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Of Decision

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The violin hummed. Piano accompanied, bringing structure to the melody and smoothing over discordant notes when they rang out like choppy waves on an otherwise smooth pond. Thirty five people filled the garden lounge; out in the hall, servants paused and lingered beyond the open door. None of them bothered making excuses to one another. The only things they exchanged were smiles. If she had been ten years older they would have shaken their heads and walked on. But she was five. And the occasional break in an otherwise beautiful melody was excusable when the little girl holding the violin had never played for anyone, save her teacher and her brother.

The song ended. Enthusiastic applause filled the break. She lowered her violin and curtsied, beaming as her eyes swept the assembled audience. Her smile was bright enough to upstage the watery sunlight outside, until her gaze landed on her father.

He sat in front of the small crowd with a wingback armchair as his throne, an attendant at his elbow, and the Crown Prince on his lap. His eyes were on her twin brother: fixed but unfocused. When the song ended and the applause broke, he stirred and clapped with the others. But he looked at Noctis while he did so.

The applause faded, but her violin remained loose in her hands. Her governess, behind the piano, cleared her throat. "Number two, Princess Reina."

Reina lifted the violin to her quivering chin. Her eyes sparkled with tears. The piano began a new melody, and her bow struck matching notes. No squeaks, no chirps, no sounds out of place.

He still looked at Noctis.


 

Cor Leonis pushed his way into the room and knelt by the king's chair. "Imperials on the move, Your Majesty."

Regis tore his gaze away from his son. Never a moment of peace. Not in his bed at night, nor in the quiet of morning, nor even at his daughter's first recital. Two years he had been promising himself he would come to her lessons, hear her play, meet her governess properly. Where had those two years gone? The same place today would go: into the jaws of Lucis to be swallowed by duty and responsibility. The same place his son would go, when the darkness came.

Oh Noctis. If only Regis could have done something to spare him that fate.

No matter how long he thought on it, no solution presented itself. It consumed his thoughts—both waking and asleep—every second of every day. Even now he sat in Reina's audience and thought of Noct's future. Had he heard a single note she had played?

Not one.

"Sire," Cor called his attention back to the present.

Duty beckoned. Regis rose, setting Noctis down in his empty armchair, and followed Cor from the room. Better not to interrupt Reina and her first performance. At least she could have the adulation of the others. She would like that. As for the rest… he would have to make it up to her. Somehow. Only five years old and he had a list of owed recompense longer than the council's newest tax plan. Still he kept track of every time he failed them. As if that would mean something to them. Fool. Had it meant anything to him, that his father knew his own failings? No. Regis had only wanted time to play catch in the gardens. They never had.

He went with Cor. The servants in the hall parted for them and exchanged hesitant looks. When Regis appeared to give no note to their current occupation, they resettled themselves and persisted outside the door. Let them listen. If he was deprived it, at least she had some audience. After two years of practice he had no doubt that she was quite proficient. A shame he hadn't bothered to listen and find out.

"I am doomed to regret my choices," he said to no one in particular. "Whatever path I tread, I am ever looking over my shoulder, wishing I had seen the other choice and taken that route instead."

"A king pushes ever onward," Cor said, "Accepting the consequences and never looking back."

Regis stopped walking. "Yes. You would throw my own words in my face while I mope over my lot in life."

Clarus caught up with them, having followed Regis from the recital. "Someone should."

Regis sighed and continued walking. "Ever onward."

Someday, someone would repeat those words to Noctis and he would wonder how his father had done it. Maybe it was better if he never knew that Regis hadn't done any better at following his own advice than Noctis would. Or maybe he would never get the chance to experience any of that.

Regis shook his head. "Speak: the imperial advances."

"Dropships have been spotted across Cavaugh," Cor said. "Intelligence reports suggest they are leaving small groups of Magitek soldiers on the archipelago. To what purpose, we can only guess. More unsettling: they have been spotted in closer and closer proximity to Insomnia. I've just received word that a small squadron was seen working across the northern cliffs."

"Why?" Clarus asked. "They can't hope to break our defenses with a few MTs."

"Perhaps they search for an alternate route inside the city," Regis said.

"They would only be crushed within the Wall," Clarus said.

"Maybe survival isn't what they're after," Cor said. "What does suicide matter to MTs?"

"To what end?" Regis asked.

"If the king falls, so does the Wall," Cor said.

Regis shook his head. "Why now? They have controlled the greater part of Cavaugh for nearly a decade. What would drive them to attack so brashly now, of all times? Nothing has changed."

"Something has," Clarus said. "Three months ago, you announced that the crystal Chose Noctis."

"You think they hunt my son?"

"I merely present it as an option."

"An unsettling one," Regis said. "So be it. Send men out to the cliffs to hunt down these imperials. After, they will search the surrounding area for anything of note—if the imperials have found anything, I wish to know of it. After that, let us reassign a portion of the Crownsguard; while Noctis' Shield remains young and in training, I would have some few of them dedicated to my son's safety."

Cor hastened to do as he was bidden with Clarus on his heels. For a few moments, at least, Regis was on his own. Outside, sunlight was struggling to break free of the clouds and take control of the sky. It spilled across the black marble floor and glinted off brass statues. When clouds once more passed over the face of the sun, the whole hallway dimmed.

Regis stood looking down the hall in the direction they had come. Strange, to be completely alone. All the servants that should have been here were at the lounge listening to Reina. Ah, but he wasn't quite alone. Avunculus had followed him from the other room. How easily he forgot such an unobtrusive man. It was unbefitting. Avun deserved better of him.

"Is there anything else you needed, Sire?"

They must have stood still for too long. He didn't usually ask unless Regis gave some indication.

He sighed. He couldn't return and listen to the remainder of Reina's recital. Regardless of how much was or was not left, he would only be interrupted again. It was bad enough that he should sit there and not listen to her only to be pulled away. He refused to do the same thing again. But he could linger in the hall with the servants, who were all doing much the same, and hear what there was to hear.

Mind made up, he retraced his steps down the hallway and rounded the corner toward the lounge. Avun followed. By walking swiftly and straining his ears, Regis just managed to catch the tail end of a melody. He stopped just beyond the corner, far enough away that he didn't draw note from the servants clustered outside the lounge door and listened.

Extraordinary, that a five year old could coax such music from such a tiny instrument. Granted, she had been playing it for nearly half her short life, but she and Noctis had never failed to amaze him with how rapidly they learned. Children were like that. Keen minds made a quick study of everything. It was life in a world of rules and restrictions that took that away from them. Their nanny had once assured him that they were above average in most every respect.

And then he had fired her.

Another regret for another day.

He shut his eyes, leaned against the wall, and focused on Reina's song. Another break came and he could just hear Agnys' voice when she gave new instructions. Then Reina's violin returned to life. Music had some uncanny ability to convey emotions without words or pictures. The tune wasn't a sad one, but somehow the hum of the violin turned it mournful. When he opened his eyes again, his cheeks were damp with tears.

He stayed for as long as he was able. Inevitably, Clarus returned to draw him away again. A squadron of men had been deployed to search the cliffs where the MTs had been spotted and, if necessary, neutralize the threat. He could do no more on that front until news returned. In the meantime, Cor provided him with the names and schedules of a few Crownsguards, who would be Noctis' guard for the time being.

They withdrew to hold a more private conversation in Regis' study. He told himself that at least he had heard Reina and met her governess, even if he hadn't been able to stay for the full recital. Next time he would stay. Next time.

It was always next time.

The clouds had won the battle for the sky. No more gaps remained for the sunlight to break through, and they were growing darker by the minute. Winter had well and truly come to Insomnia. Thankfully, someone had lit a fire in his study hearth. The room itself was warm and welcoming when they arrived.

"Will you be requiring anything, Your Majesty?" Avun stood in the door, hand on the handle.

"Nothing for now, thank you Avun," Regis said.

He withdrew, shutting the door behind him.

"So. Imperials are encroaching on our land and Clarus suggests, with good reason, that my son may be in danger." Regis settled himself in his chair and pulled the papers toward himself. "In addition, I am led to believe that Niflheim is in the process of researching dangerous new weapons. Is that not so, Cor?"

"We know only that they have expanded several research facilities in the past few months. As of yet, no one has been able to learn what goes on inside."

"Is it not possible to infiltrate these places?" Clarus asked. "Who do you have inside Niflheim, at the moment?"

"Only civilian informants," Cor said. "The most recent inside information we have is nearly five years old. It seems safe to assume that things have changed."

"We have competent people who are able to enter these places," Regis said. "It has been done before. I require eyes inside those facilities, Cor. See it done."

"The question isn't 'how,' but 'who,' Your Majesty," Cor said. "I would only dare send the best, and someone willing, at that."

"What of the two who helped secure our alliance with Accordo?" Clarus asked.

Alliance was a strong word for what they had. Regis would have labelled it open negotiations, at best, and then only because he shared a mutual friend with Camelia Claustra. Even then, the situation was complicated at best. But, in a word, alliance was the shortest label.

"Lieutenant Ackers and Lieutenant Elshett? They only just returned from Altissia," Cor said. "I'm sure you'll agree that they've earned their rest."

"Rest they may have earned," Regis said, "But the crown has need of capable infiltrators. The choice is yours, Cor; I trust you will choose the best people for this mission."

"Then if you'll excuse me, I will take my leave." Cor bowed. "I will have names for you by tomorrow."

He left Regis and Clarus to await news from the squad they had sent in search of MTs on the cliffs. MTs in Cavaugh and secret research in Niflheim. An unpleasant end to an unpleasant year. He tapped his fingers on his desk and found his eyes falling to a letter he had tossed aside a few day before. The note was from Tenebrae, and more than likely delayed by imperials harassing the courier. Small miracle it had reached Insomnia at all.

Sylva sent her regards and her condolences. Their last meeting had ended under less than favorable terms. That she could so easily accept his son's fate unsettled him. It had been a point of contention for them before Noctis was Chosen. Now her words of encouragement rang hollow on the page.

The Chosen King indeed. Chosen to be sacrificed on the throne for the good of all Lucis. And for what reason? Simply by a misfortune of his birth? What curse was it placed on the Lucis Caelum family that doomed them to this? Regis had never wished so keenly that his children were someone else's children as he did, now. If they had been born anywhere else, they would have had a chance at a real life.

Alas, such was the fate of the royal family. To protect and serve. They would give their lives for Lucis. Regis had thought he had come to terms with that years ago when he had first put on the Ring of the Lucii. It is one thing, however, to accept that his own life was forfeit for the greater good and quite another to accept that his son's was. Would that he could have protected his own son as he protected Insomnia. All he could do was save him for his fate. Like livestock to slaughter.

Regis pushed those dark thoughts from his mind. He crumpled Sylva's letter in his hand and dropped it into the waste bin. Likely she was correct; he would need to come to terms with this sooner or later. Three months was much too soon, however.

"Is it too early to place young Ignis in combat training?" Regis asked.

Clarus raised his eyebrows. "He is of an age with Gladio, is he not?"

"Roughly, yes. That is so."

"Then I would say not at all." He stood a little straighter and tucked his arms behind his back in a military at-ease. "And yet, I am known for forcing my children to hoist a sword rather earlier than most men would."

"Have you given one to Iris, yet?"

After eight years, Clarus and his wife had decided to try for a second child. Regis maintained this was because it had taken them eight years to forget how difficult Gladiolus had been as a baby. They had been blessed with a baby girl not but a few weeks ago. Clarus' daughter would either grow up precisely like his son, or opposite in every way, in that Clarus would either treat her identically or as if she was a flower that might break at any moment. It remained to be seen which would hold true.

Clarus laughed. "She can't even sit up, much less hold a blade! Besides, Fidelia has strictly forbidden me."

"That she forbid you at all, seems to imply that you thought to try," Regis said.

"Yes… Well." Clarus cleared his throat and turned toward the window.

Regis smiled. A comfortable silence fell between them for a few moments, until the original reason for their conversation returned to him.

"Do you think me callous, giving a blade to the Hand of the Heir?" He asked.

"Of course not." Clarus turned back toward him. "You fear for the Crown Prince's life—and your concerns are well within reason. But regardless of what imminent threats may or may not await Prince Noctis, his retinue will need to know their way around a blade. Especially considering the fate that awaits him. No, Regis; I believe all three of those boys will see more than their fair share of action before this is through."

"He will have to be trained as a Crownsguard." Regis sighed and ran his hand over his beard. "See to it that he receives the best instructors available. Even if they need be made available."

By the time news returned from the contingent they had sent out to investigate the MT sighting, evening was falling and Regis was at least assured that Noctis would be followed at all times by a handful of Crownsguards. A more permanent solution would take time. Years of time, in all likelihood. While Gladio may have been swinging a sword for as long as he could hold one, he was still a mere child, and Ignis would not become proficient overnight. Perhaps in five to ten years they would be suitable.

Then again, would there ever come a day when he stopped fearing for Noctis' life? Doubtful.

General Drautos himself reported on the state of the MTs. All Magitek soldiers had been dispatched; merely a small squad of them had been sent in the first place. Thus far, Lucis' soldiers had been unable to find anything of interest in the region they had discovered the MTs. The cliffs fell away sharply to the sea, which was choppy and turbulent. It had long since worn away any beach that might have once existed; no suitable port existed for an imperial vessel to dock at.

Regis could have told them that in the first place. Every boat that Lucis had launched in his lifetime had come from Caem or Altissia. Insomnia may have been on an island, but it was hardly beachfront property.

And so their soldiers returned to the city and Regis was no wiser for the excursion. Yes, they might have destroyed the MTs. Arguably, Insomnia was left safer for that. But, somehow, he could not shake the feeling that the Magitek soldiers themselves were not the threat of interest. Something still remained. Something he could not yet put his finger on. There seemed nothing he could do about it, save wait for Cor's spies to discover something or for Niflheim to reveal their hand.

He retired well after the hour he had intended to. Dinner had not happened at all, but Avunculus met him at the upper levels of the Citadel—home only to the royal family and a select few serving staff.

"I took the liberty of having dinner sent to your chambers, Your Majesty." Avun bowed.

"Ah, Avun. You are a lifesaver," Regis said. "My thanks."

"Of course, Sire." Avun bowed again and gestured down the hall, but Regis stopped in the open door to his childrens' room.

Once, there had been talk of splitting them into separate rooms when they were old enough to occupy full-sized beds. Twins they may have been, but siblings were wont to quarrel as soon as they understood that their brother or sister was a person, too. And so Reina and Noctis did quarrel. They fought over who was allowed to read which book and, in spite of the surplus of crayons, they fought over one particular blue crayon. Regis could not, for the life of him, fathom what made that crayon different. They had a dozen others in exactly the same color, but they both wanted that one. When it finally wore down, there were bound to be tantrums.

Regardless, the point was that though they bickered and argued and screamed and pulled hair like the best of siblings, at the end of the day—no matter how mad they were at each other—they could not sleep but for making up with one another. After the worst of their fights, without fail, they slept together in one bed. Sometimes they would sit side by side, Reina clutching Chika the Chocobo and Noctis holding Cat the Cactuar, and mumble half-words and semi-coherent sentences to one another. It had been amusing when they had done the same thing at two years old. Now it seemed extraordinary that they had some sort of language only the two of them spoke. Regis often wondered if they would ever grow out of it. He hoped not.

