, this one small and set near the council room and Crownsguard offices. Already inside was Cor, dressed in his usual uniform and leaning against the table in the center of the room, the king was seated at the head of the table in a version of his standard formal outfit, Nyx was standing next to Cor in his full uniform, with no obvious sign of his current acting captain rank, and Lord Amicitia was in his full council robes. This was clearly not a casual gathering, which was all Prompto had been a part of since he had awoken, and he forced himself to stand up as straight as he could manage as they walked into the room.

“Please, have a seat,” the king asked, and after some shuffling, all were seated, Prompto sitting directly across from Cor. “As you are well aware of, we have a problem,” the king paused, a wry smile on his lips. “Well, we have a plethora of problems, but a few which have been determined to need immediate attention. Prompto.” The king looked directly at him, and he sat up straight.

“Yes, your majesty.” The king’s smile was fond, but distant; Prompto forced himself to maintain eye contact.

“The public is demanding to see you. The world knows who you are, Prompto, they all heard you sing that day.” Prompto only just suppressed an embarrassed groan, and the distance in the king’s eyes faded, replaced by an odd mix of humor and pity. “Cor’s...abilities, for the most part, are a lot less flashy than yours, and seem to be more battle focused to the casual observer. Then we have yours. It was inevitable, unfortunately, that the public would fixate even more on you.” He didn’t quite suppress the groan that time, but luckily, no one called him out on it. The king looked between him and Cor, the humor fading. “I have close to five thousand people and growing filling several streets around the Citadel, demanding a variety of things. Those of non-native descent want to know why I’ve got a sizable chunk of the Kingsglaive locked up, they want to know who accused them to begin with-” Prompto’s heart clenched, and he wrung his hands together. “-and I have a large native Insomnian group which are, to quote Ulric from earlier, letting their hate flag fly. From them I have demands of everything from public executions to complete and immediate expulsion of all non-native Insomnians, which is entirely ironic, because a sizable amount of them wish to see you as well, Prompto.” The king finished speaking, letting Prompto pry his hands back apart and take a calming breath.

“What were you thinking of, sir?” he asked, and he watched as Cor’s eyes flashed across the table, but the older man remained quiet. The king wasn’t stupid, though, and he again looked between the two of them with some consternation.

“As you probably heard about, Cor made a single, mostly-controlled appearance shortly before you awoke to what appeared to be at least a quarter of the city’s Galahdian population to answer their questions in hope that they would disperse. I am thinking along the same lines, although it will be all of us, myself included, addressing the crowd. It’s uncommon, but not without precedent, as much as you dislike the idea, Clarus. And Cor, I know you want to keep Prompto out of the limelight while he recovers, but the crowds are swiftly reaching disaster levels. We are running out of options for peaceful resolution, and if someone else decided to plant a real bomb next time, we will be in serious trouble. I thought about doing this as a television broadcast, but I think we need the immediate effect a personal appearance would bring,” the king stated, taking a deep breath. “I’m not going to force you to do this, Prompto, Cor, or any of you, on that note, but I think it is worth a shot.”

Prompto looked at his friends around him, trying to gauge their reactions; Noct looked concerned, but resolute, Gladio looked like he usually did, ready for anything, Iggy also looked worried, but it was clear he would go along with whatever the king ordered. Looking across the table, Cor’s face might as well been made from granite, for all the emoting he was doing on the surface, but Prompto could feel his unsettled feelings on the matter in the back of his mind. Next to him, Nyx actually gave him a small smile, the older man dipping his head slightly. Lord Amicitia just looked pissed off, but it appeared to be targeted to the world in general more than any one person. Before Prompto could gather his thoughts, the king spoke up once again.

“I have already spoken with the active members of the Kingsglaive, and they have also agreed to come out as a unit with us as well. They will be matched by a similarly sized selection of Crownsguard. Best to appear as a united front,” the king said, and Prompto nodded.

“I’ll do it. If Cor can do it, I should be able to, right?” he said, with more than a little forced levity in his voice, and he could feel the exact moment the herald gave in, the turmoil at the back of his mind turning to resignation. He resisted looking at the man, though, and met the king’s eyes once more. “When were you thinking of doing all this?” The king looked down at his phone, then up at everyone assembled.

