The apartment door slammed, and Ignis looked up from the cutting board.
“That is so weird,” Noct was saying, clearly engaged in conversation with Prompto. “It’s just…it’s just way too weird.”
“Look, it’s not like I’m the one doing it, except for when I go over to old Ms. Kalendaria’s house and she makes me,” Prompto huffed.
“Dude!” Noct said, clearly offended.
“Is everything all right?” Ignis asked.
“You!” Prompto said, turning toward him, tone accusatory. “You can handle this. I don’t know why you didn’t already handle this!” He flopped down on the couch.
“Handle what?” Ignis asked, setting down the knife and moving toward the sitting area.
“Why didn’t anyone tell me that people pray to my ancestors?” Noct demanded, sitting down next to Prompto.
“Oh, yeah, sure, what was I supposed to say, ‘Oh yeah, thanks for inviting me over to study, Noct, by the way the old lady across the street made me pray to your great-great-great grandpa for luck on the test so we’ll probably be fine?’” Prompto asked. “You can’t just say stuff like that!”
“Is that what this is about?” Ignis asked, taking the chair next to the couch. “Worshiping the kings is an old practice in Lucis, particularly in Insomnia and some of its outlying suburbs.”
“But they aren’t the gods!” Noct protested.
“They have magic given to them by the gods, and they protect the kingdom with it in life,” Ignis said. He paused, cautious. “And while the people are not aware of the precise nature of the power held in the Ring of the Lucii, there are rumors regarding the past kings remaining in some way to protect Lucis.”
“But, I mean, it’s just their magic, it’s not them,” Noct said.
“As far as I know, that is correct,” Ignis said. “But the very fact that they have magic marks them. Your line’s power was originally a blessing from the gods, according to all of our histories. Is it really that surprising that people would think of them as somewhat divine?”
“But we aren’t—I mean—we’re not even Oracles!” Noct said.
“The legends of your ancestors are better known here than those of the Oracle,” Ignis said. “And better trusted. We are allied with Tenebrae now, but we have not always been.”
“Do people pray to the old Oracles too?” Prompto asked.
“They do,” Ignis said, adjusting his glasses. “Lady Lunafreya and the rest of the royal family do their best to discourage it, but it’s quite the folk religion in Tenebrae, along with widespread belief in the People under the Hill.”
“The who now?” Noct asked, frowning.
“Ah…you know, the Good Neighbors,” Ignis said.
“Ooooh, you mean like fairies and elves and—“ Prompto started.
Despite himself, Ignis winced.
Noct stared at him. “You can’t be serious.”
“Oh, yeah, your family’s from Tenebrae,” Prompto said. “But…really, dude?”
Ignis stiffened. “It would be an exaggeration to say that I believe all of it. But at the same time, when we train to fight daemons, it is…difficult to discount the existence of other things.”
“There are pictures of daemons, though,” Noct pressed. “Like, people study them. Do people have pictures of fairies or whatever?”
“They do not,” Ignis acknowledged. “It is not a scientific belief. That said, I would advise you not to pursue similar lines of questioning when you encounter others whose belief systems you find baffling.”
“Oh, yeah, definitely do not do that,” Prompto agreed. “Unless you want to start a fight.”
The door opened and shut, and Gladio entered the room. “We talking about starting fights? I’m an expert on that!”
“Actually, we were discussing religion,” Ignis corrected.
“That’s a good way to start fights,” Gladio said with a nod, sitting down on the arm of the couch. “Glaive Altius beat up three Crownsguards for calling her a heretic last month.”
“Why’d they do that?” Prompto asked.
“One, because they were idiots and thought they could take her,” Gladio said. “Two, because she’s from Galahd and they do that ancestor-worship stuff over there.”
Noct made a groaning sound.
“Not yours, Noct, their own,” Ignis said.
“Okay, that’s…I don’t really get it, but it has nothing to do with me, so whatever,” Noct said.