Tonight, each twin slept in their own bed. The room was lit by only a cool blue nightlight, which cast shadows of stars across the room and speckled their bedspreads with the night sky. On each pillow, a shock of ebony hair was just visible above the blankets. Tucked up to their chins. And one little hand stuck out from beneath the covers on both beds and hung over the edge. Their hands were clasped.

Regis smiled. He stood for too long, watching them sleep. He had meant to return early enough to make his apologies to Reina. In spite of his best intentions, he had been late. Again.

Well. Perhaps by tomorrow she would forget her disappointment at his early departure. He would simply have to wait and see.

When he turned toward his room, Avun was still waiting for him. He pulled open the door and Regis passed within. As promised, dinner was waiting for him. It was even warm. Mostly. He ate, though he tasted little of it as he tried to think of ways to rearrange his schedule and guarantee his attendance at Reina's next performance. By the time Avun had helped him out of his formal wear, Regis was no closer to a solution. He fell into bed, discontent with his own capabilities as a father. He was doomed to play only one of his parts well: king or father, but never both.

He slept, but only uneasily. And as the darkness took hold, the Lucii called.

Chapter Text

The souls of the Lucii, kings and queens of Lucis and forefathers of Regis' line, were bound within the Ring of the Lucii. Or, more accurately, they were bound in the In-Between by the Ring of the Lucii. He who wore the ring might borrow strength from the royal line, but at great cost to himself. The common side effects were well-known; even the most casual observer in Insomnia had commented before on King Regis' prematurely silvering hair or how much more stiffly he walked on winter mornings. Those who knew him better knew, also, that it took him more trouble to hide the deepening creases on his brow and in the corners of his eyes, and that the year before he had lost the strength to do any but the most simple exercises.

None save his inner circle, however, knew of the voices that whispered in his ears: incomprehensible at best and maddening at worst. It was as if he was haunted by one hundred and twelve generations of Caelum ghosts and all of them insisted on speaking all the time. When first Regis had donned the ring, he had thought it would drive him to insanity. Now it was more akin to the constant murmur of a crowd, and he was well-practiced at tuning it out. If he focused, he might sometimes hear specific words or phrases. Most often they were not worth the effort he put into extracting them.

And then came the dreams—not true dreams, as one imagines nonsensical situations in fuzzy colors, but waking-dreams, where his soul was drawn from his body and summoned before the kings of yore. They did so infrequently, but each time was no less unsettling than the last.

Twelve spectral titans towered above him. They were not men; they had transcended beyond that. They were immortal and godlike; the guardian angels of Lucis, wreathed in blue flame and clad in impenetrable armor.

:You seek the strength to protect the Chosen King.: King Somnus, the Mystic, was foremost among them.

"I do," Regis said. It was not often that the Lucii deigned to meddle in the day-to-day affairs of his life. But this, perhaps, was worth their note. Noctis would hold the fate of the world in his hands, some day. For that, they were willing to protect him.

But for nothing less.

:You have such power. Though you may be limited in reach, others are not.:

"You mean for me to forge the bond of magic with others? I have already done so. It is of little use to them; however they try, they can do little more than reach across the veil and summon a banished object from the In-Between."

:Cast your sights farther, young king. Not all are meant to bear the power you would offer. Know, then, that the line of the Lucii spread beyond the royal family.:

Of course. Unless the heir had been an only child in each and every generation, other Caelums had once lived in Insomnia—or beyond.

"You mean that those who share our blood might share our magic?"

:The connection to the crystal runs in your veins, young king. And in others. In those, it may need a spark to ignite.:

Far removed cousins of the throne, too distantly related to be considered of royal blood any longer, still roamed Lucis. He could find them. He could gather them together and bind them to himself and the crystal, making of them an army fit to protect the Chosen King and even Lucis itself.

"I will investigate this immediately. My thanks, King Somnus."

:Have a care, young king.: Crepera, the Rogue, stepped forward from the line. :These bonds must only be forged in complete trust. Give only what you can afford to lose.:

As said by the Lucii, who judged the character of a man who wore their ring, and destroyed him utterly when he fell short. A sight Regis had never seen and hoped never to witness, personally.

"I will." He said.

And he woke.

It was dark, still. The grandfather clock indicated it was not even four but, try as he might, Regis could not fall back asleep. He dressed on his own and descended, earning some curious looks from the drowsy Crownsguards who lingered in the halls on the night watch.

The Citadel Library was home to the largest collection of books in Lucis. It took up a full two stories of space, with shelves stretching from floor to ceiling covering every wall. No matter how vigilant the Citadel staff was, the whole place always smelled of stiff parchment. Such was always the case when so many books were assembled in any one space. In spite of the smile it always brought to his face, however, Regis was an uncommon patron of the library. He had less time for books than he would have liked. Even the smaller collection upstairs in the Royal Quarters was largely untouched since Aulea's death. The book he had begun last year still sat on his nightstand, dusted diligently by the serving staff. He couldn't even recall what it had been about.

But it was not for leisure that Regis came to the library, today. He came in search of the vast quantity of records dating back nearly to the founding of Lucis. The oldest of those were few and far between, and completely illegible by now. Some valiant souls through the ages had endeavored to rescue some of those old leather-bound and hand-lettered tomes, and so scattered secondary records existed of some such sources. But the passing of knowledge down the line of the Lucii had rendered much of that largely obsolete. It was for this reason, Regis suspected, that no king or queen had ever ordered a more substantial overhauling of the old records.

The information he was after, however, was less old and more carefully cared for: the genealogy of the Lucis Caelum line. Books upon books held records of births, deaths, and marriages associated with the royal family. That information alone filled up a sizable portion of the library; several shelves side-by-side and reaching halfway to the ceiling. They dated all the way back to the time of King Somnus—not his parentage, but his children and all those thereafter. So far as anyone knew, the Founder King had been an only child of people who had long since faded into obscurity. Regis might have asked him, but it was hardly pertinent information and he had reason to believe that memories of the physical world faded after hundreds or thousands of years in the In-Between. Time apart from life changed the men they had once been into something different; he watched it happen to his own father, year by year.

In any case, he was unlikely to find any answers so far back in time. Better to start from the present and work backward.

Regis removed the last three books from the shelves of records. The most recent one ended with the birth records of Reina and Noctis, preceded by a certificate of marriage signed by both Regis and his late wife, Aulea.

He spent longer than he ought to have staring at that piece of paper. She had a way of creeping up on him when he least expected it. And this was December. It seemed much longer than five years that he had endured without her. At the same time, five years seemed an impossible length of time to live alone when they had been together so much longer. Yet here he was, still alive.

He turned the pages back, tearing his eyes from Aulea's name and proceeding with his original purpose. His own birth certificate was next. He had been an only child, as had his father. He had no cousins to whom he might have turned, nor any aunts and uncles. His grandfather, King Vitus, however, had boasted both a younger brother—Prince Gaius—and a sister—Princess Chiara. Both had left the Crown City after coming of age, as seemed to have been tradition among uncrowned Caelums. Chiara had gone to the Cleigne; records suggested she may have settled near Cape Shawe, but she did eventually marry an Outlander and have children of her own. Those, so far as he could tell, had stayed local, but what had occurred after he could only guess; whoever had kept track of such things had drawn the line after three generations of separation from the crown.

And so it went. Queen Deifilia had siblings who had left for Cavaugh and other such places, eventually raising families of their own. Each one gave Regis only a hint of where to look for those who might carry a drop of royal blood, and even then they were scant hints. Many of the places that the princes and princesses had settled no longer existed. At least, they were no longer the havens of light and safety that they must once have been. Some names of cities and regions he was forced to research, simply to learn where they had been. It was disheartening to see how much of his kingdom had come under imperial control in the last hundred and fifty years.

When dawn came, he was hunched at a library table with three separate books of records open around him, a map of Lucis spread across the tabletop, and a small pile of untidy notes scrawled in hasty handwriting. Needless to say, the library staff was surprised to find him there. Doubtless, his personal staff would be equally surprised. And Clarus was bound to throw a fit when he arrived in the Citadel and found that no one had any clear idea of where the king was. He would put a twenty-four hour guard on Regis' tail. Again. Considering what had happened the last time Regis had disappeared without warning, he could hardly blame Clarus.

It was December.

He pulled one of the library staff from her duties to send word of his whereabouts. Then he returned to his work.

By now, he had a long list of names and several messy family trees with cryptic notes, which would probably make no sense even to him, come tomorrow morning. He also had several promising places to search. Galahd was circled at the top of his list. More than one royal had ended up in the small fishing village over the generations, and Regis already had the bulk of Galahd's fighting force housed inside Insomnia. Following Niflheim's last attack on the village, he had offered them space in his military—a paying job with secure boarding. Though it seemed too optimistic to hope that some of his Galahdian soldiers were distant relatives, he hoped anyway.

Next on his list was Lucinia; though the town itself had been scratched off maps of Lucis in recent years, it had once been the nearest settlement to Insomnia, sharing space with the Crown City on the coast of Cavaugh. After a brutal attack by Niflheim, it had been given up for lost and the empire had all but taken over that space. Though they held no permanent base on Cavaugh, they used the empty space as easy access for loading and unloading their Magitek engines while Lucis could do little about it. That was not the point of interest, however.

Lucinia had been evacuated to Insomnia some thirty years ago. The citizens had integrated well into the city and were, so far as Regis was aware, regarded largely as local—more recent refugees had not received such a warm welcome, but that was neither here nor there. Among those who had been admitted to the Crown City when Lucinia fell was Titus Drautos, who now served as one of Regis' most respected military commanders.

Some method of testing for viable magical potential would have to be developed. That was a problem for another sleepless night.

Avun arrived. Regis stood, stretching muscles he hadn't realized were sore until he tried to move them. It was colder than it ought to have been in the library. Likely they saw no reason to warm it at four in the morning. Logical, under usual circumstances, perhaps, but he would have appreciated a crackling hearth fire and some hot tea. The cold made his joints ache.

Gods, he was getting old.

"Your Majesty." Avunculus bowed. Though he had the face of a diplomat, not even he could hide the relief when he caught sight of Regis, safe and sound—if a little unkempt—in the library.

Regis sighed. "Fear not, Avun. I swear I will never give cause for anyone to inform Clarus that the king is missing." Again. "Not on purpose, in any case."

Avun bowed again, perhaps to hide the reddening of his cheeks. "Sire. May I fetch your breakfast?"

"Are my children awake?"

"I believe so, Your Majesty."

"Then I will break fast with them. See to it that all of this finds its way to my study." Regis motioned to the table he had occupied.

"Of course, Your Majesty."

Regis took a step toward the door, but Avun halted him, fixed his tie, straightened his coat, and combed his hair back. Regis might have known that Avun carried a comb in his breast pocket at all times. He might not have been Wes, but he took his responsibilities with the utmost seriousness. Regis tolerated all of this. Likely he was something of a mess after dressing in the dark and sitting at a library table tugging his hair for three hours. It was best not to walk around the Citadel looking like that.

When Avun released him, Regis fled upstairs to the private dining room. It was private insofar as it was for use solely by the royal family. The Citadel boasted a second dining hall, which was the space they used for formal dinners, but which also served meals to the other Citadel residents every day of the week. Strictly speaking, the royal family should have eaten there more often than not at all, for the mere sake of being seen. The council reminded him of that fact frequently.

Reina and Noctis were already seated at the dining table when he arrived. Also present were a pair of Crownsguards, a nanny, and two kitchen serving staff. The servants bowed and the Crownsguards stood a little straighter when Regis entered. More guards were about than usual. That was what Regis had ordered, after all. For Noctis' safety.

"Dad!" Noctis turned in his chair to look at the door.

Ah, Noctis. Would he ever look at his son again and not see a life cut short? He wanted nothing more than to protect Noctis with his life. The futility of that desire near crushed him each time they met. He resolved anew that, if he could not save Noctis' life, he would at least make the best of what time he had.

"Good morning, my son." Regis stopped at Noct's chair to give him a hug and a kiss on the head before taking his own seat. "And Reina, my little Princess."

Reina had been sitting quietly in her seat with her hands folded in her lap. When he looked at her she beamed and kicked her feet, wriggling in her chair. She didn't seem at all perturbed that he had been forced to leave her recital early, the day before. That was one piece of good news, at least. Perhaps it was best not to bring up the subject at all. If she wasn't upset, he didn't intend to make her that way.

In short order, the serving staff had set an extra spot at the table and served Regis a plate. He ate slowly. If he could use breakfast as an excuse to sit with his children, he would. No one was likely to complain that he was eating.

"So, what have you on your schedule for today?" Regis asked them. Though they did not always answer this question reliably, he found that the responses were always entertaining—if not enlightening.

"School!" Noctis said. "We're learning about etymology!"

That seemed a strange thing to teach five-year-olds.

"Is that so? And how do they teach you of etymology?" Regis asked.

"We get a big net on a long stick and we go into the greenhouse and catch bugs with it!"

Regis smiled. "Entomology, Noctis. The study of insects. Not etymology, which is the study of words."

Noctis' brow furrowed as he thought long and hard about that. Finally, he said, "They must not study words very hard."

"And why is that?"

"Cause they should have known there was another word already like that," he said.

Regis laughed. In his life, nothing was ever as simple as it seemed; a challenge with an easy solution meant something else was amiss—or that they had not solved the problem at all. More often that not, there were never any correct answers, and his job was merely to choose between several bad possibilities. And yet, breakfast with five-year-olds reminded him that to some people, at least, life was precisely as simple as they made it.

"That they should have, my son." He took a bite of his toast and noted out of the corner of his eye that Reina was studying him critically.

She picked up her toast and took a bite a second after he did. He set down his toast. She set down her toast. He took a drink. She took a drink. He dabbed at his mouth with his napkin. She dabbed at her mouth with her napkin. He folded the napkin back onto his lap and she did the same—though this motion gave her more trouble and it took her three tries to fix it just so. He waited for her to catch up before he picked up his fork again. He fought back a smile as she did the same.

"I caught ten ladybugs, yesterday!" Noctis said, distracting Regis from Reina's mimicry.

"Did you, indeed? And what did you do with them after?"

"Miss White made us let them go. I wanted to keep them."

"Whatever would you have done with ten ladybugs?" Regis asked.

"Put them in my room…" Noctis said.

"I daresay they would not have stayed, and Miss Jenet would not be pleased with you."

Noctis pulled a face. "But I would have taken good care of them!"

"I have no doubt," Regis said. "And you, Reina? Did you catch any bugs, yesterday?"

She had always been the quieter of the twins, preferring to speak when engaged with—and sometimes not even then. But it seemed to him that she was more quiet than usual, this morning. Whatever qualms she had with engaging in open conversation, they did not usually apply to Regis.

Reina froze, evidently stunned that he had addressed her at all. Perhaps because she had been so preoccupied with turning over the sound of his words on her own tongue that she had lost track of the conversation itself.

Noctis saved her the trouble of responding. "Reina didn't catch any bugs!"

She stuck her tongue out at him. "Shut up!"

Regis chuckled. "And why is that, my dear?"

Reina smiled brightly at him, but her eyes flicked to Noctis and she hesitated before answering. She dropped her voice and her eyes and tugged at her dress under the table. "I caught ten and gave them to Noctis because he was too afraid to catch any bugs."

Noctis threw his napkin at her. "Nuh uh!"

"You said they were too icky!" Reina ducked and the napkin missed her entirely.

"You said you wouldn't tell!"

"Dad asked me!"

"So?!"

