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Damnatio Memoriae

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Hot tar and scorching sunlight radiate heat from all sides around Noct, the early summer temperature of Leide already reaching dangerous highs.

The broken-down Regalia is to his back and his friends are arguing at his sides. The words they say mirror those in his memory.

Noctis knows what time-travel feels like - the feeling of being pulled back and his heart restarting with a heavy thump.

It's not a surprising thought, Noctis has been through enough to not be caught off-guard by experiences like these. The major question was why was he back in the first place?

His last memories were of defeating Ardyn and dying to bring back the sun. Phantom pains of the Ring and his father's sword radiate through him and it grounds him into reality. A hand pats against his back and Prompto cries out in discomfort as Gladio kicks at his foot.

"Get up, car isn't gonna move itself."

Noctis shakes off his disorientation and stands. He looks to his friends - so different now from when he had seen them before his death. They had stood tall and proud despite how it seemed like the weight of the world tried to pull them down. The Kingsglaive suits had fit them perfectly then, but Noctis couldn't imagine the friends before him now bearing them.

The looseness of their muscles, the lack of worry lines, the ease of their smiles - they were all things that he hadn't seen since before the fall of Insomnia.

Something he could not prevent. Noctis focuses back on why he had returned to the beginning.

If he had already purged the Starscourge and put Ardyn to rest, then what was the point of coming back here?

Had the Astral's wanted him to finish his task quicker? Prevent the ten years of darkness?

He breathes slowly through his nose as he grips onto the Regalia. From behind Gladio counts them off and together they push.

Why else would he be summoned back to this time?

Had he not atoned for his sins already?

Soft piano music drifts from the radio, and Noctis recalls that this song had been playing during the previous timeline.

"When the night has come, and the land is dark" Could he actually do anything to prevent the ten years of darkness?

"Not exactly a fairy-tale beginning, huh Prince Noctis?" Gladio grunts out from his position at the back of the Regalia.

"And the moon is the only light we'll see" What about Luna? And Ignis? Could he change what happens to them?

"We let ourselves get carried away." Ignis joins in from the driver's seat.

"No, I won't be afraid." Luna's fate wasn't certain, but his was.

"Look, these things happen!" Prompto calls out from where he was pushing at the passenger side.

"Oh, I won't be afraid." He would have to die again. An unchangeable fact from any timeline.

"Let's just hope this isn't some om-"

"Gladio, don't jinx it." Noctis won't tell them. This was a secret they didn't need to know.

"Just as long as you stand, stand by me"

...

Hammerhead was as hot as ever when they finally push the Regalia into it. The engine ticks softly by Noct as he bends next to it, catching his breath. He hears Cindy walk up to them and stands up straight.

Noctis lets the conversation play out the same way it had the last time - from what he could remember. It's only as Cid's butting in when he realizes there is a change.

"Prince Noctis." Noctis exhales slowly from his nose, remembering exactly what Cid had said next.

"You look like yer daddy, 'cept you got that 'edgy' look to ya." Cid grumbles out much to Noct's surprise.

Well, it was better than what Cid had said during their last first-encounter.

Prompto snorts across from him and Cid tells them to bring the Regalia in and run along.

"Charming man." Gladio scoffs as they head to Takka's restaurant. With everywhere but Insomnia under Niflheim rule, the group found their form of currency all but useless. Takka was supposed to help them earn a few gil to help pay for the repairs to the Regalia.

"He's the guy who was friends with your dad, right?" Prompto asks.

"Yeah, but they had a falling out a while back and haven't talked since."

"Over what?"

"No idea, my father never talked about it." If it was anything like what had happened on their own journey, then Noct could take a guess.

With the fall of Insomnia just on the horizon, Noctis wonders is he should risk telling Cid that this would be his last chance to make up with his father.

He doesn't pursue the thought for long, Noctis knows Cid is too stubborn.

...

The hunts Takka sent them on were laughably easy compared to when Noctis had first attempted them. He flitted through battle, his blade cleaving through exoskeleton and flesh alike with simple ease.

It was the Ultima Blade.

The blade had become like that of a companion of his during the last timeline, and Noct was relieved to find it had journeyed with him into this next life of his.

He could also feel the Royal Arms, ready to be beckoned forth at the call of his Armiger. Yet, when he attempted to summon one he found himself grasping empty air.

It was for the better anyways, considering Ignis and Gladio would be able to instantly tell a Royal Arm for what it was. He was surprised they had not mentioned the Ultima Blade yet, the stark change in color an obvious giveaway that something was off.

The mess of battle and his quick fighting style had probably not even given them the chance to notice the change.

"Thing's vicious."

Gladio stands in front of him, the setting sun sending light scattering across his blade. The rabid bloodhorn stands across from them, and Noctis feels a chill as he recognizes the sickness it carries for what it is.

Starscourge - this had been their first encounter with it during his last timeline, and the group had not understood that this had been the first warning sign of many to come that their world was doomed.

They hadn't even recognized it as starscourge, nor the danger it presented. Noct braces himself behind Gladio, ready to put the beast out of its misery as quickly as possible.

The bloodhorn charges and Gladio upswings his greatsword into the side of its face, setting the beast off balance. Noctis phases to its side, delivering two lethal gashes that would ensure a quick death. It staggers forward a step before collapsing, the black ichor that the others would later learn to be synonymous with the scourge flowing out and onto the dry ground.

"Damn Noct, where'd you learn that one?" Gladio asks as he cleans the edge of his sword off on a patch of grass.

Noct is saved from answering as his phone rings, Cindy telling him that Dave is safe and that the Regalia is ready. Noctis looks towards the sky.

"Thanks Cindy, but I think we better find a safe place to settle for the night. We'll come get her tomorrow." Noctis can practically see the anxiety bubbling out of Prompto at the mention of night, and there was no way he would risk the others' safety to make the hike back to Hammerhead.

Noctis and Cindy say their goodbyes as Ignis speaks up.

"Camping it is then?"

"Camping it is." Noctis agrees.

Gladio whoops and Noctis feels mildly excited, nostalgia claiming him despite what he knew lay ahead. This first night camping with his friends had been one of his favorite moments.

He figured he could let himself enjoy it while it lasts.

...

"Noct~ c'mon man! Today was awesome, loosen up!" Prompto calls out as he shifts a chair into a more photogenic position by the fire.

"Certainly," Ignis agrees, "You're a whole different person out on the battlefield - compared to training that is."

"With all that warping, I'm surprised you hadn't gone into stasis at least once." Gladio comments as he emerges from the tent.

"Maybe not then, but I'm definitely feeling it now." It hadn't really been all that straining, but the others could do without knowing that.

Ignis hands out their dinner and joins them around the fire.

"Well then, it's best if we be off to bed after this. We have an early start tomorrow if we are to arrive at Galdin Quay."

Prompto scarfs a few bites of his food down before he jumps to set his tripod up across from them. He hurries back to his seat and Gladio raises an eyebrow at him.

"How long's the countdown?"

"No countdown buddy, I've set it to a random time. This picture is gonna be completely candid." Prompto says through a mouthful.

"Well, you better hope you are not talking with your mouth full when it does go off." Ignis gently chastises.

Prompto nods and the group falls into idle chatter. Noctis knows he had heard this same conversation before, but it has been so long that he cannot remember it.

The wistfulness at that thought has him fighting a grimace. It would be moments like these that he would learn to cherish the most.

It was best for the others to remain unaware. If they learned of what was to come, then they would try to fight against it no matter how futile their efforts would be.

Noctis tries to pull himself back into the conversation, but the looming knowledge of Insomnia's fall and his father's death keeps him from truly enjoying these last few moments of peace.

A 'what if' crosses his mind, and Noctis violently refuses to acknowledge it.

He would not be able to stop the fall, and he would not risk the lives of his friends to do it.

Ignis inputs Noct's lack of conversation as exhaustion, and declares the night over. The warm feeling of nostalgia gone, Noctis climbs into his sleeping bag feeling nothing but defeat.

At a loss over what he should do, he starts to drift off.

A thought suddenly occurs to him and he quickly turns over, facing Prompto.

"Make sure you keep that photo." Noctis says almost desperately.

"The one I took with the tripod? But it wasn't all that good, my mouth was open and Gladio's eyes were weird." Prompto pulls his camera back out and leans over to show Noct.

He looks at the photo and sure enough, Prompto's mouth was open and it looked like Gladio was in the middle of blinking. They both looked happy. Ignis too, when he looked at him, was smiling.

"Doesn't matter." Noct says, his chest aching at the reminder that he had also been this happy once, "It's a keepsake from the first night of our trip."

"Keepsake?" Prompto smirks, "Didn't know you were so sentimental."

Noctis huffs and rolls back over, Prompto chuckling out a quiet goodnight.

Thoughts swirl in his mind, tomorrow would be the last normal day they would ever really have. Noct curls in on himself, listening to the breaths of the others steady out into that of sleep. He tries to will his own to match their rhythm, ignoring all thoughts of Insomnia and his father.

Was there nothing he could do?

Noctis banishes the thought, his father had sent him away for a reason. He clears his mind, and soon enough Noct can feel his eyelids slip shut.

He opens them an instant later - face to face with Bahamut.

Chapter Text

The crystalline world feels like placid water as Noctis drifts through it, the rippling effect he creates bouncing harmlessly off of the imposing figure of the Draconian before him.

Bahamut gazes down upon him coolly, and despite having been the target of that gaze before, the hair on the back of Noct's neck stands on end.

"Why did you bring me back? Is there really anything I can change by coming back to this time?" He meets Bahamut's steely gaze with one of his own.

"Through strife and reflection, the Chosen has earned the right to decide for himself. By fulfilling your destiny in your last life, you have already changed the outcomes of this one."

"What? What all can be changed? The prophecy still has to come to completion, the starscourge is still out there - Ardyn is still out there." Noctis looks away, eyes unable to focus on anything in the endlessly-swirling void they resided in.

"I still have to die." Noctis admits to himself.

Bahamut pauses for a moment, his voice rumbling out smoothly after he chooses his words.

"The gods have no hand in your destiny. Your fate is yours alone."

Noctis looks back up, Bahamut's eye were surprisingly gentle behind the fearsome visage he wore. He exhales a shuddering breath, and can tell Bahamut already knows what he is about to ask.

"Why give me another chance? Was it not enough?" Noctis simply asks.

"If you wish to seek further atonement, then that is your choice alone."

They pause again, and this time it lingers. Echoes of the magic from this realm tingle against his bare arms but it does not join with his own - he already spent ten years collecting all the light he needed.

Bahamut waits patiently for Noctis to reply.

"...What if I chose to return to Insomnia?"

"If the Chosen King so desires, then the aid of the Astrals would be for him to call."

Noctis toys with the idea, neither trusting himself nor what would happen to the timeline if he were to return.

"However, if you are to gain the Ring of your ancestors, know that it cannot heed you until the current bearer dies."

Noctis turns his head away, wiping quickly at his eyes. No matter the timeline, his father would always die.

"Bahamut, how did my father know to send me away?" Noctis asks, and for what feels like the first time, Bahamut truly takes him in. The soft eyes of the Draconian seem to read him, and guilt has Noctis ducking his head away.

"Ah, I see..." Noctis says solemnly. Exhaustion suddenly pulls at him, and he can feel himself falling into sleep. Bahamut blinks down at him one last time.

"Although the decisions you make are yours alone, remember that there are others who seek to support you. Noctis, the Light is yours."

...

When Noctis next wakes, it's to the rumble of Gladio's snores. He sits up, the night air of the desert cool compared to the sweltering heat of day.

The soft rustle of the sleeping bag is the only sound Noctis makes as he slides out of it and steps out of the tent. This far from civilization the stars glow brilliantly in the night sky, the crisp air waking Noct up entirely.

He makes his way to the very edge of the haven and sits, letting his legs dangle over the side. Noctis pulls out his phone and dims the screen so he doesn't blind himself. He stares at it, for a long time.

Noctis turns it over in his hands and looks out at the wilderness, the stars and moon lighting up every spire and valley. There are no daemons in sight.

A weary sigh escapes him, and he taps his phone awake and dials a number.

It rings for a while, and Noctis resigns himself to giving up soon. Only he was awake this late at night.

Just as he is about to pull the phone away the line picks up.

"Noctis?" Regis's voice is muffled with sleep.

"Dad? Sorry, I know you were asleep, I just felt like we needed to talk..."

"No, no... it's okay. I wasn't sleeping very well anyway. Is everything alright?" He hears concern in his father's voice and is quick to try and ease it.

"Everything's alright, don't worry!" Noctis keeps his voice to a quiet murmur, fearing that the still night air would allow his voice to carry for ages. This talk was for them alone.

"Yeah... I just figured we won't be able to talk much with the treaty coming up. I figured now would be the best time." His voice hitches, but his dad doesn't seem to notice.

"Ahh, you are probably right... How was your first day out?" And his ears don't deceive him when his father sounds just as worn as he does.

Noctis huffs, "You wouldn't believe it, Dad. The Regalia broke down."

At that his father wakes up a little more.

"What? But I just had her tuned up before you left." He hears his father pout.

"Yeah, we had to push it all the way to Hammerhead. I met Cid, by the way." Noctis can hear his father pause on the other end of the line. A gentle breeze brushes through his hair, and he decides to continue.

"You should call him."

His father sighs slowly, and Noct can hear him shift around in the bed from his side of the phone.

"Maybe you're right..." Regis sounds so resigned, and Noctis knows it is because he is faced with the fact that no one would be able to hear from him again after tomorrow.

He would be dead.

Noctis thinks his dad must have felt the same way he did, when it was his last night alive. He is not surprised that sleep eluded his father.

"I'll call him, first thing in the morning. How does that sound?" He asks Noct, and Noctis knows his father is hanging onto every word he says just as much as he hangs onto his father's.

"Does Cid even wake up as early as you?" Noct asks lightly. He smiles and the action causes his vision to blur. Noct wipes an arm across his eyes.

"When you get as old as me, you'll learn that all old men get up before the crack of dawn." He ignores the hitch in his father's voice. They both know that Noctis will never get that old. The sentence has him humoring his father with a snort of a laugh regardless.

"Dad...thanks. Thank you for everything."

"Always." They linger into a pause, and Noctis memorizes the sound of his father breathing. He listens to him living.

Regis takes a shaky breath, and Noctis thinks his father may have figured out that he knows that he is going to die tomorrow.

"Goodbye, Noctis." He can hear the tears in his father's voice, and hides his face in his hand as his own start to swell up, "I love you."

"I love you too," Noctis gasps out.

"Goodbye, Dad."

...

Hands push at him and he can hear the alarm of a phone in the background when he wakes up. Dried tears leave the skin around his eyes feeling tight, and he rubs at them.

"Noct, wakey-wakey." Prompto calls and gently shakes his shoulder back and forth.

Noctis rolls back over, pulling the sleeping bag back over his head. Ignis peeks his head into the tent, amusement at the prince's action pulling at his eyes.

That amusement wouldn't last long on this trip, but Ignis didn't know that yet.

"Your Highness, if we are to arrive at Galdin Quay within the day, then you may want to consider getting dressed soon. Breakfast is waiting."

Noctis exhales slowly through his nose and sits up, Prompto reaching over to turn the alarm off. He sluggishly gets up and dressed, taking the plate Ignis hands to him when he exits the tent.

"Well, look who's up early. Feeling alright, Princess?" Gladio greets him. Noctis brushes off the 'princess' comment and replies.

"I just want to get the Regalia back and head to Galdin Quay as soon as possible."

The group finish their breakfast and store the camping supplies in the Armiger's arsenal. Noctis works hard not to drag his feet as they hike back to Hammerhead and pay for the repair of the Regalia.

Ignis relents the wheel to him, and Noctis decides to drive all the way to Galdin Quay - only making a short stop to deliver a package for Cindy and meet with Umbra.

It's as they are passing through the rock walls that lead to the ocean that Noct remembers something and pulls over.

"I see a haven up ahead, why don't we stop for abit to eat lunch and stretch our legs?" His true goal being the garnet gem that Dino would essentially blackmail him over.

"Getting cold feet?" Prompto probes, but eagerly jumps out of the car to stretch.

Ignis starts to dig through the ice chest for ingredients, and Noctis looks up the naturally-formed ramp that would lead him to the mineral deposit.

"Hey, I'm going to check out that way for a moment. I bet you can see the ocean from up there." He says casually.

"Ohh, no you don't." Gladio grabs him and settles him down with the rest of them, "If you wanna go off anywhere we are going to do it together. We're not in the city anymore, don't go off alone."

