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First Lightning, Then Thunder

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Ravus sat, still and silent, and stared at his feet.

He still had no clue how this had happened. The last thing he remembered was Ardyn changing him, corrupting him into a daemon, and being forced to fight Noctis. Fighting, fighting, pleading for Noctis to end him, put him out of his misery, and finally dying.

That left a bit of a gap between that and... this.

This being that he was now apparently a coeurl.

He had no damn clue how this had happened. And the bout of figuring out his feet, chasing his tail in circles, and stepping on his whiskers had only asserted that it was all very real. Ravus was certain he'd spent a good ten minutes just trying to figure out how to walk with four feet. Not to mention sorting through all the feedback given by his sharper-than-human senses.

And it wasn't the only question right now. He had no clue where he was, either.

... Okay, that was a lie. Based on what he knew about the distribution of coeurls and the landscape of Lucis, Ravus was able to examine the surrounding trees and guess that he was in the Duscae area of Lucis.

How had he gotten here? What had happened with Noctis? Was this some hallucination he was having as he lay dying?

Sheer curiosity pushed him to examine himself. Not just spin after his tail uselessly, or stumble over his own feet, but try to look at himself. It took a moment to figure out how, but eventually Ravus managed to twist around and look at himself from a few different angles. He had known before that felines were flexible creatures, but there was a difference between watching a cat throw a leg back and over it's opposing hip to wash it's back and doing it himself.

From what he could see, he was a fairly magnificent— if exotic— specimen. Rather than the tawny hues coeurls tended to come in, he was a soft white. His spots were black, with little hints of purple here and there. While he was no expert on coeurl physiology, Ravus got the feeling he was a very fit and healthy example. He had no clue what age group he fell into, other than not young. Probably juvenile or adult.

He huffed.

It was getting dark. And he was getting no real answers sitting around like this. His best bet right now was to get up and move, find shelter of some kind. He might've been able to see in the dimming light, could probably see decently enough in the dark, but daemons ruled the night. Coeurls were big and powerful predators, but as far as Ravus was concerned, he was as intimidating as a newborn house-kitten. He still stumbled over his feet, for crying out loud!

Standing up, Ravus picked a direction and started walking. He dedicated part of his attention to maintaining his pace— two, four, two, four, two, four— while the rest of his mind he allowed to wander a little. What had happened? Why was he now apparently a coeurl? Had Noctis reclaimed the Crystal yet? And why could he not remember anything about daemonic distribution when he needed it the most?

What stank?

He paused, brought out of his thoughts by that one realization. Something somewhere close really reeked. Instinctively, he tried to lift a hand to cover his mouth and nose. All he managed to do was swipe a paw down the side of his muzzle. A growl of annoyance slipped out of him, rumbling around his chest and vibrating in his throat. What in the name of the Six was that?

Occasionally stopping to swipe at his muzzle— it took his mind off the stench, if for a few seconds— Ravus moved to investigate. Before long, he found himself standing at the tree line, staring at a flat, unmoving river of darkness that cut through the grass. Some feral part of him that he was blaming entirely on coeurl instincts was screaming and recoiling, attributing that as the source of the smell. He took a few steps out of the trees, trying to identify was the hell that river was...

A dull, distant roar reached him, making his ears twitch, and Ravus realized what it was. It was a road.

His lip curled, and once again he swiped a paw down his muzzle. He had always been aware of how manmade things, cities and cars and buildings, smelled in comparison to untouched nature. But never like this. This was just disgusting. How did animals live with humans running everywhere?

Something moved. Something big. Another scent reached him under the stink of the asphalt. He knew that one. He'd just been choking on it as it filled him, swam through his veins and mutilated him.

There was a daemon close by.

Ravus backed into the trees once more, pressing himself down. He swept his gaze over the open area before him, trying to pinpoint where exactly the daemon was. He may have been a powerful fighter, unparalleled in several fields, but that was as a human. Not as a coeurl trying to figure out how not to trip over his own whiskers. If it was a big daemon, or a large gaggle of small daemons, Ravus didn't think he stood too much of a chance. His best option would be to slink away before it or they noticed him.

The dull roaring was getting closer. A car was approaching.

Not his problem, if some fool wanted to get into a hit-and-run with a daemon that was their business. Ravus had his own things to sort out, like how and why he was a coeurl.

The daemon moved again, and Ravus froze. He could see it now, rising up from where it had been resting.

That was a marlith.

The noise of the car grew even louder. From the corner of his eye, Ravus could see a bright flash, like headlights rounding the corner.

In the next second, everything went to shit.

The marlith screamed and swung. The car was destroyed, bursting into flames as it's pieces scattered.

A second car swerved, lost control, and crashed into part of the first car. The fire spread even as the occupants tried to escape.

A third and fourth car screeched to a halt, and Ravus realized all the vehicles were identical. A procession.

The larger part of the people from the cars were drawing weapons, as if they could really fight a marlith without adequate preparation, support, and potions and elixirs. There was a pair, however, being ushered from the last car, and under the snarling of the flames, screaming of the marlith, and yelling of the fighters, Ravus caught a name that drew his attention.

Noctis.

But that was impossible. Noctis was in Niflheim, reclaiming the Crystal and fighting off that lunatic Ardyn.

But when Ravus turned his head to look, he found himself frozen.

He remembered that face. That was the face that had peered at him and Luna from over Regis's shoulder when the coward ran in Tenebrae. Noctis, but tiny, young. Eight years old. Currently tucked under the arm of a woman and running from a marlith as their escort was slaughtered.

It was impossible. There was no way. Things like time-travel didn't exist, you didn't just wake up after dying and find you were a coeurl, this was all a hallucination. He was dying, properly this time, after fighting Noctis, and he was dreaming in his last seconds of life.

But, some part of him piped up, if this was the daemon attack, the one that sent Noctis to Tenebrae, then Tenebrae had yet to fall. His mother had yet to die. Niflheim would be less inclined to attack without the wounded prince and grieving king. If this was the attack that lead to that, then what was he doing standing idly by and letting that happen?!

The escort of guards was all dead. The marlith was turning.

Ravus moved.

Chapter Text

Ravus would be the first to admit that he might not have been thinking clearly.

However, Ravus would also be the first to defend that he had just died, and if this was a dream then what did any of it matter?

He exploded out of the trees and began racing towards the marlith. Noctis and his governess froze upon seeing a coeurl come barreling towards them, but Ravus ignored them. He bounded past, leaping into the air as the marlith raised one of it's swords. Tucking his head down, Ravus braced himself for impact.

The daemon screeched as he slammed against it, and he liked to think that it sounded surprised. He fell, somehow managing to twist in the air to land on his feet. Slightly winded from body-slamming a hulking mass of Starscourge monster, Ravus looked to where Noctis and the woman had been. Thankfully, they were gone. Vanished into the trees, hopefully.

Now just to pray that they didn't run into anything—

Realistically, Ravus knew he'd been asking for it, getting distracted like that. He was already mentally kicking himself for leaving such a blatant opening, even as he tumbled and scraped against the asphalt from being swatted aside.

Shaking his head, he rolled to his feet and took a quick assessment of what was going on.

First, he had an angry marlith towering over him, growling and glaring. Next, he had a chunk of burning car at his back. Third, now that Noctis was apparently safe, he should get the hell out of here, but didn't trust that he wouldn't trip on the way out. Coeurls were fast, true, but those were true coeurls. Not... men who had apparently time-traveled and somehow been reincarnated as a coeurl.

The daemon moved closer. Caging him in. Ravus pressed himself down into a defensive position, baring his teeth. He could feel his shoulders and tail bristling. But there was nowhere for him to go. There was the roasting vehicle behind him, the metal hot enough that his tail felt vaguely singed. There was the marlith in front of him, spilling coils to the left and right to keep him trapped.

The daemon roared, raising a weapon. Ravus screamed back, feeling something crackling at his sides—

The air sung, and a flash of blue light crashed into the marlith.

Well, it was about bloody time, Regis!

With the marlith sufficiently distracted, Ravus peered cautiously around the burning wreckage. It looked like Regis and a couple of Crownsguard had just arrived. He got the feeling he was no longer needed here.

After a moment, an opening presented itself, and Ravus ran. He vaguely heard some yelling, but chose to ignore it in favor of returning to the cover of the trees.

He ran until he was what he deemed a good distance in. If he turned his head, he could still see the glow of the fires, but chances were a human wouldn't be able to see him. Even with his ridiculously white pelt. Ravus was willing to bet he all but glowed in the dark.

Huffing, he slowed down and took stock.

He was sore. Probably a combination of body-slamming the marlith and getting punted by it. His tail still felt singed. His whiskers felt... odd. But he wasn't feeling any major injuries. Sitting on his haunches, he twisted about again, examining himself just to be sure. But he found nothing. The worst injury he had was probably some scraped skin or a little burnt tail-fur.

His ear twitched, and he realized he could hear soft crying.

Shiva, he'd forgotten about Noctis and the woman! He was not letting all that work keeping the marlith at bay go to waste because the brat got mauled by a goblin or something!

Standing once more, Ravus moved through the trees, following the sound.

Before long, he'd found them, huddled under a small rocky overhang. Noctis was curled in the governess's lap, doing his best to stifle his cries in her shoulder. The woman, for her part, was doing her best to hush the prince while her eyes flickered back and forth. Keeping watch.

Neither looked injured. Ravus couldn't smell any blood or anything like that.

... He could smell Starscourge.

A small growl slipped from his throat, and he began scanning the area.

A chittering reached him, and his head snapped around. Noctis and the woman were now silent, clinging to each other. There was a goblin perched on top of the overhang, looking around. After a moment, it paused. Silently, slowly, it looked down. It gripped the stone and climbed down.

Ravus could picture the disgusting grin on it's face all too easily as it sneered at the two humans it had found, reaching out towards them with a hand.

He roared, lunging forward. The goblin startled, falling from it's upside-down perch, and Noctis and the governess both screamed. The small daemon jumped to it's feet, spinning to face him, and Ravus noted the sort of realization dawning on it. That it was looking at something big and angry and it was out of it's depth.

Good, he thought darkly.

His paws slammed down on the ground where the goblin had once been. The scrawny little daemon was already running, chattering frantically. After getting tossed about by the marlith, Ravus was tempted to give chase and torment the thing, give the Scourge a taste of it's own medicine. But he wasn't going to risk getting splatted with daemon blood, not now. For all he knew, that was a great way to contract the Scourge. Besides, that would be leaving Noctis exposed to who knew what other dangers.

Huffing, he turned back to said prince and his attendant. They stared at him with wide eyes, probably waiting for him to tuck in and have himself a meal.

Lowering his head, he sniffed at them. If he was going to be a coeurl, he might as well make use of these overly sharp senses. He couldn't smell any blood. Couldn't smell any Starscourge. Plenty of sweat. Some sort of acidic tang that burned the roof of his mouth— probably fear, he reasoned.

Well... good.

Satisfied with that, Ravus pulled away and retreated a few steps. He chose to rest at the base of a tree, sinking to his belly and crossing his paws in front of him. He kept his head high and regal. It was the closest he could get to what he would have done as a human— leaning his back against the tree with his arms folded across his chest, one ankle tucked behind the other.

“... Why isn't it attacking us...?” Noctis asked quietly.

“I... I don't know... just... don't move too much. Maybe if we're quiet, it'll go away.” the woman replied, just as quiet.

Ravus couldn't help but snort, feeling his tail flick from side to side. The woman would rather take her chances with unknown hordes of daemons than a coeurl that had saved them twice now?

“... What's gonna happen...?” Noctis asked after a while.

“Shh!”

“I don't think it's going away... and it attacked the daemon back there, too...”

Smart boy. Still a brat who better be damn appreciative of the fact that Ravus had yet to figure out his whole situation with time-travel and reincarnation and species dysphoria, but had taken on a marlith for him. But smart. He would grudgingly admit that.

“That was... we're probably just in it's territory or something...!” the governess said.

Really, in any other case, that would be a good guess. But no.

“Prince Noctis...!” the woman gasped, sounding borderline hysterical. Ravus turned his head to look at them at the noise.

He found Noctis tugging away from the woman and coming towards him, head tipped to the side. He stayed still, narrowing his eyes and daring the boy to keep coming closer. Noctis paused for a moment, but when Ravus didn't do anything he came the rest of the way. A tiny hand rested on his shoulder, head tipped back and up to look him in the eye.

“... Thanks. For saving us and stuff.”

Ravus couldn't help but snort. The brat was eloquent as always. A long way from becoming the King of Light Ravus respected.

“Prince Noctis, come away...!” the governess begged.

“He's not dangerous. See? He's letting me pet him.” the tiny prince declared, rubbing his hand in a rough circle on Ravus's shoulder. He couldn't help but growl a tiny bit as he felt the fur there get pushed every which way. “Oops. Sorry. Cats don't like that, huh...”

The rubbing turned into careful strokes, putting the fur to rights, and Ravus huffed, giving a sharp nod of approval.

Yelling reached him, and he picked his head up.

“... is! Noctis!”

Regis.

After a moment, Noctis and the governess seemed to hear too.

“Dad!”

“King Regis!”

Well, that was his cue to leave. Again, Regis and his Crownsguard probably wouldn't appreciate a coeurl hanging around the prince. Groaning a little, he stood up and turned to leave.

As he did, the air sang, lighting up blue.

Well shit.

Chapter Text

If he had been human still, he would have been wishing the wrath of every Astral on Regis. But as it was, his words only came out as ugly howls and snarls. Without realizing it, he had fallen into a defensive position, shoulders hunched up even as they bristled. He could feel that sort of crackling at his sides again.

But, more importantly, he could feel blood dripping into his fur from a stinging cut on his muzzle.

“Dad, no! He's friendly!” Noctis was yelling, pulling on Regis's arms as several glowing swords were leveled in Ravus's direction.

“Noctis, that's a wild animal—”

“He saved us!” the prince yelled. “Twice! The big daemon was gonna get us, but he ran at it and let us get away, and then he chased off a little one, too!”

The king paused, as if trying to figure out how to explain to his son that wasn't possible.

“Y-Your Majesty...?”

All eyes went to the woman who had run with Noctis. She was currently quivering behind the two guards Regis had with him. Ravus got the feeling this was above her pay-grade.

“... It... it did, actually, attack the daemon... I... thought it was just protecting it's territory, but... afterwards, it... it tracked us down and scared off a goblin... A-and it allowed Prince Noctis... to... to come close and pet it...”

Well that was generous. If the brat was the twenty-year-old Ravus knew, he would have swatted him away, in all honesty. But he was trying to prevent debilitating injuries that resulted in trips to Tenebrae. Not cause them. And it had hardly been petting. Just rubbing his fur around in a way that sat wrong with him, like the time that bastard Ardyn had ruffled his hair and he had felt chunks of it were out of place for hours afterwards.

At least this brat had been considerate enough to fix his fur.

Regis was looking contemplatively at him now. Ravus lifted his lip, not afraid to show his disgust for the man.

“... Are you a Messenger of some sort?”

The question caught him off-guard, made him blink a few times, before instinctively shaking his head.

“Woah!” Noctis gasped. The governess and Crownsguard started whispering about daemons and Astrals.

“Then what are you?” Regis asked, pulling Noctis close.

Ravus stared. The man had just tried to slice his face open, and was now interrogating him? And expected him to be able to answer? He may not have been a coeurl for very long now, but Ravus had already tried talking. It came out as coeurl noises. And besides that, he didn't like Regis much to begin with.

He settled for a scoff, shaking his head and turning away. As far as he was concerned, his job was done. He'd kept Noctis safe, prevented the injury that lead to Tenebrae falling. Now he could go try working out the coeurl issue. The hows and whys of that whole thing.

“Hey—”

“Don't worry, Noctis. If this is a Messenger of some kind, I'm sure you'll see it again.” he heard Regis say as he moved into the trees.

With any luck, Ravus couldn't help but think, they'd never meet again. He didn't look back, kept moving. Regis was a coward, but if there was one thing the man was good for, it was sheltering his son. Ravus trusted the man to get the boy back to Insomnia without debilitating injury.

For now, he needed to find some place that was safe to rest. If he could locate a haven, that would be ideal. If not... he imagined he could figure out how to climb a tree and drape himself over a branch so he wouldn't fall. It was late, it was dark, and he was not in the mood to deal with both species dysphoria and daemons right now. One catastrophe at a time.

Four, five steps after that thought crossed his mind, Ravus stopped. He slowly, slowly sat down.

He did not. Just think that. He did not just think. In a pun.

That settled it, he was climbing a tree and going to sleep. If his brain was making puns then he had clearly suffered some kind of head-injury while fighting the marlith off. And as he didn't exactly have healing items or access to medical facilities, his best bet was to sleep it off.

Chapter Text

The first thought into Ravus's head when he woke up was that he was absolutely famished.

He groaned, blinking awake, and was momentarily confused by the blanket of brown and green that greeted him. Lifting his head, he felt a dozen different aches run through his body. Just like that, it all came rushing back— Ardyn, Noctis, dying, being a coeurl, fighting a marlith, and tiny Noctis.

Right.

He was a coeurl.

Just to reaffirm that, he brought his— arms? Forelegs?— up and onto the branch in front of him to look at his paws. Snowy white fur with hints of pale purple and unretractable black claws, just like last night. Ravus heaved a sigh, glaring at the appendages stretched out before him.

His stomach growled, reminding him that coeurls had bodily needs too.

Okay, he shot back, but what did coeurls eat?

The obvious answer was meat. They were predators. But Ravus hadn't exactly specialized in zoology. So he had no clue what meat it was that coeurls ate. And even if he did, it wasn't like it was going to fall out of the sky in front of him, already served up on a platter. No, once he figured out what coeurls ate, he'd have to figure out how to hunt and kill it.

Who or whatever it was that was responsible for this whole coeurl situation, Ravus was positive they were laughing at him right now. Well, laugh while you can, he thought darkly, because once he was no longer tripping over his paws and whiskers, he was going to find them and give them a piece of his mind.

So. Get out of the tree. Find something to kill and eat. Work on the coeurl thing.

There. A sort of rough, vague plan. He could finesse it as he went.

Getting carefully to his feet, Ravus surveyed the ground below. He hadn't climbed up too high, but this was still a completely alien body to him. He didn't yet know the ins and outs of it, like he had with his human self. If he ended up doing something like injuring himself, who knew what would happen.

Hell, if he wasn't careful, he might die again and get sent back even further as a voretooth.

Awkwardly jimmying around until he could jump down, Ravus bunched himself up and managed to land rather lightly. That meant the first part of the plan had worked out well enough. Now for something to kill and eat.

... Well, voretooths were something in the Duscae region, weren't they?

Ravus sat, thinking.

Voretooths did live in the Duscae region, if he was remembering things properly. But weren't they poisonous?

... No, venomous. Poison was if it was bad to eat. Venom was if it could bite or scratch and envenom you. Right?

Either way, maybe strike voretooths from the table.

... Well, he had these ridiculously sharp senses. Might as well put them to use.

Standing up again, Ravus lifted his head to gauge which was the wind was going, if there was any. He might not have ever hunted before, but even he knew that you approached a target from downwind. Once he had figured out which direction the slight breeze was coming from, Ravus turned so he was facing into it. Closing his eyes, he took as deep a breath as possible, trying to let some wholly coeurl part take over for a minute.

He didn't manage to tap out and enter any coeurl mindset, but he was able to smell... something. A few somethings, actually. Like... two different kinds of things, in close proximity to each other.

... Well, it was a start. If nothing else, he could take a look and see if anything looked edible. Or pick up some hunting tricks. Or something.

As he moved, Ravus split his attention. Part of it went to walking, not tripping over paws, whiskers, tail, or anything else. The other part went to following the scent carried to him by the wind.

He had no clue what it was he was following. One of the things he could smell was... sharp. A sort of bitter tang, similar to the fear from Noctis and his governess, but at the same time more... physical? Somehow? And the other was... musky. In a sort of sweaty way that reminded him of being stuffed in the Niflheim barracks with far too many other bodies. But... earthier.

The coeurl part of him kicked in now. He could feel himself salivating. That implied that one or both of the things he was smelling was natural coeurl prey. And that was good. That was what he wanted. Ravus lengthened his stride a little. He didn't want to get there too late and find his meal already eaten or run away.

He realized he was getting closer when he could hear snarls, barks, and upset bellows. Slowing down just a little, Ravus tried to figure out what it might be. He didn't want to scare any of it away. Not just yet, anyway.

Moving through the trees, Ravus found himself looking down a grassy slope towards a pack of voretooths trying to take down a garula at the edge of a lake.

For a moment, he stood and watched, trying to gauge how the fight was going. It looked like the garula was winning. From what he could tell, it was the one he was interested in.

The beast threw one of the voretooths aside, knocking over close to half the pack, and started making a run for it.

Ravus moved now, lunging out of the trees and circling around to cut the garula off with a roar. Surprised, the beast reared up a bit with a bellow. Ravus noted that the voretooths were coming again, not apparently minding that a coeurl had just stopped their prey from escaping.

One of the smaller predators jumped, landing on the garula's haunches, and sank it's teeth in. The garula roared in pain, spinning around as if it could dislodge the voretooth that way. Spying an opening, Ravus lunged forward, slamming into the garula's shoulder. It was knocked off-balance, and went down on one knee. The voretooths saw this and swarmed in, barking and snarling, tails lashing.

The garula screamed, shaking it's massive tusks and struggling up. Ravus snarled, raising a paw and gouging his claws down what he could of it's face from this angle. It roared again, and he was forced to jump back, partially into the lake, to avoid getting knocked over.

He could feel that crackling along his sides again. What was that?

As the garula stomped thunderously, it hit him. Ravus couldn't believe how dense he was, to forget such an important thing. Everyone, even those who lived nowhere near coeurls, knew that the massive felines could channel the ambient charge in the air and turn it to lightning!

For once, he was grateful for the magitech arm. It meant he had some experience in this already.

Falling to his belly with a growl, Ravus focused on the crackling sensation. He growled slightly, gathering the sensation close to him, compacting it down and bundling it up, making it stronger. His skin was starting to prickle, and heat ran through his muzzle and across his spine. He didn't think he'd ever been more aware of his whiskers, not even when stepping and tripping on them.

He felt the spark a second before it actually happened.

Standing up, Ravus charged the garula.

There was a bright flash, searing heat, and a crackling rumble that made his ears ring. He could hear the garula trying to scream, and the voretooths yipping. As he stepped away from the garula falling to it's knees, he saw that the smaller predators were running. Two of them lay on the ground, twitching and jerking, covered in burn-wounds.

Alright. He had the upper hand now.

Before the garula could recover, shuddering and staggering, Ravus lunged forward and pounced on it. Digging his claws in, he looked for somewhere he could bite down and deal a killing blow. But he took too long, apparently, the garula rumbling angrily and giving itself a shake. Ravus growled back, digging his claws in deeper.

There. That looked like unprotected neck.

Before the garula could do anything like spin, or roll over on him, Ravus lunged with his mouth open.

Chapter Text

That had been a little more taxing than he would have liked. But the garula was dead now, and he could finally shut his crying stomach up.

Ravus gave himself a shake, trying to set any ruffled fur to rights. He could feel at least two large swatches of fur pushed the wrong direction, and if he didn't fix it quickly it would drive him insane. But it wasn't like he could run a hand through his hair and put it to rights that way.

Sitting back, Ravus twisted, throwing his leg over his opposing side so he could see his side, where one of the messed-up patches was. It wasn't hard to spot, sticking up weirdly. He wrinkled his nose.

Without thinking, he ducked his head and swiped his tongue over the spot a few times.

Pulling away, he examined his fur. It all lay properly now, making him huff in approval.

Only as he started twisting around to find the next spot did what he'd just done sink in.

He dropped his paws to the ground and shook his head, at a loss of words for himself. Logically, he knew he was a coeurl, and that as cats that was how coeurls cleaned themselves or fixed their fur. But the fact that he hadn't even paused, hadn't even thought about it, before doing it... was he losing it? Becoming more coeurl than man?

For a moment, Ravus allowed himself to silently panic, mind running away with a million different scenarios. But after that moment, he took a deep, steadying breath. The fact that he was still able to panic over such a thing disproved that he was losing his mind. It was just the instincts of this coeurl body. Human bodies had similar instincts. Not to lick themselves exactly, but instincts all the same.

His stomach growled, clenching uncomfortably, and he rolled his eyes. He would eat in just a minute. First he wanted to fix his fur.

It only took a moment, really, to find and fix all the mussed-up patches of fur. Content that everything was as in order as it was going to get, Ravus turned to the dead garula. For a moment, he just stared, trying to figure out the best way to eat from it. There was no denying it was going to be messy. No way around that. But, well, he'd worked out how to clean himself. And worst come worst, there was a lake right next to him.

But this thing was covered in long fur. He didn't think he wanted to eat that. Didn't want that getting caught in his teeth. Getting things stuck in his teeth was a pain as a human, but at least then he'd been able to do things like brush his teeth or floss to fix the problem. As a coeurl? He'd like to not deal with that.

After a while of internal debate, Ravus placed his paws on the garula's side. Leaning down, he deliberately hooked his upper teeth into one of the long gouges left behind by his claws. Growling a little, he pulled, slow and steadily.

The noise was disgusting. A wet ripping and tearing, accompanied by a few pops here and there. But before long, he'd pulled away a section of skin and hair, exposing blood, muscle, and bone underneath. As a human, Ravus felt his stomach churn. As a coeurl, he felt himself all but drool.

His stomach clenched again, so Ravus lowered his head and sank his teeth into the mess. Heat filled his mouth, wet and thick. He pulled, but not as deliberately this time, tearing a chunk of meat away.

An issue with being a coeurl, Ravus found, was the near-inability to chew with your mouth closed. If you took too big of a bite, you couldn't chew it enough not to choke yourself. If you weren't careful while chewing, your food fell out of your mouth and you had to start all over again. But going too slow just felt unpleasant. Like there was something in your mouth that shouldn't be. So it because a balancing act between taking the right-sized bite of food, chewing fast enough, and chewing carefully enough.

Due to having to figure all that out as he went, it took him a bit longer to feel properly full than it probably should have. But eventually, Ravus no longer felt the need to eat. There was plenty of garula left, but he had no doubt something would come along and finish it. As such, he didn't feel guilty about not finishing it. It wasn't like throwing away a half-finished meal at a restaurant. That was perfectly edible food being thrown out so no one could finish it. This was a corpse. Specifically, the corpse of a prey animal in an area where there were undoubtedly plenty of hungry predators and scavengers.

So that was two of the three things he set out to do this morning. He'd gotten out of the tree and he'd managed to feed himself. Now... he was going to find some place to sit, clean himself up, and then he was going to start muddling through this whole coeurl nonsense. See if he couldn't remember anything, if he couldn't come up with any possible explanations or solutions.

Ravus decided to stick close to the lake for the time being. He didn't know how often coeurls needed to eat, but if it happened to be relatively often, he'd want to stay where things would predictably crop up. Everything needed to drink. So with that in mind he moved around the edge of the water. He could find a tree to perch in or something nearby.

In the end, he found himself sitting on top of a heap of rocks. He'd jumped up to get a slightly better vantage point, intending to jump down again relatively quickly, but... well, it was a very warm and sunny spot. The rock felt nice under him, and the sun felt nice above him. There was a small, soft breeze, and he had a full belly.

Ravus knew, he just knew, that those were his newly acquired coeurl instincts crying out for a sunbath. He had no clue if sunbathing actually did anything for coeurls or if it was just a lazy cat-thing, but he acquiesced. He figured he could clean himself up and think while doing it.

So Ravus sat on a pile of warm rocks and began figuring out how to groom himself.

Getting things like his sides, back, belly, and tail were easy. He just had to twist around a little and run his tongue over his fur. His whiskers were sensitive, and he had to maneuver them to where he could properly get them, but cleaning them was a lot like cleaning his tail. He just had to be a little more delicate.

But that left his face. And he didn't need a mirror to tell him he was in need of cleaning, if he crossed his eyes he could see the dull red staining his muzzle. There was no way that wouldn't itch and be an overall nuisance if he didn't clean it.

Ravus thought back to the few cats he'd interacted with in the past. When it came down to it, he really wasn't an animal person in general. But cats and dogs were... common enough that it was inevitable he'd encounter them. Hell, Lunafreya had Umbra and Pryna! Even if those two were Messengers and not actual dogs, they still behaved like dogs more often than not! But that was just it, they were dogs. Not cats.

After a minute or two of thinking, Ravus realized that at some point he'd lifted a paw, licked it, and swiped it over his muzzle.

More instincts, then.

But at least it solved the grooming problem. So while he cleaned up, Ravus allowed himself to think.

He couldn't remember anything between Noctis killing him and waking up as a coeurl. He could remember feeling relieved that he was no longer being yanked around like a puppet on strings. He could remember... being vaguely proud of the king Noctis had become. But after going numb and everything fading to black, there was nothing. Not until waking up in the middle of Duscae and stumbling around as he tried to figure out how coeurls walked.

... Was it possible that it had something to do with him putting on the Ring of Lucii? Had that... messed with his soul or something, so that when he died, this happened?

No, that sounded a little far-fetched.

As Ravus dragged his paw over his ear a few times, he wondered if it had to do with Oracle blood mixing with Starscourge. Even if he'd been unable to access any Oracle magic due to being male, he was still a Nox Fleuret. There was power in him, even if it was... perpetually latent. And the power of Oracles was the antithesis of daemons and Starscourge. Had there been some sort of clash there that...

No. That just sounded ridiculous. The most that would be able to do would turn him into some kind of... some kind of freak like Ardyn. Not send him to the past and turn him into a coeurl.

As he finished cleaning himself, Ravus stretched out on the rock, groaning a little. It did feel nice. Feeling nice was a luxury he had not allowed himself for a very long time.

... Dammit, he wasn't coming up with any answers. At least not any logical ones.

His jaws stretched open in a yawn.

Maybe he'd just sleep on it. Just a short nap. It wasn't like there was much that was ballsy enough to go after a coeurl. And there was the garula carcass that would prove a much easier meal anyway.

Just... a short nap... so he could think better when he woke up...

Chapter Text

That was not a short nap.

Ravus had yet to stop growling since waking up and realizing just how long he had spent asleep. It had gone from morning to late afternoon. And he was pretty sure he'd only woken up because the rock he'd fallen asleep on had gone cold.

He stalked through the trees, not going anywhere in particular, just... upset at himself. He wasn't the type able to sit still when aggravated. If in, say, a formal setting, like a meeting, he could get away with clenching and unclenching his fists, or tapping his fingers or toes. But that was as a human. He was a coeurl now, and this aggravated energy was pushing him to do something.

Before he'd really realized it, he'd come to a road.

Swiping a paw across his muzzle to take his mind off the stink, Ravus sat down and considered the asphalt.

It was a different road than the one Noctis had been on when the marlith attacked. For a number of reasons, all fairly obvious. But it looked and smelled more... used. More frequented.

As if to prove his point, a car sped past.

Tail flicking, Ravus stared at the road. He had several options here, really. He could turn back and stick to the area he knew. He could follow the road, either way it went. Or he could cross and explore over there.

Sticking to what he knew might be a good idea. It would give him time to get acclimatized to this new body. He had a water source, he had a food source. But he wouldn't get anything truly accomplished.

Following the road meant he would get somewhere, but people tended to not appreciate coeurls in their cities and towns. There was also the stink of the road itself. Ravus was sure he would go berserk if he had to live with that. And he was willing to bet the smell would cling to his fur. But if he took the risk... well, maybe he'd find answers as he went.

Crossing the road and continuing on... it was like following the road, but without the stink and the fuss people would raise. And potentially things like other predators that usually avoided the road.

Another car sped past. Ravus watched it go.

... He would follow the road in one direction, then loop back towards the lake. He could map out more land, then. Know a bit more about his surroundings and figure out his body and his instincts a bit more. It wasn't like he was in any real rush. Yes, he wanted answers. Yes, he wanted to know what was going on. But Noctis wasn't bound for Tenebrae with a debilitating injury. That meant Tenebrae's fall had at least been delayed. He'd given them more time to prepare, if nothing else. So he could afford a few days to figure out how exactly being a coeurl worked.

Decision made, Ravus turned and began to walk, following the road. There were a few hours left before the sun set, and daemons didn't pop up instantly anyway. He'd have plenty of time to find a tree to climb for the night.

He was getting better at walking, he noted. He didn't tangle his tail between his legs anymore. His whiskers weren't causing problems. And he hadn't really tripped over his own paws yet.

Another car. Hurrying along to the nearest outpost or haven, he imagined.

But he noticed the car screech to a stop not too far ahead of him.

Ravus paused, blinking at the vehicle. It was a truck, not a car, he noticed. An old pick-up that had probably seen better days. For a moment, he just stood and stared. But then he realized he was probably being stared at too. He wasn't exactly your standard run-of-the-mill coeurl.

Huffing, he kept moving.

Just walk past, let them take their pictures or whatever. Then they'd keep going, and he could keep going, and that would be that.

“Oh my,” he heard as he drew even with the truck, “Look at you!”

Whoever was in the cab was ballsy, he'd give them that. Not many people were able to coo at a coeurl that way.

But he hadn't gotten very far past the truck when he heard something that made him amend ballsy to stupid.

He heard the truck's door opening.

Stopping, he looked back over his shoulder. A young woman had hopped out of the truck, adjusting a pair of glasses that sat on her nose as she grinned at him.

“Aren't you just beautiful? I wonder what caused that coloration in you...”

... Did this woman just have no sense of self-preservation?

Chapter Text

Nope.

No sense of self-preservation. Just hopped out of her truck, grabbed some things, and was following a coeurl through the woods as the sun set.

Ravus got the feeling she was either some kind of hunter or a scientist who specialized in wildlife. He didn't know which he would prefer. She was a young woman, probably not too far into her twenties, with large, round glasses and a bright red hat. She was dressed... surprisingly sensibly, in all honesty. Like one who was used to going out for hours and hours on end.

And it wasn't like she was... harassing him, really. Following along behind him at a... not entirely healthy distance, but since he had no interest in attacking humans it was... fine. Occasionally scratching something down in a notebook. How she could see in the dying light was beyond him. Probably the reason she needed glasses. Sure, he as a coeurl could see just fine, but she was human.

It was starting to get dark now. Now just dimly lit. Time to pick tonight's tree.

“What're you up to now?” the woman murmured as he began jumping up on his hind legs, resting his front paws on the trunks of trees so he could better examine the branches.

Ravus chose to ignore her in favor of finding a suitable tree. Hopefully she'd get the message and return to her truck.

This one, this one would do.

Falling to the ground, Ravus bunched himself up in the way he'd found was most efficient for jumping. He held for a moment... two... three... and jumped up into the tree. He sank his claws into the bark, clinging desperately. He didn't want to fall down like he had repeatedly last night. Not in front of this woman or in general.

Thankfully, he didn't. Huffing, he scooted up the trunk the last bit needed to reach the desired branch.

“Sleeping in a tree? Don't you have a den?” he heard the woman say.

Go away, he thought, go back to your truck.

But as he carefully draped himself over the branch, he heard... oh no. No no no.

Looking down, Ravus found the woman climbing up after him. He growled, tail flicking.

“I won't come too close, promise. But you can't expect me to pass up an opportunity to study a magnificent specimen like you!” the woman said cheerfully as she came to rest on a branch just below and to the side on his own. “I mean, goodness, what genetic mutation occurred to cause your coloration? It's completely unlike any coeurl I've ever seen before! And your eyes are blue! I didn't think coeurls had blue eyes!”

... Well, good to know he stood out. But did this woman not shut up?

As if hearing him, though, she fell silent. It was so sudden that Ravus found himself looking over to make sure she hadn't done anything like die. But it didn't look like it. She had pulled a coil of rope from the bag she'd grabbed before following him and was tying herself down. Making sure she wouldn't fall out.

Well... maybe he'd get lucky and wake up before she did.

Huffing, Ravus lay his head down. The smell of Starscourge was starting to waft through the air, betraying the presence of daemons. It smelled of rot, pain, sickness, and blood, mixed together and bound with some sort of dark tang that made him want to cower in a corner. He hated it. It had choked him, once. Spilled from his mouth, nose and eyes, filled his throat and his veins. It hurt, felt aware and vindictive.

At least as it was now, it wasn't choking him with every breath. He could smell it, yes, but he could also smell voretooths. He could smell other creatures. He could smell dirt and water and plants. He could smell the woman in the branch below him. And he couldn't taste it. It wasn't filling him, pulsing through him so that every movement hurt, wasn't forcing him into fights he didn't want to fight.

A shiver ran down his spine. A noise akin to a sigh, soft and wheezing, left him.

Closing his eyes, Ravus forced himself to relax. Slowly, painfully slow, punctuated by the chattering of goblins and the bubbling of what might have been flans, he fell asleep.

But it was far from restful.

In his dream, he found himself standing over a corpse. A corpse he recognized as his sister, smiling softly and serenely. As he fell to his knees, reaching out for her, the world exploded into flames, and he was no longer cradling Lunafreya in his arms. Instead he was looking at the burnt, tortured face of his mother, choking on her own blood as it bubbled in her windpipe.

As he started to scream in the nightmare, begging for someone to help, he felt a soft hand on his shoulder. As he turned his head, he found himself looking up at a soft smile and blue eyes. A gentle voice whispered something, and he opened his mouth to ask what it was, but he cut his tongue on sharp fangs.

Flailing slightly, he woke up.

“Are you okay?”

Pushing himself up, huffing and panting, Ravus looked around. He was in the tree from the previous night. Looking down, he found the woman, wide awake on her own branch, looking at him with concern.

He wasn't okay. He was... he was a dead man trapped in a coeurl's body, unable to tell anyone who he was or what had happened. And he got the feeling he would end up watching a lot of it come to pass in a very similar manner.

Six, he was going to be sick.

Chapter Text

“Feeling better?”

Woman.

“Must've been a pretty nasty dream. Or bad meat? It looked like a nightmare.”

She was petting a coeurl's back asking if it had a bad dream after it all but fell out of a tree and puked on a bush. Were it any coeurl other than him, she would have been dead. Not just dead, she would have been the substitute to make up for the now-emptiness of his stomach. It was horribly tempting to swipe at her as it was.

Ravus growled, pushing himself up. The woman stopped petting him, adjusting her glasses.

She'd get bored eventually. He just had to wait.

For now, head back towards the lake.

As he started to walk away, she turned and followed. Closer, this time. Ravus got the feeling the only person in all of existence with less of a self-preservation instinct that her was Tummelt. Only a fool would challenge Cor the Immortal. Repeatedly. The only reason the idiot survived was that the man clearly pitied him too much to actually kill him. Even Ravus knew better than to challenge the Immortal. Magitech arm or no.

They were getting close to the lake. He hoped it wasn't stagnant water. He needed to clean his mouth out after throwing up, but he didn't have the time or luxury of getting sick because he drank still water.

“You're so docile,” the woman commented as they came to the lake, “Any other coeurl would've tried to kill me the second I got out of my truck. But you've even been polite enough to allow me to follow you!”

Go away.

A sharp gasp sounded, and suddenly the woman was standing in front of him, a dark look on her face. “You weren't some sick person's mistreated pet, were you? Even a scientist like myself knows better than to keep a wild animal in a cage! I swear, if you—”

Ravus shook his head instinctively, wondering where on earth she got that idea from.

“Wait a minute...” the woman gasped, eyes wide. “Did you just... can you understand me?”

Ravus stared at her, wondering if responding again would turn out badly. On the one hand, he wasn't very fond of scientists. And this woman was gearing up to be annoying. But on the other hand, if he worked with her, maybe he could get some answers.

She suddenly pushed a finger in his face, drawing him out of that train of thought. “I know that look!” she said in a stern, business-like tone of voice. “That's the look of someone trying to hide when confronted by a question they don't want to answer!”

... Okay... okay, he could handle this.

Ravus took a step back.

“Don't think you can run from me, mister! I've got some questions for you now, and I'm going to want honest answers!”

He felt his ears flatten.

Before she could say anything else, Ravus had whirled around and taken off. Because yes, the potential of getting some answers was tempting. But the idea of being a lab rat made him shudder. And he didn't want to become some sort of sightseeing attraction, or hunting trophy, or anything like that. He got the feeling that if he went along with whatever she had in mind, something along those lines would happen. Any answers yielded from cooperating with the woman would likely not be enough to compensate for the lack of peace. He would stick to seeking answers on his own.

He could hear her yell, but pointedly ignored that in favor of getting away. Vaguely, he noticed that his stride had shifted, from opposing feet to each pair moving together. He wondered if that had happened every time he'd run. Hopefully he wouldn't trip over his whiskers now, that was the last thing he needed.

Ravus noticed he was coming up on a road. He lengthened his stride once more, tensing up and leaping over the honestly somewhat flimsy guard-rail. There was a screech of tires, and he grunted, sent tumbling to the ground. He rolled across the hot blacktop a few times, someone screamed. Shaking his head, he got to his feet and kept going. His shoulder and hip hurt, but nothing felt too serious, so he didn't stop.

He wasn't fleeing. He was putting distance between a potential threat and himself. It was strategic. Ravus didn't think he wanted to cooperate with the woman. Yes, that meant he missed out on potential answers, but she was a scientist. And from what he knew about Lucian scientists, they tended to be more public with their work than Niflheim. Publish books, speak at colleges. And he didn't think he wanted to be the latest scientific discovery.

It was the ground becoming soft and damp under his feet that made him stop. Looking around, he found he was in a swampier area than the lake he'd fled from. He was badly out of breath, heaving and gasping.

Slowly, he sat.

Based on how fast coeurls could go and how out of breath he was, chances were he'd gotten pretty far away from the young scientist woman. Rolling his shoulder, Ravus took stock.

There was a small river nearby. He could see a haven not too far away, and it looked like just down the river there was a sort of... pond-system. Said system had a structure of some sort on the edge. Possibly a fishing shack. The scents of numerous small creatures wafted through the air, along with what was undeniably the smell of fish. There was an overarching smell of... well, mud and pond-scum. He could hear bubbling, chirping, and croaking.

As his breath came back to him, Ravus turned his head to check his side where the car had hit. There was no visible open wounds. He felt a little sore, a little stiff, but it didn't really hurt to put weight on anything. And there wasn't any visible deformation from dislocation or anything. Twisting, he winced at the twinges of pain, but licking over his side, smoothing the fur down, revealed nothing more than scrapes and what was likely bruising under his fur.

Okay.

Despite the haven and the shack, there wasn't a strong... human smell. It was odd to think that, but it was true when he thought about it. Humans had a certain smell to them. And this place was rather lacking in that smell. He could try staying here for a while. Work on... for lack of better phrasing, being a better coeurl. And once he'd figured all that entailed out, he could start looking for answers. Maybe head to Tenebrae.

Huffing a little, he nodded to himself.

He had a plan now.

Chapter Text

The goblins chattered noisily at him. Ravus lifted his lip with a growl, allowing his whiskers to spark a little. The pack of small daemons retreated away from the haven. Not so far that he couldn't see them, though, eyes flashing from the undergrowth.

Pesky things.

As far as daemons went, Ravus found goblins more of an annoyance than anything. They weren't exactly very strong. Their strength was in numbers. Even now, as a coeurl, still inexperienced in combat, he was confident he could easily wipe out five or ten of them. Goblins were nothing, really. And even if it had been something big, he was safe in the haven.

Crossing his paws, Ravus lowered his head down and closed his eyes.

It had been a couple days since he'd left the scientist. For the most part, he'd been alone in the little marshy area he'd found. Occasionally he'd hear something pass by, but nothing came too close. Part of him wondered if those had been animals that caught the scent of a coeurl. Surprisingly, he hadn't really felt too hungry. When he had gotten peckish, he managed to splash around in the water until he got a decently large fish. Just eating that filled him up. He felt like he had read or heard somewhere that after a large enough meal, coeurls could go a fistful of days without eating, but he couldn't be sure. What he did know, though, was that he was starting to get a grip on being a coeurl. He'd probably only stay put another few days at most.

One of the goblins shrieked, and then all of them fell silent.

His ears perked up, and his eyes slid open.

Sitting up, Ravus realized it wasn't just the goblins that had fallen silent. The nighttime fauna and insects were quiet too. The only sounds were the water moving and the soft breeze licking the trees and grass.

Suddenly wary, Ravus got to his feet and moved to the edge of the haven. He looked to the bushes where the goblins had last been. The small daemons were fleeing into the undergrowth as quietly as possible, looking over their shoulders in what was easily recognizable as fear.

... The air had gotten cold.

He turned his head into the wind, squinting a little against the cold bite as it picked up.

A scent was carried to him. Of freshly fallen snow, of cold winter pine, and of sylleblossoms. As a shiver ran down his spine, raising his fur, Ravus slowly left the haven. Combining all aspects of that scent, it felt relatively obvious what it was causing the silence and scaring the daemons. And if he was right... well, not going would be stupid, plain and simple.

So he slunk away from the soft glow of the haven. He kept his movements slow and cautious as he walked, all but one paw at a time, into the wind. His tail was down, slouching between his legs. Part of him was infuriated at himself for that, for showing fear or shame. But the other part of him felt wiser, advising that if it was, in fact, who he thought it was, then perhaps fear and shame weren't unfounded.

Even at his slow pace, it didn't take long for him to reach the source of the scent. Power crackled through the air, to the point where he could all but taste the magic in it.

Gentiana stood elegantly in the trees, hands clasped loosely in front of her as she regarded him silently. Ravus didn't know if he should stand tall or grovel and whine for mercy like a beaten dog. As a child, he had only ever held respect for Gentiana. But after becoming a Niflheim soldier... well. He had done a lot that would probably justify the High Messenger's wrath.

“Do you remember?” she asked suddenly, soft voice shattering the silence.

Instinctively knowing she meant his past and who he was, Ravus nodded.

Gentiana nodded back, and moved closer. He grew tense, ears flattening back. She either didn't notice or more likely didn't really care, reaching out and placing her hands on his face. She was cold. Always had been.

“A request was made,” she said, tone gentle and soft, “The first Oracle wished that a different route may be explored. She asked that you be given a chance to change the future.”

Anger boiled up in him. His mind flashed back to putting on the Ring, to the pain and the burning agony. He had tried to change things and was punished for it. And now they wanted him to try again? Was this a joke to them?!

Gentiana shushed him, and he realized he'd been growling, lips peeled away from his teeth.

“The first Oracle says that she understands your loss. She wishes that you be given the chance to prevent that. To keep such wounds from ever being dealt.”

The Messenger leaned in closer, gently pressing their foreheads together.

“The choice is yours, Ravus. None shall force you. Should you decline, then all shall proceed. Should you accept, then how you change the future will be left in your hands.”

The air became even colder, and the wind grew stronger. Ravus shivered, blinking, and Gentiana was gone.

For a moment, he stood still.

Slowly, the natural noises of the area returned, daemonic chatter included. It was the scent of Starscourge bubbling up that had him snapping around, racing back for the haven.

Skidding onto the safety of the glowing haven runes, Ravus all but collapsed, hiding his face in his paws. Gentiana had given him... at least one answer. But from that answer sprang a million other questions. The first Oracle? Why was someone like that singling someone like him out? And when it came to chances to change the world... once, he would have boasted that he was simply the best option, but a lot had happened since that time, and now he couldn't help but wonder if there were better options. And why as a coeurl? How, exactly, was he supposed to change the future?

As something daemonic slunk past, gurgling and growling, he thought back to the marlith.

Hadn't he already changed the future? Prevented Noctis from being so gravely injured it affected him still twelve years down the line? But if that was what it took... what, was he supposed to hunt down people like Besithia and chew their throats out?

The image of Glauca sprang to mind, and he growled, paws falling away from his face.

If that was what it took, maybe he didn't mind.

Chapter Text

Chewing Glauca's throat out was definitely a pleasing idea.

Ravus licked his paw a few times and rubbed over his ear.

Even if Tenebrae hadn't fallen yet, even if it never did, Glauca was still a threat. A mole, a spy. Removing him from the picture would certainly go a long way. And he got the feeling doing that would help him release a great deal of pent-up aggression. Ravus wasn't one to fool himself and deny that he bottled things up, but now that he was... well, a coeurl, and there was no one to hear him say it, he would admit that he often lied about how well he handled all the pent-up things. One could only go so long before snapping.

Well. He snapped a few times.

He switched paws, rubbing over his other ear.

And he would admit, he felt a tad on the denied side when he found out some Kingsglaive had killed Glauca. It was something he had wanted to do himself, watch the life go out of the murderer's eyes the same way he was sure Glauca had watched when Ravus was hunched over his dying mother.

Properly cleaned, Ravus gave his head a shake.

He would spend the night on the haven. His last night here. Then he would head towards Insomia. He didn't expect to get in by any means. What fool was just going to let a feral coeurl into the crown city of Lucis? No, he would do his best to track Kingsglaive movements and see if he couldn't get Glauca pinned. Chances were it would take a while, but right now? As far as Ravus was concerned, he had nothing but time. Twelve years before everything hit the fan. Twelve years to catch and kill the man.

If he couldn't do it in less than that... well, then he clearly failed.

As he set off back towards the haven in the yellowing light, he wondered how long it'd take him to reach Insomnia. Coeurls moved fast, true, but they weren't machines. They needed rest and things like food and water. So however long it would take, say, a car to reach Insomnia from Duscae, he would likely need to double it. And, of course, he would first need to figure out roughly where he was and which direction he was going. Wouldn't it be just perfect if he ended up running to Cape Caem instead of Insomnia?

Well, at least he would know where he was if that happened.

As he came up on the haven, Ravus realized he could hear voices.

“Gonna be alright on your own?”

“Aww, don't worry. Been at this for a while now, I know how t' stay safe.”

He paused, tipping his head.

Those were coming from the haven.

There were people at the haven.

The smell of Starscourge started lacing it's way through the air, and Ravus decided he didn't care.

“Wasn't talkin' 'bout that, though it's good to know. Was talkin' 'bout— Shit!”

Ravus ignored the maddened scrabbling backwards that occurred as he sprang up onto the haven. He didn't bother looking at the two men across the runes from him, instead examining how much space they'd left him with their camp set up. It looked like neither had much, really. He saw a cooler, a box that reeked of fish, and a pair of sleeping bags. There was a fire set up in the center of the haven, but that didn't particularly bother him. If need be, he could use it as a sort of dividing line between himself and the two campers.

As he laid down, he heard them start hissing to each other.

“Dave, I ain't crazy, right?! That's a coeurl?!”

“No crazier than me... what the hell, though... ain't ever seen one come jumping up on a haven before...”

“What the hell...”

Hearing one of them move closer, Ravus turned his head. He found a man who couldn't be anything other than a hunter creeping warily closer. The sight of a hunting knife clutched in white knuckles made him want to laugh. The only way that would do anything against a coeurl was if you managed to get the drop on it while it was sleeping. Even then, he was forced to wonder if you'd manage to get anything done before it woke up and killed you.

The hunter froze when he looked up, eyes wide.

After a moment spent staring each other down, Ravus scoffed, turning away and resting his muzzle on his crossed paws.

“... Dave...?”

“... I don't think... I think we'll be fine... it doesn't seem interested...”

Silence fell. The two men were speechless, probably scared for their lives. Ravus let his ears flick around, listening to the surrounding area. The stink of Starscourge was starting to build up in the air, and it sounded like there was a flan of some kind nearby. The fire popped, and Ravus allowed himself to twitch.

“... It's... not like any coeurl I've seen before...”

“Me either. But it ain't comin' after us... so I... imagine we'll be fine...”

Huffing, he shifted around to look at them. They were both holding their breath, holding stock-still. He scoffed, rolling his eyes before rolling onto his side, stretching out. As long as the two of them didn't bother him, then he didn't need to worry about them. He could think about how he was going to deal with not knowing how many havens he'd encounter on his way to Insomnia.

“... So... you're headin' back to Leide, right...?”

They both jumped when Ravus sat bolt-upright.

There was just no way it was that easy.

Chapter Text

It was that easy.

“... Think you made a friend, Dave.” the fisherman— what else could he be, smelling that strongly of fish— said awkwardly as Ravus rested his chin on the edge of the truck-bed.

“Can't imagine why...” the hunter said uneasily, scratching the back of his neck.

Ravus huffed, wishing he could tell the man not to flatter himself. It was simply more convenient to hop in the back of the truck and be driven halfway to Insomnia than have to run the whole way.

After learning last night that the hunter— Dave— was planning to head into the Leide region, Ravus had paid a little more attention to the duo. They had been unnerved by his attention, but once they were certain he wasn't intending to attack them, they had chattered more. Mostly things like personal relationships, recent events, idle gossip. For the majority of their talk, Ravus had been... disinterested, to say the least. Hearing them discuss how Niflheim was pushing at Tenebrae had made him uneasy, though. He felt like he could remember what they were talking about, but at the same time, not knowing for sure made him jittery. The idea that Glauca's throat was due for being torn out became even more firmly cemented in his head.

He had been woken up this morning by the smell of fish being cooked. The fisherman had apparently gotten up at the crack of dawn to catch a handful of things. The two had cautiously left a fish on the ground, earning a glare from Ravus— he hadn't touched them all night and they thought he needed to be appeased?— but he ate it all the same. When Dave had started getting ready to leave, Ravus had begun pacing anxiously. He had only intended to see which way the man went, but upon seeing the rusty old truck, he decided not to look the gift chocobo in the mouth and jumped in.

“Well... best be off. Good luck with your niece.” the hunter told his friend, eying Ravus nervously as he got into the cab.

“Right. Be safe.” the fisherman answered as the truck started.

Ravus lay down, not eager to be knocked off his feet by the truck lurching around. He was forced to curl up in the narrow bed, tail laid next to his nose.

As the truck began to move, wind whistling through his fur, he let his thoughts wander. And thanks to the bed of the vehicle easily soaking up the warmth of the sun, he found himself doing more than thinking. The parts of him that were wholly coeurl screamed for a sunbath, even though he had literally just woken up. Because he was relatively confident in where he was headed, he caved in and allowed himself to fall asleep.

His sleep was fitful again, plagued with daemons growling and fire snarling. He was running through a burning night, looking for... something. Or someone. But no matter where he looked, whatever it was he was searching for was nowhere to be found. He couldn't stop tripping, couldn't stop falling, cutting himself more and more. Before long, it wasn't red blood that fell from his injuries, but thick black sludge, spilling out and staining his skin. The sludge began to build up, bubbling and writhing, and he could feel it welling up in his throat—

He flailed awake, limbs crashing against the hot metal of the truck as his whiskers sparked and crackled. There was a screech of tires, and he started to slide, causing him to frantically dig his claws into the bed.

“What in the— Everything okay back there?!”

Rolling to his belly, Ravus looked at the hunter peering back at him. Huffing, he gave a sharp nod. He was starting to not care if people knew he could understand and reply. So what if a scientist and a hunter knew? It wasn't like he was showing off in front of crowds of people. They would be dismissed as crazy.

The man's eyes grew wide, and his jaw dropped, but instead of babbling at Ravus about understanding, he just nodded and turned back to the road. He could appreciate that.

Sitting up, he looked around. They had definitely left the Duscae region by this point. It was starting to get late in the day, probably around three in the afternoon. He didn't know where exactly they were, but they were in the relatively barren Leide region for sure. While it was, in a way, annoying, his new feline capability for sleep was... somewhat astounding.

As he watched, an outpost appeared on the horizon. Not quite large enough to be called a town. It looked like there was a motel and a small handful of other establishments... but no houses. Nothing like that.

Ravus settled down again, crossing his paws as he wrapped his tail elegantly around himself. He would stick with this hunter until he settled down for the night. If that happened to be at this outpost they were pulling into... well, if that was the case, he best get moving and find a haven for himself. But he wasn't here to make friends. Whoever the first Oracle had been, she had apparently gotten a second chance for him... and probably the world. He had no intent of squandering it.

The truck turned. Looking around, they'd pulled up to a gas-station in the outpost. He watched as the hunter got out of the cab and moved to the pump. The stink of gasoline assaulted him, and he crinkled his nose, swiping down his muzzle with a paw. Dave seemed to notice, and gave a sympathetic look. “Yeah, stuff doesn't smell that great...”

No, it didn't. Neither did the fast food establishment just next door. No wonder coeurls lived so deep in the wild. It was almost astounding how humans were able to tolerate their own stench. He was amazed he hadn't been more bothered by it all, now that he was so acutely aware of it. Yuck.

Once the hunter had refueled his truck, he got back in the cab. But they didn't go very far, just across the street to the motel. Once the vehicle had stopped, Ravus stood, fully intending to leave.

“Hold on a minute!”

The urge to run off without waiting was strong, but he paused, looking back at the man. He'd give him twenty words.

Dave approached, still looking wary. “Listen, I don't know where you're goin', but... you used the haven, so... you may wanna spend the night here. Not a haven for miles.”

More than twenty words, but they still made him untense, thinking.

Chances were, the man knew what he was talking about. Hunters tended to need to. If you regularly went out after monsters, beasts and daemons, you needed to know where it was safe to rest, safe to spend the night. And there weren't exactly trees he could climb up to sleep in around this region.

Huffing, Ravus turned and jumped back into the bed of the truck. There was a while before sundown, but he was sure he could sleep until dawn if needed. Even if the lack of activity would drive him insane.

The sound of Dave climbing into the back of the truck made his head snap up. The hunter froze when his gaze landed on him, going tense and still. When he didn't do anything, the man shuffled a little bit closer, examining him.

“... Never seen a white coeurl before. Somethin' special.” the man said slowly. For a moment, that was all he said. But then he shook his head, saying, “But you ain't just any old coeurl. Not if you can understand what people're sayin'. Didn't have any interest in Navyth an' me 'till you heard I was headin' out this way.”

Ravus stayed silent, allowing his eyes to narrow.

“I ain't been a hunter long,” Dave continued, meeting his gaze surprisingly steadfastly, “But I know intent when I see it. You're goin' somewhere.”

After a moment, he bobbed his head in a slow nod. He could hear the hunter's breath hitch a little, as if he still couldn't believe a coeurl was responding to him. Ravus watched him turn and twist, like he was looking to see if anyone else saw. Making sure he was awake and not crazy.

It was understandable. For Noctis and Regis, such things were... well, expected, in a way. The Caelum connection to the Crystal and the Astrals saw to that. But for the average person... a coeurl with human intelligence must seem like a hallucination. A fever dream.

Shaking his head, the hunter reached into his vest and pulled something out. “Any other coeurl... hell, wouldn't've survived this long with any other coeurl. But for all I know...”

The man trailed off, still shaking his head, as he laid the thing from his vest out. Ravus saw that it was a map.

“Where're you headin'?”

Chapter Text

He was sorely tempted to leave.

Ravus had been watching Dave pace back and forth behind the truck for a while now. The hunter had shooed a few people away when they'd approached to gawk at the ‘pet coeurl’— those words made him lift his lip, he was no one's pet— but otherwise had been pacing since Ravus had pressed the tip of his nose to the old map.

Honestly, it was a little annoying.

He got the feeling the hunter had expected him to point out some uninhabited area, not the capital city of Lucis. Relocate a misplaced animal, give himself a pat on the back and take responsibility if a coeurl-related problem arose. Because this man was a hunter, after all. It was his job to kill wild beasts. Beasts like coeurls. But because of Ravus's own intelligence, the man was clearly conflicted on what to do. Most people tended to be conflicted when it came to things that could be ‘human.’ But he felt that he'd lost that inner confliction long ago. When he was still only a boy, ripped away from his home and given no choice but to become cold and heartless in order to protect all he had left.

Huffing, Ravus stood and jumped out of the truck, startling the hunter.

“Hold on!”
A loud growl left him, head snapping around as a hand boldly and roughly grabbed at his hip. Instantly, Dave backed off, hands up. Ravus huffed, twisting so he could lick at the spot touched and lay anything askew to rights.

“Listen,” the hunter said, slow and quiet, “I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but even I know when I'm lookin' at somethin' that just ain't natural. You're not just any old coeurl, and I get that... but I can't just take a coeurl to the capital.”

Obviously.

“Whatever it is that you are... whatever you're intendin' to do... well, if you wanted anyone dead, I'd imagine it'd be the king... but you haven't attacked me. Could've easily killed Navyth an' me back at the haven. So... I trust it ain't anythin' bad.”

Ravus didn't react. Because it wasn't bad, not in the way this man meant. But Lucis believed Glauca was on their side. Titus Drautos was their soldier, their hero. They wouldn't see it as good when he was bleeding out in the jaws of a coeurl. But it would be like getting a child to take their medicine or vitamins. It would seem horrible, but prove beneficial in the long run.

Dave sighed, looking at him with a somewhat forlorn expression. After a moment, the man shook his head, muttering about how someone would kill him if she ever found out. Ravus chose to assume that he was referring to another hunter. That or a spouse.

“If you promise you won't go causin' trouble for people,” the man said, “I can take you to a huntin' outpost a few hours drive from the capital. Handful of havens nearby. But if you intend to go around causin' trouble...”

The threat was more than empty, it was nonexistent. Both of them knew it, too. Ravus may not have had much experience as a coeurl, but he was still confident that he could kill Dave with ease if needed.

But that wasn't needed. The man was a hunter, but he was soft. He could tell, just from how the man had offered him a ride. From how he was making a coeurl promise to stay out of trouble.

Turning to properly face Dave, Ravus sat on his haunches. He rose up, off his front legs, like a dog begging for food. Looking the hunter dead in the eye, he brought his right forepaw up. Dave had stepped back warily when he rose up, but was now just staring.

It was him dropping back to all fours that snapped the man out of his daze. Shaking his head, the hunter muttered, “Knows how to swear a goddamn oath like that... good a promise as any, though...”

After a moment, the man said, “Alright. I'll take you to that outpost. Was headin' there for an inspection anyways.”

Inspection? So Dave held some rank in the hunters, then? Ravus admitted, he didn't know much about the hunters of Lucis. He didn't think Tenebrae had ever really had hunters, and the ones in Niflheim were bounty-chasers who had no qualms about killing each other to get their prize. The most he knew about Lucian hunters was that they wore dog-tags to serve as identification. But if they had inspections... then presumably there was some sort of hierarchy, some sort of unity.

As Dave crossed the street to duck into the restaurant, Ravus returned to the bed of the truck. He wasn't going to delude himself into thinking that the motel owner would let a coeurl into the building. No, he was sleeping outside when night fell. But that was probably for the best. When he pictured squeezing into a tight room like that, he was filled with anxiety and the need to flail desperately. Likely more coeurl instincts.

Blinking, he realized Dave was coming back, a frown on his face. He felt his tail swish back and forth, just waiting for the bad news. Because of course it was bad news.

Reaching the truck, the hunter examined the sky, checked his watch, and gave an exasperated huff. “Little late now... probably hafta do it tomorrow...”

Do what tomorrow?

A slight growl slipped out before Ravus could stop it, drawing the man's attention onto him.

