There wasn’t a moment after the cluster-fuck of a mission that had been his attempt at infiltrating and sabotaging Nifelheim’s Magitek production facility that Cor Leonis didn’t spend wishing he’d done more. On paper his mission is a complete success, he’s managed to map out most of the factory, the pictures he’d taken and what evidence he’d managed to steal were now in the hands of his king and the council. The documents and recordings he’d absconded with alone were worth their weight in gold.
His success meant very little in the face of the reoccurring dreams he’s had since then.
Dreams in which he found himself walking through the eerily silent corridors of the imperial compound again, only this time there was no hidden traps. No alarms tripped and no Magitek reacting to his presence. Doors opened when he got to them, and there was no fear of discovery because the keep was essentially empty and eerily silent save for the sounds of his own footsteps, breathing and heartbeat. His feet inevitably led him to a large, cavernous room deep within the keep and to the small, clear, loaf-sized oval pods that in real life had been occupied.
He could only be thankful that his nightmares spared him the reminder of the empty-eyed, soulless looking children he’d found therein.
Cor’s dreams always led him to the only occupied pod in his dream, to the baby who had set himself apart from the dozens of blank faces by the simple life in his eyes. The abject wonder on his little face upon seeing him and the utter awe at the sight of what had to be the first human being he’d seen in his short life. So fascinated by him the baby had ignored the automated metallic arm reaching around from the back of the pod with a tube topped with a rubber teat until it touched his lips. Sparkling blue eyes never left his as delicate little hands reach outwards. One tiny hand had clasped around the feeding tube and the other… reached out to pat at the glass, revealing the bar-code tattooed onto peach-pink skin.
His greatest regret was in having had to leave the child behind. He could give himself all the excuses he wanted, he could blame it on his infiltration being discovered, on his lack of supplies and curatives, on the goddamned weather even. The truth of it was that his panicked, frozen indecisiveness at discovering the baby had robbed him the opportunity to even try rescuing him
It had been over a month since then and that last moment replayed itself. The feeding tube retracting with mechanical precision and folding back out of sight with no regard to the delicate hand that had been holding it. Thankfully the baby’s instinctive grasp had loosened, likely due to the distraction Cor had provided just standing there.
There really was no excuse for the way he’d stood there, startled into statue stillness at his discovery, but after everything he’d seen on the way in... The sight had been so unexpected he hadn’t been able to help it. The little boy’s other hand reached out to pat the glass and he’d been transfixed breathless by a gummy little grin. Chubby little legs had kicked excitedly within the confines of the pod he hadn’t known enough about then to even think of opening to rescue the happily burbling infant within.
The brush of something small against his leg and a chirp had him looking down at the silver furred creature that had taken to occupying his dreams of late. His phone buzzed with the indication that a message had been received, and when he pulled it out of his pocket to check.
‘Don’t be sad! Just do what you can here in your dreams and I’ll protect him from the rest!’ the message read.
“What can I do in a dream?” Cor muttered bitterly even as he worked at the controls for the pod, opening it one-handed he began to free the naked baby from the monitoring equipment attached directly to soft skin. The baby’s hair was different, a wispy-fine platinum blond instead of the dirty brown it had appeared in reality, was this what it would have looked like had the baby been clean? His phone buzzed again with another message as he carefully lifted the infant up and when he secured the child up against his shoulder to read the one word reply on his phone he honestly wished he could believe in it.
The animal’s deep blue-violet eyes glowed, the crystal on its forehead shone and the Magitek facility melted away to be replaced by Altissia at its finest. Streamers and banners flapped in the wind, balloons floated away into the distance and he found himself sitting in a gondola. Confetti spiraled through the air and the twilight sky exploded with lights and colors in the shapes of Moogles and Chocobos. The baby boy shrieked, giggled, kicked his little legs in pure joy and grabbed for sparkles that were out of reach.
Cor’s phone buzzed with two new messages.
‘I will guide and protect you both through your darkest dreams, you need only believe in me. We’re going to save him together, just you wait and see! In the meanwhile have you thought of a name yet?’ was the animal’s first message. ‘Don’t give him something stupid or I’ll name him myself!’ was the second message with a silly little picture accompanying it.
Cor gently leaned the baby back and off of his shoulder to lay him down on his lap and shot the silver furred animal a half-hearted glare before returning his attention back to his charge. The baby’s eyes met his and the infant immediately grinned as he had done when he’d first seen him and in every dream since. He had a naturally cheerful disposition that was quick to bubbly giggles and smiled at the least bit of attention.
“Prompto.” he decided, tickling a finger against a plump cheek. “It’s Ancient Lucian for—”
His phone interrupted him again.
‘Quick, I know. Too bad, here I was almost hoping I’d get the chance to name him. Carbuncle would have made a fine baby name!’