"Got it." Noct replies, feeling more than a little dejected.

They finish through lunch and Noctis has them hurry up the ramp.

"So, what are we coming up here for?" Prompto asks.

"I want to see if we can get a picture of the ocean from here, I think Luna will like it." Noct plans on sending her one now that he thinks about it.

They cross an arch that transitions into a short tunnel. Noctis comes around its bend and is met with a familiar sight.

Silky black feathers block his view.

Zu sleeps peacefully before them, and despite its fearsome appearance Noctis doesn't feel frightened. During the several encounters of the last timeline, the bird hadn't actually attacked their group unprovoked. It was only when they had been caught bumbling around its nest did the giant bird take any aggressive action against them. As it had not been a malicious beast, Noctis - and even the other three - had felt mild guilt at slaying it.

He's learned by now that his actions have consequences, and plans to tread more carefully this time.

Noctis steps forward out of the tunnel and Ignis grabs him, pulling him back.

"Noctis!" He whispers as forcefully as possible.

"Buddy, there's no way we're gonna get past that thing!" Prompto quietly chimes in from where he crouches.

"Then we just gotta move it." Noctis leans over and picks up a rock. He throws it at Zu an instant before Gladio reaches out to stop him. Noctis thinks he might be crushed beneath the force of both Ignis and Gladio tackling him back into the tunnel, but the rock hits its mark and startles the bird awake.

When Zu unfurls its massive wings, Noctis feels like his breath is swept away as the dark feathers blot out the sun.

It is just as impressive the second time he sees it as it was the first.

Noctis pushes himself up and steps back out the tunnel as Zu starts to take off, its cry so loud it shakes the earth. Prompto rushes out beside him and starts taking as many photos as possible.

Ignis comes to stand beside them as they watching it fly off and into the distance, fixing his glasses from the unexpected gusts of wind the bird conjured.

"Brilliant." A statement they could all agree on.

"Dumbass. Don't ever do anything like that again." Gladio snorts and taps him upside the head, "Well, now that that's out of the way, let's get what we came for."

"Whoa! Look at those!" The garnet deposit draws Prompto's eye first. "We could totally sell a few of these for pocket change! How's that sound?"

Noctis jogs up beside him and pockets a few, saving the most gem-quality one for Dino.

"That sounds crystal-clear." Ignis snorts as he comes up behind them.

Prompto gags and Gladio chuckles. Noct sighs deeply but ignores him for the most part.

"Alright, Prompto, time to take some shots."

"You got it!" Prompto takes a close-up of Noct's disgruntled expression and runs off to take a few of the scenery.

"So, Noct, are you ready to head off to Altissia?" Ignis asks him.

Noctis makes a noncommittal noise and shrugs. In reality, he was dreading their arrival in Galdin Quay.

Ardyn was likely waiting to greet him there.

Sure enough, when the group pulls into Galdin Quay Noctis can see the stir that the man has caused. With every step closer, Noct feels less and less of the world around him. All but the sound of his feet against the wooden walkway leave him as he focuses on where he would meet Ardyn.

"I'm afraid you're out of luck."

Ardyn on his throne. Bodies strung from the ceiling.

Noctis meets him eye to eye and acknowledges the wicked man for what he is.

"The boats bring you here? Well, they'll not take you forth." Ardyn says, his false charm something Noctis had been able to see through the first time around.

"And what's your story?" Gladio asks, clearly distrustful.

"I'm an impatient traveler, ready to turn ship." Ardyn replies as he parts through their group effortlessly. "The ceasefire is getting us nowhere."

Noct catches the coin Ardyn tosses him and his steely blue eyes meet amber.

Ardyn was someone he would never forgive, but the hatred Noctis thought he would feel was gone. The rage and grief - and really, any strong emotion for that matter - had been siphoned out of him during the ten long years in the Crystal.

After Reflection, Noctis had felt nothing but empty.

It didn't mean Noct would let him get away with what he was planning.

Ardyn was bound for judgment.

Noctis tosses the coin back at Ardyn, who catches it with a toothy grin.

"Next time we meet, drop the falsities." Noctis says, voice unwavering.

Ardyn's grin grows wider as he truly acknowledges Noct's presence. He ignores the comment and gestures goodbye with a chuckle.

"Farewell, Prince Noctis."

With that, Ardyn leaves and Noctis lets out the breath he was holding.

"That was creepy." Prompto states as they make their way further into the Mother of Pearl restaurant.

"Rather strange..." Ignis comments and glances over to Noct, "Did you know that man?"

Noct swallows down any alarm and replies.

"That was Ardyn Izunia, Chancellor of Niflheim."

Prompto stumbles and Gladio whips around to him.

"Are you kidding? What's a man like that doing here?"

"Wouldn't know, probably nothing good." Noct scoffs.

"I was wondering why he looked familiar... I am surprised you recognized him, Noct."

"Eh, wish I hadn't." Noct offhandedly replies as they near the docks. The instant they step on the pier he can feel Dino's eyes on him.

"Damn, looks like that guy was right." Gladio comments as he checks the board.

"According to my sources, the empire, giving strict orders not to let any vessels leave the docks of Altissia. Real shame if you were late to your own wedding - Right, Prince Noctis?" His own name grates on his nerves with the way Dino manages to say it.

"Name's Dino by the way. Pleasure."

"Pleasure." Noct crosses his arms and looks down at the reporter. "I don't suppose you know anyway of hitching a ride?"

Dino shrugs, reminding him of how intolerable their relationship had been at the beginning.

"Maybe, for the right price." Dino leans forward and flashes him a pearly smile. "But for now, let's just call it a favor. This reporter's got integrity after all. Lemme see your map."

He points to a spot on the map and looks back up at Noctis.

"See, I'm trying to get into the jeweler business, but I got no supplier. If you can grab me a garnet mineral, I'll grab you a boat."

"Deal. As it just so happens, we were up there collecting earlier today."

Dino's brows shoot up.

"No kidding! You find anything good?"

Noctis pulls out a few of the gem-quality garnets and presents them to Dino.

"Take your pick."

Dino leans over to inspect, "Haha, Prince Noctis, you're not such a bad guy."

Noct shrugs as Dino picks out one of the crystals.

"I'll take this one if you don't mind." Dino pockets the crystal and looks back at Noct.

"Deal's a deal, let me know when you want that boat."

"As soon as possible." Noct replies.

"How does tomorrow morning sound then? I'll even throw in a night's stay here at the hotel!"

He agrees and Dino checks them into the hotel. Noctis watches as the others unpack and steps over to Ignis.

"Why don't you guys unpack and check out this place? I'm going to go fishing."

Ignis looks at him like he is about to reject, but relents.

"Be back by dinner."

Noct nods, "Got it."

Ignis watches him leave and Prompto peeks up from his place by the bed.

"Noct's fishing? Does he want company?"

Ignis looks back to the door where Noct left and shakes his head.

"No... He's seemed rather out of it since we left. I think he would prefer some time to himself."

"I just think he's getting cold feet." Gladio responds, "Must be hard to marry someone you haven't seen since you were a kid. But he needs to grow up anyway and get a sense of duty."

Ignis frowns and turns to Gladio.

"Gladio, give him time."

They finish unpacking their belongings and step outside to explore Galdin Quay. Prompto goes off on his own to take some coastal pictures, and later Gladio leaves to check the dinner menu.

Ignis spends his time checking through their travel list at one of the plastic tables by the beach. A radio sits by his table, but when he reaches over to turn it on only static greets him. He thinks nothing of it and resorts to spending his time in silence, with only the waves acting as background noise.

Soon enough, the sun dips below the horizon and the first few stars make their appearance. Ignis gathers his belongings and makes his way back to the Mother of Pearl to find Noct and eat dinner with the rest.

The fishing pier is empty when he looks over to make sure Noct did indeed remember to come back, the light of Galdin Quay and the moon enlightening it enough for him to see clearly.

When he finds Noct, the other is sitting on the walkway, a cream-colored cat curled up against him and a plate of fish bones beside it.

"Cat calling the locals, are we?"

Noctis gives him a look but says nothing. Ignis sits down beside him and reaches over to brush the cat.

"How are you holding up, Noct?" Ignis asks. Noct had been uncharacteristically quiet yesterday, and even more so today, and it had not gone unnoticed by the adviser. For a moment, they sit in the nighttime silence. Ignis thinks he won't get an answer.

Noct is looking out across the dark blue sea, towards Angelgard Island, when he replies.

"I'm never ready." Noctis admits to him. The statement is strange to Ignis, but he thinks he knows what Noct means.

"That may be true... but I will be with you, every step of the way."

This brings a slightly somber smile to Noct, and Ignis feels a glimmer of hope that he has reassured him somehow with that statement alone.

"I know, Specs." Noct looks down and pauses, giving the cat a last stroke before standing up and helping Ignis to his feet.

"Let's go try some over-priced and mediocre food now. I'm looking forward to getting back to your cooking."

"Please, Noct, I made lunch for you. Flattery won't work with whatever you are wanting to try." Ignis eyes him and Noct looks away sheepishly.

They meet up with Gladio and Prompto, who were already halfway through their meal. Ignis scowls at them as he knows all the money lies with him and Noct. The group finish their dinner and head to their hotel room. Ignis crawls under his covers, quick to fall asleep.

He doesn't wake up when Noctis sneaks out of their room.

Chapter Text

-I'll be back soon.

Wait for me here.

Noctis sets the note down on the table of their dark hotel room. His companions sleep deeply from where they lay, and as he leaves the room he makes sure to shut the door slowly.

Noctis backs away from the room and quietly makes his way through the darkened restaurant. The lights on the walkway still light his path as he travels along it and to the parking lot.

A white shimmer of fur catches his eye - Pryna sits between him and the Regalia.

"...Pryna?" He asks cautiously.

Pryna looks uncomfortable in his presence, but remains steadfast in her position before the car.

"I understand the risk in going alone, but I can't sit by and do nothing anymore. Please, trust in me." He asks the dog and makes his way around her to the car.

The rumble of what could be a growl reach his ears and he turns around in shock, but all he sees is the empty parking lot. He looks around hoping to catch sight of her, but when he sees nothing he resigns to getting into the Regalia and driving off.

He pulls the top up as he speeds down the dark roads, and the sound of wheels and the whooshing of wind are reduced to a constant murmur. The headlights are enough to light his path, but he doesn't fool himself into thinking they will repel any daemons.

Noctis was driving fast enough though that he didn't feel like they would be a threat if there were any.

Ignis would be furious if he could see him now.

The red gleam of some airships blaze in the darkness, but they pay Noctis no mind as they travel to their destination.

From this distance, he can see the flames of Insomnia as it burns.

Cars fly past him, likely driving the same speed he was in effort to get away. Headlights flash by, and some honk at him in warning.

Noctis whizzes through the checkpoint on his way to the bridge, panicking the fleeing refugees nearby. His eyes catch the city's skyline as he crosses the bridge, the fires illuminating swarms of daemons.

Noctis frowns as he reaches the end of the bridge and pulls the Regalia off to the side. He jumps out the car and is quickly knocked to his feet as the earth shudders beneath him.

A daemon, as tall as Titan himself, lays waste to Insomnia.

With a snarl, Noctis summons his Armiger in a bright, crystalline flash and warps his way to its flank. His people duck and run as it reigns fire upon them, and Noctis lands on top of a building to take aim with all thirteen Royal Arms at the massive daemon.

He is taken off-guard when the world suddenly shifts, the air coming alive with magic. Noctis recognizes it as a call from an Astral, and instantly accepts it.

The smoke that had blanketed the night sky suddenly opens, and Noctis nearly covers his eyes as brilliant swords reign down like meteors. Screams of daemons reach his ears, the light from the swords instantly vaporizing any who were too close. Noctis looks back up at the parted clouds, tingles washing over him.

A ring of light illuminates a draconic figure.

Bahamut rapidly descends towards the city, the swords that make up his wings glowing brighter than the sun. He comes to a hover over the Citadel, a sword held at the ready before him.

Noct glances down to the people in the streets, seeing they were just as entranced at the sight as he was.

The titanic daemon roars at the challenge Bahamut presents him, sending the people into action once more. The Draconian extends his wings and swings his sword to the side.

He charges, and with a cleave of his sword he cleanly separates the top of the daemon from the bottom.

The daemon screeches as it falls, the sound breaking windows and forcing Noctis to throw his hands over his ears. Bahamut lets his sword vanish and turns to Noct, the piercing blue eyes holding none of the gentleness Noct had seen just the night before.

The Draconian turns his gaze away and points to a spot further in the city. He says nothing to Noct as he vanishes, and Noctis takes that as a bad sign.

Noctis looks to the place Bahamut pointed at and warps his way over the buildings, the Armiger acting as his lift.

He doesn't know what he is looking for, and doubt rolls over him in waves.

What was the point in even being here?

Bahamut had told him that the choice was his, so why had he looked at Noct with such disappointment?

Noctis frowns, his father was already dead - along with Gladio's.

Likely everyone he had known within the Citadel were already dead.

If Noctis had wanted to really make a difference, he should have returned to Insomnia with his friends the instant he had woken up in this timeline.

Noctis doesn't entertain that thought, what difference would he and his friends make?

The blood in his veins freeze when he catches sight of what Bahamut was directing him to.

Luna kneels over a wounded Kingsglaive, Ring of the Lucii in her grasp and making its way towards her finger. General Glauca advances on them.

Time slows to a crawl - he warps down to them in a flash the same time the Kingsglaive reaches to take the Ring.

Noctis gets it first.

The Ultima Blade hums from where it is embedded in the pavement before Luna, and her hand imperceptibly shakes beneath his grip. Noctis lets his Armiger die, and looks down at her.

"Sorry Luna, but this is my duty." Noctis gently takes the ring from her grasp, grateful of the warmth he felt in her fingers.

"Noctis..." She breathes, and the Kingsglaive next to her sits up.

"Way to make an intro, Your Highness. But you need to get out of here." Noctis recognizes him as Nyx Ulric, but turns to look at the approaching General Glauca instead of fleeing with Luna.

"Ulric, I am going to ask you to leave instead. Take Luna with you and get to safety." Noctis looks down at the ring in his palm, and Nyx says something in disagreement but Noct ignores it.

He slips the Ring onto his finger.

Magic floods through him, overflowing into his veins. Bahamut had said the Light belonged to him? The magic threatening to consume him begs to differ. Noctis bites back a cry so not to appear weak in front of all who were gathered here.

From the corner of his eye, he sees Luna help Nyx stand. His car - not the Regalia, but the Star of Lucis - is manned by a Galahadin who is calling them over.

Luna guides Nyx into the car and turns to look at Noct.

"Please, Noctis, prevail. For all our sakes."

General Glauca had killed her mother. Had killed his father.

He was the result of countless innocent deaths. Noctis wasn't going to miss this chance to avenge their deaths.

He nods at her, and Glauca uses the distraction to charge straight for him. His sword meets the general's and he doesn't spare a thought as he hears the others speed away.

"Prince Noctis," Glauca spits, "thought you'd be off on your honeymoon by now."

Noctis ignores the jab and instead lets loose a Thundaga spell point-blank in Glauca's face. Glauca staggers back and laughs it off.

"What, with you being the son of a betrayer and all, I'd have thought you would run -" Glauca swings his sword back down, "- like all you Royal cowards do!"

"My father," Noctis sweeps his sword at Glauca, "was no betrayer."

"Really?" Glauca asks and steps back, "Then why did he choose to save his son over the entire city of Insomnia? Seems like the actions of a coward and a traitor."

Noctis chooses to remain silent again, instead phasing around Glauca and delivering a blindside attack. Glauca rolls forward, brushing his attack off like it was a breeze. He faces Noct and holds his sword high, preparing to strike him down.

Noctis phases to the side and ignites Glauca in the Holy flame of the Ring.

Glauca screams as it eats through his armor and bites at his flesh. He desperately tears at the regenerative armor, hoping to separate himself from the white flames.

It's when the general is clawing at his helmet when Noct sees it - the man who had ruined so many lives.

"Drautos?" Noct gasps.

Titus pulls his helmet free and falls back a few steps, the flames dying slowly.

"Sorry, Prince." He meets Noctis eye to eye, "I have people to avenge too."

Noctis wants to rage at the sight before him. The captain of the Kingsglaive - those closest to his father - was the very one to betray him.

Did his father know it was someone so trusted that killed him in the end?

"You bastard," Noct hisses, "My father's the betrayer? What hypocrisy!"

Noct heart rate skyrockets and he forces himself to take a steadying breath.