She threw the napkin back and hit him squarely in the face. "I can't lie to Dad!"

Regis watched the exchange with growing amusement. So Noctis didn't appreciate bugs nearly as much as he would have had them believe. As ever, he entrusted his secrets only to Reina. No doubt she would have taken them to the grave, if Regis hadn't asked her—quite unwittingly—for the truth.

"Ugh!" Noctis rose from his seat and threw the napkin on the floor. "I hate you!"

He turned to march out of the room. Regis rose and followed after him, catching him before he reached the door. He turned Noct around and knelt on the floor in front of him.

"Noctis," he said, "My son. While you have every right to be cross with your sister, there is no reason for you to feel ashamed for disliking insects."

"But boys like bugs!"

"Who told you that?"

"Everyone." Noctis sniffled and swiped at his eyes with the back of his hand.

"Surely not everyone. I, for one, will assure you that not all boys have any great love for bugs," Regis told him severely.

"Do you like bugs?"

"Not in the slightest."

"Really?" He brightened, eyes widening.

Regis smiled. "I swear it."

Noctis gave him a shaky smile. Regis dried his tears and walked him back to the table. When Noctis took his seat, he shot a glare at Reina.

"I still hate you," he told her.

She glared at him. "Liar."

Regis hid his smile. Five years old and already she knew better than to believe Noct's flights of fancy. It may well have been the case that most Caelums who did not inherit the throne eventually found their way out of Insomnia, but something told him the two of them would remain together through it all. Then again, their situation was unique. Noctis may have been the crown prince, but it was likely that Reina herself would sit the throne for longer than he ever did. Regis' stomach twinged with the knowledge. One of his children condemned to death, the other to service.

He set his fork down and pushed his plate away, finding that he no longer had an appetite. One of the hovering servants swooped in to clear his plate away; no sooner was it gone than the door opened to admit Clarus.

"Good morning, Master Am-uh-sit-ee-uh!" Noctis said. After a great deal of practice, he now managed most of the syllables most of the time.

"Ah, Regis. You are here." Clarus sounded relieved. "Good morning, Prince Noctis and Princess Reina."

"Where else would I be?" Regis asked.

Clarus cleared his throat.

"That was nearly five years ago, Clarus; surely you must let me forget my mistakes some day," Regis said.

"Never," Clarus said. "Are you through with your breakfast? I passed Avun hauling an armful of books and maps into your office; I trust you'll inform me if you decide to move to Altissia."

"You shall be the first to know." Regis folded his napkin on the table and rose from his seat. He looked to Noctis and Reina, who were both watching him with those great blue eyes of theirs. Aulea's eyes. "I fear I must take my leave, dearest ones. I have a great deal to discuss with Master Amacitia."

"Will we see you after school?" Noctis asked as Regis rounded the table and stooped to kiss his forehead.

"To the best of my ability, I shall see you again this afternoon or evening." Regis crossed to Reina's seat and gave her a scratchy kiss. She looked up at him with a trembling bottom lip and unshed tears in her eyes. "Ah, my dear. No tears. You know I cannot stay."

"I know, Father." She sniffed once and rubbed at her eyes.

He gave her another kiss and pulled himself away. "Have a lovely day, dearest ones."

Once they were alone on their way to Regis' study, he told Clarus of his encounter with the Lucii and his subsequent search for citizens who might have Caelum blood in their veins. While Clarus was as surprised as Regis had been to learn that some might take more readily to the crystal's magic, he quickly grasped Regis' purpose with them: to build an army worthy of protecting the Chosen King and capable of facing down Niflheim in all their Magitek might.

They sat together in Regis' office, discussing the logistics of such a task. Candidates would have to be identified, a captain would need be chosen, and some form of training would need to be organized.

"This puts a great burden on your shoulders, Regis." Clarus tapped the top of Regis' desk pointedly. "You will be the only one who can test volunteers and, initially, the only one who can train them. No one else can use your magic in that way. No one else would be capable of giving instruction."

"I know, Regis said. "But it must be done. If we can succeed in this, then they will be my blade when I grow too weak to lift one. The King's Glaive."

To protect his son when he could not. To fight this war where he could not.

Chapter Text

The first stages of building an army were more a drain on Regis' writing hand than anything else. Once his original purpose was established, he could pass on a great deal of the mundane work to others. But each step required Regis' approval, signed and stamped, and the search dragged on even as the list of potential candidates grew. While Clarus objected that it was unnecessary to arrange for training grounds or office space for the charter members of an army that they weren't even certain could exist, Regis had no such doubts. He knew, through the virtue of his bond with the Lucii, that Caelum blood existed in Lucis outside the royal family. His research led him to believe it was widespread. The bonds would take. He would have his Glaive.

Winter blew in on cold winds, leaving the Citadel encased in ice and the gardens buried under mounds of soft snow. Regis took Noctis and Reina to visit Aulea's grave; after, he watched the two of them romp in the untouched snow. They ate handfuls of white, sparkling crystals, then flung the excess at each other or at him, giggling all the while. Regis had more than one glob of snow melting down the back of his suit before the day was done. They returned to the Citadel with numb feet and frozen hands, red-cheeked and runny-nosed, smiling so hard it hurt.

As often as he was able, Regis stole time to spend with them: they shared meals in the dining room and Regis heard all about their adventures at school or with Ignis; he stopped by around bedtime and read them stories, which Reina insisted were much better than Ignis' stories, even though they all came from the same book.

On one such occasion, as Regis sat at the breakfast table listening to Noctis' tales from school, Avun slipped quietly into the room to deliver a letter. He set it on the table and disappeared as unobtrusively as he had come. Regis' eyes flicked over the unmarked envelope and Noctis lost the train of his detailed explanation of hibernation.

"What's that, Dad?"

"It would appear to be a letter." Regis opened the envelope with the handle of his untouched egg spoon. Inside was a single sheet of heavy parchment covered in a familiar curling handwriting. "From Sylva Nox Fleuret."

"Who's she?" Noctis asked at the same time Reina said:

"I don't like her."

The second gave Regis pause. So much so that he forgot both the contents of the letter and Noct's question. "What do you mean, my dear?"

Reina avoided his gaze. She tapped her fork on her plate and poked at the remnants of her soft-boiled egg. "I just don't."

"Reina. Look at me."

She lifted her gaze and dropped her hands to her lap, where they fidgeted restlessly.

"What do you know of Ms Nox Fleuret?"

"I don't know anything about her, Father."

Peculiar. Whyever would she make such a proclamation when she knew nothing at all of Sylva? During the spring when Sylva had been in Insomnia, the twins had both met her briefly over dinner. Evidently she had not made enough of an impression for Noctis to even recall who she was. How could that be true while Reina had, apparently, such a clear feeling of her?

"But she makes me feel unhappy," Reina added. "Sorry."

"You have nothing to apologize for, my dear. I was merely curious," Regis said.

A mystery for another time, perhaps.

"Sylva Nox Fleuret is the Oracle and the Queen of Tenebrae. She came to visit us a few months ago; we had dinner with her in the great hall."

"Oh," said Noctis. "I don't know who she is."

And hearing the words would not change that fact, it seemed. For the moment, Regis put aside all thoughts of what his children did or did not know of Sylva Nox Fleuret and simply read her letter. At first glance it was a casual correspondence of no particular note: she asked after his children and hoped that his people were well; she mentioned a resurgence of illness among her people and extended once again her invitation treat his people of the same plague, should the need arise. But it was understood between them, already, that if he had need he would call on her. To restate it seemed a pointless waste of resources, especially given how troublesome it was for her to send word to him in the first place. As for the rest, regardless of how concerned she may or may not have been about how he was handling the knowledge of Noctis' fate, she would never have wasted a precious letter merely to check in on him.

Unless she was feeling guilty, still, for the terms they had parted on. Or else she had some notion that he meant to rebel against the prophecy and was testing the waters. Foolish. She knew as well as he that these things could not be changed. The Gods, themselves, had set them in motion.

Regis tapped the folded letter on the edge of the table and stared at the empty chair across from him. Would that Aulea was still with them. She had always been better at the social subtleties of the great political dance than he was. He could have left this in her hands, certain she would be delighted to deal with Sylva and the accompanying mess. As it was, he tossed the letter aside to be cleared away with his breakfast dishes.

"Avun." Regis glanced toward the door, where his faithful attendant stood waiting. "Has Clarus arrived yet?"

"I believe so, Your Majesty," Avun said.

Avun bowed and hastened to do as he was bidden. Regis pushed back his plate and rose, giving his children a regretful smile apiece. "Well, my dearest ones, I fear I must away. Have a lovely day at school and I shall see you both as soon as I am able."

After kissing both of them goodbye, he left, letter in hand, to withdraw to his office and await Clarus' arrival. He did not have long to wait. Clarus arrived but a few minutes later.

"Progress on the Kingsglaive is tediously slow." Regis noted, as he lowered in his armchair.

"Indeed," Clarus said. "Building an elite task force from scratch generally is, I expect. There is some news from regarding the new headquarters, but before we discuss that I believe that Cor has news regarding the reconnaissance mission in Niflheim, if you have a moment to hear it."

Regis had already dropped his eyes to his desk, where piles upon piles of genealogy pages and possible candidates for his Kingsglaive lay, waiting to be poured through. But he stopped himself at Clarus' words. The army had waited this long; it could wait a few more minutes. The more rapidly Cor sent operatives to Niflheim, the sooner they would have news on the new research facilities inside the empire.

"A moment can be made," Regis said. "Find him and send him in."

Clarus bowed himself out of the room, leaving Regis a few minutes to sift through paperwork. In the weeks that had passed since his conversation with the Lucii, a few of his initial hypotheses had been all but confirmed. A great deal of digging by researchers more adept than him had occurred, and in the end more careful family records had been pieced together for many of the Outland settlements where Caelums had reportedly settled. While many of the intermediate pieces had been lost through the ages, they now had a definite pool of candidates to begin testing. It only remained to bring them in and determine the most efficient way to evaluate them. Regis had already chosen where to begin.

Titus Drautos, current general of Lucis' army, was one of the many names on the candidate list. If he proved open to Caelum magic, it would be of considerable benefit to the crown. To have one so readily skilled in combat and warfare ready to step into position at the head of his new elite force would prevent months—even years—of training. Moreover, Drautos was already entrenched in the Citadel and the council accepted him. It would go a long way toward lending the Kingsglaive legitimacy.

Clarus returned, this time with Cor at his heels, while Regis was still pondering his next step.

"Clarus tells me you have word regarding our informants." Regis set down his papers, re-stacked the pile more neatly on his desk, and sat back in his chair, devoting his full attention to Cor.

"I do," Cor said. "Both Lieutenant Ackers and Lieutenant Elshett have accepted the assignment."

Better than he had expected.

"Excellent," Regis said. "When will they depart?"

"Our pass across Niflheim's mountains will be treacherous in winter; I will send them in the spring thaw and no sooner." His tone dared Regis to order otherwise. Regis almost did; if Niflheim was developing some weapon that would be a threat to his son, a few months could mean life or death—not only for Noctis, but for all of Lucis, for the kingdom's fate hung on Noctis' life. Even after Ackers and Elshett arrived, they would need to move carefully. It was uncertain how long it would take for worthwhile information to come of this venture. They needed to act now and save as much time as possible.

But all would be for not if both operatives perished in the mountain pass, frozen to death and buried under two feet of ice and snow. No. Doubtless Cor was right. It was better to wait.

"Very well," Regis said. "They deploy in the spring. Keep me abreast of further developments."

He waved a hand, dismissing Cor, who bowed himself out of the room. Regis was left once more with only Clarus.

"You made the right decision, Regis."

"Have I?" He asked. "Why, then, does it feel as if I have sentenced my son to death?"

Clarus grimaced and turned to walk toward the window. He stared out over the city; the sun was well above the horizon, by now. Noctis and Reina would be on their way to school: learning of the world, making new friends, and experiencing life without their father. What sort of parent entrusted his children to others all hours of the day?

"You haven't, you know," Clarus said after a moment, his voice so quiet Regis wasn't certain he had heard correctly. "Someone else passed that sentence. I wish you wouldn't lay that guilt on your own shoulders… you have enough to worry about without feeling as if you are killing your own son."

Regis sat forward in his chair and dropped his head into his hands. "I should be able to protect him. For months I have searched for some other way—anything that might save him. I have even found myself thinking blasphemous thoughts for want of his survival. What if they Gods are wrong? What if this is not the only way to save Eos? I wish it were so, but it cannot be. And even if it were, I am but one man and they are titans among mortals. They will have their blood. Caelum blood. As they always do."

Clarus' hand landed on his shoulder. Regis started; when last he looked, Clarus had been by the window. But he stared up into his friend's eyes and saw the reflection of the pain in his own soul. Every burden that Regis bore, Clarus shared. It was Regis' son they had sentenced to death, yes, but Clarus felt it through his love for them both.

"In this, I cannot advise you," Clarus said. "I can only assure you that whatever path you choose to tread, I will walk beside you and trust."

He would have stood against the Astrals for Regis' own selfish desire to save his son. And they both would have been smote to ash and Noctis' life taken regardless of their stand of defiance. No. Nothing could be done. Noctis' life did not belong to him, anymore, though he did not yet know it. Then again, what king's life did belong to him? The best they could do was give him a life as a prince, the same as every king tried for his son. And when the time came, Noctis would step to the throne and take his place among his forefathers.

Regis covered Clarus' hand with his own. "And well do I know it."

He squeezed Clarus' hand and rose. "Now come. I would have Titus Drautos summoned before me. It is high time we took steps toward the founding of the Kingsglaive."

"Have you decided how best to test the magical potential of our candidates?" Clarus asked

"I have, at least, had thoughts on the matter. I may be forced to resort to building the bond to determine how well it takes, but it may not be necessary to forge the entire bridge." Regis motioned Clarus to the door. "Bring Drautos and we shall see if my surmise proves correct."

Clarus crossed to the door to do as he was bidden, but stopped with his hand on the handle. "Regis." He glanced back. "How much will this all cost you?"

"Why should it cost me anything?" Regis furrowed his brow.

"You, yourself, have told me that no magic comes without a price. Before now, you have built but a few bonds with your most trusted friends, and none of them reaching so deeply into your magic as these will. If you were, instead, to bind dozens or even hundreds of men and women, grant them access to your strength, what would that do to you?"

Clarus' words gave Regis pause. Though his initial impulse was to insist he would have no difficulties, that was the stubborn youth inside him, refusing to admit he was no longer a young man. What Clarus said made sense. No matter how it pained him to give weight to those concerns, they deserved due consideration.

"I will learn when the bonds are formed," Regis said heavily.

Clarus studied him for a long moment before granting him a nod. Whatever he had seen in Regis' face seemed to reassure him.

"Then let us tread carefully, my friend." He turned, this time to pull open the door and see himself out.

Again Regis was left to wait Clarus' return. This time took to pacing, following along the back wall of his office, past the windows, behind the armchairs, to the far wall with the empty fireplace. He turned on his heel and walked back to his desk, then repeated same again. A servant came to light a fire in the fireplace. The heavy clouds outside began to drop snow on Insomnia in fat flakes, which drifted lazily past the Wall and melted on the streets.

