A king cannot lead by standing still. A king pushes onward always, accepting the consequences and never looking back. That said, a king can accept nothing without first accepting himself.
Should he stand still, I ask you stand by him and lend him a hand – as his friend, and as his brother.
Please, take care of my son.
Ignis meets his end during peacetime.
Not the quiet, private affair he envisioned, but it was surprise enough that he survived Gralea, let alone what came after. Borrowed time is a phrase that comes to mind, but he’s had more than enough to reconcile the concept, to even feel a smidge of satisfaction.
It’s nothing personal. Or rather, that’s what he’d like to argue in fervent and systematic detail, from chronology to the extenuating circumstances. Noct doesn’t deserve this, and neither do Prompto or Gladio when they inevitably find out.
No matter what he tries, the most Ignis manages is a low gurgle in between wet, rattling breaths. Noct speaks without sound, and it sinks in that he can’t hear anything – not with each rabbiting pulse surging through his ears.
Noct hovers over him in a desperate rush, with bloodied, trembling hands aglow with mana. It’s a testament to his friend’s determination that Ignis lingers still, but he feels so very cold under the midday sun. And sees the sweat building on Noct’s brow, wrinkled with concentration. The pallor of exhaustion observed plainly in someone drawn between opposites.
Ignis drifts. He’s back in Insomnia, untouched and pristine, the cityscape a familiar silhouette through the window. Regis speaks in smooth, avowing tones on the duties of a king, and Noctis – young and unafraid – clasps two hands over Ignis’s own.
A prince ignorant to their approaching fate; and Noct, who succeeds the throne while drawing breath.
An impulse hits him, and he can’t quite help the smile that stretches across his lips. For a brief, private moment, Ignis muses upon placing his remaining hand over the top.
“—Iggy, just hold on, only a little longer, okay?” A short, shuddering inhale. “We’ll have you up in no time—“
The grip shifts to a painful vice, one gloved and the other bare. Rough calluses slicked with red. Something in Noct’s expression twists, jagged—
—none of this is right.
Gladio, Shield of the King, doesn’t strike Insomnia’s reigning monarch in the solar plexus, but it’s something close.
Noct has Prompto to thank for that, and the blonde’s intervention is what spurs an end to the matter. At least until the next fuse is lit, and Gladio is forced to exercise his right to knock them into shape. He mourns, moving forward in equal strides.
In quieter moments, all it takes is a casual slip of a tongue, the split-second lurch in conversation when they expect Ignis to chime in, or the misstep of a new recruit – and the pain begins anew.
It’s Noct that lashes out. For all the time spent after Ardyn, very little of it went into kingly composure. What begins as a spar in the training grounds ends with a trip to the infirmary, Gladio in tow. The king’s mana is better spent supplying the Kingsglaive, and though the scourge is long past, the strongest of daemons roam Eos still.
In the repose stolen between hunts and the chocobo post, Prompto orbits his friends. It’s harder to discern, with him.
Beyond the first few weeks, there was only so much time the blonde spent in Insomnia, let alone the castle. Maybe, some days were better spent in reminiscence – and there were other occasions, where he shone bright enough for two.
They have each other, and that solidarity will pull them through the worst of the storm. Ignis refuses to accept anything less.
It’s strange. Outside looking in, and Ignis is here but not quite. He goes to follow, to soak in the sight of them because it’s the only thing left he can do –
And he’s back where he started; face to face with the Crystal, housed deep within the castle. Days, weeks pass, and still he belays.
The core pulses with a life of its own; iridescent, shifting vermilion interspersed with an arresting shade of sky. There are days where he simply listens to its gentle hum, a melody of speech and sound that should – by all rights – be a dissonant mess. Once or twice, Ignis recognises a familiar voice.
Some primordial measure of him understands what needs to be done. The rest is irreparably anchored.
Ignis pivots on his heel.
Ravus, dark lines of fatigue under sharper eyes, arms tense in a familiar stance beyond the doorway. Ten years in omnipresent darkness did not pass easily for any of them, and whatever convalescence the elected ruler of Tenebrae underwent in the years after, Ignis sees none of it now.
The eye contact is key, and Ignis is bleeding hope, eyes wide.