“An hour. I would suggest you not go far, it will take a little time to get everyone assembled,” the king said as he rose to his feet. “We will regroup in thirty minutes down in the lobby.” He didn’t wait for a reply, and left after clasping Noct on the shoulder, Lord Amicitia following in his wake. Surprisingly, Nyx didn’t budge, but gave both Prompto and Cor significant looks as he sat back in his chair.

“You two know about the loyalty concerns regarding some of the Glaives, right? I know the media made a comment in the last day after everything leaked, but I wanted to tell you that the seed of truth in that statement has been resolved.” That even got Cor’s attention, and everyone turned to the relaxing Glaive with some confusion.

“What do you mean, Nyx?” Cor asked, and Nyx sighed.

“Three of the Galahdian Glaives, and yes, Cor, it’s the ones you think, resigned their commissions this morning. They admitted pretty bluntly that they had only been staying because of you two, and I told them that neither of you wanted to be the cause of...mixed loyalties. They wished for me to tell you that they did not mean to be a source of any problems, and for that, they apologize. They’ve already left, I think they are planning to return to Galahd,” Nyx stated, and Cor visibly sagged with relief. Prompto watched with amazement as Nyx grinned at Cor, then gave him a slap on the back. “Yeah, I thought you would like that. It was getting kind of awkward with them always flitting around you and not doing their damn job.” Cor actually returned, ever so slightly , Nyx’s smile, and Prompto met everyone else’s eyes in shock. He had definitely missed stuff being on virtual house arrest, that’s for sure. Nyx leaned back in his chair again and crossed his arms, and Cor looked across at all of them, the smile already replaced with determination.

“Is everyone ready to do this? This is, quite possibly, an even worse security nightmare than confronting Izunia was. With so many Glaives and Crownsguards there, there will be support provided someone tries something, but you all need to stay alert.” Gladio nodded, with Iggy following suit only a second later.

“Understood, Marshal. We will remain vigilant at all times,” Gladio proclaimed, and Cor nodded his agreement.

“Your majesty, please keep your eyes open as well. There may be no threat, but we cannot assume, not with so many near the gates.” Noct nodded as well, crossing his arms.

“Yeah, we’ve got this,” Noct said, leaning over and bumping his shoulder into Prompto’s. “How about you, Prom? You gonna be okay?” It was a question that Prompto wasn’t entirely sure about himself, and he found himself clutching at his cane under the table.

“We can get a wheelchair if you are concerned about walking and standing for an extended period of time, Prompto. Would you like me to arrange one?” Iggy was trying to help, and it wasn’t a bad idea, but the thought of going out in a wheelchair in front of the whole city when he could generally walk-

“No, I- I think I’ll be fine. I am getting better, as we talked about yesterday,” he said, but he knew that the tremor in his voice didn’t inspire confidence. Cor was staying quiet, but Prompto could again feel his concern, but at the same time, he could also feel a reassuring warmth that pervaded his entire being, and he actually managed to gather up a smile. “Really, I think I’m good.” Nyx slapped the table, startling everyone but Cor, and got to his feet with a smirk.

“You’ve got this, Prompto, and if you do need a little support, we’ll all be there for you.” Nyx headed to the door. “I’ve got to wrangle everyone together, I’ll see you down there.” Cor rose to his feet as well as soon as the door closed behind the Glaive, his eyes inspecting everyone before settling on Noct.

“I’ll see you all shortly in the lobby,” Cor stated, then in the space of a breath was gone; Prompto gripped his cane harder and got to his feet.

“Well, this sounds like the perfect time for a bathroom break, I’ll be back in a minute,” he rambled, moving as quickly as he could manage to the bathroom in the rear of the room before anyone could comment. After taking care of his bladder, he walked over to the mirror and looked at himself. He still looked too pale, the consequence of being stuck inside for so long, and it made his freckles pop out even more. He had mostly put back on the weight he had lost, so he didn’t look so gaunt, but his legs were still too skinny. Prompto sighed, washed his hands, and splashed a little water on his face. There was nothing to be done about it now. He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, then grabbed his cane. He walked back out of the bathroom, throwing on a smile as he walked up to his friends.

“Ready to go?” Noct asked, and Prompto nodded.

“Yeah, let’s go.”