“Sorry. Rumors're goin' 'round that there's an anakadom in the area. Gonna need to look into it. If it's nothin', it's nothin'. But if there is one, gonna need to round up a few other hunters and put her down... enough trouble with daemons, folks don't need anaks goin' berserk competin' for her...” Dave sighed, rubbing the back of his neck.

... He knew what an anak was, he wasn't stupid. But what in the name of the Six was an anakadom? Based on extrapolation, it was something related to anaks. And Dave referred to it as a female. But even that together meant very little, in all honesty.

“So we may not be headin' out until after noon. Don't know if what you're after is urgent, but I'm still a hunter. Gotta make sure people stay safe.” the man continued.

Irritating, yes, but Ravus had dealt with worse. It wasn't like Insomnia was falling tonight. And he had yet to hear anything about Tenebrae being taken. Granted, he'd been isolated for close to a week now, but he'd listened to Dave and the fisherman last night. If their information was accurate, his home was still standing.

And even if he was in a rush, it wasn't like he couldn't help out. Being in debt to anyone didn't sit well with him. Even if no one expected compensation from a coeurl, Ravus wouldn't be able to sleep at night if he owed people favors. He'd dwell too long on how he'd be asked to repay them.

Huffing, he laid his head down on his paws. Dave nodded and headed towards the front desk of the motel.

Well. Looked like there was a chance he was going to learn what exactly an anakadom was tomorrow.

Chapter Text

The truck groaned as it came to a stop, and Ravus jumped down as Dave got out.

“Gonna be a little bit of a trek. Shouldn't be too long, though.” the hunter told him.

He didn't reply, just jumped over the guardrail and waited for the hunter to join him.

“Hold on— Comin' with?” Dave asked, frowning down at him.

Ravus rolled his eyes, tail twitching.

“... Well... alright. Lookin' for anak herds. If there's a red doe, that's the mark. Color attracts males and females alike, makes 'em get competitive for her attention. Even worse in matin' season.” the man explained, moving around to the stairs and walking down. Ravus noted that he now had a pair of gun-holsters on, in addition to the hunting knife at one hip and a machete at the other. The man must've kept those things in the cab.

Lifting his head to the wind, Ravus took a deep breath. The breeze was hardly even there, just barely present. But it was there. He could smell voretooth and something... similar. Not sure what, but something like voretooths. Nothing else was jumping out at him, though.

Dave had apparently been waiting for his verdict, and he shook his head with an annoyed huff.

“Well, you tried. C'mon.” the hunter said consoling, starting to walk. Rolling his eyes, Ravus followed after.

He took care to stay close. He knew there were things out there that wouldn't even think twice about attacking a coeurl, but not as many that wouldn't bother thinking at all before attacking a lone human. Hopefully his own scent would mask the hunter's, even if only slightly.

The sun beat down relentlessly. They stopped to rest several times. At one point, Dave held one of two water bottles he apparently had out and tipped it so the contents slowly ran out. As demeaning as it felt to be watered like a pet dog, Ravus was grateful. He'd grown used to the cool forests of Duscae, rivers and ponds scattered everywhere. And he hated to admit it, but he was growing hungry. Not quite famished, but definitely hungry.

And maybe it was his stomach protesting, but Ravus eventually found the scent of a herd of something. Something big and mammalian and edible. His coeurl instincts had him following the scent before he even realized it. He only really noticed because Dave spoke up and asked if he had something.

For a moment, he just looked at the hunter, unsure of how to respond. He had no clue what anaks smelled like. For all he knew, what he was smelling was some kind of local livestock. He got the feeling it was a bit big to be that, but he still didn't know. In the end, he shrugged.

“Well, better than anythin' I've got. Lead on.” Dave nodded.

His head hung lower than usual as he followed the scent. In Duscae, he'd always needed to lift his head up, follow the wind. But here there was little to no breeze, and nothing for scents to cling to. Because of that, he stumbled a bit more than usual, stepping on his whiskers at least twice. Thankfully Dave didn't say anything about it.

As they came to the top of a cliff, Ravus stopped, staring.

“... Damn.” Dave swore next to him, dropping to his knees.

It looked like a pair of stags were fighting, antlers clashing even as they reared up and pawed at each other. There was a cluster of does and a pair of calves. Moving idly away, the does following after, was a bright red anak.

“Damn. Damn!” Dave hissed, pounding the ground with a fist. “She's too antsy, not stayin' still! Who knows where she'll end up if she leaves... no time to fetch a huntin' party, but I don't have... damn!”

You might not have the firepower needed, but you had a coeurl.

Ravus moved as quietly as he could, leaving the hunter to his growling. He stalked along the edge of the cliff, keeping low to the ground, and moved with the crimson doe. She slowed down for a moment, nosing at a root or branch growing out the side of the cliff.

“Hey...?”

He ignored Dave's confusion, creeping forward until he was half-hanging off the cliff. He stayed silent, quiet, and watched. The anakadom was unaware of his presence, munching on whatever vegetation it was she had found. A few of the other does were coming closer, the calves stumbling around her in a playful circle.

“What're you—”

One of the anaks below cried out. He didn't need to look to know he'd been spotted.

Before the anakadom could flee, or pull out of his reach, Ravus jumped, pushing himself off the cliff. The extra momentum provided by his hind legs had him crashing into her faster than she could run away. It wasn't perfect, his claws dragging down her side, but she fell, crying out. Thankfully, he managed to land on his feet. It was clumsy, jarring, he could feel pain running up his legs. But he was upright.

The herd was upset. Angry. The calves were fleeing, crying. The stags were charging over. The does were rearing up, yelling and screaming. He could hear Dave yelling above him.

His whiskers crackled. Pressing himself down against the ground, Ravus focused on gathering that crackling up, close to himself. It sparked and snapped, begging to be released. Sternly, he gripped onto it, kept bundling it up and compacting it down until it started to fight him.

The anakadom started climbing to her feet, bleeding from long gouges his claws left down he side.

He sprang forward, jaws open and aiming for her neck.

This wasn't like the time he'd fought the garula. That time he'd been inexperienced, just figuring out how to use the world's ambient charge. This time was different. This was after several days of training himself in Duscae's isolated forests, unconcerned about collateral damage, only concerned with figuring out how to control his ability.

It was blinding. It was deafening. He heard numerous screams, and hoped that some of his lightning charge was jumping from the anakadom to the others. It would be easier to fight them off if their numbers were depleted thanks to electrocution.

Blood filled his mouth. Part of him, the human part, recoiled in shock. The rest screamed in triumph, and he dug in his fangs and claws alike as the red-hued doe went down, jerking and shuddering. Ravus clenched his jaw, tighter and tighter, spilling more and more blood—

He was thrown away, a chunk of flesh still in his mouth as he was slammed against the cliff.

Growling in irritation— he seemed to get thrown around no matter what— he looked up to find one of the stags. The anak reared up, bellowing angrily, and Ravus just barely got out of the way in time. Large hooves crashed down where he had been just a second before, and he found himself forced to weave through long, spindly legs. He needed a minute before he'd be able to gather ambient charge again. It wasn't a rapid-fire ability.

The other stag slammed his hooves down, and Ravus skidded to a stop. Before he could recover and move again, try to run away and wait for the second he could shock them all again, one of the does swung her head, knocking him over. As he was bowled onto his back, the stag reared up again.

He couldn't help but freeze up, knowing that even if he rolled over, hid his soft underbelly, he would be crushed. His head was spinning too much, there was no way he would be able to run away—

A gunshot rang out, and the stag jerked, yelling in pain.

Ravus took advantage of the distraction to get the hell out of the way. The herd had descended into chaos by this point, milling around all but aimlessly. If he didn't get some space now, he'd just get trampled anyway. And he didn't think Dave's handguns were going to be enough to back him up.

It was a little soon. He might be pushing it too much. But it was the only way he could see himself getting any space.

Ravus pressed himself down and concentrated on the prickling of the air around his whiskers. Pins and needles settled into his muzzle, letting him know he was definitely pushing it beyond what he'd been able to accomplish in Duscae. As a few more gunshots rang out, the anaks screaming, he closed his eyes and grit his teeth, feeling his fangs scrape painfully together.

The air crackled.

He threw his head back with a roar.

Chapter Text

“Might sting a bit...” Dave warned, holding out a salve-covered cloth.

Ravus rolled his eyes, hunching his shoulders a bit so the hunter could see the injury better.

The anakadom was dead. So were both the stags, one of the calves, and three of the ordinary does. Ravus had managed to escape with the worst of his injuries being a cut across his shoulders. He was sore all over, out of breath, dizzy, and his left hind leg twinged when he put weight on it.

Dave had given him a lecture, of all things, about charging in alone, even as he'd claimed the anakadom's antlers and cut a decent chunk of meat for Ravus. He had more or less tuned it all out, grooming himself while he waited for the hunter to finish claiming whatever he wanted from the corpses. But now they were back at the truck, and before delivering proof of the hunt to whoever it was, Dave wanted to treat the cut on Ravus's back. He wasn't exactly objecting. Getting infected and dying from some illness from an anak's hoof didn't really sit well with him.

So he chewed on the anak shank while the hunter cleaned and disinfected the injury. It wasn't bad enough to need stitches, and Dave said he didn't think bandages would help. Ravus would just have to be careful that he didn't do anything to aggravate the injury while it healed.

Before getting back into the cab of the truck, Dave paused. Ravus eyed him blankly as he swallowed a mouthful of meat down.

“Thanks,” the hunter said at length, “You didn't hafta do that. It would've been inconvenient and taken a while, but I could've rounded up some hunters to take care of it. I know you're impatient to get goin' and all... but you could've easily not bothered.”

He blinked a few times, then turned so he could finish eating.

It was just that. He might have had time to work in, but lazing around was a luxury he didn't have. He wasn't going to help hunters with their work out of the goodness of his heart. There wasn't much to dole out anyway. And he didn't like feeling indebted to people. He didn't trust that other people were able to do things from the kindness of their own hearts, either. Niflheim had ripped that out of him.

It didn't take Dave long to return to the outpost and take care of his business. Ravus stayed in the truck and continued eating, ignoring everyone who stopped to gawk. Dave returned and told him that they would stop at an outpost called Hammerhead. Dave planned to walk to the hunter's post from there, and Ravus would be only a few hours run from Insomnia. There were apparently a number of havens in that area, so he shouldn't have too much trouble finding somewhere safe to sleep.

His teeth clicked against the now-bare bone. Fidgeting with it in his paws, he licked over the bone a few times before deeming his meal done. Sitting up just a bit, he took to grooming himself again. Eating as a coeurl was so messy.

Now, while they were on the way, he should think about his next move.

He wasn't getting into Insomnia. That much was obvious. But he didn't need to. He just needed to track the skirmishes nearby. The Kingsglaive were responsible for fighting those. And Glauca was in charge of the Kingsglaive. He didn't know if that held true this far back, but it was what he had to go on. Track the skirmishes and the Kingsglaive. Wait for Glauca to show his face.

He licked over his paw, careful to get around the pads. He'd noticed that dirt accumulated rather quickly there, and it just felt uncomfortable. He didn't know if there were health risks posed by not cleaning his paws thoroughly, but if it felt that uncomfortable that fast, he'd rather not risk finding out.

The truck went over a bump, jostling him a little. He growled under his breath, getting up enough to circle and readjust.

... If he helped out at the Kingsglaive-skirmishes, there was a chance Glauca would show up faster.

Ravus tipped his head, turning that thought over and over in his mind.

Regis and Noctis had mistaken him for a type of Messenger. While not calling him a Messenger, pretty much everyone who had seen him knew he wasn't your average coeurl, knew he was something else. If an unnatural coeurl suddenly appeared and allied itself to Insomnia's forces, Niflheim would want to know what was going on. Glauca was their primary information source, if he remembered correctly.

So if the white coeurl appeared, allied to the Kingsglaive against Niflheim's advances, then Glauca would be forced to investigate.

Ravus's lip curled, and he flexed his claws.

War and fighting would be nothing he wasn't used to. And it would be a chance to hone his understanding of this body. And an unpredictable ally to Insomnia, which would, in theory, slow Niflheim's advance.

Every little bit, he told himself, every little bit. Small things that would hopefully alter the dreary future for the better.

“Hey!” Dave called back, drawing him out of his thoughts. “We're almost there! And I know you'll want to take off the second we stop, but if you're gonna be in the area a lot, might be beneficial if I introduce you to the locals!”

To show what he thought of that, Ravus groaned and thumped his head against the cab. The hunter chuckled.

Unfortunately, the man was right. He was very likely going to be in this particular area a great deal. If the local populous was familiar with him and knew he didn't intend to hurt any of them... well, he wouldn't have to worry about having a mark placed on him, that was for sure.

He thumped his head against the cab a few more times for good measure.

Once upon a time, he'd been a relatively social individual. But he didn't think he needed to tell anyone what had happened to change that.

True to Dave's word, they weren't that far from the local outpost. It was a... very visible place. The choice of the... shark was definitely... eye-catching.

The hunter pulled up into the outpost, and Ravus saw that it was composed largely of a gas-station, a garage, a restaurant, and a caravan. There was a weapons-dealer with a cart of sorts set up near the garage. The presence of the garage made everything stink worse. Oil and grease and other things that clogged his nose and made him want to puke.

As Dave got out of the truck, Ravus jumped out of the bed. He looked around warily, picking out every individual that was staring with a slack jaw and three that had a calculating gleam in their eyes.

“C'mon.” Dave said, drawing his attention.

For a moment, all he did was glare reproachfully, but it wasn't for more than a moment. The hunter gave him a sympathetic smile, leading him towards the open garage. Ravus pointedly swiped a paw down his muzzle as he followed. As they approached, he heard someone talking. Explaining how to fix an engine or something like that.

“Cid, y'got a minute?” Dave called as they stood just inside the garage. Ravus made no effort to disguise the unhappy swishing of his tail.

“Just a minute now!” a voice called out, rasping a little with age. “Think ya got it?”

“... Think so, yeah!” a younger voice answered cheerfully.

Ravus turned his head to keep an eye on the trio that looked at him greedily. He didn't trust them as far as he could throw them. Chances were they were hunters as well, thinking of how much an exotic coeurl's pelt would go for.

“Dave,” the older voice said, sounding somewhat displeased, “There's a coeurl in my garage.”

“He ain't vicious. Been nothin' but peaceful. Well... towards people, anyway.” the hunter answered.

After a moment longer of staring at the greedy trio, Ravus turned to see who it was that was approaching. He found a grizzled old man in mechanic's clothes, scowling a little at the both of them.

“Coeurls ain't 'xactly peaceful critters, Dave.” the man said, examining Ravus.

“This one ain't exactly the average coeurl, Cid. Came outta nowhere at Navyth an' me over in Duscae— jumped up into the haven at sundown. More or less ignored us until Navyth mentioned me comin' to Leide. Got all excited then, an' jumped in my truck next mornin'.” the hunter explained.

“So yer sayin' this one understands people, huh?” the old man— Cid, apparently— challenged, coming closer. “How 'bout it, then? Gonna talk back?”

Before Dave could answer for him, Ravus shook his head.

The old mechanic raised an eyebrow, reaching up to adjust his hat. “Now, you actually understand, or just trained t' shake yer head at me?”

Rolling his eyes, Ravus nodded.

“... Well then.”

“He's headin' to Insomnia. Might be in the area a bit, though, and figured y'all should be introduced.”

Cid looked sharply at Dave. “Now hold on a lick—”

“Paw-Paw, I finished it— oh.”

The old mechanic turned around as Dave and Ravus looked past him. Frozen halfway to them, eyes wide and mouth open, was a messy little girl smeared with oil and grease. Her eyes were riveted on him, green eyes almost consumed by her pupils blown wide with shock.

“Jus' go on back in there, Cindy, Paw-Paw'll be back in a second.” Cid instructed.

However, rather than obey, the tiny girl slunk closer, hiding behind the old man's legs. “... 'S pretty.” she mumbled, still staring.

Normally, Ravus wasn't one for showboating, but he got the feeling the grizzled mechanic needed a little more proof that he understood. Most everyone else had seen him answer questions and accepted it. But he could appreciate the skepticism all the same. It was the sign of a more sensible individual, in his opinion.

So he stood, backing up a couple steps. Dave and Cid both reacted, turning or growling. The child pressed closer to Cid, breath hitching.

Stretching one paw out before himself, curling the other under his chest, Ravus swept into an approximation of a bow, huffing a little. The tiny girl cooed, and as Ravus sat back up, head held high, he noted with some satisfaction that both the hunter and the old mechanic were staring with wide eyes.

Cid was the first to recover, shaking his head and shooing ‘Cindy’ back into the garage. “Alright. So yer headin' t' Insomnia.” The old man stepped closer, and Ravus couldn't help but lift his lips in a growl, ears flattening and tail lashing, when a surprisingly firm hand grabbed the underside of his muzzle. “Not th' average coeurl, though. You a Messenger?”

Only Regis had asked that. No one else.

Ravus shook his head despite the hand clamping down under his jaw. The man stank of machines, and he was sure the smell was going to cling. He didn't know if he wanted to rub his paws over that, though, because he'd have to lick that. Disgusting. But Cid also smelled of sweat and something... surprisingly fresh and airy. Like a cool, soft breeze cutting through Leide's heat.

Sharp hazel eyes narrowed. Cid pressed on, “This got somethin' t'do with Reggie?”

... Reggie? Was he referring to... Regis?!

Ears flattening a little, Ravus nodded. He hadn't expected to find someone so... intimate with the king of Lucis that they'd have such a nickname for him. Not this far from Insomnia. Granted, it wasn't too far, but it was far enough. Beyond the Crown City's walls.

Ravus heard Dave suck in a breath at his answer, but he didn't break eye-contact with Cid. The man was old and wizened, enough so that he was reaching up to hold Ravus's jaw. But despite his age, there was a sort of fierceness to him. He felt like if he looked away now, he'd be admitting weakness to someone he shouldn't.

“You gonna hurt Reggie?” the old man growled.

He couldn't help but scoff, the noise coming out as something more like a snort, as he shook his head.

For a while, the old man just stood, holding onto him and staring. Ravus could smell the tension starting to roll off of Dave. The hunter probably hadn't counted on the introduction getting so confrontational.

Finally, the old mechanic huffed, letting of of Ravus's muzzle and turning away. “If that's th' case, I ain't gonna chase ya off. But I hear anythin' 'bout you causin' trouble an' you'll regret it, hear?”

Even though the man's back was turned, he bobbed his head.

He got the feeling that old and tired as the man looked, this was not a person he wanted to cross.

Chapter Text

Ravus lifted his lip, skirting around the edge of the charred and blackened ground. It was damp and clotted, and he couldn't tell if it was with blood or Scourge. He didn't intend to take any chances finding out. The longer he could stay uncontaminated by such things, the better.

After settling down in a haven the previous day, he'd run towards Insomnia until a pillar of smoke caught his attention. He'd swerved towards it, and arrived to find he'd just missed one of the skirmishes.

He swiped a paw across his muzzle. The air stank. It reeked of blood, fear, and sweat. Burnt hair, charred earth, and still-smoking oil-fires only added to the stench. To top it all off, there was the overlying reek of Starscourge. Pieces of dented, twisted metal lay everywhere. A few monstrous corpses had fallen here and there, and Ravus recalled the brutal tactics of collecting and breeding wild animals, training them to hunger for human flesh.

Finding a patch of clean ground to rest on, Ravus sat.

If he'd just missed the skirmish... in twelve years, he knew the sort of schedule made for these raids and attacks by heart. But this was twelve years before that. So he had to guess.

Tail swishing, he watched one of the small fires burn itself out, starving for fuel.

Niflheim only ever advanced. So chances were, this was a vanguard attack. Despite the magitech trooper parts and dead monsters, there was also a number of human corpses in Kingsglaive regalia, left behind and abandoned as their comrades had fled. Which meant that this had likely been a Niflheim victory. If Lucis had won, he was relatively certain the bodies of their brethren would be collected. Not completely certain, but certain enough that he was calling this a loss for Insomnia.

Eyes sliding closed, he pictured the military maps and markers he'd worked with. Dates, times, locations, troop formations, and everything he knew about Niflheim and Lucian military slid through his mind. Rough estimations and calculations lined up. Old reports read in the dead of night to increase his knowledge of what he was doing were dredged up. Feeling his ears flatten, Ravus mentally pushed and pulled markers across the map in his head.

... If he was right, then in about three days time, another assault would be launched. Magitech troops would be dropped around this area, and march until the Kingsglaive appeared to fight them. Airships following behind the magitech soldiers would be prepared to drop bestial and-or daemonic assistance. The Insomnian soldiers would be able to push back, but not by much.

Not knowing the exact dates was a pain in the ass, he reflected as he opened his eyes, but he wasn't incapable of winging it.

Best scout out the area ahead. If he was going to be aiding the Kingsglaive in their fights, it wouldn't do to have no knowledge of his surroundings.

So he stood, eyes opening. Picking his way across the blood and Scourge-stained field, he began to run again.

He ran until he could see the next line of Lucian defense. Climbing up on a rock, he sat and looked across the last stretch of distance between him and it.

An old and rundown fort. Possibly ruins of some kind, really. But it smelled strongly of human, and he could see them moving back and forth. There was some degree of urgency in their movement— recovering from the fresh loss, most likely.

Ravus flicked his tail, turning his head to examine the area.

It wasn't exactly the most defendable position. Lots of flat land around them. A bit of a cliff at their backs. A corner, technically speaking, that they'd backed themselves into. Unless they knew something he didn't, which was a possibility. But they were horribly exposed. It would be easy for Niflheim's magitech to march here and begin the slaughter anew.

He'd have to try and cut the magitech off, then. It was convenient that he was a coeurl, given the MTs weakness to lightning magic. If any light got under their plating, they began to malfunction. It might not be a rapid-fire ability, but he knew he was faster than the troopers. If nothing else, he could derail them and thin out their numbers. He wouldn't be able to do much about the beast-carting drop-ships, but he could work at the magitech.

Every little bit, he reminded himself as he looked back to the current Kingsglaive fort. Every little bit.

Chapter Text

He couldn't sleep.

Ravus paced around the haven in circles.

Tomorrow was the day he estimated that Niflheim would try to push Insomnia's troops back again. So the second he woke up, more or less, he was going to have to start moving and hope he could head the troopers off if nothing else.

But he had to fall asleep to wake up.

A red giant lumbered across the horizon. Not near enough to bother him. The moon and stars were hidden behind clouds, but the darkness itself didn't bother him as much as it would a human. The smell of Starscourge ran rampant through the air. But that hadn't particularly kept him from sleeping before, so he saw no reason why it should now.

It wasn't that he wasn't tired. No, Ravus was exhausted. He'd spent all his time at this haven seeing if he could push the limits of his lightning. He'd run in tight circles all over the landscape, springing off of rocks and working to control himself even better. He'd even gone hunting in a nearby trench earlier and managed to take out a small flock of daggerquills earlier, despite his lightning not being as effective on them as most other things. So it wasn't that he was hungry, either.

He gave a frustrated growl, deliberately flopping down at the edge of the haven so his front paws hung off it. He didn't think sleep had eluded him this thoroughly since Tenebrae had fallen. Grumbling to himself— it came out as raspy mewing noises— Ravus dropped his head so his chin rested between his paws. He closed his eyes and tried to ignore the world so that he could sleep.

But just as he felt himself finally, finally drifting off, he heard something.

He wasn't entirely sure what it was, but his head snapped up, ears pricked as his tail lashed. Logically, if it was a daemon, he had nothing to worry about. He was safe on the haven. But just as logically, Ravus knew there were things other than daemons in the world. Things that weren't bothered by havens— things like voretooths, sabertusks, other coeurls, and humans.

He stared into the darkness, searching for anything out of place, watching for anything that might wish him ill. As he stood and moved to the other side of the haven, scanning his surroundings, he scented the air. But there was nothing he could detect. Just the Leide desert and Starscourge.

Just as he was about to settle down once more, he heard it again.

Laughter?

Turning his head in the direction the sound had come from, Ravus strained to see anything. His tail swept back and forth, unease and confusion refusing to let it still.

A very faint scent came to him.

It was... soft, and sweet. Like sylleblossoms. But there was a sort of... mellowness to it, like fresh-cut grass. Sylleblossoms, fresh cut grass, and summer haze. Faint, just barely there, but... present.

His ears flattened back. He didn't know what to make of the scent, of the phantom laughter. Was he hallucinating? Going insane?

The laughter sounded again, just a tiny bit louder.

Ravus looked around. Upon seeing no daemons in the immediate area, he decided, against his better judgement, to follow the sound.

He moved quietly, quickly, kept his footsteps as light as possible. His head stayed down, shoulders hunched. Every little noise had him pressing down to the ground, looking desperately around. Slinking along, as silently as possible, Ravus followed the smell of sylleblossoms.

As light fell on his outstretched paw, he flinched, skittering back. It took him a moment to realize that the clouds had parted. He sighed, looking up—

The sigh turned into a hiss, and his belly pressed against the cold ground.

Above him, the sky was a blur of navy blue with lines of silver curving across the sky, as if the world was spinning far too fast, hours compacted into seconds. The moon was smeared across the sky, like a thumbprint of liquid mercury dragged over dark velvet.

He should return to the haven. Something was clearly wrong. He was hallucinating or feverish or something. He should go back and curl up, fall asleep, ignore the mess in the sky and make sure he woke up to go help the Kingsglaive.

The laughter sounded again, and his head snapped down so fast he almost bit his tongue.

There was a tree in front of him, a tree that hadn't been there before. Sitting at the base of the tree was a couple, holding hands and touching their foreheads and they smiled at each other. Ravus found himself unable to move as he stared at them. One of them, a man, turned away from his lover— what else could they be?— and Ravus wanted to lunge forward, rip his throat out.

It was Ardyn.

He blinked, and the man and tree were gone. Instead, the other one, a woman, was approaching him. She smelled strongly of sylleblossoms. She reminded him of Lunafreya, smiling softly.

Reaching him, she reached down and reached for his paws—

He gasped, feeling his eyes go wide when he realized she was pulling him to his feet by his hands.

“What...?” he rasped weakly.

“Forgive me,” she said, drawing his attention to her, “If it weren't for me, a great deal of this would never have come to be...”

She looked up, tears shining in her eyes, and Ravus couldn't keep himself from reaching up to brush them away. She smiled, beckoning him down, stretching up so she could whisper in his ear—

“Wake up, Ravus.”

He did so, in a violent tangle of four legs and absurdly long whiskers, falling from the edge of the haven in his flailing. His hitting the ground startled a pack of sabertusks, sending them yipping and whining into the desert. After a moment longer of thrashing, Ravus managed to figure himself out once more, standing up on all fours and shaking himself out. Twisting this way and that to run his tongue over his sides helped him calm down, gave him something to focus on until his breathing had evened out.

Sitting down and staring blankly at the horizon, he gave a tired huff.

He wasn't an Oracle. Such things— visions, communion with the Six, the like— were reserved for Oracles. The females of the Nox Fleuret line. Not him.

He lifted a paw up and draped it over his muzzle. The closest he could get to pinching the bridge of his nose right now.

... Wait.

Wait wait wait.

Almost falling over by jumping up and throwing his paws out wildly, Ravus looked to the sky.

The sun was almost overhead.

His curse came out as a strangled caterwaul, and he took off running.

Chapter Text

Damn. It was a good thing he woke up when he did.

As the dropship took off, leaving the rows of automated soldiers to march towards the next line of defense, Ravus forced himself to move faster. Ducking his head down, he leapt forward, twisting in the air to hit as many of them as possible with his side. As MT after MT hit the sand, he got back to his own feet.

Before the troopers could turn on him, he'd already gathered up as much ambient charge as he could. As they blandly raised their guns, pointing the barrels towards him, he let go.

Through the crackling lightning, he could see approximately a quarter of the magitech soldiers crumple, smears of black writhing in the air. It left behind an unpleasant, bitter smell, and Ravus decided that burnt Starscourge smelled even worse than regular Starscourge. He was going to need to make a list of all the disgusting smells in the world, one of these days. Starscourge in general and burnt asphalt definitely made top three.

Stuttering and jerking, the rest of the troopers stood. Some of them made to continue marching, while the rest raised their guns again. A handful of them were sparking and shaking.

Baring his teeth even though he knew it would have zero effect on the soulless soldiers, Ravus darted around them, skidding into the ones attempting to advance and knocking them over. The chatter of gunfire sounded, making him flinch and take off again.

He looped continually around the Niflheim troopers, slamming into any that tried to advance. They turned in vain circles, trying to track him and open fire, but dealing more damage to themselves than anything else. A few bullets grazed his back, making him grit his teeth at the heat and stinging pain, but compared to getting kicked by an anak stag? At least he wasn't getting trampled, or at risk of such.

The MTs considerably thinned out, Ravus skidded to a stop and dropped to his haunches. He waited for the crackling along his whiskers to build up, pushing his limit as far as he could with how much charge he could accumulate. Several bullets zinged past his ears, and one actually hit his shoulder. Snarling, he jumped forward, landing smack in the middle of the surviving magitech soldiers. Throwing his head back, he roared. A small roll of thunder growled in the wake of his attack.

Slightly dizzy from running in so many circles, Ravus looked around. The Starscourge was burning in the sun, and all the artificial soldiers were still and motionless on the ground, eyes dark and dead. Huffing in satisfaction, he gave his head a shake, rolled his shoulder, and took off again. Just because he'd stopped the magitech didn't mean the attack was over.

When he reached the fort, the leg of the shot shoulder was screaming in pain. He was panting for breath and could feel the nicks on his backs clotting up his fur with their bleeding. As he jumped up on one of the rocks, his leg all but gave out under him. He grunted, claws scrabbling against the stone to regain his balance.

As he sat up, tongue all but lolling out of his mouth as he surveyed the area. No fights yet, calm and quiet. No visibly incoming dropships carting monsters and Scourge-afflicted beasts.

Yet.

His shoulder hurt. He didn't know if it was a through-and-through or if the bullet was still in there. Turning his head and straining his eyes, he did his best to examine the injury. The surrounding fur was dark and matted, but thankfully didn't smell of Scourge. He couldn't tell if the bullet had gone through. Experimentally, he dropped the shoulder down and twisted to sink his teeth into the skin. Blood gushed out of the injury and dribbled from between his teeth, covering his tongue in the heasy copper taste of raw meat. But he couldn't feel anything under his skin, or deforming his muscles. That probably meant the bullet wasn't in there.

He swept his tongue over the injuries, cleaning away what blood he could. He didn't want his fur getting matted, if his fur clumped up wouldn't it be bad?

The air hummed.

Ravus picked his head up, swiveling back and forth to see what the noise was. Behind him, moving closer, were Niflheim airships. Turning back to look at the fort, he saw that it was quiet and peaceful. He didn't know if that meant the Lucians there were lying in wait for Niflheim, or if they didn't know.

One way to find out.

Getting to his feet, ignoring the pain in his shoulder as it sang down his leg, Ravus took a deep breath. He gave the loudest roar he possibly could, feeling the strain on his throat.

Almost instantly, he saw flashes of blue, figures running about. Not many. Just a few. Seeing what the noise was. Hopefully they wouldn't dismiss him as a grouchy coeurl yelling at the smell of human. Hopefully they would see the ships in the distance.

It took a minute. He was getting ready to roar again, call for their attention. But as he stood up, the Niflheim airships growling closer, he saw more movement. There was a yell, followed by a few more.

More movement.

Took you long enough, Ravus thought, turning around on his rock to face the oncoming forces. His tail lashed back and forth.

The first crate dropped.

He rolled his shoulder, forcing it to the back of his mind. He'd been burnt by the Lucii, daemonified by Ardyn, punted by various creatures, more or less trampled by panicking anaks, and hit by a car. Something as minor as a gunshot wound was nothing. If there was one thing he could take and take a lot of, it was pain. You didn't climb Niflheim's military ranks without being accustomed to pain.

The Scourge-infested forces were here.

His eyes went to the largest of the angry beasts, all of them probably starved and beaten. He couldn't be entirely sure, but he felt like the behemoth was looking back.

Right.

He dropped into a crouch, growling in the back of his throat as the stink of filth and blood and hunger and Scourge washed over him.

Chapter Text

He snarled, baring his fangs.

The behemoth roared back. Ravus could see the darkness in it's saliva, the bloodshotness of it's eyes, and the bruising on it's shoulders and throat. It was definitely infected, but Ravus couldn't smell it. Everything around him stank of Starscourge, blood, fear, and hunger.

It had taken him a while to get to the behemoth. He had been doing his best to avoid contact with the Scourge, dodging and winding and weaving through the feral army towards the largest of them all. Ordinarily, in battle, Ravus wouldn't be too worried about getting infected. Ordinarily, he could remove stained clothes and wash off any taint. But he was injured, which would make infection easier. And he couldn't exactly visit Tenebrae to see the Oracle as he was. A coeurl? Get anywhere near any royal or person of prestige?

But that wasn't the issue at the moment.

What was the issue was keeping the rampaging behemoth occupied while the Kingsglaive hacked away at everything else.

Honestly, the number of monsters was smaller than what he remembered. He supposed efficiency had kicked up after Tenebrae's fall. But hopefully that would make it easier for the Kingsglaive to to their job. He wasn't going to be able to deal with a behemoth on his own, but they would be even less equipped to handle it.

The beast swiped at him, but he was expecting that. He darted around behind it and nipped at it's tail. He had no intention of breaking the skin and getting a mouthful of Scourge. The very idea had him shuddering at the memory of black ichor welling up in his throat. No, instead he just clamped down enough for it to hurt. Just as quickly, he let go and jumped back, avoiding the powerful swing. The behemoth roared, lashing out towards him.

Ravus leapt up onto his hind legs, yowling angrily as his tail lashed and he boxed at the powerful foreleg that crashed down near him. The behemoth was starting to froth at the mouth, swinging again, and it was only because he dropped back to all fours that Ravus wasn't hit. Instead, the enraged brute hit several of it's ‘allies.’

Well. He wasn't objecting to that.

He raced around behind the behemoth again, springing off it's back this time.

He wasn't going to delude himself. He was still getting used to being a coeurl, even as it came up on two weeks. Basic life was easier, but combat was still a work in progress. A garula? Sure. A lone anak? Fine. A pack of voretooths or sabertusks too big for their britches? No problem. A flock of daggerquills? Tricky, but he could do it. Daemons? As long as they were small. He'd left the damned marlith to Regis, for fuck's sake. A behemoth had to be on even footing with a marlith, really.

So the tactic was more or less the same. Keep the thing occupied, keep it distracted, until someone else could deal with it.

As he narrowly dodged the behemoth's next swing, he felt his leg buckle.

Shit.

He went down, stumbling over his numb paw. The slip-up didn't go unnoticed, the behemoth roaring triumphantly as it reared up.

Move, dammit, stop tripping, get up and move before you got crushed...!

The air sang with magic, closer than the rest of the noise. Blue crystals shattered, and a blade sank into the monster's eye. It roared, pained and angered, but wasn't deterred. It was still bearing down with intent to grind him into the dirt.

There was a snap, a miniature thunder-clap, as air was displaced next to him. A rough hand fisted his fur, making him snarl, but the noise was choked and cut off as the world suddenly vanished for a second. As he staggered back into it, blue fractals blinked frantically away as his leg gave out again, he realized someone had warped him.

That had to be a first. Warping a coeurl.

Rough hands pushed at him, and he snarled, head snapping around.

“Trample off, I know you aren't gonna hurt me... wouldn't go raising a ruckus like that to get our attention if you were gonna hurt us...” the Kingsglaive scoffed, face hidden under the uniform's mask. “Lie down, dammit, lemme see the goddamn—”

Ravus cut the man off, knocking him aside and calling forth a wave of lightning.

The corrupted creature, no longer truly recognizable and on the verge of becoming a daemon, collapsed to the ground, twisting and writhing.

“... See?” the Kingsglaive said after a moment. He threw a ball of fire on the thing, letting it burn.

Ravus began trying to force himself to his feet, turning towards the behemoth. It was bellowing angrily, turning in tight circles and struggling to swat at the warriors zipping about. The rest of the battlefield was more or less cleared, straggling monsters being picked off.

“No, just lie the hell down! Ifrit's flaming ass, how'd you hold out so long with your shoulder this fucked up? And me with only potions...” the Kingsglaive muttered, shoving his hand against Ravus's shoulder.

A green vial appeared in the man's hand. Despite knowing how the process worked, Ravus still flinched when it was crushed against the bullet-hole. Warmth, followed by chill, wove itself through his muscles, and he felt the bleeding slow.

“There. Not pretty, not the best, but it'll hold until we can getcha proper treatment. Not planning on letting a Messenger of the king bleed out.”

Of fucking course they thought he was Regis's lap-cat.

Growling in the back of his throat, tail lashing, Ravus got to his feet. His shoulder still hurt, but it didn't feel like his leg was going to give out immediately.

“Would you lie down and stop making it worse already?!” the Kingsglaive demanded of him as a couple others approached, the behemoth falling to the ground with a choked roar. Looked like they had things under control, then.

As the other two Kingsglaive got closer, calling out to their companion, Ravus turned and ran.

“Hey!”

He hadn't gotten all that far before the man warped in front of him, making him snarl and skid to a stop.

“Listen, we all know a white coeurl saved Prince Noctis from a daemon attack recently, and you'd have to be an idiot to wish harm on a Messenger—”

Ravus gave a short, abrupt snarl and twisted off past the soldier. He got the feeling that if he stuck around, he would just be shuttled off to Regis at the Citadel. And he couldn't have that. No, he needed to kill Glauca, needed to draw attention and lure the man out, not walk into a cage where the murderer could kill him first.

He ran, pushing the pain in his shoulder away again as he moved. He could hear the glaives yelling, and at least one trying to follow him.

But before long, the noise faded, and it was just him, racing through Leide's desert. As his breath started to come in harsh pants, he slowed, then stopped. Sitting down, he took a moment to groom himself, setting all his fur to rights and doing what he could to get the blood out. His shoulder was still bleeding sluggishly, and it throbbed dully, but it didn't feel as bad as it had before. He could probably make it to a haven in the last few hours of daylight he had left. And if his calculations were correct, he had another three or four days to heal. As long as it wasn't infected, he should be fine.

His breath caught and fur fixed, Ravus stood up and shook himself out.

Of course, if rumors were already going through Regis's people about a ‘Messenger’ in the shape of a coeurl, that should make the task of luring Glauca out so much easier.

Grim determination settling over him like a cloak, Ravus started walking, keeping his eyes peeled for the glow of havens.

Chapter Text

“Wasn't expectin' t' see ya so soon.” Cid said gruffly.

Ravus let his ears flick back, then forward.

“Shoulder looks messed up. Need a hand?” the mechanic asked.

For a moment, Ravus debated shaking his head, or simply not reacting. While the bleeding had stopped and the pain no longer lanced up and down his whole leg, he had no clue if it was infected or not. Cid might not know either, but if nothing else, he could help prevent anything like, say, Starscourge finding it's way into the wound.

He gave a curt nod, and the mechanic nodded back, gesturing for him to follow. Ravus stood, following the old man into the garage. He half-expected to be pointed to the floor and told to lie down, but Cid lead him to an office that also contained a bed.

“Gonna be a tight fit, but 's probably th' best place we got right now.” the mechanic informed him. Ravus shrugged despite the pain it caused his shoulders.

Honestly, he hadn't come to the Hammerhead outpost with intent of getting treated. It had been a day and a half since he'd helped the Kingsglaive out. As he'd been pacing restlessly at the haven, it had occurred to him that he should try to figure out what was going on in the world around him. He had a few small base facts, but honestly knew very little. And to be perfectly frank, the best way he had to learn about the world was probably gossip at outposts. Maybe newspapers or radio. And that wasn't something he could get by lurking in the desert.

He curled up, somewhat awkwardly, and let the old man see his shoulder.

“... That wasn't a huntin' bullet.” Cid said, fingers carefully pushing Ravus's fur aside. “No, that looks Nif-inflicted.”

He didn't react.

After a moment, the mechanic's hands started to comb through the rest of his fur. Ravus lifted his head to glare.

“Y'don't scare me. Faced scarier'n a grouchy cat back with Reggie.” Cid retorted, poking at every uncovered injury with a surprisingly gentle touch.

... Right. This man was on more than a first-name-basis with Regis. Chances were he'd served as something similar to Noctis's blonde friend. Argentum.

“So yer off fightin' Nifs. Not a Messenger, but you understand an' respond just fine. An' you got business with Reggie. Miss anything?”

Yes, quite a bit, but nothing that could really be explained. Not as he was. And it was a long story to boot. Not something he felt like telling.

The old man looking him over seemed to sense what his silence meant and scoffed. “So long as you ain't doin' anythin' t' hurt Reggie. May not be on speakin' terms with 'im right now, but that don't change that you'll hafta deal with me if ya hurt 'im, understand?”

He huffed back at the man. He'd already deemed this man to be one he didn't want to cross, he didn't need to be told.

“... Shoulda come for help when ya got shot. Ain't no doctor, not unless we're talkin' cars, but even I know leavin' shit like this is askin' fer trouble. Don't care if coeurls go without, you ain't th' standard coeurl. An' if yer out there fightin' Nifs, well... can hardly fault ya that.” Cid grumbled, returning to his shoulder.

... Having someplace to retreat to when injured would be strategic. Ravus knew he could take a beating. He could go quite a while with a number of injuries. Chances were, being a coeurl hadn't changed that. He had been planning to minimize human contact. The fewer people knew of him, the better. There was a reason he'd run from the scientist. If she ended up publishing some work on hyper-intelligence in coeurls, who knew how many people would come for him?

But chances were he was going to get shot more. And he wouldn't always escape claws and fangs in fights. But if he let the Kingsglaive take him, he was as good as caged. No, he needed room, needed flexibility and to be able to work on his own schedule.

The old mechanic seemed willing to offer that.

Ravus rested his muzzle between his paws as Cid worked, taking care of each and every injury he found. They were both quiet, and Ravus allowed his eyes to drift shut. Here in this office, it smelled less of machines and grease and oil. The stink wasn't completely absent, of course. But it was muted, masked under the surprisingly crisp smell of paper. And it was cool, a stark contrast to the heat outside.

After a while, Cid thumped a palm against his side. “There we go. Jus' don't go doin' anythin' t' pull it open an' make it worse.” the old mechanic said, standing up with a groan and a hand on his back. Ravis got up, bunching into a corner to allow the man at the door.

The two of them left the office. Cid turned to something on a workbench, and Ravus looked around the garage. He could hear people outside, but that wasn't any concern of his. He was looking for... look at that, wasn't that convenient?

He trotted past Cid to a crate wedged in the corner. Sitting on top of the crate was an admittedly ancient-looking radio. He had no clue if it would work, but it didn't look like it was gathering dust.

After a moment, he turned his head to look at Cid. Not wanting to come off as loud or threatening, raising a ruckus, he made a handful of mewing noises. The old mechanic lifted his head and turned to look at Ravus. Confident that he had the man's attention, he nosed at the radio, huffing.

“... Take it you ain't askin' for music.”

Ravus rested his chin on the edge of the crate, keeping his gaze focused on the radio.

After a moment, the old man came over and turned the radio on. He fidgeted with it for a bit, twisting knobs to get rid of static and feedback, then put it down. Ravus nodded in gratitude. Cid waved him off, returning to his workbench.

Ravus settled down, listening to the woman on the radio reading the news off.

Most of it was unimportant. Chocobo races in Duscae and the results. Weather in various regions and areas.

An official statement had been released about a recent attack on Prince Noctis, though. Ravus lifted his head and focused on the radio at that. It sounded like a recording of the Immortal. The man described what had happened as an isolated event, something that no one could have predicted. Thanks to an anonymous hunter lending his aid, the prince had escaped the attack unharmed and none the worse for wear.

An anonymous hunter. Hah.

Ravus couldn't help but scoff, the noise coming out as a snort.

“Oh, you know somethin' 'bout that?”

He turned his head to evaluate Cid, who was doing the same to him. His tail flicked, and after a moment he gave a curt nod.

“Take it that wasn't a hunter savin' Reggie's kid, then?”

Ravus huffed, dropping his head to his paws and listening to the announcer talk about the daemon attack. What it meant for Lucis, if the event was an assassination attempt in disguise— probably, when he thought about it— and how everyone extended their gratitude to the unnamed hunter for saving the heir to the throne.

As the woman turned to more or less random happenings in Insomnia, he noticed he could hear someone outside the garage talking. Trying to coax someone to come with them. The way the person was talking... put him on edge.

He stood, moving to the open door of the garage. Not too far away, he found a man crouching in front of Cindy, wiggling his fingers as if to a cat.

Oh hell no.

Eyes narrowed, he trotted out of the garage and towards the pair. He could see someone else approaching, looking thunderous, but he was closer.

The man suddenly noticed him approaching, and fell back in shock. Cindy turned around, looking confused, but lit up when she saw him. Ravus came to a stop right behind Cindy, glaring at the man sprawled on the asphalt. For extra measure, he carefully draped a paw over the little girl's shoulder.

“Howdy!” she greeted with a smile, patting his paw.

“You!”

It looked like the thunderous man had arrived, pointing accusingly at the would-be kidnapper. “We warned you what would happen! Get out of here!”

The man took off, tripping over his feet a few times. Ravus couldn't help but growl a little, nodding curtly.

“Are you alright, Miss Cindy?” the newcomer fretted.

“I'm fine, Takka.” the girl nodded as Ravus removed his paw. “I was just headin' t' Paw-Paw.”

The man nodded, then looked up at Ravus. “Er... thanks?” he said uncertainly.

Ravus huffed, nodding, before turning back to the garage.

He wasn't the type to do things out of the goodness of his heart. But there were some things he wasn't going to stand for, among them being creeps and perverts who made off with small children.

As the small girl made her way into the garage, greeting Cid, Ravus resumed his post by the radio. It sounded like stocks were being discussed now, the rising and falling of various things. In the background, Cid began explaining something to Cindy. Tail-tip flicking, Ravus laid his head down on his paws and closed his eyes.

Chapter Text

“Can I pet you?”

Ravus was quiet, the words taking a moment to sink in. Once they did, he lifted his head to look at Cindy. The small blonde child was standing three or four feet away, hands tucked behind her back as she looked at him with wide eyes. He was aware of Cid side-eyeing him from the workbench.

Honestly, he was preparing himself to leave. The news was tapering off into gossip, and it was starting to get late.

When he didn't react, Cid drawled out, “Jus' spend th' night here. I ain't one t' give free hand-outs, but if yer out there fightin' Nifs then I'll take that as payment plenty.”

He still didn't react.

“I washed m' hands. Dave said you didn't like th' smells here.” Cindy offered, holding her hands out.

Ravus sighed, nodding before putting his head back between his paws.

The small girl settled next to him. She took a moment, likely hesitating, before carefully resting a hand on his upper shoulder. Slowly, slowly, she dragged her hand across his side. He closed his eyes, intending to tolerate the touch for a short while and then find somewhere to curl up and go to sleep.

Cindy seemed to grow bolder when he didn't react negatively, and started to carefully weave her fingers through his fur, pressing just a little harder. Her touch lingered a little longer, fingertips dragging against his ribs.

Ravus sighed, unable to focus on the asinine gossip the radio announcer was going over.

Cindy's fingers suddenly dug in behind his ear. He startled a little, eyes opening and head cocking to look at her. She cooed at him, gently scratching. Without really intending to, Ravus found himself stretching out, a gently thrumming building up in his chest and rolling around.

Purring, he realized as he turned his head into Cindy's touch, eyes sliding closed. He was purring. As he purred, he found himself sprawling onto his side, front paws stretching out in front of him, flexing and curling. He could hear the girl giggling a little, and feel her other hand continue to run down his side as her scratching fingers moved from behind his ear to his chin.

The human part of him wanted to rebel, to shy away and tell her not to touch him again. Shuddered at how soft and vulnerable he was being. But the coeurl part of him was too satisfied to listen, basking in the attention Cindy was doling out. A melted puddle of fur and lightning.

“Well I'll be damned.”

He opened his eyes and turned his head at the familiar voice.

“Howdy, Dave!” Cindy waved cheerfully.

“Y'need somethin'?” Cid called from the back of the garage.

“Not really... three hunters up and vanished yesterday. Didn't say anythin' 'bout it, didn't take any hunts from tipsters, left their truck at the huntin' post...” Dave said, moving towards the old mechanic.

Ravus felt his eyes narrow, recalling the trio of greedy eyes that had stared at him the first time he'd come to Hammerhead. He got the feeling he'd have to watch his step when he was out on his own.

“So... has he just been stayin' here?”

“Naw. Just showed up t'day. Bit banged up, but 'e let me take care of that, then asked for the news.” Cid answered as Ravus forced himself to sit up. Cindy stopped petting him, but she was beaming bright enough to replace the sun. Standing up and dusting herself off, she scampered away. He watched her go, then moved to sit by the men in the back. “Come t' add yer two gil?” Cid jabbed.

Ravus scoffed, rolling his eyes.

“Shoulder's a bit messed up.” Dave remarked.

“'Parently th' resident pretty kitty's been out fightin' Nifs.”

Ravus lifted his paw threateningly at Cid to show his displeasure with the nickname.

“You ain't gonna touch me.” the old man said, sounding smug as he smirked just the tiniest bit.

“So you're on Lucis's side in the war?” Dave asked, looking at him curiously.

After a moment, Ravus bobbed his head from side to side in what he hoped came across as ‘sort of.’ Because he wasn't exactly on Lucis or Insomnia's side. It was just convenient to fight alongside them.

“Hrmph. Not on Lucis's side but still hate Nifs. Enemy of yer enemy, then?”

He liked Cid, he decided as he nodded. The man had a sensible head on his shoulders.

“Makes sense. Doesn't explain what ya want with Reggie, but makes sense enough.” the old mechanic nodded back. “An' yer opinion on Dave's missin' hunters?”

He flicked his ears back, then forward. As long as the trio didn't bother him, he had to admit that he didn't exactly care.

“Haven't seen them, then... alright, well... if you do, it'd be much appreciated if you'd... help, somehow.” Dave said. After a moment, the hunter reached up to lift the dog-tags hanging from his neck. “If you find any of these, it might be theirs. We try to send tags back to family members. I know you ain't exactly... well, no one can really force you into anythin', but it'd be appreciated if you helped.”

After a moment, Ravus nodded. He was making no promises about helping out, but he needed to be on the good side of the local hunters. It would be a pain, to say the least, if a mark was suddenly put on his head.

“Well, it's gettin' late. Shack up at th' caravan for th' night, don't go stickin' yer neck out further than ya hafta.” Cid grunted as he stood, clapping Dave on the shoulder. Pointing to Ravus, the old man added, “We ain't got any place for coeurls, but if ya don't mind th' corner of th' garage here, I can throw a blanket down.”

He dipped his head in gratitude, and the mechanic nodded.

Dave and Cid left the garage, and Ravus moved to settle himself down in the corner. Truth be told, he didn't think a blanket would make much difference. He'd been sleeping on the stone of the havens, the concrete floor of a garage wasn't much different.

Just as he began settling down to sleep, though, the pattering of feet reached him. Sighing, he opened his eyes and lifted his head. He found Cindy approaching, a blanket thrown over her shoulders and a bowl in each hand.

“Paw-Paw said t' get you a blanket, an' Takka wanted me t' give you these!” she told him, holding the bowls up.

After a moment, Ravus stood. Cindy beamed, putting the bowls down and taking the blanket from her shoulder. He moved to investigate the bowls while she carefully spread the blanket out. One of them was full of water, and the other one had scraps of meat. Probably left-over trimmings from the restaurant.

As he settled down to eat, Cindy finished arranging the blanket and came closer. After a moment, she reached slowly out and began petting down his side again.

He couldn't help but purr between bites of meat and mouthfuls of water.

Chapter Text

Ravus skidded a little, turning to the side so he could catch as many MTs as possible with the body-slam. As the mechanical soldiers toppled, he released the charge he'd been building up. Even though this was only the second time he'd had to do this, he felt he was already getting better at it.

It was close to two days since he'd spent the night at Hammerhead. He was planning to head straight there after today's skirmish. Maybe not spend the night this time, but get treated for any injuries he had, then set out again.

The remaining magitech troopers that were able to began either trying to move forward or shoot at him. Ravus took to circling again, bowling over any attempting to advance and trying to avoid getting shot while he built up charge again.

Before long, he'd dealt with all the magitech troopers. He took a moment catch his breath, let the tingling in his muzzle subside. He noted with some pride that he hadn't gotten fully shot this time, just grazed on his back and legs. The injuries were barely even bleeding.

Standing up, he shook himself out and started to run.

However, he was only about halfway to where the Kingsglaive were currently camping out at when he stopped. There was an odd scent in the air. Metallic. And... artificial. Like something was trying to imitate garula and just barely passing. He looked around, eyes narrowed as he stood perfectly still.

The sand had been tossed around. As if there had been a fight.

Maybe that was it, he rationalized. Someone had been hunting garula and used fake musk to lure them close or something.

The majority of him truly didn't believe that.

The sand unsettled him. As if there was a predator or something lurking underneath it. He decided to slink around it, move as quietly and carefully as possible.

However, as he came around one of the rocks at the edge of the sand, Ravus froze.

The trio of hunters that had eyed him greedily that first time at Hammerhead didn't move, eyes wide.

For a moment, none of them moved, none of them made a sound.

But then one of the hunters broke, grabbing for a gun. Ravus snarled, lunging forward and grabbing the rifle in his teeth. He tossed his head, throwing the firearm aside. Another one of the hunters leveled a handgun at his head, so he ducked down and launched himself foward. His skull connected with the man's chest, and the man's back hit the rock. Ravus felt something crack under his touch, but couldn't bring himself to feel any remorse.

Pain burned itself into his side, a hot line gouged across his ribs. Gritting his teeth, he flung himself to the side. The fool who thought attacking a coeurl with a hunting knife was knocked to the ground, bloody blade falling from his hand.

The way was open.

He sprang away, ignoring the yelling behind him as he ran. He could feel blood dripping down his side. The wound didn't feel too deep, but it was still a gash in his side. And he was heading off to fight Scourge-infected monsters. Maybe he should stop by the actual fort itself and get a potion or something to take care of the injury.

So this time, instead of perching on a rock, Ravus ran to the formerly abandoned ruins and skidded in. The Kingsglaive all yelled, jumping up and reaching for weapons, before apparently recognizing him. A large number of them stayed on edge still, and he was willing to bet that they'd been cycled in from Insomnia while some of the others had been cycled out.

One in particular began to boldly approach him, a young man with black hair and blue eyes. Ravus focused on that one, letting himself bristle just a bit.

“Easy, not gonna hurt you...” the man said, rolling his eyes. “Come on... remember me?”

No. Was he supposed to?

“Shoulder's looking better. Not great, but better.”

Oh, wait. This was the one that warped him, wasn't it?

The recognition must've shown somehow, because the man gave a smirk and came closer. “Got yourself fucked up again, I see.”

Ravus lifted his lip, showing his teeth off.

“Oi, Nyx, maybe try not to piss the murder-cat off?” a different glaive called out.

“He's not gonna hurt us. Don't you remember last time, how he warned us about the incoming Nifs and kept that behemoth busy until we could get to it?” the man dismissed, pulling a potion out. Ravus turned to the side, allowing ‘Nyx’ to crush the potion against the gash. “So are we to expect another attack, since you've shown up again?”

Probably.

Ravus didn't respond, just turned away and trotted back out of the fort, heading for the rocks. He didn't need to look to know that Nyx was following him. It would take an idiot not to know such a thing.

He jumped up onto one of the rocks, sitting down and watching the horizon with his ears pricked. With a grunt, the glaive followed, crouching next to him. Ravus didn't look at him, watching carefully for any dropships, listening for the low humming that accompanied them. Thankfully, Nyx didn't try to press him into a ‘conversation,’ just sat next to him.

Or so he thought.

“You gonna run off again afterwards, or actually stay and socialize?”

Ravus felt his tail sweep from side to side in displeasure. He made a point of keeping everything else as neutral as possible, though.

He wasn't here to make friends. He was here to change the future, hopefully for the better. With any luck, he'd already done that to some extent, but preventing an attack on Noctis was just one thing. Ravus intended to ensure Tenebrae would remain standing, and see to it that Niflheim fell. He couldn't do much about Ardyn, not that he knew of, but the slimy bastard had used Niflheim as a catalyst. Without them, he should, in theory, be slowed down. And if he was slowed down, then Ravus had time to figure out how to stop him.

Because Ardyn was the real problem. It was Ardyn who killed Lunafreya. She had been weakened and dying because of the covenants, true, but there had been a chance she would pull through until the bastard killed her.

Deep down, he knew that wasn't true.

Deep down, Ravus knew Lunafreya had to die just as much as both Ardyn and Noctis.

His tail lashed a bit, making the Kingsglaive at his side grunt in surprise. He refused to let there be so much meaningless death and sacrifice. If the first Oracle had won over the mercy of the Astrals and granted him a second chance then he was going to use this second chance, dammit.

A deep, low humming reached him, far-off and distant still. Blinking back into the present, Ravus picked out the approaching ships and stood, growling.

“Company's coming, huh?” Nyx muttered, standing as well. He reached a hand up to press against his ear, suggesting he had a radio on him. “We got Nifs incoming, fellas.”

Chapter Text

Ravus summoned another wave of lightning, causing a number of infected beasts to collapse, the Starscourge writhing and evaporating in the sunlight. The stink of burning plague made him crinkle his nose.

Nyx suddenly warped into existence next to him. “No behemoths this time, at least!” the man declared before warping away again.

He wanted so badly to bark at the man to focus on the fight.

As he moved around the field, he realized that Nyx was following him. The glaive was warping to and fro across the battle, but he kept coming back to Ravus. He wasn't sure how to feel about that. If the man was attempting to babysit him, or prevent him from leaving. Or just trying very hard to be friendly and imprint on Ravus. Whatever it was, Ravus wasn't planning to make friends, didn't need a babysitter, and only the Astrals themselves would keep him from leaving.

He sprang off the back of something that might've been a garula once upon a time, leaping up onto one of the taller rocks. For a moment, he stood up there, catching his breath. Some of the monsters below noticed and began clamoring to get at him. It didn't take long for the stone to shudder and begin to sway. Ravus stayed up as long as possible before springing off, letting the rock tower crumple and crush the things below it.

Hopefully the Kingsglaive had all been smart enough to get out of the way, he reflected as he landed on his feet.

Nyx reappeared, hurling a fireball over his shoulder. “Almost done! Care to stick around this time?”

Ravus ignored the man, lunging towards a pack of infected voretooths with a roar. The move startled them into scattering, barking and gurgling in confusion. The nearby glaives easily picked them off.

Before long, Ravus found himself at the edge of the battlefield, watching a handful of Kingsglaive pick off the last monsters. As he caught his breath, Nyx came closer. “Gotta admit,” the man drawled, “It's nice having a heads-up before we get attacked.”

It usually was, yes.

Standing, Ravus turned to leave.

“And there he goes. Right, see you next wave.”

If nothing else, it sounded like they were getting the picture.

Checking the sky, he noted that it was getting late. Dusk was falling quick. He'd have to run for a haven. The nearest one.

He took off, long strides propelling him across the sand. Night was falling and falling fast, sky going dark. The stink of Starscourge was starting to wind it's way through the air now. He needed to get to a haven, and quick, put off the trip to Hammerhead for tomorrow.

The fake garula smell reached him first, letting him know he was more or less where the hunters had set up earlier.

Before the pain registered, he tripped and went sprawling across the sand.

His leg was in agony. As he picked himself up and shook his head, he found a trap closed over his left forepaw. For a moment, all he was able to do was stare, the sight not exactly registering. But then it did, and he felt himself slowly edging towards a panic.

No hunters had jumped out to kill him while he was trapped. That meant the trio likely wasn't around. And why would they be, this late in the day?

And on that note, it was late. It wasn't even technically day anymore. Daemons were starting to spawn, he could smell them popping up. And here he was, trapped in place, not on a haven.

On top of all that, there was the fact that he was, indeed, trapped. His paw was clenched in sharp metal teeth, blood welling up around the points and leaking down his leg.

Six damn it all, was he going to die here like this?!

The stink of Starscourge spiked, and a squelching sounded nearby. Ravus flattened his ears to his skull, growling deep in his throat. He pressed himself down, tail lashing. Lips peeled back, he shuffled awkwardly, trying not to make the injury worse but also find where the daemon was.

The answer was close, blue sludge rising up from the ground and congealing into a groaning flan. It turned bulging eyes towards him, and Ravus hissed. The daemon wasn't deterred, reaching out with it's pseudo-arms as it pulsed closer. It stank, and the sounds were disgusting, and it was getting way too close.

Admittedly rather hastily, Ravus called forth all the charge he could and released it. The bright light of the lightning crackled outwards, dancing over the sand. But the bolts just fizzled against the flan, and it didn't look at all deterred.

It really was going to be how he died, wasn't it? Drowning on Starscourge yet again?

Something hit the ground just to the side, giving a small metallic ting before exploding.

Ravus and the flan both howled in surprise as the air around them was dyed white. He was seeing spots as the night slowly returned to him. The flan had shrunk back a little, looking like it was rubbing at it's eyes. Another ting sounded as the only warning Ravus had to duck his head and close his eyes. The flan was burning a little, he could smell the Scourge burning. And it sounded like it was starting to retreat.

A third ting, cuing Ravus to keep his head down, and the flan gurgled, obviously unhappy and clearly farther away. It was definitely retreating. A handful of gunshots sounded, followed by a final explosion. The daemon gave a groan, tapering off into silence, and Ravus warily lifted his head.

Dave turned to look at him, a light clipped onto his vest.

“Y'alright? It didn't getcha?” the man panted. He was sweating, and Ravus wondered how hard the man had run.

He shook his head and then looked pointedly at his paw. For a moment, there was silence. He watched as Dave's light fell on the trap, and was reminded that his night-vision was better than humans.

The hunter cursed, falling to his knees and reaching out. “Damnit! Traps like these aren't even supposed t' be used! Those there're definitely gettin' in trouble now!”

Ravus was silent, keeping watch for any approaching daemons while Dave worked on freeing his leg from the sharp metal jaws. He could see a giant of some kind off in the distance, but didn't think it could see them. And nothing smelled or sounded close enough otherwise.

“There!” Dave exclaimed, and Ravus couldn't help but gasp as the trap fell away. “Hold on, Cid gave me something in case you were hurt bad...”

To his surprise, the hunter pulled out a curative of some kind. He couldn't quite make out the color in the dark— everything was shades of gray, with washed out tones in the bright gash of Dave's light. Ravus shifted his weight onto his hind legs and sat, holding the injured limb out. The hunter was a little hesitant, but carefully, gently took his paw and pressed the bottle against the injury.

He couldn't help but sigh a little, the noise gravely.

Nodding and picking up the dismantled trap, Dave stood, saying, “C'mon, there's a haven not that far. We can spend the night there and make sure that paw won't open up again.”