“Ravus,” he starts, hesitates. The sheer likelihood alone…
(There were moments, when he roamed so close Gladio fixed his attention in Ignis’s general direction – but could do little further than that, arm braced and ready on the Glaive of the Shield. Cor’s weapon, they learn, well into the years of unfaltering dusk.)
Consideration upon forethought; the expansive permutations of possibility. And Ignis fractures under what must take precedence, beyond pride or procrastination. “I need you to tell Noct—“
A blade splits the air in a clarion call. “You forfeited the right to speak,” Ravus snaps, low and ragged, “the moment you wore that face like a second skin.”
Ravus is before him in an instant, poised to strike. Ignis flickers, unravelling violet in his wake – not unlike how he wielded the Ring of the Lucii that fateful day – and is struck by the vertigo of backstepping across the room.
He seizes the palpable, unlikely conclusion. “Ardyn is dead,” Ignis corrects, placating. “The day you returned the Sword of the Father, we made certain of it.”
Long ago, Ignis considered Ravus a friend. Surly in a way that brought Gladio to mind, oft rivalling Prompto in impulsiveness before mellowing out in the years after.
Beyond that, he was an unwavering confidante. To his late sister, and then Ignis in some inscrutable capacity.
Today, Ravus jerks his head as if to dispel an apparition. Lunges again. Ignis tears to the side before staggering from the impact as a path of ruin is scored where he stood last.
Part of him knows it won’t matter if the blade makes contact. Nothing else in this world has seen fit to interact with Ignis, and him with it, but. Something about relinquishing the normalcy is what propels Ignis to dodge the next strike, and the one after that.
“Ravus!” He shouts, breathless, “that day in Altissia—,” another cleave, so close his mind conjures up the whiplash, “—we found lady Lunafreya and Noctis, do you remember?”
Ravus stills, his sword glinting like a promise. Ignis presses the opportunity, quieter now, “we both saw her,” he swallows down the lump in his throat, “before she moved on. Ravus, I need you to trust me when I say none of this is how it seems—“
He sees the stream of quicksilver long before it connects, and stands his ground. There’s a point he needs to make before Ravus is anywhere close to believing him.
A sharp, throbbing pain razing trails through him with each breath. Confusion, gaze fixed upon where blade meets him at the chest, seeping black and catching alight with flames that flash in a spectrum of twilight. Ravus, eyes bright and mouth pinched in fury.
The man inclines his head to share a secret. “Do not presume to speak of my sister,” the blade twists with a vicious wrench, and time slows to an agonizing end, “when you bleed like a daemon.”
Deeper breaths now, to stave off the worst of it. If this is how Ignis is fated to die for the second occasion, he plans to make the most of it.
Ignis’s hand shoots up, half-expecting to meet air. Fingers catch on Ravus’s collar, and he jerks the man forward – close enough speak his peace. No room for misunderstanding. Ignis will do this once, and he will do it right.
The wound stings and spits in protest where the metal shifts deeper. Ignis is a man burning alive, but there’s still time.
“Tell him it was my choice, not the result of an oath or some – bygone obligation,” he spills.
Desolate, when he could do nothing but watch as Noct relived the same, bloody scenario in his mind’s eye. A circle hewn apart, and Prompto confronting mortality where he was wholly unprepared for it. Gladio, older now. No less immune to survivor’s guilt, a duty from one friend to another unfulfilled.
Ignis lifts an unwavering gaze. Ravus, dampened by the slightest seed of doubt. One blue iris and the other tinged red. It stayed that way – long after the scourge was lifted from their star. A permanent, physical reminder of what the swordsman sacrificed to reach this point.
“It was my price to pay…”
Ignis smiles in a facsimile of reassurance. It is no doubt strained, but never let it be said he failed for lack of trying. “…And I would gladly do the same for you, or anyone else.”
He lets go.
The pain surges to exponential intensity. Flames lick at Ignis’s skin, charring through to viscera; and the slow, ashen deterioration that sets into him, bones warping into dust and choking every breath he takes. It’s as if the Ring of the Lucii never left his finger.
Concentration slips. Ignis just needs it to end – and relief floods him like the morning tide. He gasps, each labouring inhale a panacea.
Recollect, Wielder of the Ring.
Every inch an entity of lore, the draconian receives him with implacable eyes against a sea of viridian. Bladed wings cut silhouettes in every direction, aloft and immense. Beyond it is a familiar palette of configurations, the selfsame that transfixed him as Ignis looked upon the Crystal not so long ago.
