The sword slammed into the pristine black marble, the tip of the blade sinking in by several inches. “Kings of Lucis, come to me!”
The air around the throne room turned cold and hard as the Kings of Before took heed of the undeniable command. One by one the weapons bearers appeared before the ragged man who had finally taken his throne, and he viewed them with a weary and somewhat wary magenta gaze. He knew what they expected to happen next, but he straightened his spine, lifted a hand from the hilt of his father’s blade, and intoned a single word. “Hold.”
Everything came to an expectant pause, and Noctis Lucis Caelum, One Hundred and Fourteenth of His Line, smiled tightly. “Astrals. Attend me.” It was another command that could not be denied, for it was spoken with the power of the Crystal that had been imbued into him.
They shimmered into muted existence one by one, Titan, Ramuh, Shiva, Leviathan, and even Ifrit. Each managed to convey their aspects of great power while maintaining more reasonable size for the environment. Ifrit was the stockiest, while Shiva hovered daintily above the ground. Ramuh’s beard and robes trailed along the floor as Titan towered over the others, ignoring Leviathan as she undulated in the air.
Noctis ignored them all and waited.
The air quivered with anticipation, and Bahamut stepped out of the ether, slightly taller than Titan, great arms folded across his chest, his terrifyingly human eyes angry and hard. You dare command us to be brought to this place? The blood price must be paid.
There was a silence in the room that a normal person would call uncomfortable. The longer it stretched, the more oppressive it became. But still Noctis did not speak. He was counting to himself.
By the door, where Noctis bade them wait, Prompto rested a hand on Ignis’ arm and pointed anxiously. Ignis lifted the fingers of his free hand in dismissal, and Gladio wiped at his face and rolled his eyes. This was Noctis’ fight, they were there together, but Noctis wanted them safe and mostly out of sight.
The best means to offput your enemy in battle of wit is to outlast. Make him wait for you, as long as you are in the position with the upper hand.
Noctis knew he had the upper hand at this moment, and he smiled internally at the memory of Ignis desperately trying to impart knowledge to his pupil. He caught the man's eye across the room, and nodded slightly. Just enough. Ignis understood, and offered his hand in a move similar to a fast wrist-based dagger throw. Wait until he is on the edge of his temper, and then strike with a precise blow.
Noctis knew Bahamut wasn’t there. Yet.
The other Astrals were shifting, as if they had weight and substance to feel the passage of the moments, and just as Bahamut unfolded his arms, Noctis spoke, his voice ringing clearly through the room. “The blood price has been paid. Ardyn is dead.” Noctis steepled his fingers, closed his eyes, and began to count again.
The Accursed is not King.
Noctis opened his eyes, and when he did, they were a brilliant blue, glittering with magic. “Ardyn Lucis Caelum, First of his Line, Sole Sovereign and Honored Chosen.” The inward smile now crept coldly across Noctis’ lips. “You can deny. You can decree. You can swear until you’re blue in the face, for all I care, Bahamut, but the Crystal agrees with me.”
The stone in the Ring glittered, as if in echo of the young king’s words, casting scintillating light across the room, dancing across another figure now coming into the light.
A lone king stepped forward, voice ringing clearly, though the words were old. “The young king is correct.” Regis, proud and tall as Noctis remembered him, though unearthly lit by the magic that had drawn him there.
He was joined by others, many of the Kings of Before moving to step forward in solidarity with he who was their blood, and Noctis’ smile grew colder.
“The blood that flows in my veins is not the blood of the Chosen, Bahamut. That was the blood of the Oracle and that line is dead. From Ardyn through to Lunafreya, that price is paid for all perpetuity. Only one remains of that line, and he, no Oracle, has sworn a vow of solitude to atone for his crimes. Personally, I hope he changes his mind, because Prompto thinks the kids would be adorable, but you'll get about as much say in it as I will. Wait, you'll get less.”
Silence reigned hand in hand with Noctis, and he sat back in the throne, rested his hands on the chair, and waited. There was an easy sense of power about the room, as if the dynamic had shifted, and the vast majority of those present approved and supported the change.