"You - " He wants to continue, to curse this man until his dying breath - and the thought of that nearly sends him staggering.

He hadn't felt rage like this since Luna had died at Ardyn's hands.

Noctis breathes in again slowly, letting the anger wash over him until his emotions are calm and collected once more. He had learned enough by now to not be controlled by hate.

He fixes his gaze back on Titus, the other having collapsed to the ground and looking up at him - emotions equally as collected.

Noctis opens his mouth to say something when a sudden roar draws his attention.

The clawed arm of the massive daemon Bahamut had injured reaches skyward, taller than the surrounding buildings. Daemons flock and swarm again in the sky - having gained a sudden second wind.

"This is the end." Titus says, leaning against some stone and knowing the truth to his own statement. Noctis looks down.

"...yeah." The Ring glistens in the light of the fiery sky.

"This is." Noctis raises his hand heavenwards, and the ring on his finger heeds his demand.

It's as if molten lava is released into him through the ring, and he can even see how it blazes through his veins and turns his skin to ash. He grits his teeth against the pain and feels his feet leave the ground slightly at the power he is conjuring.

Air whistles past him and debris lifts up and to a point far in the sky above him. Magic crackles along some unseen void, and the point Noctis is focusing on starts to twist and fold in on itself over and over again.

Noctis screams as reality itself rips and latches onto all his enemies. He can't hear himself through the sudden implosion as his enemies - Titus, the massive daemon, and swarms alike - are violently pulled into the black hole above Insomnia.

Alterna rips the energy from him the very same way it had ripped his enemies from existence.

His knees meet concrete, and Noctis thinks he may have gone deaf for a moment as all sound disappears from the immediate world. Ash falls like snow around him, and it blends in with his skin.

The bright glow of his veins fade, but the pain doesn't. His vision swims into gray and he can feel his cheek meet the dusty concrete. His eyes force themselves shut.

Noctis thinks it would be fine if he didn't wake up again.

Chapter Text

A buzzing sensation stirs Noct awake, the source of the vibration coming from his pocket. He keeps his eyes clenched shut and stays down, everything feeling hazy and distant.

Noctis attempts to take a deep breath, and when he does he coughs as ash and dust invade his lungs. His eyes feel as if they're sealed shut, and when he finally opens them he regrets it as ash blinds him.

Noctis furiously rubs them clean, careful not to get more of the ash that caked him into his eyes again. From his pocket, his phone vibrates again. Noct ignores it and instead chooses to take a look at his surroundings.

Mid-morning daylight now blankets the ruined city, and even with the threat of daemons gone Noctis doesn't drop his guard.

The Imperial soldiers were swarming the city like flies on a carcass.

The rubble around him indicates that they had continued their attack long through the night, he had been lucky to not have been killed during his sleep. Noctis frowns at the deteriorating state of Insomnia around him - but it could have been worse.

Noctis struggles to push himself up, coughing again as he inhales ash. A shaded alley lies directly across from him, and Noctis makes his way towards it.

Alterna had taken its toll on him, but despite that he was glad to have used it. That spell alone had essentially crippled the Imperial attack - even if the outcome was the same. Noctis slides down against one of the alley walls to catch his breath, in the distance he can hear an airship as it flies above the ruins.

He was fortunate to have gotten the ring when he did.

Although he knew the ring would accept Luna, Nyx would have been a different answer. Noct wonders if that is the reason he never saw Nyx after Insomnia fell, Nyx had likely managed to get the ring from Luna and use it himself.

And it had likely cost him his life.

Noctis had prevented that this time, and despite Nyx having been critically wounded last Noct saw, he hopes that the other survived.

He makes his way towards the city's entrance, avoiding the occasional airship he can hear pass by. Fortunately, he hadn't seen any foot soldiers yet. Noctis scowls at the thought that they were probably looting the Citadel.

That luck ends as he nears the city's entrance - the checkpoint at the bridge.

Soldiers line the entrance to the bridge, and Noctis knows there will be more at the checkpoint after. He sneaks into a building nearest the soldiers and ducks low. There's a shattered window facing the checkpoint, and as Noctis makes his way towards it he can hear rain make its appearance through the tinkles on the roof.

Noctis takes a moment to just catch his breath.

Using the Ring again so soon after casting Alterna was out of the question. He was still recovering from the stasis it had put him in, but he could still hold his own in a fight with these guys.

Whether he still had enough energy for the soldiers he knew would be at the checkpoint after the bridge was another question entirely.

Noctis pulls out a magic flask and feeds it his elemency, conjuring a fierce Blizzaga spell. He holds it close to his chest and peeks over the window.

None of the soldiers were watching, so he takes his chance and throws the spell at them. The impact kills most of them immediately, and the few that survived are quickly dispatched by a few quick strikes from Noct's sword. The spell freezes the rain around it, and Noct fights to keep the chill from him as he pulls his sword free from the joint of the last soldier's armor.

Noctis breaks into a sprint for the Regalia, not trusting his actions to have gone unseen.

The Regalia is in the same place he had left it, but the driver's side window had been busted out. Noct sighs in defeat, but can't bring himself to be mad at the person who had likely tried to steal the Regalia to escape.

He wipes the chair clean of glass and rain and starts the car, pulling back onto the road and driving across the bridge.

Rain beats at him through the broken window, and he wipes at his eyes as he drives across the bridge. Somewhere along the way, his phone had stopped vibrating.

He had been asleep for far too long; the others would have certainly woken up by now. Noctis cringes at the thought that they had woken up to the news of Insomnia falling.

He had been reported dead, along with Luna and his father. Noctis can only imagine what they must be feeling right now. The Regalia hums as he speeds up.

The note he left them probably did little to ease their worries, and Noctis doubts that they would still be waiting for him at Galdin Quay. If they had seen the headlines - and trusted them - then they would likely be on their way back to Insomnia.

The next checkpoint comes into view, and instead of the mechas and soldiers he knew should be there all he sees is their remains.

He drives closer, slowing down to avoid any jagged metal or debris. The rain makes the road look slick, and he can see oily patches across the asphalt.

There had been a major battle here.

Noctis furrows his brow and slows further as he passes by the toll booth.

He is suddenly jolted as Gladio jumps in front of him and slams his hands on the hood.

Gladio looks furious.

Nostrils flared and face flushed with anger, Gladio steps around to the driver's side as Noctis gets out. Fists clenched, Gladio looks like the definition of rage - and although Noctis knew Gladio wouldn't punch him for this, he still never wanted to be at the receiving end of one again. Noctis takes a step back.

Before Gladio can take two steps forward, Prompto jumps the hood of the Regalia and grabs onto Noct with Ignis shortly behind.

"Noct!" Prompto is grabbing at his jacket - checking for wounds - and Ignis has grabbed his face to do the same. Their actions are almost frenzied, and Noctis feels guilt at having made them worry.

Cor stands off to the side, and Noct realizes that he had probably thought he had lost the last two Lucii in one night.

They had all probably thought the line of Lucis ended overnight.

"What the hell is wrong with you?! Would it hurt to check your godsdamn phone once in a while?!" Gladio steamed.

Before Noctis can reply, Prompto grabs onto his shoulders, looking utterly defeated.

"Noct -" his voice breaks, "we thought you were -"

Prompto cuts himself off, falling back to lean against the car. He rubs at his eyes with his hand, effectively hiding his face. Ignis continues in his place, eyes pleading.

"We thought you were dead, Noct." And his voice actually sounds like that of a person his age - not of the strong, clinical person he tries to be.

They all sound so tired, sadness and anger pulling at their worn expressions.

"Are you okay?" Gladio asks as he looks down his nose at Noct.

"I'm fine." Noct replies. Ignis steps back, hunching over and putting his hands on his knees.

Rain becomes the only sound between them, and Noctis looks over to Cor. He is still standing a ways off, arms crossed and expression grim.

Noctis has disappointed a lot of people in the last few hours.

"We should be moving." Cor says, "There could be reinforcements here any second."

Ignis straightens himself up as Cor approaches. "Where do you have in mind, Marshal?"

Cor takes the driver's seat, "Hammerhead. From there I can fill you in on what our options are."

Noctis is ushered into the middle seat in the back, squished between both Gladio and Ignis. He gets in with little complaint, they are all soaked to the bone and too tired to put up much of a verbal fight.

Ignis visibly flinches as he catches sight of the Ring of the Lucii. Cor catches sight of it and pauses.

"Then the King really is...?" He looks at Noct through the rear-view mirror. Noctis pulls the hand with the ring higher, allowing them all to see it.

"...yeah." He confirms solemnly.

Cor looks down, focusing onto the crest embroidered onto the steering wheel.

"My condolences." He starts the car without another word and they take off.

They drive in silence for a while, more upset than curious as to what happened. Noctis is relieved at the silence, but soon enough it gets broken.

"What happened?" Prompto asks without looking up. Noct inhales slowly, planning out his answer.

"...Insomnia fell to Niflheim soldiers, they used daemons to destroy the city."

"Daemons?" Gladio asks. He is still fuming from what Noct can tell, but keeps the anger out of his voice.

Noctis nods. "There were swarms of them, and a big one that could shoot fire like missiles."

"The article states that the fabled Draconian appeared above the Citadel." Ignis asks and Prompto hands back the article from the front seat.

A picture of Bahamut is on the first page, looking as if it had been taken on the very outskirts of the city.

"Were you the cause of that?" Ignis fixes him with a look, Noct ignores it and glances through the headlines.

"How did you know to go back?" Gladio asks instead when Noctis doesn't answer. Noctis looks up at him, feeling the gaze of everyone in the car drift to him.

"...Bahamut called to me. I knew something was wrong." The ease at which the lie slips off his tongue surprises Noct, but he feels no guilt for it.

"Then why didn't you wake us up?" Gladio's anger surfaced again, and Noct turns his gaze to the road ahead.

"Sorry." Noct doesn't know what to say.

Gladio huffs in disbelief. He turns away from Noct to look at the scenery passing by.

The group falls back into an awkward silence, but he is saved from most of it as Hammerhead approaches. Cor pulls under the gas station's canopy, saving the driver's seat from any more rain.

Cindy approaches them as they get out.

"Glad y'all made it." She says, expression as gloomy as the weather.

"Thanks. Is Cid around?" Cor asks. She nods and looks to the garage.

"He's not in the best mood right now though. You should probably go talk to him."

Cor agrees and turns to look at Noctis and the others.

"Your duty is to your people. A King of Lucis must protect them. We are to visit the tombs of your ancestor's so that you may claim their power. The Royal Arms that the former kings bear contain power that can be passed on. With their help, you can fulfill your calling."

Although he couldn't summon them physically, they still appeared to him through use of the Armiger. Noct wonders if he really needs to spend all that time collecting them again. He agrees with Cor nonetheless.

"Right. Please lead me to the first one."

Cors passes what could be a smile at him - Noctis doesn't think he has ever seen the man's lips form anything more than straight line.

"Very well. Let me speak to Cid first - and we should probably get that window fixed while we are here."

Cindy hops onto that, "Don't you worry. I'll take care of her. For now, why don't you just sit back and relax? I'm sure Takka'll fix you up something nice."

"Our thanks." Ignis replies, and the groups separate.

Before Noctis can even move a few feet, Gladio grabs onto his arm.

"Don't ever go off alone again. Got it?" Gladio's voice is low as his eyes meet Noct's.

"Alright." Noct says. Gladio's nose crinkles slightly.

"Promise me. Got it?"

"Got it." Noct swallows down his shame and fear.

This was a promise he was destined to break. No apology would ever make up for what he would eventually be forced to do.

Noctis wants to tell him 'sorry', but it would do no good. Gladio, along with Ignis and Prompto, would only be brought grief during their time with him.

Unless he could change things.

Noct shifts from foot to foot under Gladio's scrutiny, and eventually Prompto calls out to them, telling them to catch up. Gladio relaxes his stance, and Noct takes that cue as he has gone back to normal.

They turn to follow the other two and Gladio side-eyes him as they walk.

"You sure you okay?"

"I'm fine, Gladio." Noctis feel like he means it more this time, and forces a smooth smile cross his features.

"Hmph," Gladio scoffs and reaches up to tousle Noct's hair. Clumpy, wet ash falls everywhere. "Could'a fooled me, you look like shit."

Chapter Text

Takka's restaurant is a relief from the rain, and Noctis feels mildly guilty as they trek water and mud through it. Takka, in all his patience, says nothing and comes over to take their order as they sit at a booth.

Ignis answers for all of them when he says they have no appetite, Takka understands and turns away.

"If you all need anything, just give me a holler."

Nodding his thanks, Ignis turns back to them and addresses Noct.

"What was the status of the city when you left?" He asks gently.

Noctis looks at him, and then over to Prompto and Gladio.

"It was damaged - but many of the buildings were still standing. I think, with a little effort, it'll be salvageable after we get it back."

"Get it back?" Prompto asks quietly, likely reassured that they were indeed going to take back Insomnia.

Not that Noct would be there to see them rebuild Insomnia. He bites his lip and fiddles with a straw wrapper that had been left on the table.

"I'm not sure about the state of the Citadel, but it looked like all the residential areas and most of the commercial areas were left alone. Whatever was damaged can certainly be rebuilt." He confirms.

The tension seems to drain from them, and if Noct's glad for anything then he is glad he can at least ease one of their worries.

They still had a long road ahead of them. The others likely knew this too.

But at least they had a home to go back to once everything was over.

"Noctis..." Ignis trails off. Noctis doesn't want to talk about what Ignis is about to bring up, and he knows Ignis doesn't want to either.

"We are sworn to stand by your side. Please, remember that we support you. You don't have to go off alone." Ignis looks him in the eye - and there is no anger there, not like with Gladio. It's here, that Noctis feels like the guilt is going to eat him alive.

Eyes burning, Noct wipes at his nose and turns away. No tears fall.

"I messed up - I'm sorry."

Prompto leans forward, hand raising as he tries to think of a way to comfort Noct. He pulls back as his own eyes start to burn.

"Alright - hey, buddy it's alright, just please... don't ever do anything like that again."

Noctis remains quiet, so Ignis speaks back up.

"Noctis, if you would like... we could wait until morning to continue with Cor?"

"I'm fine to continue." Noctis replies truthfully. Ignis looks at him, eyes seeming to take in every detail.

"Your Highness..." Ignis pauses to glance at both Prompto and Gladio, before warily turning back to Noct, "You haven't exactly had time to mourn, it will be perfectly fine to take a short break. If that is what you desire, that is."

Surprise covers Noct features, he hadn't considered the idea too much.

He had always been so rushed whenever Insomnia fell that he had never really had time to mourn. It was always later, in small pockets of isolation that he would allow himself to grieve. He would never allow the others to see him during that time - waiting for them to leave on errands or fall asleep.

He could count all the times on one hand.

That alone was plenty enough, he had felt like he had done enough mourning. However, the others hadn't.

Ignis, Prompto, and Gladio had each lost at least one person who was important to them.

But, like him, they wouldn't allow their grief to be seen. It slips Noct's mind that maybe, that was the reason tension had become so high between their group last time.

Instead of giving them a chance to dwell in their sadness, he decides to push forward - give them a focus and a drive.

It had worked well enough last time.

"I think we'll take a short break here, but I'd like to leave before nightfall."

Ignis gives him one last look before leaning back and signaling Takka over.

"Very well then. It should be a while still before Cindy repairs the window. We should eat while we can."

...

Cor is sitting with Cid when they leave the restaurant a while later. The garage is quiet, the two older men keeping their voices low.

Noctis clears his throat and taps against the entrance to the garage so they notice the group's presence. Cor stands and makes his way over to them.

"Cindy should be finished with the repairs in about an hour or so. Once we leave, we will be heading to the Prairie Outpost and spending the night there."

Cor then leaves them alone with Cid, who has turned to look at the framed picture of their previous generation's journey.

"You know, that kid used to be a real fire cracker. Didn't understand at first why Reggie wanted to bring a boy on our trip. It was only until way later that I saw what your father saw in him." Cid rubs a thumb across the cracked paint on the picture frame, tilting it gently.

"Your father was always good at that. Seeing what's beneath - the true nature of things." Cid sets the picture down.

"He knew the peace treaty would fail." Noctis states.

Cid hums in agreement and looks up at them.

"Your old man called me. We shot the breeze for awhile, put some things behind us. Told me to not be too harsh on his 'wayward son'." Cid stands up, stretching his back as it cracked loudly.

"But ya'know... he must've seen something real special in you if he sent you away before all hell went down in the city." The words are scathing and harsh, but Cid's bite is not directed at Noct.