Chapter Text

Well. This was satisfying.

Ravus stayed on the bed of Dave's truck as Cid looked his paw over, watching the hunter chew out the trio that had attempted to hunt him. Dave gestured to the dismantled trap on the ground at his feet, angrily barking about humane hunting and illegal poaching traps. The trio all flinched, none of them able to look Dave in the eyes.

“Look like th' cat that swallowed th' canary.” Cid commented, sounding amused.

Ravus grunted.

“Naw, I get it. Nothin' quite like seein' someone get what's comin' after doin' ya wrong.”

He knew the old mechanic was referring to the hunters here and now, but Ravus couldn't help but think of Glauca, Niflheim, and Ardyn. A dark thrill twisted around his core, and he nodded.

Dave waved his arm in a dismissive gesture. The three hunters didn't quite run, but they weren't moving slowly, that was for sure. As Cid finished poking at Ravus's paw, Dave stormed over with the trap.

“Don't quite have the authority to have their tags yet... but I'm certainly puttin' a call to the one who does.” the hunter muttered, swinging the trap up into the bed of the truck. Ravus gave the thing a spiteful kick as he stood up to jump down. “They shouldn't try anythin' any more, though. If they do... well, I certainly ain't gonna blame you for crackin' a few ribs.”

Ravus bobbed his head to the hunter.

“Headin' out?” Cid asked.

Dave nodded. “Gotta head over to the chocobo post, help out with a few hunts. Probably be back in the area in a couple of days.”

Ravus turned to leave. He was no longer needed here, it was time for him to head to a haven. Probably hunt before that. Rest up before the next round with Niflheim.

A hand rested on his hip, making him growl. Cid didn't even look at him, just kept a hand on Ravus's side as he finished talking to Dave. Ravus was tempted to keep going and leave. It wasn't exactly like the old mechanic could stop him.

... Hell, Cid probably had three ways to stop him and many more to make him regret leaving.

Huffing, Ravus sat and glared out at the horizon. Cid's hand fell away from his hip, and the two men kept talking for a while. Ravus tuned their chatter out, tail flicking and ears swiveled back in a show of displeasure.

Before too long, Dave was climbing up into his truck and driving off. Cid turned to him, and Ravus gave the man his attention.

“Dave's first aid an' that potion mighta fixed yer paw, but if you go running off again too soon, it'll just pop open again. Stay here an' rest up fer th' day.” the mechanic told him in a no-nonsense tone of voice. One that Ravus was familiar with hearing from military men, one that said any back-talk would end poorly.

He gave Cid his best glare.

“Don't scare anyone here, kitty.” the old man informed him, heading towards the garage. “Cindy's over helpin' Takka if yer interested in sayin' hello.”

He could take a hint, thank you.

Ravus ignored the stares and dropped jaws as he trotted towards the restaurant. It smelled marginally better on this side of the outpost than in the garage. Less machine. Just more grease instead.

He lifted his head to one of the doors, peering in through the glass. Several people inside startled, looking terrified of the coeurl at the door. He ignored them. Behind the counter he recognized the man who'd yelled at the would-have-been kidnapper. That must've been Takka, then.

Maybe-Takka stared in surprise for a few moments before turning away. Ravus backed away from the door and sat down.

It didn't take long after that for Cindy to emerge, smiling up at him. “Howdy!” she greeted with a clumsy little bow.

He wondered if she'd worked that out herself or asked for help.

Either way, years of etiquette and Niflheim service alike had him standing up to bow back, making the little girl giggle.

“Paw-Paw said some hunters were tryin'ta hurt you. Are ya okay?” she asked as he straightened up, green eyes wide with concern.

Ravus nodded. When she didn't look convinced, he stood and turned in a slow circle for her to see.

“Mm... okay. That's good.” After a moment of fidgeting, Cindy asked, “Are you hungry?”

It had been a few days since he last ate. Hunger wasn't twisting his gut in knots, but he had been planning to go hunting. Ravus dipped his head.

Cindy lit up again, telling him to wait as she moved back into the restaurant. It didn't take her long to emerge with a bowl of meat trimmings and one of... lettuce?

“There ain't much grass in Leide, so Takka said t' give you this!” Cindy said, apparently catching his confusion. But the answer really only made him more confused. Coeurls were carnivores, not omnivores. They didn't eat grass, did they?

But he supposed he wasn't exactly an expert in coeurls. If he was being given a bowl of lettuce to substitute grass, then he supposed it was important. Something to file away and investigate later.

Cindy put the bowls down, then looked up at him. “Can I pet you? M' hands're clean, promise!”

Ravus sighed through his nose, but nodded. The blonde girl beamed at him as he crouched down to eat, and trotted around to his side. Just like last time, she was careful and gentle, smoothing his fur down and winding her fingers into it without truly messing it up.

After a few bites of meat, he switched his attention to the lettuce. He was dubious that coeurls were supposed to eat greens at all, but if someone with more expertise was saying so... well, it wouldn't hurt to try. If his coeurl instincts screamed at him to spit it out or stop eating, then that wasn't hard to do.

But as he took a bite of the leafy vegetable, no overwhelming urge to spit it out pounced on him. No warning bells that he was going to keel over and die. In fact, the crunch between his teeth was rather pleasant. He got the feeling it wasn't the type of thing he was supposed to eat often, but rather have as a sort of treat every now and then. The same way dogs weren't supposed to eat peanut butter but could have it once in a while if they were good.

Cindy's hands moved to his ears and the base of his skull.

Ravus couldn't keep himself from purring, turning his head just a bit so her fingers were scratching at just the right spot.

Chapter Text

Ravus watched as Cid led Cindy off to bed. She waved sleepily at him, and he lifted a paw in imitation of a wave.

He'd spent the majority of the day with the girl, letting her chatter and show him around. As a result, he'd learned a good deal about her. Among them was that her parents had been killed in a daemon attack, leaving her with Cid. She enjoyed working in the garage with her grandfather, and wanted to help him out when she grew up. Ravus couldn't help but be a little jealous at how well-adjusted she was for a twelve-year-old. At the same time, though, it was quite sad. She was the same age as Lunafreya and had lost both parents to a daemon attack right in front of her.

He got the feeling that if they ever met, Lunafreya and Cindy would get along like a house on fire.

Recalling how few friends the two of them had as children or adults, Ravus made up his mind to attempt setting that up between the whole changing the future thing. Providing contacts and networks counted towards changing the future, didn't it?

Takka emerged from the restaurant, another bowl of meat in his hands. Ravus bobbed his head as the man put the bowl down.

“Thanks for keepin' li'l Miss Cindy company. She doesn't exactly have a lotta friends out here. Sure she's thrilled that you spent so much time with her.”

He hated how much his heart panged at that. How soft he felt and how much he wished he could be a better friend to the girl.

He decided to blame that on the fact that he was a coeurl.

Ravus allowed Takka to scratch behind his ears before the man returned to the restaurant. The man was giving him food, after all, Ravus wasn't intending to literally bite the hand that fed him.

As he ate, Cid came back out. Ravus paused, watching the old man come close. The mechanic moved around him to sit in front of the caravan, groaning a little as he lowered himself into the chair. When the man didn't say anything, Ravus turned his attention back to the meat-scraps.

The outpost was lit with daemon-warding lights, keeping the things away. The stink of Starscourge drifted through the air, but Ravus found that the smell of gasoline and oil disguised it somewhat. He couldn't tell if he was grateful or unnerved by that. Suppose something wasn't deterred by the lights? Would he smell it coming? Realistically, he knew he'd probably hear anything that tried to push it's luck, but part of him was still unsettled.

Before long, he had finished the meal Takka had given him, and was sitting up to wash himself.

“Nif-fightin' goin' well?” Cid drawled, staring up at the sky. The stars were half-obscured by the anti-daemon lights, but Ravus couldn't fault the man for looking.

He nodded, rubbing his paw behind his ear.

“Imagine that's good.”

In theory, yes.

For a while, Cid didn't talk. Ravus took advantage of that to finish grooming himself.

When the old mechanic spoke again, Ravus found himself caught somewhat off-guard.

“Seem to have a schedule t' 'em. Y'seem t' be pretty knowledgable in that.”

He didn't know how to respond, not looking at Cid.

He was knowledgable about Niflheim's tactics. He'd been in charge of their forces for a while. Not always as the supreme commander, true, but he'd still been an officer. He'd still been privy to their plans and strategies, to how they worked and what they did. He'd helped push the army through the scraps of Leide that hadn't been conquered and to Insomnia's door. He'd helped subdue riots and mobs that were people trying to reclaim their rights. While he'd been a soldier under the empire, Ravus had not done many good things, even if it was in the name of his sister and her protection.

Maybe that was part of why he'd been given this second chance. The ability to atone for all that he'd done.

A long, low humming reaching him, making his ears twitch.

What? No. It was too early. Far too early.

He got to his feet, spinning around and looking up at the sky. But he couldn't see with the damn lights on.

“What's wrong?” Cid asked, frowning as he stood.

Ravus didn't answer, instead jumping up and on top of the caravan. The lights obscured less while he was up here. Allowed him to see red drifting through the darkness, growing steadily larger.

No no no. It was far too early.

He needed to go. Would he be fast enough? He had no clue if he'd make it on time. But if Niflheim was attacking now, at night, then... those probably weren't just beasts and monsters that were being carted over. No, those were likely daemons.

Ravus spun around, leaping off the caravan. Cid yelled after him as he took off, but he ignored that.

He raced out of the protective halo of the lights, into the dark of the night. It took his eyes a moment to adjust, but he didn't stop running, kept going even as he was blind. The scent of Scourge was almost overwhelming, whipped into his mouth by the wind as he ran. A few times, he had to swerve around daemons, flans and goblins shocked by his sudden appearance, an iron giant too slow to catch him.

His lungs burned. His legs all ached, the one that'd gotten caught in the trap screaming and pleading for respite. But he couldn't stop. He could hear the airships behind him. If he stopped, they'd overtake him and annihilate the Kingsglaive. He couldn't let that happen.

He knew how this worked. First, Scourge-infected beasts would be dropped. The bright daemon-warding lights would upset them even more than being shoved in a box and thrown from the sky had, and they'd charge. Once the lights were destroyed, the daemons would be dropped.

Not tonight.

Not tonight not tonight not tonight, he chanted in his head as he ran.

The bright glow of lights appeared ahead of him. The ruins the Kingsglaive were holed up in.

He was close. But the airships were right behind him, he could hear them, just about smell them.

He needed to alert the Kingsglaive before Niflheim dropped rampaging monsters on them. If he did that at the fort, then it would be too late.

Ravus skidded to a stop, turning as he did so. He glared up at the approaching red lights and crouched down. A growl left him, lips peeling back, as he began pulling in the ambient charge. Pull it in, bundle it close, compact it down. Keep going, push it further...

He needed to throw it as high as he could.

Needed to distract or hit the ship.

His muzzle was starting to hurt.

The red lights began to chug their way directly over him.

It was now or never.

Ravus threw his head back and reared up onto his hind legs, the roar coming out as more of a scream as he released the power he'd been collected. The air was dyed white, rippling and roaring back.

Through the ringing in his ears, he heard something explode, but he couldn't see what. There were too many spots in his vision, and his limbs felt like putty under the weight of his body.

As he fell back to all fours, wobbling and staggering, the air shook again, darkness lighting up in harsh orange and yellow as screams filled the air.

Chapter Text

Head spinning, Ravus tried to focus. Pins and needles assaulted his face relentlessly, and his vision swam threateningly.

Fire. Screams. Burning. Starscourge.

He'd brought down one of the ships. Yay Ravus.

Floodlights snapped on, and he became aware of the fact that he needed to move and now.

Skittering and stumbling a little over tired, aching paws, Ravus moved. Not a moment too soon, machine guns chattering as their bullets tore into the sand behind him. He risked a glance towards where the Kingsglaive were, but he couldn't make anything out through the glare of the anti-daemon lights. Hopefully his throwing lightning everywhere and crashing a Niflheim airship had alerted them to the situation.

He was tired. Exhausted. He'd just run pellmell without stopping, all the way from Hammerhead to here. The leg that'd gotten caught in the trap was crying out, begging for respite. His breath was coming in harsh pants that didn't feel like they were delivering anywhere near enough oxygen. His ears were ringing and he couldn't see properly with his swimming vision and the floodlights.

He got the feeling he was going to get shot to death.

Better than being Ardyn's daemonic marionette, he reflected.

Another explosion sounded. The gunfire stopped and the light lessened.

As Ravus skidded to a stop, turning so he could see what was going on, the air sang with magic. In a shower of blue fractals, Nyx appeared next to him.

“Can't catch a break around here, huh?” the man declared, clapping a hand to Ravus's shoulder. “Hold on!”

That was all the warning he had before they had started to warp. Combined with everything else, it was more than nauseating. Popping in and out of existence several times before coming to a stop on the top of the ruins. Ravus lurched to the edge and hung his head over, entire body shuddering as he retched. It felt like he was coughing up his intestines as he slid down to his belly.

Nyx crouched next to him, rubbing circles into his shoulder. He didn't have it in him to object to his fur being messed up, panting and heaving with his tongue lolling out of his mouth.

“Can I get someone up here to help keep an eye on our coeurl friend? He looks a little worse for wear right now.” he heard the glaive saying. Ravus chose to focus on catching his breath and settling his stomach instead of Nyx's radio-talk.

Or he did, until the man said, “Yessir. Up top. Yeah, the same coeurl.”

That was the tone of a man reporting to his superiors.

Ravus picked his head up.

“Captain Drautos is on his way up. Our mages have most of this covered, they'll keep the Nifs from getting too close. Looks like we're almost done, really.” Nyx informed him, throwing his feet over the edge of the ruins. Looking back to the battlefield, Ravus saw that to be true. Most of the airships were burning, flashes of blue darting back and forth as bursts of elemancy punctuated the fight. Looked like his stunt had paid off.

Huffing a little, he turned to side-eye Nyx. Ideally, killing Glauca would be done alone, with no one to fight him. But with someone around... there was a chance that he'd be thrown off or killed, and that someone would have curatives and healing magic. If he had to do it with Nyx around... the glaive was a competent fighter. He might not survive the attempt if he attacked Glauca in front of the man.

But he might not get a second chance.

This might be the only chance he got.

He'd have to risk it. If Glauca survived and he didn't, he could at least hope that word made it to Regis that the coeurl who saved Noctis attacked this one specific Kingsglaive. That had to count for something, if nothing else would hopefully trigger an investigation or a watch or something that would expose the traitor.

Ravus smelled him before hearing or seeing him. He smelled like Niflheim, but also like Regis's magic. Like metal and fire.

A slight growl slipping out of his throat, Ravus stood and turned.

“Easy.” Nyx told him, giving his flank a pat as he stood.

And then Glauca is there in front of them and for a moment Ravus freezes. For a moment the smell of burning, the sound of fire, the screaming daemons and the overlying stench of Scourge has him unable to move, staring at Glauca as he comes closer. He can dimly hear Nyx speaking, but all that's registering is the sharp gaze of the traitor before him, cold and calculating. Ravus can feel himself bristling, his shoulders hunching and his tail starting to lash.

Something moves and it's too much.

He lunges forward with a strangled noise that might be a coeurl's roar, but just as equally might be a tortured scream. His paws hit Glauca's shoulders, the man's eyes wide. He can hear Nyx yelling as they fall, but it's unimportant, background. What is important is the murderer under his claws, weakened without his magitech armor but far from vulnerable.

Ravus snaps his jaws, showing his fangs as he reaches for Glauca's face, throat, shoulders. Blue eyes widen, and hands scrabble against Ravus's throat, keep him just barely at bay.

Hands push at his side, a body slams against him with a yell. He ignores it, it isn't enough to move him. He has to kill Glauca now.

He rears up just a tiny bit, just enough to slam his paws and his weight down on the man's shoulders. He feels the breath leave, feels something creak, feels the hands fall away. He doesn't waste any time, dropping his head and latching onto the traitor's neck. He hears Nyx scream, feels pain bloom in his side, but ignores it. He needs to choke the life out of the murderer in his mouth, make sure there's no healing him, no saving him.

More hands, more yelling, more pain. Ravus ignores it all, focuses on the struggling underneath him, slowly growing more and more sluggish. Blood fills his mouth, coats his muzzle. He lifts his eyes, straining a little, but he wants to watch, needs to see as the life leaves the monster's eyes. He hopes that as he dies, Glauca can see, can tell, that this is someone he hurt. Can tell that this is just vengeance.

His hind leg gives out. It hurts, feels numb and damaged. He might not leave this place alive. Chances are every Kingsglaive in these damn ruins are trying to get him off their captain, pushing and pulling and cutting and stabbing and casting.

Ravus doesn't let go, even as things start to get fuzzy. He clenches down, feels something snap, something crunch under his teeth. Glauca shudders and stops moving. He sees blue eyes go glassy and feels the flexing and struggling under his paws stop. He doesn't let go just yet, though. He knows that Lucis has something that can revive the recently dead, doesn't know if any of these Kingsglaive have have any. Doesn't want to take any chances.

Something strikes his head, and he almost lets go. But he refuses, shuts his eyes and breathes through his nose. Blood fills all his senses, his mouth and his nose and his ears, dyes the back of his eyelids as another leg goes out from under him.

When he finally lets go, he lets his whiskers crackle. He feels, hears, smells, all the Kingsglaive jump away. He forces himself to his feet, wobbling dangerously, and opens his eyes. Glauca is dead under him, throat torn to shreds and blood spilled everywhere.

Whiskers still sparking, warning the soldiers away, he spins around and runs.

Pain becomes his entire existence. Everything hurts and everything is covered in blood or burns. He pushes himself through the ruins, out of the daemon-warding lights, past the burning airships and twisted monster corpses. For a while he can hear yelling, warping, Kingsglaive giving chase. But it isn't for long. The night is too big a risk, too big a threat.

Before too long, Ravus can't keep running. It hurts too much. He's covered in blood and burns and dirt. He's gasping for breath and struggling to stay on his feet. He stops and stands alone in the dark. His head fell down, tongue lolling out, and he can feel how his tail drags on the ground. His mouth is covered in blood, he can taste it on his breath.

He needs to get to a haven. It's the dead of night. He can't smell anything but blood right now, masking the Scourge-laden air. His ears are ringing, and all he can hear is the hammering of his own heart.

Dimly, vaguely, Ravus realizes he probably is dying.

Hopefully he managed to kill Glauca for good. Hopefully none of the glaives were able to revive him.

He needs to move. Needs to find a haven. If he's going to die, he doesn't want it to be from the Scourge. Not again, no more black sludge and ichor choking his throat and veins.

Shaking, panting, Ravus dragged his paws. He lifted his head to scan for the glow of a haven. His vision was blurry. He couldn't see too well. He was asking to be jumped by a daemon like this.

Something made noise.

He turned his head, unable to bring himself to look more alert. A light shone in his face, making him wince. A familiar gruff voice sounded, and Ravus stumbled towards it. Surprisingly gentle hands touched his face, and he all but fell over trying to lean into them.

“Astrals above, y' bloody... C'mon, this way. Attaboy. This way.”

Ravus closed his eyes, dragging himself after the encouraging words.

Chapter Text

“What'd he do, fight a whole army on his own?” Takka muttered.

Something like that.

Ravus held still, struggling to keep his eyes open as Cid and Takka worked at his injuries.

It turned out that not long after he had run after the airships, Cid had roused all the outpost employees and informed them that he was going after Ravus. Takka had refused to let the old man go alone, and after a while the two had set out. They'd done their best to keep up with the ships, but were too far behind already. Without knowing where to go, they'd driven more or less in circles looking for any trace of Ravus.

Upon catching a vague glimpse of him, the two had boldly parked and left their truck, venturing into the night after a coeurl that might not have even been him. Part of Ravus wanted to scold them, to shake his head and call them fools. The rest of him was just grateful he hadn't been killed by a daemon.

Now they were back at Hammerhead. He'd left the truck-bed and was currently spread out on a blanket in the garage. Cid had dragged out a handful of potions Regis had given him years ago and gently crushed them against the worst of Ravus's injuries. But damage was still extensive enough that he needed treatment. Cleaning and disinfecting. Gauze and even stitches here and there.

“With how he acts?” Cid snorted. “Prob'ly fought two.”

His ears twitched, and he huffed.

“You sayin' y' wouldn't try?” the old man shot back.

That depended on the stakes, Ravus thought, and whether or not any of them were his.

A door creaked open. “Paw-Paw?”

“Go back t' bed, Cindy.” Cid ordered, both men shifting as if to hide Ravus from view.

However, from the shocked and horrified gasp, it didn't work. Small feet pattered against the concrete, and Cindy stood over him with wide, terrified eyes.

“Cindy!” Cid said, voice stern. “What'd I tell ya? An' what've we said 'bout comin' in here with no shoes?”

The tiny blonde didn't answer her grandpa, eyes welling up with tears as she fell to her knees and shuffled closer. Groaning a bit, Ravus rolled onto his belly and lifted his head until he was eye-to-eye with her. Carefully, gently, mindful of both his injuries and Cindy's proximity, he blew her messy bangs from her face. It was late, and he knew she shouldn't be up, but he didn't really have any jurisdiction over the girl.

She broke, giving a whimpering sob as she pitched forward, wrapping her arms around his neck. He grunted, wincing a little, and both Takka and Cid warned her to be careful. Cindy cried into his fur, and Ravus sighed. He wasn't very good at being comforting. That had never really been his job.

All the same, he ducked his head and dragged his tongue through her hair. She tasted like soap and grease, smelled like Cid and machines and something that Ravus could only describe as... babyish. It wasn't the greatest on his tongue, especially not with traces of Glauca's blood still in his mouth. But it seemed to help, so he licked again, began to all but groom the crying child.

Before too long, all his injuries had been treated and Cindy had cried herself to sleep. Takka brought him a bowl of water and took Cindy. Cid, on the other hand, dragged a chair over and sat so he could stare at Ravus. The look on his face suggested that the old man was going to ask some questions. Or at least give a lecture. Ravus almost hoped he got the lecture as he lapped at the water.

“... You ain't any ol' coeurl. Not a Messenger, either. Don't like Niflheim an' clearly have a personal investment in th' war.” Cid said. Ravus left the water and turned his head to look at the mechanic, resting his muzzle on his paws. “You've been out fightin'. Each time ya go out, ya fight an' come back banged up. Not t'night. You didn't fight.”

He didn't know how to respond, tail curling close.

Cid leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “Didn't fight, but ya killed somethin'.”

Ravus turned away, ears flattening.

“Naw. Not somethin'.”

He closed his eyes.

“Someone.”

He didn't regret it. Not at all. Glauca was a traitor, a murderer. A monster with no soul. Killing Glauca was for the best. Now Glauca couldn't feed Niflheim information, couldn't lead forces into Tenebrae, couldn't bloody kill bloody Regis.

“Ya killed someone, an' others tried t' stop ya. But ya didn't. You kept goin', cuz no matter how much everyone'd hate ya for it, y' believe it's fer th' best you did it.”

After a moment, Ravus nodded.

Cid didn't respond for a long while, just sighed. Opening his eyes, Ravus found Cid leaning back into the chair and staring at the ceiling. He made a questioning noise, a soft mewl that sounded almost lost in the garage.

“... Y'know, I used to be real close with Reggie. Sonnovagun went an' crashed his car way back when. I ended up bein' th' one t' fix it up. Ended up dragged all over th' goddamn country, too. Got real attached t' 'im an' his lot.” Cid said, sounding somewhat distant. Ravus stayed quiet, waiting for the man to finish the story. “Got inta sumthin' of a fight, though. Disagreed with 'im pullin' the Wall back, leavin' all th' people out here t' their own devices... Haven't really talked since 'is kid was born. Wrecked th' damn car again gettin' his wife t' th' hospital. Stubborn fool's positive he's doin' the right thing.”

The old mechanic sighed, lifting a hand to rub at his eyes.

Wincing a little, Ravus got to his feet.

“An' where'd'ya s'pose yer goin'?” Cid asked.

Ravus jerked his head towards the garage door.

“An' let Cindy worry when her friend ain't anywhere t' be found after seein' 'im all beat and bloodied up?” the man snorted. “Not likely. Naw, may not agree with whatever yer up to, but yer fightin' Nifs an' keepin' Cindy company. Girl needs some friends, not just her fusty ol' grampaw. Even if that's some crazy coeurl, least yer keepin' 'er safe an' happy.”

Ravus didn't know how to respond to that.

“Get back on th' blanket an' go t' sleep, y' big lug. Don't go doin' anythin' t' open those up again. An' if th' Nifs come, pretty damn sure things'll sort 'emselves out.”

He didn't know if he agreed with the sentiment, but he returned to the blanket all the same, lowering himself painfully down. Cid stood up, dragging the chair away before coming back and tossing another blanket over Ravus. It wasn't like he'd been particularly cold, but the promised extra warmth was welcome.

Part of him was even more grateful when Cid left half the lights on.

A coeurl's night-vision didn't do much to soothe nightmares, after all, and he was positive he'd have them tonight.

Chapter Text

Ravus was quiet, letting Cindy cuddle close and pet his fur.

He'd been right about the nightmares, waking up from visions of black ichor dripping from his wounds, of the Accursed petting his head and crooning words of dark, twisted praise. Cid had woken him up from his flailing with a splash of cold hose-water, patiently unentangling him from the blanket and checking over his injuries. The old mechanic had declared that if Ravus tried to leave before his injuries had begun to properly heal, he'd find himself chained to the wall. Ravus had tried to get up and leave then and there, but Cid had easily knocked him over.

So he was supposed to lie here and heal. The idea made him itch, tail flicking with the need to get up and do something.

Cindy was the only reason he hadn't tried slinking out and leaving while the old man was gone. That and if a grizzled old mechanic could topple him, then he wouldn't be able to hold his own against a single voretooth, let alone something like, say, a vengeful Kingsglaive.

The tiny blonde girl at his side had been quiet all day. He got the feeling seeing him so injured had really shaken her. He didn't know how to comfort her, or if he should.

Experimentally, he twisted just enough so that he could huff at her.

Teary green eyes looked up at him, rimmed with red. “... Don't... don't go gettin' hurt like that, nkay?”

After a moment, Ravus nodded. He didn't know if he could keep his word, but it seemed like the right thing to do, because Cindy smiled. She reached up to scratch behind his ears, and he lowered his head to meet her halfway, purring almost before she'd started scratching. As he purred, some tense part of him uncoiled and began to relax.

The day progressed onwards. Cindy sat with him and chattered idly while she pet and scratched him. At one point, she dragged a tool-box over and began cleaning and checking the contents. Cid moved in and out, refilling Ravus's water-bowl when it was needed. Takka stopped by once, a bowl of meat in one hand and a first-aid kit in the other. Cindy helped him check Ravus's injuries and change the bandages.

It was late afternoon when a phone rang in the back of the garage. After a moment of letting it ring, Cindy jumped up and raced to just outside the building, yelling, “Paw-Paw! The phone!”

Cid yelled something back, and Cindy came running back into the garage. Ravus watched as she ran into the back. The ringing stopped, and he could hear Cindy telling whoever it was to hold on for a minute until the old man could answer. Then she came trotting back. Ravus wondered if the phone had just been left on a desktop or something.

As Cid came trudging into the garage, Cindy began petting Ravus again. He purred, turning his head so her scratching was at just the right place. She giggled, and began to quietly chatter as Cid took the call in the back.

Ravus didn't consider himself the friendly type. He could recall the first time he'd met Noctis, being somewhat thrilled but vaguely disappointed that decorum didn't allow him to spend much time with the young prince. There hadn't been many children his or Luna's age growing up. He could recall being fond of the staff. They were always kind and good. But losing his mother and being drafted into Niflheim's military... well, Ravus was sure it would make anyone unfriendly.

There had been a few, of course, that he was... acquaintances with. Tummelt, somewhat regrettably. The younger man was an insufferable chatterbox, really. But... well, Ravus supposed that after a while even mold grew on you. Aranea, on the other hand... well... under different circumstances, Ravus imagined he might have been quite taken with her. She was smart, sharp, capable, independent, and cared for others at the same time.

But now, with Cindy...

He chose to continue blaming his coeurl instincts. It had to be the ear-scratches. There was no other way he'd allow himself to be so soft and vulnerable.

After a while, Cid came out of the back. For a while, he just stood and watched. But from the expression on his face, Ravus got the feeling he knew something about the phone call. When the old mechanic came closer and asked Cindy to go play elsewhere so he could talk to ‘the kitty,’ it only confirmed his thoughts.

Ravus looked up at Cid from the blanket, waiting.

“Kingsglaive, eh?” the man asked, leaning against the wall. “Reggie just called. Says 'e's lookin' fer a white coeurl. Messenger that saved his kid... an' killed one'a his soldiers.”

He blinked in acknowledgement, waiting for Cid to get to the point.

“Now... ya went out a lot. If it was th' Kingsglaive you were after, coulda done that at any time. So that'd imply there was somethin' 'bout this Cap'n Titus ya didn't like.”

That wasn't quite the understatement of the century, but it was close. Ravus couldn't keep his lip from curling.

Cid didn't say anything for a while, just looked at him. But after a while, the man sighed, shaking his head. “Coulda stayed stone silent an' Reggie still woulda known I had ya. He'll probably be sendin' someone down tomorrow. Might come 'imself, but don't go gettin' yer hopes up.”

Ravus straightened up, ears pricked.

Was that his cue to leave?

Cid stepped forward, a hand coming to rest on Ravus's muzzle. He bared his teeth with a slight growl, getting an eye-roll from the man. Rough, worn fingers traced from the top of his muzzle to the bottom—

Oh.

Oh.

Ravus felt his eyes widen, not sure how to react. The rolling rumble of his purr started unbidden, and nothing he could do would squash it. He felt himself stretching out as much as he could without making his injuries worse, tipping his head back so Cid had better access to his chin, twisting just a little so it was in just the right spot.

Cindy was always willing to scratch behind his ears, but Cid scratching under his chin was something else. What in Leviathan's long scaly ass...

And just like that, the man stopped, chuckling. Ravus was left all but staring at the ceiling, still purring a bit, as he tried to figure out what on Eos just happened.

“I'll let Cindy know she can come back.” Cid called over his shoulder.

Now hold on a goddamn minute...!

Chapter Text

He was sprawled out in the garage door when they came. Cid had commented that cats needed sunlight and had moved the blanket so it was in full sunlight. Ravus couldn't object, it had been a while since he sunbathed and his coeurl side got cranky at the idea of going even longer without. Cindy had set up a tool-box to clean and organize with her back against Ravus's side. He was half-asleep, watching Cindy work. She'll be good at it, he thinks, helping Cid or even taking over Hammerhead. Twelve years old and already so capable.

That's what was happening when the black cars pull up into the outpost, suits armed with swords and guns stepping out. All eyes are on him, watching him. Ravus didn't move save the flicking of his tail, watching. Cindy started packing the tools up, calling for Cid.

And then a bundle of black came tumbling out of one car, barreling towards him, and he had all of a second to brace himself before Noctis was latching on like a parasite.

“I knew it was you!” the boy yelled, beaming up at him.

“Prince Noctis!”

He'd never encountered the man beyond silence in the Citadel, the day Insomnia fell. But Ravus had listened to enough reports, bugs and taps and recordings Glauca provided, to know whose voice that was. He looked up, pulled his attention away from Noctis, and found Cor the Immortal approaching, one hand resting on the hilt of his sword. Behind the man, Ravus could see Regis and his Shield emerging, concern and alarm visible on their faces as the prince tackle-hugged what they believed to be a vicious coeurl.

“Noctis, come here, please.” Regis said, voice and eyes wary.

After a moment, the boy obeyed, pouting. Once he left, Cindy reached over and carefully ran her hands over Ravus's fur, setting anything wrong to rights. He gave an appreciative huff, blowing her bangs from her face and making her giggle.

Before Regis or his guards can say anything, Ravus hears, “'Bout time ya paid a visit, Reggie!”

He turned his head, watching Cid emerge from the garage. The old mechanic ruffled a hand between his ears as he passed, making him growl a little. Cindy giggled, reaching to give him a quick scratch.

“I know we've disagreed about things, Cid,” Regis said carefully, holding Noctis still and close, “But you're sheltering a coeurl that attacked and killed the captain of the Kingsglaive.”

“That I am.” Cid nodded. “Keeps Cindy good company, makes sure no weirdos push their luck.”

The words made Ravus lift his lip. If that creep came back to try coaxing Cindy away again, there would be less mercy doled out. A little more teeth, too. Less than Glauca had gotten, but still teeth.

“Cid, is now really the time?”

The old mechanic snorted. “If he really wanted t' go hurtin' people, he woulda done it a long time ago by this point. Been in an' outta Hammerhead more'n often enough. Hell, th' mangy mutt didn't even really hurt th' hunters that made a move on 'im. Cracked a few ribs an' sprained a collarbone, nothin' more.”

First of all, who did Cid think he was, calling Ravus a mangy mutt?

“Did you miss the part about it killing a member of the Kingsglaive?” the Shield asked incredulously.

“Naw, caught that. Y'all missed th' way 'e took off when he saw th' Nif ships, though. Heard 'em comin' an' raced off on an injured paw, as if it wasn't pitch black out.” Cid shot back. “An' he killed yer Kingsglaive, sure, but ain't this th' cat that saved yer kid?”

All the Crownsguard shifted, Regis and his Shield looking uncomfortable. The Immortal just narrowed his eyes and demanded, “How do you know that?”

“Fer one thing, wasn't born yesterday, Leonis.”

Seeing the Immortal looked cowed just cemented the idea that Cid was not to be crossed in Ravus's mind.

“Fer another, this guy came in askin' fer th' news. Turned on th' radio an' let 'im be. Story comes up 'bout yer boy an' I can hear th' cat scoffin' from th' other end of th' garage.”

Cindy giggled, probably at the image of him showing a radio his disdain. He rolled his eyes.

“Yer kid seems excited. Leave 'im out 'ere an' we can go talk.” Cid said, giving his head a jerk.

All the Crownsguard grew tense, and Regis seemed to try hiding Noctis behind him even as the boy fought to run close.

Cid scoffed, and Ravus just knew he was rolling his eyes. “If yer that worried, leave Leonis an' a couple'a yer guards. But I think if I can trust 'im with Cindy then ya should be just fine.”

With that, the mechanic turned and began moving towards the restaurant. After a moment, Regis let go of Noctis with a nod to Cor. The prince raced back over, grinning broadly. The Immortal moved closer, hand on the hilt of his sword. Ravus chose to ignore the man for the moment, watching Noctis and Cindy size each other up.

As the adults more or less left, Cindy thrust a hand out, introducing, “Howdy. 'M Cindy.”

After a moment, Noctis took her hand, nodding and saying, “Yeah. I'm Noct. Nice to meet you.”

Cindy nodded, looking thoughtful. After a moment, she turned to Ravus. “If he cleans his hands, can he pet ya?”

Ugh. He wasn't a petting zoo animal.

His eyes flicked to the Immortal, Crownsguard soldiers standing back but still watching him intensely. He heaved a sigh and nodded.

“I'll show 'im how to pet ya right!” Cindy told him, smiling.

“I know how to pet a cat.” Noctis pouted.

“He's picky. Doesn't like his fur gettin' messy, an' yer hands hafta be clean.” Cindy informed the smaller child. Turning to Cor, she looked up and asked, “Can I show 'im where t' wash?”

After a moment, the Immortal gave a curt nod. Ravus watched as the man followed the two children, probably to make sure they didn't get up to any mischief. The other Crownsguard moved closer, as if waiting for Ravus to turn and attack Noctis as the prince followed Cindy into the garage. Rolling his eyes, he slowly lowered himself down and closed his eyes. His shoulders were starting to ache, propping himself up that way.

Before too long, Cindy and Noctis had returned. Ravus swiveled an ear to show he was listening, but otherwise began settling in to nap. Cindy showed Noctis the best way to run fingers through his fur, keeping everything neat and orderly. She instructed him in where was okay to pet and where not to, showed the prince how to scratch behind Ravus's ears without digging in with too much nail. Slowly, Ravus began to purr, stretching out just a bit.

The conversation turned from how to pet him to his exploits. Noctis talked about the marlith and how Ravus guarded both him and his nanny. Cindy talked about how he came to Hammerhead with Dave and chased away the man who tried to kidnap her. And from there, the two simply began to talk. Ravus let the conversation become a dull tittering as he began to drift off—

A hand beyond the four small ones on his side appeared, knuckles rubbing behind and between his ears.

Ravus's head snapped up, eyes opening as his purr stopped.

Cor was crouched over him, cold and sharp. Ravus held his gaze for a minute, the two staring each other down. The Immortal smelled of Regis and blood and sweat. There was something warm and feral about the man. Like facing down another coeurl.

After a minute or so had passed, Ravus huffed at the man and lowered his head again. Cor rubbed behind his ears a moment longer, then stood and retreated away. Noctis and Cindy laughed when he crinkled his nose at the man's back. Cor turned to see what the two were giggling about, and Ravus quickly dropped the expression, rubbing a paw over his muzzle. It sounded like one of the Crownsguard was trying to stifle a snort.

Ravus knew better than to challenge Cor the Immortal, and he wasn't going to be troublesome or pick any fights with Lucis, but he wasn't going to be a cute kitten for everyone to pet whenever they wanted.

If Regis tried petting him, Ravus had zero qualms about swatting the man.

Chapter Text

“My dad didn't want me to come,” Noctis told Cindy, “He was worried I'd get hurt, but I said if it was the same coeurl maybe I could talk some sense into him.”

Good to know the king was weak-willed as ever.

“Well,” Cindy replied, “Paw-Paw says he's been fightin' Nifs. But I don't think he'd hurt anyone else. He's always real gentle an' nice. Don't think he'd hurt a fly, really.”

Ravus rolled his eyes. Cor seemed to notice, raising an eyebrow at him. He lifted a paw and waved the man off.

“Killing a Kingsglaive isn't exactly not harming a fly.” Cor said, still watching Ravus even as he cut into the children's conversation.

“You kill people all the time, though!” Noctis argued.

“That's different,” the Immortal countered without missing a beat, “I only kill the bad ones.”

For a while, the children were both quiet.

“... Maybe Drautos was secretly a bad-guy, then.” Noctis huffed.

Ravus quickly pushed himself up, nodding. Noctis had just unknowingly struck the nail on the head. He knew chances of anyone believing him were slim, but he wanted to convey that the prince was right.

“See?” the boy declared smugly.

Cor grabbed onto his muzzle, forcibly turning his head as the Crownsguard started to murmur. “That's a pretty tall accusation. Any taller and it'd be downright treasonous.” the man said, voice low and dangerous.

Ravus huffed, giving as sharp a nod as he could with fingers digging painfully into his mandible.

“... You two stay here. You come with me.”

“Why?” Noctis pouted.

“Just do what I say. This once, okay, Noct?” the Immortal sighed, letting go of Ravus's face.

The prince groaned, but both children stepped away from him. Ravus grit his teeth and began the process of getting up. One paw, then the other. Get his legs underneath...

“Careful now,” Cindy said worriedly, moving to support his shoulder as he struggled to get up, “Don't push yerself, nkay?”

He huffed gently at her, creeping up to his full height. Everything hurt. If it didn't hurt or ache, it felt stiff. At least one injury had to be reopening under it's dressings. But he was no stranger to pain, and he had no intention of being seen as weak. Especially not by the Immortal, for crying out loud! If his arm could be burnt off by divine wrath, then he could take the leftover pain from a few angry soldiers!

Cindy and Noctis did their best to help prop him up, but he was a full-grown coeurl and they were a twelve-year-old girl and eight-year-old boy. They weren't actually that much help.

Noticing Cor turning and coming back, Ravus lifted his head and bared his teeth with a growl. The other Crownsguard members all stepped closer, wary and on-edge. The Immortal, however, stopped, a look dangerously close to understanding on his face. The man didn't move any closer, but didn't turn to keep going until Ravus had finally gotten to his feet and was no longer in danger of accidentally crushing Cindy and Noctis.

Ravus followed the man towards the restaurant, but stopped at the door.

“What're you waiting for, an invitation?” Cor scoffed, drawing the attention of the others inside.

He sat down, staring flatly.

There was an exception in things like service animals, but you didn't just bring animals into eateries. Especially ones that could be considered wild, like Ravus was. It posed a myriad of health code violations and was just unsanitary. He may not have been as... as close to Takka as he was to Cid and Cindy, but he wasn't going to go causing trouble like that.

“Jus' get in here,” Cid drawled, “It ain't like ya got a problem with comin' indoors.”

He did, actually, he was just very good at not showing it. The garage was okay, with it's big open door, but coming into buildings was... upsetting. He felt constricted and caged and like he needed to flail around to create space for himself.

After a moment, he flattened his ears to show his displeasure and stepped into the restaurant. The floor was sleek and clean, making him slip a little at first.

“So what's goin' on?” the old mechanic asked.

“Your coeurl friend is accusing Drautos of having been against Lucis.” Cor replied.

Regis and his Shield looked to Ravus as if for confirmation. He nodded once.

“What do you mean by that?” the Shield asked gruffly.

Ravus leveled the man with a flat look.

Cid snorted, leaning against the counter as he said, “Pretty kitty can't talk, Clarus. If yer gonna question 'im like that, gonna hafta use yes-no questions.”

That exactly.

“Can give ya a few answers m'self, though,” the old mechanic continued, “Fer example, 'e knows a bit 'bout Niflheim's schedules an' tactics.”

That made all the Insomnians' eyes narrow.

“Not expecting an answer, but does that mean you're affiliated with Niflheim?” the Immortal asked, hand resting on his sword.

Ravus couldn't keep himself from hissing as he shook his head. Yes, he had been an officer in their army, and yes, he had led their military. But he wasn't exactly given much choice. Regis didn't leave him with one when he left Tenebrae to burn.

“Then you're an ally of Lucis?” Regis asked warily.

“Enemy of m' enemy deal.” Cid interjected almost lazily.

“... Then who are you allied to? If Niflheim is your enemy... Accordo?” Regis mumbled, barely even addressing anyone else.

Ravus shook his head.

“Tenebrae?”

There it was. He nodded.

“You're... from Tenebrae?” the Shield asked, looking doubtful.

He nodded again.

“Impossible. Coeurls don't live in Tenebrae, it's not their natural habitat.” Cor said bluntly.

“Well, he ain't 'xactly yer natural coeurl.” Cid replied calmly. “Pretty adamant he ain't a Messenger, but still not th' typical cat.”

After a moment, Ravus lay down. His injuries were hurting and his legs were starting to shake. It looked like this was going to take a while.

Regis stood and came closer as he spoke. “If you know so much about Niflheim and their movements... were you taken from Tenebrae?” the king asked, slowly kneeling so they were eye-to-eye. Ravus didn't miss how both the Shield and Immortal grew tense.

For a while, Ravus just stared at Regis. He admitted, he wasn't sure how to respond. Because he was. But not in the way Regis was thinking.

“... Do you blame me?”

Ravus couldn't keep himself from lifting his lip and baring his teeth as he gave a sharp, curt nod.

Silence fell over the restaurant. None of them had been expecting that. He couldn't help the sharp, angry satisfaction he felt, glaring at Regis with everything he had.

“... What did Niflheim do to you...?” Regis murmured, a hand reaching out as if to cup Ravus's face. He pulled away, growling and lifting a paw in warning. The man wisely pulled his hand back. “... Could I have stopped them?”

Yes. Oh yes, yes you bloody fucking could have.

But he didn't nod. He chose to let his lack of a response speak for him, glaring ice and hellfire alike.

“... And yet you still went out of your way to save Noctis, help my troops fight Niflheim's forces, and, if you are to be believed, eliminate an internal threat.” Regis murmured.

Because that was what he had to work with. He was dropped off and given very little to work with. He didn't exactly have the powers of Lucian royalty. Didn't even have the magic of the Fleuret line. What he had was knowledge, a grudge, and years of pent-up anger and frustration. As a coeurl, he couldn't exactly waltz into populated places and go off to bring Ardyn down.

Before anything else could be said, a Crownsguard lurched in, eyes wide and face pale.

“Your Majesty! We just received word from Tenebrae!”

Ravus didn't need to hear the rest. He got to his feet, only slipping once, and spun around so he could dash out.

Chapter Text

Ravus yowled, clawing at the blacktop under him as he tried to thrash his way free of the Crownsguard pinning him down.

“You won't be able to do anything like this, and there's no way you'd get there in time any way!” the Immortal yelled, seemingly unfazed by how Ravus bucked and twisted under him.

He wasn't really listening, though. He was picturing everything in his mind, replaying it second by second, and he'd set out to prevent this, dammit!

“Cor, his injuries!”

“I know, Clarus! What do you want of us?!”

“Knock him out or something!”

It wasn't long after that he felt something stab into him. His movements became sluggish, and his vision faded. As Ravus collapsed under the weight of the soldiers pinning him down, he found a terrified-looking Cindy standing over him.

But that was it. He didn't see anything else. And it didn't take long for her to fade away, swallowed by inky darkness.

For a while, everything was blissfully silent, blissfully still.

But it wasn't for long.

Tenebrae burned, just out of his reach. No matter how he pushed, how he struggled and ran and reached, everything burned beyond his grasp. When he finally was able to reach, everything had been reduced to ashes, cold, bleak and gray. Charred and twisted skeletons, of trees and people alike, reached for the sky white as bleached bone.

He screamed, but the noise was choked and strangled, gurgling in his throat. He coughed and spat, wads of darkness spattering on the ashes, congealing into a thick pool of sludge. He gagged, clawing at his chest and throat, feeling tears stream down his face. The pool of sludge grew, swallowing the burnt husk of his home, and he found he couldn't move, rooted in place.

A mechanical arm reached up from the darkness, grabbing him by the throat. Another one reared up, grabbing his wrist. A third dug sharp metal fingers into his ribs. As he struggled against them, a hand unseen clamped down on the back of his head. He was shoved down, bent at such an angle that it was almost unnatural, pushed until his head was under the surface of the darkness. He tried to fight it, tried to pick his head up, but couldn't get away from the cold metal hands dragging him down. Bubbles of air escaped his mouth as the sludge forced it's way into him, filling him entirely, and he watched as the glowing, bright balls of light were quickly and completely tainted.

Just like him.

The last bubble of air burst in a swirl of Starscourge—

Ravus shot awake, choking and gasping on his own breath, thrashing and flailing against hands that weren't there.

“Easy.”

The sudden voice had him startling, rolling to his feet and whipping around, searching for the speaker.

He found the Immortal standing not too far away, eyes sharp and hand ready to draw. They were alone in a large room, but not large enough to soothe Ravus's coeurl-nerves. And that was on top of everything else.

Anger and frustration had him lunging for the man. But there was a reason Cor Leonis had the title of Immortal, easily dodging and pulling his sword out. Ravus didn't try again, though, swaying on his feet as he tried his best to glare. It felt watery, though, and he didn't know if coeurls could cry but if he had been human his eyes would have shown his frustration with their wetness.

Even with everything he did. With all the work he'd put into killing Glauca, with saving Noctis, Tenebrae was still burning.

Was he doomed to lose everything no matter what?

A pathetic warbling noise he hadn't known cats capable of slipped from his throat, and he sank to his belly.

“Easy.” Cor repeated, voice softer this time. Ravus didn't look at him, burying his face in his paws, but he heard the soft hiss of the Immortal's sword being sheathed. As he lay on the floor, cold and unyielding beneath him, a hand came to rest on the back of his neck. Not petting, scratching, or squeezing, just resting there. “You never would have gotten there in time. And your injuries would have killed you before every leaving Leide.”

He wanted to lash out, to scream that Cor had no clue what he was capable of. That no one could have been certain. But he couldn't, only able to shrug the man's hand off and shuffle an inch or so away.

“... Tenebrae is under attack, but they haven't lost yet. Regis and Clarus have gone to lend their aid and help the royal family get out—”

Ravus shot up, head snapping about with wide eyes.

The Immortal looked confused, getting slowly to his own feet. “... What?”

Ravus couldn't keep himself from beginning to pace, mind whirling.

If Regis and his Shield had gone to help the royal family of Tenebrae escape, then that meant they were still alive, right? So had everything paid off? Killing Glauca, preventing the Caelums' visit? Removing what had let everyone's guard down and the man who slaughtered everyone?

Cor caught him by the muzzle, halting his pacing and turning his head again. “Are you familiar with House Fleuret?” the man asked, sounding incredulous.

Ravus nodded, jerking his head out of the Immortal's grip as he did so.

Cor sucked a breath in. After an apparently thoughtful moment, the man turned and left. The door slammed open and shut, the resounding echo making Ravus wince and almost miss the lock clacking shut.

With that, he was left alone.

The room was, as stated, large. It almost felt like a training room of sorts. The style of architecture made it easily recognizable as the Citadel. So he'd been taken from Hammerhead to Insomnia. The windows up near the top of the room showed darkness outside. Chances were it was late at night.

He began to pace again. Being enclosed like this and not knowing what was going on would drive him insane before long.

... Wait.

Ravus stopped, holding still.

What happened to his injuries? He'd been in so much pain not that long ago.

Sitting down, he began to twist and turn. Examining himself and looking for the gashes and burns that had been there just this afternoon. But they were all but gone. He found a handful of scars, still dark and angry in their freshness.

A soft creak had his ears twitching, the smell of a city briefly wafting into the room. A pair of soft taps sounded, and he untwisted, turning to see who had decided to creep in through the window.

He found a blade pressed to his neck, nose-to-nose with a furious familiar face.

Chapter Text

“Don't do anything stupid, Nyx.” a glaive that was simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar hissed.

“How is this stupid?!” Nyx snapped back, pushing forward. Ravus instinctively stepped back as the sharp edge of the blade dug into his throat. “He killed the captain! Used us and killed him!”

He could see how it looked like that.

“Well, the king didn't do anything about it, so maybe you shouldn't jump to conclusions!”

“How am I jumping to conclusions?!” Nyx snarled, glare not leaving Ravus.

“He saved the prince, didn't he?! If he was... bad, then why didn't he kill the prince back then?! Why skip the prince and go for the captain?!” the other glaive demanded.

Nyx growled, but didn't move forward or back.

Ravus could see how bad it looked. He had known how bad it would look. To be honest, he had fully planned on the worst case scenario, Glauca not dying and getting killed himself. But that had been before Tenebrae came under attack. Before finding out that there was a chance his family—

Oh.

He hadn't thought of that.

He slowly sat down, making both the glaives react, Nyx pressing closer and the other one flinching.

This was his family. That meant... by the Six, that meant... it meant he was probably still alive. If he came face to face with his family, then it would be... not just his mother and Lunafreya. It would be the young Ravus, too. The one who was currently fourteen years old and... and was still soft and fragile and easy to move to tears. The one Ravus himself hadn't been for just barely more than a decade now.

Part of him felt morbidly curious. What would it be like, looking at himself like that? Knowing that his younger self now had the chance to grow up like... hell, possibly as soft and carefree as Noctis and his entourage had?

Part of him felt sick. He was going to be looking at everything he hated about himself. His softness, his weakness, his... everything. And there would be so little to change that, to prepare the boy, to prepare himself, for anything.

And then there was a third part, that ebbed and flowed. Swelled and grew until it dwarfed his curiosity and sickness, then shrank diminutively to a quiet murmur before once again sweeping up into a loud roar.

He was jealous.

This version of him, of Ravus, was being given a chance that he himself was never given. A chance to be saved. It wasn't definite yet, but the way Cor had worded it... well, he was pretty certain that this young Ravus was about to be handed the high life on a silver platter. And he was torn between jealous rage and... satisfaction, in a way.

There was a sharp clatter, making Ravus jump up with his hackles raised and whiskers sparking a little.

“Will you stop it?!” the second glaive hissed, looking almost fearfully towards the door. “You're going to get us caught, you idiot!”

... Nyx had thrown one of his blades. He must've been getting extremely frustrated, then.

“Do I look like I care?!” Nyx snarled angrily. “You're not even apologetic about it, are you?”

That was directed towards him. Ravus coolly met the man's heated gaze. He sat down again and slowly, deliberately, shook his head.

“So why, then?!”

“Nyx, the thing can't speak...”

The second glaive trailed off, suddenly looking at Ravus thoughtfully. He let his ears twitch, fixing his gaze on the man as Nyx began to pace, growling.

“... Can you spell?” the glaive asked, making Nyx freeze and snap around to stare.

Ravus wanted to sneer at the man for such a question, but he could understand why it would be asked. It didn't stop him from rolling his eyes even as he nodded.

“Alright... might take a minute, but... A?”

He shook his head, sliding down to his belly. This would take a while, going through each letter of the alphabet. And while Regis or someone had taken care of his injuries, not all of them were gone. And not all of them were fully healed. He was still sore and tired. If this was going to be a while then he was going to lie right here for it.

They had just gotten to the C when Nyx interjected, “Glauca.”

Ravus gave a short, sharp nod.

“The High Commander of Niflheim?” the second glaive asked, frowning.

He nodded again, unable to keep from rolling his eyes. It wasn't like there were hundreds of men with the name. Ravus knew. He'd checked.

“What, are you accusing the captain of consorting with Niflheim? Of reporting to Glauca?” Nyx sneered.

Consorting with Niflheim, yes. Reporting to Glauca, no.

Before Ravus could figure out how to voice that, though, the lock sounded. Both glaives froze, and Ravus couldn't keep his fur from bristling and tail lashing as he got to his feet.

The door opened, and Cor stood, staring at them.

There was a beat of silence, a second of tense stillness where Ravus was sure the two Kingsglaive soldiers were either going to warp away or be turned to mincemeat.

It was, surprisingly, Cindy that broke the tension.

She ducked around the Immortal's legs, racing into the room so fast she tripped over her own feet a little. Ravus was frozen in surprise, staring in shock and confusion, until she'd latched onto his leg, pressing her face into his fur. From the sticky dampness and the small shudders and shakes, she was crying. He twisted around, nosing her head with as gentle a mewl as he could.

“Y-you... you was gettin' hurt ah-again... you... you dummy!”

After a moment, he decided to try the grooming thing. It had worked last time.

As he slowly and carefully sat down, licking through her hair, the Immortal and Cid came into the room.

“I don't recall allowing anyone in here.” the marshal informed the Kingsglaive in a very icy tone.

Neither of them responded. The currently unnamed one looked repentant, at least, Ravus noted from the corner of his eye. Nyx just tipped his head back in a defiant manner, eyes burning.

As Cindy's muffled whimpers died down and Cid came to rub through his fur, Ravus watched the Immortal pick up the thrown blade.

“Come to get vengeance, then?”

“Answers, sir.” the unnamed one muttered, pointedly avoiding eye-contact. Submissive, avoiding conflict.

Cor didn't say anything, just raised an eyebrow. Cid snorted at the action.

“... And maybe vengeance, based on the answers.” Nyx added.

“I see. Care to share what you received?”

“Jus' let 'em out, Cor. Ain't like th' pretty kitty can talk, an' I doubt they know how t' read 'im just yet. Kinda like you, really.” Cid hummed, squeezing Cindy's shoulder with one hand and petting down Ravus's spine with the other. The tiny blonde was peeling her face away from him by this point. He was torn between amusement and disgust at how there was fur clinging to her face.

“Well, we got a answer...” the second glaive mumbled.

“Not one that makes any sense, it doesn't count.” Nyx muttered directly afterwards.

Ravus rolled his eyes, looking back to Cindy as Cid stepped away. He could hear the Kingsglaive duo explaining what they did as he nosed at Cindy, gently pressing against her messy cheek.

“Y-yer a big dummy...” the tiny blonde informed him, rubbing her face into her arm as she pet him with her other hand.

Yes yes, dummy Ravus. Stop crying.

He carefully licked her face, making her giggle. He couldn't help but purr a little, tipping his head to allow her at his ears. The girl gladly took the invitation.

“Paw-Paw said y' got scared... cuz ya used ta live in Tenebrae... 'S'at true...?” she murmured.

He nodded, letting her coo sadly and press closer.

“'M sorry... but it'll be okay. Paw-Paw says th' king's a dummy too, but... he's good at fightin'...”

Ravus snorted a little, and couldn't keep himself from nodding. He wasn't entirely sure he believed it would all turn out okay, but... well, Cindy had a way with words.

Chapter Text

Nyx and his friend— Libertus— were given a staunch chewing out by the Immortal. Ravus managed to glean from what he could overhear that the marshal had temporary authority over the Kingsglaive. A suitable replacement for Glauca— Drautos— had yet to be found.
The two were yelled at and dismissed. But Ravus hadn't missed their informing Cor of what they'd found, even distracted by Cindy.

He looked up from the girl as the Immortal and Cid came closer.

“So you say Drautos was against Lucis and somehow connected to General Glauca.” Cor said, sharp and cold.

Ravus nodded, just as sharp.

“I already started putting an investigation together. Should we be focusing on his movements first, then?”

He took a moment to consider.

Glauca hid himself for twelve years. Minimum. Chances were it was more. However, Ravus could remember seeing the man fight on the front lines. That meant there had to be times were he left Insomnia and the Kingsglaive. No one could hide that. Disguise it? Sure. But hiding it? No.

He nodded again.

The Immortal nodded, turning to Cid. “I'm going to trust that he won't—”

“Leonis,” the old mechanic said sharply, “If 'e was gonna get mean, he'da done it with those soldiers a yers. They were th' ones holdin' 'im at knife-point. 'Sides, you see how soft li'l Miss Cindy makes th' cat?”

First of all, where did Cid get off, calling him soft.

Second of all, if Nyx had kept pushing, Ravus would've had no qualms about fighting back.

After a moment, Cor nodded and left.

Cid heaved a sigh, turning to look at Ravus and Cindy. The old man moved close and reached a hand out. In the split second of indecision— allow the man to scratch him more or shy away— that Ravus took, Cid had put a hand under his chin and begun to move his fingers. He couldn't help but close his eyes and purr, making Cindy giggle.

“We ain't stayin'.” the mechanic told him, making his eyes open just enough to focus on the man. “Cindy was mighty upset when ya went down. Came along t' make sure ya were okay.”

“Was dumb.” Cindy piped up from his side.

He rolled his eyes.

Cid kept speaking, voice softer than Ravus was used to hearing it. “Cor says y' know th' Fleurets.”

He nodded the best he could without taking his head away from the mechanic's fingers. His ears pricked, showing he was listening.

“Well. Wouldn't worry too much. Reports're sayin' they got out. Reggie an' Claurus ain't gonna let 'em get hurt. Know ya ain't fond'a Reggie... but have a li'l faith in 'im, at least now.”

Ravus wanted very badly to shake his head, to yell and rant and present Regis's sins for the world to hear. He wanted to back away and lift his lip, show his teeth and what he thought of Regis.

But the scratching and purring was making him soft. The gentle voice and soothing touch, combined with... so many other elements, really, had Ravus pushing his head to Cid's chest, rubbing the top of his head against the man's shirt. He could hear Cindy cooing and giggling as she pet his side.

“Yeah yeah. Y' best come an' visit, ya hear?” the old mechanic said sternly, thumping his hand against Ravus's shoulder.

He nodded as he pulled away. If Lunafreya and... and his younger self would be coming here, then he'd planned to introduce Cindy anyway. He imagined he'd find some way to bully his way out of Insomnia if Regis didn't allow it.

“Good. C'mon, Cindy, we gotta be up early if we wanna be back at Hammerhead at any reasonable time.”

The tiny girl looked disappointed, but nodded. Looking up at Ravus, she gestured for him to come closer. Somewhat confused, he dropped his head to her level—

Cindy planted a kiss on his nose, then scampered after her grandfather. Ravus stood, frozen and unsure of how to react, as Cid guffawed and closed the door to the room.

... He hadn't expected that.

What was he supposed to do with that?

Ravus turned in a perplexed circle, then sat and lifted a paw to drape over his muzzle.

What was he supposed to do with that?

After a moment, he dropped his paw and slid to the floor. It had been a long day, even if he wasn't awake for half of it. He imagined he should sleep, try to rest.

However, it wasn't long before something of a racket reached him. Growling in annoyance, he opened his eyes and lifted his head.

“— ince Noctis!” someone— probably a Crownsguard— yelled as the door was thrown open.

Oh great.

A streak of blue and black barreled into his side, knocking the wind out of him.

“Noctis!”

“Noct, you idi— oh shit it really is a coeurl.”

He looked up as he stood, shaking the bratty little prince off. It took a moment to recognize the two standing just inside the room as the Crownsguard outside held warily onto their weapons. But those two were Scientia and Amicitia. Noctis's advisor and Shield.

Oh joy.

As everyone started talking, Ravus very deliberately marched to a corner of the room and curled up in it so his back was to everything. However, despite that he still felt hands start running through his fur. Lifting his head just enough to see, Ravus found himself glaring at Noctis.

“You scared us. You were... you were covered in blood, and you wouldn't stop fighting.” the prince said, frowning at him.

Ravus rolled his eyes and put his head down again.

Noctis had never experienced the real world until the fall of Insomnia. Ten to one, this one would never experience the real world. Not in time to be of any use, anyway.

... Or would he?

Ravus cracked an eye open, just a sliver, and watched as the Crownsguard herded the three boys away, making promises about the morning.

... A second chance, but not just for him. This was a second chance for everyone. Ravus was just the one leading the charge.

He made a note to himself to find some way to drag the ragtag junior royal retinue out into the world with none of Regis's protection.

Chapter Text

When the Immortal came for him, Ravus had flopped over on the sun-warmed stone floor. He'd been awake for a while, and had taken to pacing impatiently around the room before moving to the center. There, light from the windows above pooled on the floor, and if he lay there and sunbathed, then he could take his mind off the cramped quarters. Coeurls just weren't meant for indoor spaces. Not to mention the smell. The scent of human was absolutely everywhere, along with that of cleaning chemicals and soap. It was very sharp and unpleasant.

“Comfortable?”

He opened his eyes and lifted his head to look at Cor, standing in the door. Slowly, deliberately, he flattened his ears back and flicked his tail.

“The Citadel isn't exactly outfitted to house coeurls.”

Was anywhere, he thought with a barely repressed scoff.

Pushing himself up, Ravus looked at the Immortal expectantly.

For a moment, the man just examined him. After that moment, though, Cor informed him, “Prince Noctis would like to see you. If you even think of trying anything, it'll be me you answer to.”

He didn't bother trying to stare the man down, just dipped his head. Any other day, he may had gone to challenge the Immortal's gaze. But right now every second was precious. Ravus was waiting on Regis to bring his family to safety, and then there was literally everything else, most of which he hadn't thought of yet.

When he nodded, Cor turned and began walking. Ravus stood and followed, internally grateful for the change of scenery.

The Citadel was just as big and horrible as he remembered. Steel and marble and gold inlay. Not as gaudy and tacky as those in the empire, but still cold, imposing, and unwelcoming. He supposed it could be worse, stinking of Scourge and metal and void of life save for soulless MT units on endless patrol. But he still hated it, and longed for Tenebrae.