Too much. Ignis focuses on the Astral in full – a welcome point of focus amongst enormity. He goes to speak, a question on his tongue, and is greeted by silence amongst the susurrus.
The draconian motions a preternatural understanding, wings thundering into sonorous height and span.
The contract endures. Deliverance is necessary to sustain it to completion.
The Six of the Crystal; the very soul of the star. None abide in mortality – and thus the Infernian rouses once more.
Dread plunges through lethargy. His mind works apace, the information assembles, but Ignis can’t quite place it. Something lacking, or a portrait of embellishment made real.
A smaller, honest part of him aches for rest – to meet again with those long lost. It’s a thought that gleams with irreverence, and Ignis can’t find it in himself to care.
Judgement approaches a world untested.
Should the immortal Accursed chance upon our Star once more, reprieve will linger in the realm of impossibility.
Calling for a deed replete, the ring shall adjourn no earlier. The Six extend impunity to its drain, O Wielder; however, our intervention shall endure no longer than the allotted interval – during which, a choice must arise.
Suffer in deterioration, or be made anew.
“Is it… alive?”
A slap rings through the air, muffled and reverberating. “Hush, now. We wouldn’t want your unfortunate face to be the first thing it sees now, do we?”
“A problem easily solved if you woke up early for a change.”
“Ah, but why take your job when you do it so well,” remarks a voice, nearer now. “Though it wouldn’t surprise me if they did spawn a messenger dead on arrival.”
“It is very much conscious,” snipes Ignis, and his words slur more than anything else. Migraine throbbing with strength unrivalled, he pulls himself into sitting position. Squints in both a glare and a very real need to stifle what brightness he can. “Your concern is noted.”
The person crouching closest to him belts out a delighted laugh, coat brushing against dust and detritus without care. “Personality! And here I was, suffering under unfair assumptions and poorer company.”
“Your face; my fist. The two will meet when we’re not stuck in a death trap.” His vision adjusts, catching onto a metallic glint further back. A figure adorned in understated plate regalia. One gloved hand on the hilt of a greatsword buried inches into the ground, and the other clenched into a threat.
A hand intrudes upon him before Ignis recognises the gesture for what it is. Takes it, surroundings ablur for one arduous second before settling, walls decrepit and the scent of sulfur hanging fresh – magecraft, perhaps. The claustrophobia is new but not entirely unexpected.
“You’ll have to excuse my appalling escort—“ Ignis sees a face, boyish in broad strokes but unmistakably familiar, freezing where he stands. “—Ardyn Lucis Caelum, here at the beck and call of the Hexatheon.”
Ignis slides his arm back, and it almost looks natural. “…Ignis,” he replies, reserved. The draconian only spoke of so much but this, at least, was not a surprise. He simply didn’t expect it so soon. An obvious, expected course of action calls into mind – it is no doubt what the Astrals want of him, but their parting words ring oddly.
Ignis focuses on the pressing reality.
“Death trap is an evocative way of putting it, but where are we?” The longer he looks, the less sense it makes. The architecture is sleek, disparate. Panes of metal and stone intermingling, conventional in a way he never expected from a world two thousand years behind. And maybe, if Ignis distracts himself well enough, the concept of a turbulent afterlife will settle into Fact rather than cruel and unusual punishment.
“The bowels of Solheim – someone up there had a sense of humour,” answers a baritone. A greatsword swings into lazy arc and the man in plate steps forward in a succinct bow, ponytail slipping forward. “Victus. A pleasure, but we need to cut this short.”
“Ever in a rush,” huffs Ardyn, before readying a staff bearing a familiar winged crest. Ignis is immediately on edge, and beyond that: it was thoughtless of him to relax in the slightest to begin with.
The swordsman lunges, blade flashing. Reeling from residual nausea, it takes everything Ignis has to avoid stumbling mid-dodge. A bolt of aether pierces the atmosphere and he’s left blind amidst the sunburst.
Something rends through his side and the rage that surges forth is vindicating but altogether foreign. Ignis rears back on instinct, flicks his wrist in muscle memory borne of combat – and the welcome heft and hilt of a lance greets him. Long range; finesse over might.