Cid trusted in Regis. By the same extent, it meant he trusted in Noctis.

"You seem like a smart kid. Little spoiled maybe, but that's probably more your fault," He probes Ignis in the chest, "but I think you know what's right. If you need anything, you know where to find me."

Noctis nods, "Thanks."

...

It's late by the time the Regalia rumbles to a stop just outside of the Prairie Outpost. The streetlamps turn on just as the group exit the vehicle and stretch the exhaustion from their bodies.

"Tomorrow morning we will be meeting with Monica Elshett. For now, feel free to rent the caravan." Cor says as he checks his phone.

"What about you?" Prompto asks.

"I will be meeting with some hunters here. For now, I wish you all goodnight." Cor parts with them, and they wish him goodnight as he leaves.

They cross the dirt road to the caravan, and they all non-verbally agree that Noctis got first shower. He undresses, tucking the Ring of the Lucii into his pants pocket for safe keeping. The hot water runs out far too quickly, and the tile is sticky to his feet.

Noctis couldn't care.

He steps out in clean shirt and boxers, unsurprised to find that he is the last to claim a bed. Noct fumbles around in the dark, nudging whoever could claim the shower next.

He plops onto the fold out bed just as Gladio steps into the shower. Exhaustion from the day pulls at his muscles, and his mental fatigue begs him to fall asleep.

Noctis is still shifting around, sleep eluding him, long after everyone takes their own turn in the shower. From the sound of their shifting and irregular breathing, the others were not faring any better.

"We'll get it back." Prompto says, voice lacking any confidence.

"Of course." Gladio immediately replies. Noctis can hear the bed creak as Ignis shifts to add his piece.

"Starting tomorrow."

"Cor will be with us too. It's not like we'll be alone." Prompto says, and this time the hope is audible.

"Not just Cor. Insomnia was the home to many people, they will want to get it back too." Noctis decides to join in.

"No one will be alone in this." Ignis murmurs, and Noctis knows it is directed at him as much as it is a reassuring statement to Ignis himself.

He turns on his back, looking through the darkness up at the ceiling.

"We'll get our home back. Starting tomorrow." Noctis states.

Sleep still struggles to find them, but the reassurances they gave each other work to ease their tension. They mutter their goodnights and the conversation ends. Slowly, he hears the breaths of the others even out one by one until he is the only one left awake.

"Thanks." He whispers out to their sleeping forms. He turns over, and sleep eventually pulls him under.

It's a restless sleep, and he dreams of various things - important and insignificant alike, all twisting together into something he won't remember when he wakes.

Hours later, he is woken by the sound of something clinking against the ground and rolling away - shortly followed by Ignis cursing under his breath.

Noctis rolls over to face him, displeased at the hour and that not even Prompto or Gladio were up yet.

Ignis is holding his dirty pants, pockets inside out and looking as if the world had ended all over again. Noctis sits up and Ignis whips his head in his direction, shame coloring his cheeks.

"Your Highness... I, uhmm," Ignis trails off, "I may have lost your ring under the sink."

Noctis throws the covers off and crouches down next to the sink. There, behind the cover of a vent, the world's most precious heirloom gathers dust.

He summons his biggest hook, one meant for groupers and maybe sharks, and works on angling the ring closer.

Noctis turns his back to Ignis to try and get a better angle, "You didn't touch it, did you?" he asks seriously.

"No, I was simply preparing to clean your laundry when I dislodged the ring from your pocket."

A chill runs down his back at the thought of Ignis accidentally putting on the ring, "I'll try and keep it in a safer spot next time."

Noctis lowers his head to where it is almost touching the ground, and he hears Ignis shift uncomfortably behind him.

"No, it was completely my fault."

Noctis ignores Ignis's attempts at self-blame and sticks a finger into the vent. It's too big to fit all the way through, but he can feel the ring brushing at his fingertip if he stretches just right.

He nudges it close enough to grip, "I've almost got it."

Ass in the air, it wasn't how he expected to greet Cor first thing in the morning when the other walks in.

Noctis shoots upright, snagging the ring and standing beside Ignis with his hands behind his back.

"C-Cor! Good morning!" Noctis greets, Cor looking thoroughly unimpressed.

"Morning. Lose something?" Cor asks and Ignis pales beside him.

"Eh, just dropped a fishing lure under the vent. Got it back though." Noctis sends the ring to the armiger and summons a lure to show him.

When Cor's expression remains unchanged, Noctis returns the lure with a nervous laugh.

"I came to tell you that we will be heading to the tomb soon. Meet me at the hunter's outpost after breakfast." He turns around and pauses, "You may want to get dressed first, Your Highness." With that, Cor leaves.

Face red, Noctis slumps. Ignis, face equally red, apologizes.

"Please, forgive me."

Noctis purses his lips, "It's no big deal."

They sit in awkward silence for a moment, watching the caravan door.

Ignis snorts.

Noctis watches with mirth as Ignis tries to hide his laughter. There are tears lining his eyes, and Noctis knows Ignis is still sad.

But he is glad that he can make Ignis laugh, even if it is at his expense.

Noctis sighs and rubs a hand through his hair, "Guess I'll go put some pants on. You can make this up to me by making breakfast."

"I was planning on making breakfast anyway." Ignis replies.

"Well, you better hop to it." Noct says with a grin, "I'll go wake the others."

He kicks the base of the Gladio's bed and knocks at Prompto's foot, stirring both of them awake.

"Noctis, waking me up? Must be some alternate universe I'm in." Gladio says with a stretch.

"Ha, get up. We're meeting Cor after breakfast." Noctis would die before he would let Gladio find out why he was up so early.

The group gets dressed and eat breakfast, Noctis ever grateful of Ignis's silence about what happened that morning.

"Alright, you guys ready to head off?" He asks as they finish their plates.

They chime in in agreement.

Noctis smiles, "Let's get started then."

Chapter Text

The Sword of the Wise emits a light so bright that the others shield their eyes as it joins with Noct.

Cor and Monica had met with them that morning, where they had learned that Iris had been escorted out of the damaged city. The edge in Gladio's voice and the tension in his body had considerably melted away upon hearing that his sister had survived. Noctis and Gladio had both expressed their thanks, before the group left Monica for the first Royal Tomb.

Noctis reflexively staggers back a step, trauma from dying to the Royal Arms and the instinct to dodge a flying sword fueling the action. He ignores the eyes on him and focuses on the Sword of the Wise.

Compared to the other Royal Arms that had traveled over with him, this one feels almost sturdier. He can feel it, the edges of the blade and the light it radiates, just at the edge of his grasp and ready to be wielded at a moment's notice. It is decidedly there, something he cannot feel with the Royal Arms he has not collected in this timeline.

However, the tangibility it brings does not immediately convince Noct that he should continue searching for the rest of the Royal Arms. Aside from the light magic, the Ultima was physically stronger and he could still summon all the Royal Arms while using the Armiger.

A chill runs through his body and a sinking sensation of dread has him feeling that he would regret it later if he didn't gather them.

It would look suspicious anyway if he summoned all thirteen weapons for the Armiger and had only gathered the one.

"The power of kings goes with you, Your Majesty." Cor interrupts his internal debate.

Noctis nods and lets his hand fall away from his chest.

"Another tomb lies close by. I suggest you head there next." Cor comes around the elaborate coffin and leads them out of the tomb.

Noctis quietly listens as Cor gives him an explanation he already knew. They pause shortly as a few sabertusks ambush them, but the group makes short work of them.

The last beast falls with a haunting yowl, and Prompto lets his gun vanish with a huff.

"Prompto, you all right?" Cor asks.

The question throws him off guard, and the blond finds himself stumbling over his words.

"Yeah. Um, yes, sir. I'm fine, sir." He replies, clearly awestruck. Cor's lip quirks upward, but they end the conversation there.

As they make their way closer to the next tomb, they catch sight of Imperial airships.

Frustration lines Cor's voice as he briefly explains the history of the battlefield the airships land in, and the group slow to a crawl as they sneak up on the troops already there.

Noctis warps into the center of the group, Cor and the others following close behind to drive a wedge into the enemy's troops. With Noct's experience and Cor's assistance they make short work of the foot soldiers.

The mecha's they come across a distance later are another story.

They spring out from behind the ruins that litter the old battlefield, nearly catching them all off-guard. Noctis warps immediately, driving his blade deep into the joint of the leg where there is no hard plating to deflect his strike.

The other mecha takes aim at him, and Noctis throws his sword at the top of one of the ruins, warping after it and dangling out of reach.

Cor delivers it a devastating blow while it focuses on finding Noct, and Gladio takes the opportunity to continue the onslaught.

Noctis warps back down to help Ignis and Prompto take down the first mecha. He grunts in frustration as each of them get a little too close to him with their respective weapons.

He had forgotten that they, as a team, hadn't immediately fallen into step with each other at the beginning. Even when they had gotten used to the flow of battle, Noctis would occasionally hear an apology tossed out or someone chastising another for coming to close with the business end of their weapon.

Heaven forbid if he ever changed weapons within a mile radius of them.

But, it had surprised him in the end. Ten years apart and he heard not one complaint, not one apology, from his teammates. Either they no longer bothered asking forgiveness for their wild swings or they had become so in sync with each other that there were no misplaced attacks.

Noctis rues to think it the latter.

They'd had ten years, after all, to grow together as a team without him.

If he could change anything by coming back in time, then he would deny them that chance. Noctis couldn't stand the thought of letting ten years of darkness destroy all the good in the world, leaving it only a husk of what it used to be. Even if it meant never letting his friends' teamwork mature.

A magitek soldier attempts to decapitate Prompto, and Gladio steps in to cut it down first. Prompto returns the favor by providing him cover fire as he returns to finish off one of the two mechas with Cor.

The remaining mecha strikes down at them, Ignis and Prompto barely roll out of the way while Noct warps on top of the machine. He drives his sword directly down and into the cockpit. The mecha staggers and falls, the Imperial's self-destruct activating and destroying the mecha in a fiery explosion.

Noctis ignores the post-battle banter between them, instead looking towards where the entrance of Keycatrich Trench would be. Prompto is gushing under Cor's praise when he turns back to them.

"The next tomb is that way, right?" He gestures to the entrance to the tunnels where the tomb lies. Cor nods and leads them that way.

He stops them at the entrance and searches his pocket, pulling out a key and handing it to Noct.

"Here's where we go our separate ways. That key unlocks the doors to the other tombs." Cor fixes him a steely look, "You'll need the power they hold."

Noctis nods, "Right, what will you do?"

"Keep an eye on the Niffs. Find out what they're up to." He turns to leave, before fixing Noctis one last look, "But you should focus on your own task."

Noctis huffs his agreement and prepares to part ways when Cor addresses him once more.

"By the way... What happened to the Engine Blade?"

Noct's mouth goes dry. Cor wouldn't just sit down and take his lies like the others likely would. He had been careful on how often he would summon the Ultima, but Cor had apparently still caught a glimpse of it.

"I had been wondering that myself, actually." Ignis adds, hand on his chin.

If Ignis knew he was putting Noct in such a spot, then he wasn't letting on about it. Noctis wishes he could revoke his actions of bailing Ignis out of trouble with the lost ring this morning.

"Is something wrong with the Engine Blade?" Gladio openly asks while Noct chooses his words.

"No..." Noct says, refusing to summon it so they could get a better look, "But it's different."

Noct forces himself to remain neutral and not squirm under the Marshal's gaze.

"I'm not exactly sure how it changed." - partially true - "But it was like that when I returned to Insomnia."

It was the Ultima when he returned to Insomnia, Noctis just omitted the fact it had been like that for far longer than just the past few days.

Cor frowns, but other than that says nothing.

"Very well, take care then." With that Cor leaves.

"You too." Noct replies to his leaving back.

Noctis turns towards the tunnels, leading the way down them and keeping an eye on the cable that would eventually lead them to a generator. Even with the flashlights, the group can barely see in front of them.

"You didn't take the blade to the mechanic's before we left, did you?" Ignis probes, continuing their earlier conversation. Ignis would already know he hadn't, so Noct wonders why he even asked the question in the first place.

"No, I don't know what caused the change." Noctis gestures airily, "Maybe it was meeting Bahamut or something."

Ignis 'hmms' and drops the topic, choosing instead to point out the fork in the tunnel.

"We may want to follow this cable - see where it leads."

"That's what I was gonna say!" Prompto adds cheerily, trying to ignore the creepiness of being so deep underground.

The generator shortly comes into view, and when they manage to get it functioning it lights up the tunnels.

"Oh sweet! It works!" Prompto voices what had been on all their minds.

"Then there was light." Ignis adds with a subtle lilt.

After that, the group falls quiet as the make their way deeper into Keycatrich. Eyes and ears on guard, they shuffle down the tight pathway.

Gladio kicking the can startles Noct as much as it had the first time, and sends Prompto scrambling forward with a shriek.

Gladio apologizes with a sheepish "My bad", and Prompto chastises him for nearly giving him a heart attack. Noctis avoids joining in on the conversation and leads them further, where they notice some doors and the failing support beams.

The rocks even shift above the beams as they watch, aggravating Prompto even more.

"If it's all the same to you guys... I'd rather not get buried alive." Prompto says, anxiety clear in his voice. Noctis didn't have the heart to tell him that the dungeons they would enter later on would be way worse.

He does admit to himself, however, that this place was eerie, even after all he had been through. When the generator had suddenly failed, leaving them all in total darkness, a chill ran down his back. When they had made it into one of the rooms and heard someone in there with them, turning a faucet on and off, he was ready to leave and never come back.

Just because he had done all this before, didn't mean he would enjoy doing it again.

"Yeah, let's not check that out." Noctis says of the mysterious noise. He leads them further in, avoiding places he knew were dead ends.

They quickly come across a larger room, boxes and barrels scattered throughout. His muscles bunch up as he raises his guard, remembering they had encountered an arachne here.

Noctis summons his Royal Arm just as the daemon descends upon them with a bang.

It had purposely landed in the center of them, dividing their group. Not that it mattered much as Noct had already delivered a devastating counterattack, relying on the light his sword possessed to eat away at the daemon's darkness, and Gladio was already bringing his massive sword down in an attempt to cripple the arachne.

Igins and Prompto are quick to catch their bearings, joining in with attacks of their own. The spider-like daemon swiftly jumps out of range, and when she lands she expulses beams of lightning.

Noctis phases just in time, but the quick attack manages to hook his friends. He checks behind him to make sure they are okay, and returns to battle when he sees them getting back up or shaking off the blow in Gladio's case.

Roughed up - but okay - they rejoin the fight.

The group continues to trade blows for a while, and Noctis can tell he is pulling them through battle. Despite their calm demeanor, their witty quips, his three friends are struggling.

He tries not to forget that this is the first major daemon any of them have faced.

In fact, none of them had probably even seen a daemon until around an hour ago, when they came across the random goblin or two.

Aside from the Marilith, Noctis no longer remembers what his first encounter with a daemon had felt like. He no longer remembered the fear the others were likely feeling right now.

Noctis frowns, it was something they would eventually get over. He couldn't carry them through all their battles.

Fear was always present in any encounter with a daemon, no matter how big or small, and it had taken on a new form after he had learned where daemons really came from. Noctis knows the only reason they are capable of fighting right now, is because they are fighting together.

Ignis manages to dislocate one of the arachne's legs with his lance, sending her sprawling, and Noctis takes the opportunity to plunge his sword straight through her chest.

It ends the daemon's life quickly, the essence of her body dissipating into black smoke.

They each let their weapons return with varying degrees of weariness. Noctis waits as Ignis and Prompto catch their breath, and Gladio dusts himself off.

"It's over..." Prompto gasps out.

"No use hanging around here." Gladio adds and Noctis agrees, taking them out of the room through a collapsed wall.

He recalls the tomb lies shortly down this tunnel, and it greets them as they take a corner.

Prompto and Gladio gasp out at the sight of it, nearly causing Noct to jump as he takes out the key. It slides into the rusty lock with some gentle force, and unlocks the Tomb of the Conqueror.

Noctis thrusts his hand over the Axe, wincing at the brilliant light it releases in response. It rises into the air before him before soaring back down to join the Sword of the Wise.

Both appear once more as they circle around him, and if he squints just right, he thinks he can maybe see hazes of the other Royal Arms in between. None of the others mention anything about it however, likely unable to see the uncollected weapons even if they knew to look.

Prompto asks him something while he wasn't listening, but Ignis answered for him instead. He ignores Gladio's remark about being a copycat king, instead listening to Prompto when he speaks again.