It was a packed lobby that they emerged into, with Glaives and Crownsguard loitering around waiting for further orders; Prompto quickly got sidelined by Libertus, Crowe, and Pelna, who all gave him a hug and asked how he was doing; he hadn’t seen them much, so the question didn’t bother him like it had from the others recently. Monica Elshett even came over to say hi and to tell him that she was happy to see him doing so well, with several other Crownsguards and Glaives around them all nodding in agreement. Prompto had to fight down a blush at all the attention, but before he could get too worked up, Cor came over and rescued him, leading him over to what was probably the only empty spot left in the room. The two of them leaned against the wall next to each other, Cor’s gaze alternating between him and the room at large. After a surprisingly quiet moment, Cor wrapped an arm around Prompto’s shoulders and leaned in to speak in his ear.

“Do what feels right to you, Prompto. Don’t let the crowds intimidate you,” Cor said quietly, and Prompto took a deep breath in response. What was he supposed to do with that? Do what feels right- He snorted, and turned his head towards Cor, meeting his eyes.

“You still stink at reassuring people, Cor,” he chuckled, and the older man sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “But thank you.” Cor leaned back against the wall again, but left his arm around Prompto’s shoulders.

“No matter what happens, I’ll be right there with you.”

And that was the most reassuring thing Prompto had heard all day.

As they walked outside behind the king and Noct, the swell of noise from the crowd threatened to knock Prompto flat, and he could feel his hand shaking around his cane as he moved forward. But Gladio and Iggy were walking to his right, Cor and Nyx to his left, and he knew he couldn’t fuck this up, not with his family by his side; so he set his spine and faced the mass of people head on, a smile on his face. A small dais had been set up for them just outside the gates, with the city guards surrounding it keeping the crowd at a moderate distance. Prompto blinked at the stairs. Shit. The only stairs he had been on since he had woken back up had been at physical therapy, and although there was only five steps, it suddenly looked like a hundred. The king took them at a better clip than expected, Noct right behind him; Cor had also already started his ascent, but stopped when he realized that Prompto was not following him. Prompto took another deep breath and set his cane on the first step, forcing his leg to follow; he wobbled immediately, his other leg threatening to buckle-

“I’ve got you, Prom, just keep moving,” Gladio said quietly into his ear, and he felt a hand cup his waist, the side away from the crowd, and Prompto did a shaky nod and slowly worked his way up, supported from behind by the larger man. Cor gave a tiny nod to Gladio after they reached the top, and Prompto shuffled over to Cor’s side.

“Sorry,” he said sotto voce, and Cor leaned over just enough to brush his arm with his own before they both faced the masses head on. The king raised a hand to the crowds, who largely cheered, then quieted. Prompto envied his stone cold calm, even as he opened his mouth to speak.

“My good people, I am honored to be here amongst you today. I will not waste time in pleasantries, but will proceed to the topic forthwith. The past few months have been tumultuous, to say the least, and entirely world-changing at their core. The Starscourge has been eradicated, the empire forced to retreat back to their original borders with the loss of the majority of their army, Tenebrae and Accordo have reclaimed their lands as their own, and even here in Lucis, the cleanup continues to remove imperial remnants from our lands. In the midst of such upheaval, we have enjoyed the help of allies both earthly and divine, for without them, we would not be here to celebrate our new peace,” the king paused, looking out at his subjects; Prompto was hanging on his every word, and from the relative silence, so was the crowd.

“Unfortunately, along with unexpected allies, we have also unearthed treachery within our ranks; an insidious plan to destroy Insomnia, and indeed Lucis itself, from within. The ringleader was none other than the commander of the armies of Niflheim, General Glauca. He had been present as the captain of the Kingsglaive since the formation of the unit, and had done an excellent job of integrating and gaining the trust of all those he came in contact with. He did his work well,” the king stated, and Prompto heard a few angry shouts here and there, blaming and accusing; his majesty stood stout and did not show any indication of hearing them. “We may have never uncovered his plot had it not been for the help of two dear friends and comrades, who had also concealed a rather sizable secret of their own.” Prompto could feel the warmth coming to his cheeks as the king spoke, and even Cor looked a little discomfited...not that anyone who was more than a foot away would be able to tell. Off to the side was Nyx and Lord Amicitia, both of whom looked calm on the surface, but their footing and posture gave away that they would spring into action in an instant if needed.