Staff would stop and gawk as he and Cor passed. A few dropped what they were doing in shock. A handful ran. More of a reaction than in Hammerhead, that was for sure. But he supposed the outpost and it's regulars were used to monsters and feral animals. They didn't run or scream because of that, only stared because he was so ‘tame.’ Here in the Citadel— in Insomnia— where everyone was sheltered and pampered... a coeurl was something they probably hadn't seen beyond pictures. Some of them probably not beyond caricatures in children's books.

Take a good long look, then, Ravus thought darkly, because the rest of the world is coming and it will not wait for Insomnia to adjust. It is coming and it is relentless.

Cor led him to a courtyard, lined with Crownsguard. Scientia was sitting on a bench near the edge, nose-deep in what looked like a political dossier. Crashing clumsily against each other in what he thought was supposed to be a facsimile of sparring was Noctis and Amicitia.

Cor cleared his throat.

Instantly, Noctis spun around, throwing his sword down and racing towards them. Amicitia tried to yell, but cut off upon seeing Ravus. Scientia stood up, putting the dossier down and adjusting his glasses.

Ravus braced himself, ears flattening, as Noctis flew at him. The boy latched on, grinning like a maniac. “You stayed!”

Right, like he was just going to sneak out of the Citadel in the middle of the night. And go where?

“That's... pretty cool.” Amicitia murmured, stepping hesitantly closer.

“He's not spending the entire day with you,” the Immortal warned, “Just until noon.”

Oh thank Six.

“Can he... speak?” Scientia asked cautiously, maintaining a healthy distance even as Amicita came close enough to reach out—

Okay, no, too much unsolicited touching from people he disliked.

Ravus shook his way out of Noctis's grip and relocated to Cor's other side. He shook himself out and quickly began grooming.

“... Not in the sense we can, but he understands well enough. And actions speak louder than words with this one.” Cor answered Scientia.

“Does he not like being touched?” Amicitia asked with a confused frown.

“No way! He let me and Cindy pet him a lot!”

Key word there being let. There were limits and lines he was not willing to casually ignore. Ugh, so much of his fur got rubbed the wrong way... he could feel it but couldn't reach it, that was the worst...

Cor seemed to notice what he was doing, and reached out. Ravus lifted his lip a little, but allowed the man to smooth his fur down.

“... Oh. Yeah. Sorry.” Noctis said, looking somewhat abashed.

“What now?” Amicitia asked.

“He doesn't like his fur getting messed up. He's kinda picky about it.” Noctis informed the larger boy, shuffling slowly closer.

Ravus huffed, standing and shaking himself out. Content that everything was in place, he moved past the boys and into the courtyard. All eyes on him, he bent his head down to pick Noctis's discarded sword up. It took him a moment to get his teeth securely around the hilt, but once he'd gotten it he stood and returned to the child prince.

“See! Even the magic coeurl says you need to train more!” Amicitia declared triumphantly, returning to the center of the courtyard.

Noctis groaned, dragging his feet as he took the sword. Ravus rolled his eyes and pressed the top of his head to the boy's back, hurrying him along. Several of the Crownsguard were visibly and audibly trying to stifle laughter as the prince protested.

“Okay! Okay, I get it!” Noctis yelled, running forward the last few feet. Grumbling, the boy took up his stance—

That was so sloppy. Ravus physically hurt looking at that.

Before Noctis and Amicitia could clash again, Ravus placed himself between them. Lifting his head and flattening his ears, he glared at Cor.

“Now what?” Amicitia asked, bouncing impatiently.

The Immortal didn't move, just raised an eyebrow.

Ravus held his gaze for a minute, then acquiesced. Maybe the two would be corrected in a minute.

Huffing, he moved to the bench Scientia was sitting at. The boy watched him warily, turning to keep an eye on him and pressing the dossier shut. Ravus bobbed his head in lieu of greeting, then settled behind the bench, resting his chin on it to watch the other two spar.

“... Would you mind, terribly, if I pet you?” Scientia asked, a combination of manners, caution, and childish desire.

What was it with children and petting every living animal?

All the same, he nodded.

Putting the dossier down, Scientia reached slowly and cautiously over. Ravus didn't move, watching the painfully sloppy fight go down. He was still waiting for the marshal to stop the runts and correct them.

Scientia's fingertips pressed behind his ear, then moved in slow, careful circles. Ravus tipped his head the opposite way, having already discovered that such ministrations felt better lower down, closer to the side of his head than the top. As Scientia continued to move his fingers, slow and gentle, Ravus allowed himself to purr a bit. Not much, because he was still watching the other two pretend to spar, but enough to let the third boy know he was doing something right.

But eventually he couldn't keep watching the fight. It was... horrible. He didn't know if Cor hadn't done anything because Ravus had objected before, or simply because none of them cared to.

He stood up, rubbing his cheek against Scientia's hand as thanks for the ear-rub, then moved onto the ‘battlefield.’ Both boys stopped when they saw him approach.

Now.

How to do this.

He looked towards the Immortal once again, tail swishing. The man crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against the wall, eyebrow raised. It looked like he was repressing a smirk.

Well fine then.

Ravus turned back towards the children before him.

“Is something the matter?” Noctis frowned, confused.

He flicked his ears.

Before anyone else could do anything, he sprang forward, slamming into Amicitia. The boy yelled in surprise, wind audibly knocked out of him, as he was sent flailing backwards. A number of the Crownsguard moved to leap forward, but were stopped by Cor.

“H-hey?! What's the big idea?!” Amicitia yelled, voice cracking as he began getting to his feet once more.

Hearing Noctis snigger, Ravus turned.

“Wait—”

He sprang again, head knocking soundly against the boy's chest and sending him tumbling.

As Noctis began climbing to his feet, Ravus turned to Amicitia, who'd finally gotten up. The boy tensed, eyes wide. Huffing, Ravus moved closer. Lowering his head, he carefully wrapped his jaws around one leg. He was large enough that this meant the boy's entire thigh almost fit in his mouth.

“H-hey! M-marshal?!”

Mindful of his teeth, Ravus tugged ever so slightly. Amicitia let him, most likely concerned about getting bitten. Once he was satisfied, he put a paw on the boy's foot and let go. He repeated the process with the other leg.

“Is he... correcting Gladio's stance?” he heard Scientia ask.

“Looks like it, doesn't it?” Cor replied.

Satisfied the boy wouldn't move his feet, Ravus took his paws away and stepped back. He picked up the sword and held it for Amicitia to take. Once the boy had it, he grabbed onto Amicitia's forearm and moved him again.

“... Like this?” the boy frowned, looking confused. “I thought I had it right...”

No, no you did not.

He turned to Noctis now. The prince had already picked up his own sword, and looked expectant.

“Is this right, Marshal?” he heard Amicitia asking as he fixed Noctis's stance.

“Looks like it.”

“Why is mine so different from Gladio's? I thought it was right before.” Noctis asked, scrunching his nose up.

In theory, all swords could be used similarly. However, as there were different styles, there were also different methods of handling them.

“You have different swords. The basics of using them are the same, but the finer techniques are just as different.” Cor answered as Ravus trotted back to Scientia's bench. “Of course, I don't know if they're ready for the finer techniques.”

He snapped his head around, eyes narrowed and ears flattened, to glare at the man.

You don't like it, you fix it, he wanted to sneer.

Cor lifted a hand in a placative gesture, so Ravus lay down behind the bench again, resting his chin on it as he watched Noctis and Amicitia attempt to spar again. They were... marginally better. Still sloppy, still physically painful to watch, but better. Marginally.

Every little bit, Ravus reminded himself as he closed his eyes. Every little bit.

After Noctis and Amicitia had sparred a while longer, the three boys were pulled off in different directions. Ravus watched, waiting to be told what he was to do.

Once the boys were all gone, the Immortal approached and took up Scientia's vacated spot on the bench.

“Clarus called. He and Regis got to the Fleurets, and are in the process of getting them back here. It should only take a day or two, really.”

Ravus purred at the statement.

“When they arrive, the investigation into Drautos will become more intense. Also, until then, you aren't to leave my sight. Just because you play well with Noctis doesn't mean we all automatically trust you.”

He didn't play well with Noctis, that was the thing. He tolerated the brat. That was it.

“New recruits will be coming in to train shortly. Care to go a round before that?”

It took a moment for the man's words to properly sink in. Once they did, Ravus couldn't help but look up in alarm, skittering away a bit.

“Scared?”

Rightfully so! He was no idiot, he knew better than to challenge the Immortal! How many full-fledged coeurls had the man taken out on his own?!

The man gave a dry, almost humorless laugh. “I'll keep my sword sheathed. Wouldn't want to open your injuries up after Regis went through the trouble of healing them.”

Ravus got the feeling he wasn't getting out of this.

He huffed, hanging his head, but jumped carefully over the bench and moved into the courtyard.

He could guess why the man was doing it, of course. It was most likely to assess Ravus as a threat, evaluate his skills and see if keeping him around posed any significant risk. It was what he would have done, anyway.

He watched as the man bound his sword into the sheath, trying to come up with a plan of attack.

His lightning was out. He didn't want to take chances with anything. Killing Glauca was one thing, this was another all together. And he wasn't going to use his claws or teeth if he could avoid it. So that left brute force. Body-slams and headbutts, smacking the man with his paw. But Cor had the advantage of reach, with the long blade he had. Even if it was sheathed, Ravus was going to treat it as if it was exposed and deadly to touch.

So he was going to have to aim for getting behind the man and pinning him down. Knocking the sword from his hand, getting him unarmed.

The Immortal took up his stance across the courtyard from Ravus. He sank down into the crouch he usually reserved for hunting in answer.

For a moment, they remained like that. Still. Silent. Sizing each other up.

Ravus moved first, staying low and slinking slowly forward. Cor's eyes narrowed, but the man didn't move other than tensing up just the tiniest bit. Ravus knew better than to think that was good. On the contrary, it likely meant he'd been seen through.

He sped up, letting himself rise up.

Cor's sword moved.

Ravus swerved to the side, and began trying to fake the Immortal out, get behind him. Cor didn't fall for any of it, always turning and following him. His sword was ‘out’ now, ready to counter anything Ravus attempted. That eliminated getting close, and the man had his number, turning to stay facing Ravus no matter what.

Okay, this required a new strategy.

He turned and put some distance between them, skidding to a stop and turning to glare. Daring Cor to give chase.

Oh shit he took the dare.

Ravus sprang forward to meet Cor, bunching himself up and jumping. He landed just behind the man, and he knew already that he would never turn on time to meet Cor. Instead, Ravus reared up and tipped himself backwards. He heard a shocked splutter but knew already that he was just hitting the ground.

Look at that, he was right.

Cor rested his sword against Ravus's belly. “Clever. But you don't move fast enough.”

He glared up at the man for a moment before batting him away. Rolling to his feet, he returned to the bench and took to grooming himself.

Chapter Text

Ravus couldn't keep himself from pacing.

The previous day had been... languid, in all honesty. After the spar with Cor, he'd watched the Crownsguard train, then walked after Cor as the man did his rounds of the Citadel. They'd visited the Kingsglaive, and he'd shrugged off all the glares and dirty looks he'd been given.

But then, late that night, Cor had woken him up.

Regis and his Shield were on their way back, with the royal family of Tenebrae in tow.

His sleep had been fitful at best. There had been almost no details given, no ETA or status on health or anything. And while he understood the need for security, since they had no clue if communications were being watched or not, he also needed to know these things. He needed to know if his family was okay.

Cor had taken him to the front of the Citadel. They were waiting at the top of the steps, and Ravus couldn't keep from pacing. He was pretty sure he was making all the surrounding Crownsguard nervous.

“Here they come.” Cor suddenly announced.

Ravus almost tripped over himself he spun around so fast, hardly daring to breathe.

The Regalia pulled up, looking worse for wear, and the last time he'd seen that car had been the base in Duscae, after Noctis's contracts with Titan and Ramuh. The poor thing looked like it had served as a behemoth's teething toy.

He held perfectly still, hardly daring to breathe.

Regis and his Shield emerged from the car. For a moment that felt far too long, far too tense, that was it.

But then the Shield turned and pulled the back door open.

He couldn't stop himself from bounding down the steps, skidding to a stop in front of his mother. Lunafreya squealed clinging to their mother's skirts, and he saw a boy— saw himself, younger and less jaded, recoiling in shock.

Purring, Ravus pushed his head forward, pressing against his mother's shoulder.

“Oh... you weren't joking, Regis.” he heard her say, feeling her hand come to rest on his neck.

“So do you know anything about him, Sylva?” the king asked. “Cor said he claimed to know the House Fleuret.”

“No. I don't know him. But that doesn't mean he doesn't know me. Oh dear, you seem so upset...”

Blindly, vision obscured by his mother's shoulder and dampness— he hadn't known coeurls could cry, but here he was— he lifted a paw to drape over her other shoulder. Her hands pet carefully through his fur, gently hushing him. He was taken back to childhood, waking up from a nightmare and being held until his tears stopped.

“He claims he isn't a Messenger. Can you tell if that's the truth, Sylva?” the Shield asked when Ravus finally pulled away, lifting his head and composing himself.

His attention shifted from the adults to the children looking up at him. Lunafreya and his younger self had apparently grown bolder after seeing him cry into their mother's shoulder, creeping closer with wide eyes. When he looked at them, they froze.

After a moment, his younger self stepped forward and leaned into a polite bow. Lunafreya gasped, then bobbed a curtesy.

Ravus couldn't help but purr, standing up so he could bow back.

“Well, whatever he is, he certainly is well-mannered.” their mother remarked in amusement as he stood up again. “I don't believe he is a Messenger. Perhaps when Gentiana chooses to join us, she can elaborate.”

Perhaps. Or perhaps she'd be vague and create more questions.

“Well, I vote we head inside and relax. It's been a long journey, and... a rough week.”

Anger flared up in him at Regis's words, causing his shoulders to bristle a little as he turned his head, ears flattened and lips pulled back. Tenebrae, country of the Oracle, his family's home, was just lost, presumably burned once again, and Regis chose to call it rough? A rough week?!

The Shield stepped between him and Regis, and he was aware of Cor moving closer. His younger self shuffled in front of Luna, eyes wide.

“Easy, now.”

Blinking, he turned into the soft touch. His mother smiled, brushing her thumb through his fur, and he dropped both his head and his tail.

“Wrapped around your finger.” Cor commented.

“I hope Gentiana has answers for us. You are quite the mystery.”

Ravus purred, turning to follow as the group began to head into the Citadel.

“We can have quarters for you three set up quickly enough,” Regis told Ravus's mother as they walked, “And we should discuss our next course of action soon. We can give you and your children a few days to settle in and adjust, but Niflheim isn't a threat we can just brush off.”

Naturally.

“Dad!”

“Hey, Noct!”

Ravus looked up at the yelling and stomping. He was just in time to see Noctis dive into Regis's stomach, clearly winding the man. Amicitia skidded to a stop not too far away, attempting to fall into parade rest.

“You didn't say you were coming back! And no one told me!” Noctis yelled into his father's chest.

“I'm sorry, Noctis... things were... hectic.” Regis wheezed, carefully prying his son away.

Ravus chose to ignore the whining and introductions, instead turning his attention to Amicitia. Even his parade rest was sloppy. Was everything about Noctis and his friends half-assed?

Amicitia noticed his falling into a crouch with wide eyes. “Hey, wait, we're not even sparring!”

Too bad.

“Oi!” the Shield barked as Ravus knocked the boy over.

“It's okay, Clarus. It's how the cat lets them know they're off.” Cor said calmly as Ravus's younger self stepped forward to offer Amicitia a hand. “Apparently knows a few things about swordplay.”

Damn straight he did. He huffed as he circled around.

“Well... Noctis, why don't... why don't you and Gladiolus take Lunafreya and Ravus on a tour of the Citadel? Show them around. We need to speak for a while. Afterwards, I promise, I'll come spend time with you, alright?” Regis bargained.

At first, the bratty little prince pouted and sulked, but then he nodded to the young Ravus and Lunafreya, trudging off with them and his Shield-to-be in tow.

Sighing, Regis turned to Ravus. “Now. We have much to discuss. While I said it best we leave the majority of it for after Sylva and her children have settled in... some things should be addressed quickly.”

Took you long enough.

Chapter Text

Ravus smelled her before the others even suspected she was there.

They were approaching Regis's office, flanked by Crownsguard members, when he noticed that the air felt cooler, dryer. Snow, pine, and sylleblossoms laced their way through the air, and he felt himself grow tense.

“What's wrong?” Cor asked with a frown.

“Something the matter?” Regis asked, looking over his shoulder.

“Coeurl's on edge.” the Immortal replied, hand moving towards his hip.

Ravus lifted his paw and pushed at Cor's wrist. He shook his head, hoping they got the message. It was nothing to worry about. Not for them. For him, maybe. Either way, though, he didn't want to know what would happen if Cor tried to slice the High Messenger.

The quartet stayed still for a moment longer, then continued onward.

As they came to Regis's office, the Crownsguard took up positions outside the door. The Shield opened the office up—

“Gentiana!” Ravus's mother exclaimed.

Yep, he thought so.

They all moved into the office, fanning out so they could see the Messenger. Gentiana, in turn, smiled, rising elegantly from the chair she'd sat in.

“To what do we owe the honor?” Regis asked, voice soft.

“I follow the Oracle, as Messenger for the Six.” she replied easily. Her gaze slid onto him, and he couldn't help but step back a little.

His mother noticed, and rested a hand on his shoulder. “Can you tell us about him, Gentiana?”

“Is he a Messenger or something else?” Cor piped up.

Gentiana smiled, tipping her head as she stepped closer. “A soldier,” she said calmly, “Felled in battle. The first Oracle wished he be given a second chance, and the Six agreed.”

Ravus dropped his gaze as she pressed a hand to his forehead. He wasn't sure how much he wanted exposed, but if too much was left in the dark he'd never get anywhere.

“The first Oracle?” his mother asked.

“What battle?” Cor asked at the same time.

“A second chance?” the Shield asked over them.

Gentiana didn't answer for a while, examining Ravus instead. He felt small and exposed under her gaze. Like she was picking him apart and separating each piece so they were helpless.

“Be careful, soldier,” she murmured, hand moving from his forehead to his chin, “Your actions press close to fates that cannot be changed.”

That made him start to bristle just a little, tail beginning to lash. Was she telling him that despite this second chance, this opportunity to change things, he was still supposed to let Lunafreya and Noctis march to their deaths?! That no matter what he did, he'd be unable to change that?! He refused to believe such a thing!

“Stronger than you have tried,” Gentiana warned, “But men are bound to their fate.”

First of all, gee thanks. He needed that vote of confidence.

Second, just watch him!

The High Messenger's gaze became sharp, and he felt traces of frost form in his fur. He flinched a little, but refused to back down. Gentiana's hand fell away from him, and she stepped back.

“What battle did this guy get killed in? And why would he need a second chance?” Cor all but demanded. Ravus had to give credit where credit was due, most tended to scrape and grovel before Gentiana. The Immortal was more or less unfazed, glaring at her the way he glared at everything.

At the questions, Gentiana's expression became almost impish. “Such questions are better asked of him, if you only learn to hear the answers he gives.”

Ah-hah, see, there was the vagueness he'd been referring to. Both he and the Immortal rolled their eyes, making his mother chuckle and pat his side a little.

Bowing, Gentiana murmured, “I shall take my leave,” and exited the office before any more could be said.

“... Learn to hear his answers, huh...” the Shield muttered.

“She is not always the most straightforward,” Ravus's mother said, “But her words always make sense in the end.”

Did they really, though?

Ravus huffed, sitting down. His mother scratched comfortingly behind his ear, and he closed his eyes and purred, leaning into her touch.

“So I take it he behaved while we were gone?” Regis asked.

“More or less. Had a little run-in with Glaive Ulric that yielded something interesting.” Cor answered.

“Do tell.” the Shield drawled.

“He and his friend were looking for answers as to why our friend here killed Captain Drautos. According to them, he claims the man had some sort of tie to Glauca.”

Silence fell over the room. Ravus cracked his eyes open to assess the room. He found Regis and his Shield staring at him, the Immortal crossing his arms over his chest.

“And... how, exactly, did they manage that?” Regis asked slowly.

“Glaive Ostium listed off the alphabet over and over until they got all the letters they needed.” Cor answered.

The king snorted, making Ravus flick his ears.

“That sounds awfully time-consuming.” his mother mused, making him nod.

“Ten to one there's a more effective way to communicate with him. We're just going to have to find it.” the Shield frowned. Turning to Cor, the man asked, “And your opinion on this accusation?”

The Immortal turned his gaze on Ravus. “... As we can see, he's incredibly fond of Sylva.”

Yes. Rightfully so. Ravus dropped a paw in her lap as she sat down to drive that point home.

“He reacted the strongest of us all when we received word that Tenebrae was under attack, and supposedly came from there. Beyond that... Cid and his granddaughter are both soft for him. And he has knowledge of swordplay, which he demonstrated yesterday, correcting both Noctis and Gladio when their stances were off.”

The Immortal paused there, moving closer. Ravus lifted his lip, but didn't do much otherwise when the man reached to rub between his ears.

“And now we have what equates to the Six vouching for him. It's hard to go against the word of someone like that.” the man said.

“So we're looking into this Glauca connection.” Regis said with a sigh, dragging a hand down his face as he sank down behind his desk. “... Drautos was one of our most trusted. To even think that he could be a traitor...”

Ravus huffed, resting his chin on his mother's knee. It wasn't that hard to believe, really. Anyone had it in them to betray someone else. Very, very, very few people were intrinsically. Few enough that it was almost safer to just say that no one was.

“Well, until you've figured out what exactly you're doing, why doesn't the fallen soldier stay with my children and myself?” his mother said, stroking her hand down his neck. “He is, as you said, quite fond of me. And I imagine I'll end up being the first to divine these answers we're listening for.”

The king as his retainers exchanged rather hesitant looks before Regis gave a rather reluctant nod. “If you think it for the best, Sylva...”

She smiled, bowing her head. “I may not have all the answers, but I'm the Oracle. And my mother's intuition says he means no harm to the children.”

Ravus couldn't keep himself from chirping a little, a noise he hadn't known cats capable of making, as he stood back up.

“Why don't he and I go see what our kids are up to while you sort out your internal affairs? I don't know about your lot, but Luna and Ravus will no doubt figure out some sort of mischief to drag them into.”

He would like to object that he couldn't recall ever being like that. Or his sister.

Chapter Text

“So he's staying with us?” his younger self asked as they settled into the suite Regis had given the Fleuret family.

“That he is.” their mother answered with a smile.

“Does he have a name?” Lunafreya asked.

Ravus flicked his ears, not taking his eyes off the puppies on the rug. Pryna and Umbra swayed back and forth as they considered him, eyes wide and tongues hanging out. He didn't know how exactly to react to them. Other dogs yapped and barked back at Hammerhead, but were subdued quickly enough with a growl and lifted lip. These two... well, he got the feeling they knew exactly who he was. They were Messengers, after all, not ordinary dogs. Even if they liked peanut butter and playing fetch.

“We don't know his name,” his mother said, drawing him from his thoughts, “He isn't a Messenger. Gentiana said he used to be a soldier.”

“A soldier?” his younger self echoed, looking at him curiously. “Are you here to protect us, then?”

Did that even need asking?

He nodded, slow and deliberate.

“Thank you, then.” his younger self smiled.

Ravus blinked, then nodded again.

Pryna and Umbra both gave little barks, making his head snap around. The two had taken to wrestling, it looked like, tumbling around and pouncing on each other. Slowly, carefully, he lowered himself down, resting his head between his paws. Before too long, Lunafreya and his younger self had both come to sit next to him, carefully and gently winding their fingers through his fur. He couldn't help but purr, letting his eyes slide closed. He cracked them open again and turned his head when something thumped against his side, and found the puppy Messengers looking fearfully at him with wide eyes. All he did was huff at them, which made Lunafreya and his younger self giggle when the two went scurrying off behind the couch.

He was about to drift off, soothed by the quiet chatter of Luna and his younger self, when a sharp knock sounded at the door. His head snapped up, a short, defensive growl leaving him.

“It's alright. The Crownsguard would have told us if it was someone bad,” his mother soothed before calling, “Who is it?”

“Kingsglaive soldiers Nyx Ulric and Libertus Ostium, your Majesty!”

Oh. Well then.

Ravus put his head back between his paws and closed his eyes once more. His younger self got up and went to stand by their mother, and Luna shuffled closer to his head. He purred happily as she scratched behind his ears, almost completely ignoring the door opening.

He did, however, perk up when he heard the two explaining to his mother that they were supposed to be a security detail.

“We... well, we understand that you have your coeurl friend there, and the Citadel is... phenomenally hard to get into if you aren't wanted inside, but King Regis has asked that we stay close.” Libertus explained.

“Partially to keep an eye on the murder-cat.” Nyx said with a head jerk in Ravus's direction.

“Aah, I see. Well, we thank you for your protection, gentlemen.” his mother said with a bow, his younger self hurrying to do the same. The glaives bowed back, but Ravus didn't miss Nyx's sidelong glare.

His vision was suddenly filled with black fur, his nose with the smell of dog and sylleblossoms. Sneezing a little, he pulled his head back, blinking down at the puppy rolling between his paws. Lunafreya giggled as Umbra wagged his tail. After a moment, Pryna decided to drape herself over his leg, giving a few little yips.

“I think they like you!” Lunafreya declared happily.

... Good...?

“A coeurl and two puppies, huh? Gonna have your hands full, aren't ya?” Libertus asked, coming to sit near them. It looked like Nyx was following Ravus's mother, younger self tagging along, into a different suite room. Probably to discuss schedules and boundaries.

“Umbra and Pryna are good dogs. They're already kinda trained. And he seems like he won't misbehave.” Lunafreya answered cheerfully. “It's nice to meet you. My name is Lunafreya.”

“Likewise, Princess. Libertus.” the glaive answered, regarding Ravus warily.

“Why did you call him a murder-cat?” Luna asked, tipping her head to the side as she leaned against Ravus's side.

“... Because coeurls tend to be mighty dangerous animals. They can kill a handful of men in one lightning-strike, and it'll only take them a second.” Libertus answered. After a moment, he sighed, adding, “And this one... well, Nyx and I have seen this one in action.”

He knew exactly what the man was referring to and he regretted nothing. Ravus kept his stare steady and unwavering, but he got the feeling that was negated somewhat by the puppies attempting to climb up his shoulders.

Lunafreya seemed to sense there was something she wasn't being told. She'd always been perceptive like that. “Was he protecting you?”

Libertus met Ravus's gaze, obviously hesitating before he answered, “I don't honestly know, Princess.”

Luna hummed, reaching out to pick Pryna up. She looked thoughtful.

Before Ravus could contemplate the nature of her thoughts too much, his younger self emerged from the other room.

“Ravus?” Lunafreya asked, tipping her head to the side.

“Mother wanted me to ask what you think of going to a public school.” his younger self said, settling down nearby. “We're going to be in Insomnia for quite a while, so our education needs to be considered. King Regis is sending Noctis back to school soon, and Mother has offered to enroll you in the same school.”

“What about you?” his sister asked.

Ravus watched as his younger self smiled reassuringly. “I'll be training with Gladiolus and studying with Ignis. I should at least attempt to be on par with King Regis's Crownsguard.”

Ravus, his younger self, and Libertus watched Lunafreya as she mulled the decision over. After a minute, she gave a soft smile and a nod.

“I'll go let Mother know, then.” his younger self smiled back, standing up and excusing himself.

Ravus huffed, rolling his eyes a bit. He dropped his head back between his paws, but jerked up once again when the tiny Umbra yelped. Lunafreya and Libertus both chuckled at him as the black puppy ran to join his sister in Luna's lap.

Flicking his ears, Ravus rolled carefully onto his side and closed his eyes. Lunafreya and Libertus struck up a conversation, other voices moving in and out of the room as he started to drift off.

Chapter Text

Ravus was silent, letting his tail flick from side to side.

Nyx glared, apparently doing his best to light Ravus on fire with his eyes alone.

Libertus fidgeted nervously, doing his best not to look at either of them.

The three of them were waiting for the Fleuret family to come out of a meeting with Regis and his ilk. Discussing education and housing and politics. Things that Ravus wanted very badly to have a say in, but had been asked to wait with the glaives.

And it looked like Nyx was raring for a fight. Ravus wasn't going to give him a fight, but if the man took it into his head to start anything, well, he was a Six-damned coeurl and he wouldn't hold back.

But aside from Libertus's fidgeting, the hallway was silent. Before long, Ravus found himself not only impatient, but bored. Ordinarily, he wouldn't be so antsy. He had held posts for much longer while serving in Niflheim. Yes, they would be boring, and yes, he would get impatient, but he'd always been able to hold still.

He got the feeling this was a coeurl thing.

It was irritating, how he could sleep the day away, but now was getting fidgety and wanting to run around. Chances were being in such an enclosed space, roomy as the Citadel was, wasn't helping. The last time he'd been outside... was probably that morning in the courtyard. And that wasn't even properly outside, really, just a room without a roof.

Ravus lifted a paw, deciding to see if cleaning himself would burn some of the anxious energy he was starting to harbor. He heard Nyx scoff as he did so. But he couldn't honestly fault the man. He understood what it was like to hate someone so much that every action was a crime against your person. But that didn't mean he had to react to it.

He'd finished his face, ears, and paws and was moving down his chest and sides when the sharp, quick taps of approaching footsteps reached him. Ears pricking, Ravus turned his head to stare down the hall.

The Immortal approached, making him blink. He'd been positive the man was in with Regis.

The glaives both stood to attention, saluting when Cor came close. He didn't even seem to notice, and as he knocked on the door, Ravus noticed he could smell how upset the man was. Visibly wound up, stiff at every joint, and reeking with stress and tension.

As the door opened, Cor gave no one any time to say anything, instead all but biting out, “I need to borrow these three.”

“Sir?” Libertus asked warily.

“... Alright. Don't keep them too long.” the Shield replied from within the room.

“No promises.” the Immortal replied, spinning on his heel and jerking his head. Ravus and the glaives fell in behind him as he took off down the hall again.

“Marshal?” Nyx questioned.

“Not here.” Cor replied, short and sharp.

Silence fell over them as they walked. Grim. Oppressive. It felt like Niflheim again. At least it was familiar.

Before long, they'd reached what was apparently the marshal's office. Cor closed and locked the door behind them, then let out a long, heavy sigh.

“Sir? Is everything alright?” Libertus asked cautiously.

“... No. Not in particular.” came the almost tired response.

Aah. Ravus got the feeling he knew what this was about.

“The two of you were present for Captain Drautos's death, and are the ones who got the answer of Glauca from our coeurl friend here.” Cor began, turning to look at them all.

“You can't be serious!” Nyx burst out, apparently reaching the same conclusion as Ravus.

“We don't have any hard evidence yet. Only coincidences.” the Immortal said, voice sharp. His gaze landed on Ravus, and he added, “And a coeurl who the Six are vouching for.”

The two Kingsglaive drew up short and looked at Ravus in confusion.

Cor explained, “The High Messenger, Gentiana, appeared, and told us a bit about him. All very vague information, but still answers nonetheless. Apparently this particular coeurl used to be a soldier before getting killed. For some reason, the Astrals decided to give him a second chance. A second chance at what, we don't know. But an undeniable fact is that he has the Six in his corner.”

At least for now, Ravus thought with a twitch of his whiskers. He got the feeling some of what he intended to do would get him smitten.

“... So then what coincidences do you have...?” Nyx ground out, clenching his fists.

For a moment, Cor was quiet.

“... A contact in the empire just got back to us. Niflheim lost all contact with General Glauca not that long ago. He was supposed to lead the attack on Tenebrae, but failed to show up. He has not contacted them at all.”

“Begging your pardon, sir, but that's not very... solid.” Libertus said quietly, putting a hand on Nyx's shoulder.

“And without the word of a coeurl telling us to look into this, I'd be forced to agree with you. But beyond that, Drautos was scheduled to go out on a solo recon mission after checking in with that base. And after tracking down his previous solo missions and paid leave time... he was rarely where he said he was going to be.”

“So what?! People don't like being watched all the time!” Nyx fired back, hot and angry.

“Under ordinary circumstances, I'd be willing to agree and ignore it,” the Immortal replied, ice and steel, “But given circumstances we can't take chances. If Drautos was a mole, then we don't know how much of our security is compromised.”

Before Nyx or Libertus could try to argue more, before Cor went on, Ravus let out a small roar. All three men jolted, heads snapping about to look at him. He gave a sharp huff, flicking his ears at them all. Such fighting got no one anywhere ever, and if they wasted their time doing it then it was going to make that much more work for him.

The Immortal let out a long, slow sigh. “... I understand that losing Captain Drautos has been a huge blow to the Kingsglaive. And I understand how you must feel hearing someone call him a traitor afterwards. But after everything our current informant has done and just who his references are, not looking into such accusations seriously would be foolishness.” the man said, voice level and words careful.

For a moment after that, both Nyx and Libertus were silent. Ravus could see how tightly clenched the former's fists were. If not for his gloves, the man would be drawing blood.

“... Are we to do anything, sir?” Libertus asked quietly.

“Stay with our fallen soldier and the Fleuret family. Even if Drautos wasn't a traitor, there's a chance that someone in the Citadel is. We can't take any chances.” Cor replied. After a moment, he added, “And if you can find a more effective way of communicating with him, let us know. You're welcome to ask him all the questions you want, see if there isn't something you can learn. Just don't do anything stupid.”

The two gave nods. Ravus could see the reluctance in them, even as he turned expectantly towards Cor.

“You just try not to kill anyone.” the Immortal said firmly.

Ravus rolled his eyes. He made absolutely no promises on that term.

Chapter Text

It was the feeling of hands shoving at him that woke him up.

He shot up, stumbling away and crashing into at least two things. Something broke, the noise almost lost under the yelling. The lights came on, stabbing into his eyes, and he yowled, shaking his head and backing himself up until he bumped into a wall.

A voice cut through the chaos, demanding, “What happened?”

Vision cleared and mind returning, Ravus looked up.

He'd knocked over a couch and a table, it looked like. Broken a lamp. The two Kingsglaive stood almost awkwardly in the middle of the room, near where he'd been sleeping. His mother stood in the doorway, Luna and his younger self peering out from behind her.

“... The... aah, the coeurl...” Libertus murmured as Nyx knelt down to right the furniture. “... It looked like he was having a nightmare. We tried to wake him up and it... went wrong.”

He had been having a nightmare, hadn't he? He couldn't remember what this one had been about, though. The more he tried to recall, the more it slipped away, until he was left with a dark chuckle in his ears that sounded an awful lot like Ardyn. Which in all honesty was nightmare fuel on it's own. The sensation of hands would have him reacting.

His mother's stern gaze softened a bit. She turned and shooed the children back to bed, then stepped into the room.

“Careful, there's glass all over.” Nyx warned from where he was picking up shards of the lamp. Libertus quietly joined him.

Ravus couldn't help but hang his head as his mother approached.

“It's nothing to be ashamed of,” she murmured, placing a hand between his ears and gently rubbing, “Everyone has nightmares. Given what Gentiana told us about you, I would say you're entitled to your share of them.”

Gentiana didn't even give any details. From what she said, he could have been any plain old infantryman. Gentiana said nothing about Tenebrae, about Glauca, about Niflheim, about Altissa, about Lunafreya, about Ardyn, about the Scourge, about anything! His whole damn life had been a continuous waking nightmare that spiraled down further and further each day!

His mother seemed to sense his discontent, because she continued, “No one is going to hold bad dreams against you. They're a sign that you're just as alive as the rest of us. That you feel and fear like anyone else.”

Ravus silently pushed his face into her shoulder.

She gently wrapped her arms around his neck, patting his shoulder and murmuring, “Whatever it was, it can't get you now.”

He wanted to scoff at that. Wanted to tell her that if Ardyn decided he wanted to cone to the Citadel right now and kill everyone, just about the only thing that could even possibly stop him was probably Bahamut. If even that.

But he couldn't. He didn't even have the energy to shake his head, or huff, or anything like that, to show her what he thought. He was exhausted.

For a while, he just stood, head tucked against his mother's shoulder with his eyes closed. Just breathed in her scent, of Tenebrae and magic and warmth and something he could only describe as motherhood. For a while, he let himself be tired and in need of comfort. Let himself be hugged and pet soothingly, told that everything would be okay. For just a moment.

But then the moment passed, and he pulled carefully away, lifting his head up once more. He had a job to do, prophecies to break and Astrals to defy. He couldn't be weak and soft all the time. Every second he was was a second of everyone's lives lost.

His mother smiled gently at him, smoothing her hand over his muzzle in a soothing gesture. Ravus allowed himself an appreciative purr, as thanks for her comfort.

“I know cats have rather mercurial sleep schedules,” she told him, “But don't force yourself to stay awake because of nightmares. They're only dreams. Everything tends to be less awful when you wake up.”

Not always, Ravus thought with a bit of a sigh, nodding all the same.

“Then I'll see you in the morning, soldier.” his mother said, heading back towards her bedroom.

Ravus sighed again when she was gone, looking towards the two Kingsglaive. They stared back, looking expectant. He chose to lower his head a little, ears flattened back.

“... I suppose even normal soldiers have bad dreams now and then.” Libertus said cautiously.

“And you, supposedly, got killed. What, reliving your death?” Nyx snarked, flopping down on the couch and making Libertus hiss.

Maybe. It was a definite possibility.

Ravus slowly sank down to the floor, crossing his paws in front of him. He was tired, but it felt more mental than anything. Ten to one, if he could get back to sleep, he'd be right as rain next time he woke up. But his mother was right. Cats had very erratic sleeping schedules. He could sleep a whole day while sunbathing, but wake up every two hours during the night.

He wanted to go outside. Properly outside, too, not just that training courtyard. Even if it was a glorified lawn with uniform grass and fenced off flowers. Even if it all smelled somewhat fake and was layered over with human scent everywhere. Just somewhere he wouldn't feel boxed in and could run around a little.

It didn't take a genius to know he likely wasn't going to get that any time soon.

“Okay, fine,” Nyx said, drawing him out of his thoughts, “Question time. If you were a soldier, what were you fighting for? Glory?”

Ravus blinked, then shook his head.

“Fame?”

Didn't that go hand-in-hand with glory? He shook his head as he stood and moved to sit across from the two men.

“Were you drafted?” Libertus tried.

No. In all honesty, Niflheim had more or less left him to rot until he joined the military.

“Because you enjoyed it?” Nyx growled.

Ravus far from enjoyed fighting. It tended to result in unnecessary loss of life. He shook his head.

“Defending something?” Libertus tried again.

He moved his head in the sort-of gesture he'd figured out. He'd definitely been trying to protect Lunafreya, but that hasn't been everything.

“Revenge?”

Nyx's one-worded question made him nod.

“Revenge... so what did you lose? Family?” Libertus prodded.

And his home, but his younger self appeared just dandy. Ravus nodded again.

“Spouse? Kids?” Nyx guessed.

No. To both.

“Parents?” Libertus suggested.

His father had died some time ago. But yes. He'd never forget his mother's death for as long as he lived.

“... Did you lose any... siblings?” Libertus asked again.

Ravus had to pause, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath before nodding.

“You were close.” Nyx said, less of a question and more of an observation.

He and Lunafreya had drifted apart during their years with Niflheim, but his sister had always meant the world to him. He nodded again, keeping his eyes closed.

“Brother?” Libertus guessed, voice soft. When Ravus shook his head, the man continued, “How many sisters? Just one?”

He nodded again, letting out a shuddering sigh and getting up to circle in place a few times.

“She was younger than you,” Nyx said, more observations, “And I bet it happened just before you got there.”

Ravus chose to let his lack of response speak for itself.

Libertus scooted closer, looking both curious and stricken. “... Your name isn't Nyx, is it?”

For a moment, all he could do was blink in confusion. But then he snorted, shaking his head. He admitted, it was vaguely amusing that his past apparently lined up with Nyx's.

“Oh thank Six,” Libertus exclaimed, throwing his hands up a bit, “Too much started lining up there!”

Ravus scoffed a little, lying down.

“So both he and I lost a sister, what of it?” Nyx demanded.

“You also both have a bit of a disregard for authority, really act without thinking, are merciless bastards, and isn't a coeurl your bloody crest?” Libertus shot back.

“That doesn't mean anything!” Nyx groused back.

Ravus shrugged. He could see how Libertus would reach such a conclusion. Add in how he'd come running in to protect the Kingsglaive several times and it made sense. There was enough lining up that it would seem logical. Though Ravus would like to point out that he did his best to think everything through.

“Feels like things'd be a lot easier if we knew your name... Calling you ‘soldier’ is all fine and dandy, but it's not... a name. Almost demeaning, to be reduced to just that.” Libertus sighed. “Up for spelling it?”

Ravus paused.

He could give a fake name. But how well would be respond to a fake name? And... did he want to reveal much about himself? Did he feel comfortable with that?

... No. It was best to remain detached here.

He shook his head, lying down once more.

“Alright. Some other time, perhaps.” Libertus said, nodding.

No, Ravus thought, closing his eyes, not if it could be avoided.

Chapter Text

“So you'll be going to school in a couple of days.” Nyx commented.

“Mm-hmm.” Lunafreya hummed.

“Excited?”

“Kind of. I don't know what to expect.”

Ravus had to admit, he was only half listening to the two converse.

Noctis had returned to school today. His younger self had gone off to train with Amicitia, accompanied by Libertus. His mother was discussing the possibility of getting Tenebraen refugees out of the country and into Insomnia. Lunafreya had asked to go outside. Her request had more or less decided who Ravus was sticking with for the day. So he and Nyx were escorting her outside, Umbra and Pryna trotting eagerly along at her heels.

Ravus got the feeling it would take all his willpower not to just run in circles at top speed once they got outside.

He could smell the open air as they got close. Even though it was tainted with the stink of the city, he could smell the breeze and the plants. He could feel how the air was different in his whiskers. It was making him all but vibrate excitedly.

Nyx paused them at the door, exchanging a few words with the Crownsguard flanking the entrance. Ravus knew there would probably be a bunch lining whatever garden they were about to be let loose in. Keeping watch.

The door opened and he was forced to blink at the brightness of the sun. Pryna and Umbra took off, yipping happily. Once he'd recovered from the shock of the sun, Ravus found himself struggling not to race off as well. He forced himself to keep pace with Nyx, tense and stiff as Luna ran after the Messenger dogs.

“What's your problem?” Nyx muttered, elbowing him.

Ravus paused, giving the man a blank look.

“If you have a problem—”

A soft breeze blew past, ruffling his fur, and that was all it took for Ravus's grip to slip from his coeurl instincts.

He exploded past Nyx, earning a yell of shock. In no time at all, he'd overtaken Luna and the dogs, racing well beyond them before skidding a little to spin in tight circles as if chasing his tail. But he only did that for a moment before jumping, kicking his hind legs up in the air and racing off once again, this time back towards Nyx.

“What in the bloody hell—?!” he heard the man exclaiming before he was spinning back around towards Luna, skidding to a stop and resting on his belly, huffing happily with his ears pricked.

She giggled, reaching out to pat his side as Pryna and Umbra barked excitedly. “I think he's happy to be outside too!” she declared.

Ravus nodded, unable to keep himself from rolling onto his back and writhing against the grass. He was purring almost uncontrollably, and a good deal of his rational thought was... hard to focus on. Why would he want to think about things like that when there were no walls, a blue sky, and a relatively clean breeze? He could hear birds chirping, smell grass and flowers, and there was dirt under him and sun above him.

“... Just looks insane to me.” Nyx said with a bit of a huff.

Ravus grunted, rolling back onto his stomach. He was still purring, unable to stop himself really. As Pryna and Umbra took to wrestling and playing tag, Lunafreya sat next to him, resting against his side. His currently ecstatic and uncontrollable coeurl instincts had him twisting around to drag his tongue through her hair, making her giggle and reach up to scratch his ears.

Before long, Nyx had settled down nearby, sighing a little. Lunafreya had brought a book with her, and was cracking it open to read. The puppies were still romping about, tails wagging furiously. Ravus's purring tapered off, quieting down as he kneaded the ground before him. He never would have thought he'd miss dirt so damn much.

It was a very nice day out.

Dropping his head down, Ravus debated the merits of taking a nap. He was able to sunbathe while inside, but it didn't feel the same. And if sunbathing had an impact on his health, then he should probably take advantage of being outside. Nyx or Luna would wake him up before heading inside.

Something pinched his tail.

Grunting, Ravus lifted his head and twisted to see what it was.

Umbra stared defiantly back at him, tail wagging and mouth full of tail-fur. Pryna stood near her brother, looking a little less certain.

Excuse you, Ravus thought, you were supposed to be a glorious and dignified Messenger.

As if sensing his thoughts, Umbra gave his head a shake.

“I think your dog's trying to start something.” Nyx commented, making Lunafreya look back as well.

“Umbra!” she gasped.

Ravus dragged his tail to the side. Umbra held on, attempting to dig his paws into the ground and getting pulled along anyway. The tiny Messenger let out a small, high-pitched growl, tail still wagging a mile a minute.

“Umbra, stop it!” Luna scolded, standing up.

“I dunno, pretty funny to me.” Nyx commented.

Ravus dragged his tail back and forth. Pryna watched with wide eyes as Umbra was pulled to and fro across the grass. As Lunafreya watched, she slowly broke down giggling. Ravus kept moving his tail for a minute, watching Umbra hang defiantly onto his tail. The puppy had to be all but drowning in his fur, it wasn't exactly short, especially not compared to the paw-sized canine.

Before long, he sat up, turning towards the tiny Messengers. Almost instantly, Umbra let go, backing away and barking his head off. Pryna just watched with wide eyes as Ravus knelt down in front of them. Once he was down on his belly, Umbra stopped barking, almost anxiously, tail stilling. He didn't need to look to know that Luna and Nyx were watching him closely.

After a moment, Ravus huffed loudly at the two of them.

The two took off, howling as if he'd growled and shown them his teeth.

“Those two...” Lunafreya sighed, sitting back down. As she did, Ravus caught sigh of the book she had. He couldn't help but glare at the Cosmogony. Luna didn't seem to notice, but Nyx was definitely raising an eyebrow at him.

Maybe later Ravus could rope him or Libertus into helping him dispose of that book. Not like she couldn't easily get her hands on another copy, Cosmogony was all over the place, but if she did... well, he'd just have to keep getting rid of it.

Chapter Text

“What're you doing?” Nyx asked as Ravus stood in front of the suite door.

He huffed around the book in his mouth, bumping his head against the door.

“You want to go out? At this hour?” Libertus asked incredulously.

“With Princess Fleuret's book, at that?” Nyx added.

Ravus nodded, pawing at the door.

“... Fine, let's take a walk. Lib, I'll text you if anything happens.” Nyx declared after a minute, standing up and coming to open the door. The Crownsguard standing outside looked up, but were dismissed easily enough.

Alright, the easy part— getting the book out of the suite— was done.

Now. What to do with it.

“Got somethin' against Cosmogony?” Nyx drawled as they walked.

Yes, Ravus thought, everyone dies in the end.

His mind was admittedly racing as they moved through the Citadel. He had no clue how Gentiana was going to react to this. She'd already made it clear that Ravus was supposed to minimize loss, not set Noctis and Lunafreya free. But like hell was that going to happen. He might not have been the spoiled prince's biggest fan, but he saw no reason why bloody everyone had to die. If Ravus could covertly juggle his sister around continents while heading the same military that was searching for her, evade his own execution for a week, and stand up to the embodiment of the Scourge itself, he could damn well find a way to break the prophecy.

After all, what were the Six going to do? Kill him?

... Very probable, actually.

“Where, exactly, are we going?” Nyx asked suddenly, drawing Ravus from his thoughts.

He paused and sat, tail swinging to wrap around his paws as he dropped the book to glare at it. Nyx didn't let him for long, scooping it up and flipping though the pages.

“... Yep. A totally ordinary copy of Cosmogony. Save for the fact that this one belongs to a princess.” the man drawled.

Ravus rolled his eyes, standing up as he reached out to take the book back.

He could always just shred it himself. But he disliked the idea of doing that and leaving a mess. It would be unfair to the staff.

Heaving a sigh, he kept going, Nyx following along behind him.

The air grew cold.

Ravus paused, flattening his ears with a slight growl.

“Now what is it? Jeez, the AC doesn't need to be cranked up so high...” Nyx muttered, tugging his jacket closer around himself.

That wasn't the AC. The smell proved it. But Nyx was only human, Ravus reminded himself, and couldn't smell Gentiana.

And as they rounded the corner, they came face-to-face with her.

“Who in the hell!” Nyx exclaimed, shifting into a battle-ready stance.

“Soldier,” Gentiana said, voice cold and laden with disapproval, “You were warned. The chance you have been given is to alleviate loss and pain.”

Nyx looked to him, blinking. Ravus didn't take his eyes off Gentiana, growling around the book in his mouth. He kept his ears flat and let his tail lash. He wondered how much damage a lightning strike would actually do against her.

“Men are chained to their fate,” the High Messenger continued, stepping closer, “You cannot undo the will of the gods.”

Ravus growled louder, falling into a crouch.

Surprisingly, Nyx stepped between the two of them. “Hang on,” the Kingsglaive said sharply, “I'm getting the picture here, you're a Messenger. But this stuff about fate and gods... it's above my pay-grade, but clearly not above his. I may not like him or agree with what he's done, but how do you know he isn't just doing what he's supposed to?”

Well. He could honestly say he didn't expect Nyx of all people to come to his defense.

Gentiana clearly didn't either. As Ravus watched, she tipped her head in an indication to continue.

“Alright, fine. Supposedly my captain was a traitor. I won't believe it without hard evidence. But if he was... well, this fucking murder-cat saved everyone a lot of grief. Even if none of us liked the method used. So how do you know he isn't just ‘alleviating loss and pain’ or whatever, using a method you disagree with? Are you reading his mind? Reading the future to predict his every move?” the glaive challenged.

Silence fell over the dimly lit hall. Ravus let his growling die down, but his tail didn't stop lashing, and he was aware of how much ambient static there was for him to work with. Nyx stood tense and wary between the Ravus and Gentiana, waiting for the Messenger's verdict.

At long last, she nodded. “We shall give the soldier the benefit of the doubt, for now.”

With that, she turned and walked off, into the darkness.

Nyx let out a heavy, relieved breath, and Ravus got up from his crouch.

“... You just piss everyone off, don't ya?” the glaive muttered, turning to glare at him.

He did his best to shrug. It was easier while sitting.

“Gimme that fucking book.”

The glaive yanked the book from his mouth before he could give his two gil on the matter. He gave a growl instead, to let Nyx know what his teeth thought of being yanked on like that. The man growled back, clearly unamused.

Fire engulfed the Cosmogony.

Ravus blinked, watching as Nyx dropped the burning book to the floor.

“Listen,” the glaive said darkly, leaning in close as the smell of burning paper filled the air, “I don't think it's any secret that I don't like you. If Marshal Leonis turns up hard evidence that Captain Drautos was a traitor, fine. Maybe I'll reevaluate. But I'm no idiot. You are head over heels for the Fleurets and you think you're protecting them. Whatever the Six are doing with you... I don't care. As I said. It's above my pay-grade. I'm supposed to keep an eye on you and bad guys away from Queen Sylva and her kids.”

Get to the point already.

Thankfully, he did, finishing with, “This is payback for warning us about the Nifs.”

Ravus nodded, turning his attention to the burning book. The fire was starting to peter out, leaving behind ashes and unreadable paper so brittle it would turn to dust if touched. He would have rathered not make a mess, but what was done was done.

“Come on. Lib's probably going insane wondering where we are.”

Ravus watched the flames a little longer, then turned to follow the man back to the suite.

Chapter Text

Ravus was silent, tail swishing back and forth as he watched his younger self spar with Amicitia.

He had decided that after spending all his time with his mother and sister, maybe he should keep an eye on... on the boy. Just for a day. This was... him, in a way. He should be watching over all of House Fleuret.

He just didn't know how to interact with another Ravus, let alone one as unjaded as his younger self.

“Hey!”

He blinked, attention drawn back to the sparring boys.

Amicitia was scowling at him. “Aren't you going to knock us down?”

Ravus stayed silent and still, then shrugged, lying down.

“Knock us down?” his younger self asked, tipping his head in confusion.

“Yeah— You saw, didn't you? The way he slammed into me back when you first got here? He does that. Knocks you down when he thinks you're doing something wrong.” Amicitia grumbled.

“... Makes sense to me,” Libertus said from next to Ravus, “He can't exactly yell at you and tell you that your footing is off.”

“He's a coeurl! What do coeurls know about sword-fighting anyway?!” Amicitia demanded, stomping a little. Brat.

“... Gladiolus, don't you know?” Ravus's younger self asked, brow creasing a little. “Or is that a secret?”

He shook his head, because as far as he was concerned that was of no great secrecy. It was just something for them to identify him with.

“Know what?” Amicitia asked, looking confused.

Libertus answered, saying, “This coeurl used to be a human. Specifically, used to be a soldier.”

“... Did he get cursed or something? Now he has to kiss a princess or fall in love or something?” Amicitia asked, looking more confused. Ravus just wanted to know where a Shield-to-be was getting ideas like that.

“No,” Libertus sighed, reaching carefully down to scratch behind Ravus's ears, “We were told he got killed while in battle.”

That shut the arrogant brat up pretty well. “... Oh.”

Ravus's younger self moved closer, laying down his sword and reaching out. “So it makes sense that he'd want someone's form to be right. He's just trying to help.”

He held still as his younger self smoothed his fur out. The jury was still out on how to behave around the boy. With everyone else it was easy. Lunafreya and his mother deserved the world on a plate. Cor was strong, absurdly so, and was to be tread carefully around, but not someone to show weakness to. Regis was a weak-willed coward. Noctis and his friends... were brats. Plain and simple. Nyx and the other Kingsglaive were soldiers, loyal and determined. But Ravus? The younger one, still whole and pure and human? He couldn't tell.

Amicitia came closer now, looking somewhat abashed. “I'm sorry,” the boy said, “I didn't mean to be disrespectful like that. You didn't deserve it.”

He rolled his eyes, making his younger self snicker a little, but nodded his head all the same. He didn't need pity or kowtowing. Just get better at your swordsmanship.

“So the two of you better practice lots and become expert swordsmen. Then he won't have to knock you down at all.” Libertus declared.

Amicitia gave a grin, wide and cocky. For a moment it was almost like looking at the older version again. “Right!” the brat declared, moving back to the middle of the courtyard.

“I can't. I need to go study with Ignis now.” Ravus's younger self said apologetically, shaking his head.

“... Isn't that a lot? I mean... training the way both he and I do at the same time?” Amicitia frowned.

No, not really. Maybe not as intensely, but Ravus had always trained in both combat and politics, along with life-skills. As he had been a male born into a matriarchy, and possessed no Oracle magic, he had instead been designated as a general. Hell, after Tenebrae fell he had to teach himself a lot of that. If he could manage on his own in an Empire that only let him live to keep Lunafreya in line, his younger self could do it surrounded by people willing to pander to his every need.

His younger self only confirmed that by saying, “To be honest, it's a lot like what I was already learning, so I'm sure I'll be fine. Thank you for your concern, though, Gladiolus.”

“Not too far off from the Crownsguard, too,” Libertus commented as Ravus stood, “A combination of politics and weapons. Different from Kingsglaive, though.”

“... Alright. Take care.” Amicitia nodded, still looking dubious.

Ravus's younger self smiled, bowing his head politely before following him and Libertus away.

“Alright, let's go get you showered off and then we can find out where exactly we're supposed to go next.” the glaive said.

His younger self nodded, humming in agreement.

Ravus stayed quiet as they walked. The staff they passed startled less than they had that first day he'd spent in the Citadel. Getting used to him and his presence, he supposed. But he didn't know if that was a good or bad thing per se...

“What's wrong?”

Blinking, he looked at his younger self.

“Your ears were flattening. Is something upsetting you?” the boy asked, reaching carefully out to stroke down his neck a few times.

Libertus was watching them from the corner of his eye. And Ravus didn't miss how the man had slowed down a bit at his younger self's words. He shook his head, huffing a bit.

“Just thinking, then?” his younger self asked.

Something like that. He nodded.

“I understand. I tend to scowl when I'm thinking too.”

If it was genetics and not just disposition, Ravus thought, you were going to grow up to have resting bitch face.

Chapter Text

“A... doctor?” Nyx asked, voicing the confusion Ravus felt.

“Yes,” his mother answered as they walked, “As he isn't... a coeurl by birth, we have no way of knowing if there's something wrong. We can also assess his overall health and learn how to better see to his needs.”

... Well. He supposed that made sense.

“Okay, but we aren't exactly going downtown to the vet's. Would a vet even know what to do with a coeurl?” Nyx asked, elbowing Ravus. He checked the man with his shoulder in retaliation, making him stumble. “Hey!”

“Boys, behave.” his mother said sternly. Ravus lengthened his stride a little, drawing even with her, and Nyx hurried to take her other side, flipping him a discreet bird behind her back. “However, you are right. Most veterinarians likely wouldn't know what to do with a coeurl. They may be cats, but they're different from house-cats.”

So what, then? And why were they heading for the throne-room?

“Regis and Clarus managed to find a pair experienced with wild animals, and invited them to Insomnia. They just arrived.”

... Ah. Okay. He supposed that worked.

To be honest, Ravus hadn't considered that he might be ill. By his own assessment, he was in perfect condition. But there were people with chronic illnesses who could go for years without ever realizing they were sick. And, as stated, he wasn't a natural-born coeurl. So for all he knew, he was ill.

As they grew closer to the throne-room, Ravus found himself picking up traces of a familiar scent. The scent of earth and gunpowder and animals. Despite everything, he found himself more or less growing excited.

As they reached the throne-room, the Crownsguard flanking the door bowed and let them in.

The first sound to reach him was a shriek, making him jerk in surprise.

“It's you!”

Nope. He recognized the woman standing next to Dave. Nope, no, and absolutely not.

Ravus turned to leave the room, but was stopped by a fist in his fur. He growled at Nyx, who bared his teeth back.

“You... know him, Miss Yaeger?” Regis asked warily.

“Of course! We met several weeks ago in Duscae's forests!” the woman declared eagerly. “He's such a magnificent specimen! Why, exactly, is he here in the city? He's a wild animal, he should have wide open spaces where he can run and move!”

The woman had come around in front of him already. He could hear Dave, Regis, and Clarus coming closer as well.

“According to him, he's here to protect House Fleuret.” Nyx said flatly, fist still clenched around Ravus's fur. He twisted to swat at the man, forcing him to let go.

“When I met him, he hitched a ride out of Duscae in my truck. He came to Insomnia willingly, Miss Yaeger.” Dave said. Ravus decided to forgo fixing his fur for just a moment, turning to butt his head gently against the man's chest. Dave chuckled, reaching up to rub behind his ears and saying, “Good to see you too. Cid and Miss Cindy say hello.”

Ravus let out a little chirp— the noise he had reserved all but entirely for his mother and Luna. He couldn't help it, though. It just slipped out.

“So these two are his doctors, then?” Nyx asked.

“Sania Yaeger and Dave Auburnbrie. Miss Yaeger's parents are both respected in their fields, and she herself is already well-accomplished in the scientific community. And Mister Auburnbrie is the son of the head hunter of Lucis. If anyone can tell us about coeurls and their health, it'll be these two.” the Shield declared.

Well, Ravus had wondered if Dave had some kind of rank. That answered that question.

“Well, I specialize in amphibians, but I imagine with Mr. Auburnbrie here to cover what I can't we can give you some answers.” the woman declared, adjusting her glasses with an eager grin.

“That would be much appreciated, ma'am.” Ravus's mother said, sounding vaguely relieved.

“Probably be best to do it outside. Light is better out there, and we'll wanna see how well he runs.” Dave said. “Some coeurls have hip problems. We might not be able to see it right away, but if he moves funny then it'll be a red flag.”

“Right, I'll show you out... Come on, let's go...” Nyx grumbled, waving.

“Do try to behave yourself.” Ravus's mother advised with a hint of a smile. He responded by rubbing his cheek against her shoulder, purring.

“Come on now.” Nyx insisted, making him roll his eyes as he turned to follow the glaive. Dave kept pace with him, reaching out to pat his shoulder. Once they were a ways away from the throne-room, Nyx said, “So the two of you are friendly with the murder-cat.”

“Oh, I wouldn't say that. We didn't interact very much when I encountered him, and my enthusiasm seemed to frighten him off.” the woman— Yaeger— declared in a chipper voice.

“He's not a bad character,” Dave answered, “A bit on the abrasive side, but he gets along well with a friend's granddaughter, and helped me out durin' a hunt.”

“... Yeah,” Nyx said shortly, “He seems to like kids.”

Ravus would like to point out that three of the six children he knew he only tolerated.

“Hmm, that could relate to his pack instincts.” Yaeger piped up thoughtfully.

He was under the impression that coeurls were solitary animals but please elaborate.

“Most coeurls live in small packs of two to six. I believe the largest recorded pack was twelve, though?” the woman continued.

“Fifteen. Two got away when the huntin' team busted the den. It isn't unheard of for coeurls to be solitary, but yeah, they are largely pack critters. Judging by the size of our friend, he's likely a natural alpha, so it's entirely possible that his pack instincts see kids as members.” Dave replied.

Ravus lifted his head up, huffing to remind the two he was right there. Dave gave him a crooked smile, while Yaeger looked lost in thought.

Before long, they'd reached the same sort of garden area where he'd gone out with Lunafreya a few days back. The same urge crept over him as last time, and Ravus took a deep breath, clenching his jaw and telling himself not to lose it.

“Are you gonna do that crazy cat thing again?” Nyx asked, apparently noticing how tense he was.

No. Of course not.

“Crazy cat thing?” Yaeger echoed, turning to look at him.

... Yeah, okay, he couldn't stop.

Ravus took off again, racing past the trio and into the grass. He ran halfway down the expanse, then jumped up in the air, twisting and spinning a bit as he came down. He raced in several circles, ran back and forth across the ‘lawn,’ then came skidding to a stop before the three.

“... The crazy cat thing.” Nyx said, flapping his arm as Ravus licked over himself.

“FRAPs.” Yaeger answered cheerfully.

“Or zoomies. Cats and dogs get them too. Means they aren't gettin' out enough and gettin' enough exercise, usually.” Dave answered, smiling a bit as he came close and helped Ravus smooth his fur over. He rewarded the man with a purr.

“I said so, didn't I? Coeurls don't belong in cities.” the woman said, a sort of triumphant tone to her voice.

“So what, we need to walk the murder-cat now?” Nyx asked, crossing his arms. It reminded Ravus of a young boy trying to come off as defiant and only achieving bratty.