"Well, what's it like?" He asks out of genuine curiosity. Noctis tries to reply the same way he had the first time Prompto had asked this question, but his voice falls flat.

"Like I've got some tricks up my sleeve." He sends Prompto a light smile regardless.

It was about time they leave Keycatrich.

Chapter Text

"Finally picked up. Thought I'd lost another king."

Having just left the tunnels of Keycatrich, Noct answers the phone to find Cor on the other end.

A base is being built by the Imperial's nearby, as Cor explains. He suggests Noct visit with Monica to find out more details. Noct agrees and hangs up.

"What's up?" Prompto asks of the call.

Noct pockets his phone, "People to see and bases to burn. We need to meet with Monica at the outpost."

...

"Once we're in, we launch our ambush, pushing out while our support pushes in, crushing the enemy from both sides." Noctis nods at Cor's plan.

He and Cor would be enough to take care of the enemies on this side of the blockade. Ignis, Gladio, and Prompto would take care of the enemies on the other side with the help of Monica. Noctis takes one last glance behind him at the narrow passageway he just came through, barely able to make out the backs of his friends as they go their own way.

Brick ruins and rusty metal bars meet them as they head deeper into what the Nif's were trying to make as a base. Overgrown, falling apart, and ceilings blown to smithereens, the ruined buildings make for plenty of blind spots for an ambush. Cor and Noctis keep quiet as they approach a door.

It creaks open as Noct makes his way passed it, and a few steps later they find themselves in an open room with guns aimed at them.

Noct wastes no time in warping into the sniper who had thought they would be safe on the second floor. It is a quick kill, and Cor swiftly joins him as they kill the other Imperial riflemen on that floor.

They quickly head down a set of stairs and are met with a Magitek soldier. Noctis takes the initiative by warping again, but the MT doesn't go down. A pair of soldiers come up behind Noct, but before he can react Cor cuts them down.

Cor and Noctis finish off the MT, turning to face another pair of soldiers.

They swing their blades forward, clearing out the room as well as every other they come across in these brick and mortar ruins.

Aside from the quick comment or tip, Cor had remained quiet. It wasn't uncommon for him, but the way he observed Noctis was.

Noctis could feel his eyes on him, watching him in a way Noctis had not felt before.

Noctis opens the last door leading to the exit and holds it for Cor. The pair walk down the hall, concrete beams and the ivy that grows on them casting the two in shade.

"If you don't want to tell me what happened to the Engine Blade, then that is fine." Cor says, leaving Noct to watch his straight back as he walks ahead. "It is your choice. But I am not here to hold you back or anything. My duty is to make sure there is nothing to harm you."

Noctis tries to grasp onto any excuse, but words fail him as he realizes there were none that Cor would accept.

He glances back to Noct, to make sure he is still following and continues, "Your friends too. They want to support you, how are they supposed to do that when you don't trust in them?"

"I do!" Noctis gasps, "... I do trust in them."

"Not like you had before." Cor says grimly, stopping and turning to face Noct. "Whatever has caused a rift between you and your friends happened sometime between the time I picked you up at the Citadel and when I saw you pull through Insomnia's ruined checkpoint. But it is not something I will pry into even if I had the right."

Cor turns back around and Noctis hurries his step to catch back up.

"I do believe in them. There is nothing wrong."

Cor stops just before the building drops off into the road. The look in his eye indicates he doesn't believe a word Noct just said.

"Then you better put your mask back on, Prince. We are about to meet up with them." With that, he jumps into the road and heads towards the blockade.

Noct winces, clearly Cor was angry. Noctis had given no indication that something was seriously wrong, other than the Ultima Blade he had been careful in how he had acted. He guesses by simply hiding the truth about the blade was enough to set off Cor's suspicion.

But to say he didn't trust in his friends was wrong. Noctis hesitates at the edge of the drop-off, fists tightening painfully.

Cor thinking that he didn't rely on his friends because of a lack of trust irritated Noctis, but he could see the other's point. If Noctis withheld information that could be beneficial, then it would only hinder them or even put them in danger.

Beneficial or not, the information Noct held would in no ways help them as a team, even if he had the courage to tell them.

There were multiple reasons he couldn't confide in his friends, but a lack of trust wasn't one of them.

But Cor didn't know that, so Noctis cools his features and looks down. Letting out a shaky breath, he jumps to the ground below just as the blockade's gate opens.

His friends hurry their way in, happy to see both Noctis and Cor. Noctis plasters on a smile as they approach.

"Alright on your end?" He asks.

"Right as rain. The Niffs couldn't keep their eyes off us." Gladio says and pats him against his shoulder.

"Thanks to you we were spared their attention." Cor says and Gladio turns to smile at him.

Before anyone else can say anything, the loud hum of an airship interrupts them.

Noct grimaces as Loqi barks at them through a speakerphone. Cor looks equally unimpressed as the Brigadier General monologues at him.

"It's past time your legend came to an end."

Loqi descends in a MA-X Cuirass with the evening sun at his back, forcing Noctis to squint. The intimidating mecha seems to unfurl, massive guns and missiles aiming at him and his friends.

"No slacking off, Gladio." Cor comments as he brings his blade out.

"Doesn't look like I'll have the chance." The tension in Gladio's voice alerts Noct to take this fight seriously.

MTs suddenly swarm them from all sides, and Noctis works to not be overwhelmed by the blades being swung at him from almost every direction.

Gladio swoops in with a wide swing of his blade, knocking a good portion of their enemies back and allowing them room to breathe.

With their opponents disrupted, the group starts their counter attack. Noctis is parrying an axe when an array of red lines start targeting him.

He gasps and rolls out of the way just before a barrage of missiles hit the place he had just been standing. The explosion burns the air around him and sends his ears ringing.

Noctis grunts and focuses on the mecha, warping to its foot and leaving the others to deal with the MTs.

His blade entangles in its wires, causing sparks to fly out at him. The machine thrashes as Loqi attempts to dislodge Noct, and Noctis lets himself come free so he can warp-strike the missile launcher.

It clatters to the ground and Noctis takes aim at the cockpit. The metal carapace is too tough to directly stab through, so he aims at the vital wires and pipes leading to it.

Oil splashes to the ground around them and the mecha starts to stutter.

"Fall and perish!" Loqi snarls and turns the massive gun attached to the mecha's arm on him.

Noctis jumps behind him, and as the mecha turns around it releases a firework of sparks.

The spilled oil ignites, and Noctis barely has a moment to escape before it sets off the fallen missile launcher.

The explosion is far louder than the previous one, and it feels as if the very air is alight with flames. Noctis pulls his arms away from his face and sees that the explosion has downed the mecha, but not destroyed it.

"-oct!" A voice pushes through the ringing in his ears and he can see Ignis running towards him.

Loqi aims the gun at Ignis and fires.

The bullet grazes his leg and sends him rolling across the ground.

"Ignis!" Noctis cries and stands up to aid him when Prompto calls out.

Prompto is still in the thick of battle with the MTs, yanking his arm free of one's grasp and taking aim at something behind Noct.

An Imperial sniper falls to the ground, likely having taken aim at Noct. Noct turns back to get to Ignis and thank Prompto.

He is met with a spray of blood.

A magitek axemen had arced its axe through Prompto's back while his attention had been on Noct.

"No!" Before Noctis can react, Cor and Gladio are already on Prompto.

Noctis runs to grab Ignis, throwing a Fira at Loqi to keep him busy. He pulls Ignis up and crushes a potion over him, aiding him as his leg goes from motionless to a limp.

They rush towards the remaining MTs swarming their friends and Ignis pushes Noct forward to leave him and get to Prompto.

Noctis fells two MTs, and sees Cor take down the one blocking them from view.

It falls, and allows him to see the state of his friend. Noctis almost cries in relief.

Gladio has Prompto's arm around him, and although shaken and weary, Prompto is firing at the last few MTs that approach.

"Heh... elixirs, huh?" Prompto says as he catches sight of Noctis. At that Noct barks out a laugh in relief.

"Thank you, Prompto." Noct wipes at his eye and turns to face their enemies.

"Anytime, bro." Prompto sounds exhausted, fueling Noct's desire to end the battle quickly.

Cor and Ignis are taking down the last two magiteks, and Noctis joins in with Ignis to deal the final blow.

It falls with a raspy scream an instant after Cor's does. The group collectively turn to look at their last remaining enemy.

The mecha is dragging itself across the ground, legs nothing more than a mangled mess. It freezes its actions as Loqi realizes they have all fixed their gazes on him.

The barrel of its gun is suddenly aimed at them, but before Loqi can even fire a shot Cor has dismantled the weapon with his sword. Loqi cries out, knowing he has lost.

"Glory to the Empire!" He snarls and activates the self-destruct.

The explosion is blinding white, and even though Noct tries to look for an escape pod he can't see it through the bright flames.

His adrenaline dies with the fire, leaving his muscles shaking. Ignis is leaning on his polearm, and Noctis goes to stand by him and help him stay standing.

Ignis mumbles a "Thank you", uncomfortable with the idea that Noct was helping him. They shuffle their way over to Gladio and Prompto.

Guilt eats at Noct seeing Prompto so wounded. The elixir had healed him, but sweat coats his forehead and his skin had become dangerously pale.

"You alright?" Ignis is the first to ask.

"Haha, don't you worry. I'll be as good as new in no time!" He raises his hand to give them a thumbs up, and they politely don't mention how it is shaking.

"You were a true Crownsguard today, risking your life for your prince. Prince Noctis, you should be proud to have him as a friend and ally." Cor says.

Noctis chokes down his tears and replies, "I always have been."

If his voice waivers then no one mentions it.

...

The crickets chirp loudly through the night air as Noctis sits at the foot of the caravan at the Hunter's Outpost.

Ignis and Prompto had been told to go to bed, with a little coercement from Cor to Ignis.

Noctis brushes a hand through his hair and sighs deeply. Light from the caravan bathes him briefly as Cor steps out to join him.

"I thought I was going to lose him today." Noctis says, head hung low.

"But you didn't." Is all Cor says.

They drift into silence for a while, the sound of crickets and desert wind being the only noise between them.

Noctis appreciates that he can't hear any daemons yet.

A hand suddenly finds its way to Noct's shoulder, and he looks up to see Cor standing next to him.

"I understand if you don't want to confide in me. I want to help you, but I can't if you don't tell me what's wrong." Cor sighs, standing up straight as a dusty breeze plays with their clothes.

"But all I ask, is to confide in them." Cor shrugs at the caravan, "Prince Noctis, you're not alone on this journey."

Noctis watches him as he steps away from the caravan and tosses one last bit of encouragement over his shoulder.

"You got a lot of friends, and I know a few who will do absolutely anything to make you happy."

Noctis bites his lip and nods, "Right. Night, Cor."

"Night, Prince Noctis."

Noctis replays the words Cor said to him that day through his mind.

He hadn't even entertained the thought of telling his friends any of his secrets, but he was starting to reconsider after hearing out Cor.

Maybe it would be okay to tell them some things?

Fear would always keep him from sharing some things, but Ignis had once told him to share the burden. He didn't need to fear sharing some secrets.

Noctis 'hmms' and stands, resolving to give it some more consideration later.

Ignis is sitting at the table now that Cor has gone, and Gladio is blocking the kitchen.

"It's too late for dinner Ignis, get to bed." Noctis says as he walks by, going to the unlit room at the back.

He can see Prompto sitting up in the darkness, drinking a glass of water and preparing for bed. Noctis sits on the bed beside him, causing the other to look up.

The pallid nature Prompto had supported earlier was already significantly better, and just to see him sitting up by himself eased Noct's fried nerves.

"Gladio and I are going to do a few errands tomorrow, make sure Ignis keeps you well fed."

"It's Ignis we are talking about here." Prompto states like it's obvious, nose crinkling just slightly, "But I think we'll just do cheap food, he has a bum leg after all."

Ignis scoffs from the room over and the two lower their voices.

"What errands will you be doing anyway?" Prompto asks like he will be missing out.

"Ahh, just delivering some ingredients for Takka, some dog tags to Dave, and some rock to Dino."

"Dave? The guy from the shed?"

Noctis nods and looks down at his hands. Prompto sets his water down with a sigh, and Noctis can tell his exhaustion is pulling at him.

"That elixir healed me up pretty nice. Ignis says I'll be back to normal by tomorrow, but I should stay in bed just in case." The light tone of his voice is forced, but it is as cathartic for Prompto as it is Noct.

Noctis opens his mouth to say something, but no words come out.

It had been his fault for not preventing Prompto's injury. Not only in the fact that he hadn't been watching his back, but also because his friends hadn't been ready.

Seeing Prompto almost die had been eye-opening.

Although the wound he had received hadn't looked to be immediately fatal - even if they hadn't had an elixir upon him immediately - it could have been.

The axemen could have put just a little more force to his swing, could have aimed a little higher, and it would have been over for Prompto.

What was it that Cor had said earlier? About trusting his friends?

Noctis had withheld beneficial information, and now Prompto and Ignis had been put in danger.

Prompto waits patiently as Noctis struggles on what to say.

"...You could've died today." Noctis starts, "Because of me."

"No!" Prompto gasps, "No... Noct, I knew the risks. I knew I was swarmed by MTs, but I also knew there was a barrel of a gun trained on the back of your head."

Prompto looks down and fidgets with the edge of the blanket, "I knew what I had to do."

"But-" Before Noct can protest, Prompto cuts him off.

"I knew, I couldn't handle you dying."

Noctis's blood runs cold as he instantly remembers why he can't tell his friends about the timelines. All of it was a secret he could never bring himself to share.

"And if it meant dying in your-" Prompto cuts off as his voice becomes heavy with emotion. He curls inward, blankets fisted in his hands as he brings it up to his face.

Noctis pulls an arm around him, finding his face full of blond hair.

"Never again." Noctis vows, and Prompto shudders as he tries to collect himself.

Noctis waits patiently for Prompto to still, his weight slowly falling into Noct the longer time passed by.

"Prompto." Noctis calls gently.

Prompto shifts so he isn't leaning on Noct, choosing to lay back against the pillows and pull his legs up onto the bed. Sleep pulls at his eyes as he focuses on Noct.

"I want you to hold onto this." Noctis procures a phoenix down and holds it out to Prompto. Prompto looks at it warily.

"It's just in case. Will set my mind at ease." Noct holds it closer.

Prompto carefully takes it, observing it silently before setting it in his bag.

"Heh, I don't see why. I'll never need it." His wry smile is sloppy and his words are slurred with sleep.

Noctis knocks at some of the blond hair in Prompto' face, "I'll hold you to it."

Prompto huffs and pulls the covers over himself, asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow.

Chapter Text

Deadeye's breath fogs the air around them, and this close Noctis can feel the moisture on his skin.

From the other side of the tunnel, Gladio keeps his arm extended, gesturing to Noct to stay down. The tension in the other's jaw and the squint of his eyes indicate how stressed Gladio is to have the gaping maw of the behemoth between them.

Its roar is like thunder, and he resists the temptation to cover his ears and make as little motion as possible.

For the behemoth knew they were there, it just didn't know where.

Deadeye pulls its face free from the tunnel, content in thinking that whatever threat there was had been scared off.

The group take a moment to breathe, and Noctis waits for Prompto and Ignis to crawl closer.

Gladio pulls at him to get him to follow, and together they exit the tunnel. Noctis pats at his pants, disgruntled that the wet grass had soaked into the clothes at his knees.

The mist provides them cover as they track Deadeye, following him around corners and maintaining a safe distance. Soon enough, the beast leads them to its own lair.

Noctis had prepared Fire spells beforehand, handing them out to his friends. After their battle with Loqi, Noctis was planning to be better prepared.

That had been just over a week ago, and although both Ignis and Prompto had been back to normal by the second night, Noctis wasn't willing to rush into any major battles anytime soon.

So, he would have his friends target the explosive barrels he knew littered the behemoth's lair.

The mist continues to hang heavy over them as they work their way to where Deadeye rests. Ignis catches sight of the red gas tank at the entrance.

"Noct," Ignis taps against his shoulder, "we may be able to make use of that."

Noct watches Ignis scan the rest of the environment, noticing how his eyes linger on the oil drums beneath the perch Deadeye was sleeping on.

"Those as well. If we ignite them with the Fire spells you lent us, we may be able to considerably weaken the beast."

Noctis nods, "Good thinking."

Ignis calls Gladio and Prompto over, relaying to each of them their role. Once done, he turns to Noctis.

"Are you sure you will be okay?"

Noctis waves off Ignis's concern, turning to creep towards the sleeping behemoth and softly tossing over his shoulder, "Trust me."