“You have already heard from Marshal Leonis, so I will address Crownsguard Argentum at this time. I know that we have all been concerned for Crownsguard Argentum’s condition after the battle, and I am happy to report that his health is much improved, and he has accompanied me today to reassure you all,” the king raised a hand to indicate Prompto, and he managed to give a tiny bow in response without completely stroking out, so he’d consider that a win. A shout from a woman who looked vaguely familiar not far from the front of the crowd got his attention.

“Are you saying, your majesty, that these so-called divine messengers...this Herald and Voice of the Dawn Mother, are the ones that figured out who among the Kingsglaive was loyal and who was not? Are you saying that they had some sort of way of seeing into their hearts? Or was there actual evidence involved? Forgive me if divine intervention seems a bit of a stretch, even if they clearly have some sort of magic at their disposal.” Prompto paled, and almost dropped his cane. The reporter, he remembered seeing her on TV, wasn’t too far off the mark, it really was rather crazy sounding when you really thought about it-

“Their abilities did form the basis for the detainment of specific individuals, and also lead to the widely witnessed physical evidence of the presence of General Glauca, but every case is being investigated to the fullest extent independent of their judgement. Marshal Leonis has recused himself from the entire matter for this very reason, and Crownsguard Argentum has been recovering from his injuries and is also entirely uninvolved in the investigation. Please rest assured that there were no unilateral decisions made solely on their intervention,” the monarch nodded to the reporter, who looked thoughtful, but did not speak further.

“What about the rest of the Kingsglaive? Does the crown consider them trustworthy, even after discovering that their commander was a Niff all along?” That shout came from the far side of the crowd from Prompto, and he couldn’t help but glance at Nyx to see his reaction. Nyx just looked bored.

Another shout came from further back, this one getting a little more to the point, and Prompto grimaced. “We don’t need them anymore, the war is over! They should return to their own homes.” The king’s eyebrows lifted in an utterly deliberate motion, and he turned slightly to face the last shout.

“So you think that just because the empire has been routed for now that any standing forces can be decommissioned? They’ve already made attempts to reenter Tenebrae, it would be the height of folly to assume that they will not try our borders again. As for the Kingsglaive itself, all remaining members, and I do wish to point out that it is the majority of the unit, not only a handful as some outlets are reporting, have been fully re-vetted and all participated during the fight here at the Citadel. All were a credit to their honor and valor, as the vast majority of them have ever been since the Kingsglaive was formed. I have heard what some of you have said regarding both the Kingsglaive and those among us who were not born here. I wish to remind you all that we are all Lucians here. The wall served to isolate Insomnia from the rest of our lands for its entire existence, and it will do so no longer.” The king’s voice was as firm as the the bedrock on which the city was built, and Prompto couldn’t help but smile. Even Cor’s eyes softened a bit at the king’s words, but the quiet did not last for long.

“Who is the Glaive up with you?” Another reporter, this one male, shouted, and his majesty indicated Nyx with a hand.

“While the decision is not yet finalized, may I introduce Nyx Ulric as the acting captain of the Kingsglaive. His knowledge and reputation are without parallel, and I fully expect that he will be confirmed in his position permanently very soon, provided, of course, that he wishes to take on the task,” the king dipped his head to Nyx, who smiled and saluted in response.

“Another foreigner? A Galahdian? Why not a proper Insomnian, one who isn’t already caught up in some antiquated loyalty to their goddess? How do you know that he’ll be loyal to you, and not those two fr…” The king cut off the hateful heckler with a voice that could have cut diamond, and Prompto could hear the crowd’s collective intake of breath.