Clarus' words troubled him more than he cared to admit, even to himself. At the moment, he had only two bonds: one to Clarus and one to Cor. Those were scarcely enough to cause him any great duress, especially given that neither Clarus nor Cor caused a frequent drain on his magic. But if, as Clarus noted, he were to have dozens or even hundreds of such bonds—hundreds of people, tugging at his strength and drinking more deeply of the crystal's magic than any alive, save him, had ever done, how much would it cost him to uphold those bonds? What would it take to power an army with Caelum magic? Would it be akin to another Wall on his shoulders?

And if it was, could he stand to maintain it?

Of course he could. No matter how he hated the slow drain on life, the sacrifice was necessary. The Kingsglaive would protect Lucis, just as the Wall did. Indeed, the Kingsglaive would be capable of protecting all of Lucis, whereas the Wall only stood around Insomnia. And if this army ensured Noctis' safety, how could he not go through with it?

He would stand it, whatever the cost.

Whatever the cost.

With that resolve in his heart, he turned to face Clarus' return and—he hoped—the induction of the first of the Kingsglaive. They arrived a few minutes later, by which time Regis had composed himself once more and stood motionless by the window.

"Your Majesty." Drautos dropped to one knee, bowing his head, as Clarus came to stand beside Regis.

"I presume Clarus has filled in the necessary details?" Regis asked.

Clarus confirmed with a nod when Regis glanced his direction.

"He has, Your Majesty." Drautos stared at Regis' feet rather than his face. "If I can be of service in this way, then I am yours to command. What must I do?"

"Rise," Regis said, and he did so, lifting his eyes for the first time since he had entered Regis' study. "First we must determine if it is even possible for you to make use of my magic. Take my hand and open yourself to me."

They clasped hands. Regis reached deep inside himself for the core of his magic, where his blood was tied to the crystal. Next he reached for Drautos and felt the same energies resonate in response. He recoiled mentally, so surprised that he nearly lost his focus. Every time before that he had formed these bonds with another person, it had been akin to harnessing a cart to a horse; he could tie one to the other and the end result would move, but they were distinct entities. Nothing inside Clarus indicated that he had ever been meant to wield this magic. But in Drautos, the mere proximity of Regis' magic caused his blood to sing.

That was Caelum blood, in his veins.

Strands of power hung loose and frayed within Drautos—not cut, but worn thin over the generations and broken with time and disconnect. They could not be repaired. Even if he had known how, Regis wasn't certain he would have; the Gods had allowed magic to die out of the extended family for a reason, surely. But they might form the foundation for a new thread, one that bound Drautos to Regis, rather than the crystal itself.

He wove the bond, as he had done several times before for his closest companions. The magic hummed within Drautos even before Regis had closed the line between them. The broken threads within him reached out, straining to be whole, though they knew not what that meant. Regis gave them completion. He finished the bridge between them and tied to the frayed threads of Drautos' unused heritage. And magic surged between them, filling empty channels that had never known water to the brim.

When he opened his eyes, Drautos was staring at him with wide eyes. A blue glow lay over both of them, but slowly sank inside their skin.

"It is finished," Regis said.

"Did it work?" Clarus stepped forward.

"It did," Regis said. "Moreover, I now understand how to conduct the test for those receptive to my magic."

Drautos ran his hands over his arms, pushing his sleeves up, as if to see if his skin still glowed blue beneath his clothes. "I feel it. A fire burns inside my skin."

"So it does…" Regis said. What must it have felt like to be without that fire? It had been ubiquitous throughout his life. To imagine existence without it was a sobering thought; cold and empty. "Though I fear that was the easy part. We will now need to set aside time for you to learn to use that fire. My attendant, Avunculus Scientia, will see to it that our schedules align."

"Of course, Your Majesty." Drautos took the dismissal for what it was, bowing and turning to leave the study, though he continued to stare at his hands as he went.

When the door closed behind him, Clarus stepped even with Regis. "I did not tell him all; only enough."

"As agreed."

"As agreed," Clarus said. "Do you intend to share the knowledge of his bloodline—and that of any others your find?"

"Not for the moment," Regis said. "I have kept my genealogical inquiries discrete with good reason. Let us not have an army running amok in Lucis, claiming they are royal or the chosen of the Gods."

"I stand with you on that," Clarus said heavily. "These men and women will be granted immense power. If ever they were given cause to turn against you, it could prove catastrophic."

Chapter Text

A full week had passed before Avunculus had found a single spare hour in which Regis could meet with Drautos again. One hour once per week would prove sorely ineffectual for training an elite magic-wielding army, but they needed to start somewhere. For this week, at least, Regis was forced to give up breakfast with his children in favor of teaching Drautos about Caelum magic. Needless to say, it did not put him in a good mood.

Years had passed since he had last set foot in one of the Citadel's training rooms. Most of them were employed by the Crownsguard, either for training new recruits or honing their skills. Once, they had been frequented by a young prince and his retinue for much the same reasons. Later, a defiant king, still in denial about the changes to his rank, had squeezed in a few sessions into his ever-busier days. Eventually all of that had fallen off Regis' plate altogether. Now he had doubts that he could even swing a sword with conviction.

Thankfully, Drautos was well versed in such things and had no need of Regis' instruction in the more physical aspects of combat. What he needed to learn was how to warp across a battlefield, how to phase through oncoming bullets, how to throw fire and call lightning, and how to reach across the veil to the In-Between. The last one first.

"The world we inhabit is only one aspect of the wider universe." Regis paced the length of the training hall. The windows were well overhead—low enough to cast light but much too high to see out of or into. The room itself was unfurnished, save for the racks of wooden practice weapons on the walls. He was left with nowhere to look but his student. "Most people will spend their entire lives with both feet firmly upon the ground in the physical world before passing into the Beyond and never giving the space in-between a second thought. The power of the crystal, however, allows us to reach outside our plane of existence—" Regis reached for his sword and found it waiting, just beyond the veil. It leapt to his hand in a flare of blue fire. "—and retrieve stowed objects, or even pass out of this realm entirely, for a time."

"Never again be caught without a blade," Drautos noted, with the air of a man who knew that pain all too well.

"Indeed. And thus do we begin," Regis said. "Reach first for the fire within you. It will light the veil and lay bare the boundary between this world and the next. Once you have seen it, you can reach past it. Take your blade in hand and stow it somewhere safe, never to be out of reach."

His instructions were, of course, more easily given than followed. It was no less than four steps to place an object in the In-Between for the first time, and while Regis did each one as simply and sequentially as breathing, he soon remembered his own frustrations as a boy learning from his father. By the time their single hour was spent, Drautos had not progressed beyond the first step; he could reach the fire within—with much effort—but he could not use it to perceive the world more deeply. They halted their training session, both feeling less accomplished and more frustrated than Regis had hoped. But he had, at least, made one definitive decision.

He found Avun awaiting him in the hall outside.

"Avun." Regis halted Drautos with a look before he could disappear and see to his own duties. "This schedule will need to be expanded; we will meet once per day. Find the time."

"Sire, your schedule—"

"Will simply have to be adjusted. This is of the utmost importance."

"Of greater import than your children, Your Majesty…?" Avun ventured.

Regis asked of him impossible tasks and so he asked of Regis impossible questions. Touche. Nothing was more important than his children. And yet, the Kingsglaive could ensure Noctis' safety if the imperials were inventing nefarious plans. Regis might not always be available to protect him, but if he could share his magic with a whole army of elite soldiers, he could ensure that someone was available at all times.

Regis shut his eyes and let out a breath. Then he said the words he dreaded most. "Do what must be done, Avun. Once per day."

"As your wish, Your Majesty."

In the weeks and months that followed, he came to regret those words more than once. Avun scheduled his training sessions with Drautos elsewhere whenever possible, but most often they fell early in the morning, during the sliver of time between the twins waking and going to school. Each time he slipped out at the break of dawn and passed by their room, he battled against himself. He could not stop for them. He could not wait and be present when they woke. He could not share breakfast with them. Drautos needed to be trained and no one else on Eos could do it.

He took what mornings he could with them and tried to make up the difference in the afternoons and evenings. It rarely worked. So often he was kept busy with concerns of the kingdom until well after their bedtime, no matter how he tried to pull away for just long enough to read them a bedtime story.

Drautos progressed more slowly than Regis would have liked. Whether he actually learned slowly or Regis' own impatience skewed his perception of time, he could not say for certain. But the morning hours dragged by one by one and it seemed to do very little good. At first.

Drautos had the magic within him, he could reach it and grasp it—Regis could sense him doing so. But somehow he could progress no further. Having the magic gave him no innate understanding of how to use it. He could not see what Regis could see—the very shifting of the earth's energies around them and the flow of time rippling just beyond the veil between realms.

By the end of two weeks with no progress, Regis was beginning to despair of ever teaching him anything. It had all been for a waste. Every hour stolen away from his children was for naught. Yes, he could share the raw bond of his magic with another person, but he could never teach someone what came as naturally as breathing for a Caelum and Drautos could never learn to be what he was not. The Kingsglaive would crumble before it was even founded, and Regis' hopes for an army that could match Niflheim's forces would go with it. The only thing that prevented him from giving up was the knowledge that the Lucii had recommended this path to him; the Kings of Yore themselves claimed it was possible.

Such were the thoughts that swirled around his mind as he stared up at his bedroom ceiling in the pre-dawn dark. Such were the motivations he supplied himself when his subconscious asked: 'Why? Why must we do this, day after day?'

"Your Majesty?" Avun appeared in his bedroom doorway with Regis' suit draped over one arm. "Are you well?"

Regis sighed and shoved his blankets back. He sat on the edge of his bed a moment as Avun laid out his clothes.

"What else is on my schedule today, Avun?"

"Court commences following your training with Captain Drautos and stretches on until lunch. After that, you have a war briefing, a meeting with the council, and I've set aside some time for you to look over the statement to the press regarding the recent Magitek sightings in Cavaugh. Marshal Leonis has also requested a meeting and I've managed to fit him in during the evening. I have been informed that several new genealogical records have been recovered and delivered to your study for your review."

Regis ran his hands over his face and tried to find a hole that Avunculus hadn't already plugged. He stood, because Avun was never going to make him presentable while he was slouching around in his sleepwear, and submitted himself to the morning routine.

"Cor can report over dinner. I am eating with my children, tonight," Regis said.

"Of course, Sire." Avun was wise enough not to argue, though he doubtless saw the glaring flaws in Regis' plan.

The genealogical records didn't concern him, either. If he could not train Drautos then all the rest was pointless as well. No point in wasting more time where no good was likely to come of it.

"If I cannot make progress with Drautos by the end of the month…" Regis scratched at his beard and sighed. "Some hopes are doomed never to come to fruition."

Perhaps it was possible. But he could not keep on in this fashion without some hint of progress. It was time to accept that he could not do everything.

"As you say, Sire."

Ever agreeable. Avun might have stepped into Weskham's place as Regis' steward and chief attendant, but he never had learned Weskham's knack for saying just the right thing at the right time. What Regis wouldn't have given to have his old friend back in Insomnia. Wes, however, was deeply embroiled in Accordo's political situation. While Altissia headed negotiations for their own political independence under imperial rule, Weskham was behind the scenes doing what he did best: saying what needed to be said. Regis had no doubt that, should Accordo's bid for freedom succeed, it would be due largely to Weskham's efforts. And Lucis needed its allies. So for now he had Avun, who was as faithful attendant as any king could ask for, even if he wasn't the friend that Weskham was.

Once Avun had him properly dressed and looking a king, rather than a prematurely-aging vagrant, Regis left through the royal lounge, passing by Reina and Noctis' silent room on his way out. He found Drautos already waiting, when he reached the training room on the lower level.

"Let us try a new path, this morning," Regis said. "If I cannot explain to you how to see, perhaps I will be able to show you. Take my hand and open yourself to me, just as before."

They clasped hands and once more Regis reached inside himself for the magic of his blood. Then he extended his reach to Drautos and wrapped their magics more tightly.

"Now perceive. Not with your eyes, but with your mind. Feel."

Regis brushed his fingers over the veil between realms and guided Drautos to do the same. He plunged their clasped hands into the In-Between and felt the chill wind of a timeless, spaceless place on his skin. Drautos gasped. His eyes shot open.

"I see it," he said.

"You feel it. Train your mind to understand the difference between physical sight and metaphysical sensation. Look at your hand. Has it gone anywhere at all?"

"No."

"But it has. And yet, there it sits on the end of your arm. Do you understand? Your soul reaches between realms. To force your body through the veil is more troublesome—and our next lesson, once you have mastered this one."

"I understand."

"Good." Regis released him and the magic. The room fell back to being only a room, whereas before he had been aware of all the empty space just beyond. "Now do it again. Alone."

For what remained of their hour, Regis ordered him to repeat the same over and over again. At first he moved slowly, sloppily, but as the hour passed, he gathered up his control and flowed more swiftly. Not nearly fast enough. In a battle where he was forced to reach into the In-Between for his blade, he would be dead before it was in his hand. But they had made progress. The first step.

Regis left the training room that morning feeling more energetic than he had in weeks. For once, the task of sitting in court for what remained of the morning did not seem so insurmountable. The war briefing was trying—never would he find it relaxing to listen to their losses tallied out as if men and women were only numbers on a page—but that was to be expected. As he left the war chamber on his way to the council meeting, Drautos fell into step beside him.

"Your Majesty, with your permission, I will continue my training in my leisure moments."

"Of course, General. I expect no less; you will learn much more rapidly that way." Regis set a swift pace toward the council chamber with Drautos and Clarus flanking him. "On a related note, we will soon have to discuss a replacement for you in the army as you take on Kingsglaive duties full time."

"Yes, Your Majesty. When are others expected to join the ranks?" Drautos kept pace easily.

"When you are fit to train them yourself," Regis said. "Better that I not divide my time between multiple students when time is of the essence."

"Of course, Your Majesty; I understand your time is valuable. I will endeavor to progress more quickly." He bowed and fell behind, leaving Regis to walk the remainder of the distance with Clarus alone.

They reached the council chamber with time to spare and submitted to a few hours of Aldebrand and Felice politely snapping at one another. By the time that finally came to a close, Regis was late for dinner with his children. He made his exit as quickly as possible, but it was impossible to escape the council cleanly.

"Your Majesty, if I might have a word." Aldebrand fell into step beside him.

"If you speak rapidly," Regis said.

Aldebrand lost no time in launching into his speech. "The personal expenditures of the Citadel are higher than necessary. If we could trim some costs, here, it would be possible to institute the tax break that the people have been clamoring for." He untucked a folder of papers from beneath his arm and drew a stack of papers from within.

"A matter for my steward, Master Thuban." Regis stared straight ahead, counting the turns until he reached the lift, which would take him solidly out of reach of all but the most tenacious pursuers—namely, Avunculus, Clarus, and Cor.

"I have brought the matter up with him, Sire, but there were numerous items on the list which he refused to do away with sparing your approval. Here, for instance: we provide a very generous monthly allowance to one Miss Creare Vinculum."

Regis' heart skipped a beat. To have that reminder of Crea thrown so nonchalantly at his feet was not a trial he had expected to deal with, this evening. He usually endeavored to avoid thoughts of her entirely. Mostly he was unsuccessful.

Aldebrand wasn't through. "Now, if she were instead encouraged—gently—to find new work, instead—"

"Miss Vinculum raised Prince Noctis and Princess Reina from birth. She deserves every gil we pay to her," Regis said.

"Forgive me, Your Majesty, but for five years of work this seems excessive. I hesitate to mention your relationship with her… it was common knowledge in the Citadel. This could be seen as… stemming from that."