He winds his way down to the base of Deadeye's perch, summoning his sword and looking up at the beast when he arrives. Noctis frowns and winds back his arm to hurl the Ultima into the base of Deadeye's one remaining horn. He warps into it to drive the blade deeper, a cracking noise indicating he had loosened the horn.

Deadeye howls and rears up, Noctis warping to a nearby tower just as its claws came down on the spot he had just been standing in.

Noctis drops to the ground, noticing how the red glow of the Ultima's engine was likely a beacon to others through the mist. He switches the blade for the Sword of the Wise and waits for the behemoth to come closer to him, closer to an oil drum.

Deadeye roars at him, his teeth and claws adding to his imposing figure as he paces forward.

He pauses over the oil drum, and Noctis takes the chance to ignite it.

It explodes, the fire licking up Deadeye's body causing him to shriek. He rears up, his scalding flesh igniting his fury further.

When he comes back down, claws landing in the flames, teeth bared, and eyes glowing, Noctis can imagine him as one of Ifrit's own hellhounds. The fire does nothing but fuel his rage.

Noctis freezes for a second, only warping to where his friends hide as Deadeye takes a step forward.

The behemoth charges, not daring to lose Noct after the pain he had dealt. It slides around the corner, leaping towards Noct and the gas tank.

Gladio springs out, sweeping his sword upwards and driving the behemoth closer to the tank. Prompto takes his chance to fire.

The explosion reverberates off the ruins around them, causing far more damage to Deadeye than the oil drum ever could. It completely knocks his horn off and sends him sprawling onto the ground.

The smell of burning flesh causes Noct to toss a hand over his nose and mouth. The behemoth staggers, and Noctis jumps on the opportunity to warp to its back and drive his blade into the base of its neck.

Deadeye falls, but Noctis knows it is not down for the count, so he drives his blade in again before jumping back and away.

Wheezes pierce the air as Deadeye pulls himself to his feet, blood trickling out his mouth and over his face. Gladio and Ignis come to stand beside him as the behemoth struggles to stand, and he can hear Prompto ready his machinery behind him.

Noctis exhales slowly, "You guys ready?"

"Mhmm."

"Yes."

"Yup."

He meets the predator's hateful stare down with a steely gaze of his own. They were fighting for their lives as much as Deadeye was his own.

"Let's get this over with." Gladio says for him and charges.

Ignis jumps in as well with his lance, and together they aim for his legs. Deadeye seems to instinctually understand that if he gets knocked back over, he would not be getting back up. He swipes his tail around trying to knock the group away and gain some distance.

Noctis leaves the others to do their own work and warps back to the behemoth's face, trying to blind his good eye. Deadeye rams at him, unaware his missing horns couldn't skewer Noct alive.

Noctis phases to the side, slicing down and along Deadeye's neck as he descends to the ground. The beast turns to face him just as Prompto jumps in front of him, machinery whirring with overloaded energy.

It explodes in Deadeye's face, sending him stumbling backwards. Noct catches Prompto to keep him from stumbling too, and watches as Ignis an Gladio move in to attack Deadeye's back legs.

The combined attack prevents the behemoth from staying on his legs, so he falls with a heavy thud and a cry.

Noctis is quick to end his suffering, carving deep through Deadeye's throat. The beast exhales one last time before going still.

The deep breaths of his friends remind him that the battle is over, and he releases the tension he had been holding from the battle. He listens as Prompto laughs in relief and turns around to watch him high-five Gladio.

Ignis checks them over for injuries, and when he finds none they collectively relax.

"Think we'll have enough time to make it to Lestallum tonight?" Gladio asks.

Ignis pulls out his phone to check the time, "It would be pushing it. What do you say, Highness?"

"We should rent the caravan, start back up in the morning. Lestallum can wait a day."

Prompto makes a noise somewhere between a squeal and a giggle, "Time to ride the chocobos!"

...

"Rain Calling" plays loudly through the Regalia's speakers as Ignis drives them through the hills of Cleigne.

Ignis reaches over to turn the volume down, ignoring how it ruins Prompto's tapping to the beat.

"Lestallum shouldn't be much further away." Ignis says over the rushing wind.

Sure enough, the trees break away to reveal a long bridge connecting to the tunnel that opened into the city.

"Great!" Prompto quips. Ignis glances at him and reaches to turn the volume ever so slightly back up.

With a toothy grin, Prompto starts tapping to the beat of the song again.

Lestallum almost seems hotter than the deserts of Leide as they pull in. The group get out and stretch, having only left the car twice since the chocobo ranch for gas and a picture stop.

Sweat already starts to accumulate on Noct from the heat, and despite wanting to complain he keeps his mouth shut.

He didn't need to hear Gladio tell him to take his shirt off and then insult his 'scrawny body' ever again.

So instead he listens to the others as they complain.

"Any chance of sleeping in a nice room tonight?" Prompto asks as he fans himself.

Ignis smirks, "Yes. I'm certain we can secure... suitable accommodations nearby."

Noctis was sure that if Ignis was any less dignified, then he would be laughing like a snarky rich man who had gotten away with using an expired coupon.

Instead, Ignis stands there hiding a snort and looking overly proud. He quirks an eyebrow at Noct, but Noct refuses to humor him with any sort of laughter.

The group make their way to some nearby food stands when Gladio gets a call from his sister.

"Iris is at the Leville. Let's go." Gladio tucks his phone away, and Noctis doesn't comment on how it sounded like he had hung up on her.

Iris calls out to them as they arrive at the hotel, and her enthusiasm at seeing them makes Noct realize just how glad he is that she was able to survive.

Gladio wraps an arm around her, pulling her close and reaching out to tussle her hair. She turns her head just in time to avoid it and tosses her arms around him instead.

Jared and Talcott meet them as she leads them to their room.

"Jared and Talcott! Is it good to see you!" Gladio smiles as he sees them and Talcott jumps forward.

"Prince Noctis!" His childish joy has Noctis smiling fondly at him, "Iris is safe with me!"

It was unfair, Noctis thinks, how cruel the events played out for both Iris and Talcott last time. He watches Jared lean down and excuse Talcott for his behavior.

Talcott was good, and having his grandfather snatched away by the Empire would bring him lifelong pain.

Noctis wouldn't stand for it.

He bids them goodnight as they leave the room, and smiles as Talcott enthusiastically returns it. Iris closes the door behind the two, and they settle down into the room's chairs.

Noctis braces himself for the conversation he knew was coming, the uncomfortable idea causing him to shift in his seat. It's Gladio that eventually starts it.

"I'm glad you made it out of the city." He says, crossing his arms. Iris nods and Prompto leans forward.

"What... was it like?"

Iris bites at her lip, looking at Noctis as if he were the one to ask.

"It wasn't pretty. The Citadel was hit pretty hard, but I think the outlying neighborhoods came out in one piece."

Her brows furrow, "But you were there, weren't you Noct? I saw him."

Noctis straightens up as her eyes meet his, "The Draconian."

His eyes wander away and he nods, "Yea."

She leans forward, reaching out slightly with her hand, "You know if there is anything you need, just ask me."

The sincerity in her voice pulls at Noct, and he hides a grimace with a nod.

"Thanks, Iris."

Iris looks at the other three before settling her eyes back on Noct.

"And, uhm, about Lady Lunafreya. She was in town until yesterday."

"Yesterday?" Noctis exclaims, eyes widening.

Iris nods, "Yeah, although I didn't get to see her, others did."

They had been so close to catching up with her, and hadn't even realized it. Last time, it had seemed she was always a few steps ahead of him - always just out of reach. To hear that she had been in town up until yesterday gave him hope of catching her before Altissia.

Mind wandering, Noctis sinks back into his seat.

Would there even be a point in reuniting with her?

His breath quickens and his heart beats out of control.

"I can't." He breathes.

"What?" Ignis asks. All eyes on him, Noctis pulls his hand away from his chest, unaware of when it got there.

"Was she alright? Was there anyone with her?" He asks Iris.

"From what I heard she was alright. I don't know if there was anyone with her though."

Noctis sighs, "Thank you, Iris."

She smiles and stands, "Yeah, well. Get a good night's rest."

With that, she makes her way towards the door, tossing them one last wave before she leaves.

"Noct?" Ignis turns to face him.

"Mhmm, it' nothing. We should probably go ahead and get to bed."

An awkward tour of the city and a day later find the four catching their breath as they leave an ice-encased cave - Swords of the Wanderer on hand.

The waterfall roars before them, nearly drowning out Prompto's, "Woohoo! We're alive!"

"Don't get too excited yet. The daemons will be out any second." Gladio says as he looks up at the first few stars in the sky.

"What? Are you kidding? We've been fighting them all day! Now we gotta fight more?" Prompto cries out.

Noctis doesn't blame him for being upset - they were all tired and hurting. The cold had done nothing but peak their stress.

But still, it had been nowhere near as bad as it had been last time. Noctis hadn't gotten them lost this time, after all.

He sighs deeply, wiping the mist from the waterfall off his face.

The ground rumbles beneath them, pausing his actions. For a moment, he expects the splitting headache that tended to come with Titan's earthquakes and he braces for it. When there is no sign of any painful visions, he breathes a sigh of relief.

The other's watch the ground as if expecting aftershock waves, but mention nothing of it. Noctis decides to continue their conversation.

"Remember there is a rest stop nearby, we can just hurry there and stay at the caravan overnight."

"Sweet!" Prompto fist pumps as Noctis whistles for the chocobos, "Hey Noct, up for a round of King's Knight?"

"Ehh..."

"C'mon man, you never play anymore! Please?" Prompto pleads as their birds arrive.

"We'll see when we get to the caravan. Aren't you tired?" Noctis says as they mount their chocobos and take off.

Ignis joins in, "Why not, Noct? It will waste some time while I cook dinner."

"I guess one round couldn't hurt." He relents. Prompto cries out in delight, causing his bird to leap.

The chocobos seem to fly through the brush, outrunning anything that would wish them harm. They soon make it to the caravan without encountering any daemons, and Noctis immediately sinks into one of the chairs.

"Noct~" Prompto coos, elbowing him insistently in the side. Noctis grumbles and pulls out his phone, turning on King's Knight.

It's only after Ignis serves dinner that Noctis realizes he was actually getting absorbed into the game by playing with Prompto. It didn't hurt that he new all the boss weaknesses either.

"Dude! When did you get so good?" Prompto whines, tossing his hands up and nearly causing Ignis to drop the food he was about to place. Prompto gives him a sheepish look and apologizes.

Noct shrugs and offers no comment, ready to eat dinner and go to bed.

"But seriously, you had to have looked up a guide or something!" Noctis huffs through his nose at the accusation, "Either that or you belong to a family of royal psychics!"

Noctis fumbles slightly with his fork at Prompto's joke, but the other takes no notice as he continues to rant.

"Dude, we were supposed to do this together! No spoilers or guides! You're a cheater!" He points an accusing finger at Noct before finally noticing his own food was there. It serves as a big enough distraction for Prompto to drop the subject.

"Back to Lestallum tomorrow then, Noct?" Ignis asks later as they clean up their plates.

"Yeah, gotta let Talcott know he was right about the Royal Arm being there." Noctis nods and together they finish the dishes.

...

Noctis lets his head rest in his palm as he leans over the balcony at the Leville. The night air, while still humid, was far more welcoming than the heat of the day. And with the gentle breeze, Noctis felt far more compelled to stay outside.

He stared off into the distance, in the direction he knew the Disc of Cauthess would be. As if sensing his gaze, the earth vibrates gently.

Titan was calling him.

Noctis knew if he didn't answer soon, the Astral would start being more forceful with his calls. He had been grateful so far for the lack of crippling visions.

"Thinking about running off by yourself again?"

Noctis turns to find Gladio leaning against the doorway. Behind him the room is dark save for the desk lamp to aid Ignis while he reads before bed. Prompto has long since fallen asleep, sprawled out over a bed meant for two.

Noctis sighs, mourning the loss of the calm silence he had just been enjoying.

Ardyn would be arriving in the morning, that is if he wasn't already there. Noctis had planned to leave before that happened.

Of course, the lack of Regalia in the parking lot would be a clear sign to Ardyn that Noct wasn't there.

So, Noctis had planned to leave it and travel alone, sneaking into the Disc and meeting Titan before anyone became the wiser.

Gladio puts an end to all of that.

"Let me join you."

Or maybe not.

Noctis starts, glancing at Ignis before whispering to Gladio.

"What? Are you serious." Noctis nearly gasps out.

Gladio turns to look at Ignis too before leaning closer to Noct and lowering his voice.

"Dead serious. I can't stop you from doing whatever the hell you think you need to do, and I don't exactly approve of this, but it is better than you going alone."

Gladio rubs at his arms as if the air has suddenly gone cold and looks in the direction Noct had been just a few moments ago.

"It's the Disc, right? They say Titan lies there." Gladio looks down at him, and it's such a lonely look that Noctis is caught off guard, "Is there anything I can say that would make you reconsider?"

Noctis opens his mouth to reply, pausing to look at each of his friends.

"No." He says and looks away, ashamed of his own actions.

Gladio breathes out slowly, "It won't stop me from coming with you. I could spend an eternity saying how foolish this is, how much I want you to rely on us - your friends and team - but I know it won't matter to you."

Gladio says it like he wants it to hurt, like he wanted to say it with anger. The words are sad and broken instead.

Noctis can't stand to meet his face - what a coward he was.

He doesn't say it out loud, but he does apologize.

"I'm sorry."

Gladio doesn't look like he believes it, and Noctis realizes how many times he has apologized since coming back. The steely gaze the other had developed as a result of Noct's apology fades away, and Gladio just looks tired again.

"No, I guess it's my fault too. I don't know what is going through your head to make you act like this."

Noctis gulps, and Gladio continues, "But if we're gonna do this, we need to trust each other."

He nods, and Gladio turns to look at their hotel room, "And wait for Iggy to go to sleep."

Gladio faces him, smile gracing his features. Noctis unsteadily smiles back.

...

"Maybe they just went out boozing last night?" Prompto carefully tosses out. Ignis looks ready to pull his own hair out.

"In the middle of the night, without telling us?" Ignis asks, trying to keep his voice level. The idea, while infuriating, is not that far-fetched.

"I mean, that's the most likely. There's tons of women here, maybe they just hooked up with a few?" Prompto looks like he regrets saying that the instant the words leave his lips.

Ignis nearly shrieks at the idea of Prince Noctis hooking up with some random woman, irrational ideas of his liege pulling some hooker off the streets to fornicate with and any drastic side effects of those actions threaten to drive him mad.

He knows Noctis is not that type of person, and Gladio would never allow that even if he were. Ignis tries to reason with himself, but the fact that they had both left without a word drives his stress.

Prompto pulls him off the busy streets and into an alley before he can make a scene. The shade does little to cool their heads.

"Think, there are plenty of places here we said we wanted to visit! We still haven't checked half of those!" Prompto pleads, halfway to Ignis and halfway to himself.

Just because they weren't answering their phones didn't mean anything.

"Mhmm, right." Ignis works on composing himself and turns to Prompto, "We can check the theater next. If we still can't find them we may have to split up. Let's just hope Noctis is being responsible."

Prompto nods, but halts before they can leave the alley. A sudden, strong gust of wind howls as it works its way between the buildings.

"My, my!" drawls Ardyn, "That wayward prince of yours is certainly hard to find."

Chapter Text

Rhythmic thumping of their chocobos' feet and the occasional 'kweh' become the only noise between Noctis and Gladio.

The moon is the only light guiding them, and at this point in time, it is enough to prevent them from being swarmed by daemons. Noct's heart races the few and far between times he sees glowing eyes or bubbling ground, but his chocobo is too swift for them to be caught.

Gladio is stewing from his saddle as he rides alongside Noct, and Noct wisely remains quiet.

There's a long way to go until they reach the Disc of Cauthess.

On the way to Lestallum, Ignis had asked to visit the Disc and Noctis couldn't refuse him after agreeing to Prompto's request of seeing the chocobo farm. Noctis drove them close enough to see the Imperial blockade, but not close enough to engage a fight.

Noctis had planned to warp unnoticed passed the blockade, but now that Gladio was with him he would have to change his plans. Gladio knew this.

The blue glow of a haven makes itself apparent and Gladio has them stop at it to let their birds rest.

The pair of chocobos sit and preen, taking sips of the water Gladio laid out for them. Noctis goes to sit by the edge of the haven.

A daemon - goblin - stands at the treeline in the distance, and Noctis watches it. It watches him back.