Cor snorted… and the name the silver furred animal would have given the newly named Prompto sunk in and he boggled.
“Carbuncle? But that—” Was the name of the patron Astral for the lost and the young.
‘Of which you and Prompto are both. Believe in me and our dreams will change the future. Not just for the both of you alone, but for all the young and the lost on our star. Guide him, teach him and love him Cor Leonis, and I will do the rest.’ Read another text message. The silver furred animal chirped again and leaped up onto Cor’s lap, lifted up onto his hindquarters to bunt his head lightly against the baby’s and between one blink and the next the infant was no longer naked.
A red jewelled circlet curled around Prompto’s head in fine golden tendrils, the gem of which sat directly over his forehead. Ruby and gold earrings twined around the delicate shells of his tiny ears. Silver shirt, jacket and pants that shimmered with hints of green, blue and purple draped across the small body, held closed by a tasselled gold sash. Slitted sleeves revealed jewelled gold armbands around small biceps. Around each little wrist was a gold bangle made up of flat tear-shaped disks of gold that conveniently covered up the bar code he’d been branded with and arched down over the back of his hands in a V-shape. Finally his little feet were now encased in soft-soled silver booties edged in gold.
Logic told him this dreams was his way of working through the emotions eating up his insides, that there was no way the baby he’d found was safe where he was. He had his duties and he couldn’t abandon them to assuage his guilt. Right now there was no way he would be able to infiltrate Nifelheim, get to the Magitek facility, break in and make it back out a second time. Let alone do so with a baby in tow. He’d barely survived the last time, and he already had one ridiculous nickname for his propensity of scraping in and out of hairy situations with his life intact, he didn’t need another one. He was one incident away from people calling him ‘Cor the Cockroach’.
One day though he was going to be strong enough to try again, he’d be wiser and equipped with more information, he’d have back-up and support. In the meanwhile he would never stop looking for a way to return to Nifelheim and back to that facility, all his dreams had done with the turn they’d had taken was make him more determined than ever to one day revisit the facility.
He would be fully prepared next time.
When he was confident Regis would be protected in his absence, when he found a way past the hoard of daemons, dropships and Magitek he would bring Prompto home. Until then? He’d just have to sharpen his skills in preparation.
Prompto giggled as if in agreement.
Guide, teach and love him? That last condition was effortless, how could anyone not love him? How could anyone walk past the columns and rows of blank-faced, soulless husks and not see how special he was? He would have to be thankful for Nifelheim blindness to what was literally right under their noses… but how long would that last? How long did Prompto have until someone noticed?
Cor’s phone buzzed.
‘Dreams are more powerful than you can possibly imagine, and unlike some Astrals I could name, I actually take care of the Messengers I Choose. For now his unique situation is actually working in our favor and makes him the safest he can be until we can get him back on track. Make no mistake Cor, we will not lose him to the dark, I will not allow it. Prompto’s destiny will not end here.’
The implication that Prompto might actually die before he could be rescued had Cor picking him up and cradling him belly down against his chest and directly over his suddenly pounding heart. Prompto’s now violet tinged eyes looked up and met his, perfectly bowed lips curled up instantly at the attention and his little legs kicked again in excitement.
“You had best give me a sign when I wake up.” Cor told the Astral still partially in his lap. “Or so help me I’m going back to Nifelheim the second I wake up.” Because he needed to know Prompto was safe. It was no longer a fleeting desire or something he could wait through. Now that he had had felt the weight of him in his arms, the warmth of it and had formed that attachment to him by naming him? Either Carbuncle was going to give him that proof when he woke up or that was it.
He would try to rescue Prompto or die trying, to hell with his duty.
His phone buzzed one last time.
‘Well, if you want proof, then all you have to do… is wake up.’
Cor’s dream burst.
He jackknifed, the high-pitched sounds of a child’s screaming discomfort splitting through the veil of sleep and shattering his every nerve. The movement sent reports that had been sitting on his desk everywhere and his eyes searched for the source of the sound that had woken him up. He didn’t have to look very far as his flustered King was struggling to calm down the armful of noise he was holding, and trying not to drop the phone in his hand.
“Reggie, what the hell?” He asked, willing his heart to calm down. That had not been the best way to wake up, especially not after the dream he’d been having. For a moment he’d thought his dream had taken a turn into the realms of nightmares.
“I just— shh Noct, daddy didn’t mean to wake you up! Please stop crying!” his brother, friend and commander tried, raw with nerves and looking close to tears himself as his son’s wailing reached an entirely new pitch.
“Hand him here,” Cor offered gruffly, unable to help himself. He couldn’t just keep watching, not when he knew how to calm down the storm of tears.