“Yeah, I went to a bar with some of them once—“
“You aren’t of legal age Gladio—“
“Oh, shush, Mom,” Gladio huffed. “Anyhow, they got drunk and started telling folktales ‘cause they were homesick or something. It’s not like they don’t believe in the Astrals, they just think of them differently than we do. The Astrals are like the big guns, you don’t pray to them unless you’re fu—“ he glanced at Prompto and Noct “—er, screwed. And they don’t automatically want to help, you gotta kinda trick them into it.”
“That is somewhat heretical, according to standard teachings,” Ignis observed mildly.
“Faries,” Noct said flatly. “But they’re the heretics, sure.”
Gladio snorted. “Stop saying that, it makes him twitchy.” Then, he grinned, expression just slightly bloodthirsty. “If we’re talking about religion, did you guys get to Altissia yet?”
“No?” Prompto said cautiously.
Ignis sighed. “Gladio, it’s not a matter for levity. People died.”
“But it’s interesting,” Gladio protested.
“People died?” Noct asked, confused.
“Altissia used to sacrifice people to the Leviathan!” Gladio exclaimed.
Prompto turned pale, and Noct gaped.
“No way!” Noct exclaimed. “The Oracle wouldn’t have—“
“Accordo was at war with Tenebrae at the time, leaving Altissia with no way to communicate with the Tide Mother, who was stirring up storms in their waters,” Ignis said. “As soon as they brokered peace, the Oracle traveled to appease the Hydraean and explain to the people of Accordo that the sacrifices had in fact been making matters worse, not better.”
“They still have a harvest festival that involves sacrificing meat and crops to the Hydraean, though,” Gladio explained with relish. “And usually at least one human-sized effigy in clothes.”
“Holy crap,” Noct said. “Remind me to never go to Altissia.”
“It will likely be diplomatically necessary at some point in time,” Ignis said calmly.
“Screw that, I just won’t go,” Noct said. “They can come here.”
“Yeah, kid, that ain’t how politics works,” Gladio said. “Even I know that.”
“Does Niflheim, like, have a religion that we know about?” Prompto ventured.
“Once, they may have,” Ignis said. “But the state is atheist, so any religious practices there would be strictly private. I’m not certain what precisely they believe the Astrals to be, but their official stance is that they aren’t divine beings.”
“Ah,” Prompto said quietly.
“You’d think since the Astrals are just, you know, right there, it wouldn’t be this complicated,” Noct said.
“You would,” Ignis agreed. “But while it’s true that both Titan and Leviathan are easily seen, the Oracle is the only person on Eos who can speak with them directly, or understand them. Thus belief in their benevolence, and their ability and willingness to hear the common man, does not come as easily as belief in their existence.”
“And that’s how you get people like the King of Light cultists,” Gladio said.
“Like the prophecy?” Prompto asked.
“Yeah,” Gladio said. “They’re an on-again, off-again group of revolutionaries. They interpret the ‘darkness’ in the prophecy as political corruption and they’ve been looking for a ‘king of light’ to overthrow the royal line for the last fifty years or so. Every once in a while they set a bomb somewhere and we catch a few of them. It’s a pain. Dad says he looks forward to when they’re my problem.”
“Aren’t they already kind of your problem, since you’re my Shield?” Noct asked.
“Oh, they could care less about you,” Gladio dismissed. “You aren’t the king.”
“I’m supposed to be the next king.”
“And they’re terrible at planning. Good at hiding, though. That’s the only reason they aren’t all in jail. Uuugh, religious fanatics. Give me MTs any day; at least I don’t have to feel bad about killing those.”
Noct turned to Ignis. “How did you never go over any of this with me before?”
Ignis raised an eyebrow. “I have to admit that I thought you knew that the past kings were worshipped, and Altissia’s old rituals never struck me as important, but as for the rest of it—the King of Light cultists show up in those security briefings you say you read thoroughly, and I believe your curriculum should have covered both Galahd’s and Tenebrae’s cultures and geographies by now. Which makes the fact that neither of you seem to know basic facts about either topic quite intriguing.”