“Walk him, or provide him with live prey, or someplace where he can run. He just needs more exercise. And if he's cooped up indoors, he's probably not sunbathing enough, which can negatively impact feline mental health.” Yaeger answered with a shrug.

Well then.

Dave scratched behind Ravus's ear, and he couldn't keep himself from purring, turning his head so the man was getting just the right spot. “If he's gettin' out plenty and exercisin' right, but still gets zoomies, then he might be havin' anxiety. So keep an eye on that.”

Yaeger had pulled out a notebook and was scribbling something down. Notes on him, most likely. She'd done the same thing last time.

“Well,” she declared, dropping the notebook and rubbing her hands together, “Why don't we get started?”

The first thing the two did was check him over for any signs of parasites or external infections. They pushed through his fur with critical eyes, paying close attention to near his ears and tail. Yaeger asked his permission to touch his ears, told him to stop her if anything felt weird or wrong, and then carefully picked through the fur in his ears. Looking for infections or ear mites, she told Nyx. Dave brushed over the backs of his hind legs, looking for bites from insects that carried diseases and laid eggs. Usually such insects only went after chocobos, the hunter said, but he'd seen a handful of other creatures with infections and infestations. Ravus carefully lifted each paw as instructed, allowing them to look for anything that shouldn't be there and assess the pads on his feet. He even allowed Yaeger to prod at his toes and claws.

He drew the line, however, when he was asked to roll on his back and show his belly.

“We won't hurt you,” Yaeger declared, “We just want to check for signs of worms or the like.”

Ravus shook his head again. It was one thing to lie on his side and let people treat injuries or children pet him, but it was another altogether to roll over like a dog. His stomach was his weakest and most vulnerable part, and he wasn't just going to let people poke at it.

“How about a compromise?” Dave suggested. “You stand up at your full height, and I'll crawl under you. I can take a look for anythin' wrong, and if you feel uncomfortable at any time you can jump away easy.”

He was quiet for a while, considering the hunter.

Out of the three people present, he probably trusted Dave the most. Nyx still seemed too eager to be rid of him, and Yaeger was... scarily eager. Dave had been nothing but respectful and polite in all the time Ravus had known him.

After a tense moment, he nodded, getting up from where he was sitting.

Dave gave him a smile, saying, “I'll tell you everythin' I do before I do it.”

He nodded again, and the hunter moved to his side, ducking down and crawling under him. He couldn't keep from shifting anxiously, lifting his head to stare at Nyx.

“Don't look at me, that's weird.” the glaive said sharply.

Make him.

Chapter Text

“So what's the verdict?” the Immortal asked as they approached. They were returning inside after finishing his checkup, minus Yaeger. She had run off after saying something about more effective communication.

“Miss Yaeger wrote down all the important stuff, but this is an overall healthy coeurl.” Dave answered, giving Ravus a pat. He flicked his ears as the hunter held the notebook page out to Cor.

“Crazy woman also ran off. Said she'd be back, but who knows when that'll be.” Nyx added.

Cor nodded in the manner of someone who wasn't really listening, reading over the paper. “... Thought cats can't eat grass.”

“They eat it to throw it up. Helps keep their digestive tract clear. Also helps keep their teeth clean.” Dave replied.

“... Learn something new.” Cor murmured, folding the paper in half and handing it to Nyx. “You better hold onto that. We can talk about it later. Thank you for coming in, Mr. Auburnbrie.”

Dave smiled, nodding his head. Ravus huffed, rubbing his cheek against the hunter's arm and looking pointedly at the Immortal.

“Wanna play catch-up now, do we?” Cor asked, raising an eyebrow and crossing his arms. Ravus gave a sharp nod, and the marshal looked to Dave, saying, “Got anywhere pressing to be?”

“Not in particular,” the hunter replied, scratching between Ravus's ears, “And I gotta admit, I'm curious to see what Miss Yaeger is up to when she gets back.”

After a moment, Cor sighed. “As long as he stays with Glaive Ulric, I see no reason why you can't stay.”

Ravus huffed, bobbing his head. Ditching his chaperone was the last thing he intended to do for a while. Eventually he'd like to be trusted enough to not need a Kingsglaive breathing down his neck, but he understood how this worked. If he wanted to get anywhere with anything, he had to cooperate.

Nyx ended up leading them to one of the empty training rooms, similar to the one Ravus had initially been kept in.

“So,” Dave said, looking at Nyx with a curious expression, “I'm no stranger to callin' coeurls murder-cats, but you seem a li'l more... vehement.”

“Yeah,” the glaive said viciously, crossing his arms and glaring at Ravus, “This one killed my captain.”

Dave was quiet, turning to look at Ravus. He flicked his ears, staring defiantly back. He didn't regret what he did in any way, shape, or form. Glauca was a traitor and a murderer. The only thing Ravus truly regretted about Glauca's death was that the man would never know just who had killed him.

“... You got any clue why?” Dave asked thoughtfully.

“According to him?” Nyx scoffed. “Captain Drautos was a traitor. Like anyone believes that, though.”

Dave hummed, reaching out to smooth a hand down Ravus's side. “... Full of mysteries, aren't you?”

He huffed, blowing air at the man. Dave shook his head, smiling a little.

“What, you believe him?” Nyx challenged.

“Well, while I've known him, this guy's had plenty of opportunity to kill plenty of people. Yet even when he was bein' hunted, he didn't go killin' the individuals responsible.” the hunter answered.

“Hunted?” Nyx echoed.

“Yep,” Dave sighed, looking resigned, “Trio of hunters decided they were more interested in his pelt and parts than listenin' to me. Even when they came after him, this guy did nothin' more than crack some ribs. Still got caught in one of their traps later that night. Found him facin' down a flan with his paw trapped.”

Ravus couldn't repress the small shudder that raced down his spine at the memory. Being exhausted and helpless like that was... almost as bad as being Ardyn's sick puppet, in all honesty.

“Yeah,” Dave said sympathetically, thumping his shoulder, “That was a pretty damn close one.”

You were the one with the gun and flashbangs. Did you get to comment on how close the flan had come to killing him?

“... So the two of you are friends, then?” Nyx questioned, arms dropping to his sides.

Dave looked to Ravus. Ravus bobbed his head back and forth.

“Sorta, I guess.” the hunter declared.

Nyx snorted, rolling his eyes.

For a while, Dave caught Ravus up on everything that had happened at Hammerhead.

Apparently, once he'd figured out Ravus was gone, the creep after Cindy had come back. Cid and a large hammer had taught the man a lesson he wouldn't soon forget. Ravus couldn't help but snort, nodding and flicking his tail in approval.

Dave's hunters had apparently been reluctant to go after a coeurl in the Ketriarch Trench area after hearing about how Dave chewed out the trio that tried to hunt Ravus. The man had to gather all the local hunters up and bark at them until a party formed to take out this feral rogue. Both Ravus and Nyx ended up shaking their heads at that story.

As soon as he left Insomnia, Dave was going to be heading to Duscae. There was word of a baby behemoth near the chocobo post in that region. It was, at the moment, a rumor. However, Dave needed to ascertain whether or not these rumors were true— if the baby behemoth did exist, there was the concern of it's mother. Even without the threat of an angry mother behemoth, baby behemoths were plenty big and strong.

“Sure are busy, huh?” Nyx asked, raising an eyebrow at the hunter.

Dave gave a lopsided smile, rubbing the back of his neck. “Round-the-clock job, bein' a hunter.”

“No kidding.” the glaive chuckled.

Before they could keep talking, the door of the room slammed open. Ravus and Nyx both jumped to attention, whiskers crackling and blades out.

“Oh, I'm flattered, boys,” Yaeger said with a grin, pushing her glasses up as she came in, “But it'll take more than that to spook me!”

“Yeah, sure. We're in the middle of a war, go ahead and scare the soldiers.” Nyx snarked, rolling his eyes.

“What've you got there, Miss?” Dave asked, looking at the big black bag the woman had hanging from her shoulder.

It was a duffle-bag, it looked like. With a great big tag of some kind on the zipper. Yaeger gave a grin, putting the bag down and opening it up. From inside, she pulled out—

“What're you gonna do with baby-toys?” Nyx asked in confusion, raising an eyebrow at the brightly colored plastic blocks in Yaeger's hands.

“Not for me,” she said cheerfully, “For our coeurl friend, so he can talk to us! See? He can arrange them to make words! I got several sets, so he should have plenty of each letter to use! I got a couple number sets too, just in case, but they don't exactly have punctuation for babies.”

Ravus leveled the woman with a flat look as Nyx burst out laughing.

“Well... it's not the most dignified, but it's somethin'...” Dave said, but Ravus could hear him struggling not to laugh as well.

Okay, give him the fucking blocks.

He stood and strode over to Yaeger, upending the bag with his teeth so all the blocks clattered to the floor. Tossing the bag aside, he lowered his head and sifted through the blocks. Finding what he wanted, he picked it up and turned to a clean patch of floor to put it down. He repeated the process several times until he had the words he wanted. Tail flicking, he sat down and glared.

“Think he has something to tell you, Mr. Ulric.” Yaeger chuckled.

“Oh, does he now?” the glaive laughed, clutching at his stomach as he came closer to read what Ravus had spelled out. “Oi!”

FUCK YOU ULRIC

I KNOW WHERE YOU SLEEP

Huffing smugly, he swept the blocks back into the mess of them next to the bag.

Chapter Text

Ravus lifted his paw in an approximation of a wave as Dave left the Citadel. The hunter smiled, waving back.

“Yeesh. Even knowing that you used to be human, it's weird to see you act like one.” Nyx commented as they turned to head back into the Citadel.

You get used to it, Ravus thought grimly.

“Come on,” the glaive huffed, “We should probably find the marshal and talk to him about what your friends said about your health.”

For starters, they've been over the friends thing.

But probably not a bad idea, yeah.

They tracked the man to his office, apparently working on finding a replacement leader for the Kingsglaive. Ravus found himself settling down to practice opening and closing the bag while the two of them talked. The plastic blocks, despite their size and numbers, were lightweight, and the handles and strap on the bag made it easy enough for him to pick it up with his teeth. He just needed to be better with the zipper. He may not have been Yaeger's biggest fan, but thank goodness she'd thought to get this tag attached to the zipper-pull. He wouldn't have been able to manage the little metal bit on it's own. And the tag was some kind of chewy rubber, almost like a dog-toy, so it was durable enough to take some teeth but pliant enough he wasn't going to hurt himself on it.

His practice, he found, had the added bonus of pissing Nyx off. The glaive kept throwing sidelong glares back at him.

“Bored, soldier?” the Immortal asked after he too apparently became fed up with the noise of the zipper.

No, not really. Just making sure he could manage to work things on his own. He didn't want to be dependent.

“What, exactly, is the bag for?” Cor asked, looking to Nyx.

“Miss Yaeger got it for him— that and a bunch of alphabet blocks.” Nyx answered.

The Immortal was silent for a moment. After that moment, the man came close and kneeled down. Ravus took the cue to open the zipper back up, nosing the bag open. He took the liberty of glaring defiantly afterwards.

“... That certainly works.” Cor nodded, looking thoughtful. Standing up again, the Immortal said, “You may go, Ulric. If the soldier now has a more-or-less effective way of communicating, I think it's high time he talk with Regis and Sylva.”

For a moment, the Kingsglaive hesitated, eyes flicking to Ravus. But then he nodded, leaving the office.

“Stay put for a minute. I need to call Regis.” the marshal ordered.

Ravus rolled his eyes, grabbing the rubber tag in his teeth and pulling the zipper closed. It was honestly tempting to continue pulling it open and shut while Cor called Regis, but Ravus liked his head. He'd prefer to keep it on his shoulders.

Before long, Cor was opening the office door, gesturing for him to follow. Picking the bag up, Ravus stood and did so. From there, it was a silent walk to Regis's office. As they approached the room, Ravus picked up the scents of his mother and the Shield. The Crownsguard outside the door bowed them in.

“So what's this about our coeurl being able to talk now?” the Shield asked as the door was shut.

“Miss Yaeger though up a way for him to communicate more efficiently. I think, if that's the case, it's high-time we received some proper answers.” Cor replied.

Ravus dropped the bag and tugged the zipper open. Grabbing the ab with his teeth, he upended it, spilling the blocks out onto the floor.

“... Baby toys?” Regis asked, sounding amused.

He lifted his head to growl challengingly at the man. His mother hid her chuckling behind her hand as Regis held his palms up placatingly.

“Looks like he has five sets of letters and two sets of numbers.” Cor said. “Should one of us record what he spells out so it's easier to keep track of what was said?”

“I've got it.” the Shield volunteered, leaning over Regis's desk to grab a notepad and pen.

Ravus took that as cue enough to begin, hunting down the blocks he'd need.

I WAS KILLED IN ME 756

“Wait a minute.” Cor said, voice sharp.

“Cor,” Regis replied, “Let the coeurl write.”

He begrudgingly bobbed his head to the king before looking to the Shield. The man nodded, and he swept away the blocks to begin again.

IN ME 744 I WAS TAKEN FROM TENEBRAE

IN ORDER TO SURVIVE I JOINED THEIR MILITARY

He had to keep pausing, looking back at the Shield to make sure everything was recorded. He only had five sets of letters, not nearly enough for the Six-damned essay he was writing here.

IN 756 THE ACCURSED TURNED ME INTO A DAEMON

I WAS FORCED TO FIGHT KING NOCTIS

That earned a collective hissed inhale. Good.

UPON DEATH I WOKE UP IN DUSCAE

ONLY TO SEE NOCTIS BEING ATTACKED

“... That certainly must've been... disorienting.” Regis murmured.

Ravus couldn't help but scoff, rolling his eyes as he swept the blocks away.

“So that was how you were able to help the Kingsglaive,” Cor said, making him turn to look at the man, “You were part of their military, you knew their tactics and how they worked.”

He felt the need to fetch more blocks out.

AT THE END I WAS THEIR HIGH COMMANDER

“Oh dear...” his mother murmured.

“You? What happened to Glauca?” the Shield frowned.

HE DIED WHEN INSOMNIA FELL

Ravus was not going to deny the bead of satisfaction he felt at Regis falling out of his chair.

“... Right, you would have served under Glauca,” the Immortal said as Ravus's mother helped Regis up, “And if you were anywhere near him in the hierarchy, you of all people would have known if he had anyone in Lucis.”

Ravus shook his head, knowing the marshal was referring to the investigation going on.

HE DIDNT HAVE SOMEONE IN LUCIS

HE WAS IN LUCIS

CAPTAIN DRAUTOS WAS GENERAL GLAUCA

Silence fell over the room. Ravus was perfectly happy to sweep his blocks aside, letting the words sink in.

“... That is... a very bold claim... even with the circumstantial evidence we've found, that's a bold claim to make...” Cor muttered, eyes narrowed.

Ravus lifted his lip, showing his teeth as he growled and picked out his next blocks.

HARD TO FORGET THE FACE OF THE MAN WHO KILLED YOUR MOTHER

More silence. He chose to glare defiantly at Cor, shoulders bristling and tail flicking.

“... Back at Hammerhead, you said... you said I could have prevented what happened to you.”

The shaky words had him looking to Regis. The man was pale, knuckles white and eyes wide. After a moment, Ravus spelled his next words out.

WHEN NOCTIS WAS INJURED BY THE MARLITH HE FELL INTO A COMA

AFTER HE WOKE UP YOU BROUGHT HIM TO TENEBRAE

THE EMPIRE ATTACKED

YOU ABANDONED EVERYONE TO RUN

“Can you blame him?” his mother asked.

At the same time, the Shield barked out, “It's his son!”

Ravus couldn't help the feral snarl that tore itself from his throat. Tail lashing and ears flattened back, he kicked the blocks aside and paced in a tight circle. He needed to calm down, just a bit, before attempting to assemble anything right now. Once his breathing was no longer tinged with growling, he spelled out his next question.

HOW MANY OF US LOST OUR FAMILIES

OUR HOMES

OUR LIVES

His challenge issued, he sat and tipped his head defiantly back, glaring out at the room.

For a while, there was silence, all four of them defeated. Ravus huffed, sweeping the blocks back together. When the silence continued, he took the time to start organizing the blocks by letter. It didn't look like there was much rhyme or reason to the colors. He got the feeling they were churned out and jumbled together.

“... Who are you?”

He blinked, looking up towards his mother.

She looked ill. “You... you were at the manor. I... I was familiar with most of the people... Soldier, who are you?”

Shit. He'd given too much away.

He didn't know how to respond. Didn't know how to react. Didn't know what to tell her.

“Soldier?” the Shield prompted.

Ravus closed his eyes, dropping his head down.

“What's the matter?” Regis asked.

He shook his head. Standing up, he began picking the blocks up and putting them back in the bag. Signaling that he was done. He wasn't talking any more.

He picked up the bag and turned to the door, scratching at it like a dog.

As the confused Crownsguard on the other side opened the door, he heard his mother start to cry. He tucked his tail between his legs and flattened his ears as he moved down the hallway.

Chapter Text

“So you guys have to walk him now?”

Ravus restrained the urge to sigh at Noctis's question.

He'd returned to the suite his family was staying in after the bout of questioning with Regis and his mother. He wasn't looking forward to facing his mother alone. He got the feeling she knew exactly who he was. But in addition to the two Kingsglaive, his younger self, and Luna, he'd found Noctis, Scientia, and Amicitia. Apparently the children had gotten permission to spend the night.

Joy.

“Yeah,” Nyx drawled, stretching into a sprawl on the couch, “That's what the hunter said. Oh joy of joys.”

“Might make him less grumpy.” Libertus commented.

Ravus scoffed, rolling his eyes. The gaggle of children laughed.

“Maybe he can walk to school with me and Luna?” Noctis suggested, looking hopeful.

“I don't know,” Scientia said doubtfully, “It's one thing to have him in the Citadel. It's a controlled environment. The streets are... less so. And it's a bit of a trek.”

Ravus nosed through his blocks, looking for the letters he wanted. The children had all been thrilled to learn that he had a way of talking back, even if they'd found the method silly.

WHILE NOCTIS COULD USE THE STAMINA TRAINING

I AGREE WITH SCIENTIA

IM NOT A PET

AND THE CITY IS DISGUSTING ANYWAY

“Disgusting?” Amicitia frowned as Noctis stuck his tongue out.

“He's a coeurl,” Libertus pointed out, “His senses are much stronger then ours. You know how crowds of people get loud, or how car exhaust smells bad? Imagine what it must be like for him.”

Ravus's younger self gave a sympathetic smile as he neatly crossed his legs. “I understand,” the boy said, “Even for me, Insomnia was jarring. There's so many people, and there aren't really any trees or anything like in Tenebrae. The air smells so different, and even the way the sun shines seems strange in comparison.”

He nodded his head, putting thoughtful looks on the faces of Noctis and his two retainers-to-be.

“You get used to it, though,” Nyx sighed, propping his cheek up on his knuckles, “And, sadly, the whole mess of the place grows on you.”

That, for some reason, made the children laugh. Ravus was starting to get the feeling that Nyx was just good with children. Both glaives, actually, were proving adept at making them smile and laugh.

As the group chattered on, Ravus found himself growing tired. It had been a bit of a long day, he told himself. He'd been through the examination with Dave and Yaeger, then the whole thing with Regis and his mother... all that aside, cats seemed perfectly content to never have anything even remotely resembling an actual sleep-schedule. So he resigned himself to the fate of being awake all night and lay his head down on his paws. Besides, maybe if he was lucky it would delay the confrontation with his mother that little bit longer.

With the cluster of children bantering in the background, he slipped into sleep.

But before long, the soft chattering of five children and two adults became the murmur of a crowd.

Ravus blinked, and found himself standing in Altissia, surrounded on all sides by excited, faceless individuals.

“Hurry up,” a sickeningly familiar voice crooned, making him spin around, “She's waiting for you.”

Ardyn grinned, doffing his hat, and faded away, becoming another no one in the mass of people.

Hissing and swearing, Ravus began shouldering his way through the crowd. Pushing and struggling, trying to advance but feeling stuck in place. If he didn't hurry, Lunafreya would die. She'd be killed, murdered, by that sick and twisted madman.

Finally, he managed to push his way free of the mob, stumbling a little. The calm ocean surrounding and filling the city was turning angry, waves rising higher and higher. The excited chatter from before had become panicked screams as the wind began to howl, the sun no longer shining. The sky was black, and dripped ugly tears.

He began to run. But as he did, the path became longer, twisting and turning like some surreal maze. No matter how fast he ran, how far he advanced, Ravus swore he was getting nowhere, cobblestones forming a dizzying repeating pattern. His breath came in sharp gasps that tore at his sides, the black rain splattering over everything as the wind grew ever stronger. He could feel the rain burning his arm, his face, could smell the same sickness and death. But it didn't matter. He had to get to his sister.

And then suddenly the maze was ending, he was tripping over something, hitting the ground hard.

“M-Mister...?” a child's voice wavered, familiar and bizarrely comforting.

But there was no time.

Even as Ravus pushed himself to his feet, he heard it.

He heard Lunafreya scream.

A broken noise, ugly and feral, left him, and he raced up one last flight of stairs. But even as he arrived, he knew he was too late. He could only watch as Ardyn sauntered into the growing darkness, humming a cheery tune.

Ravus fell to his knees, crying tears that felt far too sticky, and reached out to cradle his sister's body as her white dress turned red.

He didn't notice the black rain stopping, or how there was a circle of golden light keeping them from the darkness, until the child's voice sounded again.

“Mister, are you okay...?”

Ravus slowly looked up, his breath painful, and found Noctis standing not too far away, a blue fox winding around his feet anxiously. “... You...” he hissed, and he recognized his voice as no longer human.

Something chimed, and Noctis looked at something in his hand— a phone. The fox chirped, butting against the boy's leg.

“... It's... all your fault...” Ravus gurgled, tasting death as it spilled from his lips with his words as he struggled to his feet.

“... Ravus?” the prince asked softly.

He blinked.

The Scourge vanished. Luna vanished. The howling wind and growing darkness vanished. All that was left was him, Noctis, and the Messenger at the boy's feet, standing in a halo of light that came from the Chosen King.

Noctis stepped closer, eyes wide and concerned. “Ravus, what're you doing here?”

The boy reached for his prosthetic, and he couldn't help but jerk back, away, and in doing so stepped out of Noctis's influence—

Ravus woke up with a jolt, staggering to his feet. A warm weight fell from his shoulder, and Noctis let out a surprised cry as he hit the floor. All the lights came on, Nyx and Libertus jumping up. Amicitia was awake shockingly fast, yanking Noctis away. Umbra and Pryna began barking, and he couldn't see them but Ravus could hear them racing around and around in frantic circles. People were talking, talking, talking, and he wasn't able to make any sense out of any of it, squeezing his eyes shut and digging his claws into the carpet, tail lashing defensively.

A small hand pressed against his muzzle, and he reared back with a slight growl, eyes snapping open.

Noctis stood in front of him, eyes wide and hands out. “Ravus?” the prince asked, almost uncertainly. “Ravus, is that you?”

Silence fell, so tense it was palpable, and Ravus could feel literally every eye in the room on him. Unable to respond, he veered away and headed into a different room of the suite. Instantly, people started talking again. Confused, but he could smell the faint traces of fear in the air, bitter and sharp.

As he lay down and curled up in the shadows, someone else came into the room. The smell of his mother reached him before she had knelt beside him, but he couldn't bring himself to look up at her.

Soft and gentle, her hand came to rest on his head. “... So it's... true, then... I had hoped, earlier, that I was wrong, that maybe... maybe you had been one of the staff's... but Noctis...”

Slowly, he left himself meet her gaze. Her eyes were rimmed with red, and she seemed to search him for a moment before shuddering with a silent sob.

“Oh, my poor baby boy... what did they do to you...?” she said mournfully, pressing her hands over her mouth as tears began to run down her face. “My poor Ravus... Six, what happened...?”

He closed his eyes, unable to watch her cry, and moved his head to rest in her lap in some half-assed attempt at comfort.

Chapter Text

“It was really Ravus, I swear!” Noctis told Regis. “Only he was older! He was super tall, and his hair was longer, and he had a metal arm, but he's Ravus!”

Yes, it was, had this not been confirmed? He wanted to know why the dream-rooted Messenger had apparently brought the bratty prince into his nightmare in the first place.

After Noctis had told everyone Ravus's identity, Regis, his Shield, and the Immortal had been woken up. Now all of them were gathered in a conference room in the dead of the night, the children sat at the table and the adults standing as if ready to fight at any given moment. His mother was the only one of the six sitting, and Ravus got the feeling he knew exactly why.

“... Sylva?” Regis asked, looking from Noctis to Ravus's mother.

“I believe him, Regis,” she murmured quietly, voice heavy, “I believe that it's my Ravus.”

He gave a soft chirp, flicking his ears.

“But why didn't you come forward about it in the first place?” Cor asked bluntly. The Shield promptly elbowed him, head jerking towards Ravus's younger self.

Which wasn't... wrong, per se. It was more complicated than that. But that did definitely play a role in things.

“Can I ask how Noct got into the murder-cat's head anyway?” Nyx asked, Libertus nodding carefully.

The prince perked up, digging something out of his pocket. “Carbuncle! He helps keep me safe from nightmares, and when Ravus started having one, I thought maybe I could help!” the boy declared proudly.

The two glaives leaned closer to examine the little figurine, and Amicitia asked, “But wait, I thought he...”

As boy trailed off, he looked apologetically at Ravus's younger self. His younger self had yet to look up at the room, but murmured, “I was killed in battle.”

Lunafreya all but climbed out of her seat to hug the younger Ravus, followed by Noctis. The adults exchanged hesitant looks while Amicitia and Scientia fidgeted where they sat.

Ravus turned to tug his bag closer. His yanking on the zipper caught the adults' attention, and him spilling the blocks out made the children look up as well.

NOW YOU WONT BE

His younger self asked, voice soft, “How can you be certain?”

Well, might as well go all the way at this point.

BECAUSE I WAS KILLED BY KING NOCTIS

“Oh shit.” Nyx said.

Noctis's hands smacked against the table, and the prince yelled, “I would never kill Ravus!”

Rolling his eyes, Ravus swept the blocks away and spelled out his next words.

I WANTED YOU TO

“Come again?” Nyx asked as the children exchanged confused looks.

“He was daemonified by the embodiment of the Starscourge itself,” Regis explained heavily, “And forced to fight.”

Ravus nodded, unable to keep the fur on his shoulders from rising a bit at the memory. He was able to keep more or less calm normally, but after tonight's nightmare...

“The embodiment... that weird man in your nightmare? The one with the red hair?” Noctis asked, nose scrunched as he looked to Ravus.

He hadn't thought the boy saw that. He nodded.

“... Ah...” his mother breathed. It sounded like she was on the verge of crying again.

Noctis fidgeted a bit, then mumbled, “Luna was dead in his dream.”

Silence fell over the room. After a moment, Ravus arranged more blocks in order to explain.

THE ACCURSED KILLED HER IN ALTISSIA

WE FAILED TO STOP HIM

“‘We?’” the Immortal prompted.

MYSELF

NOCTIS

SCIENTIA

AMICITIA

ARGENTUM

“Who's Argentum?” Amicitia asked.

But Ravus was more focused on Cor than the question. The man had a scowl that could cow a red giant on, storming closer. Ravus flattened his ears and lifted his lip, a slight growl slipping out of his throat.

“What do you know of Argentum?” the Immortal snarled, looking every bit ready to behead him.

Ravus reared up defensively, snarling back and letting his whiskers crackle a bit.

“Leonis!” the Shield barked.

After a moment, the marshal backed away, but Ravus got the feeling the two of them would be chatting more later.

“... But if you came back,” Scientia said, drawing everyone's attention, “Then are you here to change things?”

“That's exactly why he's here, Ignis,” the king nodded, “He was sent by the Six with the blessing of the first Oracle.”

“To lessen pain and prevent loss, or so says the Messenger.” Nyx threw in.

“And he apparently has already prevented a great deal. That marlith attack would've left Noctis paralyzed and in a coma. And when Tenebrae fell for him, Sylva didn't make it, while he and Lunafreya were captured by Niflheim. Not to mention that he eliminated a traitor from our ranks.” the Shield added.

“You mean Captain Drautos?” Libertus frowned.

Ravus nodded.

“He served as an officer in Niflheim's army. He saw Glauca's face.” Cor said grimly. “We're still going to investigate... but it's more for records by this point.”

“... So you're just going to take his word like that.” Nyx grit out, visibly bristling.

“Considering who he is, who he has vouching for him, and what he's been through?” the Immortal said flatly.

The glaive left the room, slamming the door behind him. After a moment, Libertus excused himself and followed his friend. Regis sighed, taking a seat and pressing his face into his hands.

After a long, tense silence, Noctis cleared his throat and asked, “How'd you get the metal arm?”

Ravus swept aside his previous words and organized new ones.

I WAS BURNT BY THE RING OF THE LUCII

SO NIFLHEIM MADE ME A NEW ONE

“Why would the ring burn you?” Noctis asked, making Regis's head snap up.

BECAUSE I WAS DEEMED UNWORTHY

“That... the Ring of the Lucii is only meant to be worn by those of the Lucis Caelum line! Of course it burnt you!” Regis declared, sounding borderline hysterical.

Ravus found himself unable to keep from spelling out his next words. It was something he'd wanted to say for a very long time and now he had the perfect opportunity to.

YES WELL FUCK YOU AND YOUR FAMILY

“Ravus!” his mother yelled.

He was going to be scolded later, he could tell. But he wasn't quite done yet.

IF I HAD BEEN ACCEPTED I COULD HAVE PREVENTED EVERYTHING

I COULD HAVE SAVED EVERYONE SO MUCH HURT

NOCTIS DOESNT EVEN KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO BE THE CHOSEN KING

YOURE TOO SOFT AND A COWARD REGIS

“That's enough of that.” the Shield said sharply, voice warning.

“Dad?” Noctis asked, sounding confused. Ravus could see Lunafreya and his younger self fidgeting. Amicitia and Scientia both just looked lost.

“... I want him to have the chance to live normally.” Regis said quietly.

“Dad?” Noctis repeated, a tint of annoyance creeping in on the confusion.

HE GAINS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING BY NOT KNOWING

“Just let him be a boy a little longer!” the king all but begged.

Ravus snarled and kicked his blocks aside before nudging new ones into place.

TELL HIM OR I WILL

His mother sucked in a breath as Noctis irately demanded, “Tell me what?!”

Ravus didn't take his eyes off Regis, tail flicking and ears flattened. When Regis refused to say or do anything, he swept away the blocks and lowered his head to pick up new ones.

“Alright,” the king said tiredly, “Alright... Ravus... I'll tell him. Noctis... come with me.”

After a moment, the prince nodded. As Regis stood, Noctis bade the other children good-night. The boy gave Ravus's younger self one more hug before following his father out of the room. The Shield quietly took away his son and Scientia, leaving the Immortal the only non-Fleuret in the room.

“Sylva,” Cor said, “I have some questions to ask him. Why don't you take Lunafreya and Ravus back to your suite. I'll bring Commander Fleuret up as soon as we're done talking.”

“... Alright. Come along.” his mother nodded. Lunafreya had to guide his younger self out, the boy clearly unseeing.

The marshal waited a minute after they had left, then turned to Ravus with a dark expression. “Now. I'm going to assume the Argentum you spoke of happens to be named Prompto.”

He nodded, wondering why the man was so riled up.

“What do you know of him?”

After a moment spent examining the Immortal, Ravus hunted down the blocks he needed to answer.

HE WAS NOCTISS FRIEND FROM SCHOOL

PART OF HIS RETINUE ALONG WITH AMICITIA AND SCIENTIA

A SHARPSHOOTER

The Immortal grunted, crossing his arms over his chest. Ravus waited patiently to be told what this was all about. Well, more or less patiently.

“... You were in their army. That means you know how they made MTs, right?”

Ravus grimaced as he bobbed his head in the ‘sort of’ gesture. He knew MTs were powered by cores full of daemonic plasmodium. And he knew that the plasmodium came from infected humans.

“... MTs are made from human babies.”

That he did not know. His ears flattened.

Cor nodded grimly, continuing, “Besithia uses clones of himself. While they're still infants, he deliberately infects them with the Scourge, and turns them into the batteries for his MT units.”

Ravus wasn't terribly surprised they were clones. Most of the food in Niflheim was cloned, it was the only way to keep everyone fed. It didn't always taste right, but few went hungry. And to be honest he wasn't surprised Besithia used himself for the clones. It was readily available DNA, something he could easily get his hands on as many times as he needed.

“We had spies in the labs,” the Immortal explained, “And they brought Prompto back as proof of what was happening. He was barely a year old, and he had a serial number stamped on him like a product. After everything was said and done... they were planning to dispose of him.”

... Charming. Ravus flicked his ears, leaving them flattened for just a second longer than his usual flicks.

“I disagreed. I said that he was... for fuck's sake, he was a baby! He was sick! And he didn't ask for any of what was happening!”

The man was beginning to pace. Ravus carefully swept his blocks up, even as he didn't take his eyes off Cor.

“I managed to convince everyone to let him live... gave him a name, found him a family...”

The man trailed off, looking to Ravus as if searching for answers. He shrugged, shaking his head. He couldn't give any answers. He hadn't cared to learn them.

“Alright... I'll... check on him sometime this week or something...” Cor muttered, shaking his head.

Ravus just began putting his blocks away. He was going to have to deal with everything else on the planet, he'd let Leonis worry about that. He needed to figure out how to deal with his younger self.

Chapter Text

Speak of the Infernian and he shall appear, Ravus thought dryly as the suite door shut behind him.

His younger self didn't look up, fingers knit tightly on his lap, back ramrod straight where he sat. There was a lamp on, casting a dim light over the room, but otherwise everything was dark. His mother and Lunafreya were probably in bed.

It was like ripping off a bandaid or taking medicine, he told himself, get it over with fast and you won't have to do it again.

So he moved to sit across from his younger self, unzipping the bag in preparation as he wrapped his tail around his paws. He would let his younger self have the first word, and whatever time he needed before it.

Eventually, the silence was broken by a wavering, “You said you were here to protect us...”

He blinked, waiting.

The boy looked up, and Ravus could tell he was trying very hard not to cry. Being so fair in complexion made it hard to hide. “... Am I really going to be left alone like that...?”

Not any more you weren't. Ravus shook his head.

“But you were...”

He nosed through the bag, pulling out the letters he wanted and arranging them for his younger self to read.

I CAME BACK TO PREVENT THAT

“... But... what if you can't? What if... what if, no matter what... everyone else dies...?” his younger self countered, voice quiet and shaky, one hand lifting to rub at his eyes.

Ravus didn't respond for a minute, examining the boy.

I FORGET SOMETIMES THAT I USED TO BE LIKE YOU

“Wh... what...?” his younger self stammered in confusion.

He took the blocks away and rearranged them.

BEFORE LUNA DIED IT HAD BEEN CLOSE TO 10 YEARS SINCE I LAST CRIED

NIFLHEIM IS NOT A GOOD PLACE

AND IT DOES NOT FOSTER GOOD PEOPLE

IN ORDER TO SURVIVE

IN ORDER TO PROTECT LUNA

I HAD TO DO HORRIBLE THINGS

I AM NOT A GOOD PERSON

SO ITS EASY TO FORGET THAT I USED TO BE LIKE YOU

The suite was silent except for the soft hiccups his younger self couldn't contain. After Ravus finished with his blocks, he carefully swept them away, trying to keep the noise down.

“... You tried to be, though... you said... if the Lucii...” the boy defended weakly.

I WAS ARROGANT AND ANGRY

The statement earned a soft sniffle. His younger self didn't say anything, wiping at his eyes. In a way, Ravus wasn't at all surprised that sadness smelled a lot like salt.

“... what if none of it matters...?” the boy said after a minute or two. “... what if everything you've done... what if I still end up...”

Still end up becoming him.

He placed three blocks for the boy to read.

HOW

His younger self stared, but didn't answer. So Ravus wrote more.

YOU STILL HAVE BOTH YOUR MOTHER AND SISTER

YOU HAVE AMICITIA AND SCIENTIA

YOU HAVE NOCTIS AND REGIS

YOU DONT HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT GLAUCA

YOU DONT HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT KEEPING NIFLHEIM HAPPY

YOU CAN JUST BE YOU

After a moment's hesitation, Ravus wrote one more line.

AND IM JEALOUS OF THAT

“... jealous...?” his younger self asked softly. The boy looked up at him, eyes shining and face damp. “... of... me?”

He nodded, slow and deliberate. Before his younger self could say anything else, he padded closer. The boy flinched— Shiva, Ravus couldn't blame him— as he lowered his head, but didn't look away, eyes wide.

Huffing softly, Ravus swiped his tongue over the boy's hair, doing his best to lay it to rights. It had been mussed up the entire time they'd been in that conference room, and even if the boy was going back to sleep soon, it had to be bothering him. Ravus had always been bothered if his hair was messed up.

As Ravus groomed him, his younger self slowly came more and more undone, until finally the boy was clinging to him, stifling sobs in his shoulder. He let him, continuing to groom the kid. Crying was a luxury his younger self could afford. Ravus had no intention of telling him otherwise.

“I-I'm scared,” the boy gasped into Ravus's shoulder, “I'm scared of losing everyone, a-and scared of getting hurt... I... I don't want to die... I'm so scared...”

No one wanted to die, he thought, not really. No one wanted to die, and everyone was scared. He wrapped a paw awkwardly around his younger self and rested his chin on the boy's back.

He almost didn't notice the chill in the air, but the smell of her reached him over his younger self's sadness easily. Ravus lifted his head just enough to make eye-contact with Gentiana as she stood in the shadows, watching. His ears flattened and his tail snapped to and fro. His younger self didn't seem to notice, so he silently bared his teeth at the woman.

These were his children and his people now. The Astrals could have them over his rotting corpse.

Chapter Text

Ravus ended up being awake still when Nyx and Libertus crept into the suite shortly after dawn. The two froze upon seeing him, as if he was going to scold them, but he just looked to the boy curled up at his side once again. His younger self had ended up crying himself to sleep, and while Ravus didn't think leaning against a coeurl's side was the most comfortable place, he couldn't bring himself to move the boy. To deny his younger self something he'd not been given.

“... So... Prince Ravus, then. Not just any soldier.” Libertus said quietly.

He huffed quietly.

“So how will succession work for Tenebrae now? The eldest heir is a magical death cat.” Nyx muttered.

A small scoff left him, and he rolled his eyes. Tenebrae and the Fleuret line were matriarchal. Succession went to the oldest female, not the the oldest. His presence changed very little in that regard. Lunafreya was the Crown Princess, while his younger self would likely be given a position of diplomatic or militant status. Because Tenebrae was ruled by the Oracle, and only women were Oracles. That was just how it was.

“... I wish you would have said something.”

Ravus blinked, his attention brought back to Nyx.

“Even if you can't talk, and had no way of communicating... you didn't have to just kill him. We could've...” the glaive trailed off. Libertus rested a hand on Nyx's shoulder, looking sympathetic.

He didn't bother shaking his head or responding in any manner. This was just something Nyx was going to hold over him.

Before too much longer, his younger self woke up. The boy excused himself, heading off to shower. Not long after that, his mother and sister woke up, greeting the glaives tiredly.

Ravus got the feeling it was going to be a slow day. Everyone was going to need time to process things. But at least now they would hopefully be prepared. At least now, hopefully things wouldn't blindside them and leave everyone bleeding slowly out.

He yawned, lowering his head. He'd been awake for a long time. Yesterday and last night both had been stressful. He didn't know how much rest he'd actually get, but he'd take what he could get at the moment.

Curling up so his tail was resting over his nose, Ravus closed his eyes and sighed. He didn't even know if he'd really fall asleep. People were going to want answers and whatnot, after all.

Yet, somehow, Ravus found himself drifting off, losing seconds each time he blinked. Before too long, he wasn't opening his eyes anymore.

He found himself dreaming of a dark place, quiet and peaceful, a warm, quivering weight on his lap as he leaned back and stared into nothingness. Small hands clutched desperately at him, and he in turn rested a hand on a delicate, hunched back. He didn't know who it was he was holding, but he was disinclined to speak up.

What woke him up was a hand rubbing between his ears, making his head snap up with a slight growl.

“Easy there.” Libertus said, holding his hands up.

Ravus grumbled, pushing himself up into a sitting position as he looked around the suite.

“Just us right now. The... the others went off to talk to Regis, and Nyx went with them.” the glaive informed him.

Okay, so why was he woken up? Had Regis called for him or something?

The man must've been able to see his questions on his face, saying simply, “I figured now would be as good a time as any for a walk.”

After a moment, Ravus shrugged and stood. Libertus nodded, offering a small smile, and got up from where he was crouching as well.

“Was figuring a lap around the Citadel's outer wall might be a good starting place. Not too long and too public, but outside and moving.” the glaive suggested.

Honestly Ravus got the feeling he would rather just go to the lawn and race in circles, but a change of scenery might help with... processing everything that was going on right now. Not just for him, when he thought about it. As he and Libertus left the suite, he reminded himself of the idea of taking Noctis camping without Regis. Shoo the adults off to Galdin Quay or something while he— along with Nyx and Libertus, most likely— went out to see Cid and Cindy.

They were all going to need it, he felt. Ravus himself may have been able to push on and through things as if they were nothing, but he had to remind himself that these people were soft. Bombshells would stagger and stun them, and they needed time to process things.

Time to remember that even if they had to prepare, they were alive.

And as far as he was concerned, they were going to stay that way. Astrals and Messengers be damned, he'd keep everyone from getting killed. He didn't know how he was going to do it quite yet, but that was the plus side of having over a decade to think about it.

Libertus was quiet as they walked through the Citadel, heading for the wall around the palace estate. Ravus was grateful for the time it afforded him to think, keeping carefully even with the man.

There were more stares out here than inside. Naturally. There were people who hadn't seen him yet out here, not to mention passing civilians. He was aware of some of them taking pictures, pointing and staring, a few mothers and fathers snatching their children up and stepping back. Libertus kept between Ravus and the crowds, serving as a sort of buffer. While he knew he could handle himself, Ravus was still grateful for the metaphorical distance provided.

But they hadn't gotten too far before people started to get bold.

And by bold, he meant stupid.

“So first the king lets these filthy refugees in, and now he's letting them bring monsters into our home?”

The words were slurred. Drunken. Ravus paused, lifting his head up with narrowed eyes.

“Just ignore them. Come on.” Libertus urged, patting his shoulder and continuing to walk.

But Ravus didn't move, facing the now-silent mass of people with his eyes still narrowed down and his ears pricked.

The idiot who'd hollered before seemed to take that as a challenge, shoving his way to the front of the crowd. The man was clearly plastered, despite it only being mid-afternoon. Swaying on his feet, he pointed to Libertus accusingly.

“Walking around like you own the place— Get back to the slums! Freak!”

Enough was enough, he decided, tail beginning to lash.

“Easy, easy,” Libertus was saying, suddenly by his side, “If you go causing a scene it'll do no one any favors. Come on, just walk away with me.”

Ravus looked back and up. There was a gaggle of Crownsguard standing on top of the wall surrounding the Citadel. They were removed from the situation, but close enough that they could see what was going on. Maybe not hear it, but certainly see. They were most certainly watching, him if nothing else.

“Come on,” Libertus coaxed, patting his shoulder again, “Don't worry about it.”

“Might as well be a buncha Nifs with how yer invading here!” the drunk hollered, following his words up by spitting at them.

Ravus snapped back around, tucking his head down and lunging forward. People— predictably enough— screamed and scrambled back. His head connected with the drunkard's chest, and he felt the wind go out of the man right before the bastard went sprawling. Ravus lifted his head to glare down at the man, who was trying to skitter back as he yammered incomprehensibly and pissed himself. Huffing, he shook himself out and turned to keep walking, head held imperiously high.

“We are getting in so much shit for this,” Libertus declared, half-jogging to keep up with him, “You're as bad as Nyx is. Titan's naked asscrack, the marshal is gonna have our heads...”

Ravus snorted, rolling his eyes.

He was going to be bothered by that thing about the slums, though. All cities had poorer districts, it was simply a fact of life. But the drunk spoke as if Insomnia's entire refugee population lived in the slums. Which not even Niflheim did. Niflheim was not a good place, but it made an effort to act like it was.

Add that to the list of things to talk about with Regis.

Chapter Text

“So,” Cor said sharply, “Which of you wants to explain why I'm getting calls about the coeurl attack just outside the Citadel?”

“It wasn't an attack,” Libertus said, fidgeting a bit, “Ravus just knocked a drunk over. That's all.”

The Immortal stared silently at both of them. Ravus stared determinedly back while Libertus looked at his feet.

“Knocked a drunk over.” the marshal said, voice flat. Disbelieving. “That's all.”

Ravus turned to drag the bag of blocks closer. Nosing through it, he picked out the blocks he needed and arranged them into the words he wanted.

YOU ALLOW YOUR SOLDIERS TO BE SLANDERED THEN

“... Explain.” Cor said, eyes narrowing.

“It's nothing.” Libertus said, elbowing Ravus.

Yeah. Nothing in the same way he told the Niflheim drill sergeants his black eyes and nosebleeds were nothing. That was, blatant lies.

THE MAN IN QUESTION WAS SPEAKING POORLY OF LIBERTUS AND OTHER REFUGEES

CALLING THEM FILTH FREAKS AND INVADERS

The Immortal sighed through his nose, muttering, “Great. Brilliant.”

“I told you not to worry about it!” Libertus hissed as Ravus swept the blocks up. He leveled a flat look at the glaive before picking out more blocks.

WHAT I WANT TO KNOW IS WHY HE SPOKE AS IF ALL REFUGEES LIVE IN THE SLUMS

Cor didn't answer, and Libertus coughed in the manner of one trying to break tension or change the subject. Ravus gave a slight growl, eyes narrowing.

“... Regis is trying to divert more funds into providing better living conditions for our refugee sector.” Cor said after a minute.

Clearly not hard enough. Ravus put the blocks away, then looked expectantly at the marshal.

“He's in a council meeting right now.”

Good. Perfect.

Ravus picked up the bag and turned to leave the office.

“... Yeah. I'm sure he's going to be thrilled. Dismissed, Ostium. Go find Ulric, the Fleurets are being moved into a more permanent suite.” he heard Cor say before the man started to follow after him.

Ravus knew where the council met. It was essentially the main purpose of the Citadel's throne-room. And when it wasn't there, it was the room where the fake treaty was to be proposed.

Wherever it was, though, Ravus had some words for Regis and his council.

It didn't take long to reach the room in question. He could smell Regis, the Shield, and his mother inside, as well as a mess of other people. All of them tense. The Crownsguard guarding the door stepped aside at a word from Cor, and Ravus forcefully shouldered the doors open.

“What on— Ravus?!” Regis demanded, everyone in the room on their feet in alarm.

“Cor, what the hell?!” the Shield barked, glaring.

“He wanted to talk to Regis.” the Immortal answered plainly, closing the door behind them.

Ravus nodded, marching over to glare at the king.

“Oh dear. What did I do this time?” Regis sighed as the council stared.

“He went for a walk with Glaive Ostium not that long ago. While they were out, there was... an incident.” Cor answered, crossing his arms. “Don't look at me like that, Clarus. Some drunk started talking shit and Ravus knocked him over. But...”

Ravus dropped his bag and turned to pointedly glare at the marshal.

“Commander Fleuret would like to inquire as to the state of our refugee accommodations.”

Silence fell over the room, a number of the councilmen fidgeting. Apparently having a coeurl question your financial spending threw all your life choices into question, based on some of their faces.

Yeah. That's what he thought.

“We have... discussed diverting more funds into the refugee districts. It's just...” Regis gestured helplessly, clearly not believing his own words even as he said them. “... the money is needed elsewhere...?”

The council all nodded. Ravus got the feeling each of them had a stake in parts of this ‘elsewhere.’

Growling, he dumped the blocks out so he could find what he needed more easily.

YOU REALIZE THAT PART OF THE REASON NIFLHEIM TOOK OVER SO EASILY IS BECAUSE LUCIS HAS NO FAITH IN INSOMNIA

TREATING YOUR REFUGEES POORLY HELPS YOUR CAUSE NONE

“Oh, what would you know?”

He didn't see who said that, but he could pin down a general direction in which to glare.

“Commander Fleuret was sent to you by the Six themselves,” his mother said, calm and collected, “And you would question the expertise he brings you?”

As the councilmen all squirmed in their seats, Ravus bobbed his head gratefully. His mother offered him a smile, reaching out to scratch behind his ear.

“Alright Ra— Commander Fleuret,” Regis sighed, “I guess the floor is yours now.”

Nodding his head, Ravus took to writing again. As he moved back and forth to organize his blocks as desired, he saw that the Shield was busy recording his words again. Keeping track of what was being said.

LUCIS HAS NO NEED OF A CITY THAT DOESNT CARE FOR ITS OWN

NIFLHEIM CONTROL MEANS MT PATROLS AND TIGHTER CURFEWS

BUT PEOPLE ARE HOUSED CLOTHED AND FED

I HAVE NOT SEEN THE REFUGEE DISTRICTS

I SUSPECT I DO NOT WANT TO SEE THEM

BECAUSE IF I SEE THEM ILL LOSE ALL FAITH I EVER HAD IN INSOMNIA TO GET ANYTHING DONE

“That is all well and good,” one of the councilmen said, “But we can't afford to have everyone in Insomnia have a perfect suburban home.”

First of all, who said anything about that at all?

NIFLHEIM WASNT GIVING PEOPLE PERFECT SUBURBAN HOMES LAST I CHECKED

BUT IT PROVIDES ADEQUATE SPACE PER PERSON BUILT TO WITHSTAND ELEMENTS AND BASIC NEEDS AND AMENITIES

“And what are you suggesting?” one of the council growled.

Right, let's see you challenge the word of an upset coeurl.

THAT INSOMNIA IS XENOPHOBIC AND DOESNT GIVE TWO SHITS ABOUT WINNING THE WAR AS LONG AS THE PEOPLE RUNNING IT GET TO LIVE IN THE LAP OF LUXURY

AND IF THATS TRULY THE CASE THEN MAYBE THIS CITY DAMN WELL SHOULD GO TO THE DAEMONS

“Ravus!” his mother scolded as the room filled with gasps and scandalized murmurs.

“He has a point.”

All eyes went to Cor, who stood by the door with his arms crossed loosely over his chest.

“Lucis progressively loses more and more land to Niflheim's advance. We only just discovered and flushed out a traitor from our ranks, and who knows how long he had been allied to the Empire. Tenebrae has officially been claimed by them, and the Fleurets were forced to abandon their home or be taken prisoner. Insomnia's own citizens can't even get along, causing fights, riots, and other scenes that require time, manpower, and money that could be diverted elsewhere. And if we keep getting refugees, where are they going to go? The slums are only so big.” the marshal declared.

As the councilmen resumed their nervous fidgeting, Ravus trotted over to rub his cheek against Cor's ribcage. The man scoffed, rolling his eyes, but Ravus didn't miss the corner of his mouth quirking upwards the tiniest bit.

“Well... we can't just raise taxes suddenly, or take money away from any given place.” one of the men said, as if he'd found a loophole.

Regis all but jumped to his feet, hands in the air as he declared, “We don't need to! We can easily take small amounts from numerous things! Redirect it into improving living conditions for our refugees!”

“But why bother? It isn't like they'll be here forever.”

Ravus couldn't help but let loose a snarl, jumping up onto the table so he could tower over then man who had said that, whiskers crackling threateningly.

“That's enough, Commander Fleuret,” the Shield declared, marching over to thump a hand against his ribs, “But in answer to your question, this war has been going on since King Regis was a boy. Longer than. And we won't be winning any time soon unless the Astrals themselves come down and fight for us.”

Yeah, about that.

As Ravus left the table to rearrange his blocks, the Shield continued, “And even if the refugees aren't staying forever, as you said, it'll be more housing for Insomnian citizens further down the line. And by putting money into revamping things now, it'll be less costly later if, say, a fire sweeps through the district.”

Ravus mewed, stomping a little to draw attention to the words he'd spelled out.

NIFLHEIM HAS TECHNOLOGY TO DEFEAT THE SIX

“... I think that complicates the whole Astrals coming down and fighting for us bit.” Cor commented.

“Yes. Just a bit, doesn't it.” Regis said dryly.

Chapter Text

“I'm sorry!” Regis half-yelled, pacing back and forth. “But you just told my council that Niflheim can not only bring down the Astrals themselves, but have technology that will allow them to interrupt the royal connection the the Crystal! And now you're telling me you want my son to go camping on his own?! And after that marlith, too?!”

Not on his own. He wanted to bring all the children.

“Absolutely not!” the king yelled.

Ravus rolled his eyes, huffing.

“Easy for you to say, he's not your son!”

He stood up and lunged forward, headbutting Regis in the back. Cor spun away, visibly restraining his laughter as Ravus's mother clapped her hands over her mouth. The Shield instantly ran over to help Regis back to his feet, glaring a little.

Satisfied, Ravus went back to his blocks and spelled out his next words.

THEYRE GOING TO GROW UP SHELTERED AND WEAK

“That's what training is for!” Regis burst out.

THE TRAINING YOURE GIVING THEM IS NOTHING COMPARED TO THE REAL WORLD

“So what do you suggest?! We hand them over to the hunters for the next year?!”

Not actually a bad idea. Certainly give them some experience.

But maybe not that far just yet.

MAYBE LATER IN LIFE

BUT FOR NOW ALL OF YOU NEED TIME TO DO SOMETHING ELSE

IM NOT AN IDIOT

“Ravus?” his mother asked with a frown. He gently rubbed against her before spelling out his next words.

EVERYTHING I TOLD YOU

I KNOW ITS A LOT

AND IT WASNT EVEN EVERYTHING

SO WHILE YOU HAVE TIME TO DO SO YOU SHOULD RELAX

GO TO GALDIN QUAY WITHOUT THE CHILDREN

THE CHILDREN CAN GO CAMPING WITHOUT THEIR PARENTS BREATHING DOWN THEIR NECKS AND GET REAL WORLD EXPERIENCE AT THE SAME TIME

“And who, exactly, is going to watch over them just in case?” the Shield asked with a frown.

MYSELF

IF THEY CAN BE SPARED ULRIC AND OSTIUM

CID

“Pardon?” Regis asked, blinking.

Ravus huffed, rolling his eyes.

THERES A HAVEN ALMOST DIRECTLY BEHIND THE HAMMERHEAD OUTPOST

“By that logic there's one right next to Galdin Quay.” Cor pointed out.

THERES NO CINDY AT GALDIN QUAY

AND I WANT TO INTRODUCE HER TO LUNA AND RAVUS

“Who?” his mother asked as he sat down, waiting for their responses.

“An old friend's granddaughter. She... aah, did seem attached to Ravus. That is, this Ravus. Commander Fleuret.” Regis answered.

“Relax, you say. Knowing what you told us, and that wasn't even all of it?” Cor muttered.

Ravus nodded, sweeping his blocks aside to start writing again.

I AM ADMITTEDLY NOT THE BEST AT RELAXING

BUT I DO KNOW THE IMPORTANCE OF A CHANGE IN SCENERY NOW AND THEN

AND ITS EASIER TO COUNTER THINGS WHEN YOUR MIND IS CLEAR

“... He has a point there...” his mother murmured, reaching out to pet down his side. “... But, Ravus... they're children. From the sound of things, you intend to start running them through boot camp.”

Not quite. Not yet.

I WANT THEM TO BE READY

I DONT WANT THEM TO BE BLINDSIDED LIKE I WAS

I DONT WANT THEM

He paused as he was spelling, closing his eyes against the image of his sister dead.

The sound of footsteps made him twitch, and Regis's scent moved closer. A hand rested between his ears, and Ravus had never felt the weight of tiredness on another person this way before. His eyes slid open, and he looked up at Regis.

“You came back to prevent that, Ravus. We won't be surprised this time.” the man said softly, and Ravus couldn't keep himself from letting out a tiny chirp. Regis sighed, hand falling away. “I'll think about it. I... see your reasoning, but... it's hard to accept.”

Death tended to be, yes.

His mother stood, excusing them both for the night as he put his blocks away. As the two of them headed for the new suite, she kept a hand on his shoulder. Ravus wondered if she was trying to ground herself.

The new suite was bigger. Roomier. Nyx and Libertus were playing a card game when he and his mother came in. Given the time, Ravus was willing to bet his younger self and sister were in bed. His mother moved about the suite for a bit, then bade them all good night. Ravus chose a spot to lie down at and prepared himself for sleep.

Before long, though, Nyx was saying, “I heard you raised quite the fuss over some guy shit-talking Lib.”

Ravus grunted to indicate he heard and was listening.

“Went and took it to the Six-damned council of all things,” Nyx continued, “Don't you know they aren't fond of us outsiders?”

He had learned that, yes.

“... It doesn't make up for what you did, but thanks for giving a shit anyway.” the glaive muttered.

Huffing, Ravus stood back up and walked over to the two. They both eyed him— Nyx warily and Libertus curiously— as he came close. Lying back down, he deposited his head in Nyx's lap, letting out a small sigh.

“Excuse you.” Nyx said flatly. Ravus huffed up at him, making the man crinkle his nose. Plopping a hand on Ravus's muzzle, the glaive declared, “I don't recall consenting to this.”

Libertus laughed, making Nyx roll his eyes.

“Yeah, whatever.” the glaive muttered, hand migrating to between his ears.

The two resumed playing their game, pausing now and then to scratch or pet him. Ravus didn't pay too much attention to the game, dozing off a bit. However, he was woken up by the feeling of his head being pushed at. Nyx was shoving him, swinging his legs up onto the couch and sprawling out. Getting ready to sleep, it looked like.

“... We're going to be sent back to the front lines soon. They don't really need us here now, since you're the fucking prince of Tenebrae of all things.” Nyx muttered as Ravus readjusted himself and Libertus began snoring softly. “Honestly can't wait... don't like being cooped up.”

He understood the sentiment. For different reasons, most likely, but he understood.

Still, it was a pity... Lunafreya and his younger self had definitely taken a shining to the two. And while they did have Noctis, Scientia, and Amicitia, Ravus did want to expand their friend-group in general.

“... Gonna miss the kids, though.” Nyx said, almost directly echoing Ravus's thoughts.

He decided to count it as a success.

Before too long, Nyx had fallen asleep as well, leaving Ravus to his thoughts.

He needed to tell Regis and Cor the locations of all the labs he knew of. Given them rough areas or exact coordinates. See if Lucis wasn't capable of sneaking in that far and mounting some kind of raid. If they were, then they could cripple Niflheim's MT production. Slow down work on bigger projects, like the ones used to bring down the Six and the Wallbreaker. Give everyone just a little room to breathe.

Niflheim first, Ardyn second.

Of course, once Niflheim started experiencing drawbacks, Ardyn would likely be the one to investigate. Not on anyone's orders, if Ravus had to guess, the bastard would just disguise himself and slip into Insomnia to see what was going on. It would be... problematic if that happened. They— the children— were still weak and unprepared.

Hell, no one was prepared for Ardyn. Ever. Ravus got the feeling the only way to truly be prepared for the Accursed was to be prepared for him to kill you.

A small yip made him blink, lifting his head.

Umbra and Pryna toddled closer, tails wagging and ears pricked. Ravus watched them warily— while they were still puppies, small enough he could easily overpower them, they were still Messengers. And Messengers answered to the Astrals, who Gentiana had made clear were less than pleased with him.

After a moment spent staring, Umbra bounded forward and nuzzled into Ravus's shoulder, tail wagging a mile a minute. Pryna followed not long after, stumbling slightly, to attempt to burrow into his fur.

He watched, somewhat perplexed, but let them be as they came to curl up in the crook of his leg. Huffing, he laid his head down to go to sleep. If he woke up to find the two had bitten him bloody, he'd know that they were trying to get rid of him. If not... well...

... maybe they agreed, then.

Chapter Text

“Umbra!” Lunafreya scolded as Iris braided her hair, giggling.

The tiny Messenger defiantly shook his head, still clamped down on Ravus's tail.

Today they were spending time at the Amicitia manor. His younger self and Gladiolus were wrestling, tumbling around the grass together. Lunafreya and Gladiolus's six-year-old sister had hit it off almost instantly, and elected to sit with him and the Messenger puppies in the shade. Iris was doing Lunafreya's hair, Lunafreya was weaving flower-crowns, Pryna had decided to try helping him groom— not very well, but the effort was appreciated— and Umbra had bored of barking at the boys and was returning to his new favorite game.

Ravus paused in his grooming— fixing all the mess Pryna caused— to look back at the darker puppy. He deliberately dragged his tail back and forth, making Umbra's high-pitched growling grow louder. Iris's giggling swelled into full-blown laughter as Umbra held determinedly on, prompting Luna to start laughing too. Pryna watched with her tongue sticking out, eyes wide.

“Umbra, stop that!” Lunafreya giggled. “I-I'm sorry, Ravus!”

It didn't really bother him. Shrugging, he turned back to grooming. Pryna yelped, hurrying to start licking at his chest. She had to be drowning down there, his fur wasn't exactly short when compared to her. The puppy vanishing into a coeurl's fur made Iris laugh harder, doubling over Lunafreya's shoulder as Ravus stared flatly down at the tiny Messenger.

A car pulling up made him look up, assessing what was going on. Despite being at Amicitia manor on the Citadel's estate, they were very out in the open. If anything happened...

But the person stepping out of the sleek black vehicle was easily recognizable. Ravus turned his attention back to shooing Pryna out of his fur— go attack his tail with your brother or something— as the Immortal got out.

“Cor!” Gladiolus yelled, prompting all the children to scramble to their feet. Ravus was perfectly content to stay under the tree with the puppies until the tiny Shield asked, “Who is this?”

Curiosity took over, and he stood up. Umbra held determinedly on, dragged along behind him, and Pryna raced along at his side.

Standing shyly behind Cor was a chubby blonde boy with glasses perched on his nose. Everything about him screamed Niflheim. Possibly Tenebrae, but the freckles were decidedly Niflheim. Blue eyes widened considerably, jaw dropping at Ravus's appearance.

“This is Prompto,” Cor said bluntly, “Where's your father?”

... Ah. Argentum. Very different look.

“He's inside, doing something about schedules.” Gladiolus answered dutifully.

“Right. Prompto, I want you to stay here for a minute. Commander Fleuret?”

He rather disliked that tone, Cor.

“If you would come inside with me.”

All the children looked at him with wide eyes. After a moment filled only with Umbra's playful growling, Ravus nodded. Lunafreya hurried to collect the two Messengers, and he turned to follow the marshal into the manor as the other children swarmed the young Argentum.

The door hadn't even finished closing behind them before Cor was slamming into Ravus's side, toppling him over. He peeled his lips back in a bewildered snarl, letting his whiskers crackle.

“Did you know?” Cor hissed, eyes flashing.

Know what?