Two more corners until they reached the elevator. He could resist the urge to grant Aldebrand a new breathing hole for that long.

"Are you are implying that His Majesty has granted this allowance due to his personal relations?" Clarus managed to be indignant enough to make up for Regis' silence. "Miss Vinculum was a royal nanny. Pray, look back a generation or two and find a myriad such examples from His Majesty's childhood. I trust some of them are still on the budget."

"Ah… of course, Master Amicitia." Aldebrand bowed and stopped walking.

One more corner.

Clarus kept pace with him in silence. When they reached the elevator, he stood outside while Regis climbed aboard.

Clarus sighed. "Enjoy your dinner, Regis. Hug your children and… try not to dwell on her."

"I always try not to dwell on her." Regis punched the button to take him to the dining hall. "It rarely works."

Clarus gave him a tight smile as the elevator doors closed. And at last Regis was on his way to see his children.

He found them already seated, though dinner was just being served as he entered. Of all the warm welcomes and enthusiastic greetings he had earned over his years as king, nothing could compare to being met by his twins at the day's end. Or their day's end, at least. Hugs and kisses were exchanged and he joined them at the table, letting Noctis' endless chatter wash away his worries and frustrations.

They were both doing well in school, as told by both their nanny and governess, though Noctis seemed more concerned with chatting to his classmates and less concerned with the actual schoolwork. But he was five. Let him make friends; let him enjoy himself.

He would only have so many years to do so.

Reina was, by all accounts, excelling. Her governess noted that she seemed to master topics quickly and, when she was through, looked for more work to do. Regis had long since stopped being surprised at how very different his children were. What mattered was that she was happy. If she enjoyed the school work, even if Noctis did not, then who was he to stop her from seeking out new challenges?

"Father?" Reina tugged at her skirt beneath the table and kicked her feet, looking across at him with wide blue eyes.

"Yes, my dear?"

"Miss Agnys says I should play my new song for everyone on your birthday."

"Ah, what a wonderful birthday gift that would be!" Truth be told, he had forgotten that it was nearly that time of year, again. "You must thank Miss Agnys for her excellent suggestion."

Reina smiled faintly, then wriggled in her chair and tugged more insistently at her skirt. "I hope you like it."

"Little Princess, I have no doubts. What little I have managed to hear of your music has been lovely beyond description. I would be honored to have you perform for my birthday."

That was the smile he expected from his little girl: so bright it lit up his world and gave him no choice but to smile back at her.

"Avun, see to it that Princess Reina's recital is fixed in my schedule."

"Of course, Your Majesty. Ah. Marshal Leonis is here, Sire."

He had forgotten about Cor. But he had instructed Avun to send him along during dinner, so they would simply have to endure. He motioned that Cor should be admitted and picked at his salad as Cor came to stand before him.

Cor glanced from Regis to Reina and Noctis, clearly uncomfortable to have been put in this situation. Regis belatedly hoped that whatever he had come bearing news of, it was suitable for five-year-olds. He would simply have to adjust.

"I trust you will keep your diverse audience in mind," Regis said.

"Of course, Your Majesty." Cor squared his shoulders and stared straight ahead. "Reports have come in from Gralea: convoys of Magitek soldiers moving large metal containers in from beyond the city have been spotted on numerous nights. Whatever is contained within the boxes seems to be a national secret. They come from beyond the city and go direct to the research facilities."

Regis' brows furrowed. "How large are these containers?"

"Varying sizes. Reports note dimensions from ten by five feet all the way up to fifty by twenty, at best guess."

Reina shivered compulsively and ran her hands over her arms.

"Cold, little Princess?"

"No, Father."

Peculiar. What was such a motion for, if not the cold?

"One informant was able to investigate a discarded, empty container." Cor forced Regis' attention back to the issue at hand. "They noted that the crate was not only reinforced, but was fitted with airtight seals around the doors. The metal itself they were unable to identify—it seemed to be engineered for transporting… whatever it had transported. Furthermore, they found scratch marks on the inside, indicating some sort of clawed or taloned creature."

A clawed or taloned creature, which required a reinforced box of unknown metal?

"Air tight, you said?" Regis asked.

"Yes, Sire."

"Then they seem not to care if it lives or dies." But why go through so much effort? Unless suffocation in a sealed container was the best way Niflheim had to kill these creatures—whatever they were. Or, at least, the best way to kill them and keep their bodies intact. "Have we any chance of orchestrating an accident to befall one such convoy?"

"Little," Cor said. "But I will see what can be done."

"Do," Regis said. "If that is all?"

He hoped it was. This news may have been concerning, but it had not, at least, been the stuff of nightmares for five-year-olds.

"It is, Your Majesty." He bowed and took himself out, leaving Regis to finish his dinner with his children.

Reina was still clutching at her arms and staring at the space where Cor had been standing. Perhaps Regis had been wrong in his surmise about nightmare fuel. He unbuckled his cape and rose, crossing to her chair to drape it over her shoulders. The collar stood well above her ears and the pauldron dwarfed her shoulders, threatening to tip off on one side. But Reina clutched at the cape and held it in place, blinking up at him.

"Are you alright, my dear?"

"Mm. Mhm." She nodded. "Just cold, I guess."

And yet, she had said she was not cold no more than a minute before. Five years and he still could not fathom what went on in those little heads of theirs. He left her with a kiss on the head and his cape, and returned to his dinner. The rest of the meal passed without note, and Noctis filled every available second with tales from their day. Regis relished each one.

Though Regis had half a dozen matters awaiting his attention in his study, he left the table with his children, that night. They concluded the evening with a bath for the twins—though the amount of splashing that occurred nearly negated the need for Regis to bathe, later that night—and a bedtime story. He tucked them both into their beds and kissed them goodnight while Reina clutched Chika the Chubby Chocobo and Noctis whined for another story.

"Tomorrow night," he told them.

One more promise he would undoubtedly break.

Chapter Text

Following the first leap of progress in Drautos' understanding of magic, his training proceeded apace.

They left behind the narrow range of skills that Regis had ever taught someone to use. No one but a Caelum had ever learned to warp or phase before, at least not within written history, and Regis' own children were still much too young to have gained that sort of education.

Knowing how to perform a task, he soon learned, was much different than knowing how to teach it.

The concept behind phasing was not so different from that behind reaching into the In-Between to draw a stowed sword. The key difference was that, for an instant, one left the physical realm and dodged into the In-Between. Ergo, it required a stronger hold on magic than any of Regis' inner circle had. To summon an item required but thought and concentration. To pass into another realm required one to give themselves over entirely to the magic, if only for an instant.

"Observe," Regis said. "Not with your eyes; with your magic."

He reached for his magic and wrapped himself within it. Then he dropped backward, past the rippling of the veil and into the black of the In-Between. His magic was his anchor in the physical world; he left behind an echo, with which to pull himself back. From the In-Between he could see the physical world—foggy and distant, as if through a screen of water. Drautos stared at the spot Regis had stood an instant before, his eyes wide, his motions sluggish. Time passed differently, in this un-place. But a body could not survive long in this realm.

He pulled himself back. What took minutes to describe took less than a second to complete.

"Well?" Regis straightened his coat from the opposite side of the room. "What have you observed?"

Drautos spun about, hesitated, then averted his gaze. "I admit it was too rapid for me to learn anything."

"Again, then," Regis said. "Pay close attention."

It took several more tries before Drautos was willing to venture an explanation and several more after that before he had a satisfactory grasp on what Regis had done. By that time, Regis was beginning to feel the telltale sluggishness that accompanied using too much magic too rapidly.

"I amend my previous answer, Your Majesty" Drautos said. "It is not alike to drawing a blade; rather, it seems to be the opposite. To summon an object from this other realm, I cast forth my consciousness, focus on that which I desire, and…" He held out his hand and his sword appeared in his palm with a burst of blue flame flickering across its blade. "To phase, you leave your consciousness behind and step out of the world with only your body."

"Very good, Captain," Regis said. "Now put that understanding to work."

He leaned surreptitiously against one of the support pillars and watched. Drautos shut his eyes, focused, and struggled to recreate what Regis had done. But he was much too hesitant. He grasped his magic and took a step back, no doubt in the direction that the In-Between seemed to be, at first glance. Both his feet remained solidly in the physical realm.

"You must surrender your body to the magic. Consider it an exercise in trust; you must fall into the In-Between and know that it will catch you," Regis said.

Try as he might, Drautos could not. Whether because he still lacked in understanding or because he struggled to trust, Regis could only guess.

"Come," Regis said, "We have made enough progress for this evening. Join me; we will dine together."

They spoke of more mundane affairs on the walk. Steps had been taken to fill Drautos' soon-to-be-vacated position in Lucis' army. For the moment he was simultaneously General in the army and Captain of the Kingsglaive, which made the subject of his proper honorific murky waters, but soon another would fill one of those roles and blurred lines would be left behind. With any luck, they would soon thereafter begin to fill the ranks of the Kingsglaives with other able-bodied young men and women with an aptitude for Caelum magic.

With Regis' authority, they passed into the royal quarters of the Citadel—those floors which were reserved only for the royal family, their personal serving staff, and a select few Crownsguards. In spite of his impatience to be with his children, Regis set an easy pace toward the dining room, leaving time for Drautos to gawk—covertly, mind—at the halls he had never before been permitted in.

As per usual, Reina and Noctis were already seated when they arrived.

"Dad!" Noctis twisted in his chair to see him. "I got a cat!"

"We got a cat." Reina stuck her tongue out at Noctis before smiling brightly at Regis. "Hi Daddy!"

"Good evening, my dearest ones." Regis swept into the room and stooped to give Noctis a hug and a scratchy kiss on the forehead. Drautos trailed after. "We have a guest for dinner, tonight; this is Captain Drautos of the Kingsglaive."

Noctis turned back around to peer at Drautos. "Do you do magic?!"

"To the best of my ability, my prince," Drautos said.

Regis motioned to the serving staff to set an extra place at the table and crossed to give Reina a hug and a kiss. He stopped when his eyes landed on her. She stared at Drautos with such a mixture of fear and horror on her features that Regis looked back to make certain that Drautos had not sprouted horns and a tail.

"Reina?" dropped to one knee beside her chair.

Her eyes flicked toward him, but were drawn back to Drautos in the next instant. She clutched at the edge of her chair so tightly that her knuckles had turned white.

"What is it, my dear?" He covered her hands with his. They were cold and stiff beneath his palms.

"I don't like him," she whispered.

Odd. This was the second time she had made that claim about a person she knew nothing about. Admittedly, this reaction was much stronger. He could think of numerous explanations, though none stood out as more likely than the others. She had always been more reserved than her twin; it was possible that she confused not knowing someone for not liking them. He would have to ask her nanny if she had the same trouble at school. Or, if she had not, Regis could guess at what Sylva and Drautos had in common: both had shared dinner with their family on a night when Regis' attention would otherwise have belonged only to her and Noctis.

"Reina." Regis eased her hands from their death grip and closed them in his. Her hands still fit entirely within his palms. He hoped she never grew much bigger than that. "Look at me, my dear."

She pulled her eyes from Drautos, who had taken his seat at the table and was doing his best to handle Noctis' barrage of questions, and looked at Regis.

"Drautos is the Captain of my Kingsglaive, and I would like you to show him the utmost respect." He squeezed her hands gently in his, hoping to impart some warmth to them. "Do I make myself clear?"

She glanced again toward Drautos, but only fleetingly, this time. "Yes, Father."

"Good girl." Regis rose, releasing her hands and giving her a kiss on the forehead. "Now, let us have dinner, shall we?"

They ate. What Noctis lacked in social graces, he made up for in enthusiasm. He wished to hear every tale that Drautos had to tell, and he hung on every word of adventure and glory. In short, he was an excellent host, for his age. Even Drautos was put at ease on his first night dining with the royal family. It was difficult to feel intimidated by high society when one third of the table was a charming five year old boy.

Reina was a different matter altogether. It was just as well that Noctis was so willing to carry the conversation, because she said not a word the entire night. When Regis looked in her direction it was, without fail, to find her pushing her food around her plate and casting wary looks in Drautos' direction, as if he were a spider in the corner of the room that she didn't dare lose sight of. When each course was cleared away, Reina's plates were as full as they had arrived. So far as he could tell, she took not one bite.

When dessert was cleared away, they bid farewell to Drautos and he left with Avun as his guide to regain access to the lower levels. Regis ushered Reina and Noctis on ahead—though Reina cast her reluctant gaze on him before following her brother—and fell behind to speak with Jenet.

"This issue with Reina disliking people whom she has hardly met… has it manifest elsewhere?" He kept his voice low, hoping not to be overheard by the twins, even if there was little chance they would take note of the conversation.

"Disliking people?" Jenet's eyes widened. "No, Your Majesty. She's a shy little girl, but not an unfriendly one. Their teacher says she keeps close to Noctis, but she talks and plays with the same people he plays with."

"Have you any idea why she might feel so strongly against Captain Drautos? Or the Oracle?"

"No, Sire. I can't fathom. It isn't as if they are talked about."

Regis sighed. He couldn't help but think that Crea would have had an answer.

'Of course she dislikes Drautos,' she would have said, with that half-knowing, half-exasperated smile. And then she would have explained it all so simply that he would have wondered how he had never seen the answer before.

Gods. He should never have sent her away. He hated it. Noctis and Reina hated it—they had cried for her non-stop those first weeks. They still asked after her and he still had no answer when they did. How was he to tell his children that he had fired their nanny—the closest person they had ever had to a mother—because he couldn't stand to have her present and not his? Because she was meant to be a mother, not a queen, and Regis needed both? He couldn't.

So he hadn't.

Eventually they would stop asking.

For the next week, Regis trained with Drautos in the mornings or evenings, but elected not to invite him up for dinner again, even during those evenings when their training ran right up to the edge of dinner time. Reina returned to her usual disposition and showed no apparent distaste for any other dinner guests he invited, by way of testing his second hypothesis. She was more reserved when Clarus or Cor joined them than when Ignis or Gladiolus joined them, but she ate her dinner and offered up no judgments of any of them. When Regis broached the subject with Clarus, he only shrugged and said, "Children are strange, Regis. Don't ask me to imagine what goes through their minds."

That seemed to be the only answer to his myriad questions. For now, he avoided putting Drautos in front of Reina. Perhaps she would grow out of her apparent dislike of him, whatever the cause.

In the meantime, Drautos made progress. He began to grasp the skill of stepping between the physical world and the In-Between for a warp and with that progress came questions Regis had never considered before. Drautos caught him between meetings to direct those questions to him, as they had so little time to discuss during lessons.

"This warp strike, Your Majesty. Could it be used simply as a means of transportation?"

Regis furrowed his brow and glanced at Drautos, never slowing his pace. "If you mean to ask if the strike portion of the warp is strictly necessary, the answer is no. As for transportation, in theory you might—though it seems a waste of energy."

"So, through your magic, warping across the Citadel would not be feasible."

"Not to my knowledge. Though it would be a great advantage to us to have an army of soldiers capable of warping into Niflheim's top secret facilities and back with no one the wiser."

"My thoughts exactly, Your Majesty. If we could transport ourselves to Niflheim, the applications would be near limitless."

A tempting idea indeed. Still, Regis shook his head.

"Is it so outside the realm of possibility?" Drautos asked.

"To warp you travel through the In-Between. You step beyond the physical, fold the world around yourself, and return. To fold such a great distance would require power reserves beyond what I, at least, possess."