Hell, to Prompto, even some of the Astrals looked ready to stand with the Kings of Before, but they held their places and their tongues, allowing the silence to settle throughout the room. Ignis worked his jaw for a moment, and then allowed the smile to curve across his lips as he nodded to Gladio’s grunt of appreciation. Though he was yet uncrowned, Noctis had finally taken up the mantle of king.
The uncomfortable silence was broken by the last ethereal figure that had arrived, a tall and slender form that seemed so real he could have been still amongst the living. But Noctis knew and understood, simply nodding once in acknowledgement as the other moved through the throng of kings to stop in the empty space before Bahamut.
“He speaks true, you know. The bloodline split with half-brothers, and that you could not abide. One bloodline to be Oracle and the other for King. But you believed that the Kings of Lucis were to be all powerful, all pure. Oracle and King. And yet you forgot the ficklest thing of all: The human heart.”
Already angry eyes narrowed into slits and Bahamut drew his sword from the ether, leveling it at the arrival. The Accursed has no place here. The Accursed-
“Is Ardyn Lucis Caelum, Chosen Sovereign, and he has more of a place here than you do.” Noctis’ words rang out with conviction, silencing all who had gathered, including Bahamut, who half-turned, his blade still brandished.
Noctis rose from the throne and started down the first flight of stairs. “Oh, give it up, Bahamut. You wanted a pushover know-nothing child-king that you could command and manipulate into doing your bidding.” He paused on the first landing and looked at the Ring on his hand. “And you almost had one.”
The silence turned uneasy, and Noctis looked up from the Ring, casting a glance to the kings and the assembled Astrals before he looked back to Ardyn and Bahamut. “Too bad for you that I had a teacher hell-bent on making sure I learned things.” Across the room, Prompto punched Ignis in the arm.
Never play your full hand unless you are absolutely certain of the outcome. And even then, consider carefully the cost, Noct. Once played, a card cannot be withdrawn from the table.
“So this is how it’s going to go: That,” Noctis looked at Bahamut’s sword and gave a little movement of his head towards it as it shattered into Crystal light, “goes away. And you stand down.” The words were accompanied by Noctis flattening the hand with the Ring and pressing it down, as if telling an animal to sit and stay.
The effect on Bahamut was instant. If he’d been physically present in the room, it would be very likely that the black marble floor would have shattered under the claws that dug down as the Astral was called to bear. YOU DARE.
Noctis tilted his head in very much the same manner that he’d done when Leviathan had disregarded him. “Oh, I’m sorry, had you not been paying attention? Let me recap for you: I went into the Crystal by my own choice for ten years. All that power that was in the Oracle bloodline? That returned to the Crystal. To me. To the bloodline of Kings. King and Oracle united again in the Crystal. More. Powerful. Than. You. Got a problem with it? Look in the mirror.”
It did not come as a surprise that Ardyn was laughing. “Oh, Noct… you play the game even better than I could ever have hoped.”
“Shut it, Ardyn. You’re not innocent by a long shot. We’ll talk when I’m done with Bahamut.” Noctis spared the other a glance, then pointedly ignoring Prompto’s punching the air, he turned back to Bahamut. “So what will it be? The biggest throw-down in the history of the planet, or are you going to give in gracefully and swear fealty of your own free will?”
Silence fell in the room.
A figure blazing with flame and light that had no heat stepped forwards, Ifrit approaching the tableau in a much smaller version of himself than they had fought earlier. He regarded Bahamut for a moment, and then turned to look to Noctis. Then, hand to heart, he bowed into a kneeling stance.
Shiva followed, wings fluttering until she too was on her knee before Noctis. Titan and Ramuh moved as one, and only Leviathan stood in defiance with Bahamut. Noctis heard a hiss, unable to identify who had made the sound, but Leviathan seemed to sigh and curled her serpentine body into a strange semblance of bowing before shimmering into a kneeling humanoid form still too alien to be mistaken for any normal person.
Only Bahamut remained defiant out of the Hexatheon as left and right the Kings of Before all offered Noctis the traditional bow before taking knee. (Though Noctis would later swear that Regis had grinned and winked at him before bowing.)