“Because if you knew that his family had all but abandoned him in that house—”

He shook his head, cutting Cor's rant off. From what he was gathering, Prompto Argentum's adopted family had just been found to be... less than stellar. And the marshal, who had vouched for the boy's life as an infant, was... more than annoyed.

“Right,” Cor muttered, brushing himself off as Ravus slowly stood, “Come help me force Clarus to help me adopt the kid.”

He sat, staring flatly. Why should he do that?

“You said Prompto becomes a key player in the future. We can help him get ready, and you get another kid to play with.” the man said matter-of-factly, moving into the depths of the manor.

Why was Cor using the tally of children as a pro in this argument?

Ravus huffed, not moving from where he sat.

“You wouldn't let them pet and chatter at you so much if you didn't have a soft spot for them.” the marshal said over his shoulder.

Get the fuck back here and say that to his face, you bastard.

Growling a little, Ravus trotted after the man. It was like Cid calling him soft all over again. Where did this guy get off?

The Shield jumped when Cor kicked the study door open, swearing loudly. “Six dammit, Leonis! Did no one teach you how to knock?!”

“How do I adopt a kid?” Cor said bluntly in reply.

The Shield pulled up short. “... Come again?”

“Prompto Argentum. One of the individuals Commander Fleuret mentioned. I just found his parents are shit. How do I adopt a kid?”

After a moment, the Shield looked to Ravus. “And your opinion, Commander?” the man asked.

He shrugged.

“Thank you, you're very helpful... Cor, are you sure you can manage a child?” the Shield asked, sitting down and rubbing at his temples.

The marshal crossed his arms, tipping his chin back in a stubborn manner. “I can manage both the Crownsguard and the Kingsglaive, and yet you think I can't manage taking care of a kid?” he asked.

Children were very different from soldiers. Ravus had never raised a child and he knew that.

“Children a much bigger investment than military, Cor,” the Shield said in a placating manner, “You have to make time for them, make sure they're eating, schedule all sorts of appointments for them, make sure their schooling is teaching them what they need to know...”

“I'm not an idiot, Clarus. Now help me adopt this boy or so help me I'll sic the coeurl on you.”

Pardon, but when had he agreed to that?

The Shield seemed to be of a similar opinion, raising an eyebrow, but nodded after a minute. “Alright. If we're quick, we should be able to get to child services before their offices close. Commander, can I leave the children to you?”

He huffed, debating saying no, but eventually nodded.

“Thank you, Commander,” the Shield sighed, standing up, “The steward, Jared, is around if you need anything.”

He followed them outside, returning to the tree. The Shield explained to the assembled children that he and Cor had to go out and take care of some paperwork, and that Ravus was in charge. Cor gave Prompto a hug before ushering the Shield into his car and taking off.

As Umbra and Pryna came running back to Ravus's side, yapping like chattering children, Iris pulled Prompto over. “This is Commander Fleuret, but his name is Ravus!” the little girl declared.

“H-he... has the same name as...?” Prompto stammered, looking confused.

“It's a long story,” Ravus's younger self sighed, coming up behind the two, “And I don't know how much we're allowed to tell just yet.”

“They still haven't told me.” Iris pouted, crossing her arms over her chest and sitting down with a huff.

Ravus rolled his eyes, shifting so he was stretched out on his side. Pryna snuggled into his belly, tail wagging, and Umbra took to climbing up his hind legs.

“Is he... a pet...?” Prompto asked.

He let out a short growl, flicking his ears.

“No... he's closer to a Messenger. Kind of.” Lunafreya answered, sitting down next to Iris as Gladiolus grabbed Ravus's younger self. The older boys resumed their wrestling as Luna patted the ground. “He may be a coeurl, but the commander is really very nice.”

He felt like that was a bit of a stretch.

After a moment, the boy slowly lowered himself down, knitting his fingers together nervously. He didn't really look at anyone, and Ravus could smell the anxiety rolling off him in waves. Very different from the chatty, bouncy gunslinger that Ravus remembered.

As Lunafreya and Iris coaxed Prompto into making flower crowns with them, a proud yip sounded in Ravus's ear. Turning his head, he found Umbra standing on his shoulder, wriggling happily. He huffed at the tiny canine. In response, Umbra began to happily lap at his cheek, making him crinkle his nose. Why could the pup not be more like his sister?

Dropping his head once more, retreating away from the onslaught of puppy-kisses, Ravus allowed himself to close his eyes. He could afford a nap. If anything happened, he could wake up quickly. Just a quick nap while the children played, and if Cor and the Shield hadn't returned by then he'd shepherd them inside and find the steward, get them fed.

Just a quick nap.

Chapter Text

He was going to kill those two, he decided as he nosed Iris into the manor.

How long did it truly take to adopt a child? It was getting dark out, just casually abuse your power to hurry things along, dammit.

As his younger self helpfully closed the door, Ravus shooed the children into a living room. Iris and Lunafreya had apparently coaxed Prompto into being much chattier, Gladiolus butting into their conversation.

Now. To find that steward. Jared, was it?

Dammit, he didn't bring his blocks. He'd thought it would be a short, quick playdate, and now all of the sudden he was wrangling five kids for the evening. Being unable to communicate made everything much harder.

Yes, Cor Leonis and Clarus Amicitia would die in their sleep for this.

But before that.

He was willing to bet none of them had eaten. No, chances were they'd all stayed outside because he was in charge, and he'd just slept the whole goddamn time. So he needed to see if he could find the steward and get the lot of them something to eat.

Ravus pushed his younger self towards the other four, huffing. Thankfully the boy was cooperative, moving over to sit with them. They seemed to be content to sit and talk for the time being. Hopefully that would last until he could return.

Venturing deeper into the house, Ravus tried to sort out the scents of the place. The Amicitias were everywhere, their scents all but merging into one. He could smell traces of Ignis and Noctis here and there, faint and stale. But before too long, he managed to pick out a scent that he didn't know. It wasn't an intruder or anything, he could smell the person all over, engrained into things the way the Amicitias were.

Following the scent, he found himself standing in front of a door to a servants' quarters in the back of the manor. Lifting a paw, he scratched carefully at the wood.

Before long, an older man had opened the door. Seeing Ravus pulled him up short for a moment, but then the man was asking, “Commander Fleuret, I presume?”

Ravus nodded, tail swishing.

“Does Lord Amicitia have need of me?” the steward— Jared, the Shield had said— asked politely, stepping out of the servants' quarters.

He shook his head, then gave a bit of a jerk, huffing. Jared nodded, closing the door and following after him.

Iris was the first to notice them as they stepped into the living room, beaming as she waved. Her movement made the other children look up, Prompto tucking something away. It looked like a camera, from the brief glimpse Ravus caught of it.

“Hey, Jared.” Gladiolus greeted, standing up.

“Young master. Might I inquire as to your father's whereabouts?” the steward said with a nod.

“Cor showed up and dragged him out so they could go do paperwork. That was a while ago, though.” Gladiolus answered with a shrug.

A while ago? It hadn't been long past noon when they left and now it was dark outside. It had been more than a while.

Jared seemed to infer that, checking his watch and suggesting, “I imagine you're all hungry, in that case. Why don't we go to the kitchen and make some supper?”

A small chorus of affirmatives went up. Huffing a bit, Ravus moved to sit by the front door, waiting.

“Commander?” Iris called questioningly.

“The Commander needs to speak to your father as soon as he comes home, Lady Iris. He'll be fine without us.” Jared said, a knowing look in his eye. Ravus couldn't keep from purring a bit, bobbing his head.

The steward shepherded the children away, suggesting different dishes they could try making. Before long, Ravus couldn't hear their chatter anymore, too far away with too many walls between them. So he turned his attention to the door, sitting with his tail coiled neatly around his paws.

He would not object to being left with the children all day. Hell, he was trying to make Regis let him have them for a week. What he did not approve of was being left unprepared, with no way to contact anyone, no way to effectively communicate, and having no way to tell when the adults would be back.

And he wasn't going to delude anyone by saying the adoption process took less than an hour. No, Ravus knew that under normal circumstances it often took a few days at least. But this was Cor the Immortal and King Regis's Shield. Couldn't they easily bend a few rules to speed things up?

The sound of footsteps had him turning his head, ears pricked.

“Hey,” his younger self greeted, bobbing his head, “I thought you should know I just called Mom. Well... Nyx answered, but he said he'd tell her. I let him know where we are and what's going on, so no one panics.”

Ravus purred, nodding his approval.

The boy stayed, though, fidgeting anxiously. After a moment, Ravus tapped his paw against the floor in a gesture to come closer. His younger self paused, but did so.

“... Jared... he reminds me a lot of Maria.”

... Aah.

Yes, the two were similar, weren't they?

“Is she... well... for you, anyway, did she make it out alright?” the boy asked, voice quiet and subdued. Waiting for news that the kind woman had died, most likely.

But she hadn't. She had survived, and had been the one ray of kindness in his life aside from Lunafreya while he served the empire.

Ravus nodded, and he could see the relief on his younger self's face, smell how the tension just melted off him. “So... she's probably okay now, too. That's... Thank you.”

He leaned in and swiped his tongue over the boy's hair before nudging him back towards where he'd come from.

It wasn't too much longer after that that the sound of a car came, headlights sweeping through the windows as it pulled up. A slight growl rolled around in his throat, because if it was finally Cor and Clarus it was about fucking time. The kids should have eaten at least an hour ago, and the younger ones should have been heading to bed around now, but instead they were all only just eating.

The door opened, and the two men froze at the sight of him.

Ravus slowly and deliberately stood.

“... Remember that time Cid cussed Regis and I out for getting back to the hotel around midnight?” Cor asked conversationally, earning a dirty look from the Shield.

Chapter Text

Umbra let out another piteous cry, trying to scrabble away.

“Sorry, pup, but the coeurl decreed you need a bath.” Nyx hummed.

Ravus picked the tiny Messenger up by the scruff of his neck and brought him back to the nest he'd made from his paws. Depositing the dark puppy on the ground, he dragged his tongue over Umbra's back again.

Umbra had always been the difficult one about things like baths. Pryna would shake water everywhere after baths, but would let you clean her without complaint. Umbra, on the other hand... Well, Ravus was going to sum things up as saying Lunafreya and his younger self currently lacked the discipline required to force baths, leaving him to do the honors.

Umbra let out a wail, as if Ravus was eating him rather than grooming him.

“Nope. I ain't helping. My hands are full, see?” Nyx replied, holding up Pryna in demonstration. She wagged her tail happily.

They had gone out for a walk. The two tiny Messengers had decided to tag along today. After finishing the walk, Nyx wanted to see about sparring— apparently Libertus had suggested that they try getting all residual aggression towards each other out that way. Ravus got the feeling that Nyx just wanted to kick his ass. But for now they were taking a break, letting the pups catch their breath as they sat under a tree. A number of people would stop and stare, but a quick yowl from Nyx would easily send them on their way.

Umbra cried out again, squirming under Ravus's tongue in effort to get away. Ravus just flipped him over to work on his belly.

“Just go with it, he'll be done faster and then you can get dirty again.” Nyx advised with a snigger.

Oh, don't encourage him.

Umbra continued to cry pathetically, paws scrabbling against Ravus's muzzle as he tried desperately to wiggle away. But the fact of the matter was that he needed a bath, and Ravus wasn't letting him go without one.

Before too long, Umbra tired himself out, going limp under Ravus's tongue and panting frantically. Huffing, Ravus finished licking over the puppy and gave a soft mew. Almost instantly, Umbra jumped up and away, shaking himself as if that would magically turn him filthy again.

“So, should we head back?” Nyx drawled.

Ravus nodded, standing up and giving himself a shake as well. Any bugs that had taken it into whatever substituted for their brains to land on him would hopefully be dislodged. Pryna and Umbra raced around his front paws a few times before returning to Nyx, tails wagging as they waited for the walk to continue. Thankfully no drunks or other racist bigots decided to show themselves. The usual passersby stopping to gawk, but none approaching or stopping them.

Peaceful, for a change. For how long, Ravus didn't know, but he would admit it was... nice. To not have to be worrying about things like that.

Before long, they'd reached the Kingsglaive training yard. Pryna and Umbra had vanished not long before they did, probably to find Lunafreya. Somewhat to his surprise— and Nyx's, apparently— Cor was there, Prompto hiding shyly behind his legs as he spoke to a batch of new recruits. At least, it sounded like they were new recruits, from how the marshal was speaking.

Nyx nudged his shoulder, leaning in and muttering, “Mini-you and your sister say you tore Leonis a verbal new one last night. True or false?”

It was the man's own damn fault.

Ravus nodded, making the glaive snort. “Woulda paid money to see that.”

Cor wasn't even all that fazed by the snarling, yowling, pacing, and whisker-crackling. He got the feeling it had something to do with the untold story of getting cussed out by Cid. Clarus, on the other hand, had looked suitably abashed. The kids had all watched with wide eyes, and Jared had announced that he agreed with Ravus. That had been the part to make Cor react, both of the guilty men arguing that there was no way to understand what he'd been vocalizing.

“So I take it that the kid is Prompto?” Nyx asked as one of the other glaives approached. Ravus gave a small huff. “Man manages to make babysitting look badass. If those aren't goals to aspire to, I don't know what is.”

“It's all in the attitude. I bet I could pull it off.” the approaching glaive commented.

“Crowe!” Nyx exclaimed with a grin. “Got cycled out, huh?”

“Mm-hmm. Haven't been seeing a whole lot of action lately, though. Rumor is that Niflheim's whole military got thrown into disarray because General Glauca up and vanished.” the woman said, casting a quick glare at Ravus.

Had word not been given to the general military yet?

Nyx fidgeted, expression falling. Ravus reached out to nudge him with a paw, huffing.

“Something wrong, Nyx?” the woman— Crowe— asked with a frown.

“I'll... I guess I'll have to ask the marshal if it's okay to share.”

As the two began to chatter, Ravus found himself looking back to Cor and Prompto. The boy had finally noticed them, it seemed, and lifted a hand to wave shyly. Sitting down so he could shift his weight to his haunches, Ravus lifted his paw to wave back. The little blonde blushed, but Ravus could see his awkward smile from here.

“So why is he here?” the female glaive asked, drawing his attention back to her and Nyx. She was scowling darkly at him.

“He and I are planning to spar a bit. Lib said it might work out our leftover aggression towards each other.” Nyx answered, falling into a crouch as Cor began dismissing the new recruits.

“... Leftover?” Crowe demanded, eyes narrowed.

“Don't make no mistake, I still hate him. He's just... not terrible.” Nyx sighed. “Did you hear about the ‘coeurl-attack’ just outside Citadel grounds?”

Cor was coming this way, Prompto in tow.

“Heard about, yes. The truth of the matter, not so much. Everyone's story is different.” Crowe replied, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Some drunk was shit-talking Lib... all us glaives, really, and Commander Fleuret here didn't exactly agree. He knocked the guy over and went straight to the fucking king about it.” Nyx told her.

“From another perspective,” Cor said, making both soldiers jump, Nyx falling over, “Commander Fleuret himself is a refugee. To hear that refugees, as well as soldiers like himself, are receiving lackluster treatment, would upset just about anyone.”

“With all due respect, sir, I think only the two of you have the ba— ckbone to exactly go to King Regis and yell at him for it.” Nyx replied, shooting up to his feet.

Ravus ignored them and turned his attention to Prompto. The boy was... well, all of Noctis's little quartet was different from how he remembered, all more subdued and ever-so-slightly less bratty. But Prompto was... according to Cor, being taken from a neglectful home. And with such obvious Niflheim ancestry, living in a highly xenophobic place like Insomnia couldn't be easy. Ravus liked to think himself able to brush off a lot of things, but the picture these details were painting made him wonder how on Eos this shy boy made it to the rambunctious one of his memory.

He gently puffed air at the quiet boy, making him stutter a bit. Laying his ears back, Ravus lowered his head and inched closer. After a moment, a hand began to carefully brush over his fur. Not through it, not really petting, just skimming over it, as if afraid of having the permission revoked.

“So to what end did you bring the Commander here?” Cor asked, making Ravus prick his ears up again. The shy petting faltered, but continued when Ravus didn't react otherwise.

“We were planning to spar a bit, sir. Try and work out some of his energy.”

Ravus could smell how little Cor believed that to be the whole truth.

“... If you're quick about it, you might be able to show the new recruits what Kingsglaive are capable of.” the man said anyway.

Nyx thumped a hand against his side and bounded into the middle of the training yard. Ravus let Prompto pet him a moment longer, then lifted his head. The small blonde retreated behind the Immortal once more, eyes wide. Nodding to the boy, Ravus trotted after Nyx.

The glaive was bouncing lightly on the balls of his feet, magic already crackling around his fingertips. Ravus took up a spot across from the man, aware of how people were stopping to stare.

“I'm not gonna go easy just because we're sparring.” Nyx warned.

Get on with it.

Instead of continuing to jabber, the man did just that, twin blades pulled out. Wasting no time at all, Nyx fell into a warp.

He hadn't exactly had time to see which way Nyx warped. But only a true moron would charge in to take a coeurl head on. Which left to his sides and above him. And having seen Nyx on the battlefield, the man didn't exactly need any split second reorientation post-warp.

Ravus lunged forward, towards where Nyx had just vanished from. A blade just barely grazed his tail, and he turned his attention towards his hearing.

Nyx Ulric, on the battlefield, had been like some deranged whack-a-mole, popping in and out of existence. Ravus was fast, but he wasn't warp fast. And the only indication he'd be getting of any warping would be the noise.

Hearing the telltale sound, Ravus twisted, rearing up just enough that he was able to swat the man out of the air. A collective ‘ooh’ went up from their audience, followed by yells for Ulric to get him.

Rather than charge forward again as Nyx recovered, Ravus dropped down, focusing on his whiskers. He knew coeurls weren't fond of fire, and he knew Nyx had a variety of magic at his disposal. Neither of them had infinite resources— Nyx would run out of the elemancies he needed, and Ravus would be unable to gather charge without hurting himself. However, Nyx had the advantage of rapid spellcasting. Ravus needed some time between each round of lightning. Combine that with Nyx's warping prowess, and Ravus was the underdog in the equation.

Nyx warped again. Behind and above.

There were two ways Ravus had found he could use his lightning. The first was to let it radiate out from him, and the second was to cast it forward. Casting it forward was very line-of-sight. Letting it radiate out tended to mean the intensity was weaker, though. And at the moment, Nyx was behind him.

He jumped up, rearing onto his hind legs just long enough to release the tingling in his muzzle. Even as he let go, he could tell it was a more powerful wave radiating out. It felt more... condensed.

Ravus could hear Nyx howl as he leapt away, skidding and spinning so he was facing the glaive once again. Brilliant white sparks still crackled along the man's sleeves and braids as he shook himself off. It looked like he was already preparing a counter, fingertips glowing slightly and making the air hum.

Taking a chance, Ravus attempted to lunge forward and knock Nyx off-balance before the spell could be cast.

It turned out to be a poor decision, the glaive hurling a fireball directly in front of him. It roared hungrily into a blaze, and Ravus was left with no choice but to grit his teeth and leap through it, even as it seared his paw-pads and singed his fur. He imagined he looked similar to the shocked Nyx as he emerged from the flames, feeling small sparks settling in his fur and pricking his sides.

And it looked like Nyx had warped again, using the fire as a sort of smoke-screen.

He was given no time to seek the man out, the telltale noise sounding directly at his side. Growling, he threw his weight towards the sound. He collided roughly with Nyx, the man grunting in surprise as the blade was knocked from his hand. But the man was nothing if not stubborn, choosing to cling to Ravus's side.

No. Not cling.

Scrabble onto his back.

For a moment, there was silence, as if the whole training yard was holding it's breath.

Ravus growled, letting his whiskers crackle.

“Easy now, Commander...” Nyx said, apparently just realizing how vulnerable he actually was as his hands grabbed onto fistfuls of fur.

Fuck you, Ulric.

Ravus reared up, snarling as he let loose another wave of lightning. Nyx somewhat foolishly chose to attempt to hold on rather than get away. So rather than right himself and land on all fours, Ravus chose to tip back, similar to how he had during the short spar with Cor.

Landing earned a loud yell, collective noises of pain going up around them.

Rolling to his feet, Ravus stood over the glaive and glared down at him. Nyx gave a weak groan, not moving. That sounded like a tap-out to him.

Ducking his head down, he began to nose at the man for injuries. Having a full-grown coeurl land on you was nothing to sniff at. Ravus had seen people survive worse, but still, he'd put all his weight into that.

“Not bad, Ulric. Next time a coeurl does something like that, though, I would recommend getting off.” Cor said, making Ravus look up. The marshal was approaching, a hi-potion in hand. Ravus backed off, allowing the Immortal to drop the curative on the glaive's stomach. “Additionally, even if he's only been a coeurl for a few months, remember that Commander Fleuret held rank in Niflheim. A rank that wasn't the type bought or sold. You can't fight him like you would a daemon.”

“... noted...” Nyx groaned, managing to clap a hand down on the hi-potion as Ravus turned to trot over to Prompto.

The boy was fidgeting with the camera he'd caught a glimpse of last night. A cheap red digital thing, it looked like. At his approach, Prompto looked up nervously.

“I... uh... I took a picture while you were fighting...” the boy said quietly, turning the camera to show him.

Ravus had to squint a little to make the small screen out. It looked like Cor had been standing in front of the boy to keep him from harm, because Ravus was pretty sure that was a jacket-sleeve on the side. But the rest of the picture displayed him, rearing up and captured at just the right moment so his head was twisting towards Nyx, the two of them wreathed in brilliant white arcs of lightning.

Juvenile and amateur, but definitely a good shot.

Ravus huffed, nodding his head to show his approval.

It seemed to be the right thing to do, the boy lighting up with a smile closer to what he remembered.

Chapter Text

Ravus stood, admittedly somewhat uncertain, in the hall not too far from the Fleuret suite. He'd been given free reign over the Citadel. As long as he didn't cause too much of a ruckus, apparently Regis trusted him enough to let him roam. And to be perfectly honest, Ravus didn't know what to do with himself as a result. There wasn't anything that really required his immediate attention. Regis and Clarus were working on clearing up the camping trip. Cor was speaking with Nyx about something. Libertus was catching up with other Kingsglaive members.

It wasn't exactly like he could snag an MT and spar with it, like in Niflheim. There was going outside, he supposed. Or hunting down one of the children and seeing how they were doing in training. Get a better understanding of what he had to work with.

Or start thinking up some way to circumvent all the prophetic bullshit the Astrals were trying to pull.

That option stuck with him, and Ravus elected to head for the Citadel's library and archives. Even if he was a coeurl, he could still read. Turning pages might prove a challenge, but it was one he was willing to tackle. Anyone who thought he was just going to give up reading for lack of opposable thumbs was sorely mistaken.

It took him a little bit to find the place, but the Crownsguard could be pretty helpful when they wanted to be. And once he'd explained what he wanted to the on-duty archivist, she too was more than helpful.

“Okay,” the woman grunted, plopping down a stack of books and carefully arranging them on the floor, “These are all the theology books I was able to find. Well, all the ones relevant to what you want. There was only one on the magic of the Oracle, two on the magic of the Lucis Caelums, and all we have on the legend of the Accursed and the Founder King is a short section in an anthropology book here. Is there anything else you think you'll be needing?”

Ravus shook his head, examining the books already.

“Do you want me to get someone to turn pages and take notes for you? It wouldn't be any trouble, some of these slugs need the practice anyway.” the woman offered, dusting her hands off as she stood.

Ravus turned to his blocks and picked out the letters he wanted.

THANK YOU FOR THE OFFER

HOWEVER I WOULD LIKE TO ATTEMPT IT FOR MYSELF

I DO NOT WISH TO IMPOSE OR BE SEEN AS HELPLESS

“Understandable. If you change your mind about anything, though, just holler.”

Ravus nodded gratefully, taking note of the name-tag pinned to the woman's lapel. He got the feeling he'd be here often in the near future, so it would be helpful to know names.

As the archivist left, Ravus turned his attention to the books she'd selected. Part of him was somewhat surprised there wasn't a copy of the Cosmogony among them. But he likely would have ignored it if there had been, since that was essentially what had lead to Noctis and Lunafreya being told to kill themselves. Instead, his attention was drawn to the anthropology book.

Might as well start at the beginning, biased though it would be.

Nosing the book open wasn't terribly hard. It took two tries, but he figured it out quickly. From there it was just a matter of getting himself to the table of contents so he could find the section he was looking for. Nosing at the pages would likely get him nowhere. He'd flip too many at a time, most likely. And he didn't want to just go dragging his paw across the pages in effort to turn them. That was asking for all kinds of damage.

As he was contemplating how best to go about turning the pages— maybe he should try just nosing at them, it would take time but it would get the job done— the smell of Noctis and Ignis reached him. His ears twitched, but he couldn't hear any chattering. Perhaps they were being quiet because it was a library?

Ravus was in the process of attempting to get to the table of contents when the two appeared.

“Oh, Ravus...” Noctis said in surprise. Was it just him or did it look like the boy had been crying?

“We're sorry to disturb you, Commander Fleuret.” Ignis said, already bowing out as he tugged on Noctis's sleeve.

Before they could vanish and after a moment of deliberation, Ravus gave a soft mew. The two looked back at him, and he shifted how he was sitting to tap the ground next to him with a paw. Neither moved, so he flicked his ears and tapped more insistently. Stepping carefully over and around the books the archivist had laid out, the two children came to sit at his side.

“What's all this?” Noctis asked, crinkling his nose at the books.

Ravus dragged the bag of blocks closer so he could explain.

RESEARCH

I DONT INTEND TO STAND IDLY BY WHILE THE ASTRALS CONVINCE CHILDREN TO THROW AWAY THEIR LIVES

“You're going against the Six?!” Ignis demanded with wide eyes as Noctis's jaw dropped.

Ravus bobbed his head in affirmative.

“But... that's suicide! You'll be struck dead or cursed or...” Ignis trailed off, looking flabbergasted still.

THE SIX ARE ASLEEP

RIGHT NOW THEY ONLY OPERATE THROUGH MESSENGERS

THEY NEED THE ORACLE TO BE WOKEN

THE ONLY ONES ID WORRY ABOUT WOULD BE BAHAMUT AND IFRIT

After a moment of thought, he added one more to that.

MAYBE SHIVA

“That's half of them already!” Noctis pointed out.

Ravus shrugged, turning his attention back to the open book before him.

“What do you intend to do? I mean... they're gods. You're just...” Ignis sat ramrod-straight when Ravus looked at him. “Meaning no offense, sir.”

He turned back to the book once more, managing to flip a couple pages. More than he had really wanted, but it looked like the section he wanted was listed on this page. Satisfied with that for the moment, Ravus addressed Ignis's question.

I INTEND TO FIND SOME ALTERNATIVE METHOD OF CURING EOS

SOMETHING THAT DOESNT INVOLVE EVERYONE HAVING TO DIE

“So why a... anthropology book?” Noctis asked, crinkling his nose.

ITS ALL THE ARCHIVIST COULD FIND ON THE ACCURSED

“Oh.” the two said in unison.

Nodding, Ravus scanned over the contents. Yeah, it looked like that was the section he wanted. Taking note of the page number, he began nudging chunks of the pages over, pausing each time to check the page. The boys were quiet as he did so, letting him flip back and forth until he'd gotten to the page he wanted.

“... Ravus...?”

He looked up at Noctis's wavering query. The boy had his fists clenched in his lap, shoulders shaking and head bowed.

“... Ravus, I don't wanna die... and... I don't want Luna or my dad to die, or-or you, or anyone... it isn't fair...”

Finally something they could agree on, it would seem.

Rearranging himself again, Ravus rested his chin on Noctis's shoulder and awkwardly wrapped a paw around the boy's torso. And that seemed to be all it took for the boy to let go and start crying, clinging to Ravus as he muffled sobs in white fur. Seeing how uncomfortable Ignis looked, fidgeting with his head bowed, Ravus reached out with his other paw and placed it in the boy's lap. That seemed to be all the encouragement Ignis needed as well, scooting closer so he could hold onto Ravus too.

As much as he had hated their grown-up selves, Ravus reflected, he wouldn't let anyone die. Not Noctis, not Lunafreya, not his younger self, not the royal retainers in training. Not on his watch.

The Astrals could shove their bloody prophecy where the sun didn't shine.

Chapter Text

“So I have a number of things to say.” Nyx declared as he and Libertus came into the suite. Ravus flicked his ears to indicate he was listening. “First of all, the marshal asked that someone inform you that the camping trip has a definitive date. Apparently the king is willing to let us three take a whole gaggle of kids out into Leide for a week.”

“A horrible idea, really,” Libertus commented, “No offense meant, Commander, but while we all may be good with kids I hardly think we're the trio to care for them for extended periods of time.”

Well, that was the point of the trip. To teach them how to care for themselves.

“Second, I still hate you and the marshal was wondering if I'd be interested in taking over as captain of the Kingsglaive. As if there weren't better options.”

Ravus could offer no real opinion on the matter. For all he knew, Nyx was the best option.

“And third, that kid? Prompto? Shiva's frost-bitten tits does the kid need a confidence boost! The kid just about apologizes for breathing! What do you need to go through to have that little confidence around others?” the glaive demanded.

Aah. Ravus could answer that. Nyx even paused when he saw him nose through his blocks.

XENOPHOBIA NEGLECT AND POSSIBLY ABUSE AND GENERAL BULLYING

“... Right. Who's up for calling Cor to see if we can walk the kid to school tomorrow? No one in their right mind is bullying a kid with a coeurl.” Nyx declared, already pulling his phone out. As Libertus snorted, shaking his head, the man continued, “We'll make it a package deal, walk him and the prince and princess, call it stamina training in preparation for the murder-cat's boot camp.”

Ravus rolled his eyes, putting his blocks away.

“C'mon, Nyx, you don't really think the marshal is gonna say yes, do ya?” Libertus chuckled, playfully shoving at his friend.

“That's why I'm calling him!”

Ravus rolled onto his side so his back was to the glaives, letting them bicker.

But, of course, Nyx was somehow a miracle-worker. Apparently Cor agreed to the idea of the young trio getting walked to school for a few days— it was not a permanent fixture, but he'd allow it for a few days. Ravus got the feeling that Nyx brought up the potential anti-bullying effect while no one else was paying attention. That, or maybe the Immortal intended to take the job over from them.

Which led to next morning, Ravus glaring daggers into Noctis with his tail flicking. The boy had wisely stopped complaining, though he had a sullen expression still. The second the brat started whining again, Ravus would happily send him sprawling. Noctis had been the one to suggest this in the first place, but now, because he had to wake up early, the boy was all but throwing a fit about it. Spoiled brat.

Lunafreya found the whole thing hilarious.

“Alrighty, we just need Prompto and then we'll head out.” Nyx declared, bouncing lightly on the balls of his feet. Looked like he was scanning for the boy in question.

“Okay, but why do we have to walk?” Noctis pouted.

Because you fucking suggested it?

“Because in about a week, your old man is letting the three of us take you out camping. And if you aren't ready to be walking around all day then, well, you won't have any fun.” Nyx answered easily.

“What about Gladio, Ignis, and Ravus? Is Iris coming too?” the prince asked with a thoughtful frown.

“Well, they have their own training,” Lunafreya reasoned, “I imagine they're already sort of used to it.”

Ravus turned to rub his cheek against her shoulder, purring. She giggled, and Noctis stuck his tongue out.

“As for Miss Iris, I imagine you'll have to ask her father.” Libertus answered.

Noctis opened his mouth, clearly intending to ask more questions, but was cut off by Nyx hollering, “'Bout time, Marshal, these kids're gonna be late!”

Ravus swung his head around to watch as Cor approached, holding Prompto's hand. It looked and sounded like they were reaching the end of a conversation.

“If anyone— even these guys— gives you a hard time, I want you to tell me.” the Immortal was saying firmly.

“I-it's okay, really... I'm fine...” the boy mumbled.

About as fine as a chocobo chick in a behemoth nest.

But Cor didn't press, despite his frown. The man just calmly ruffled Prompto's hair and said, in what had to be the gentlest tone Ravus had heard him use, “I'll see you after school, kid.”

Prompto nodded, face reddening, and shuffled closer. Cor took a moment to glare at them before nodding curtly and turning to leave.

“... H-hi...” the small blonde mumbled, fidgeting anxiously.

Lunafreya beamed, stepping over to take his hands. “It's good to see you again, Prompto! I was shocked to hear we go to the same school, too! I never see you around!”

“I-I, uh, I'm in Noctis's class...”

“No sh— ugar, really?” Nyx asked with a grin, the two glaives coaxing the kids to start walking.

Ravus wondered when the man had started censoring himself around children. Maybe he always had, Ravus was just hearing him swear more casually instead of in anger now?

“... Oh, don't you sit in the way back? You're always hiding, and even I don't see you that much.” Noctis commented.

Ravus couldn't help but exchange a look with the glaives at Prompto's evasive shrug. He didn't know about them, but he was considering pushing his luck and hanging around the school for the day.

More stares than usual as they walked. It was only natural, really. There were two little royals, a pair of Kingsglaive, a coeurl, and a mystery boy walking together through the streets. Ravus found himself scanning the crowds for any fools too big for their britches, glaring at anyone who was obviously speaking poorly. Of who they were speaking it didn't matter, what mattered was that they were.

When they reached the school, Ravus took careful note of all the assorted clusters of children waiting for class to start. If there was a particular group that picked on Prompto, there would be a very definite— ah-hah. A trio of boys with dark hair, with pale faces and dropped jaws, looking away with a nervous air when his own gaze lingered.

“So we'll pick you guys up after school. Just wait here at the gate for us, yeah?” Nyx instructed.

“We're not babies, Nyx.” Noctis told the glaive with a roll of his eyes.

“No, but if any of you get so much as a skinned knee it's me and Lib your parents will come for.” the soldier said with a deathly serious expression. At Lunafreya's giggles, Nyx broke, grinning.

Noctis and Lunafreya moved away, Prompto lingering for a moment. That moment was all it took for Libertus to crouch down and grab the blonde's shoulder, earning a squeak.

“Listen, Prompto,” the man said kindly, “We dunno what's going on, but if anyone here is giving you trouble and you don't want to go to the marshal with it, we're good at keeping secrets.”

Prompto hesitated, then nodded. Libertus patted the boy's shoulder, then let him go. As the two glaives watched the courtyard, Ravus turned his attention to the tree in the corner. If he was going to hang around the school, that was probably where he'd do it.

“So,” Nyx declared casually, “All in favor of camping the school say aye.”

Way ahead of you.

Chapter Text

There had been a little fuss from the principal about their camping out under the tree in front of the school. But Libertus was nothing if not persuasive, Ravus had learned. He wondered if the man had missed his true calling as a diplomat.

The three of them were largely silent. Nyx called the Citadel early on to let people know they were ‘spending the day out,’ but by this point the two glaives were perched silently in the branches above while Ravus relaxed at the base of the tree. It was a nice day out, at least. Few clouds, soft breeze, good warm sunlight. If it weren't for the stink of people and machines and the city in general, Ravus would almost be able to pretend he was back in Duscae. The coeurl parts of him had missed spending hours— days, weeks, all time— outdoors. That side of him was perfectly happy to lounge silently under the tree.

Classes came out into the courtyard now and then. For physical education. Simple things, running a couple laps around the courtyard, a few push-ups and sit-ups, some stretches. Mostly ball-games. And it was painfully easy to see the effect his presence was having on the children's attention spans. The teacher had to continually yell for everyone to stop standing around and staring.

As he sat up to groom himself, Ravus turned his thoughts to the issue of Ardyn and the Starscourge. Because in the end, it wouldn't matter what he accomplished with the children if Noctis and Lunafreya still had to die to banish the Scourge. However, all his research thus far had been... frustratingly unenlightening. Everything was biased in favor of, surprise surprise, the Astrals and the Founder King. It was, admittedly, early into his research. There was a chance he'd dig something up yet. He just wanted to chew his leg off right now, that was all. He had to keep looking, see if he couldn't find any obscure literature that talked about... about how to screw over the gods or something like that.

Damn, he'd only just started and already felt like he was grasping at straws.

The next class filing out for physical education drew Ravus from his thoughts. Noctis and Prompto's class, apparently, the prince waving upon spotting him. After a moment, Ravus lifted his paw to wave back. The entire class gasped before erupting into chatter.

“Okay, but a coeurl waving at you... that's stuff you only see in cartoons.” Nyx said from above.

“Hush.” Libertus chided.

“It is!”

Ravus tuned the two out and watched the group of children. He noted, with some displeasure, that he could see one of the trio from this morning in the class.

When the time came to split off into teams for the ball-game of the hour, everyone flocked to Noctis, who grew visibly grumpy. Prompto stood by himself, looking down and fidgeting with his fingers. The teacher didn't say or do anything other than urge the kids to pick quickly.

After a moment, Noctis shoved his way through the mass of kids and marched over to Prompto, grabbing the blonde by the wrist. “I'm picking Prompto!” the boy announced defiantly. Ravus could just about hear Nyx's smirk as the rest of the class deflated and paired off.

It looked like the game was some variation of... just about anything with a net between the two teams. A plastic ribbon was stretched out between the pairs of kids, and the objective of the game was to keep the ball from touching the ground on your side. Not exactly the most original of games, but simple and enough to keep a swarm of eight-year-olds busy.

Ravus was just about to let his attention slide away and settle down for a nap when Prompto went down, holding his face. Noctis yelled, the rest of the class screeching to a halt to turn and stare. Ravus got to his feet, but in the time that took, Nyx had already warped over.

“You're not supposed to throw it like that!” Noctis yelled at... at the kid Ravus was sure was bullying Prompto.

“It was an accident!” the boy defended as Nyx picked Prompto up.

Ravus ignored the little shouting match that was brewing and turned his attention to Prompto and Nyx.

“Lemme see, kiddo. Come on.” Nyx said gently, brushing his fingers over the blonde's hands.

“It's okay! Really!” the boy said. Ravus could smell the metallic tang of his bloody nose, though. Prompto was doing a good job of keeping it contained, so he and Nyx wouldn't see it, but Ravus knew the boy was probably swimming in blood behind his hands.

“Kid, your glasses are broken. If nothing else, I need to make sure those didn't hurt ya, so come on, lemme see.”

“Excuse me!”

Ravus turned to look at the approaching teacher, who looked simultaneously furious and out of his depth.

“I'm sorry, but you're interfering with the children's class time!” the man barked.

As Ravus stated flatly, Nyx ignoring the man in favor of checking Prompto over, Libertus all but materialized. “Sir, we respect your concern for the quality of education you're giving,” the glaive said calmly, “But these are high-profile children and therefore our responsibility. Once we've gotten everything sorted out we'll be out of your way.”

“That's all well and good, but we can't be giving anyone preferential treatment!” the teacher declared.

“Funny,” Noctis muttered at Ravus's side, still glaring at the bully, “They sure give me preferential treatment.”

The teacher didn't seem to hear, still half-yelling at Libertus.

“Ooh, yeah, that's gotta hurt, huh...” Nyx said in a sympathetic voice, making both Ravus and Noctis turn around.

“Prompto!” the prince gasped in alarm.

It looked like Nyx had finally gotten Prompto to take his hands away from his face, revealing the damage done. Not only was the blonde's nose bleeding, it looked like his lip had been split, too. And there was definitely a bruise forming on the bridge of his nose from where his glasses sat.

As Noctis joined Nyx in fussing over Prompto, Ravus swung his head around to glare at the bully. Once again, the boy went pale, eyes wide in alarm.

Yeah, not so tough, were you. Brat.

Before long, Libertus had talked the teacher down and Nyx had cleaned Prompto's face up. Noctis was still glaring at the bully, and Ravus was considering finding Luna and taking the kids out of school for the day. It was clear to him by this point that Prompto was falling through the cracks of society thanks to Insomnia's xenophobia. Personally, he wouldn't want his kids to attend a school that encouraged such things. As they returned to the tree, Nyx was grumbling a similar sentiment.

“His Majesty wants them to have a chance to be normal kids, Nyx.” Libertus said in a placating tone.

“He chose a shit school to do it at.” the other glaive muttered.

Ravus gave a noise of agreement, flicking his ears.

“Bullying is pretty shitty, but unless we want to end up in hot water there's not a whole lot we can do about it right now.” Libertus said sternly, though Ravus could hear and smell his discontent with the matter as well.

Huffing, he turned back to watching Prompto and Noctis.

Chapter Text

“We're not just getting in trouble,” Libertus declared as they left the school grounds, “The marshal and the king are both going to have our heads for this.”

Despite being clearly and blatantly upset, the man's tone of voice was... oddly zen. Accepting, almost.

“Sorry, but I wasn't leaving these kids in that shithole of a school. None of you tell anyone I said that.” Nyx replied loftily, making Ravus roll his eyes.

“I mean... I don't really like a lot of the people there, to be honest. They just like me cuz I'm the prince.” Noctis said with a sigh.

“There was a sort of... pet feeling. Like being a prize chocobo.” Lunafreya admitted, looking down as if ashamed. Ravus gently butted his head against her, chirping admonishingly. The last thing he wanted was for his sister to ever feel trapped again, and if that school was evoking such a feeling then she had every right to voice it.

“Yeah, well, none of you are going back. At least not today. Tomorrow's a matter left to whether or not Lib, Commander Fleuret and I survive. So what do you kids want to do?” Nyx declared, pausing to turn and look at the little trio.

After a moment, Noctis turned to Prompto. “You were the one who got hit and had your glasses broken, so I think you should get to pick.” the prince declared. Lunafreya nodded, beaming as Prompto looked like a deer in the headlights.

“I-I-I... why don't one of you pick...? I'm not...”

Prompto's stammering seemed to snap Libertus out of whatever trance he was in, the man walking over and crouching down to eye-level with the boy. “What's your favorite food?” Libertus asked calmly.

The blonde boy blinked before shyly answering, “I like curry...?”

Nyx snapped his fingers, declaring, “I know a great curry place! How about you two, curry good?”

Lunafreya nodded cheerfully, and Noctis reluctantly agreed as long as no one tried to force him into eating extra vegetables. Nyx informed the boy that the place had more than just curry, and that if they had time before anyone tracked them down, they could get ice cream afterwards.

Any other day, Ravus might have called that too much, but he was still reeling in shock that this Prompto turned into the one he remembered. The kid deserved a little spoiling.

It turned out that the place Nyx had in mind wasn't too far from the refugee sector of Insomnia. They had to take a few shady shortcuts to get there, but the alternative was warping across the rooftops— both Ravus and Libertus said no. But the closer they got, the more... ramshackle everything seemed to become. Ravus was becoming increasingly glad he'd brought the topic to the council. If they didn't start doing something about it, well, he'd just see to it that their lives were made miserable.

When they reached the place, Nyx led the children in while Nyx and Libertus waited outside. Again, people tried to coax him inside, but he wasn't going to risk shedding all over the place. Too many health risks.

“So, if we're doing this, where are we going next?” Libertus sighed, sounding resigned. “I imagine a park or something would be ideal. Give them some room to play while we wait for the marshal and the king to come kill us.”

After a moment, Ravus bobbed his head. It sounded logical. His only complaint would be the ease with which things could go wrong, but to be honest, when didn't they?

It didn't take too long for the others to return, Nyx carrying a large paper bag that smelled of spice and cooked meat. “So, where we eating?” the glaive asked.

“Commander and I were saying a park might not be a bad idea.” Libertus answered.

“O-oh! I know a place!” Prompto piped up.

It turned out the place the boy was thinking of was a river-bank not too far from the school. Ravus had to admit it was nice upon arrival. It smelled cleaner than most everything else, with plenty of open space, not a whole lot of people, and surprisingly minimal noise. Lunafreya definitely liked it, and Noctis seemed impressed. Nyx and Libertus both informed Prompto they hadn't known such nice locations existed within the walls of Insomnia, to which Ravus agreed.

They all sat down, arranging themselves in a loose circle not too far from the water, and Nyx passed out the curry. He surprised Ravus by sliding a box of daggerquill breasts over.

“Nothing fancy, didn't wanna risk making you sick, but I figured it's only fair.” the glaive told him.

“So how'd you know about this place, Prompto?” Libertus asked as Ravus nodded in gratitude.

“O-oh... I... I walk by here when... that is, I did. Before.” the boy answered, blushing.

“Is this where you take a lot of pictures?” Lunafreya asked, eyes shining.

Prompto blushed harder.

“You take pictures? Can I see?” Noctis asked, putting his food down and looking curiously at the blonde.

After a moment, the boy dug the little red camera out of his bag, fiddling with it a moment before handing it to Noctis. Libertus leaned over to peek over the prince's shoulder, while Nyx had to move around behind the two to see.

“Woah, is that Commander Fleuret and Nyx?” Noctis gasped.

“Yep! He got that while the two of us were sparring! By the way, kid, I'll pay you ten crowns for a hard copy of that.” the glaive in question said, grinning.

“Wh— You don't need to! I-I can just give it to you!” Prompto objected.

Ravus rolled his eyes, stretching out to nudge the boy with his hind paw. Prompto admittedly had a lot to learn, but definitely had the potential to be a pretty damn good photographer. And the best way to get your foot in the door of any occupation was to start as early as possible.

“Some of these are really good... like, you could make them into post-cards and sell them.” Noctis commented, voice deathly-serious.

As Prompto blushed and stammered, Libertus said, “I'd buy a pack.”

Lunafreya laughed, declaring, “Don't be so down on yourself! You really are a good photographer!”

Ravus didn't add anything to the conversation, working on his food instead. He chose to watch the street above as conversation turned into discussion of what pictures people liked and whether or not they should pay for hard copies. It sounded like Nyx at least was dead-set on paying Prompto for the one from the sparring session.

Before long, a familiar car pulled up. Ravus didn't move, watching as Cor stepped out of the vehicle and looked down the slope at them, arms crossed over his chest. That looked like Ravus's bag of blocks over the man's shoulder.

Lunafreya was the first to notice the man, standing up with a guilty expression on her face. Upon noticing why she'd done this, Nyx and Libertus both jumped up, one looking a little more upset than the other. Prompto and Noctis both adopted similar poses and expressions as Lunafreya as Cor started down towards them all.

“Care to explain what's going on?” the marshal asked coolly.

Nyx spoke up, cutting everyone else off, “If you'll pardon my Gralean, that school was a fucking shithole and I don't think these kids should be attending there.”

Cor raised an eyebrow, but didn't say anything.

“People were trying to beat up Prompto. And the teachers weren't doing anything about it.” Noctis said sullenly.

Ravus was pretty sure it was impossible to miss the brief clench in Cor's jaw before the man was turning to him, dropping the bag of blocks. “And your two gil?”

He took a moment to clean his face before unzipping the bag. Nosing through, he found the blocks he wanted and began to carefully spell out his words.

IF YOU ALLOW PROMPTO TO CONTINUE HIS EDUCATION THERE YOU ARE AS BAD AS THE ARGENTUMS

“... And you didn't simply go the the school principal because...?” Cor prompted. Even Nyx looked a little wary of the plainly building rage in the man's voice.

BECAUSE THE MAN IS A PRICK AND WOULDNT LISTEN

After a moment, the Immortal looked to the children.

“He really was. He tried to act like Prompto bleeding was just fine. And I don't like the people there anyway.” Noctis grumbled.

“Gold-diggers.” Luna murmured.

After a long, tense moment, Cor nodded, turning to leave. “I'll be back.”

“Wait, we wanna come with and watch you set fire to the school!” Nyx gasped, scandalized.

Ravus got the feeling that would be cathartic, yes.

“Bad publicity. Stay put.” Cor replied, getting back in his car. Nyx and Noctis both groaned, Libertus shaking his head.

Chapter Text

“So that's why your dad seemed so upset.” Gladiolus nodded.

“Yeah. I just wish we could've been there to see what Cor did exactly.” Noctis said with a pout.

Ravus rolled his eyes, turning his attention back to the book before him.

After the mess involving the children's schooling yesterday, Ravus's younger self and Ignis had volunteered to take over educating the younger kids until a better solution could be found. This led to all of them sitting in the library and archives, not too far from where Ravus was conducting his research.

Honestly, he wasn't coming up with much. Part of him wanted to try talking it over with Regis and his mother, but the two had been raised under the Astrals' gospel. Anything they could provide him was likely already in one of these books. It wasn't terribly surprising, to be honest. The Six had ruled over Eos... forever, most likely. And it wasn't like every human tried to defy them.

More than likely, only Ravus and Ardyn did.

If only he could find more on the bastard. As much as he hated to admit it, the Accursed was probably a wellspring of obscure knowledge, and the man came from a time where people were... closer to the Astrals, in a way. Most people didn't spare that much thought to the Six these days. It was a very different era.

Thinking of Ardyn reminded him that he needed to tell Cor of as many of the Niflheim bases as he could recall. Attempt to slow them down. Yes, Niflheim currently had the upper hand in the war, but if teams could go in to swipe a baby MT, then surely teams could go in to plant bombs or whatever Lucis did to take out enemy bases.

He wasn't getting anywhere here. He may as well do that.

Ravus took a moment to pace around the gaggle of kids, peering over their shoulders at their work, before grabbing his bag and leaving the archives. Hunting the Immortal down might take a bit, but this was important. It might not change the tide of the war per se, but it would definitely help. Provided that lunatic Ardyn didn't come to Insomnia to meddle.

Thankfully it didn't take too long to find Cor. The man ended up being in his office, opening up quickly enough after Ravus scratched at the door.

“Commander Fleuret. Can't say I was expecting you.” the Immortal commented.

Dropping his bag and unzipping it, Ravus nosed through the brightly colored plastic.

“Will this be over quickly or should I lock the door?”

Ravus lifted his head to stare at the door. Cor sighed, locking it before turning to him. He gave a curt nod before returning to his blocks.

I WANT TO TELL YOU WHAT I CAN ABOUT NIFLHEIMS BASES

IM NOT SURE HOW PERIOD ACCURATE MY INFORMATION WILL BE

“But any intel will help. Knowing where bases are or will be is an advantage we can use. If we know what they're doing and where, we might be able to get teams in to slow them down.” Cor said, catching his drift. The man barely gave him time to nod before turning away.

They ended up dabbing his nose in different colors of ink, having him mark locations on an impressively large map given the office-size. He marked everything he could remember as close as he could. MT production was blue, supply bases were green, daemon research and experimentation was red, the god-killing things were purple, and general bases he didn't know or couldn't recall the purpose of ended up being black. Cor made note of what each color was in the corner of the map, frowning the entire time, even as he nodded.

“I can confirm some of these, but... are all of them...”

As the Immortal trailed off, Ravus moved for his blocks.

A FEW OF THEM I ONLY KNOW ABOUT THROUGH HEARSAY

BESITHIA WAS KNOWN TO OPERATE OFF THE RADAR HERE AND THERE

IT DID GET HIM IN A LITTLE TROUBLE WITH THE EMPEROR A FEW TIMES

Cor nodded grimly. “Understood.”
Ravus kept going, spelling out more.

CHANCES ARE NIFLHEIM ALREADY KNOWS OF MY EXISTENCE TO SOME EXTENT

BUT IF YOU START ACTING ON THESE BASES WELL NEED TO BE PREPARED FOR THE ACCURSED TO VISIT

That earned a frown. “Regis said the Accursed was actively working alongside the empire. Paid us a visit before Noctis was born, apparently. But he didn't exactly tell everyone the bastard's identity.”

Charming, Regis, very charming.

ARDYN IZUNIA

THE CHANCELLOR

Cor stared at him. Ravus flicked his ears.

“... Right. Regis and Clarus have been holding that out on me. I'm so pleased. Bet your mother knew, too. What am I, a fucking kid.” Cor muttered, putting away the inks a tad more aggressively than he really needed to. But the feeling was... well, Ravus saw it as perfectly understandable.

Chapter Text

Ravus couldn't keep himself from turning in circles.

“Would you stop?” Nyx demanded as Ravus stepped over him yet again.

No.

It had been a few days since he'd told Cor everything he could remember about Niflheim's bases. It had been agreed afterwards that they would start figuring out how to counter the Empire and their daemonic friend after the week-long vacation. And once that had been decided, everyone began making preparations for said trip.

Regis, Clarus, Cor, and Ravus's mother were going to Galdin Quay. If anything happened, they were less than a day away from Hammerhead. Ravus, Nyx, and Libertus were going to stay with the kids in the area around said outpost. After the week was up, Nyx and Libertus would return to active duty in the field, and Ravus would be allowed to bargain for more frequent training excursions.

He turned in another circle. Nyx kicked at him this time.

The truck-bed was admittedly cramped with both of them in the back. Libertus had won the coin-toss to ride in the cab. But Ravus wasn't able to sit still at the moment, so Nyx was going to have to put up with his circling.

They weren't too far from Hammerhead now.

He stopped circling, instead jumping up so his front paws rested on top of the cab. The wind bit at his ears and whiskers, stinging his eyes and making them water, but Ravus stubbornly stayed up, watching. Before long, the tacky namesake of the place came into view, and Ravus couldn't keep himself from jumping down to turn in an excited circle before jumping back up. Nyx scoffed, muttering something about dogs, but Ravus was more focused on the outpost. He could smell the oil, grease, and gas from here, and while it was still disgusting, there was also a sort of familiarity to it that made him mind less.

As the truck began pulling into the parking lot, he didn't bother waiting for them to stop completely, jumping out and racing into the open garage, chirping.

An ecstatic squeal answered his chirps, and Cindy crashed headlong into his front legs.

“Toldja 'e was comin' t' visit, didn't I?” Cid's voice called out.

Cindy didn't answer, beaming up at Ravus as she pet through his fur. Purring, he ducked his head down to nuzzle through her hair. She smelled less like machines today, though it was still present in her scent. He wondered how long she'd scrubbed at herself when Cid had told her he was coming.

“Cindy! Hi!” Noctis yelled from behind them.

After a moment longer spent hugging him, the tiny blonde pulled away and waved at the approaching gaggle of children. “Howdy, Highness!”

As Noctis began introducing everyone to Cindy, Cid greeting Regis and his entourage, Ravus turned and returned to the truck.

“Forget something?” Nyx snarked as he jumped back into the bed.

He turned around to huff, blowing air in the man's face. Libertus snorted as Nyx recoiled away.

“I thought eating grass and crap was supposed to keep your breath from getting nasty!” the glaive said.

No, it was only supposed to help clean his teeth and digestive tract. If the man had listened to Dave and Yaeger he might have known that.

Grabbing his bag of blocks, Ravus returned to the children. He lowered his head to nudge Prompto closer when he noticed the boy drifting a little. But it looked like he had been right about Lunafreya and Cindy hitting it off. The two were chattering away while the boys largely just watched.

As he got Prompto to stand with the others, Ravus noticed Cid approaching. Lifting his head, he flicked his ears in greeting.

“So I hear Miss Yaeger gotcha means'a talkin'.” the grizzled old mechanic commented as the other adults began bidding their children goodbye. Ravus bobbed his head, dropping the bag and opening it up so Cid could see the blocks. The man gave a slight scoff. “Imagine Cindy'll be thrilled her friend can talk back... didn't think ya were all that hard t' understand without, but m'be that's just me.”

Cid was proficient at deciphering what Ravus was thinking. He got the feeling the Insomnians could learn a thing or two from the man, and not just about him.

“Head ya got a name, now, too.” Cid said, drawing his attention back to the present. The old mechanic reached out, cradling his jaw in one hand. “Commander Fleuret, eh?”

Ravus let out a low rumble of confirmation.

“Well damn,” Cid sighed, shaking his head and dropping his hand, “No wonder hearin' 'bout Tenebrae gotcha all worked up. Sure are takin' care'a all us fools, huh?”

He lowered his head to rub against the man's shoulder, mewing softly.

After a moment, Cid huffed, thumping a hand against his neck. “Well, at least someone's tryin'.”

Ravus huffed back as he pulled away, turning to look at the children. It looked like Nyx and Libertus were being introduced to Cindy. The other adults were starting to leave.

“It's smart, gettin' 'em out 'ere young,” Cid commented as they approached the group, “Get th' feelin' Reggie woulda kept 'em in that stuffy ol' castle till they got old, otherwise.”

You had no clue how close you were to the truth, Ravus thought with a snort.

The mechanic picked up on that, muttering, “Aw, Reg,” as they got close.

“We aren't planning to go far,” Libertus was telling the kids, “There's a handful of havens all located pretty close to here. Bar any life-threatening injuries or attacks from Niflheim, we want to avoid coming back to the outpost as much as possible. This isn't just a fun vacation, after all.”

“Commander Fleuret wants us to get a head start on things, right?” Ignis asked.

“That's right, kiddo. So Lib and I are gonna double-check everything, grab a few last-minute items from the store, and then we're gonna head out. Got it?” Nyx nodded.

The collection of children nodded, and the glaives looked carefully to him before moving away. Almost the second they did, Cindy launched herself towards Ravus, wrapping her arms around his leg as she looked up at him.

“I'm sorry,” the girl said, looking up at him with a sad expression, “Dying sounds awful.”

He found his head snapping up, ears flattened as he glared at the other children. All hands very quickly pointed to Noctis, who spluttered and looked indignant. Ravus made a mental note to bowl the boy over later. Cindy hadn't needed to know half of anything, and seeing her upset like this was never going to sit right with him.

Chapter Text

“Told you we weren't going far.” Nyx said smugly. His comment earned several stuck-out tongues. “Depending on all sorts of things, though, we may go elsewhere, be farther out.”

Ravus was the first to the haven, leaping up and turning to watch everyone else trek up. Libertus waited at the bottom, tapping each kid on the shoulder in head-count as they walked past. It would be hard to lose any of the six this early on in the trip, but Ravus certainly wasn't taking any chances. Good to see Libertus wasn't either.

“Okay, so,” Nyx declared as everyone gathered around, “First things first, we need to set up camp. Prompto, Noctis, Lunafreya, could you three clear the ground? We don't want any sticks or great big rocks lying around. Not only can people trip on those, no one wants to sleep on that. Ravus and Ignis, you two can help Libertus sort through and organize stuff. Gladiolus, I need an extra set of hands setting up the tents.”

“What about Commander?” Noctis frowned.

“He's keeping look-out. It may be daytime, and we may be on a haven, but there are wild animals that don't care. And the Empire can drop troops at any time they want. A coeurl should be deterrent enough for most monsters, but it's still important to have someone keeping watch.” Libertus answered.

The children all made understanding noises, then set out to perform their individual tasks. Ravus sat at the edge, tail coiled neatly around his paws, and watched. It had been a while since he'd been out in this much open space. The only reason he wasn't racing around doing flips was that he'd been able to go on walks and spar with Nyx a few times. Rather, he wanted to sprawl on the warm stone and—

That smelled like anak.

He twisted around, ears pricked and whiskers twitching.

It wasn't like he was starving. He probably wouldn't even eat that much if he did go hunting. But the promise of a hunt was... definitely tempting.

“Is everything okay?”

Blinking, Ravus looked down at Noctis. The prince was frowning as he swept an armful of small stones from the haven. After a moment, he stood and shook himself out. Noctis squawked in surprise, earning a giggle from Luna as she threw a handful of sticks away.

Even with the occasional mistake the children made, camp was set up decently quick. Once it was, Nyx and Libertus gathered everyone around the fire-pit.

“Okay, I'm sure you all know this by now, but just in case, let's go over it again.” Nyx declared with a clap of his hands. “This is not just a vacation. We're supposed to be clearing our heads after all the stuff Commander Fleuret told us, yeah. Changes of scenery help with that. But our favorite murder-cat wants you guys to be ready for the real world. So while we're out here we're gonna do some training.”

“Training... how...?” Prompto mumbled. Ravus found traces of sadness on the boy's scent, salt over the natural smell of spice and fresh-cut grass that defined the blonde.

“Combat, for those who need it, and life skills for all of you.” Libertus answered.

“You don't hafta fight if you don't wanna. Luna isn't.” Noctis told the other boy.

At his words, though, Lunafreya crossed her arms and asked, “Who says I'm not?” with a defiant tip of her chin.

Everyone laughed as Noctis began to splutter, trying to recover and retort. Everyone but Prompto, that was. The boy was still looking down at his feet, knitting his fingers together anxiously. Ravus nosed the small blonde's shoulder and jerked his head. After a moment, Prompto followed him to the edge of the haven. Nodding, Ravus lowered his head to unzip his bag and pull out his blocks.

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO

“H-huh...?” Prompto asked, blinking in confusion.

YOU HAVE NO OBLIGATION TO LEARN HOW TO FIGHT

TO BE HONEST YOU HAVE NO OBLIGATION TO BE HERE

YOU COULD HAVE STAYED AT THE CITADEL WITH IRIS IF YOU SO CHOSE

“W-well...”

There was a pause where blue eyes skated to the side, watching the others. Ravus waited, letting the boy assemble his thoughts.

“I... I don't wanna be a burden... and... everyone's been so nice...”

As Prompto trailed off, Ravus rearranged his blocks.

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO PROMPTO

After a moment, the boy murmured, “Gladio... Gladio told me about you... how you...”

Aah. Was that so.

He flicked his ears and tipped his head.

“... what was I like...?” Prompto asked, so quietly that Ravus wondered if anyone else would have heard.

For a moment, he considered the quiet boy in front of him. To be honest, most would probably be shocked at the physical differences. He wasn't, not much. The boy was young, and things like puberty, time, and the right diet and exercise plan could drastically change how someone looked. What Ravus had so much trouble wrapping his head around was the shift in personality.

I DIDNT KNOW MUCH SINCE IT WASNT MY PLACE OR JOB

BUT PROMPTO ARGENTUM WAS PRINCE NOCTISS BEST FRIEND

YOU WERE A MEMBER OF HIS RETINUE

YOU WERE A SHARPSHOOTER AND HANDLED ANY TECHNOLOGY RELATED ISSUES

WHILE I DIDNT KNOW YOU PERSONALLY YOU WERE ALWAYS VERY BRIGHT AND CHEERFUL

“... Oh...” the boy said, voice breathy. “Do you... do you think I could...”

Ravus chose not to answer, instead awkwardly placing a paw on his shoulder and licking at his hair a few times.

“Everything okay over there?” Libertus called.

“Uh— Yeah, I'm okay!” Prompto answered, giving Ravus a quick hug before hurrying back to the group.

Nyx and Libertus looked to him. He flicked his ears, turning to put the blocks away.

“... Right. Well, we're gonna start off simply. Knowing how to cook is important. While there's a lot of instant food in the world, you're not surviving on it. So tonight you kids are gonna help make the meal. But before that, Lib and I were thinking we'd do something that would give all the adults heart attacks if they heard about it.” Nyx explained.

Ravus had no clue where the glaives were going but he was all ears.

“We're gonna split up and go hunting.”

... He approved.

Chapter Text

“So while Lib and the others see if they can't find some peppers, we're going after daggerquills. Commander and I will be doing the brunt of the work. Ignis, if you think you can nail anything with those throwing knives, go for it. Gladiolus and Ravus, you two are responsible for covering Ignis. And afterwards, if there's any injuries to speak of, I'll be showing you three basic first aid.” Nyx explained as they walked. Ravus was in the lead, heading towards the quarry that he knew often had daggerquills perching within.