"You do, however, carry the weight of the Wall."

Regis made a noncommittal sound. True, he had never attempted such a warp before taking the throne, either, but it seemed an insurmountable task.

"Your magic is more potent and varied than what I am able to wield, Your Majesty, but it may be the case that I have greater energy reserves. I have nothing else to spend them on. Will you at least grant me the freedom to try this?"

Regis sighed. "I grant it, though grudgingly. And I caution you to have care, Drautos; increase your range gradually. Do not try to jump to Niflheim without first stretching half that distance."

"I will be careful, Sire."

In the weeks and months that followed, Regis heard little more of Drautos' planned experimentation. If he did persist in his search for a way to travel from Lucis to Niflheim in the blink of an eye, he did not give updates. Perhaps because there was no progress to speak of. Or, more likely, he had simply given up the project for a fool's wish.

And as he dedicated more and more of his time to his training and new Kingsglaive duties, he relinquished much of his former position to his second-in-command. Bit by bit, they were moving in the right direction.

On the morning of Regis' birthday, Cor waylaid him on the way to breakfast with more news from Niflheim.

"The mysteries metal crates?" Regis asked.

"No word on those," he said. "But word in Gralea is that the emperor has a new general. A man by the name of Glauca."

"What do we know of him?"

"Nothing, beyond the name. He's an enigma, even among the imperials. But he's being lauded as Niflheim's fast pass to prosperity. For some reason, no one has actually seen him."

"Have we any reason to suspect he does not exist?" Regis asked.

"No. Why would they want people to believe in a general who doesn't exist?" said Cor.

"As a symbol, perhaps," Regis said. "Nevertheless, let us tread cautiously and see if we cannot learn more. If your current informants are not up to the job, perhaps those due to arrive in spring will be."

Cor bowed and left, passing Clarus as he came up the lift.

"Regis we have a situation." Clarus said before the lift doors had even closed behind Cor.

"I am meant to be enjoying breakfast with my children this morning."

"Imperial ships have been spotted en route to Insomnia."

Breakfast sounded less significant, suddenly.

"War ships?"

"Drop ships, no doubt loaded to the brim with Magitek soldiers," said Clarus.

"Our soldiers in Cavaugh?"

"On patrol. Not nearly enough to handle a small army of MTs. They were only equipped to deal with the stray imperials poking around the cliffs."

Regis swore. "Send the order: deploy another contingent of our soldiers to bolster their ranks."

"Bolster them? You do not intend to withdraw to the safety of the Wall?"

"The imperials have shown an uncomfortable degree of interest in our surroundings, these past few months. Thus far, we seem to have thwarted their efforts to have a closer look. Now they press more insistently. If we withdraw, what shall they gain from it?"

"...whatever they have been searching for, perhaps," Clarus said.

"Perhaps," Regis agreed. "Go. I will meet you in the war room."

"Shall I summon General Drautos among the others?"

"No," Regis said. "Captain Drautos has business of his own. Let him attend his training, rather than be present as a fallback for Kyne. Let us see what his successor can do on his own."

"As you say." Clarus bowed.

He went while Regis made his apologies to Reina and Noctis. They were disappointed: Noctis openly so and Reina with quiet reservation. In spite of Noctis' pleas to see him later in the day, Regis avoided promising what he could not guarantee. If the empire was bearing down on Insomnia, he would need to brace for impact. It was a poor day for promises.

Breakfast was put indefinitely on hold. They convened in the war room along with Regis' generals—including Drautos' successor, General Kyne. Captain Drautos himself had all but stepped down from his position in the army. In a way, the attack by Niflheim was timely; it gave them a reasonable way to test Kyne's capabilities without contriving a situation.

Regis' instructions on the deployment of troops had already been carried out. They discussed strategy briefly: their soldiers were to engage Niflheim's, preventing the imperials from breaking through to the cliffs, if that was, indeed, their destination. They would divert the Magitek soldiers as possible, or else lead them into the mouth of waiting reinforcements. Plans were laid out, maps were marked, and pieces were arranged on the proverbial chess board. Once everyone was in agreement—a considerably shorter affair than the usual council meeting—the meeting adjourned and they went their separate ways: the generals to the battlefield, and Regis and Clarus to the throne room.

Avun caught them up halfway there, bearing a tray of breakfast pastries. So he had picked up Weskham's knack for detecting when the king had skipped a meal, had he? It was probably for the best that someone was paying attention.

They ate along the walk. Undignified, perhaps, but not unprecedented. Regis could either eat three meals a day or eat every meal sitting down in the dining room with a pressed linen napkin and a servant hovering at his elbow, but not both.

In the throne room, they awaited news from beyond the Wall. It came all too soon.

"The imperial ships have dropped their passengers over Cavaugh, Your Majesty."

"How many?" Regis asked.

"First estimates place their numbers around fifty, Sire."

"Our patrol will be slaughtered." Clarus sat forward in his chair among the councilors. "Their only hope of survival is to withdraw."

"The squad captain gave the order to pull back until reinforcements arrive, at first hint of Niflheim's numbers, Sire."

And so they awaited reinforcements. It was maddening to sit in the throne room and do nothing while Niflheim threatened just outside the walls of Insomnia, but Clarus would never have consented to his desire to join the fray. More frustrating, still, was the fact that Clarus would have been right. Battles may have been fought on the field, but wars were won from the top. He could not do both.

"Our soldiers have bolstered the patrol squad, Your Majesty."

"And the imperials?" Regis asked. "Did they follow?"

"It seems so, Sire. There is one more thing—reports of a man in augmented Magitek armor among the MTs."

Regis' brow furrowed. "A man, not an MT?"

"It appears he gives them orders, Your Majesty."

And heretofore MTs had only been observed following orders. So either this was a new prototype MT or it was, as they said, a man in Magitek armor.

The morning wore on in this fashion. Their soldiers engaged Niflheim's, though it was unclear if the imperials were attempting to break for the coast on Insomnia's northeast or not. For a while it seemed they had only come to fight. And for a while, Lucis held their own.

Avun arrived to offer Regis another tray of food, which he refused. Weskham would have argued; Avunculus retreated with tray in hand.

The Magitek soldiers did not let up. They had no such human limitations as stamina, fatigue, and hunger. More reinforcements were deployed from the city and a rotation was arranged to compensate. With fresh soldiers on the ground, they began to make headway into the afternoon.

And then their commander took to the field.

Reports came in, scattered and half-hysteric, of the man in Magitek armor with a sword that could cleave men in half. His armor was, by all reports, impervious to Lucis' bullets. The artillery came. And the man in Magitek armor still prevailed. One report claimed he had been hit dead in the chest by a mortar and walked away. Another said that his armor had, indeed, been dented, only to reform itself, as if made of fluid, until the Magitek was flawless once more.

If this was what Niflheim was researching in their new facilities, then the darkness would come much more rapidly than Noctis would grow up. Gods save them all if Lucis fell.

More reinforcements were sent for and orders were issued to focus fire on the Magitek soldiers. No sense wasting ammunition on an invincible man. The unspoken hope was that he would withdraw if his troops were dispatched.

For the rest of the afternoon they held ground, spending as much to protect their own as they did to pick of the Magitek soldiers one by one. Slowly but surely, their numbers diminished. When night fell, the final report came in: the man in the Magitek armor had withdrawn with the last half dozen MTs. The occupants of the throne room breathed a collective sigh of relief: the first breath they had released since dawn.

And still they were no closer to understanding what Niflheim wanted.

"They could not have hoped to break through to the city with such a force," Clarus said.

"Perhaps progress was not their intent at all," Master Hamon said. "I can imagine two possible explanations, both of which include the mysterious Magitek commander… A test… or a demonstration."

"Or a distraction," Aldebrand said. "Are we not aware that Niflheim has shown curious interest in our coastline?"

"No MTs were observed breaking away to the north," Felice said.

"And yet, there are other ways to reach that area," Clarus said. "It is a possibility worth consideration."

"Indeed," Regis said. "Have the coastline searched by a larger force. Both test and demonstration would make for excellent distraction."

Reports from the coast came back without turning up any sign of imperial presence. On the one hand, it was encouraging to think they had not managed to squeeze past Lucis' defenses. On the other hand, they still had no notion of whether or not that had been Niflheim's goal. They retired for the night, exhausted for having done nothing and witnessed everything, and troubled by what they had seen—or not seen, as they case may have been.

Clarus walked beside him out of the throne room. "What was that Magitek armor?"

Regis shook his head. "I suspect we will see more of it—or him—before long."

"Too soon for our tastes, I'm sure."

Any time would have been too soon. And yet, they could not very well learn more without seeing more. One more question for Cor's Niflheim spies to investigate. Spring could not come quickly enough.

They bid farewell at the lift to the upper levels and Regis ascended on his own. And he found, curled up on the sofa, his daughter with her violin case clutched to her chest and her nanny dozing nearby.

Reina straightened when she spotted him. "Father!"

All at once Regis remember what day it was and what promise he had made her, oh so many weeks ago.

His birthday. She had been meant to play for him and he had missed her recital yet again.

"Oh, Reina…" He dropped to his knees in front of her chair. "I am so sorry, my dear. I had every intention of coming to hear you play, but…"

What did his excuses matter to a five year old? Yes, the kingdom had been under threat, but she didn't understand that. All she understood was that her father hadn't been present when she needed him. Yet again.

Regis sighed. "Where is Noctis?"

"Sleeping." She stared at him, eyes wide and shining with unshed tears.

So Noctis had gone to bed and she had stayed up to await Regis' return. He had never intended to make them wait for him in the first place.

He shifted forward on his heels to wrap her up in his arms and pull her into a hug. "I apologize for missing your recital again, little Princess."

In the adjacent armchair, Jenet stirred. "Begging your pardon, Your Majesty, but you didn't. She insisted on waiting, even after they told us you would likely be very late coming back."

"Oh Reina, my dearest, did you truly stay up just to play for me?"

Reina nodded. A single tear escaped down her cheek; Regis brushed it away and dried her eyes.

"I told her it would be too late, since Miss Agnys went to bed, but she still wanted to wait…" Jenet said.

"Nonsense," Regis said. "If the princess wishes to have a recital, we will have her recital."

Reina's lips parted, the perfect picture of surprise and disbelief in one. Doubtless he would regret not having slept in the morning, but if it would stem her tears and assure her that he loved her, he would miss more than one good night's rest.

He took her by the shoulders, smiling gently as he pushed his regrets aside. "Now tell me, my dear, who do you need? Who would you like to come? Shall I summon Miss Agnys out of her bed to come play the piano in her nightclothes? She will be ever so grumpy."

Reina gave a tearful laugh. She shook her head.

"No? Hmm. Shall we summon everyone on duty for the night shift and fill the audience chamber, so you might have your adoring fans? I will instruct that everyone brings a flower to throw at your feet."

She giggled but shook her head.

"No audience and no Miss Agnys? Well, would you like Noctis to come?"

Again she shook her head.

"Not even your own brother! Should we invite Miss Jenet? She is already awake. I am certain she will not mind a little longer."

She might, given that she had fallen asleep during the wait, but that was another sacrifice Regis was willing to make.

But Reina only shook her head.

"Then who would you like to play for?"

She extended one finger and pointed at Regis' chest.

"Only me?"

She nodded. Regis swallowed a lump in his throat. She had seemed so happy that first day when she stood in front of the room full of people; he had thought she was enjoying the attention. To learn that, given the choice, she would play only for him and no one else made his heart heavy with love and shame. He should have given her better.

"Granted, my dear." Regis squeezed her shoulders. "You will have me and only me. Thank you, Jenet, you may go; I am sure we will manage on our own. Now, Reina, little Princess. Where would you like to play? We could go down to the large drawing room or the piano room… or we might stay right here. Or we might go anywhere in the Citadel. What would you like?"

Reina twisted in her seat to point down the hallway.

"In my rooms?"

She nodded.

"An excellent choice. Come along then, my dear." He climbed to his feet, holding out his hand to her.

She gathered up her violin case, her music stand, and a small stack of sheet music. Once she had done so, she had no hands left to give him. Regis took the stand and the music, then her free hand, and they walked together to his rooms. There he sat on the floor in his private lounge and learned how to put together a music stand; he tried it upside down and sideways and a few others to earn a laugh, but ultimately he had it arranged properly. At least it seemed correct to him, if a little rickety. It may have been there was a piece missing. Agnys would doubtless fix it, later.

Once she was set up with her music before her and her violin in hand, Regis took his seat in his armchair and listened.

The last time he had heard her play—the only time he had heard her play, really—it had been with piano underneath. Much as he could appreciate the depth that multiple instruments brought to a single piece of music, he couldn't help but appreciate the experience so much more in the absence of any other distractions. It was silent in his rooms, save for the distant crackle of the fire in his bedroom and Reina's violin. No one came to knock on his door and tell him something had gone amiss in the kingdom. Noctis wasn't squirming in his lap, drawing his attention and his thoughts to darker places. No one shifted or murmured or coughed. It was only the two of them, wrapped up in the song she wove for his ears only.

No matter how long she played, he could hardly believe that the sight before his eyes—little Reina, just five and a half years old with her tiny violin and bow—and the song that flowed through his ears were one and the same. She simply did not look old enough to produce such exquisite music. Yes, it had been two years and yes, more than once her bow slid discordantly over the strings and produced a squealing note, but she was five years old.

When she had finished her song, she lowered her bow and held her violin in front of her, looking expectantly at him. Regis was too stunned even to respond for a moment. Slowly he gathered up his senses and put his hands together, applauding her effort and hard-wrought skill.

"Reina, my dear, that was lovely!"

She beamed and curtsied, as if she had just remembered that was what she was meant to do when the song was through.

"Come here, little Princess, and let me hold you."

She set her violin down gingerly in its case and climbed into his lap, throwing her arms around his neck and hugging him tight. "Happy birthday, father."

"Thank you, my dear." He wrapped his arms around her and squeezed her as tight as he dared.

This was, perhaps, not such a bad way to end a birthday.

Chapter Text

Spring came. The snows thawed, first in Insomnia and then beyond. When word came that the mountain pass to Gralea was clear enough to traverse, Cor's Crownsguard operatives departed Lucis in favor of the colder climes of Niflheim. Following their time in Accordo, it would doubtless be something of a letdown. Altissia was beautiful all year round. Niflheim could not boast the same for the rest of its empire, least of all its capital city.

Drautos' training proceeded. In time he grasped the concept of leaning outside the physical realm to dodge oncoming blows; Regis pressed him only gently upon that point. After that, he gave Cor a wooden sword and instructed him to hit Drautos as hard as he was able. Drautos had no shortage of bruises, in those weeks.

Once he could phase reliably, Regis taught him to draw upon and solidify the veil itself to generate a barrier—not unlike the Wall that protected the Crown City. By the time summer rolled around, he had a firm grasp on the relationship between their magic and the world that lay just beyond.

"You recall, Your Majesty, the conversation we had some months ago regarding the limit of a warp?"

"I do. I had rather assumed you had given it up," Regis said carefully.

"Not as such, Sire. I have been experimenting, in what time is available to me. As you recommended, I have been stretching my range gradually—though always to a location within sight. I wondered, though: is it possible to warp to a place you cannot see?"

"In theory, yes," Regis said. "In practice, you had best be entirely certain of what space is available if you cannot see it. The consequences of warping into an occupied space would be catastrophic."