Ignis is undeniably weary, but his mind is true. He quick-steps from one attack, countering another in a military jab, adrenaline working through him like a shot of ebony. Victus takes caution where he should, and Ignis deflects a slower, surveying strike. The force behind it is deceptively light but it’s enough.
Lance spinning in a deft twist, the momentum wrenches the greatsword into a nearby pillar.
Nothing from Ardyn but, knowing the man’s prowess with illusion, he takes the observation with a grain of salt. The odds aren’t particularly in his favour. If he undersells himself, chances are they’ll do the work for him.
It’s fortunate he spent so much time sparring with Gladio, even when there was no need of it beyond a Glaive rallying against a Shield.
On some occasions, it was nothing but a demonstrative spar. Designed to “boost morale” amongst recruits, but they all knew it was Noct who enjoyed the leisure – one of many singular moments where he could forget he was a King and cheer with gusto. Prompto, happy to stir the pot, commentating each successful blow.
And other times, they fought to maim. Posture, patterns of movement, areas of the body slower to be protected than others. Victus is seasoned, but Ignis tires of patience, of being effected rather than the affectee.
He ducks under an ambitious cleave, sweeping his legs forward, intent on knocking his attacker off-balance.
Angling his lance just so, Ignis plants the shaft against the ground and braces as the blade cuts clean through tendon.
Victus mitigates the fall with a roll; greatsword abandoned, and nurses his shoulder with a hiss. An excessive core of gravity fills the distance between them, imploding a split-second too late to bestow serious harm.
This time, Ignis is prepared: arm already coiled back, and the lance shoots forth in the window between spellcast recovery and reaction.
The trajectory slows – shattering barrier upon barrier – and Ardyn plucks it out of the air. “Certainly an interesting design,” he remarks, deliberate. “You know, it’s a shame they couldn’t make this easy.”
A flask shatters, and ice blooms beneath his feet. Ignis lunges to the side with all his weight, but a fine point impales him through the arm. More than anything else, it’s the cold that jolts a gasp, and Ignis is left reeling from the persistent sheer of frost, like acid meets skin.
Ignis retreats to a safer vantage point, both attackers in line of sight. “What do you want,” he demands, temper flaring. His voice carries with a strange reverb but thinks little of it – not when he’s been marked to die for the third Astral-damned time.
Ardyn grins, patronising. “A Covenant, of course.”
An ethereal awareness stirs from slumber, like recognising a melody after catching the first lilting notes. Ignis doesn’t quite gape; neither does he respond in due order. The Infernian rouses once more. A messenger remade.
If that is how the cards were meant to fall, then Ignis would accept the outcome and make it his own. More than anything else, the situations grates at him – all this, so easily avoidable. The temperature rises, liveable now, his pain assuaging with each climbing degree.
He hisses, quiet now but sharper still. “And you didn’t think to ask?”
“You’re making it worse,” Victus observes, sotto voce. To which Ardyn shoots the man a deadpan look before fixing Ignis with full attention, speculative.
“You’ll have to excuse the misunderstanding. Our last Covenants were preceded with… a test of worth. For various reasons, we weren’t expecting you to be any different.” Staff dispersing to its armiger, Ardyn fans his hands out in a bland, inoffensive gesture. Ignis very nearly acts upon the impulse to strike the man down where he stands.
Something holds him back. A demand to reconnoitre before action, or the glimpse of humanity in someone who sorely lacked it. Maybe, he just wants to go back, untroubled by a prophesied reckoning.
Above everything else, the reality sinks in. Ignis is never going to see Noct or his friends again. And he hopes – with every fibre of his body – that they move on, spending the rest of their years unscathed. If the Six have any care for machinations staying their course, then guaranteeing the lives of an insignificant few is the least they can do.
Ignis breathes, calmer now. An idea unfolds. You either die a hero or live long enough to become a villain, Prompto laments, melodramatic, before attempting to reclaim a preening chocobo chick from Ignis’s protection. Noctis, exhausted in the Archaean’s aftermath. And we’re doing this how many more times? Gladio shoots back not a moment later. Hey, at least it’s nothing like ye olden days.
Short of walking in the man’s shoes, what better way was there to seal judgement?
He speaks again in the tongue of ancients. “Then I hereby state the commencement of such a trial. Prove your resolve, and I shall go as witness from this point on.”