He hadn’t spent the last few weeks hyper-aware of any and all children around him without picking up a few things. Children faced with a stranger almost always stopped to stare, like Prompto— like the baby in Nifelheim had. Like every baby he’d seen since then, having picked up the stupid habit of stopping and offering himself up as a distraction to help the random mothers and fathers of upset children in Insomnia.
Noctis Lucis Caelum, heir apparent to the throne of Insomnia, startled mid-wail looking caught between crying and staring at the stranger he’d been presented with. His little lip wobbled, his cheeks were wet with tears and his face and the whites of his eyes were red.
“Are you going to explain yourself, your highness?” Cor asked the little prince, smoothing dark hair out of wet sapphire blue eyes and settling him up against his chest. He absently wiped away the tears with the pad of his thumb and raised an eyebrow as Noctis’s exhausted father very gingerly sit himself down on the only other available chair in the room. “You’ll wake up the entire palace.”
“My fault, I’m afraid.” Regis replied for his upset son, rubbing a tired hand over his face. “I had just gotten him to sleep when I saw the light on under the door. When I came in to check, you were fast asleep at your own desk. I’ll admit, in hindsight, taking a picture with the flash on wasn’t my… brightest moment.”
“Pretty… dim-witted.” Cor agreed easily, rolling with the joke. “Was it worth it for you?”
“Well, I have yet to check it.” Regis laughed ruefully as he checked his phone, “but what kind of King would I be if I let the image of The Immortal caught snoring with his mouth open pass bye without— Oh! Well, I dare say it was worth it after all.” The man remarked, blue-grey eyes widening in surprise. “It’s not every day one manages to capture an Astral on film.”
Only the feel and sensation of a baby held against his chest stopped him from snapping upright, though he didn’t have to wait very long to see what his king was talking about. When Regis held the phone out to him Cor secured Noctis with his left hand and accepted it, turning it right way around so he could see for himself the picture displayed on the screen.
He’d indeed been captured with his mouth open and snoring over a stack of folders that now lay scattered over the floor at his abrupt wake-up, but in the picture Carbuncle was sitting in the crook of his neck, the Astral’s silver fur gleaming in the light of the flash and he wasn’t alone. Sitting at his head and leaning on him with both hands bunched in his hair was Prompto as he’d seen him in his dreams. Silver clothes, ruby and gold jewellery, bright blond hair, wide blue-violet eyes fixated on the handful of hair he was holding and beaming at him with happy little grin.
“It’s been quite a while since the last time the Astral’s chose a Messenger, Gentiana was the last one, chosen by Shiva.” Regis remarked, as Noctis’s curious little fingers reached out for the phone, which had him moving it quickly out of reach. “Even longer since the last of Carbuncle’s chosen, but there’s no mistaking those robes.”
Well, he’d asked for proof, hadn’t he? Sending himself the picture Cor coughed, cleared his throat and pinched away the moisture that had inexplicably gathered at the corners of his eyes. A small hand pat at his face and that was a distraction he was more than willing to let work.
“Yes, your highness? Was there something you wanted from me?” Cor asked his armful gruffly, looking down at the young prince. Noctis snuffled out a breathy little whine and reached for the phone again. Since he was no longer in danger of accidentally deleting the picture he let the baby pull the phone towards himself.
The phone was immediately drawn towards the prince’s mouth.
When Cor pulled the phone back out of reach Noctis squirmed and squeaked out a breathy little whine, huffily reaching for his father. He seemed to no longer interested in being held by a stranger, especially not one who didn’t immediately give him what he wanted. Regis took the unspoken cue to retrieve his son and settled him up against his shoulder with soothing noises and rocking.
The spoiled little brat hadn’t even smiled once the entire time he’d been holding him. He’d been all tears and silence. Looking like the very image of his father in miniature, excepting the shade of his blue eyes, the young prince had the entirety of Lucis swooning over him. Cor wasn’t completely immune, the image of him snuggling into his father’s arm was adorable, but he couldn’t help but think…
Prompto was cuter.
“With all due respect Reggie, you can piss off now.” Cor grunted, getting up out of his seat and pushing the man’s phone into the man’s jacket pocket as he went past. He opened the door to his office in a clear invitation to get the hell out. “I’ve got files to go through and thanks to a certain someone, they’re all over the office.”
Regis dramatically lifted his nose in the air and sniffed, putting on an air of offended dignity. “Well, I can certainly tell when I’m not wanted. Come then Noctis, let us leave Mr Crankypants The Immortal to his dreams, he needs all the beauty sleep he can get.” Insult delivered, his snickering king legged it out the door as if he expected Cor to chase him down for retaliation.
Cor snorted and closed the door behind him instead. Really, Regis should know him better by now. He would get his revenge for that later, when a certain sulky little Prince wasn’t within range. For now he was more interested in the photo he’d sent to himself and the information his King had provided.