“Captain Ulric is a proper Lucian, and I would not be so hasty to dismiss the Dawn Mother, my good sir. While she may not be invoked in much of Lucis to the same extent as the Six are, it does not mean she isn’t a part of this world, as the presence of her Dawnsworn clearly evidence. Would you speak of the Oracle thus?” There was more than a few grumbles from the side of the crowd that had been doing the complaining, but no one else spoke up with anything cohesive, and Prompto could feel himself relax a small amount. Hopefully they were wrapping up-

“Might we ask a boon from the Voice, your majesty? We have all heard him sing, but only in times of great turmoil; we believers of our antiquated goddess would be honored if he could bless us all with a song to usher in the future.” The old woman who had spoken was Galahdian, Prompto was certain of it, what he didn’t expect was the spark of recognition in Cor’s eyes at her appearance, and he remembered something about Cor addressing an elder when he was convinced to go out and confront the masses-

Prompto swallowed heavily, and looked out past the crowd to the afternoon sun, high in the sky. He could feel the weight of what felt like the entire world staring at him, but he looked down at the microcosm standing before them, a great sea of people with faces that marked them as hailing from all over the world, even outside of Lucis, and suddenly, he knew exactly which song he wanted to sing. The king, Noct, Cor, Nyx, Iggy, Gladio, even Lord Amicitia; they were all looking at him to see what he would do, and Prompto met every one of their gazes with a grin.

He closed his eyes for a moment, that unspoken, undefined feeling within his heart reaching out, asking for assistance; he could hear gasps, and as he opened his eyes, see the shock in the crowd’s faces as white-gold spirits blinked into existence around him, and the fact they largely appeared of Galahdian origin, with their conspicuous jewelry and braids, was no accident. Nyx had gone bone-white, and Cor had actually grabbed the other man by the shoulder to keep him upright. It almost startled Prompto into stopping, but Cor smiled, his lips twitching up at the corners, and Prompto nodded, stepping forward to the edge of the dais, then turning and looking at the rest of the Kingsglaive standing below, giving them all a smile. Then he turned back towards the bulk of the crowd and opened his mouth, and an old tune that was all but unknown in Insomnia but had been incredibly popular in Galahd and the Lucian frontier came forth, one the goddess was fond of and had specifically taught him, the spirits joining him in singing a song of home. He found himself handing his cane off to the closest person to him as he began to sing, his feet feeling far more sure than they had just a few minutes prior; as he reached the end of the first verse, he opened his arms wide as he looked again to the Kingsglaive, to the crowd, to Nyx, beckoning them to join in.

The sound of possibly a thousand people singing and stomping along to a song he was singing was awe-inspiring, and even Nyx, tears on his face, had joined in, his feet thumping in perfect time against the wooden floor of the dais; gold and saffron light was pouring from Prompto, spreading out as far as he could see, and people were reaching out and touching the sparkles as they passed around them, wonder in their eyes. A quick glance showed that the king nor any of his friends up on stage knew the song outside of Nyx, but that was to be expected, it wasn’t an Insomnian song-

Then Cor proved him wrong by joining in on the repeat of the main verse near the end of the song, light pouring from him as well, and Prompto could feel his honest joy in his head and heart as they all finished the song together, hundreds of voices joining together for the last few notes before they trailed off as one. If a pin had dropped, it would have been audible in the aftermath; the spirits, like they were apt to do, ruffled Prompto’s hair and caressed his cheeks before travelling over to Cor, skipping the hair but patting him on the back and shoulders. Instead of vanishing right away, though, some dispersed, flying into the crowd; he could hear crying as they approached specific people, and Prompto realized in shock that some of these spirits were recent, and gasps from those on the dais with him made him turn towards-

Nyx. A young woman, probably no older than himself, floated right in front of the Glaive, a kind smile on her face as she reached out and brushed Nyx’s cheek, his hand reaching up to try and touch hers as tears once again poured down his face. She brought up her other hand and wiped at his tears, then leaned forward and gave him a kiss on his forehead before floating back a few feet, the wide sweep of her arms and sweet smile telling Nyx something that Prompto thought he understood, but he wasn’t sure; the woman mouthed something at Nyx before she began to fade, the smile on her translucent face never wavering as she disappeared from view. Prompto froze as Nyx immediately turned and stomped towards him with a strange look on his face, not certain what was going to happen.

“Prompto,” the Glaive choked out, his voice barely audible even in the almost-eerie quiet that had set in around the Citadel. “Prompto...thank you.” Prompto almost fell off the dais as Nyx dragged him into a tight embrace, but he could feel the warmth of the older man’s tears against his neck as he brought his own arms up to return the hug.

“You aren’t mad, right? I didn’t know that any of the spirits would be so...young,” Prompto mumbled into Nyx’s shoulder, and Nyx actually shook his head without lifting it from where it rested.