"In what way, Sire?"

"In ways I am sure you would prefer not to envision. But if you would, imagine what might happen if you were forcibly pushed into the same space as, for instance, a boulder. To estimate the force with which you would be pushed, recall your momentum when you exit the In-Between."

Drautos considered, against Regis' recommendation.

"I expect the boulder would win, Sire," he said at last.

"It may or it may not. The result, however, will be more detrimental to you. The boulder is not alive."

"And if you were to warp into the same place as another living creature?"

Regis looked at him sharply. "Then I expect both of you would fare poorly."

Dratuso nodded slowly. Thank you, Your Majesty. I will keep your warnings in mind."

As he walked away, Regis had a sense of misgiving. These questions were of the sort that may have crossed Regis' mind in passing when he was a youngster, but had discarded as folly after closer inspection. They were dangerous ideas. He had half a mind to forbid Drautos from any further experimentation. On the other hand, they also had the potential to reap great rewards, and a king's life was ever about balancing risk and reward.

He sighed and shook his head. And he put Drautos out of his mind, for the time being. In all likelihood, nothing would come of it.

Indeed, Regis heard very little of Drautos' experimentation afterward. He witnessed, on occasion, a peculiar setup in the training hall: an empty room but for a few barriers, tall and wide enough to conceal a man and solid enough to completely obscure the space behind them.

Regis paused outside one day, watching through the doorway as Drautos warped from the far side of the room to the space on the opposite side of the barrier—a location that would not have been visible to him before. So he had mastered that trick, at least.

The applications were, so far as Regis could tell, highly limited. It could be used, for instance, to transport to a known location if, and only if, he was absolutely certain the location was unoccupied. Had he ventured to try it, Regis would have gone so far as to have an empty room that others were specifically forbidden from entering for any reason, or else to have direct contact—perhaps via telephone—with someone in the second location.

Not at all ideal for an infiltration mission, which seemed to be Drautos' intent.

But that was the last Regis saw or heard of Drautos' warping experimentation for some time. Weeks turned to months and other, more immediate matters occupied his mind until the matter of warping across Eos had all but fallen out of his mind. So far as he knew, Drautos had never succeeded in warping farther than across the training hall, as he had done that day when Regis observed.

The twins turned six years old. One year closer to the fate Noctis could not escape. Regis had missed enough time with his son in the past year; he ordered all his appointments cancelled for the day and night and spent twenty-four hours with his children, doing whatever they wished. That night, they slept bundled up in his arms.

In the months that followed, he began the final piece of Drautos' training: elemancy.

"The crystal may bind you to Eos and, thereby, to the In-Between, allowing you to alter reality in ways that may turn the tide of a battle, but the Astrals bind you to the elements." It was the same speech his father had given him, oh so many years ago. At the time, he had been more interested in setting the training dummy on fire than hearing the history behind their heritage, but now he could appreciate the more subtle aspects of learning. "The Caelum bloodline is gifted threefold by the Gods: ice from Shiva, lightning from Ramuh, and fire from Ifrit. Each of these you must master."

"I am ready." Drautos stood before him, dressed in lightweight practice gear.

"Are you? Then show me." Regis reached inside himself and drew forth a handful of pure power. He held out his hand, palm up, and lightning sparked in his hand, leaping and crackling between his fingertips, struggling to break free from his hold. Each second he held it, it lashed at his hand, biting his skin and setting his nerves alight with pins and needles. He closed his hand, crushing out the spark and letting the power drain back into his reserves.

"Show me," he repeated.

Drautos lifted his hand and focused. Regis could feel the stirring of his magic, but knew it unlikely that anything would come of this first lesson. In the year they had been training together, he had learned greater patience for his student… and greater empathy for his former teachers. Their lessons had a patterns to them; Regis would introduce a new subject, Drautos would struggle to grasp the concept for several weeks, appearing to learn nothing at all while he was truly learning a hundred ways not to approach the problem, and then, all at once, he would discover the correct way. It only took that first leap of understanding. Following that, he would make rapid progress toward proficiency and mastery; eventually, Regis would leave him to practice on his own, judging that guidance was no longer necessary for improvement. Only time.

And so it would be for elemancy. With any luck, by winter he would have a passable grasp on the three elements and Regis would begin collecting names for the charter members of the Kingsglaive. By spring, he hoped to have more than one Glaive at his disposal. And not a moment too soon.

Lightning flashed. Thunder shattered the air.

Once, Clarus had spent six months ambushing Regis in various hallways throughout the Citadel until his immediate reaction to danger was to throw up a shield.

That reflex was the only thing that saved his life.

Regis stared, wide-eyed, through his shield at Drautos. The lightning leapt harmlessly over the outside and crackled away. Smoke rose from Drautos' outstretched hand. He looked as surprised as Regis felt.

"That was rather faster than I had anticipated." Regis let out a breath and lowered his shield.

Drautos dropped his hand. "Your Majesty—I apologize! I had no intention—"

Regis silenced him with a motion. "My fault entirely. I ought have been paying more attention. But I believe that is quite enough excitement for one day. And I believe we may be moving our timetable up by a few months."

They parted ways on that note, with Regis' heart still pounding in his chest. It was early—still early enough that he might barely make the tail end of breakfast and see his children off to school, if he walked briskly. He set a course for the dining hall. Avunculus, who had been waiting outside, fell into step behind him.

"Avun."

"Sire?"

"Remind me to thank Clarus."

"...as you say, Your Majesty."

They reached the upper levels too late for breakfast. Regis passed by the dining hall, knowing Avun would ensure some food made its way to him eventually, and made for the floor with their living quarters. He found Noctis and Ignis waiting in the lounge, both dressed for the day, while Jenet attempted to reason with a tearful Reina.

"Your Highness, you go to school without seeing your father in the morning all the time."

"I want… to see… my daddy!" Reina shoved the words out two at a time between great shivering breaths as tears fell thick down her cheeks.

"She just needs to see Dad!" Noctis draped one arm around her shoulders.

"I understand she wants to, but—"

"What is going on, here?" Regis stepped through the wide arch from the stairs down—not from the lift, as he usually entered—and startled everyone present in the room.

Jenet climbed hastily to her feet and curtsied. Ignis bowed dutifully. Reina pulled away from Noctis and threw herself at Regis' legs.

"Reina, my dear." He lifted her off her feet and into his arms. "What is this all about?"

She threw her arms around his neck and lay shivering and crying against his shoulder. That appeared to be the only explanation he would receive from her.

"I'm so sorry, Your Majesty," Jenet said. "We were on our way out the door and everything was fine, when quite suddenly she demanded to see you and would not move another inch until she had. I have no idea why."

"She just needed to see you, Dad," Noctis said.

"Yes, so I gather." Regis smoothed slow circles over her back. "Shh, little Princess… what are these tears for, hm? I have you, now. Everything is alright, is it not?"

It took another moment of coaxing before she would even nod, let alone look up at him. When she did she sniffed heavily and rubbed her eyes. Regis dried her cheeks with his pocket square.

"There, now." He kissed her forehead. "Are you alright, my dear?"

"Are you hurt, Daddy?"

"Am I hurt? No, little Princess, I am quite alright."

She looked him over critically with a great furrow forming between her brows, as if she suspected him of lying to her. Finally she nodded. "I'm okay, too."

What a peculiar little girl she was growing up to be.

Regis smoothed her hair back and kissed her forehead again, wishing he had answers for any of the dozen questions in his mind. "Good girl. Now, then, you will go with Miss Jenet and your brother, and have a lovely day at school, alright?"

She sniffled, looking like she would like nothing less than to leave his side. That, at least, had been constant since she was old enough to know who he was. But she nodded and let him put her down. With minimal urging from him, she went back to stand with her twin.

"It's okay, Rei-Rei." Noctis gave her a hug around the shoulders and took her hand.

"I'm so sorry, Your Majesty," Jenet said as she ushered them into the lift.

"No harm done," Regis said. Though he couldn't help but wish that Crea was still with them. She would have known what to do. Somehow she would have handled that more gracefully.

The elevator doors closed on Reina still staring out at him through great big blue eyes. Regis stared at the closed doors for a moment, rubbing his beard, before he shook his head.

He could do little but set it aside as something he would never understand about his daughter: sometimes she spoke in made-up languages that only Noctis understood, sometimes she fixed her heart so extraordinarily strongly on one goal that she was a proficient violinist by age five, and sometimes she had moods he couldn't explain. Everyone had moods, after all. Noctis threw temper tantrums for the most obscure reasons, especially when he was tired—his sandwich wasn't the right shape or he didn't want to hold anyone's hand while walking outside or he wasn't allowed to have only cookies for lunch—so why couldn't his sister be upset not to see Regis one morning or not want to have dinner with Drautos?

That winter, the council convinced Regis to permit a ball held in honor of his birthday—it was the first one in four years. It would be good for the people, they told him. They needed to see their king sometime and a celebration was just the thing. Hardly. He doubted very much that anyone even noticed his slow withdrawal from the public eye. But the ball was held, all the same. No matter how they pushed, however, no one could convince him to choose one of the courtly ladies, who batted their eyelashes at him and smiled dreamily—as if they were looking at someone else entirely—as a dinner partner. They were all doomed to return home that evening disappointed.

He attended. He presented himself to the public. But if the council thought he was going to give Lucis a queen again, they were sorely mistaken. His one chance at that had been gone from the Citadel for nearly two years, by then. She would never have wanted to be queen.

And so he had, as he had the time before—once the unfortunate situation of his left hand guest had been dealt with—his children as dinner partners.

They were old enough, by now, to sit at a dinner table and be expected to behave themselves at least until the soup was cleared away and so he had requested their attendance. They arrived, looking the perfect little prince and princess—though Noctis complained about his suit until Regis promised he could take it off just as soon as dinner was over. That seemed to cheer him. So, too, did the permission to go and play with Ignis while the procession of guests was still occurring. Though he would have preferred to have Noctis with him, it was a joy to watch him race around the room while Ignis tried to simultaneously chase him down and appear to be behaving himself.

He watched them for a time, standing up on the dais and greeting his guests as they trickled in. Noctis deserved this. Every bit of joy that Regis could give him, he would. The brightness of youth provided a welcome distraction. So much so, in fact, that he momentarily forgot that Reina was still standing beside him, hands clasped in front of her as she watched the courtiers walk past. She twisted back and forth every third breath to make her dress swirl around her.

Sweet Reina. Perhaps he didn't pay her as much attention as he should have, recently, what with Noctis and the crystal… but she didn't mind. She never complained; she only smiled all the brighter when he did have time for her.

He touched her hair lightly, now, and she looked up, beaming at him.

"You look lovely, my dear." Regis smiled back.

He hadn't thought she could smile any deeper, but she proved him wrong "Thank you, Father!"

When had she started calling him Father? He was ashamed to admit he didn't know. It seemed they grew up overnight—and Reina even more quickly than that. Once she had called him 'Dada,' and he was certain she had gone through a brief 'Daddy' phase, though it overlapped heavily with the years when she had called him 'Dad.' Were those gone, too, now? What was it that drove a child to pick up a more formal title for her father? He could not fathom.

She was a singular child. Never before had he known a six year old who could stand so still for so long, doing nothing more than people watching. The swishing of her skirts didn't count as moving—it hardly even counted as fidgeting. And she would sit through an entire dinner with him, if he allowed her that option; long after her brother grew bored, she would sit at her place kicking her feet and chattering away with some little encouragement from him. She didn't even object to sitting for an hour or two to have her hair perfectly plaited and arranged in a braid across one shoulder—as it was, now.

"Would you prefer to play with Noctis and Ignis?" He prodded, searching for the child underneath the little princess. "You are certainly not expected to stay here with me."

"But I want to stay here," she said.

"Are you too grown up to play games, already?"

Reina giggled. "I like games. But… I want to stay with you, Father."

She wanted to stay with him. Given the choice between running and playing and screaming and laughing with her brother, she preferred to be bored in her father's company. What an unusual child.

And a precious one.

It should have bothered him more than it did, but he thought of it only as a blessing, to have a daughter who wanted forever to be his little girl. What did it matter if she chose to stay with him over playing a game? It wasn't as if it happened all the time. And besides, she was happy.

That was what he convinced himself, as she slipped her hand into his and stood there, swishing her skirts back and forth and humming. She was happy.

Dinner went more or less as anticipated. Noctis deftly avoided every vegetable in his soup and turned up his nose at his salad; Reina sampled each dish placed before her with neither complaint nor discrimination. They were lively dinner company. Without contest, his favorite thing to listen to were their tales of adventure—for no one had adventures quite like six year olds had.

He heard about the stray cat that had sneaked into the gardens, but escaped before they could catch it, and he heard their plans to bribe it back with treats and good food filched from the kitchens. He heard the most recent caper of Chika the Chocobo and Cat the Cactuar: it seemed they had both ventured far out into the land of balconies and Cat had a near-death accident. Luckily, stuffed cactuars did not have any bones to break, even when they were dropped from dozens of stories above the ground, and Ignis was still faithfully fetching and providing. Cat had returned a little dirtier, but otherwise no worse for the wear.

Eventually Noctis grew tired of telling stories and begged to be released. Regis let him, on the condition that he and Ignis remained in the ballroom—ostensibly so he could keep an eye on them. And he did want to watch them. But not out of any concern for the trouble they might get into.

Again, Reina stayed with him. She told him about the stories she had read in school and how much she liked arithmetic; she told him that water disappeared through evaporation and plants were green because of photosynthesis and something about those two things being related that he was fairly certain was not true. He didn't correct her. He was just impressed that she knew what photosynthesis was, when he couldn't have even pronounced it at her age.

He asked about her music lessons and she told him Agnys was teaching her how to play the piano, now, and that yes, she was still playing her violin—though she grew strangely quiet when he brought it up and she didn't look at him when she answered. She squirmed in her seat and pulled at the front of her dress. Try as he might, he could not glean from her any reason for this behavior. She still enjoyed her violin, she told him, and she was learning a new piece this week. Strange. He would have to ask Agnys. Later.

Inevitably, when the main course was cleared away, the chatter in the ballroom grew more scattered. More and more people around the room were looking in the direction of the head table—though it took Regis a moment to notice while he was distracted by Reina's odd behavior.

But of course. They were waiting for him to open the dance floor. He could tell by the way all the eligible women—from eighteen to fifty—made a hasty reapplication of their powder before inching forward toward the open floor. One would think after six years they would realize he was never going to dance with them. Nor with anyone, for he had no one to dance with.

No. That wasn't entirely true, was it?

Reina had stopped talking as soon as Regis glanced away from her. She still watched him, though, with an intensity of gaze he never before would have attributed to a six year old. And she still clutched nervously at the front of her dress.

"Reina, my dear, have your tutors given you dance lessons?"

She bobbed her head. "Mm. Mhm. A little. Noctis is a bad partner. Ignis is better."

Regis pushed his chair back and rose from his seat. A great hush fell across the ballroom as he rounded the table; every guest in attendance—indeed, the Crownsguard and the waitstaff as well—seemed not even to breathe as they waited to see what he would do. Every young woman who had inched hopefully forward stood statue-still, hoping he would pick her as his first dance after seven years of avoiding the floor. They hoped in vain. They might have been painted as the most lovely flowers in Lucis, and they all would have paled in comparison to his little Reina—by far the most beautiful girl in the room.

He had eyes only for her as he rounded the table and extended his hand. "Then would you do me the honor of accompanying me to the dance floor?"