Ardyn met Noctis’ gaze, swept an imaginary hat off of his head, bowed, and fell to his knees with great dramatic flair, as if to prove a point.
In the back of the room, the three Crownsguard moved as one, and then the only figures still on their feet were Noctis and Bahamut. Noctis raised a hand and indicated the room around him. “Last chance, Bahamut. You’re the only one out of line. I could force you, you know, lock you in the Crystal and require you submit. I have the power. I’d rather not, however. Loyalty taken by force isn’t loyal to anyone but themselves.” How bitterly he’d learned that lesson.
But Bahamut remained defiant and Noctis sighed, raising the Ring-bearing hand slowly, casting a long look across the length of the room. All who were present could see the resignation and sadness in Noctis’ blue eyes. He did not want to do this, knew that eventually it would come back on them all if he did. And yet, it had to be done.
Noctis knew then how his father had felt, and he froze. Sometimes, Noct, it is the wiser course of action to be the better man. Faith in mercy can often go farther than might and force. It is easier to catch flies with honey, after all.
He lowered his hand and sighed, turning away from the Astral and walking back towards his throne, voice suddenly soft. “Go, Bahamut. Leave. I will not raise my power to you. I will not imprison you in the Crystal. That is something you would do, and I am not you.”
Noctis could feel a sharp green gaze on his back. He tightened his jaw, steeling himself against the moment and turned, looking up to the left at a windowed wall he was somehow surprised to see intact. “Just… go.”
The sound was a soft one, a whispered intake of breath, distant and yet as familiar to Noctis as his own heartbeat. Prompto’s voice, in a gasp of surprise. It was enough to catch Noctis’ attention and turn him back around.
Bahamut had fallen to one knee.
Noctis had never imagined he’d see the Draconian on his knee, and he certainly had not believed it would be in fealty to him. But he was that better man, and he walked quietly towards the Astral and rested his hand on the armor-plated shoulder as Astrals and Kings alike rose to their feet. “There is much to do to set things right, and I would prefer to work with you to make this a better world.”
Introduce to him a shared interest or goal, and convince him you are on the same side. It will not be an easy task, but few worth the doing are. Be patient; too heavy a hand can turn a head rather than lead it.
There was a long silence, and then a drawl came from behind them. “Do you truly think the Draconian is going to work with you? Oh, Noctis, how naive can you be?”
Before Noctis could turn around and glare at Ardyn, Bahamut spoke, a strangely human sounding voice emanating from the being before Noctis. “It would be an honor to work alongside the King of Kings.”
From the back of the room, there came a strangled squeaking sound, as if Prompto had started to open his mouth and Gladio and Ignis both had moved to silence him. From his quick glance, Noctis surmised that was precisely what had happened, and he had to fight to keep the sudden grin off of his face and out of his eyes.
“Oh, of course you would. You always liked him better.”
Noctis spun, rounding on Ardyn. “Maybe because I didn’t go around Eos killing off people. Or maybe it’s because I had the Oracle at my side until you killed her. For once, Ardyn Lucis Caelum, maybe it isn’t about you!!!” Noctis’ voice had risen as he’d stalked over to the ethereal image of Ardyn, and he’d ended up shouting the last three words in Ardyn’s non-corporeal face.
Noctis took a moment, drew himself back, and tugged on his jacket in an effort to calm himself. He desperately tried to regain some semblance of dignity while not casting a panicked look over to Ignis, was undoubtedly pinching the bridge of his nose. He looked up, and fumbled to a stop when Ardyn inexplicably smiled and bowed.
Son of a bitch.
Noctis didn't have time to react, because suddenly, there she was. Luna, as beautiful as she had been the last time he'd seen her, and his heart gave a little jolt. She was The Oracle, She Who Was Loved By All, and Noctis was no exception. He would have married her, if for nothing else than to keep her safe. It was all he’d ever wanted, to keep her safe.
And now, she was beyond anyone's grasp. She'd never be hurt again.
He plastered a smile on his face and offered it to her as best he could. “Hello, Luna.”