“Why do we need to learn first aid when we have potions and stuff?” Gladiolus asled.

“Curatives are a limited resource, even in the royal family. You can't use them for every little injury.” Ignis answered.

“And what if you don't have access to Noctis or the Lucis Caelum family?” Ravus's younger self added. “You two are connected to Noctis and his Armiger, but I'm not. Nor is Lunafreya or Prompto.”

“... It is kinda obvious, isn't it...” Gladiolus muttered.

“A little, but at the same time, it's a question asked by a lot of newbie soldiers. If you have something, why shouldn't you use it?” Nyx consoled.

The quarry was just up ahead. And there were definitely daggerquills in there, he could smell them. Ravus stopped, huffing. Upon noticing, Nyx drew his blades.

“Alright. Pros with tons of experience can whip stuff out as easy as breathing. But I want you guys to be ready before we go in. Sparring with other people is different from fighting wild animals, especially ones that fly.” the glaive instructed.

They waited for Gladiolus and Ravus's younger self to get their shields out and ready, Ignis tucking his knives into his belt with a studious frown. Nyx took a moment to go over the trio, making minor adjustments here and there before stepping back and looking to him.

Nodding, he slunk to the edge of the quarry and looked down. He counted ten of them. A quick jerk of his head called the others over, Nyx showing the boys how to crawl over on their stomachs to avoid detection.

“It's convenient that they're down there, in what equates to a box. I'm thinking you and I go down and whale on them. The boys can work from up here. Sound good?” Nyx murmured.

After a moment, Ravus gave a nod.

“Great. So, you three stay up here. Gladiolus, Ravus, your job is still to cover Ignis. Ignis, if it looks like any of them are trying to fly away, do your best to bring them down. We don't want them leaving the quarry.” the glaive instructed.

“Don't we only need a few, though?” Ravus's younger self frowned.

“We need enough to feed eight people, plus a coeurl. Ordinarily, two or three might be enough. But, as stated, we also need to feed a coeurl. Plus, Lib and I can show you lot how to sell parts for extra cash, and we can use leftovers for lunch tomorrow.”

A trio of quiet, understanding noises went up.

Nodding, Nyx turned back to Ravus. “I'm going to circle around to the other side. I can warp down from above, that way. I know you don't exactly blend, but do you think you can sneak down the trail?”

Huffing, he nodded.

The boys shuffled back, climbing to their knees as Ravus and Nyx left them. The glaive was taking advantage of his warping abilities to speed things up, while Ravus was working his way down the trail.

As he reached the bottom, the daggerquills started to take notice, fluttering and shuffling. They were watching him, wary of the coeurl approaching.

He looked up, towards where Nyx was. The glaive raised a hand— good to go.

Turning his attention back to the flock of birds, Ravus bared his teeth and let his whiskers crackle.

The daggerquills all instantly began to take off, only to be interrupted by Nyx warping in, one of them neatly impaled. As the birds began to screech, several diving for the glaive, Ravus leapt forward, catching a wing in his mouth. Claws dug into his fur and tore at his skin as the daggerquill fought desperately to get free. Ravus shook his head, and sensed the snapped neck more than anything.

Nyx suddenly sprang off his back and into the air with a whoop, turning the jump into a warp that caught two more of the daggerquills. Four down, six to go.

Almost the second the thought crossed his mind, there was a thump, a crying bird falling to the ground in front of him. A throwing knife dug sloppily into it's shoulder. Pouncing, Ravus put the thing out of it's misery.

“Heads up!” Nyx bawled.

Three of the daggerquills were flying up towards the boys. Nyx began warping, and Ravus elected to take care of the remaining two flapping around him. The things may have been resistant to lightning, but they weren't immune.

Condensing power into his whiskers— it was second nature by now, as if he'd always been a coeurl— he spun around to face the two daggerquills. Growling, he fell into a crouch. A harsh cry sounded, and the birds swooped down. Ravus exploded up to meet them, releasing the charge he'd been gathering with a roar.

One of the birds dropped, while the other flew in a dazed circle. Jumping up, Ravus managed to catch it by the leg. Squawking in rage, it began to scratch and peck at his face, nearly catching his eye. Snarling, Ravus swatted at it, and felt the crunch of bones under his paw.

“Alright!” Nyx declared, warping into existence in a shower of fractals. “That's all of them!”

Ravus huffed, already mentally marking the one in his mouth as his dinner.

“Let's get these things picked up, and then we can show those three how to take care of minor injuries.” the glaive declared.

Chapter Text

Ravus stood at the edge of the haven, ears pricked.

He swore he'd just heard laughter from somewhere. Not from the tents. From the desert. And he was remembering that dream, making him question whether or not he was asleep again.

There was a soft shuffle behind him, prompting him to look back.

His younger self crawled out of the smallest tent. “Commander?” the boy breathed.
Ravus chirped—

“I'm here.”

His younger self gasped, eyes wide as he scrabbled to his feet. After a moment, Ravus looked down at himself. Slowly, he lifted his hands, one flesh and one magitek.

“You're... human!” his younger self exclaimed.

... a dream, then.

Ravus huffed, turning away to stare off into the darkness. Hopefully he'd wake up soon, or Nyx or Libertus would wake up. They were, for the most part, safe on a haven, with an outpost within spitting distance and a fire burning in the pit. Most animals wouldn't be so ballsy. But some just didn't care.

There was some more shuffling, followed by a quiet coo and a tired call of, “Ravus?”

“Noctis!” his younger self replied.

Something began to wind around Ravus's legs, prompting him to look down. Carbuncle looked up at him with wide eyes, stretching his paws up to rest on Ravus's thigh.

“... Are we expecting anyone else to join us, then?” he asked tartly.

A phone chimed, and Noctis piped up, “He says no.”

As if on cue, the laughter sounded again. Carbuncle all but dove off the haven, chirping and squeaking.

“... Come on, then.” Ravus said curtly, jumping down as well.

“Aah—!”

“W-wait!”

He huffed, rolling his eyes as he began walking. Carbuncle chirped in a scolding manner, but didn't try to stop him. And it wasn't like it took the two that long to catch up to him.

The hand latching onto his own made him stutter and pause, though, looking down at Noctis.

“... I don't recall giving you permission to do that.” he informed the boy.

“Are you gonna say no?” the prince challenged.

“I ought to.” Ravus replied, voice scathing. His younger self stifled a chuckle, at least until he said, “Well get on with it.”

There was a pause, Carbuncle circling their feet. After that long moment, hesitant fingers slipped into his prosthetic hand.

“I really shouldn't be coddling either of you,” Ravus muttered as they began to follow the Messenger through the dark desert making up their collective dream, “If we were awake that would be one thing. This is another entirely.”

“I dunno, your nightmare was pretty scary.” Noctis piped up.

“That's another thing, just who invited you to do that?” he pointed out.

“If he hadn't, we never would've learned who you are.” his younger self rebuffed.

“Mother had figured it out. Keep up, Noctis, or I'm letting go.”

“I can't help it! Both of you have longer legs than me! You're unfairly tall!” the boy complained.

“If you want unfairly tall then you should see Gladiolus as an adult.” Ravus muttered.

“I don't want to.” Noctis sulked.

Laughter rang through the air, as if timed. Admittedly growing impatient, Ravus let go of both hands and stopped. Before either boy could question him, he'd scooped Noctis up.

“Come on. If this is who I think it is, we might not have long.” he ordered his younger self, lengthening his stride. Carbuncle gave a startled yelp as he swept past, the phone in Noctis's hand chiming.

“Who? Who is it?” his younger self asked, breaking into a jog.

As the night sky above became smeared, rushing by far too fast, he replied, “The first Oracle.”

Last time he'd had this dream, he had met the woman for all of a minute. She had apologized, as if everything was her fault, and woken him up. That was about the extent of their encounter. But if he was dreaming like this, with his younger self and Noctis as well, then maybe there was a chance for answers. For information he couldn't get elsewhere, that would help him figure out how to break the prophecy.

In what felt like both an eternity and no time at all, uncountable steps over a short distance, Ravus stood at the same tree, Noctis and his younger self pressing close as they stared with wide eyes. The first Oracle offered them a soft, sad smile, inclining her head. The boys both returned the gesture, Carbuncle doing similar with ears pressed back and tail down.

Ravus put Noctis down and stepped forward.

“Be careful, Ravus,” the Oracle warned, “The Astrals do not take kindly to defiance.”

“Then they chose the wrong man to give a second chance.” he growled.

Her eyes grew wide, and she shook her head. “If you don't—”

“Then at least my death won't be in vain!” he roared, voice growling just a little too much, and he couldn't tell if it was coeurl or daemon.

“Commander...?” one of the boys breathed. Noctis, from behind Ravus's younger self— attempting to be a shield in place of the absent one.

“The gods have forbidden me from interfering with their oh-so-precious prophecy. They sent me to prevent pain, loss, and suffering, as if their little game isn't filled to the brim with it. And so they expect me to sit aside and let everyone march to their deaths.” he explained, still growling.

“And if you defy them then they have no reason to keep you alive!” the first Oracle begged, reaching out to grab his hand.

He let her grab him, hold on and hold tight, staring at him with an air of franticness. But Ravus wasn't one to take things lying down. He didn't think he ever had been.

“I'm sorry,” he informed her, “But if you are here on their behalf in effort to stop me, you can inform Bahamut where I think he can put his bloody prophecy, and tell him to come fucking get me.”

A collective gasp went up, Carbuncle racing in circles around them.

“... You're insane...” the woman murmured, eyes wide.

“Please,” Ravus said curtly, snatching his wrist back, “I've been called much worse, so if you're aiming to hurt my feelings you'll have to try a little harder than that.”

“Commander?” his younger self asked.

“Listen carefully, both of you,” he ordered, turning to look at the boys, “The Astrals will teach you than men are chained to their fate, and cannot escape. But chains can be broken, through time, strength, and cunning. If they kill me for being defiant, so be it. But that doesn't mean any of you can just submit. You are your own people and get to choose your own fate.”

After a moment, both nodded, eyes wide. It looked like they were trying not to cry. Having such fair skin really did make such things hard to hide, even in dreams like this, didn't it?

The Oracle suddenly grabbed him again. Ravus whipped around, intent on snarling at her, but paused. She was looking around furtively. Making sure that whatever she was about to do would not be seen or heard. Carbuncle made an inquisitive noise, and both Noctis and his younger self pressed close behind him.

“... Tell Ardyn... tell him that I'm waiting for him. That Aera is waiting for him beyond, even if... even if he can never forgive me...” she murmured, grip tightening on Ravus's arm. Bowing her head, she said, “If I hadn't told Somnus anything... if I had just kept what was supposed to be a secret as such, then maybe none of this would have ever happened...”

“I'm not making any promises,” Ravus informed her, taking his arm back and picking Noctis up again, “Mostly on account of the Astrals, but also because I rather hate the man.”

“I'll tell him.” Noctis piped up. “He's the one with red hair, right? The Astrals can't stop me.”

The Oracle— Aera— bowed, murmuring thank-yous.

Carbuncle chirped—

“Rise and shine, everyone!” Nyx's voice bawled out, startling him into flailing and twisting frantically. “We've got a full day ahead of us, up and at 'em!”

Ravus stared, blinking in the morning light.

Groaning, he rolled onto his stomach and hid his face under his paws.

Chapter Text

“But what if I want to learn how to fight?” Lunafreya pouted, crossing her arms at Nyx.

“I mean, I don't think any of us present have anything against that. The issue, kiddo, is that you currently lack all sorts of training and I don't know if we have any spares fit for your build.” the glaive answered calmly.

Prompto looked up at Ravus, murmuring, “Can how you're built really effect what weapons you're good with?”

He bobbed his head.

Nyx and Libertus had been planning to split the group up again today. The two had been planning for Nyx to stay at the haven with the majority of the children and work on combat training, while Libertus took Prompto and Lunafreya over to Hammerhead to sell the daggerquill parts. Luna had taken instant offense. Apparently Noctis commenting that she didn't fight last night lit a fire in her. While Ravus would honestly rather she didn't fight, having skills to defend yourself was always a good idea.

Of course, with how the argument was going, nothing would get done until after noon.

Turning his head, Ravus grabbed his bag. Prompto noticed, and shyly called for attention. He didn't get much, but Ignis noticed and tugged on Libertus's shirt.

“Something the matter, Commander?” the glaive asked, moving closer.

UNARMED COMBAT

TEACH THEM THAT

After a moment, Libertus nodded, turning to tap at Nyx's shoulder. Once the other glaive had fallen silent, Libertus said, “If you really want to learn how to fight, we can take today to learn hand-to-hand techniques. We can all head over to Hammerhead real quick to sell our daggerquill, probably answer a million worried phone calls from Galdin Quay, then come back here and go over so unarmed combat basics. Deal?”

Lunafreya was thoughtfully quiet. Apparently deciding it was a satisfactory compromise, she nodded.

Camp was picked up— not entirely, but they couldn't exactly lock the door of a tent— and they started for Hammerhead. Nyx took the lead, Libertus bringing up the rear, and Ravus walked alongside the little procession.

Almost the second they reached the outpost, Ravus pulled away and trotted over to the garage. Cid and Cindy were in front of the building, and greeted him with their usual respective enthusiasm.

“Almost think Reggie doesn't trust ya, with how much th' sonovagun was callin' last night. Kept li'l miss Cindy here up all hours'a th' night.” Cid informed him with a snort.

Ravus rolled his eyes, nuzzling at the little girl in question.

Cindy chattered happily at him as she pet between his ears, telling him about the engine Cid was teaching her how to build. Occasionally the old mechanic would interject, correcting her words or the like, but for the most part it was just Cindy talking.

Noctis and Lunafreya were the first two to wander over. The two settled down quietly, letting Cindy notice them on her own. As Ravus took to stretching out over the heat of the blacktop, the trio took up seats leaning against his side. His younger self and Prompto appeared next. However, rather than join the conversation the other three were in the middle of, they began talking to Cid. Apparently Prompto was already developing an interest in machinery, and had sparked Ravus's younger self's curiosity with some of his chatter.

Before Nyx and Libertus could return with Ignis and Gladiolus, though, someone else approached.

Ravus couldn't help but flatten his ears and let out a bit of a hiss, raising a paw in warning.

The hunter hesitated, but came closer anyway. Ravus didn't trust that he couldn't see the other two anywhere.

“If ya couldn't tell, th' cat ain't fer sale.” Cid drawled, the children staring with wide eyes.

“No, no, Dave would... Dave would kill us... But... I don't know where they went! They said they were going off on a quick hunt, taking care of a rogue voretooth pack, but that was a week ago! They haven't called and the truck just got towed in at the next outpost over!” the hunter said hysterically, gesturing wildly with his hands.

Ravus narrowed his eyes.

“Told th' other hunters yet?” Cid replied, getting up with a grunt.

“Yeah, but everyone's in the middle of hunts right now, and Dave's still in Duscae about the baby behemoth!”

“What's going on?” Lunafreya asked Cindy, voice quiet.

“Sounds like some of th' hunters've gone missing. If they vanished on a hunt, then they might'a...”

The girl trailed off. As silence fell over the children, Cid leading the hunter away, Ravus sighed. Sitting up, he twisted about and licked at their faces and hair. Noctis, Prompto, and Cindy all squealed, squirming and flailing, while Luna squawked and his younger self just about fell over in shock. Shaking his head, Ravus huffed at them and settled down again.
He wasn't going to be soft and mushy over the people that tried to trap him so they could sell him for parts. He disliked the idea of needless death, or being killed and eaten by daemons, but if it turned out the other two had just gotten lost and suffered from sprained limbs, well... they deserved it, in his opinion.

Before too much longer, the other four had rejoined the group. Ignis was scribbling furiously in a notepad, forcing Ravus to wonder if the boy ever relaxed. Political dossiers, gymnastics and housekeeping, tutoring Noctis... Ravus wasn't exactly one for casual pastimes, but even he knew the importance of lying down and not working on occasion.

They took some time to talk to Cindy, said goodbye to Cid when the man reappeared, and returned to the haven. Things were put away, and the glaives started preparing to teach the children unarmed combat.

“Uh...!” Prompto piped up timidly, face red. “Wh-what if I don't want to fight...?”

“I said, didn't I?” Noctis huffed, cheeks puffed up as if that would make him look serious or intimidating. “You don't have to.”

“You really don't,” Nyx agreed, “I imagine the marshal will put you through some stuff when you get older, but we can't really make you do anything. I imagine if you really wanted, the Commander could take you on a walk? Build up your photography resume.”

Ravus almost flattened his ears at the roundabout way of telling him to do something. Instead, he sent the glaive a withering glare and took to nudging the blonde boy off the haven. They hadn't gone too far when Nyx hollered after them about still wanting a hard copy of the picture Prompto took during the spar. The boy blushed furiously. Ravus made a mental note to potentially talk to Cor about the idea of Prompto selling his pictures. One of his goals here was to get these kids started in the real world, a job would definitely help with that.

So they started to wander. Not too far from the haven, but far enough away that neither party would distract the other. A few times, Prompto would stop, holding his camera up to take a careful picture of something or other. Ravus would be the first to admit that he didn't know much about photography, but the boy seemed to know at least something of what he was doing.

As they kept walking, though, Ravus found himself growing agitated. There was a smell lingering over things that was triggering some instinct of his. Not hunting, that was for sure. This didn't smell like... like prey. There was a voretooth scent around, but it was... less than fresh. That wasn't what he was smelling. It smelled large, animal, but sick. There was blood on the scent. And beyond that, there was something disgustingly familiar about the smell.

As he tried to figure the scent out, Prompto suddenly gave a strangled, “C-Commander...!”

Blinking, Ravus found they were standing at the edge of a small cliff. Less of a cliff, really, and more like they had climbed up some rocks. Prompto was looking down, face pale and eyes wide. And as he looked down, Ravus saw why.

Staring back at them was another coeurl, standing in a mess of voretooth carcasses.

Not just voretooth.

There were a pair of mangled human bodies down there.

As the coeurl below flattened it's ears and bared blackened teeth, Ravus was hit with another sickeningly familiar smell that made the situation all the more dire.

The other coeurl had the Scourge.

Chapter Text

Ravus bumped against Prompto, knocking the boy away as the sick coeurl attacked. He heard a cry of shock or pain, fear filling the air alongside the stink of Scourge-ridden coeurl. But he wasn't given the option of worrying about that, the other coeurl already on him, whiskers sparking and fangs snapping. Ravus let out a roar, as loud as he could, and hoped that they were still close enough to the haven for him to be heard.

Only pausing for a moment to check where Prompto was, Ravus threw all his weight against the enemy coeurl. It tumbled backwards, falling back over the edge of the rocks. He quickly followed it down, snarling and driving his front paws into it's stomach. It howled in pain, but retaliated by driving it's hind legs up, winding him enough that it was able to shake him off.

The sick coeurl got up and took to circling, growling as it did so. Without thinking, Ravus did the same, an answering growl rumbling in his chest.

He was bigger. Better-fed. This other coeurl looked to be little more than skin and bones. Maybe that was why it had the Scourge. An immune system weakened by hunger and desperation bad enough to consume contaminated food. It looked like it hadn't groomed itself for quite some time. It's pelt looked scraggly, and lacked the sheen Ravus himself had. One of it's whiskers appeared to be half-gone. But it's saliva dripped black, eyes bloodshot. That more than anything made him wary of this coeurl.

They continued to circle, both with bristling, lashing tails, raised hackles, and sparking whiskers. Ravus could smell Prompto nearby still, and he wished for the love of Ifrit that the boy would run, but who knew what else the desert had to offer. Loathe as he was to admit it, the safest place for Prompto to be right now was right by this fight.

As if sensing Ravus's thoughts, the other coeurl's head swung towards Prompto's scent.

His growl crescendoed into a scream as he launched himself at the sick coeurl, instinctively snapping his teeth for the thing's neck. It screamed back, and he felt brittle bones snap before it managed to wriggle away. Painfully gull claws dug into his shoulder, tearing more than slicing. The smell of blood in the air grew stronger.

The sick coeurl reared up, boxing at his head, and Ravus threw his shoulder into it's ribs. It tumbled back, twisting and thrashing, but Ravus was unable to follow up quickly enough, tripping over one of the corpses.

For all that was sacred Ravus hoped Prompto would bloody fucking run soon.

The other coeurl keened at him, ears flattened and fur bristling as it pressed down to the ground. Ravus bared his teeth and answered the challenge with a snarl, whiskers crackling. For a moment, neither of them moved, angry feral noises filling the air.

There was a scuffle— the sound of running.

Finally. About time.

The sick coeurl made an aborted lunge in the direction of the noise. Roaring, Ravus threw all his weight against the thing. As it screamed in agony, he felt more bones breaking. It's hind legs all but gave out from under it, and Ravus felt a surge of triumph—

Twisting towards him, the coeurl sank it's teeth into his shoulder.

For a moment, Ravus couldn't move. Bile rose up in his throat, the stink of death and sickness and decay filling his lungs.

Oh Six he could feel the Scourge slipping into him.

Panic filled him, and he yowled as he fell into a roll. The other coeurl's grip on his shoulder loosened, and he felt more than heard the snapping of it's neck. As he got back to his feet, though, the panic didn't leave. He could still feel the plague in him, feel it squirming through his system just like before. A ragged scream, twisted and broken, ripped it's way free as he fell to the side, scraping his shoulder against the sand and stone as if that would get rid of the Scourge.

Not again, he thought. Not again not again not again please not again. Any other death, he'd take it, just not this, not the sickness, not the abject wrongness, please, no...

“Commander!”

He reacted on instinct, still keyed up. Whirling around, his claws barely missed Nyx's chest.

“Easy, Commander!” the glaive barked, stepping recklessly closer. “Shit that already looks infected...”

Not helping!

Nyx stepped even closer, laying ginger hands on Ravus's shoulder with a frown. “... Okay. Alright. Lunafreya already has her Oracle magic, right? Just calm down, we can go back to the haven and she can cure it.”

He gave a strangled noise, fur still bristling. He could feel the sickness, already spread through his leg and working it's way up his neck and down his chest. It was mirroring what had happened before so closely, bile built up on his tongue.

“Aw, shit, I bet those are those missing hunters... Lemme grab the tags, and then we can grab Prompto and go get cured, alright?” Nyx told him, rubbing between Ravus's ears. Still on edge now, he found himself ducking away from the touch with a loud growl.

And yet despite that— or maybe because of it— the second Prompto was in view, Ravus almost knocked the boy over rubbing against him. Through the haze of anger and fear, he vaguely recognized the instincts driving him as something protective and possessive— marking as his. Ensuring the other coeurl hadn't touched the boy.

As they walked, heading for the haven, Nyx explained what had lead to his showing up. Apparently, Libertus had grown concerned with how long the two of them had been gone, so Nyx had gone out to find them. He'd vaguely heard Ravus's roar, and had seen Prompto running not long after. It had taken a minute to get coherent words out of the boy, long enough that by the time the glaive had arrived the fight was over. Ravus imagined that he could have figured out what happened on his own, but... listening to Nyx idly chattering was helping calm him down. That and reaching out to nose at Prompto every four or five steps. It took his mind off the squirming and writhing under his fur.

The first thing he did upon their reaching the haven was rub over all the children, grumbling softly as Nyx relayed what had happened to Libertus. Lunafreya shakily performed her magic, the Lucian children staring with wide eyes at the the golden glow.

“... So... there were... people...?” Noctis mumbled as Ravus, freshly healed, herded all the children together in effort to curl around all of them.

Prompto was quiet, nodding.

“The hunters that Cindy said went missing...?” Lunafreya murmured, looking down.

“... Probably...” Prompto answered.

Ravus groaned, rolling his eyes.

“They're only kids, murder-cat. Cut them some slack, especially since I highly doubt you became a perfect soldier overnight.” Nyx commented, leaning against Ravus's other side as he sat down.

“Maybe so, but... isn't it better now than when Niflheim comes for us?” Ignis put softly forth.

Ravus purred, nodding in approval.

Any plans that were had for the rest of the day ended up going out the window, Ravus's inner coeurl throwing a fit any of the children moved too far from him.

Chapter Text

“Now remember,” Nyx urged as the group headed towards Hammerhead for the last time, “We tell none of the adults any of the ‘bad’ stuff we did.”

A round of solemn nods went up. Ravus couldn't help but roll his eyes a bit.

The week of camping was up. While the children were starting to get the hang of things, learning how to cook, pack equipment, sell monster parts for gil, they were only just starting. There was so much more that could be done, could be taught. They needed more time, but time was a limited resource.

The plan now was to spend the day at Hammerhead. The adults would be there too, playing catch-up with Cid. In the afternoon, they would start returning to Insomnia, stopping to drop Nyx and Libertus off at the front lines. And after that... well, Ravus had more to tell everyone, didn't he? Details and particulars of everything.

As they reached the outpost, Nyx and Libertus took the children to sell their last scraps of various things, boasting about extra pocket-money. Ravus chose to head over to where Cindy was, the little girl smiling happily at him. He settled down next to her, unzipping his bag.

“Howdy, Commander.” Cindy greeted, scratching behind his ears. He purred, bobbing his head as much as possible without losing the scratching. “You're headin' back to Insomnia today, right?”

He nodded again.

“Well... make sure you visit again, 'kay?”

Of course.

Dipping his head down, Ravus picked out the blocks he wanted. Cindy lit up, positively beaming as he arranged the letters.

IF THEY WONT LET ME ILL RUN AWAY

“Aww!” Cindy cooed, hugging him. He purred in response, making her giggle.

Before too long, the Regalia and her entourage of guards appeared. You would think the children had been gone for years with how the adults reacted. Admittedly, there was the threat of daemons, of Niflheim, of the dark future Ravus came from... but it was still ridiculous.

Nyx and Libertus ended up tasked with watching the children, Cid leading everyone else into the garage. The door was left open, but they retreated to the back of the building so their discussion wouldn't be heard.

“So,” the old mechanic opened up, “In ten-odd years, Insomnia's gonna kick th' bucket.”

“Unless we figure out some way to prevent it.” Clarus nodded.

“The Commander already gave me all that he could on locations of various imperial bases. I don't exactly have the map on me, but it gives us some pretty valuable inside info.” Cor pitched in.

“Right, right.” Cid nodded, staring at Regis.

Blinking, Ravus followed the old man's gaze. The king was standing silently, head bowed and fists clenched.

“... Even if we can defeat Niflheim, that means nothing if we don't defeat the Starscourge.” Ravus's mother murmured. The defeat in her voice had him swinging his head around, eyes narrowed.

“Gonna hafta fill me in on that bit.” Cid drawled, sitting down and leaning back.

In the silence, Ravus began digging out his blocks, nudging them in and out of place as needed.

THE ASTRALS WOULD HAVE NOCTIS DIE TO BANISH THE SCOURGE

HE IS TO MEET THE ACCURSED AND DEFEAT HIM

THEN OFFER HIS OWN LIFE TO CLEANSE EOS

“Now that ain't right.” Cid scowled.

“But what can we do?” Regis said, voice plaintive.

Ravus threw his weight to the side, knocking the man over.

“Ravus!” his mother exclaimed scoldingly as Cid guffawed. He flicked his ears, huffing back at her. “Nevertheless, it is a valid question! You don't need to bully anyone!”

“Perhaps,” Cid said as Clarus and Cor helped Regis up, “Y'all oughta fill me in on this Accursed fella?”

Ravus's mother and Regis took over, explaining the story of Adagium, the Starscourge, and Ardyn.

At the end of it, Cid asked, much to their surprise, “An' no Oracle ever healed th' guy cuz...?”

The sentence struck a chord in Ravus's mind, making him stand up from where he'd been sitting.

“We can only heal so much,” his mother protested, “We can't... undaemonify a person, or bring the dead back to life!”

“Don't sound like th' man is a daemon, though. Jus' sick.” Cid fired back.

It was true, wasn't it, Ravus reflected as he began to pace. Ardyn was the embodiment of the Starscourge, but he was, in essence, a victim of the affliction. He was... patient zero, in a sense. Others— even Ravus himself— called the bastard a daemon, and in some aspects he was. But he wasn't really, was he? Ardyn was still largely human. He could walk in the sun, could speak, could think.

A memory surfaced, and Ravus lunged for his blocks, nearly knocking Cor over in the process and cutting off a heated debate.

I THINK LUNAFREYA TRIED

“... What?” Clarus asked warily.

BEFORE SHE DIED

I WASNT RIGHT THERE

BUT I THINK SHE TRIED TO HEAL ARDYN

“That doesn't necessarily mean anything.” Cor frowned, crossing his arms over his chest.

Ravus snorted, rolling his eyes as he swept the blocks aside to clear the field.

IT WOULD TAKE TIME

YEARS

POSSIBLY GENERATIONS

BUT IF ITS POSSIBLE FOR THE ORACLE TO CLEANSE THE ACCURSED THEN WE MIGHT HAVE AN ALTERNATIVE

“Possibly,” Regis sighed, “But are the Astrals going to allow that? Or are they going to force us to follow their word?”

Well, it was probably best not to hide it...

THEYVE ALREADY THREATENED MY LIFE

“So no,” Clarus said as Ravus's mother stared in horror, “They probably won't. Chances are they'd kill you and quite possibly us.”

In the silence that followed, Ravus could hear playful shrieking outside. It sounded like some form of tag was being playing. There were lots of yells that warping was cheating, anyway.

The Astrals were the problem, weren't they. Even if the idea of healing Ardyn via Oracle magic worked and the slimy bastard agreed to work with them, the issue became Bahamut and his gang of cronies. There was nothing saying the Six wouldn't start striking people dead in order to get their oh-so-precious prophecy.

It was Cid who broke the silence, offering up a plain and simple, “Sue 'em.”

It took a moment for his words to sink in.

“Pardon?” Regis warbled, voicing everyone's confusion for them.

The old mechanic gave an almost lazy shrug. “There's stories 'bout it, ain't there? Folks goin'ta court with th' Six, nonsense like that?”

“Yes, but,” Ravus's mother said, resting a worried hand on his shoulder, “They rarely turn out well for the ones who do.”

“Sylva,” Cid said in a serious tone, “Yer son's a coeurl, an' yet th' punk's gone an' done all'a what now? If anyone's gonna sue th' Six fer custody'a Eos, I think we all know who's got th' best fightin' chance.”

He couldn't help but flick his tail thoughtfully. It wasn't a bad idea per se.

“Right,” Cor huffed, “Like you could pay anyone nearly enough to host that shitshow in their courtroom.”

True. And the alternative was letting the Astrals choose the judge and jury.

“Well,” Cid said, standing with a grunt, “I'll put out th' word fer ya. I ain't gonna do all yer work, though. Getcher act t'gether 'fore shit hits th' fan, an' ah'll get back t' ya on what turns up.”

... Was there anything saying that they couldn't have the mess here at Hammerhead?

Chapter Text

Ravus swept aside his blocks as his words were processed.

It was the day after the return to Insomnia. Nyx and Libertus were once more on the front lines. The children were currently in the library, since a suitable tutor still hadn't been found. And Ravus was in Regis's office, finishing up his story. He had told them everything he could recall, from the fall of Tenebrae to his death. It didn't take a genius to know that was a lot.

As he laid down, Ravus glanced around the office to assess reactions. His mother was crying, covering her mouth with one hand and looking away as if her life depended on it. Cor stood at the wall, arms folded and back to the room as he presumably glared at the framed pictures before him. Clarus was pale, trembling with wide eyes. Regis sat with his head bowed and fists clenched so hard his knuckles were white.

In the silence, Ravus took to sorting his blocks by letter, haphazard little sets of four with no color coordination cropping up next to the bag. He had gotten through most of the letters and was working on numbers when the silence was broken. Surprisingly, it was Regis who spoke up.

“We are blessed to have had you come back, Commander...” the king murmured, looking more like the tired old man Ravus had seen before Insomnia's fall. Weary, uncertain but accepting. Resigned.

He didn't say anything in response to Regis's words, just looked away with a twitch of his ears.

“So. Now what?” Cor asked, voice sharp and tense.

“We have the Commander's map of Niflheim's bases. We can organize infiltration parties to take them down.” Clarus said, obviously dodging the true question.

Ravus reorganized his blocks and mewed for attention.

WE NEED ARDYN

“Do we really?” Regis muttered, rubbing his hand over his face.

Grunting a bit, Ravus nodded.

“If we're going to... to sue the Astrals, then... Six, even if that isn't a viable option, doesn't that old saying tell you to keep your enemies close?” his mother said. Even though she was, in theory, siding with him, Ravus could smell how unhappy she was. Standing up, he moved closer and rubbed his cheek against her shoulder. “I'm alright, Ravus, honest...”

“Fine, so we need to bribe Niflheim's chancellor into joining our side. How, exactly, do we go about doing that?” Cor spoke up. Ravus could appreciate the marshal keeping everyone on track.

“... Lie and say if he comes to Insomnia we'll discuss terms of surrender?” Clarus suggested.

“No,” Regis said almost immediately, “Niflheim would be all too happy to spread that Insomnia has surrendered across every news outlet and gossip rag. We don't need the people to lose even more faith in us.”

Good to see Regis was taking his words seriously, if nothing else.

Before any more ideas could be put forth, Ravus's mother spoke up. “Use me.”

He was incredibly thankful for the blank, “Beg your pardon?” that went up around the room. If it hadn't, well, Ravus would have been more than a little miffed at Regis and his friends.

His mother explained, “If the Oracle isn't out giving her blessing and healing the afflicted, people will lose hope. With the loss of Tenebrae, my absence is to be expected for a while. A mourning period for my country, while I recover and ensure my children will be alright. But it is nearing time where the populous will grow uneasy if I do not return to my duties.”

He hated that she was right.

“So what,” Clarus frowned, “We bargain for you to be granted safe pilgrimage despite the war?”

Ravus's mother nodded.

Ravus couldn't help but groan, pushing his face against her shoulder to show what he thought, ears flat and tail swinging.

“I know, Ravus,” she said gently, running her fingers through his fur, “But if we're going to do this... what other choice do we have?”

You didn't have to tell him that. It didn't stop him from whining in the back of his throat, though.

“So we write to the empire saying we wish to discuss Lady Sylva's pilgrimage. We would hold these negotiations here in Insomnia, with only their chancellor. Will that be enough, Commander?” Regis sighed, slumping in his seat.

He shrugged, honestly not certain. Communications and negotiations hadn't been his job. They had been Ardyn and Glauca's. When he'd taken position of the high commander, there hadn't been any more negotiations to make. Just that time in Altissia. And that had been less of negotiations and more of...

“... Well, I best get writing, then...” Regis muttered, drawing Ravus from his thoughts.

As the king straightened up and began searching about his desk, Clarus moved to hover while Cor left. Ravus's mother helped him gather up his blocks, and then they left as well.

The smell of frost and pine didn't escape him, even if he didn't see Gentiana anywhere. A slight growl escaped him, his shoulders starting to bristle.

A gentle hand found it's way between his ears. “Ignore her, Ravus. Until she explicitly moves against us, we need to focus on the issues at hand.” his mother told him, voice soft but determined.

After a moment, he nodded.

The two of them kept moving, and Ravus made a mental note to tell the children their plans. That way, even if the Astrals decided to eliminate him and the adults... well, at least that way the younger generation would know they had options.

Chapter Text

By the time he realizes, ever so vaguely, that he's dreaming again, Ravus is covered in blood. He's standing over dying Kingsglaive and Crownsguard, marching tirelessly forward and dragging a weapon that feels more appropriate for an iron giant than a shambling, daemonified corpse. Behind him is ruin and Scourge, the sensation of an ice-cold, unyielding hand steering him forward, forward, forward.

Before long, Ravus finds himself standing over a huddled mass of children, white and pure and clean in comparison to his twisted, tainted self. The baby-like smell of them taunts him through the acidic tang of the Scourge, wide blue eyes staring as they tremble.

They have names, Ravus knows, but he can't summon them. Can't remember, can't speak. Can only move as that unseen hand dictates, and he's raising his weapon up over his head—

A loud crash had him shooting awake with a snarl, whiskers crackling. The ground vibrated under his paws, and for a moment Ravus thought the empire had come early. But then playful shrieking reached him as well, and though he didn't relax he was brought back to reality.

It looked like the sunny afternoon he'd been napping in had turned stormy. The marble he was on was sheltered from the rain that was pouring down, but had turned chilled. And if the delighted screams and ecstatic barks were anything to go by, it sounded like the children were playing. Ravus shook himself out with a huff, sitting back down.

It only took a second for him to find the tiny horde in the grey curtains of rain. It looked like they were playing tag as they sloshed about the now-muddy lawn. Pryna and Umbra raced around the children's feet, but Ravus couldn't tell which pup was which.

Leviathan help him they were all filthy.

Before long, Iris noticed him watching. Grinning, she darted around the others to approach him. Ravus stood, eyeing her warily. He was clean and dry, wasn't particularly interested in becoming so covered in mud that he resembled a standard coeurl.

“You should come play with us!” Iris declared with a smile, a muck-covered hand extended.

After a moment, Ravus backed up a few steps, shaking his head.

The tiny girl pouted, lower lip jutting out. “Why not?”

Because he didn't want to get so messy he resembled some type of flan?

“It's okay to get a little muddy, we can take baths!” Iris pressed insistently.

Baths were exactly what you lot needed.

As Ravus lowered himself down, intending to watch and keep an eye on the filthy little gremlins, Iris lunged forward. Ravus did his best to move away, but stepped on a whisker— dammit, he thought he'd outgrown that!— and failed to escape. The tiny Amicitia planted a muddy hand square on his cheek. Howling victoriously, she took off into the rain again.

Lightning rippled across the sky as Ravus stood.

His exploding into the rain was heralded by thunder.

All the children screamed in delight as his paws threw up a muddy spray. Pryna and Umbra howled, racing in ecstatic circles. As the rain pelted him relentlessly, Ravus batted at Iris, mindful of his strength. Even so, she was bowled over, the ankle-deep muck that used to be a lawn slippery enough that she was sent careening into Noctis.

Throwing back his head, Ravus let out the softest roar he could manage. The children thankfully seemed to understand, and stopped running about. Huffing, Ravus jerked his head.

“Awww!”

Absolutely not. The sheer amount of mud and grass caking the lot of them was enough to form a small island. And he could see how pink their noses were getting. It was a cold rain, and if they stayed outside they would almost certainly catch colds. Especially his younger self and Luna, he remembered getting sniffles pathetically easily when they were young. He could only imagine the nightmare it would be if all of them got sick. How did adults deal with children?

Ravus nosed and pushed, grumbling deep in his throat to keep the group moving. His younger self and Ignis were helpful in picking up the balls of muck that used to be puppies. While he did his best to shake himself off, those two got the others to scrape off what mud they could and take off their shoes. Minimizing the mess as much as possible.

After a moment of thinking, Ravus took to herding the children towards the Fleuret suite. He knew that there were two baths in the suite, could split the children up between them and get them cleaned off. And his blocks were there, he could get someone to fetch clothes for the little menaces.

Staff that saw them moving through the castle would smile or giggle. A handful ran off to clean up behind them, and Ravus dipped his head apologetically to them.

When they finally got to the suite, Ravus pushed the children apart— Lunafreya and Iris towards one bathroom, puppies in hand, and the boys towards the other. It'd be a squeeze, with five children of varying sizes. But as far as Ravus was concerned, they could take turns. They needed a bath, all of them, and he trusted the boys to actually do that less than the girls.

Once he was content that baths were underway, he managed to catch a staff-member and request that clean clothes be fetched. With all the immediate problems taken care of, Ravus turned his attention to his own need for cleaning. For the most part, his fur just needed rearranging, but there was also dirt on his face— Iris's muddy little handprint— and some on his paws. Settling down where he could hear both bathrooms and the suite-door, he got to work.

The boys were chattering animatedly. Surprisingly minimal splashing. But that smelled like a lot of soap. They had probably elected to take a bubble bath.

Luna and Iris were laughing, Umbra and Pryna barking up a storm. Ravus was willing to attribute most of the splashing from that bathroom to the puppies.

Thunder rolled outside, almost masking the door opening. Ravus looked up from grooming his whiskers with a slight growl, eyes wide.

“I was told that we needed clothes?” his mother asked in amusement, closing the door behind herself.

Ravus couldn't help his groan of relief, getting to his feet and trotting over to rub against her. She chuckled, shifting the apparent bag of clothes to one hand so she could scratch through his fur. Closing his eyes and tilting his head, he purred in appreciation.

A loud shriek sounded from the girls' bathroom, and Ravus dropped his head with his ears flattened. He loved his sister, and Iris was a sweet girl, but he swore to whoever would take it...

“Here,” his mother said, pulling a set of clothes from the bag, “I'll go see what that was all about. I don't imagine anyone could fit all of them in one tub, so you take care of the others.”

They took a moment to fetch clothes for his younger self and sister, as well as towels, and then split up to tend to their separate clusters of tiny human monsters. As he delivered the clothes and began hustling everyone back out of the tub, Ravus decided he was going to have to start charging for this. He wasn't a nanny, it wasn't his job to babysit. If he kept getting saddled with stuff like this, he was going to demand a salary.

Chapter Text

Ravus clumsily nosed the book shut. The soft thump didn't have the same cathartic effect as a resounding slam, and that only served to frustrate him further. He glared heatedly at the offending tome.

It had been a few days since Regis had sent correspondence to Niflheim. Ravus was counting on the letter having already arrived by this point, but there was a chance it might take longer. And then after that... who could tell. Ardyn's smug nature and curiosity might lead him to all but abandon the empire to see the reason for their specific request. But it was just as likely that the capricious bastard would take his sweet time getting here. Either way, Ravus didn't have a whole lot of time to do his research.

Good thing there wasn't a whole lot of research to be done, he thought acidly. Anything and everything he could find on the stories of people challenging the Astrals legally was little more than footnotes. He was starting to get the feeling his best bet for anything at this point was that walking sack of daemons. Ravus hated the idea that he was going to be forced to rely on Ardyn of all people, but sacrifices needed to be made in war, he supposed.

Grumbling quietly, Ravus began gathering the books he'd been given up. The archivists were in awe of how little his teeth marked them up while he was using them.  Every time he entered the archives and library he was offered an assistant, but every time he had made do. Just because he didn't have thumbs didn't mean he couldn't do something as simple as read a book. And he was getting more efficient about it, too.

Once he'd gotten the books stacked, it only took a minute of mewling for an archivist to notice. He was told it was okay to be a little louder, making him shake his head as the man in question picked up the books. This was a library, you were supposed to be quiet here.

On his way out, Ravus found himself face-to-face with Ignis.

“Oh,” the boy blinked, quickly bobbing his head around his stack of books, “Hello.”

Ravus dipped his own head, looking curiously at the small tower Ignis was carrying out. To his surprise, he recognized almost all of the books. They were ones he'd been using for his research in how to break the prophecy.

“Ah— If what you're doing concerns our future, then I should do my best to be read up on the issues at hand.” Ignis explained, apparently catching his gaze.

After a moment, Ravus nodded. The advisor-to-be had no obligation to do so, but it certainly wouldn't hurt.

He found himself following after the boy, wanting to see how Ignis's interpretations of the readings differed from his own. He wasn't quite the confident man Ravus remembered, but Ignis Scientia was still an intelligent and responsible boy, that was for damn sure.

These children were all so different from what he remembered, he reflected as they walked. Prompto was a completely different person, Ignis seemed content to act completely invisible, Noctis... okay, he had known to expect Noctis. He could remember the change between a soft-spoken but smiley boy in a wheelchair and a sullen brat playing at being an adult. Ravus supposed he should have expected that the marlith subdued the boy's personality.

“Erm,” Ignis said awkwardly, drawing Ravus out of his thoughts, “You don't... you don't have to accompany me, Commander.”

If he hadn't been carrying his bag of blocks he would have shaken his head at the boy. As it was, he settled for rolling his eyes with a huff.

“Oh... Okay...”

Surprisingly, Ravus found they were heading for full suites, similar to the one his family had been in at first. Ones that equated to fully furnished apartments. He would have thought that Ignis would be in something more like what the Fleurets were in now. But he supposed it came down to what the boy's guardian wanted.

But as Ignis unlocked the suite and let him step inside, Ravus realized he couldn't smell anything even remotely like a guardian. The place was covered in Ignis's scent— a smell like crisp paper, clean sweat, and kitchen spices— with traces of Noctis, Regis, Clarus, and Cor. But no lasting, lingering adult smell.

Ravus turned to level a stare at the boy. Ignis pulled up short, eyes wide behind his glasses. Dropping his block bag, Ravus took to investigating the suite, nosing his way through rooms. Despite being lived in, it was clean. Clean to the point of military-officer Fleuret, almost completely barren of anything personal. And no matter how thorough he was in his search, Ravus was finding absolutely no traces whatsoever of an older Scientia of any kind.

Fetching his blocks, Ravus returned to Ignis and spelled out his concern.

ARE YOU LIVING ON YOUR OWN

The boy stammered for a moment before straightening up and declaring, “As Prince Noctis's advisor and chamberlain, it's important that I be self-sufficient from an early age.”

AND WHO TOLD YOU THAT

Ignis didn't answer, face reddening a bit.

If it was Regis, Ravus was going to maul the man. Yes, during their time in Niflheim he and his sister had been more or less left to rot. But even so, they had been given guardians. Maria, at least. Guards to ensure they didn't run away the rest of the time. And if Ignis, younger than he had been, was being told to suck it up and fend for himself—

“No one... said it...” the boy mumbled. “But I know everyone expects it of me...”

WELL THEN THEY CAN SUFFER

YOU HAVE SOME YEARS BEFORE YOU NEED TO WORRY ABOUT THAT

Ignis's gaze flickered to the books laid out on the table. An unspoken ‘do I?’

Rumbling in what he hoped was a comforting purr, Ravus moved closer and ran his tongue over the boy's hair. Ignis jerked in surprise, eyes wide. Still purring, Ravus dropped his head in an invitation to scratch his ears. After a moment, the boy picked up on what he was doing, and began rubbing gentle circles with his fingertips. Ravus tipped his head so Ignis was rubbing just the right spot. He could smell the way Ignis was relaxing.

After a minute, Ravus pulled away and returned to his blocks.

I DONT CARE WHAT ANYONE SAYS

YOU SHOULDNT BE LIVING ON YOUR OWN

“But I can, so why shouldn't I?” the boy objected.

Ravus turned and thumped his head against the boy hard enough to knock him back. As Ignis recovered, Ravus moved to the suite's couch and settled down on it, one leg forced to hang off due to how big he was. Huffing stubbornly, he rubbed his cheek against the upholstery, daring Ignis to object further.

Chapter Text

He was supervising the children training when it happened. A cold, unnatural prickle rolled down his spine, making his ears flatten and fur stand on end. His first thought was Gentiana, but the way Umbra and Pryna hurried to hide behind his paws made him rethink that.

“Commander?” Prompto asked softly, the only one not training.

Ravus didn't respond to the boy, turning his head this way and that. He couldn't smell anything, couldn't see anything, yet he had a distinct feeling that something was here. Something big and less than friendly.

Realizing just what it might be, Ravus let out a short, abrupt roar. The clanging of swords and thumping of feet stopped, all eyes coming to rest on him. He looked warily around again, then jerked his head.

“What's wrong?” Noctis asked Prompto as the children came obediently closer.

“I don't know...” the blonde boy replied, fear starting to bead up on his scent.

“Whatever it is, Pryna and Umbra aren't happy either.” Ravus's younger self noted as weapons and protective padding were pushed into Noctis's Armiger.

Ravus huffed, ears still flattened against his skull. His tail and shoulders were bristling by this point. As much as this could potentially be good news, his first priority was getting the children somewhere safe.

His younger self, Gladiolus, and Ignis had picked up on the potential danger by this point. They had arranged themselves around the other three, shields and weapons in hand. Luna and Prompto each held a puppy, and Noctis was holding a dagger. Ravus nodded with a huff and started them walking.

They moved at a steady pace, Ravus keeping the children against the wall so anything or anyone that thought to attack would have to go through him first. He steered them all towards Ignis's suite— hopefully anyone searching for them wouldn't think to look in such a place. Wouldn't know it existed. Everything else screamed ‘target’ in bright red letters— Cor's suite, the Fleurets' suite, Noctis's rooms, too obvious. The barracks were too open, and the Amicitia manor was too far. Ignis's suite was removed from all the places one might search for these children. It was the safest place right now.

They were maybe halfway there when Cor found them, hand resting on the hilt of his sword and Ravus's bag on his shoulder.

“I take it you realized he's here?” the Immortal asked gruffly.

The children all gave a small gasp when he nodded.

“Here,” Cor said, holding out the black duffle, “I'll trade you. Don't know how much longer Regis can stall. Throne room.”

Ravus nodded again, catching the straps of the bag in his teeth before taking off.

His speed and the smooth floors made taking corners risky, but he hadn't spent weeks in Dusae and Leide training for nothing. And his feline physiology meant he could bypass most flights of stairs, leaping up or down as needed. In what felt like no time at all, he began to smell the Scourge in the air. Acid, bitter, choking him like smog. But there was also the faint hint of smoke, and of the same ozone-like magic that lingered around Regis.

The Crownsguard at the doors just barely managed to heave them open, and even then Ravus felt the drag of them against his whiskers and ribs. As he saw that damn face, he realized he wasn't going to be able to stop in time.

He tucked his head down and let his skull meet Ardyn's shoulder. Rather than go down, however, the man seemed to dissolve, and all Ravus could think was that he hadn't seen that skill before. It was notedly more daemonic than Caelum, black smoke and Scourge stink.

As he turned to face the reforming man, Ardyn drawled, “Certainly one of the more creative attempts on my life, but it'll take a little more than that.”

“We are aware,” Regis replied carefully, and Ravus could smell the king, Shield, and his mother approaching, “But we didn't ask you here to kill you.”

The Accursed gave a mocking grin, spreading his arms. “And clearly not to negotiate, either, I see!”

Ravus's mother stepped forward, and he dropped his bag to the floor as he mirrored the action. The last thing he wanted was for her to get too close to this madman without something between them.

“We were intending to negotiate,” she said, voice clear and steady, “Just not for my pilgrimage. Rather, we hoped you would join our little rebellion.”

Ardyn gave a silent tip of his head, eyes glittering dangerously.

“What do you know of... of our friend?” Ravus's mother asked as Regis and Clarus came cautiously closer as well.

“Largely what the masses know,” Ardyn replied, “That a Messenger in the form of a white coeurl has descended to serve as the guardian angel of little Prince Noctis and Insomnia. But of course...”

Ravus flattened his ears and bared his teeth as Ardyn stepped menacingly closer, eyes not quite right.

“... I'm relatively certain I of all people would know if such a Messenger existed.” the man declared, voice rattling in a daemonic display.

“You're right,” Regis said, resting a hand on Ravus's shoulder, “Commander Fleuret isn't a Messenger. Not in that sense, at least.”

Ardyn paused at his name, head tipping again as he blinked.

“The Six decided to send someone back... from death and the future. To alleviate pain and suffering. They chose a soldier who died of the Scourge, and gave him life again as a coeurl,” Ravus's mother explained softly, “They chose Commander Ravus Nox Fleuret.”

“Are you quite certain that healing the afflicted for so long hasn't addled your brain, my dear?” the Accursed asked.

He wasn't able to knock the man over thanks to that Scourge-given warping, but he succeeded in knocking the hat from Ardyn's head.

Chapter Text

“I don't know,” Ardyn said, words careful and measured, “If one can sue the Astrals.”

“But there are stories of people taking them to court, are there not?” Regis replied.

The Accursed waved his hand dismissively. “More than half of those are pure unfounded fiction, made up by romantics.”

Great. Ravus huffed in annoyance.

After his attempt to knock Ardyn over for insulting his mother, the conversation had been moved into a conference room. Ravus had laid claim to Ardyn's hat, refusing to give it up. Regis had done the brunt of the explaining, with interjections from Ravus now and then. By this point, Ardyn was pacing idly to and fro, as if thinking on his next move, while Clarus and Ravus had both positioned themselves to fight if need be.

“But that stated,” Ravus's mother said, “Such tales exist.”

“And how many, pray tell, end in victory for the challenger?” the Accursed hummed, turning for another stroll down the length of the room. If he was honest with himself, watching the man pace was making Ravus antsy.

“As one of my old friends stated, Commander Fleuret may be trapped in the body of a coeurl, but he's accomplished a great deal in not much time at all. If anyone can do it, surely he can.” Regis declared, watching Ardyn with just as much anxious energy.

Ardyn paused at the far end of the room, not facing them. For a moment, silence reigned.

“And supposing you do win this war you're waging. What exactly have you in mind then? How do you propose to rid the world of my scourge, if not by Prince Noctis's hand?” the chancellor asked, voice low and dark. “Or would you have me carry this wretched existence onwards?”

“No. A solution was given to us by the same friend who suggested we take legal action.” Clarus answered, curt and to the point.

“Do tell.” Ardyn growled, eyes flashing dangerously as he turned to look at them once again.

Ravus's mother stood, striding across the room with a determined grace few could manage. No, he was certain that it was something only the women of House Fleuret could manage. He let out a low keen in the back of his throat, climbing to his feet with his tail lashing. But there wasn't much he could do, not with her now between him and Niflheim's chancellor. All he could do was watch as she reached out and took the man's hands. Regis was standing up as well, but Ardyn had yet to do anything aside from raise an eyebrow.

He watched as his mother bowed her head. He couldn't see her face from this angle, but Ravus knew from years of watching in his youth that her eyes would be closed. Even distressed as he was, hearing her speak the prayer she always gave and watching the gentle gold light illuminate the space between the two... it was soothing. Nostalgic and peaceful. And as he watched, Ravus swore that for the briefest instant he saw Ardyn's lips quirk up in a soft smile.

But then the light was fading, his mother stumbling back, and Ravus hurried to cross the room. He pressed his shoulder to her back, offering as much support as he could.

“You didn't really expect that to work, did you?” Ardyn asked in a bored tone.

“Not... not in one session, no...” Ravus's mother replied breathlessly, leaning heavily against his shoulder. He chirped in concern, licking at her fingers. “I'll be fine, Ravus... I just need a minute...”

“Not in one session?” Ardyn echoed as Ravus guided his mother back to her seat. “Not in one— You poor fool, you can't be serious.”

“Why not?” Regis challenged as Ravus nuzzled his mother's shoulder. “You may not be her usual fare, but you're far from any old daemon. You retain your rational thought, you walk in the sun, and you are, largely, human. It might not be possible within our lives, but what else is there keeping the Oracle from healing you?”

“Did you not just see the toll that little display took on her, my dear Regis? The Oracle attempting to heal the Accursed would be all too similar to how that ring you wear wears on you. Folly and lunacy.” Ardyn said dismissively.

Ravus mewed for attention and arranged his blocks into the words he wanted.

SOUNDS TO ME LIKE YOURE SCARED

In the silence that followed, he could all but hear Nyx— and the greater majority of the children— giving a childish ‘ooooh!’ He cursed that he was so familiar with the lot of them to hear it so accurately in his mind.

“I am not.” Ardyn said, short and abrupt. A very ‘where do you get off’ tone of voice.

THEN WHY ARE YOU RESISTING SO MUCH

YOU WERE ALWAYS DEMEANING OF THOSE WHO SIMPLY DID AS THE SIX SAID

AND NOW YOURE DOING JUST THAT YOURSELF

SOUNDS SCARED TO ME

The smell of Scourge grew stronger. If Ardyn had fur or feathers, Ravus imagined they'd be bristling. As it was, he was pretty sure he could see wisps of black curling off the man's shoulders. But the chancellor didn't say anything, just glared with eyes a tad too bright to be human. Regis and Clarus were putting on a good show of getting between them, but Ravus was pretty sure everyone in the room knew that if Ardyn wanted him dead there was no real stopping the man.

“I am not afraid.” Ardyn said, cold and venomous.

Ravus rearranged his blocks again. Satisfied with what he'd written, he grabbed the stolen hat and left the room.

THEN PROVE IT

Chapter Text

“That's Izunia's hat.” Cor observed as he let Ravus into the suite.

Not anymore, he thought as the children all flocked closer. Noctis and Lunafreya both erupted into laughter when he dropped the hat on Ignis's head, and he was fairly certain he heard the shutter of Prompto's camera go off. His younger self and Gladiolus both made valiant efforts to disguise their laughter as coughing fits, but their broad grins didn't help. Ignis, for his part, just looked flabbergasted.

“So. How'd it go.” Cor said as the two of them herded the children further into the suite, away from the door.

Ravus shrugged as he sank to the floor, allowing Noctis, Prompto, and Lunafreya to make themselves at home leaning against him. Pryna and Umbra were curled up asleep under the side-table by the couch.

Crossing his arms as he stood over them, the Immortal said, “Let me guess. You started off civilly enough, but cussed the guy out and left Regis to deal with the aftermath.”

“Sounds like something you would do, Cor.” Gladiolus said in a far too innocent tone before breaking down snickering.

“Yes, well, if it involves politics and sounds like something I would do, I generally advise against that.” the marshal said, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed still. Ravus snorted, and the man declared, “If you have an issue with my advice, Commander, my schedule is open all tomorrow.”

He was going to need a spar with all this tension. Otherwise he'd take someone's hand off by mistake.

“So when do I get to meet Ardyn?” Noctis piped up, deathly serious for someone younger than ten.

“Hopefully not for a good long while.” Cor said flatly.

“But I have a message for him!” the bratty prince whined.

... Oh. Right. Ravus had all but forgotten about—

The smell of Scourge spiked up, prompting him to stand with a growl. Cor turned to face the door with his hand on his sword as Ardyn's voice drawled, “Oh do you, dear prince?”

The children all shrieked in surprise, the tiny Messengers waking up with howls as the Accursed sauntered forward, sharp eyes on Noctis. Despite knowing he'd be dead in an instant, Ravus fell into a defensive crouch, peeling his lips away from his fangs. Cor had yet to draw his blade, but Ravus could tell he was ready to. And yet Ardyn didn't even look at them, focusing on Noctis.

The boy edged timidly forward, fear rolling off him in waves even as he stood as tall as he could. “Yeah... I was asked to tell you...”

Noctis paused, looking to him. Ravus shrugged, keeping his gaze riveted on Ardyn as he growled. His tail was snapping around so aggressively he was honestly surprised he hadn't broken anything or hurt anyone.

Apparently emboldened by that, Noctis straightened up again, looking far braver than he smelled.

“Aera says that even if you're still mad, she's waiting for you!”

In the time it took for him to blink, Ardyn had moved. The smell of Scourge drowned everything out, the puppies screaming. Ravus couldn't restrain himself from roaring as he spun around. Ardyn held Noctis in the air by the front of his shirt, Scourge bleeding from his face.

“Is this a joke to you?!” the Accursed hissed angrily, voice cutting through the chaos of the suite.

Cor's blade flashed as Ravus lunged forward, jaws open. As the Immortal snatched Noctis away, Ravus sank his teeth into Ardyn's side. At the same time, his younger self yelled, “He's telling the truth!”

For a brief moment, Scourge filled his mouth. He felt like he was drowning, gagging on the taste of death as invisible strings tightened around his throat, limbs, extremities. But as quickly as the disgusting feeling and taste had filled his mouth, it was gone. That concerned him more, lifting his head to snap back and forth.

He found Ardyn towering over his younger self, the boy stood boldly between the Accursed and the other children. The smell of fear was so thick in the room it almost drowned out the Scourge. Ravus made note of Cor standing ready to bolt, Noctis held tight in his arms, and couldn't help the small bubble of anger at the thought of the man abandoning the others for the prince.

His younger self spoke quickly, explaining, “The Six sent Lady Aera to convince Commander Fleuret to comply to their will, and Carbuncle brought Noctis and myself into the dream as well! She asked Commander Fleuret to tell you, but he refused, and so Noctis promised that he would!”

For a moment, there was quiet. The only noise was Umbra and Pryna whimpering in the corner. All eyes were on Ardyn and Ravus's younger self.

Then the moment passed, the Accursed turning inhuman eyes on Ravus. He met the deathly stare with his shoulders bristling and fangs bared. His whiskers crackled in warning, even if he would never use his lightning in such a scenario. It was instinctive by this point, much like the lashing of his tail.

“... They described you,” Ardyn said in a voice far too daemonic for comfort, “As sent by the Six... with the blessing of an Oracle past... to prevent loss, was it...?”

Ravus nodded ever-so-slightly, still growling deep in his chest.

The Accursed moved, so fast he couldn't see it, and he found a rough hand grabbing at his muzzle, forcing him to meet that disease and death-filled face. His growling turned into a hiss, and he reared up just enough to dig his claws into the fabric of Ardyn's coat. But even if he wanted to, he didn't know if he could go up any further. Ardyn had him in a grip firmer than death itself. Ravus wasn't going anywhere without Ardyn letting him go.

“Don't you know,” the Accursed hissed, “That men are bound to their fate?”

Says who, fuckwad?

He let his whiskers crackle, just enough to allow a shock to run over his fur. Ardyn grimaced, but didn't let him go.

“N-no they aren't!” Noctis yelled, and Ravus could vaguely see the boy fighting Cor in his peripherals. “Even if you're chained down, chains can be broken! You just need time and determination! So let us help!”

The hand holding his muzzle twitched, and Ravus could see a flicker of... confusion, maybe, on Ardyn's face. “Let you... help?”

Noctis made a noise of confirmation.

Slowly, the scent of Scourge faded. Not completely, still layered over everything enough that Ravus would smell it in the suite for weeks, but no longer heavy and oppressive. The hand holding him in place loosened and fell away with a sigh. He blinked, and Ardyn's face was human again. For a few seconds longer, Ravus stayed up on the man's shoulders, but ultimately stepped down and back.

“Fine,” the Accursed said, “I'll play along. But—”

“But the second anything goes wrong you'll be the first to tell us you said so. Right.” Cor huffed, putting Noctis down.

As the Immortal pulled out his phone, presumably to call Regis and update him on the situation, Ravus herded all the children together to check them over. It was like after the coeurl fight all over again, he could feel it. He was going to be fussy and overprotective like a mother chocobo, dammit.

He didn't miss Ignis discreetly returning Ardyn's hat while he was distracted with Noctis, though.

Chapter Text

It had been a long day.

Ardyn's arrival had been... nothing short of a bitch to deal with. But the man was willing to work with them. Had agreed to share his knowledge on everything they needed— on Niflheim, on the Astrals, and on the Starscourge. He had allowed Lunafreya a go at healing him, even if she buckled faster than their mother. He had confirmed a lot of the bases Ravus had revealed. The mad bastard had even volunteered to help train the children.

It was disturbing how mercurial Ardyn's allegiances were, Ravus reflected as he dragged his side against the wall again.