Pushing his files to the side, which he would deal with later, Cor retrieved his phone and connected it to his computer. He transferred the image to his desktop, printed it and folded it into a pocket. Next he opened up a browser window and spent a while on Moogle learning everything he could on Messengers, checking website after website.
There was no way of checking fact from fiction, but considering he had proof of Carbuncle and Prompto’s existence… Perhaps he could try getting the answers to his many questions from directly from Carbuncle instead of driving himself insane chasing dead ends and fake leads all over the internet.
To that end, even though it felt like he was going against his every instinct to stay up late and finish his work… he decided it was high time he re-evaluated his lifestyle. If he was going to be spending his nights raising Prompto, he was going to be damned sure he was doing a proper job of it. Shutting down his computer Cor got up and let himself out of his office. The files of potential Crownsguard recruits could wait until morning.
He had a dream to get back to.
Regis allowed his feet to lead him down a corridor of the Citadel he hadn’t walked down in a very long time. He hadn’t been in the Hall of History since he’d left Insomnia all those years ago on his journey to collect the Royal Arms in preparation for his coronation. A sense of unease had crawled up his spine and would not be moved until he satisfied the inexplicable urge to check the Genesis paintings that had been there since before he’d been born.
His duty to the gods to prepare and await the coming of the Chosen King as the King of Lucis by no means made him an expert in the lore that surrounded them, but… Regis could count on one hand the number of times he’d personally been in contact with the Astrals and still have all his fingers left over. For all the undeniable power the Crystal and the Ring of the Lucii granted him, they were otherwise lifeless and devoid of personality. He’d heard of the Ascension of Shiva’s chosen Messenger Gentiana in passing, but had never had the occasion to meet her.
Now not only had one of his most trusted retainers been visited by an Astral, albeit one of the lesser ones, but they’d been graced with what could be considered a sneak-peek at a future Messenger. Regis only knew what he had learned from tutors and what he’d picked up from random Cosmology books, but even he had recognized the distinctive robes the blond baby pictured with Cor had been wearing.
The last person to have worn those robes had been during the time of the First King, Carbuncle’s messenger at the time had been female. Unless he was mistaken there was a portrait of her he could compare the photo on his phone to just outside the room the Genesis paintings were kept. Regis ducked his head and pressed a soft kiss onto the side of his sleeping son’s head and then tucked him more securely under his chin as he pulled out his phone.
Something cold lodged itself in his heart as he approached the portrait of the Messenger and he recalled the lessons he’d been taught about her as a child. She had been the one to guide the First King through his first years as King, acting as Carbuncle’s mouthpiece and guarded his dreams against the darkness. The First of Carbuncle’s Chosen Messengers was an auburn haired, dimple-faced little girl with violet-tinted clear green eyes and a sweet smile… she was also wearing exactly the same robes and adornments as the baby pictured with Cor.
What did the gods need with more than one Messenger when they had the Oracle to act as a mouthpiece? Even if Regis could ignore Carbuncle’s newest Messenger… hadn’t he heard of two others just recently? Pryna and Umbra were still young, and had taken on the form of puppies to boot, but their appearance at the feet of the Oracle brought the total number of Messengers up to four. Three had been an unheard of number, the most recorded in living history having previously been two, and now that number had suddenly doubled?
His whole life he hadn’t heard so much as a peep from the gods and now he had a picture of an Astral literally photobombing one of his pictures. How was he supposed to react to that? He couldn’t exactly ignore the fact he’d been holding his son at the time.
He wanted desperately to see it as a blessing, but… could this be an omen for the future? There was no way Noctis could be the King of prophecy, surely the crystal would have reacted to his birth! Noctis was almost a year old and the crystal hadn’t reacted. It hadn’t even reacted to his proximity, how many times had he walked his son into Crystal Chamber to soothe him back to sleep already? His son wasn’t even a year old yet and already he couldn’t hardly imagine living his life without him. Noctis was literally the light of his life, the fact that he might also possibly be Eos’s light hadn’t even occurred to hi— No.
The crystal had had plenty of opportunity to anoint Noctis as the Bringer of the Dawn and it hadn’t. It hadn’t. The prophecy spoke of the shortening of days and lengthening of nights until the world was lost to an eternal darkness, but the sun still rose over Insomnia like it had every day before this.
He was worrying over nothing, he had to be.
Turning his back on the portrait of Carbuncle’s first Messenger Regis looked to the picture of the violet eyed, blond Messenger on his phone and smoothed a hand over his son’s back. He locked the phone and tucked it away, then tried to will his panicked heartbeat to slow down.
Omen or blessing, Carbuncle’s divine purpose was to guide and protect the young. He had to keep that in mind.
He had to.