“I don’t think I could ever be mad at you for a damn thing, not after letting me see my sister one more time,” Nyx whispered, and Prompto burst into tears at the realization, which only got Nyx crying again as well. Behind them, the king was wishing the crowd a good day, and Nyx finally let go of Prompto, a grin on his face that spoke of great sadness, but also great joy, and he couldn’t help but return it. Cor, Iggy, and Gladio came up alongside them, their own eyes suspiciously shiny.

“We should go, the king, Noct, and Lord Amicitia have already left the dais,” Ignis stated, and Prompto realized that Iggy was holding his cane. Oops. He snuffled and wiped quickly at his eyes with a thumb before nodding.

“Yeah, sorry, let’s go,” he said, and he followed Cor over to the stairs, and then promptly remembered why he should be using the cane in the first place when his knees buckled on the first step, sending him straight into the fortunately far sturdier man, who instantly braced himself against his weight. Strong arms wrapped around his waist only a split second later, shifting and hoisting him into a bridal carry, and Prompto could have died of embarrassment right on the spot as Gladio’s amber eyes twinkled at him as he carried him down the stairs.

“I’ve got him, marshal, the dipshit forgot about his cane in his magic adrenaline rush,” Gladio proclaimed as they came off the steps, Prompto already trying to wiggle out of his hands. Of course he trips in front of the whole fucking planet, he was never going to live this down-

“Are you alright, milord?” A voice called out, and Gladio finally let him get down, Iggy pushing his cane into his hands. Nyx chuckled out of nowhere, and Prompto turned towards him in confusion.

“You realize they are talking to you, right?” Prompto blinked at Nyx, before he ran through what the person had yelled once more in his mind, his confusion swiftly transforming to, well, even more confusion.

“Uh, really? I’m not a-” he began, but Nyx shook his head, a thoughtful look on his face.

“To equate your standing, Prompto, the Dawnsworn were seen in a very similar light as the Oracle is today, if not more venerated. They were seen as both earthly and divine all at once; it may be hard to imagine when you are tumbling down stairs, kid, but think on what you just did, and know that you are the only one who could have done that. It may have been almost one hundred generations since the last pair of her chosen, but Galahd in particular has not forgotten.” Nyx reached out and ruffled Prompto’s hair, and he was stunned to hear at least one scandalized gasp from the crowd, if not several. Nyx suddenly looked a bit sheepish, and Cor looked like he was done with the lot of them.

“Really?” Prompto squeaked, and Cor sighed, looking even more resigned to his fate.

“Did you ask Ulric yet?” Cor asked, and after blinking blankly for a moment, memory flashed and Prompto turned back to the Glaive.

“That’s right, I forgot! Nyx, can I borrow your Dawn Mother book? It’s the one they are thinking of publishing, right? I find it kinda weird that all of you seem to know all this stuff about us, while we are still trying to figure a lot of this shit out,” he grumbled, and he could tell that Cor agreed, even if he didn’t say anything. Nyx’s eyes flew open wide, and he nodded.

“Yeah, of course. I should have offered it earlier.” Cor clasped Nyx on the shoulder and nodded his thanks, and Prompto squinted at the two of them again. Since when was Cor so touchy-feely with anyone that wasn’t, well, him? He looked to the side to meet Iggy and Gladio’s eyes, and was met by a curious little smile from Gladio, and a raised eyebrow from Ignis.

Oh good, it wasn’t just him.

Prompto moved forward a few steps and waved to the crowd, flushing a bit at the answering cheer, then turned and walked towards the Citadel feeling steadier than he had in a very long time, with Cor, Gladio, Iggy, and Nyx by his side. Noct was leaning against the main entrance, a grin on his face, and Prompto raised an arm and waved at the prince as he carefully ascended the stairs, pretending not to notice when both Gladio and Cor deliberately moved in behind him. It would be a lot further to tumble if he fell here, so he didn’t really mind, it was just...embarrassing. His cane clicked on a mix of old and new tile, many replaced after the battle, and step by step, he made his way up to the landing, walking up to Noct with a smile.

“Doin’ alright, Prom?”

Prompto looked out at his family, his friends, the dispersing crowds in the distance, and smiled.

“Never better.”