By this point it was late at night. Everyone had been shuffled off to the appropriate home, and Ardyn had been given a suite of his own. Ravus had made sure Ignis was asleep and promptly taken to trying to get rid of the Scourge stink.

He had been staying in Ignis's suite for the greater part of a week by this point. Ravus was well-aware that he was far from proper guardian material, but someone needed to keep an eye on the boy. It didn't matter how capable and mature Ignis was, he was still only a child. Even capable children needed adults around, but if everyone else was too much of a pushover to step up then someone had to put their paw down.

It wasn't like he needed to do much. As stated, Ignis was already plenty capable. He could cook and clean with the best of them, as well as already being trusted with low-level paperwork to look over. He tutored the other children as well as keeping up with his own studies, and could likely hold a seat in Regis's council with ease.

Ravus moved from the wall to the couch, rubbing his face against every cushion.

The problem with Ignis was that he tended to overwork himself. He needed someone there to stop him every once in a while, make sure he took breaks and was resting. To make sure he didn't try to handle everything on his own if an emergency arose.

It was easy enough for Ravus to do that. It was hard to say no to a coeurl, as he had demonstrated time and time again.

That was probably enough. He wasn't going to get rid of the smell in one night. It would fade with time. And chances were no one could smell it but him. Grumbling quietly to himself, he settled down on the carpet.

He wasn't going to sleep. No, Ravus could tell already it would be a sleepless night. He wouldn't fall asleep unless he was knocked out or did something to burn all his energy off. So instead he closed his eyes to think while kneading the carpet.

It wasn't long before a soft noise had him opening his eyes again, though. Ears pricked, he stood with the faintest of growls.

A tiny yip sounded at the suite door.

... Pardon?

Confused, he made his way to the door. Through the space under the door, he could see a pair of shadows moving back and forth. He could smell Pryna and Umbra, but hadn't a clue what they were doing. It wasn't like he could open the door— not without destroying it— and Ignis was asleep.

Crouching down, he huffed at the little shadows. Instantly, both of them froze. He huffed again, and a happy little bark sounded. The sound was followed by a tiny black paw squeezing it's way under the door, waving back and forth. Ravus couldn't help but snort, because of course the minuscule Messengers would hunt him down in the dead of night to play.

Carefully, gently, he reached out to touch Umbra's paw with his own. Instantly, the paw was withdrawn. A squeaky, cheerful grunting noise sounded, and then two little paws appeared, waving back and forth with renewed vigor. A more timid white one joined them, making Ravus roll his eyes. All the same, he tapped at one of Umbra's paws, causing both of them to vanish while Pryna worked her other paw under. When his paw touched hers, she made as if to grab his toes, tugging back. A disappointed whine sounded.

Well, even if you managed to hold on, he wasn't going to fit under the door, you goose.

The game went on, though it felt more like he was playing two at once. Umbra was making a mission of tagging him without getting tagged, though the pup failed miserably. Pryna, on the other hand, was doing her damnedest to drag him outside. Ravus couldn't keep himself from purring contentedly, tail wrapped neatly around himself as he dabbed at the tiny intruding paws.

Eventually, though, he began to hear tiny yawns. Not long after that, the pups' paws stopped pushing their way under the door. He didn't hear them run off, and their scents didn't leave either. Ravus got the feeling the little Messengers had fallen asleep at Ignis's suite door, and couldn't keep himself from chirping. A single, sleepy yip answered him.

Shaking his head, Ravus stood and shook himself out. He still wasn't tired, but it wasn't like there was much for him to do. It was still plenty dark out, meaning there was a very good chance that the only ones awake were him, night watchmen, and quite possibly Ardyn. Ardyn didn't seem like the type to sleep, anyway.

Left with little else to do, Ravus took to rubbing himself against the walls and furniture again.

Chapter Text

“So what exactly was your plan for challenging the Astrals, dear Commander?”

Ravus turned away from the sparring children to flatten his ears at Ardyn.

“No, no,” the man said, waggling a finger at him, “This is a serious question. I would like to know how you had intended to convey your challenge. Unless you thought simply intending it would cause Bahamut to materialize in the nearest courtroom?”

No, not exactly.

He paused before responding to watch Ignis correct Lunafreya's form. Gladiolus and Ravus's younger self were alternating with Noctis and a training dummy, Cor bouncing between each as needed. Prompto sat not too far away with his camera and a book.

Growling under his breath, Ravus nosed through his blocks for the letters he wanted.

I WAS WAITING ON YOU

Ardyn gave a dramatic gasp, clapping a hand to his chest with a shit-eating grin. “Such a gentleman!”

Ravus hissed, raising a paw threateningly.

“All joking and chivalry aside,” Ardyn declared, sitting on the floor next to him, “What was your plan?”

Growling a bit more, Ravus rearranged his blocks.

TO LEARN FROM YOU

MY CURRENT SOURCES ARE BIASED AND MORE THAN SECOND HAND

YOURE A LITTLE CLOSER TO THE ORIGINAL SOURCES

AND HAVE MORE EXPERIENCE IN THE FIELD

Ardyn hummed thoughtfully, propping his chin up on his palm. “A suitable course of action, I suppose. Waiting on expert opinions, even if my expertise is debatable.”

Ravus flattened his ears as he glared.

“The best way to go about issuing the challenge would be at the Crystal, I imagine. But then there are many ways they could take the challenge. The court of the Astrals works differently from the court of humans, after all.” the Accursed said thoughtfully, staring off into space.

He chose to wait for Ardyn to continue, lifting a paw to clean his face. It looked like the children were starting to tire and get bored of practicing their combat forms. Ravus gave them five minutes before they stopped and came over to heckle him.

The sound of a warp made him look up in confusion. He hadn't thought Noctis was capable of such things yet.

Weight crashed down on his shoulders, a loud whoop accompanying the impact. He instantly jumped to his feet with a snarl, lightning rippling over his fur as he twisted and bucked. The person on his shoulders cackled, prompting him to roll. A warp sounded just in time, the weight vanishing from his back. He became aware of how the scent of Starscourge had spiked up, completing the roll so he was back on all fours. Baring his teeth as he whiskers sparked, he snapped around—

“Nyx!” the children chorused delightfully.

Oh of bloody fucking course.

He sat down to glare as the children flocked to the glaive.

“Aah. A friend, then.” Ardyn said, the Scourge stink dying down. Ravus bobbed his head to and fro. “If he had moved any slower, he would have been dead. Very proficient at his warping, isn't he?”

“In my defense, I told him not to.”

Ravus stood once more, turning and trotting over to greet Libertus with a chirp. The man smiled, offering a scratch behind the ears.

“So, who might this be?” Libertus asked, looking warily at Ardyn.

The Accursed gave a sly grin, sweeping into a flamboyant bow. “Ardyn Izunia. Or Caelum, since we no longer seem to be keeping that little secret.”

“Ohh,” Nyx drawled in an understanding tone, “This is the guy that killed and daemonified the Commander, isn't it?”

“Yep.” Noctis nodded.

“We're making him better!” Lunafreya declared stubbornly. “Mother and I!”

“Trying to, anyway.” Ardyn said with a shrug. “I haven't very high hopes for the feat.”

Lunafreya stuck her tongue out at that.

“Well,” Nyx said, clapping his hands together, “Since Lib and I are back, why don't we help you kids train for a bit?”

A small round of cheers went up, and Prompto drifted awkwardly over to Ravus and Ardyn.

“Ironic that you aren't much of a fighter.” Ardyn remarked as the blonde sat down. Ravus growled warningly. Putting his hands up, the Accursed defended, “A simple observation, nothing more.”

“I know,” Prompto said weakly, rubbing at his wrist, “But... I don't like fighting. And... I don't want to hurt anyone...”

Huffing, Ravus turned and butted his head against the boy's shoulder. Prompto squeaked, thrown off-balance, but recovered with a shy smile. Ravus dipped his head down for the boy to pet, and the invitation was taken readily. As the clashing of swords and polearms resumed, Ravus closed his eyes and tilted his head into Prompto's gentle scratching.

“Quite the soldier, that one,” Ardyn commented idly, “I think he wields the power of the king better than the king himself. Might as well make him an honorary Caelum.”

First of all, yes, Nyx was very good at what he did.

But more importantly, who gave you permission to lean so heavily on his side?

By the time the children were winding down again, Cor had appeared, holding an envelope in his hand. Prompto perked up upon seeing the man, smiling shyly. The smile became a little less shy when Cor handed him the envelope. Ravus rumbled curiously, and the boy opened it up to display the contents.

“I figured he deserved a copy...” the blonde explained, showing three hard copies of the picture he'd taken of Nyx and Ravus's spar.

“He got crushed half to death by a coeurl, I would say so.” Cor agreed.

“Quite the shot, isn't it? Makes the dear Commander look horrifically vicious.” Ardyn commented, leaning over to look at the pictures as Nyx and Libertus walked the children through cool-down. Ravus growled, swatting at the man. “Well, more vicious than he already is.”

He swatted again.

Chapter Text

“So we just stand in front of the Crystal and scream obscenities at it?” Nyx asked as Ravus's younger self held Lunafreya steady.

“Something to that nature, more or less.” Ardyn replied, ruffling the girl's hair and making her beam even as she swayed dangerously. Ravus chirped, and his younger self brought their sister back to the ‘nest’ of children. Ardyn continued to talk, declaring, “Of course, it will likely be nothing they haven't heard before. So the effectiveness of cursing the Six blue in front of the Crystal is up for debate.”

“They haven't met Nyx quite yet.” Libertus replied in a deadpan tone.

A round of chuckles went up. Even serious as they were, the glaives were certainly bringing a much-needed note of lightness to this meeting.

After Nyx and Libertus had arrived and the children had finished training, Cor had pulled everyone outside. Regis, Clarus, and Ravus's mother had all been outside already, waiting for them. A moment had been taken for Nyx to challenge Ravus to a race— Prompto's photo-finish had revealed an even tie— and then everyone had settled in to discuss how best to challenge the Astrals while working on healing Ardyn at the same time. Cor leaned against a tree, Nyx and Libertus perched in the branches. Regis and Ravus's mother sat in chairs that had been brought out, Clarus standing diligently behind them. Ravus was stretched out and home to all the children in the shade of the tree. Ardyn paced idly around now that he wasn't holding Lunafreya's hands.

“Of course,” the Accursed commented, “Even if we manage to successfully place a legal challenge, it is then up to the Astrals how they wish to accept. If they accept. They very well may just kill everyone on the spot.”

“A real ball of sunshine, isn't he?” Nyx muttered.

“They wouldn't kill everyone. They need me and Luna.” Noctis said at the same time.

“Very true. But they don't need anyone else present here aside from myself, and even then I imagine they would take it upon themselves to creatively punish me.” Ardyn replied.

“Stop your pacing and come here.” Ravus's mother sighed, shaking her head.

“Not now, I'm thinking.” the Accursed answered.

Ravus huffed, rolling his eyes as he nosed over Lunafreya. Working to heal Ardyn took it's toll on her, but in theory would make her that much stronger of an Oracle. Ardyn warned that it would age his healers prematurely, the same way the burden of the Ring of Lucii did Caelum kings. But if Lunafreya was accustomed to working with the embodiment of the Starscourge himself, then healing the afflicted would theoretically be much easier. And with any luck she wouldn't need to do it all on her own.

No, with any luck Ravus would be able to win custody over Eos and change the parameters of just who could be an Oracle and who couldn't. Prompto and Iris both had the makings of kind and gentle healers. And his unjaded younger self was a clear choice. Cindy had her heart set on being a mechanic, but she'd be another candidate. Maybe he was a little biased and it was obvious she would be mercantile with it, but Aranea.

Not Ignis. The boy was already trying to be literally everything else, Ravus was not encouraging such self-destructive behavior.

But of course, he reflected as Ardyn continued to pace and mutter, this was all dependent on him winning. As much as everyone believed in him and his abilities, current chances were slim.

The wind suddenly picked up, turning from a breeze into a brisk gust. With it came the smell of frost, pine, and sylleblossoms.

Ravus stood with a growl at the same time as Ardyn turning on his heel.

“I said so, didn't I?” Ardyn declared as everyone else stood and turned to face Gentiana. “That if they wanted, they could strike everyone dead?”

“You were warned,” Gentiana said darkly, frost spreading over the grass at her feet, “You were given a chance to prove your loyalty. But you have stepped too far, Commander Fleuret.”

He peeled his lips back, a deep feral noise tearing it's way out of his throat as he stepped forward. He put himself carefully between the High Messenger and everyone else, whiskers crackling and sparking. Ravus wasn't exactly sure that lightning would be effective, but it was what he had.

As the frost spread further, causing the grass to wither, the temperature dropping, Nyx and Libertus joined him. After a moment, so did Cor. Gentiana lifted a hand, ice and snow whirling around her fingertips.

“So be it.” she declared.

“Get outta here!” Nyx yelled behind them before falling into warp. Pelt rippling with lightning, Ravus leapt after the glaive with a roar.

Winter exploded around them, the temperature dropping so drastically that Ravus felt his eyes and lung both burn. Nyx crashed into where Gentiana stood, but she dissolved in a flurry of snow.

“Circle up!” Cor barked. “You two, focus on fire spells, but conserve as much energy as possible! Commander, try to keep a base charge at all times!”

“Sir!” the Kingsglaive barked, and Ravus almost couldn't smell how they fell into positions on either side of him.

Gentiana had the advantage like this, creating a bubble of winter that she could move freely and easily within. Chances were she was aiming to completely freeze all of them. If that happened, then she won, and moved on until the only ones left were Noctis and Lunafreya.

Over his dead body.

A tongue of flame jetted out at his side, Nyx snarling. By the time he'd turned his head, though, Gentiana was gone.

... Shit, what about above?

He jerked his head back, scanning the false snow globe for any movement. Any evidence Gentiana was coming—

A frozen hand latched onto his throat. Screaming in pain and anger, he lashed out with a small explosion of thunder. For a moment, the plot seemed to have worked, the hand vanishing. But then he heard the gasps and curses around him, and the hands returned, double, triple. It was so cold it burned through his fur, choking him and making his eyes water. Snarling, Ravus reared up in attempt to get away from the icy hands, from the sprites that were manifesting before him. The lightning in his fur reflected off the whirling snow, creating dramatic, cruel lighting and shadows.

“You were warned,” the air seemed to whisper, “Men are chained to their fates. You cannot—”

The words cut off with a strangled gasp. The frozen fairies melted into snow, piled at Ravus's paws, and he shook himself in effort to restore some semblance of warmth to his bones. Leather and armor pressed into his sides, and he realized Nyx and Libertus were trying to do similar. As Cor joined them, all their teeth chattering, Ravus saw why Gentiana— Shiva— had stopped her attack.

Not too far away, Ardyn stood. The man had his head tilted to the side in a thoughtful manner, Scourge dripping down his face and curling off his shoulders. It was such a stark contrast to the harsh white snow and ice. In his hand was Shiva, gasping and choking as black webbing spread over her skin.

“Y-you... dare...?” the Astral forced out, hands pressing fractal patterns into Ardyn's coat.

“I did before,” the Accursed said with a twisted grin, “So why not reunite you poor parted lovers? Oh, but don't worry. If everything goes according to plan, even you will be cured!”

Shiva screamed, a piercing noise that had Ravus falling to the ground in effort to cover his ears. Through the stabbing cold, he could smell how Ardyn's scent grew stronger, Scourge so thick he could almost feel it in his veins again.

And then the wind died.

“Well, I suppose we should go get you lot treated for frostbite, hm?” Ardyn hummed. Looking up, Ravus found the man dusting his coat off. As if he hadn't just... just...

“... Did you just daemonify an Astral?!” Nyx yelled.

The Accursed shrugged. “It's easier the second time around, it would seem.”

As the two glaives spluttered, Cor commented through chattering teeth, “So much for saying you told us so and jumping ship...”

Ardyn just grinned. Ravus may have been imagining things thanks to how fucking cold he still was, but he could have sworn that the man's teeth were stained with blood.

Chapter Text

It was interesting how Ardyn's scent now had a tinge of sylleblossom to it. Even if they were Scourge-forged, Ravus wondered if that was part of the man's covenants. If perhaps the smoky aspect came from Ifrit, and maybe Ardyn— pure and free of the Scourge— smelled like something else altogether.

Ignis scratched behind his ears, drawing him out of his thoughts.

After Ravus, Nyx, Libertus, and Cor had been treated for their chills, Ardyn had been pulled away for healing. Everyone else was scattered around their own suites, houses, and barracks by this point. He still wasn't sure where exactly Ardyn was staying, but after today's events, Ravus felt less uneasy knowing that.

Instead, he was letting Ignis pet him as supper cooked. All the children had been shaken, and he had gone through a few hours of screaming if they wandered too far. But now it was late. Once Ignis had eaten, Ravus would be shooing him into bed. If he didn't, the boy would try to stay up even later.

“... Commander...?”

Cracking his eyes open, Ravus turned his head to look at Ignis.

After a moment spent opening and closing his mouth soundlessly, the boy leaned forward, wrapping his arms around Ravus's neck.

“... If you lose the fight, what happens to us...?” Ignis all but breathed.

Ravus couldn't help but growl a bit, awkwardly hugging the boy back. He ran his tongue over Ignis's hair, since the method seemed tried and true.

In regards to the question, though, he had no intent of losing. Chances seemed better with a third of the Six under Ardyn's thumb, Ardyn's cooperation, and knowing the Astrals would only attack if they saw him as a threat. So all that was left was to issue the challenge. If the Astrals accepted, he would fight for custody of Eos. If they declined... well, he was still going to fight, it would just be a bit messier.

Slowly but surely, Ignis relaxed and let go. Not a moment too soon, either, as supper was just about ready.

Ignis was honestly some form of angel. The boy had taken to experimenting with different kinds of coeurl friendly foods, so Ravus had a little more variety in his diet. He wasn't objecting to plain meat, even if he'd rather it freshly killed. But it did become monotonous after a while. Ignis's creative dishes were anything but monotonous. If he had to pick a favorite creation so far, the boy had come up with a coeurl friendly meatloaf that paired wonderfully with crisp lettuce and a little mint. Add that to the ever-growing list of things the boy was studying— not just culinary arts, but culinary arts for ‘furry friends.’

If the Caelum line suddenly and abruptly ended, all three dying somehow, it would be in Lucis's best interest to make this boy king, Ravus thought as Ignis pulled supper from the oven. He watched carefully, ready to pull the boy away and force him to the sink if he got burnt. It wasn't that he was expecting such a thing to happen, but if it did.

While his portion cooled, Ravus set about making sure the table was properly cleared. He wasn't going to allow Ignis to be working on trade agreements or reading the history of Lestallum or whatever else he had stacked up while they were eating. Otherwise the boy neglected to actually eat until his food had gotten cold.

They were midway through the meal when a knock sounded at the door. Ravus grumbled a bit, glaring in the direction of the noise as Ignis got up and moved to answer. As he continued eating, Ravus let his ears swivel back, listening.

“Ignis,” he heard, identifying the voice as Cor, “Is the Commander available?”

Huffing, he left his food and grabbed his blocks before moving to the door. He made sure Ignis was actually going back to finish eating, then stepped into the hallway with the marshal. Cor nodded, then gestured vaguely for Ravus to follow him. Grumbling under his breath, he did so.

“I get it,” Cor said, “I had to leave Prompto alone for this. I've been trying to at least eat dinner with the kid every night.”

And this couldn't have waited why, exactly, Ravus thought with an irritated flick of his tail.

Once the Immortal had apparently deemed them a safe distance for the suite, he turned to Ravus. “The rest of us have decided tomorrow would be the best time to issue the challenge. We'd leave the children with Captain Ulric at the Amicitia manor in the morning, and leave instructions on what to do if everything goes wrong. We're just waiting on your vote and Ardyn's. Regis is talking to him now.”

Aah.

He didn't answer immediately, sitting down as he dropped his bag.

Time to prepare and further question Ardyn would be ideal. But time was something they only had a limited amount of. In part because of the twelve years, in part because of the Astrals making moves. And then there was Niflheim to consider. As far as Ravus knew, Ardyn still hadn't sent a formal secession to his old allies. Meaning there was all that chaos to deal with.

So there really wasn't any time to prepare or learn. They had to act, act fast, and act first.

Ears flattened, he dipped his head.

“... Right. I imagine the chancellor has agreed as well. So we'll meet in the throne room tomorrow morning.” Cor murmured.

Right.

But before that, Ravus thought grimly as he picked his bag up and returned to the suite door, they all best make the most of what might be their last night with their respective charges.

As Ignis opened the door at his scratching, Ravus gently pressed his head to the boy's chest. As Ignis slowly and perplexedly pet through his fur, Ravus wondered if he'd become too attached. Not just to this boy, but to all of them. If he could still blame everything on coeurl pack instincts.

No.

He knew he couldn't. These were his people now.

And he wasn't letting Bahamut have them without a fight.

Chapter Text

“Good luck,” Libertus said as he lead Prompto and Ignis away, “Everyone's rooting for you.”

Ravus dipped his head with a rumble. The boys both waved, almost frantically, as Libertus took them, and Ravus sat back on his haunches to wave back. Cor's snort was almost too quiet to hear as he waved too.

Ideally, they would go in, challenge the Astrals, return with a court date of sorts, and could then return to their respective children for dinner. But in the worst case... well, in the worst case, hopefully all the Kingsglaive and all the Crownsguard in Insomnia could deter any attempts on the children's lives.

Ravus and Cor walked in grim silence to the throne room. It looked like everyone else was already assembled, waiting on them. None of them spoke. Not even Ardyn, surprisingly. Continuing the silence, they began to follow Regis as he led them to where the Crystal was kept.

None of them had any clue how this was going to go. There were a million different ways it could play out, most of them ugly and ending with everyone dead. But there was still that chance that everything went according to plan. Ravus wouldn't be who he was today if he didn't relentlessly pursue every little glimmer of chance— wouldn't have put on the ring, wouldn't have helped Ignis in Accordo, wouldn't have stood against the emperor. No matter how this played out, Bahamut wasn't going to get away without a fight.

As they stepped into the room where the Crystal was kept, door all but slamming behind them, Ardyn finally broke the silence. “It wasn't always that color.”

“What?” Clarus asked as Ravus continued towards the glowing rock.

“Oh yes. In the era of my brother and I, it was more... pure.”

“Let me guess...” Cor said, somewhere between a sigh and a huff.

“I guess it didn't like being touched by the Scourge of it's Star.” Ardyn answered. But it lacked the flippancy or amusement one might expect from the man. Instead his voice was grim and serious.

Ravus kept moving, head down and ears flattened as he approached the Crystal. His shoulders were bristling and his tail was lashing. The air was so charged in here that he could feel it in his muzzle, tingling as if he was pushing the limits of his lightning. He couldn't smell anything but Caelum magic, overwhelmingly strong, like ozone and spring water and the dampness of morning mist. And the intent. He could feel the animosity weighing down on him, growing stronger with every step he took. A growl began to roll around in his chest, rising in volume as he got closer to the rock.

In what felt like hours but was likely less than a minute, Ravus had reached the Crystal. Still growling, he reared up to place his paws on the uncut edge. It felt like a light static charge running through him. The light of the thing was leaving spots on his vision. He was going to be smelling and tasting Caelum magic for months if he survived this.

His growl crescendoed into a roar, echoing around the room.

A shockwave spilled out, knocking him back to his— knees?

“Ravus!” his mother yelled as he coughed. As the breath returned to his lungs, he felt her hands on his shoulders. “Are you alright?!”

“I've gone through worse...” he grumbled, getting to his feet.

“Well,” Regis said, drawing his attention, “You certainly... grew up.”

Ravus couldn't help but roll his eyes as the men came closer. “I believe that is the nature of children, Regis, yes.” he snarked. Cor stifled his snort. Ardyn didn't bother to hide his chuckles.

It looked like the first part of the plan had worked, at least. The Crystal and it's room were gone, replaced by a shimmering blue expanse with golden stars. Were he not in the den of his enemy for what equated to war, Ravus would call it relaxing.

As if reading his mind— that was probably exactly what happened— the Draconian stepped into existence, towering over them.

YOU WOULD DARE TO CHALLENGE THOSE WHO GAVE YOU NEW LIFE? the Astral said, voice booming and reverberating in a language Ravus didn't know and yet understood perfectly.

He stepped forward, away from the group. He wished he had Alba Leonis right about now, so he could plant it with his hands folded on the pommel. As it was, he had to settle for crossing his arms and tipping his head back with a defiant glare, replying with, “I challenge those who do not know the value of the lives they would so carelessly cast away.”

AND YOU CLAIM TO KNOW THIS VALUE MORE THAN THE GODS THEMSELVES? Bahamut replied, scorn veiled but still evident in his voice.

“Why wouldn't I? You hide yourselves away and sleep for centuries, only waking when it suits you. What do the Astrals know of the worth in the lives of common men?” Ravus growled, thinking of Dave and Cid and Takka. Maria and Jared. The librarians in the archives and the Kingsglaive fighting on the front lines. Loqi and Aranea, wherever they might be, and Sania.

Bahamut didn't answer.

Ravus took that as a cue for him to continue, dropping his arms and stepping closer. “I challenge you and the rest of the Astrals for the custody of Eos and all lives on it.” he snarled, forcing as much venom and contempt into his voice as he could.

Bahamut didn't answer still, but Ravus got the feeling he was being looked down on. It took everything he had not to sneer and spit.

“I must say,” Ardyn whispered in his ear, almost making him jump, “I've never seen an Astral struck dumb before. Even if this all fails it will have been quite the experience.”

“Sure,” Cor muttered from behind them, “For you.”

ENOUGH, Bahamut rumbled, and Ravus worried for a moment that he saw the Draconian's wings flex, WE SHALL ENTERTAIN THIS FUTILE VENTURE.

In other words the Draconian was so confident they had already lost that he saw them challenging his word as a child throwing a tantrum. It was very tempting to do the Ulric thing to do and scream obscenities until blue in the face. But Ravus settled for clenching his fists and gritting his teeth. He would take what he could get and milk it for everything it was worth.

As they all held their breath, waiting for the verdict, Bahamut spoke again.

IN TWO WEEKS TIME, CONVENE ON THE ISLE OF ANGELGUARD. BRING WITH YOU A WITNESS, ONE WHO WOULD BACK YOUR CAUSE. SHOULD THEY FAIL TO BE UNWAVERING IN THEIR FAITH, THEN YOU WILL HAVE LOST, AND ENDURE THE RIGHTFUL PUNISHMENT.

“... High school debate team?” Ravus heard Regis murmur.

TWO WEEKS, Bahamut reiterated, AND THE FATE OF EOS WILL BE DECIDED.

Growling a bit, Ravus inclined his head in agreement.

If it was a battle of how stubborn their ‘witnesses’ were, then he had just the candidate in mind.

Chapter Text

“Chances are they're expecting you to pick someone like me,” Ardyn commented as they walked, “Their choice will likely be Somnus or one of the other Lucii.”

Yes, well, if that was the case then the Six had another thing coming.

After declaring the time and place, Bahamut had rambled on a bit about the specifics of what they would be doing. Then the Draconian had withdrawn, leaving them in the Crystal's chamber. Ravus had been returned to his coeurl form, and all of them but Ardyn were left exhausted. By this point, they were on their way to pick up the children. Or to crash at the Amicitia manor and let the children have a sleepover.

Honestly Ravus was in favor of sunning himself in Clarus's garden.

“Well, it's not like we can ask just anybody.” Cor groused.

Ravus wasn't picking just anybody, thank you very much. He deliberately swayed to the side so he could knock into the Immortal. Cor met his shoulder and the two of them stopped for a moment, each one trying to topple the other.

“Whenever you boys want to join us.” his mother called.

He put a little more force behind his pushing, just enough to make Cor's knees buckle beneath the unexpected weight of a grown coeurl, and hurried to join the rest of the group.

“Have you anyone in mind, Commander?” Clarus asked, clearly pretending not to have seen the contest or Ardyn flashing Cor a cheeky grin. As if he was really that much more mature.

Huffing, Ravus gave a curt nod.

“Well, whoever you pick, they'll need to be available and willing.” Regis sighed.

He got the feeling his candidate would happily make time.

When they finally got to the manor, the children all but broke down in tears, the scent of relief strong. It even rolled off Nyx and Libertus, reiterating how little everyone thought this would actually work. If he hadn't been of a somewhat similar mindset, Ravus might've been offended.

In the end it was agreed to more or less have a giant sleepover in Clarus's living room, much to the delight of the children. Gladiolus and Iris both led the others off to fetch every pillow and blanket the house had to offer. While they did that, Cor explained the situation to Nyx and Libertus.

“... So you need a stubborn jackass who tells authority to kiss their ass?” Libertus said at the end, eyes straying pointedly towards Nyx.

“Hey, it'd get me out of paperwork.” the other glaive said semi-defensively.

Ravus shuffled around his blocks.

2ND CHOICE

“Really? I'm actually surprised.” Cor informed him, earning a threateningly raised paw.

“Since we are on something of a tight schedule,” Ardyn drawled from where he was sitting, bouncing his foot idly, “Perhaps you could, say, reveal your first choice?”

Grumbling deep in his chest, Ravus arranged the required letters.

CID

Regis, Cor, and Clarus all made understanding noises. Ravus's mother and the glaives nodded. Ardyn just blinked, and Ravus admittedly reveled a bit in the lost expression on the man's face.

“I suppose I can't be surprised any more. It makes too much sense.” Cor admitted.

“If he agrees,” Regis murmured with a smile, reaching over to scratch behind Ravus's ears, “Then I doubt the Six will know what hit them.”

“Care to elaborate?” Ardyn asked.

Before anyone could answer, the thumping of feet approached. Pryna and Umbra raced into the living room first, yapping excitedly and leaping onto the couch to spin circles across various laps. They were followed shortly by Gladiolus, his arms filled with pillows, blankets of all sorts streaming out behind him.

“I win!” the boy crowed. “I got the most, and I got back first!”

“Only cuz you cheated! You tricked Prompto!” Noctis screeched as he came flying in.

“It wasn't a trick!” Gladiolus shot back as Ravus got to his feet. “He wanted to take pictures, and you can't do that holding pillows!”

Before the two could keep fighting, the rest of the children coming back as well, Ravus had lunged forward and headbutted Gladiolus. Noctis was unable to retreat in time— aiming for Regis's lap, it looked like— before he too was knocked over.

“I think,” Ravus's younger self chuckled, “You both lose, and the Commander wins.”

Damn straight.

As the majority of the group turned their attention towards creating something with all the pillows and blankets, his mother and Lunafreya coaxed Ardyn over for healing.

“So,” the Accursed asked as Luna began her rite, “Might I inquire as to the identity of this Cid creature?”

“He's an old friend of Regis's,” Ravus's mother smiled, “He's quite charming, really. He runs the Hammerhead outpost in Leide, and has a granddaughter Luna's age.”

You were leaving a lot of details out there.

Luna finished, looking dizzy and blinking rapidly. Ravus couldn't help but growl a bit when Ardyn scooped her up into his lap, but all the man did was let Ravus's mother take his hands. Satisfied he wouldn't try anything funny— at least for now— Ravus turned to his blocks.

CID IS STUBBORN AND BITTER AND BRILLIANT

IT WAS HIS IDEA TO SUE THE ASTRALS IN THE FIRST PLACE

“Well,” Ardyn remarked, “That certainly is something, isn't it? I think I would like to meet this fellow, even if he declines the offer.”

Ravus flicked his ears and rearranged the letters.

IF YOU HURT HIM CINDY OR TAKKA

I DONT CARE HOW DEAD I AM

I WILL MAKE YOU MISERABLE

EVEN LONG AFTER YOUVE DIED

Ardyn just rolled his eyes, reclaiming his hands and braiding Lunafreya's hair.

Chapter Text

A knock at the door had him waking up with the tiniest of growls. Rolling to his feet, Ravus shook himself out and trotted to the suite door. Before whoever it was could knock again— it smelled like Nyx— he huffed as loudly as he could.

“Is it unlocked?”

Confirmed Nyx.

The door opened, and the glaive poked his head in. “Morning. Care to go for a run with me?”

... That actually did sound marvelous.

He turned to look back into the suite, towards Ignis's room.

“... Or I could cook your kid breakfast, we amend the run to a walk, and he comes with?” Nyx offered.

That worked too.

Ravus jerked his head, moving back into the suite, and Nyx followed him. The glaive moved into the kitchen while Ravus settled down to properly groom himself.

It was weird, seeing Nyx out of uniform. Even when they'd been on the camping trip, both glaives had worn their uniforms. But now Nyx was wearing what was essentially workout clothes with his uniform boots. It was certainly a very different appearance, Ravus would say that much.

Before long, the smell of food began to waft through the air. It didn't smell entirely familiar. Ravus got the feeling Nyx was making something from Galahd.

And it didn't take long after that for Ignis to wake up, racing out of his room with his eyes wide. The faint smell of panic was rolling off the boy. Ravus chirped, and Ignis snapped around to look at him.

“C-Commander...?!”

“Oh, you up, kiddo?” Nyx called from the kitchen. “Breakfast'll be ready in a minute!”

Ignis didn't move, looking confused and still smelling concerned. Ravus mewed, tapping his paw. Slowly, Ignis came to sit with him. Once the boy was settled down, Ravus began to groom him. The tense, fearful smell faded away, and Ignis began to scratch between his shoulders.

Before too long, Nyx came out of the kitchen with plates of food.

“So, Ignis,” the glaive drawled, “Commander and I were thinking of taking a walk. Care to come with?”

“Oh, no, that's okay,” Ignis said hastily, “I have studying to do—”

Like hell you do, Ravus thought, deliberately bumping into the boy's elbow with his nose.

“I think,” Nyx laughed, “The murder-cat is trying to say you study enough for all the Citadel kids! C'mon, one day won't kill ya, we can walk around, get ice cream, it'll be fun!”

When Ignis just awkwardly chewed his lip, Ravus groaned and stood up. Fetching his bag, he undid the zipper and spilled out the blocks. Nosing about, he found the letters he wanted, and carefully arranged them.

CRAMMING WILL GET YOU NOWHERE

BREAKS ARE IMPORTANT TOO

WERE GOING OUT

“I think that settles things, kiddo. Eat your breakfast and get dressed.” Nyx chuckled.

Before too long had passed, the three of them were moving through the Citadel, on their way out. But before they could reach the door, there was a drawl of, “Going somewhere, gentlemen?”

Ravus tipped his head back with a groan while Nyx replied with, “Morning, Ardyn. Taking a walk. You?”

Since when the hell had you gotten so chummy with the bastard?

“Oh, I imagine a walk would do me good. Would you mind terribly if I joined you?” the Accursed grinned, sauntering closer. Even as he lifted his lip and rolled his eyes, Ravus felt like the man looked... lighter.

“Hey, c'mon,” Nyx cajoled, elbowing Ravus's side, “He saved our asses. And he's helping us fight the Nifs.”

“Just because someone saves you doesn't mean you're obligated to like them.” Ignis reasoned as Ravus pushed back. When neither he or Nyx offered an objection, the boy said, “If you want to join us, you can.”

“How swell,” Ardyn smiled, “Shall we be off, then?”

It was a surreal experience, in all honesty.

Ravus was a white coeurl, with a in-civvies Kingsglaive, a tiny noble, and the living embodiment of the Starscourge. And they were going to take a walk and get ice cream. It sounded like the start of a bad joke, really. He could hardly blame people for staring, and they didn't even know the whole bit about Ardyn being a sack of daemons!

Though it did sound like they were pointing to the Niflheim official strolling around Insomnia.

Tuning into the conversation happening between his party, Ravus found Ignis saying, “I want to try making coeurl-friendly cookies. Just eating plain meat all the time can't be too enjoyable. I mean... natural coeurls are fine with it, but the Commander used to be human.”

“But haven't you already made a few other things he can eat?” Nyx asked curiously.

“Yes, well...” Ignis cleared his throat, blushing a little. “Ravus mentioned the other day that he has a bit of a sweet-tooth.”

“Ah yes,” Ardyn chuckled, ruffling Ignis's hair as they waited for the light to change, “That would make sense, wouldn't it?”

Ravus grumbled, forcing his way between Ignis and the Accursed before quickly licking over the boy's hair, setting it to rights. The boy's blush deepened, and Ravus heard a few bystanders coo while others whispered.

“Maybe we'll hafta get in touch with Doctor Yaeger. See if she can give you any tips or the like.” Nyx hummed thoughtfully as they crossed the street.

“I know cats can't have too much dairy,” Ignis supplied as Nyx steered them all towards an ice cream parlor, “And too much grain or cereal is bad for them too, and sugar can irritate their stomachs.”

“Sounds like a bit of a challenge to make a dessert with such stipulations, doesn't it?” Ardyn commented.

Ravus rubbed his cheek against Ignis's shoulder, purring a bit. If he was being perfectly honest, he'd somewhat outgrown his childish love of sweets. He still enjoyed getting something sugary now and then, but even before acquiring a coeurl's palate, Ravus had begun to lean towards less sweet foods. Maybe that was in part because of how little anything Niflheim produced actually tasted like anything. But he supposed either way, he appreciated the thought.

They reached the ice cream parlor, and Ravus settled down to wait outside, tail wrapped carefully around his paws so no one would step on it. He liked to think his whiskers were far enough off the ground that they wouldn't be stepped on, but all the same he was grateful for the berth people gave him.

At some point, a couple of women stopped, standing boldly near him with their phones out.

“There's no way it's actually a Messenger, right?” one asked, blatantly snapping a picture as Ravus flattened his ears.

“I dunno,” the other drawled, “I don't think you can tame coeurls.”

“What if it was bred in captivity? I mean, that was the chancellor of Niflheim, wasn't it? What if this is supposed to be, like, some sort of peace offering?”

Ravus stood with a growl, glaring at the two. It was hard to deny the note of satisfaction he felt when they dropped their phones in their panicked jumps. Shaking himself out, Ravus moved to peer into the parlor—

Just in time for Ardyn to sweep out, humming some jaunty tune. Despite his hatred for the man and how much the stink of Scourge made his fur stand on end, Ravus quickly moved to bury his nose in Ardyn's coat. His ears were still pressed back, and his tail was lashing by this point.

“Oh? Something the matter, dear Commander?” Ardyn asked, dragging a casual hand through Ravus's fur.

Yes, Insomnia was full of pricks, bigots, and self-centered twats.

From the corner of his eye, Ravus saw the women hurry away, faces ashen. Satisfied with that, he pulled away from Ardyn. The man's touch had only served to raise his hackles, but chasing the faint sylleblossom scent had helped to calm him. Slightly. The smoke and sickness and rot had been rather overpowering...

Overpowering, but not...

The healing sessions really must've been doing something. Even if it was slight, barely there and hard to notice, Ardyn looked lighter and smelled less dead.

Ravus flicked his tail thoughtfully.

Chapter Text

“Which of you wants to help me explain why the chancellor of Niflheim was racing our Kingsglaive captain via warping in a public park?” Cor asked testily, arms crossed.

“Oh, hush,” Ardyn hummed, examining his nails, “You can use that as a cover story for my presence, tell everyone I've joined Regis's merry band of misfits. I'm sure it'll be eaten up. A good boost to morale, too.”

“And he's fast!” Nyx gasped, eyes wide. “I like to think I'm damn good at warping, but I was just about struggling to keep up!”

“Wonderful. It's my head Clarus is coming for thanks to your little publicity stunt. And why didn't you think to stop them, Commander?” Cor growled, glaring hard enough to cow a behemoth.

Ravus met the glare head-on before rearranging his blocks to answer.

MY PAWS WERE FULL

“With what?” Cor challenged.

IGNIS

“Acceptable. Dismissed.”

He wanted very badly to raise an eyebrow at that, but had to settle for twitching his whiskers as Cor turned back to Nyx and Ardyn.

“It's years of practice, captain,” the Accursed was purring, clearly preening under Nyx's praise, “I imagine with a little dedication you'll get there one day as well.”

“Okay, but you were pulling hard turns in midair!” the glaive objected.

“Oh, I imagine my royal blood gives me a bit of an edge, that's all.”

“If you two are done flirting,” Cor said icily, “Ulric, you should consider yourself lucky I don't kick your ass out of the military here and now. If it was so damn important that the two of you have this little race, you should've done it somewhere private, so we could've had time to construct Ardyn's cover story.”

Ravus mewed for attention, nosing his blocks around.

JUST MAKE HIM DO IT

THATS HALF OF WHAT HE DID WHILE WITH THE EMPIRE

“You flatter me.” Ardyn grinned impishly. “But yes, I imagine I could spin a suitable tale for your masses.”

Cor just about growled as he dragged a hand down his face. “Fine. I don't care. You talk to Clarus about it then. I'm supposed to be hanging out with my kid, not cleaning up your mess.” the Immortal ground out.

Ah. Ravus bowed his head a bit, ears back. Nyx smelled vaguely sheepish, but Ardyn just seemed amused with the whole situation. Cor was unappeased.

“Also, while I have you lot in one place, Regis is arranging for a visit to Hammerhead. If all goes well, we'll be heading out in two days.” the marshal growled, striding around them and slamming the door open. Without any further ado, the man left.

“... Well, I guess I should go assign security details 'n shit. Fun stuff on my day off, y'know.” Nyx sighed, running a hand through his hair. Pointing towards Ardyn as he left, the glaive declared, “We'll have a proper rematch later! Once all this political-prophetical bullshit is done!”

Ardyn gave a crooked smile with a two-fingered salute. As Nyx vanished, he commented, “Quite spirited, that one. Quick to adapt, at that. I rather like him.”

Ravus growled a little, giving a pointed glare.

“Yes yes,” the Accursed dismissed flippantly, “If I hurt anyone you'll haunt me for all eternity, et cetera, et cetera. A very intimidating threat, I assure you.”

Huffing, Ravus put his blocks away and began preparing to leave as well. Though he wasn't entirely sure what to do with himself. Upon their return to the Citadel, Ignis had gone off to spend the day with Noctis. He was relatively confident his younger self was training with Gladiolus, and Prompto was apparently spending the day with Cor. Lunafreya and his mother were probably waiting on Ardyn for healing, and if they weren't then they were likely recuperating from healing. Nyx was busy, and Libertus was presumably as well.

That left Iris, didn't it?

It had been a while since he'd spent any time with the girl in a less crowded setting. It was always with a flock of people around.

Mind made up, Ravus picked up his bag and headed for the Amicitia manor. However, much to his frustration, Ardyn seemed to be following him.

As if sensing his thoughts, the Accursed hummed, “I've already done my healing for the day. And with everyone so busy, I admit I haven't the faintest clue how to stay out of trouble.”

Liar.

But it wasn't like he could do much aside from flatten his ears in displeasure. Aside from maybe ignoring the bastard.

When they got to the manor, Ravus spotted Iris playing in the garden. Dropping his bag, he let out a soft roar to alert her of their approach. She startled a little at the noise, but squealed in delight and charged over to greet them. Ravus let her tackle his legs, nosing gently through her hair in turn.

“Did you come to play with me?” Iris asked hopefully, her eyes wide as she looked up at him.

Play was a very loose term, Ravus thought even as he nodded.

“Even Uncle Ardyn?”

Ravus froze, and he wasn't entirely sure if there were words to describe the noise that came from Ardyn.

“I... suppose...?” the Accursed ventured carefully.

“Yay!” Iris squealed, somehow capturing both of them in a hug. “Everyone's been super busy lately, but they keep telling me I'm too little to worry!”

Noctis and Prompto were only a few years older, and she was an Amicitia too. It was as much her concern as it was everyone else's. He'd have to have words with her father later.

“Not very fair now, is it? Poor thing.” Ardyn crooned as he ruffled her hair, apparently recovered from being addressed as uncle. Iris giggled, squirming away, and Ravus rolled his eyes. “So, what mischief are we up to today, my dear?”

“Well,” Iris said thoughtfully, “I had been looking for butterflies... but I think it's getting too late for that...”

“I suppose autumn is upon us, yes...” Ardyn hummed thoughtfully. Before Ravus could move for his bag, the man had crouched down with a glint in his eye. “How are your hand-to-hand skills?”

Oh, that was a good idea. She might not be fighting wars the way others were, but she was a young girl, and she was at that age where bullies started to become an issue. Ravus couldn't help but trill his approval.

Iris seemed to agree as well, nodding and bouncing on the balls of her toes.

Moving closer to the house, Ravus put down his bag and Ardyn shrugged off his coat. Iris waited eagerly nearby, eyes shining.

“First things first,” Ardyn declared as Ravus took a post nearby, “You need to have a steady stance. Can you stand the way I am, dear? Yes, just like that...”

Ravus couldn't help but begin to purr, watching carefully as the lesson proceeded.

Chapter Text

“Sylleblossoms are blue these days,” Ardyn told them as he carefully split the stem of the flower in his hands, “But they didn't used to be. I haven't a clue what people mixed them with to get that color.”

“What color did they used to be?” Iris asked, eyes wide as she watched the Accursed work.

“They largely came in two colors. Red and white. Sometimes you'd find a variegated patch.” Ardyn answered, putting down the knife so he could slide the two flowers together.

“Vari...?”

“More than one color. Striped, in a sense.”

Ravus flicked his ears, watching as Ardyn delicately braided the cut-up stems together. The man was surprisingly good at such things.

He and Ardyn had spent a good chunk of the afternoon teaching Iris the basics of unarmed combat. While she was prone to getting flustered and flailing about aimlessly, her stance was solid enough that it took a very firm shove to knock her over. The rest would come with time, practice, and patience, but the three of them had elected to make flower crowns now instead.

Well, Iris and Ardyn were. Ravus was finding himself their model and hat-rack for all the finished wreaths.

“White sylleblossoms sound pretty.” Iris hummed.

Personally, having grown up with fields of sylleblossoms, Ravus couldn't really picture them any color aside from blue.

“I was partial to the red ones, myself. Give me your wrist, dear.” Ardyn hummed, leaning towards Iris.

Ravus shifted so his paws were tucked under his body, watching as the Accursed tied the bracelet off around the girl's wrist. Iris gasped with delight, beaming like a million watts as Ardyn pulled away. Ravus had to admit, it was a very beautiful piece of work. The two flowers were nudged carefully together, but not in a way that made them fight. The stems were different shades of green, and the way Ardyn had woven them was extremely flattering to the material. He wanted to know if the man had history in basket-weaving or rope-making, something to that nature, with how expertly he made these things.

As Ardyn began showing Iris how to make similar pieces, the sound of footsteps reached Ravus. He picked his head up, ears pricked as he sniffed the air. The scent of Clarus reached him a second before the Shield came into view, and Ravus dropped his head back down.

“There you are,” Clarus called, sounding testy, “Cor told me you would be giving me the story we tell the public?”

“Oh, as soon as I come up with it!” Ardyn replied breezily.

“Hi Daddy!” Iris waved, grinning happily.

Clarus waved back, then put his hands on his hips. “It's a shame I don't have Prompto with me,” the Shield declared, “The three of you look like a classical painting like that. ‘Wise man teaches child with Messenger onlooking,’ or something of that nature.”

Ravus scoffed, rolling his eyes. He didn't know if he would call Ardyn a wise man by any stretch of the imagination.

Ardyn, on the other hand, commented, “I imagine you'll just have to commission it in memoriam of our dear Commander Fleuret challenging the Six to legal battle.”

Iris giggled, shuffling closer to Ardyn. Before anyone could really react, she'd batted his hat away and plopped a crown of flowers on his head.

Ardyn was the first to recover, placing a hand over his chest in a dramatic fashion and saying, “I'll treasure it the rest of my miserable existence, m'lady. A truly gracious gift!”

“Right,” Clarus said gruffly as the girl laughed, moving closer, “Someone needs to go inside and wash her hands before supper.”

“Aww!” Iris pouted.

“None of that. I bet you've been outside playing all day, and I need to talk with these two.” Clarus told her, voice firm.

Still pouting, Iris gathered up all the wreaths and crowns made. “Thanks for playing with me, Commander, Uncle Ardyn!” she said in farewell as she scampered towards the house.

Clarus spluttered, demanding, “Uncle Ardyn?!”

You should have seen Ardyn's reaction.

“The nicknames children give people these days.” Ardyn said sweetly, looking far too pleased as he stood up. “But that all aside, the story you give your people is honestly quite simple. I discovered something about Niflheim that didn't sit right with me and deserted in favor of Lucis. In exchange for all the information I gave you, combined with the training I was given, Regis made me into a Kingsglaive of sorts. The good Captain Ulric was making sure I knew and understood how all those new mechanics worked.”

The sad part was that Ravus could see how well Insomnia would take that. They'd eat it up and be all too pleased. But that was the intent, so all he could do was pin his ears back and flick his tail.

Clarus sighed, shaking his head. “Right. I'll relay that to everyone asking... Uncle Ardyn, good grief...”

Right, well, was that all? Ravus would like to go back to the Scientia suite and spend some time with the boy.

Still muttering a bit, Clarus straightened up and said, “Regis managed to get something arranged so that we can go out to Hammerhead tomorrow. Cor and Nyx will be staying here with the children.”

Ravus couldn't keep himself from performing a little bunny-hop. He hadn't thought it would be so soon. While the idea of leaving the children alone in the middle of all this made him uneasy, even if Cid declined, getting to see the old grump and his granddaughter again was delightful.

“And since we know we can't exactly make you do anything...” Clarus said pointedly, fixing Ardyn with a look.

“Oh, no, I want to meet this man. He sounds like an absolute delight.” the Accursed said, grinning broadly.

He was. He really, truly was.

Ravus couldn't help but purr in anticipation, turning in a tight circle.

Chapter Text

You would not think that a grown coeurl could fit in a normal car, Ravus reflected as he shifted.

Ardyn had apparently brought his own vehicle to Insomnia, stashing it somewhere while he was at the Citadel. Regis, Clarus, and Ravus's mother were in the Regalia, and Ravus was curled and contorted in the back of Ardyn's red convertible. The passenger seat was pushed down so he had somewhere to rest his front paws, while the rest of him was folded up in the back. It was very cramped and next time Ravus was just going to get in the back of a truck. He couldn't feel his hind legs. At least they were almost there.

At least Ardyn hadn't done anything like chatter at him. No, the man had turned on the radio, turned the station to something classical, and hummed along the entire drive. Ravus would have jumped out if Ardyn had decided to be conversational. He would have fucking walked the whole way.

Ravus shifted again, trying to restore some feeling to his legs.

It was only a few minutes longer before the outpost came into view, the Regalia pulling into the lot. He couldn't help but fuss a little, whining and fidgeting.

“Goodness,” Ardyn chuckled, “I don't think I've seen you so excited for anything, Commander.”

You shut up and get in the damn parking lot already.

When he finally got out of the car, Ravus stumbled a little before falling into a pleased stretch, a slight groan escaping him. Once he was confident everything was suitably realigned, he shook himself out and bounded to the garage. Standing just outside, he could hear Cid and Cindy talking in the back. As everyone else approached behind him, Ravus mewed, just loud enough to break into the conversation.

There was a delighted gasp, followed by the sound of boots on concrete, and then Cindy was launching herself onto him. “Howdy!”

Ravus chirped happily, purring as he rubbed his face over the giggling girl.

“Can't say we were expectin' you lot.” Cid drawled, ambling over as well. Ravus's purr grew louder when the old man scratched behind his ears. “Don't think 'm familiar with yer friend here, either.”

“Ardyn,” Regis said carefully, his words measured, “This is Cid Sophiar. Cid, this is... this is Ardyn Lucis Caelum.”

Cid straightened up. “Cindy, why don'tcha go help Takka out? Lunch time's gettin' close.”

“Okay, Paw-Paw!” Cindy nodded. Patting Ravus's side, she declared, “We can catch up later!”

Ravus nodded, pressing his nose to the side of her face. She giggled and ran off.

With Cindy gone, Ravus turned his attention to Cid and Ardyn. The two stood about five feet apart, examining each other. No, that wasn't quite right. It looked more like— smelled more like— the two were sizing each other up for a fight. Cid had his hands clasped behind his back, expression neutral. Ardyn's head was canted to the side, eyes glinting in an almost predatory manner. None of them dared break the silence between the two, watching warily.

“So,” Cid finally said, “Yer th' poor sap th' Six want Noctis t' kill.”

“That would be me, yes.” Ardyn hummed.

Ravus couldn't help but shuffle anxiously, butting his head against his mother's shoulder. She reached up to rub comfortingly between his ears, but he could smell the nervousness on her, too.

“Since yer standin' in my garage, 'm gonna guess this lot told ya their plan.” Cid commented.

“That would be logical to assume, yes.” the Accursed replied.

“Yeah, well,” the old mechanic huffed, turning away and coming to scratch Ravus's chin, “As far as I can tell, th' only sensible one'a this lot's Commander Fleuret here.”

“Bold of you to turn your back, knowing what I am.” Ardyn said, voice rattling just a little too much. Ravus bared his teeth, and Regis and Clarus stepped forward—

“I ain't scared' some sick ol' man, so quit yer theatrics.” Cid groused, doing that thing with his fingers on that spot under Ravus's chin. As he closed his eyes, melting into the attention with a noisy purr, he heard the grizzled old man warn, “But if y' go takin' it inta that head'a yers t' hurt any'a these folks, it'll be me makin' ya wish you were never born, ya hear?”

“... I think there is a bit of a line on that front...” Ardyn murmured, sounding confused.

Cid grunted, his scratching slowing to a stop. Ravus blinked and shook himself out, taking a step back and sitting down. “So,” Cid said, “I know ya didn't come all this way just'a introduce yer great uncle, Reggie.”

Regis startled, looking a little flustered. “Ah, no... we successfully challenged Bahamut to legal battle...”

Cid nodded, looking expectant. Ravus was tempted to run to Ardyn's car for his bag of blocks. He was willing to bet he could explain faster than Regis's floundering.

Thankfully, his mother stepped in, saying, “In a week and a half now, we're to convene on Angelguard. Ravus and the Astrals both will need to choose a ‘champion,’ as it were, and then be responsible for swaying the other champion.”

“‘Should they fail to be unwavering in their faith, then you will have lost, and endure the rightful punishment.’” Ardyn quoted.

Cid turned to Ravus. He lowered his head with a hopeful mew.

“Week an' a half, huh?” the old mechanic hummed.

“The current plan is to go a few days early, disguise it as a trip to Galdin Quay wherein Sylva can restart her duties as Oracle. If you don't want to, no one can blame you—”

Cid cut Clarus off, saying, “Are you kiddin'? Front row seat t' Commander rippin' Bahamut a new one fer all th' bullshit all'a you've gone through? Who's sayin' no?”

“I like him.” Ardyn declared, smiling cheekily.

Cid thumped his hand against Ravus's shoulder. “G'wan an' catch up with Cindy. Reggie can tell me all th' specifics.”

He gave a happy chirp, turning and leaving the garage. It looked like Cindy was waiting for him by the caravan, and she waved upon seeing him emerge. Already purring, he moved to join her.

The two of them settled down, Cindy telling him all he'd missed while in Insomnia. Ravus purred through all her chatter, tipping his head this way and that for her to scratch. Eventually his mother and Ardyn came to join them while Regis and Clarus chatted with Cid. Cindy watched with wide eyes as Ravus's mother held Ardyn's hands and murmured in prayer, the healing glow almost lost in the bright Leide sun.

“Do...” Cindy started before cutting herself off, a sheepish look on her face. Ardyn raised an eyebrow, and Ravus licked her cheek. “... Do you have the Scourge, mister?”

“Something of that nature.” Ravus's mother murmured, reclining back in her seat. He stretched out to put his head on her knees, chirping softly. “I'm alright, Ravus.”

“Oh. Well... I hope you get better soon, mister. Being sick isn't any fun.” the little girl said sincerely.

“Oh, I wouldn't worry too much, my dear,” Ardyn said loftily, “As you can see, I've already got the best people taking care of me.”

That prompted Cindy to giggle, probably at the man's flamboyant behavior. Ravus just rolled his eyes, rearranging his limbs to be more comfortably spread out.

Chapter Text

“So... in a week, we're gonna go on vacation, and while we do that, you're gonna yell at the Astrals until they admit they were wrong?” Noctis asked, crinkling his nose.

More or less. Ravus nodded.

“And how long will that take?” Gladiolus frowned.

He shrugged.

“What if they don't admit they're wrong, though?” Prompto worried, hugging his knees to his chest.

“Well, it's not up to them. It'll be up to whoever they choose as their champion.” Ravus's younger self said soothingly.

“So the Commander needs to be able to convince a complete stranger that he's right and the Six are wrong? I mean... that sounds simple enough.” Noctis frowned.

Okay, enough with the gloomy atmosphere. Ravus did not agree to have all the children under his care while things were arranged for this kind of mood. Grumbling, he nosed through his blocks for the letters he wanted.

I HELD A GRUDGE FOR 12 YEARS FOR LITTLE LEGITIMATE REASON

IF I DONT WIN THEN I JUST WONT LOSE

ILL FORCE A STALEMATE

“But then we still have to carry out the prophecy!” Noctis objected.

IF I FORCE IT THEN I CAN BREAK IT

IN MY FAVOR

“By renaming the terms of battle?” Ignis asked.

Ravus nodded, and all the children made understanding noises.

NOW STOP TALKING ABOUT IT

That earned a mixture of pouts and giggles.

Right now, Regis, his retinue, Ravus's mother, and Nyx were all busy. The date of the vacation cover was being solidified, questions about Ardyn's presence were being addressed, security was being gone over and gone over... There was a great deal to do. As Nyx had been putting it, the final battle was approaching, and everyone needed to prepare. But there wasn't much for Ravus himself to do, and everyone needed someone to watch their kids. So that was what lead to this, all seven Citadel children in the Scientia suite, along with the two Messenger pups.

“Could we play outside?” Iris asked hopefully.

He didn't think that was a good idea right now. It was getting late, meaning soon it would be dark, and while the only daemon in Insomnia was on their side he'd still rather not. Ravus shook his head, fully prepared to fend off a mob of complaints, but thankfully all he got was a handful of pouts.

“We could go spar?” Gladiolus offered.

Ravus was unopposed, but he wasn't about to force the rest of the group to go along with it.

“How about something less school like? That we can all do?” his younger self said with a smile, casting a brief glance towards Prompto and Iris.

Iris, of course, noticed instantly, jumping up with a declaration of, “I can fight! Commander and Uncle Ardyn started teaching me!”

Emphasis on started. The only thing you really had down was a good solid stance.

“We could go to my room and play video games?” Noctis suggested in a hopeful manner.

“You only have two controllers, and it would be a bit of a pain to repeatedly change games to suit everyone.” Ignis hummed.

Before anyone else could say anything, Prompto made a quiet, questioning noise. Ravus huffed, drawing everyone else's attention.

“Uh... well, it's not that exciting, so... I dunno...” the boy mumbled, fidgeting with his hands.

Ravus dropped his paw in the boy's lap with a mew, ears pricked.

Blushing, Prompto explained, “Nyx thought it would be cool to make a calendar... with my pictures, that is... and I kinda thought...”

Noctis gasped dramatically. “You could use pictures of us around the Citadel!”

Prompto smiled shyly, nodding. “I already have a few... I was thinking the one of Commander and Nyx sparring... and when Commander put the hat on Ignis...”

“But you still need ten, huh.” Gladiolus said thoughtfully.

Ignis piped up, suggesting, “Why don't you show us what pictures you have, and we can write down all the ones that might be nice? That way we can see how many exactly are needed, and narrow our choices down if needed.”

Ravus purred, nodding his approval of the idea, and just like that all the children had swarmed around Prompto. Umbra and Pryna complained at that, hurrying over to Ravus's side to avoid getting squished. He rolled his eyes and lowered his head to groom the pups. Umbra instantly complained, squirming away, while Pryna seemed to preen under the attention.

For a while, that was that. The children chattered, oohing and aahing over certain pictures, bickering about the worth of certain ones in a calendar. Ravus played with the Messengers, letting Umbra attack his tail while Pryna played some sort of red light green light with his paws. It was mindless enough that Ravus was able to let his mind wander.

He was, admittedly, somewhat concerned about who he would be convincing that the Six were full of it. Chances were the Astrals would be able to hit any and all points that could potentially sway Cid, and hit them hard. Ravus had complete faith in the old mechanic to hold his ground, but knowing your target was half the battle. Ravus was as good as going in blind.

A knocking sounded at the door, and Gladiolus ran to answer. Ravus realized he could smell Scourge as the puppies began trying to burrow into his side. He couldn't help but grumble a bit, wondering what the bastard wanted. He heard Gladiolus greet the walking sack of daemons and the two exchange a few words before the boy returned, announcing Ardyn's presence. A round of cheerful greetings went up as the man sauntered in.

“And what, pray tell, might the lot of you be up to?” Ardyn asked in an amused tone.

“We're helping Prompto choose picture to turn into a calendar!” Lunafreya replied.

“Wanna help?” Noctis asked.

“Why, that would ruin the experience for when I purchase one for myself, would it not?” the Accursed grinned. Prompto blushed, all but attempting to hide behind his camera. “Actually, I came looking for the good Commander here.”

Of course he did. Ravus rolled his eyes, shifting to alleviate the discomfort the puppies were causing. Despite Ardyn plainly being on their side by this point, the two were still terrified of him. Not that Ravus could blame them.

“I had been hoping to catch you alone, but I suppose the children are involved enough it doesn't matter,” Ardyn said as he sat down nearby, the kids all zeroing in the second he said that, “I think, as the one with the most experience in the field, I should discuss who you might be facing on Angelguard.”

Ravus heaved a sigh, but nodded.

“You know who it'll be?” Ignis asked, voice and scent both hopeful.

“I have a well-educated guess,” Ardyn answered, visibly restraining his sneer, “That they'll elect my dear brother as their champion.”

Ravus shifted to grab his blocks, causing the little Messengers to cry out when he left them exposed. They darted away, to the safety of Lunafreya and Prompto's laps, as he nosed through his letters.

I HAD BEEN THINKING A KING OF YORE

WHY THE MYSTIC SPECIFICALLY

“He was their first king,” Ardyn answered, malice dripping from his voice and Scourge stink growing stronger, “And he's been their loyal little lapdog as long as he's existed.”

“But won't they expect you to plan for the Founder King and choose someone else just to throw you off?” Ravus's younger self frowned.

“Possibly. Possibly.” Ardyn nodded. Ravus might've been imagining things, but he thought he detected a note of pride to the man. “But it's just as likely that they'll put all their faith in his stubbornness. And the fool may volunteer for the job, at that.”

Well. If that was the case.

AND HOW WOULD YOU SUGGEST GETTING UNDER HIS SKIN

“Somnus saw my way of doing things as choosing who got to live and die. He believed usurping the throne and slaughtering everyone with the Scourge as the right thing to do. So you'll have to convince him that the Astrals are picking and choosing now.” Ardyn said in answer.

“Well, that shouldn't be too hard,” Noctis frowned, “They chose to let lots and lots of people die.”

That they did, Ravus thought darkly, ears flattening. That they did.