“Hello Noctis.” She smiled that little smile, the one that they'd shared so often as children together. The one that had said so much when she couldn't touch him for fear of hurting him. The one that offered warmth and acceptance when he'd tried to totter across the room and fell instead. The same smile she hadn't given him in Altissia ten years ago.
Then, as Ardyn turned to see her, she rested a hand on his arm and magic burst forth, light spilling through the throne room and making Noctis and the others flinch.
When the light faded, Noctis startled.
Ardyn Lucis Caelum was gone. Someone else stood in his place, someone who Noctis first thought was Ravus, but that would be stupid because Ravus had chosen to stay outside of the throne room for this, claiming that the Oracle blood was dead and he had no place in the Ascension.
In the fading glow of the Oracle’s power, the man looked almost alive. Pale blue eyes blinked under white lashes, the white hair styled wildly. The nose was right, but the lips were off, almost kinder. Not twisted in a perpetual half-smirk. There was a quick impression of white clothing before the magic faded and left him in softly shimmering shades of blue once more.
And then it hit Noctis with the force of one of Ramuh’s lightning bolts.
“As I was in the days of my youth, a bright-headed Healer with a heart far too like your own. I wanted to help them all, but unlike you, I allowed the bitterness to take over. You are everything I wanted to be, young King. Make better choices.” He was fading from sight, dissipating into a blurred impression of himself even as Noctis lunged forwards.
All too real hands passed through ethereal mist, and Noctis stumbled though the blue that had been Ardyn, staggering to a halt mere inches from the still glowing vision of Luna.
She smiled again at him, and his heart filled. “Thank you, Noctis, for helping him redeem himself.”
“I miss you,” It hadn’t been what he’d meant to say, but it had come out anyway. She smiled again and shifted, fading in brilliance. “Ravus!” Noctis called out, knowing that if he didn't take this chance, didn't call the other man in to say goodbye to Luna, Noctis would never forgive himself.
The door burst open and Ravus Nox Fleuret started in, as if expecting he'd have to lend a hand in a fight. Halfway into the room, however, his gaze met his sister’s, and he fell to his knees. “Luna…forgive me…I was not as strong as you.”
She didn’t so much walk as just become in front of him, hands clasped before her, gentle smile softening further. “Oh, Ravus. You have grieved long enough, and atoned for your sins the moment you supported Noctis. I only ask you stand at his side where I cannot and guide him.”
Ravus ducked his head and said something quietly, which Noctis didn’t try to catch, but it was obvious when Luna smiled sadly and looked off to wave at Prompto, Ignis, and Gladio.
Noctis turned his attention away to give Ravus as private a moment as he could, and watched the others come up from the back of the room, Ignis’ hand on Prompto’s arm, as if in a note to draw the younger man back.
But Luna simply smiled and ghosted a hand on Ravus’ shoulder while moving past him to Prompto and the others. Noctis couldn’t bring himself to listen to the exchange, but bit his lip to hide his smile when Prompto turned bright red.
Gladio began laughing, and even Ignis looked amusedly embarrassed.
Noctis watched from his own distance, almost missing Shiva as she moved up beside him, speaking in Gentiana’s voice. “The King of Kings remains unmoved?”
“Not unmoved. Helpless. I didn't save her.”
“You bent the will of the Crystal before.”
“In Gralea, in the heart of the Keep.”
“And it was within Bahamut’s power, as well.”
Was she saying what Noctis thought she was saying? “But…”
“True, she would only be Luna…”
He didn't even think, just moved, warping to her side without the effort of a blade, reaching out his hand, defying the world just once more.
Instead of passing through her, his hand fell solid on her shoulder and his heart raced. She lifted her head, gasping as power raced through her, rendering her solid and real. Her hand fell into Prompto’s and the next thing anyone knew, the blond had grabbed Luna and Noctis and was hugging them both so tightly Noctis thought he was going to die.
When Ignis and Gladio had managed to pry a hysterical Prompto off of them and pass Luna off to her baffled brother, Noctis turned to look at Bahamut. “No more. That's it. No more die in my name. No more die in your name. It's. Over.”
And as he felt the Crystal’s magic fade from the world and settle somewhere behind his heart, waiting for his Command, Noctis knew. They’d walked tall. Together.