A chill creeps its way down his back - that had been a human once. With Noctis out of reach, the daemon shows no sign of aggression. It's simply curious, but Noctis knows if he were to step foot outside of the haven the goblin would not be able to resist its temptation to attack.

"Creepy as hell." Gladio mumbles as he comes to sit by Noct.

He offers an energy drink, chugging it when Noct waves it away. Gladio's eyes focus on the same spot Noct's are locked on.

He looks like he wants to throw a stone at it, lips curled in disgust.

Noctis had felt similar once, but that feeling had quickly become pity once he learned of their origins.

Sure, not every daemon originated from humans - some came from beasts like the bloodhorn they had slain. Others came from the utmost of darkness, born purely from the blackest of shadows.

But it was easy to tell which had come from humans.

Noctis rests his chin in his hand as he watches another goblin come up to chatter with the first. What had once been nonsensible garbles now sounded like rudimentary language now that Noctis actually knew to look for it.

But even before, there had been daemons who could still speak. He could only count two who were still able to speak comprehensibly - the one who had kidnapped Prompto and then the Emperor after he turned. The remaining few - very few - would mutter a random word here and there. The last one he had encountered who had spoken was on the docks of Galdin Quay, after he arrived from his ten-year slumber.

He doesn't know if it was a trick of the wind or his own worn mind, but the daemon had spoken something eerily close to his name with its dying breath.

The thought sits like poison in his stomach, so he pushes it away and focuses on the warmth beside him.

The pair of goblins have seemed to distract Gladio from his anger with Noct, and they sit there quietly together. Like this, Noct realizes he is glad that Gladio had forced himself along.

The two goblins eventually retreat further into the treeline, too dark for Noct and Gladio to see but they are wise enough to know that they still lurk nearby.

Gladio stands up and cracks his back.

"So, think of a way we can sneak in?"

Noct huffs through his nose and looks up at him, "Sure, but you're not going to like it."

Gladio puts is hands on his hips, "Oh?"

"I was planning on just warping over the crater wall. You're just going to have to climb it."

Gladio furrows his brow, "Nuh-uh, you're not leaving me behind."

Noct tosses his hand up, "I didn't say that. I'll just wait for you."

"Are you serious?" Gladio, to his credit, doesn't look like he wants to completely throttle Noct.

"I know you can do it, big guy." Noct stands up to join him, raising a brow but keeping his face neutral other than that.

With a sigh, Gladio relents, "It's going to take us until morning."

"Why do you think I left so early?"

...

Prompto and Ignis straighten as Ardyn prowls leisurely closer. He slows to a stop before them, taking his hat and fanning himself as if he were actually hot.

His multiple layers of clothes would make one think otherwise.

Maybe the man sun burns easily, Ignis muses.

"Don't tell me -" Ardyn in all his false charm bears a wolfish grin, "you've lost that prince of yours?"

People continue to bustle back and forth passed the alley, but no noise makes it in. The silence is unnatural.

Ignis steps forward.

"Why are you looking for Noct?"

Quirking a brow, Ardyn asks back, "Why is the Chancellor of Niflheim looking for the enemy prince?"

Ignis tenses, and he feels Prompto do the same beside him.

Ardyn rolls his eyes and blows some hair out of his face.

"No, I was simply planning on escorting him to the Disc of Cauthess. After all, I assumed it was your prince's goal."

"The Disc?" Ignis asks, dawning realization pulling at his features. He quickly steels himself, hoping the Chancellor hadn't seen his moment of insecurity.

Of course Noct would go to the Disc. But why leave him and Prompto behind?

Looking preoccupied, Ardyn 'hmms' before acknowledging them again.

"Did dear Noct not tell you?" He asks and Ignis's skin crawls at the way he says Noct's name.

"That doesn't mean he left us!" Prompto speaks up.

Ardyn tosses him a belittling smile, "Then why are you searching high and low for him?"

He steps forward and continues, "It's almost like he doesn't care enough to keep you from worrying. The boy is obviously hiding something, I just thought he trusted his friends enough to confide in them."

Ignis takes a bold step closer, his fingers tingle with magic as it begs him to summon a weapon.

"Noctis trusts in us."

Something in his voice must falter, because he can instantly tell the change in Ardyn. The man had looked at them - hadn't acknowledged them - but had seen them as something to be of use. Whatever he had said seemed to have taken them off the menu.

"Clearly, you're not as important to him as you think you are."

Ardyn sighs, waving them away and pulling out his phone. When he disappears around the corner, the world seems to unfreeze.

When Prompto sighs, it's shaky and Ignis is glad he was not the only one feeling disturbed.

Ardyn's cold words had left them reeling - it was too harsh of a reality to believe. Of course Noctis cherished them.

But Ardyn was right in that he didn't trust them.

It hurt like hell.

He taps against Prompto to see how he is holding up and the blond quickly looks up at him, smile in place to hide his own distress.

"Was it just me, or was that whole situation super creepy?" Prompto asks, nerves shaking his voice.

"No, it was definitely disturbing." Ignis looks in the direction Ardyn left, "He is likely heading towards Noct. We must get to the Disc first."

Prompto straightens up, nodding. Ignis glances over him.

"Don't fret too much. That man is a true deuterostome, through and through."

Prompto quirks a brow, lips parting slightly in confusion. Ignis smirks as he leads them out of the alley.

"An asshole from the beginning."

...

Tingles from collecting the Blade of the Mystic still run through Noct as he begins to second guess himself.

Gladio is huffing slightly from exertion, his climb over the crater taking long into the morning.

So much for getting back before Prompto and Ignis knew.

Gladio's fatigue does worry him though, if they were about to go head-to-head with Titan, and with two men down, then Gladio should have been at his finest.

It's too little too late as the ground rumbles beneath them, the whole tomb threatening to fall to the depths at Titan's feet.

Gladio comes to steady him when they are suddenly bathed in darkness.

The meteor rises far into the sky, the Archean supporting it. His unearthly eyes pierce into Noctis and Gladio.

All is still for a heart-stopping moment.

Noctis swallows his fear, stepping closer to the edge of the tomb.

"Oh Chosen King."

Titan's words bellow around them, echoing for miles. Noctis winces at the loud voice, Gladio tossing a hand over his ear.

"What the hell, what he say?" He shouts out.

"The King's goal is the throne. You have remembered thy sins?"

"I have." Noct says, eyes unwavering.

"Then you also remember my trial."

Titan leans closer, the heat of the meteor scalding them. Noctis doesn't flinch.

"The covenant was formed from time past. My mark is yours."

Noctis gasps, taking a bold step forward. Gladio grips his bicep, uttering a hushed, "You can understand what he's saying?"

Noctis ignores him, eyes focused desperately on Titan.

"Already formed? Then what about Luna?" He shouts.

"The price of the covenant has been paid. The Oracle has a different purpose now."

"Different purpose? What?" He cries. Titan leans back away, and Noctis can tell he is done talking.

It doesn't matter, tears spill from his eyes and a watery laugh escapes him in relief.

Luna wouldn't have to pay the price. Luna could live.

Unless he failed.

Unless that different purpose was also death sentence.

The ground rumbles violently, nearly sending both Noct and Gladio to the ground. Titan starts to glimmer gold, and Noctis can feel his mark joining Bahamut's as the Astral disappears.

The tomb shudders, and they run back to stable ground just as it plummets.

"C'mon, we got to get out of here." Noct says, catching sight of a fleet of airships heading their way.

Lava bubbles up from the crater, not reaching them but still far too close for comfort. Gladio looks up at the wall he had to climb, sweat dripping down his face.

He grimaces, the wall is too high for Gladio to escape in time. He can see the same doubt crossing the other's face.

With growl of exertion, Noctis activates his Armiger and grabs Gladio.

In the past, his friends had learned to use the residual magic from Noct's Armiger Chain to perform warps themselves - nothing like what Noct himself could do, but it was enough.

They didn't have that luxury this time. Noctis would have to carry Gladio through his warp.

The Royal Arms he has collected this time around spin around him, strong and visible. In the haze of the meteor's heat, he can't even see the past weapons - those he had yet to collect.

He pulls on his connection to the Crystal, and pulls himself and Gladio through a warp. He hears Gladio gasp and lurch as they appear at the crest of the meteor and knows he is about to be sick.

Noctis aims for the ground but Gladio instinctively tries to resist, sending them rolling as they hit the ground outside the crater.

Noctis rolls himself onto his hands and knees, shaking dust out of his eyes.

That had been way easier than he expected. He had gone into the Disc expecting a fight with the Astral, but instead he had not only received the mark but had also learned that Luna had not been required to pay the price.

Sucking in a breath, he doesn't dare let himself hope things will turn out for the better.

He pushes himself up, walking over to where Gladio remains on his back catching his breath.

Noctis stands over him, extending his hand to Gladio.

"What don't I know." Gladio breathes.

Noctis pulls back. Gladio wasn't expecting an answer, but he shouldn't have felt let down when Noct doesn't give him one.

Gladio pushes himself up with some effort, leaving Noct squirming with guilt.

They stand there for an awkward moment, the dying rumbles from inside the crater only driving them to act again.

"Call the chocobos. We need to get back to the others. I'm sure they are worried sick." Gladio grimaces, and Noct fumbles for the whistle.

"I'll call them on the way back. Let them know we are okay."

...

The wind pulls at Prompto's hair as he hands Ignis an Ebony.

They had just received a call from Noct, and after a stress-induced lecture, courtesy of Ignis, they had agreed to meet up at a rest stop halfway between Cauthess and Lestallum.

Prompto plays with his lip, trying to focus on the sound of the Regalia's tires as they travel over the pavement to lull his increasing anxiety.

"You don't think..." He starts.

Ignis keeps his eyes on the road, but when Prompto doesn't continue he quirks a brow.

"Hmm?" Ignis tries to prompt him further.

Prompto sighs and shrugs, rubbing the back of his head before continuing.

"You don't think he left us because we're weak, do you?"

"No." Ignis says, hands tightening against the steering wheel.

Regretting that he voiced his fears, Prompto changes the topic.

"I don't think we should be too mad with him, y'know? He hasn't been the same since we lost the city."

Ignis collects his thoughts, shifting an arm against the door and resting his head against it. He considers pulling the top up as the wind threatens to mess up his hair.

"Noctis... has never been one to cope easily." Ignis voices, "The fact that he has been so withdrawn is a clear sign he has not recovered."

It's the only explanation Ignis can think of. With the whole world breathing down his back, Ignis can't blame Noctis for struggling.

It didn't matter if Noct was not able to fully rely on them - and the thought settled like lead in his stomach - Ignis had full faith that Noctis would regain what they had lost.

He would be king, and Ignis was so very, very proud to be able to serve him.

A nagging thought keeps reminding him if Noctis kept him around that is.

He shakes it from his mind - their encounter with Ardyn had only led the man to plant seeds of doubt in their faith in Noct. Noctis would risk his life to keep his friends safe and to keep them by his side - and that was a scarier thought than him just leaving them behind.

"We need to make sure he knows we are there for him. So that way situations like this won't arise in the future." Ignis concludes as he pulls into the rest stop.

He shuts the engine off, already mourning the loss of the A/C as the sun beats down on them. The pair sit quietly, listening to the engine tick as it cools down.

Ignis watches as Prompto continues to fiddle, clearly still hung up about something.

"You're not weak, Prompto. Don't forget you saved His Highness's life."

Prompto fists the material of his shirt, "But that's the thing. I don't think he actually needed my help - I'm not sure if his life was really ever at stake!"

He pulls his hands away from his bunched-up shirt and raises them up to furiously scratch at his head in frustration.

"And then earlier, you were able to stand up to the Chancellor of Niflheim while I was barely able to keep my cool. I'm nothing but a paper man compared to the rest of you guys..." Prompto lets his head drop.

Ignis is taken aback, surprised by Prompto's show of insecurity. Ignis settles further into his seat, a rueful laugh slipping passed his lips.

"You must be blind if you couldn't see me shaking in my boots. We may have Noct's magic to aid us, but something about that man screamed 'sinister'."

Whipping his head up, Prompto's wide eyes search out Ignis's expression.

"And you're wrong. Noct's life has always been at risk - from the moment he was born. The threat of death comes with the royal blood line - be it from enemies or the very ring he was destined to bear. Even if it may seem fruitless, every move we make ensures that Noct can live to the fullest."

Prompto opens his mouth, words unable to form. Ignis adds with a smile, "From challenging him to King's Knight or covering his back in battle - everything we do matters, Prompto."

The words instantly relieve most of Prompto's fears, and he smiles in relief.

"Haha," he wipes a thumb across his nose, "of course you're always right."

"Mhmm. Speak to Noctis about it. I'm sure he will be able to assuage your fears more than I."

"Speak to - yeah, even if he doesn't confide in us, he will always lend an ear to our troubles." Prompto huffs, "We'll make it better. We'll show him that he can always rely on us - even for the littlest things."

Ignis nods with a smile, "Now that's the confidence I like to see."

Their waiting pays off, Noctis and Gladio crest the hill and Prompto and Ignis catch sight of them.

They stand up and wave, happier than they care to admit at seeing them safe.

Chapter Text

Noctis feels sick to his stomach.

Dropships buzz about over head, the thin canopy of the trees they parked under providing shade and cover. Noctis leans against a tree, his hand scraping against the rough bark.

"He left when he realized we did not know your whereabouts." Ignis keeps his voice cool, but the words spread like a poison through Noct's veins. The very hair on the back of his neck stands on end.

Ignis and Prompto had been left alone with Ardyn.

They had no idea how close they were to death.

Noctis swallows and shakes the idea out of his head. Ardyn wouldn't have killed them, not yet at least.

The world still feels tilted on its axis as Noctis straightens up. Overhead, another dropship passes by. Leaves disturbed by its gust fall like rain, and everyone holds quiet until all the trees fall still once more.

"Careful..." Noct rubs his face in his hands and moves closer to Prompto and Ignis, "He's dangerous. We can't trust that man."

"You can say that again." Prompto replies. Leaves fall around them, making way for the rumble of an engine and causing the group to still.

Another dropship looms by, and Noctis recognizes that it is travelling northwards - either to Lestallum or to Aracheole Stronghold. Of the two, Noctis hopes it's the latter.

The forces that had overtaken Lestallum during the last timeline had likely been supplied by Aracheole. While Caligo had been in command during the takeover of Lestallum - and the subsequent death of Jared - Ravus was the one they actually met while taking down the stronghold.

Noct could only guess if either of them would be there this time.

And in the worst case scenario - Ardyn would be there.

If Noct intended to take down Aracheole Stronghold, then he would have to do it immediately and do it fast - leave before Ardyn even arrived, that is, unless he didn't head straight there after leaving the Disc.

Noctis frowns, he would have to hope nothing had changed since the last time and that Ardyn wouldn't already be lying in wait.

The hush is broken by the ring of Gladio's phone, he pulls it from his pocket and looks at the ID.

"Iris." He mumbles as he pulls it to his ear and turns a few steps away from the rest of them.

Noctis walks up to him and rests a hand on Gladio's bicep to gain his attention.

"Those airships are headed their way, tell her to take the others and lay low for a while."

Gladio nods at him and Noctis backs off to give him some privacy as he talks to Iris. He rejoins Ignis and Prompto and the three pretend they can't hear Gladio as he gets frustrated with something they can only guess is Iris.

With a huff, he hangs up and wanders back over to them.

"Says she got tickets to a play next week and wants to know how long to lay low."

Gladio snorts and pops his neck, "Told her to suck it up and deal with it, and let us know if she sees anything out of the ordinary."

"Aww, I'll feel kinda bad if Iris misses it." Prompto adds.

"Yea?" Gladio quirks a brow, "She got us tickets too. Apparently they are a gift from Jared."

"What? Then we have to go!" Prompto looks at them, gaining more excitement when Ignis nods and Noct shrugs.

"Hmm," Gladio no longer looks like he is paying attention, instead his gaze is skyward, searching for any dropships, "That is, unless we find out where those Nifs are really headed."

He looks back down at them, "They are headed too close to Lestallum's direction for comfort."

"Aracheole Stronghold lies between us and Lestallum, it would be a safe bet that they are headed there to restock fuel and supplies." Ignis adds, "But I agree, it is too dangerous to have so many Imperials right on Lestallum's doorstep. It may be wise to take action."

"I agree!" Prompto says and turns to Noct, "What do you think?"

"Uhh," Noctis says, caught off guard by the fact that he no longer needed to convince them, "Yeah, but I think we should do it as soon as possible."