“Must’ve forgotten that stuff,” Prompto offered weakly.
“Teacher probably skimmed,” Noct said, much more confidently.
Unconvinced, Ignis said, “I expect both of you to actually study today. Gladio, you can help them.”
“Hey, what’re you doing, roping me into this?” Gladio protested.
“You’re Noct’s Shield, are you not?” Ignis asked, returning to the kitchen. “Protecting him is your job. I’m certain he sees a failing grade as a threat.”
Prompto let out a pained grunt.
“Six, don’t be such a baby about this, you’ve had worse,” Gladio said, the anger in his tone not even coming close to disguising his concern for anyone well-acquainted with him.
Ignis huffed, and resumed running his hands lightly along Prompto’s arm. Careful practice had sharpened his sense of touch to some degree, and more importantly, he was one of very few people that Prompto willingly accepted touch from, after his time in Ardyn’s hands. Locating swelling by finding heat was perfectly easy, it was just a skill most neglected to acquire when finding injuries visually was easier. But this was the best way for him to contribute, as even three years after his injuries at Altissia, he had yet to find a manner of bandaging lacerations that was not either needlessly complex or painful for the injured party.
“You could at least warn me before you start disinfecting,” Prompto muttered.
“You should have been able to see it!” Gladio said.
“I was watching Iggy!” Prompto protested. “Hey—is that vodka?”
“Disinfectant’s in short supply, alcohol isn’t, yet,” Gladio said. Ignis heard fabric shift and assumed he was shrugging. “Somehow. This is Aranea’s. You owe her a thank-you for getting you out of there, you know that?”
“I could’ve taken them,” Prompto snapped.
Ignis reached his shoulder, and felt pulsing heat. “Lift your arm, please,” he said.
More fabric shifted, bone creaked audibly, and then Prompto hissed out, “Sweet mother of Ifrit—“
“Can’t get it above his shoulder,” Gladio reported. “So, want to do rock-paper-scissors for who puts it back in its socket?”
“Well don’t all rush to help me at once,” Prompto grumbled.
“This is your own fault—“
“They were building an altar—“
“That doesn’t give you the right to—“
A chair screeched against the floor. It wasn’t loud enough to be Gladio’s. Ignis swore to himself.
“Enough,” he interrupted. “Gladio, now is not the time. Prompto, you do know, on some level, that what you did was quite foolish? Putting aside whether it was right to do it or not, you were outnumbered, and not properly armed for a nonlethal fight.”
“Okay, yeah,” Prompto said. “But—Noct’s not dead. He’s not. We saw—well, me and Gladio saw, and you were there, and—they can’t just act like he’s one of the dead kings now.” The last word was more a choked-off sob than anything.
“I know,” Gladio said. “But they don’t. They just have our word. And things are hard, and they’re scared, and this is how they’re dealing with things. You can’t just beat them up for that.”
“You mean like you couldn’t just beat Noct up for—“
“Prompto!” Ignis interrupted.
“You’re pushing it,” Gladio said, voice deep and hard.
There was a sniffle from Prompto. “Sorry,” he said quietly. “I just…sometimes, I miss him so much, ya know?”
“Yeah,” Gladio said. “I know.”
“We all do,” Ignis agreed.
“Think about it this way,” Gladio said. “When he does come back, it’s gonna be freakin’ hilarious.”
“I don’t follow,” Ignis said.
“Remember how much this stuff pissed him off?” Gladio asked. “He used to freak out over the idea of people worshipping his ancestors. When they find out they were actually worshipping him…oooh boy.”
Prompto let out a tentative little giggle. “He’ll sulk.”
“He will totally sulk,” Gladio agreed. “It’ll be great.”
Ignis still couldn’t find the humor in the situation. All he could think of was the vision he’d had at Altissia, and the older Noct with the Lucii’s phantom swords piercing his chest.
But he arranged his face into something like a smile, regardless, and said. “All right, let’s get that shoulder taken care of, shall we?”