"Noct," Ignis furrows his brows, "You and Gladio haven't rested. We shouldn't rush into this."

Noctis looks to Gladio, who looks just as eager to fight.

"We'll be fine. The sooner we do this, the safer Lestallum and the surrounding areas will be."

Gladio nods in agreement with Noct and Ignis frowns.

"Besides, wouldn't this be safer to attempt at night? Gladio and I will take the time to rest while we wait for it to become dark enough to sneak in."

Ignis sighs, "Very well... Let us make for a haven and prepare further."

...

He treks silently through the base, Ignis's footsteps nearly as quiet as his own while Prompto and Gladio's seem to almost ring out. The cloudy night works in their favor as they cling to the shadows and out of sight.

The many troopers they had come across were quick to fall against Noct's blade - his stealth and ability to warp allowing him to cut into the base easily.

Pushing up against a wall, he peers around the edge and spots the generator powering Aracheole.

"Dismantling that should render this entire base useless. In fact, if we succeed, we will be able to deal the Empire a powerful blow." Ignis says from over his shoulder.

"Yeah, but look at all those mechas. We can't do it without blowing our cover." Noctis replies.

He turns to look at his friends, "You ready?"

They nod and he brings a sword out and spins around the corner. He warps straight at the cockpit of the biggest mecha, driving his sword in as deep as possible but fails to disable it.

Alarms blare, the spotlights all focusing on him. Gunshots ring out from behind as Prompto shoots them out.

Noctis warps away from the mecha as it starts whirring, taking out a soldier as he lands.

A bullet lodges itself in the pavement next to his foot, and Noctis targets the sniper that fired it.

The sniper falls in a single warp-strike, and Noctis spends the next few moments taking out the rest of them.

Fire and dust collect in his eyes as he lands too close to a missile strike, the blast causing him to stumble back.

"Gah." Noctis turns back to the mechas, warping to the one that Gladio was trying to stumble.

It falls to the ground, Ignis moving in for the kill as another mecha moves in to back Noctis and Gladio away. Backing away from the downed mecha, Ignis barely makes it out of range as it ignites.

Noctis squints his eyes at the explosion, walking forward a step as the world suddenly seems to tilt. Prompto and Ignis join them in front of the last mecha, but Noctis is forced to steady himself as a rumble painfully bounces through his skull.

The atmosphere seems to change - reminding Noct of the sweltering, unearthly heat at the Archean's feet.

"Whoa, what's wrong with your eyes?!" Gladio asks, concern thick in his voice until it almost sounds like panic.

Noctis clutches his head, hunching over, "I'm answering a call."

He falls to a knee and Prompto tries to catch him with a "Gah!"

Ignis is already standing guard over him before he can check everyone's location. Seeing them near, he summons Titan.

The pressure lets up instantly, and as he attempts to stand the ground roils.

The minuscule light that the moon had been providing them is suddenly snuffed out, leaving them in inky darkness. Noctis turns around, seeing a pair of glowing golden eyes almost in place among the stars.

Titan stands tall above him, and Noct senses his friends instinctively shrink back.

It was likely a good thing that they did, Noctis thinks as Titan reaches down for him. He winces against the brief crushing of the Astral grabbing him, and braces himself as he is jolted rapidly upwards.

The sound of Titan striking down into the earth beneath them is bone-shaking, and despite the fact that his friends had never been hurt by his summoning before, he worries.

Metal crunches and towers collapse as spires of jagged rock erupt from the ground. Dirt and rock continue to fall from the sky as Titan gently sets him back down in the ruins of the base.

The clouds of dust and darkness of night prevent Noct from seeing the total damage done. He can hear the last few spires fall, but can't see through the dust suspended around him.

"Noctis!" He hears Ignis call out. The cloud swirls in disturbance as his friends run towards him through it.

Noctis holds a hand up to his face, a red-violet glow from the magic in his eyes illuminates it - fading away only as he looks to his friends.

Sweat beads at his brow and he wipes an arm across it, "We should probably get out of here now."

Ignis blinks a few times, "Noct, that was..." He trails off, opening his mouth a few times before finally saying, "Are you alright?"

Noctis nods, "Just tired."

Prompto jogs up to him and whoops, "That. Was. Wicked!"

They turn towards the exit, Noctis raising an eyebrow at Prompto's antics. Light from the morning sun begins to peek over the horizon as Prompto continues to chatter.

The sound of tumbling rocks cut Prompto's 'bust-a-base' speech short.

A man stands from the remains of a building, dirt falling off of him and blood trickling down the side of his face. He turns to them, metal arm finding the hilt of the sword at his waist.

Ravus.

Noctis swallows, other than a scrape, Ravus appeared to be unharmed. Instead, he looked angry as he walked towards them. Apprehension fills Noctis at the sight.

A man who could strike as fast as Noctis could warp - Ravus was a threat.

But he had the potential to be an invaluable ally, at least from the background. Ravus had nothing left except for Luna, Noctis had no doubt that he would keep the last thing he loved safe.

Even if he hated Noctis, he could trust him with this.

"Long has it been, Noctis." The cry of metal pierces the air as Ravus unsheathes his sword. His expression is grim, and hate pools in his mismatched eyes as he stares down Noctis.

"Ravus."

Gladio and Ignis tense, readying to jump in front of Noct at a moment's notice. Prompto, sensing the unease of the other two, readies himself as well.

"You have received the blessing of an Astral, yet you know nothing of the consequences." Ravus sneers and points the end of his blade to Noct's neck.

"Watch it." Gladio moves forward and suddenly finds the sword at his own throat.

"Ravus." Noctis warns. Sword lowering, Ravus advances closer.

"Where is she?" There is a sort of desperate lethalness to Ravus's voice, one that had not been there the last time Noctis had met with him. It catches him off guard, and he senses Gladio and Ignis tense further to compensate for his lowered defenses.

"What do you mean?" Noctis asks honestly. There was only one person Ravus could be talking about, and Noctis had not seen Luna since Insomnia.

"Don't be foolish, I have a report of her being witnessed in your car!" Ravus grabs his collar, letting go as Gladio grabs him. Without batting an eye, he backhands Gladio, sending him flying back into the ruins of a tank. "A weak shield protects naught."

Noctis steps forward, cursing the height difference between them as he tries to back Ravus off, "Enough."

"And you - the Chosen King?" Ravus spits, bitterness lacing every syllable, "Witness his splendor and glory."

"Awful high and mighty for an Imperial rat. Do you intend to help Luna by joining the people who hunt her?" Noct tosses back.

"I intend on saving her! And what have you done? You are a poison to everyone around you, misfortune trails every step you make. Or have you forgotten what happened in Tenebrae?"

Glaring, Ravus watches him genuinely wanting an answer. There is hate in his eyes - for Noctis, and for what the world had wrought upon him and his sister.

Although the memories had become hazy with age, Noctis remembers a time when Ravus cared for him too.

That had been taken from them, and now Ravus stood to lose Luna as well.

"You must feel so alone."

Pain erupts in his cheek as he narrowly dodges the flash of Ravus's sword. Blood trickles down the side of his face from where the blade nicked him. Ravus snarls, and Noctis dances a few steps back, holding his hand out to keep the others from interfering.

"And who was the cause for that?!" Ravus slashes at him again, and Noctis brings his blade forward to meet it. He sidesteps and jumps back, Ravus hot on his heels.

"I may have been the target, but it was Niflheim that took everything from you." Noctis paces back and Ravus pauses, lips curling into a sneer. Noctis wipes the blood from the cut on his cheek, noting that the magic of the Crystal was already working on stitching it back together.

"Have you disillusioned yourself, boy? Your father left us to die. He left my mother to die, for me to be captured - and then, even when she was within arm's reach, left Luna behind so she could suffer the hell that our home had become." Ravus pulls himself tall, head tilting heavenward and platinum hair falling away from his face. The morning sun makes him look serene.

Slowly bringing his sword up, he points it at the clouds and Noctis braces himself, "I hate you."

Ravus brings his sword down with a crackle of lightning, it sends Noct stumbling back a few steps and before he can catch his bearings Ravus is already upon him again.

He pulls his sword up just in time to block Ravus's downswing, arms shaking against the other's strength. Ravus drives his free hand, bursting with unnatural electrical energy, into Noct's unprotected gut. The attack sends him rolling away, and he can hear his friends cry out as he staggers to his feet.

Anger ticks at him, and he charges to meet Ravus halfway, meeting every strike of his sword with one of his own.

"Niflheim bore no ill will towards Tenebrae until you arrived. You are the cause of all of Luna and I's suffering. You are the cause of my mother's death!" Ravus's anger is punctuated with the clang of his sword, and Noctis struggles against his overwhelming strength to push it back.

"You were the cause of my father's death - the cause of Insomnia's citizens' deaths!" Noctis venomously cries back. Their swords shriek as they grind against each other, both equally desperate to gain the upper hand. With a cry, Noctis pushes forward and the two break apart.

Ravus has nothing to say, instead he waits, staring coldly at Noctis. Noctis pants, exertion and the sudden swell of emotion taking its toll.

He regrets his words instantly. Although Ravus had had a hand in the fall of his city, he wasn't to blame for orchestrating it.

A victim of circumstance, just as Noctis, who had made the wrong decisions while fueled by hate - and now has to live with the blood of thousands of innocents on his hands.

Noctis doubts Ravus actually wanted such a sin bearing down on his shoulders.

Closing his eyes and trusting Ravus to not strike at the opportunity, Noctis releases his breath slowly as he calms.

"Luna will not die for me. I won't let her." He looks to Ravus, searching for all the right words. Ravus sneers, but does not bring his sword back up to face Noctis.

"And pray tell, how can you stop it?"

Dropships loom their way over the horizon, headed straight for Aracheole. Noctis doesn't need to guess that Ardyn is likely with the reinforcements.

"Ravus, I vow on my life that I will die before I let her forge a covenant. I want to keep her safe. But I need your help." Noctis says with all sincerity.

The sneer falls to Ravus's normal frown - he was listening to Noctis for the first time that Noct could remember.

"You and I both know at this rate she will die, we need to get her to safety. Once you find her, don't let her escape."

"What you suggest sounds akin to imprisonment." Ravus points out, but doesn't reject Noct's train of thought.

"It's better than letting her die. I know you can offer her safe passage to Tenebrae. Although it won't always be safe, we will have to keep her there in the meantime." Noctis says.

Ravus 'hmms' and Noctis continues, "She is likely on her way to Fociaugh Hollow to meet with the Fulgurian. But if you miss her then she may already be looking for passage to Altissia."

Ravus remains quiet as he listens, his gaze falling to the ground the longer Noctis talks.

"I know you hate me. But I don't hate you. And I want Luna to live. I want her to be happy." Noctis pleads.

Ravus sheathes his sword with a long exhale, looking far older than his years. He looks to Noctis, and there is pain in his eyes.

"Don't make me regret this." For a moment, Noctis sees him as the young man he had first met. When Ravus had watched over Luna and him with a gentle maturity, when the love Ravus expressed for Luna with such loyalty had almost extended to him too. No bitter memories between them, just a young Noctis pretending for a moment that Ravus was his older brother.

Twelve years and a near-endless war had completely changed that - and even if Noctis could travel a thousand times to the past, it would never erase the scars that fueled Ravus's hate for him.

"Thank you." Noctis says. Ravus turns and dismisses them, leaving them to run for the exit.

...

Noct's limbs drag and protest at him as he climbs to the motel's roof. The neon light of the sign forces his eyes to adjust and he squints in discomfort.

Sleep had eluded him, flashes of velvety red nightmares preventing him from falling into a much-needed slumber.

To Noct's surprise, Prompto was already sitting on the edge. The blond hears his approach, tossing him a wave and a "Heyaz."

"Were you waiting on me?" Noctis asks.

Prompto huffs, "Nah, was expectin' you to stay asleep... but it's nice to have company."

The fresh night air pulls gently at his hair, and Noctis catches sight of Prompto's expression.

It looked sorta solemn.

"That was one hell of a day, huh?" Noctis pulls from his memory, hoping to spur the conversation he knew Prompto needed.

It works, as Prompto replies and Noctis lets the talk play out like it had in the last timeline.

Noctis finds the familiarity uncomfortable, unlike his other repeated conversations. The sincerity of his words more unnatural - but not quite forced. His eyes widen halfway through Prompto's sentence.

It just doesn't feel real anymore.

Noctis scrambles to push more emotion into his words as they continue to talk, hoping that Prompto wouldn't notice. It was unfair to treat Prompto like that - his problems were real, and they were still plaguing him at this time.

"You think I make time just for any old loser?" Noctis asks, remembering that these words had once been enough to ease his friend's fears.

"Huh? Why, you mad, bro?" Prompto laughs off. The smile fades from his expression however, and he sighs deeply as his gaze falls somewhere in the distance.

Sensing Prompto's sudden drop in attitude, Noctis sits up straighter and focuses on his face.

"Hey, listen," Noct bumps his shoulder against Prompto's, "Trust me when I say that I couldn't have done this without you."

Prompto whips his head up, "...trust?" He clenches at air before running a hand through his hair, "But what can I do that you can't? What if I am a burden?"

"Prompto." Noctis scolds, "I'm serious. I wouldn't have made it this far without you by my side. Please, don't ever think otherwise."

"How can you be so sure?" Prompto replies. Noct's blue eyes are steely, forcing Prompto to look away in guilt for doubting him.

"I know so. I can't do this alone."

Muscles relaxing, Prompto slouches. The howl of a voretooth from far off has the pair falling silent to listen. It howls once more, but there is no reply. Noctis lets his mind wander, content to sit in the silence with Prompto.

"You always seem to know what to say and do." Prompto says after awhile, startling Noct back into the present.

The wear from that day is present on Prompto's face, but a tired smile is pulling at his lips. Noctis rubs at his neck, "Ha, I only act like it."

A familiar bark breaks their calm, Umbra stands in the empty street looking up at them.

Prompto looks at him and Noctis waves him off, "Go catch some sleep. I'll be back in a minute."

They stand and stretch, Prompto loudly cracking his back.

"Right-o." He finger guns Noctis, "...and thanks."

"Anytime, Prompto." Noctis nods. With that, Prompto leaves and Noctis makes his way down to the street below.

Umbra runs up to greet him, licking at Noctis as he sits against a tree.

"It's good to see you." Noctis says as he runs his fingers through Umbra's fur. The notebook sits in its usual spot, and Noctis opens it to the newest page.

The elegant handwriting Noctis had long come to recognize as Luna's sits neatly in the center of the page. Her letter is characteristically short as always.

"I hope this journal finds you well, the Archean

had already been awakened when I spoke to him.

My prayers are with you Noctis."



Noctis frowns, Luna would soon find out that Ramuh was already awake as well - that is if she hadn't spoke to him already. Travelling to each of the gods would be pointless and risky, but she likely only had Leviathan left.

He intended to stop her before that.

"Thank you Luna, I have

received the blessing. Please, return to

Tenebrae for the time being.

The burden is no longer yours to bear."



Noctis writes. He shuts the book, taking a moment to rub a thumb over the gold pattern of the sylleblossom embroidered on the front. Umbra bends to allow Noctis to slide the notebook back in.

He leans back into the tree, stretching his feet out on the pavement and yawning. The Crow's Nest is still bright at this hour, but from this position Noctis can't see any customers.

The click of heels on pavement reach his ears. He cranes his neck around and sees Gentiana.

"Gentiana." Noctis stands.

"O King of Stone." She greets, "How do you fare, in this time passed?"

Noctis pauses, grateful of her patience and caught off by such a personal question. In his eyes, she had always been the most human.

It was easy to forget she was an Astral.

"...It's fine. I am already farther than I was last time, I'm ahead of schedule. I won't let anyone down this time."

"Chosen, I asked how you were faring." She smiles and opens her eyes.

"Uh..." Noctis stammers, "Why do you-... I'm alright, I guess..."

He looks away, unwilling to meet her eyes. She steps forward, and Noctis forces himself not to step back. He winces as she gently cups her hand around his cheek.

"Where are you going, Noctis?"

Noctis remains quiet, letting the temperature of her hand seep into him. She was cool - not cold.

When he finally builds the courage to look up, he finds her frowning, her eyes looking a little sad.

"Why choose a path you have already walked?" Gentiana asks.

"I don't know any other way." He answers.

She lets her hand fall and backs a few steps. Noctis wants to hide from the way she looks at him - his attempt at a smile twists into a grimace.

"Walk your own path. The light is yours, don't shy away." With that, Gentiana leaves, taking Umbra with her.

The Mark of the Glacian stays with Noctis.