Reina stared at him, eyes wide and mouth open for a full five seconds before she nodded mutely and put her hand in his. Regis couldn't rightly have said what the response to that was; he was too focused on his little girl as he walked her to the floor. It might have been disappointment or it might have been understanding. He gathered later that the media representatives took full advantage of the photo opportunity—more than one of those photos made their way to his desk over the weeks that followed and they never failed to bring a smile to his face. He kept every single one.

Reina nearly tripped over her feet on the way, so distracted was she by beaming up at him. He caught her and set her back upright. She was still scarcely more than half his height—already Noctis was a few inches taller than her—but they would manage with a somewhat modified position.

"The waltz?" He suggested.

She nodded, still smiling fit to split her face in two. He indicated the choice to the orchestra and gave her both his hands. They stood grinning at each other like fools for a second or two before the musicians picked up their piece and began.

Reina danced quite as well as he expected a six year old to. Better, even. Certainly, after seven years of never setting foot on the dance floor, he would have been an atrocious partner to anyone nearer his own age. Reina didn't object. Something told him she wouldn't have, anyway.

They made a few turns around the floor together; Regis took tiny steps and leaned forward to hold onto her hands, but even if his back was sore for a month it would have been worth it. Reina beamed and she grinned and she giggled, and somehow, in spite of that, she only lost track of the song once. When she did he scooped her up and spun her around over his head.

"Oh, little Princess!" He almost immediately regretted it. "You are becoming much too big to do this with."

She laughed, delighted with everything. In spite of his words, he didn't put her down. He let her wrap her legs around his waist and her arms around his neck and they danced that way, instead. It was easier not to think about little legs and simply follow the half-remembered steps in the back of his mind. On their next turn around the floor he caught sight of Cor and Clarus standing apart from the rest of the crowd.

"I do believe we have broken Clarus," Regis said.

Reina turned to look, then back, laughing once more. "He looks just like a fish!"

Even Regis had to laugh at that one. Clarus was not going to be pleased. Oh, he would think it was funny, eventually, but first he would be exasperated. "That he does, my dear."

When the song finished they took their bows together because Regis outright refused to set her down. She didn't object. But she did flush and hide her face in his suit when she realized the whole room full of people was applauding them. Regis smiled and held her tighter. A glance around the room told him that, had there been any women still bemoaning their lost opportunity to dance with the king before, they had long since been won over by a father dancing with the most important girl in his life. Perhaps it would only make those eligible courtiers all the more eager to dance with him in the future—now that they were convinced he was not only the most powerful man in Lucis, but gentle and paternal and all the things they were wont to fawn over. The young women of his court were sentimental in that way.

So was he.

Chapter Text

One morning, late in the winter after his thirty-sixth birthday, Regis was woken unreasonably early by a knock at his door. The sun was not yet even a promise on the horizon; the sky was still so black it might as well have been night, but the clock in his bedroom swore that it was, indeed, morning. By certain definitions of morning.

Most knocks that came to his door at such an hour did not bear good news. Regis dragged on his dressing robe and lurched out of his bedroom to the hall door off the sitting room. He shoved his hair back from his face before pulling the door open. Cor stood outside, hand still lifted to knock again.

"Word from the reconnaissance team in Niflheim," Cor said. "It can't wait; the video won't last long."

Regis stepped aside mutely, motioning him inside. Cor pushed his phone into Regis' hands as soon as the door was shut behind them. On the screen was footage apparently sent from Niflheim, of the inside of some dimly lit building. The camera wobbled as it moved, swaying this way and that to point down halls and into different corners of the room—the result was a complete, if somewhat sloppy, three hundred and sixty degree view of the inside.

"What am I looking at?" Regis asked.

"One of Niflheim's top secret research facilities."

"The ones no one could gain access to?"

"Not until now." Cor looked over Regis' shoulder, watching the video. "Here—look."

The video panned past massive glass terrariums. Creatures stirred inside: monsters with pitch and purple skin and glowing red eyes. One turned its head to watch as the camera moved past—it was almost human in shape, save for its eyes and talons, and the unearthly screech that issued from its open mouth.

"Daemons?" Regis' brows came together in the center. "Niflheim is experimenting on daemons?"

"Seems like it."

The video cut not long after. If they had discovered anything else in the facility, it was not contained on Cor's phone. Regis passed it back.

"There's more," Cor said. He brought up a second video and handed his phone back. "This is a video broadcast that Niflheim aired a few days ago."

On the screen was a man in a metal suit—or so Regis assumed. Truly, it could have been anyone underneath that unsettling mask: faceless but not featureless. It looked more daemon than human. Or perhaps the previous revelation about Niflheim merely put him in mind of daemons. The mask itself was shaped with curling horns on either side of the head, but no normal human features: no eyes nor nose nor mouth, only glowing red indentations, reminiscent of a many-eyed insect.

"General Glauca," a voice off-camera said. "What can you tell us about the war against Lucis?"

The man on the screen had no mouth, but the voice that came next belonged to him, unmistakably. It was not the voice of a human. If Regis had known daemons to speak, that voice is what he would have imagined from them.

"Lucis is weak in body and spirit. Their king sits on his high throne, hoarding away the Heart of Eos behind his high Walls. But Niflheim's might is stronger than royal magic. With the power of our Magitek, we will bring their barriers crumbling down and take what so rightfully belongs to us. Strength will out."

The camera cut to a woman holding a microphone and standing in front of Zegnautus Keep. "You heard it here, first, imperials: that was General Glauca, Emperor Aldercapt's mysterious man on the front lines!"

The video ended. Regis pursed his lips and handed the phone back to Cor.

"Glauca," he said. "Tell me, Cor. Is that the same man in Magitek armor who attacked Cavaugh last year?"

"All reports and descriptions would indicate so."

Regis stared out over the dark Insomnian skyline and fixed the faceless mask in his mind. "Some good has come of this, then. We now know a face for this General Glauca and a name for the man in Magitek armor. Furthermore, if he is their general, it stands to reason there will be no army of men in Magitek armor yet to come."

"But there may be an army of daemons."

"A different problem entirely, and one not to be taken lightly, indeed." He looked back at Cor sharply. "How long before the video is deleted?"

"Less than an hour."

"Pull Clarus out of his bed and show that to him. Then meet me in my study."

Cor bowed and left, leaving Regis to fend for himself without even his faithful attendant. It was still terribly early in the morning. He dressed himself and came out the other side looking presentable, if not quite as nice as Avun and Wes always seemed to manage. It took longer, as well. How was it that getting his hair to lay flat was such a hassle? It was stewardry magic, beyond a doubt.

When he arrived in his office, Clarus and Cor were both present and the sky was beginning to grow pale outside.

"So," Clarus said. "Daemons. At least we can now surmise what was inside those crates Niflheim was transporting into the capital."

"Indeed," Regis said. "The question remains, however: what is their intent?"

Cor scowled. "No depth is too deep for them to sink."

"We have prior information regarding their… MT soldiers," Clarus said. "Could this not be related?"

"That was different." Cor shook his head. "No less disturbing, but still distinct. There were daemons involved—but they were engineered, not caught."

"Cloned humans, grown from babes for a singular purpose." Regis winced. "Yes, I do recall that report."

"Is it possible they intend to weaponize them and use them against us?" Clarus asked.

"I have no doubt that whatever purpose they have in mind will be put to use in this war," Regis said. "Nevertheless, we can do little without further knowledge. Your operatives have instructions to gather more information as possible?"

"They do."

"There is one other thing we might do," Clarus said. "Though I know not what your expected timeline has evolved to: it would behoove us to have an army of soldiers armed with Caelum magic, if our people are destined to meet Niflheim daemons on the battlefield."

The Kingsglaive as daemon-killers. It had not been the original purpose he had in mind, but at the time he had not imagined this depth of depravity from the empire. Now that it seemed imminent, Clarus' suggestion had merit.

"Captain Drautos has learned solid control of his elemental magic. I had intended to wait until spring to allow extra time for his mastery before I expect him to become teacher to an uncertain number but, in light of these developments… it may be time to move forward with the Kingsglaive."

"What would you like me to do?" Clarus asked.

Regis crossed to his desk and unlocked the top drawer. The list of names he had compiled of hopeful candidates was laid on the top of a stack of papers. It was organized, as well as Regis could manage, from most likely and most convenient—including a great many refugees who had taken shelter within the walls of the Crown City—to those who had fewer ties to the royal family or were otherwise less accessible. Many of the names at the top were men and women already in Lucis' military.

"Send a summons. Not all at once; I may be able to handle a dozen a day, if Avunculus can be convinced to squeeze them into my schedule." Regis handed the page to Clarus. "Let us begin recruitment in earnest."

On paper, the Kingsglaive already existed, though that name was known only by a select few of Regis' closest advisers and his ruling council. Thus far, the only member was its captain. But headquarters and training space had already been arranged for them, along with office space for Drautos. None of it had been used, as of yet. It awaited Drautos' first batch of students.

And so they were sent for; each of the names on Regis' list, already located and put down on paper, were to receive a royal summons. It was not a draft. He would test them and, if they proved to have the potential he searched for, he would extend to them the invitation to join Lucis' most elite force of soldiers. Some would doubtless decline—many of those people on his list had families and lives outside of the Wall and would not lightly abandon them for a faraway king. The weight of the crown meant less outside the Crown City, these days. But of those refugees and soldiers already within his walls, he expected most would accept.

The first of them arrived in the Citadel a few days later, summoned to stand before the throne and present themselves to their king. They were a varied bunch. He had seen their names on paper a hundred times, but this was the first time he had faces to connect to them. He knew, for instance, that all of the dozen who stood before him were Outlands-born and already enlisted in the military. He could have listed off where each of them had been born and which Caelum he expected they were related to, however distantly.

But he had not even begun to imagine that he would be sending children into battle armed with his magic.

They were so young! Not a one past twenty, at a guess. He should have had their ages with the paperwork, but he had never thought to look. He couldn't enlist these people. They were the ones he was meant to be protecting. They were Lucis' future.

Noctis was Lucis' future, a mutinous voice in the back of his mind reminded him. And if it was necessary to send teens to war to ensure that Noctis lived to fulfill his destiny, then that was what he would do. He had not been so much older, himself, when he had first left Insomnia. They would do. They would have to do.

Regis rose from his throne and descended the stairs to the midway point, where they all knelt in a line. Fists clenched and heads fought not to turn upward as he reached them. He stopped before the first of them. Try as he might, he could not guess which name fit with which face.

"Rise."

The first was the oldest among them: a man of perhaps twenty with a once-broken nose and a scar across his top lip. Regis held out his hand. The man hesitated, looking from hand to face before tentatively grasping Regis' hand. Regis reached inside for his own magic and it burst around him, a blue-white glow that hovered above his skin. The man gasped, recoiling automatically. Regis held his hand tight.

All it had taken with Drautos was a touch of magic; he had not even needed to build the bond before he knew it would work. But as he reached out for the man before him, he felt no echoing answer to his call. Nothing inside him stirred at the nearness of Regis' power. No frayed strands reached out and begged to be completed.

He did not have the potential.

Regis released his hand, biting back a sigh. He could not expect every one of them to have what he sought. He gave a tiny shake of his head and moved down the line.

The young woman beside him was much the same: no answer to his call, no stirring in her soul. By the fourth such failure he was beginning to wonder if he had not made a mistake. Twelve he had called before him and these had been the most promising candidates. Had he miscalculated? Had he only been extraordinarily lucky with Drautos?

But a long list still awaited investigation. He pressed on. Five without potential. Six without potential. Seven without potential.

The eighth was a young man just barely old enough to be called an adult. His dark brown hair was left long on top and shaved on the sides. A curious style for the Crown City, but in the Outlands, perhaps it was common. He took Regis' hand, meeting his gaze with fire in his eyes.

Regis steeled himself for disappointment as he reached out once more with his magic.

Something reached back.

Regis nearly dropped his hand in shock.

"What is your name, young man?" Regis asked.

"Nyx, Your Majesty."

"Nyx Ulric." He knew the name. "From Galahd."

"Yes, Your Majesty."

"Well, Nyx Ulric. You have the potential to wield my magic. So I extend to you this invitation: will you become your king's Glaive?"

For a moment Nyx only stared back at him, shocked and taken aback. Then something hardened behind his eyes. He nodded.

"I will, Your Majesty."

"Then I gift you my magic, Nyx Ulric."

Once more he reached out with his magic and the frayed strands in Nyx reached back. Regis knit them together, completing the foundation and tying Nyx to himself and the crystal. Magic burst between them. It poured from Nyx' skin, too eager at being complete to be contained. Regis released his hand and slowly, bit by bit, the glow faded.

"Welcome to the Kingsglaive, Nyx Ulric."

Of the remaining four, two more had potential: Libertus Ostium, also of Galahd, Pelna Khara. Three out of twelve was not Regis' idea of good odds, but it was three soldiers he had not had, before. And more were yet to come. That day he formed three bonds. The next two, and the day after that another four. By the end of the week, the Kingsglaive number just over a dozen young men and women, most of them Outlanders and most of them too young for Regis' conscience. But the choice had been made and he stood by it. He would have his army. With any luck, they would be proficient in some magic before Lucis learned more of Niflheim's daemonic plans.

On Drautos' request, the founding group of Kingsglaive members was kept small. He had understandable doubts about his proficiency in teaching that which he had only just learned, himself. And so Regis dismissed the others, for now, and saved his list of names until the first of the Glaives had been properly inducted.

The passing of the torch did have one favorable effect on Regis' day-to-day life; those hours he had once spent training with Drautos were now his once more, and though his workload threatened to swell and swallow up that sliver of free time once more, he made a point of giving at least some fraction of it to his children each day. To the best of his ability.

Spring returned to Lucis. Regis watched each day for the reports Drautos sent on the progress of his Kingsglaive, though he was most often disappointed; training progressed just as slowly and sporadically as it had for Drautos. Regis had no reason to expect it to be otherwise, and yet, he had hoped all the same. He was allowing himself to become too impatient.

For their seventh birthday, the royal family passed an informative afternoon while Noctis taught Regis what a video game was. The toys children had, these days.

Fall came, along with the start of the school year—much to Regis' displeasure. Reportedly, most parents were relieved to have their children out of the house during the day. Regis would much have preferred to have them present at all times. But they seemed to enjoy themselves; so he bid them farewell and tucked away his own regrets and reluctances.

Life fell back into the school-year routine; Regis stole breakfast with his children as often as he was allowed and promptly lost track of time as the affairs of the kingdom swallowed his day whole. When he had a spare moment during the day, while the twins were still away, he stopped by the Kingsglaive headquarters to observe.

An elaborate training ground had been built for their use, to force them to use every power at their disposal to the utmost of their abilities. Certainly, it was the sort of place that would have been deadly for any other soldier to attempt to train. Regis could appreciate the disregard for safety, much as he cringed whenever one of them dropped from the top of the tower and narrowly missed hitting the ground before warping out. They would need to train in harsh environments if they were ever going to become what he wished of them.

He had been wrong in his initial surmise, however: training was progressing more rapidly for them than it had for Drautos. This was, in part, because they spent every waking hour of every day practicing their magic under supervision, whereas Drautos had only managed an hour a day with Regis—the rest he was left to squeeze between his other duties. Furthermore, they had each other. Peers could be an invaluable learning tool. Indeed, he hoped these hardships they experienced now would bring them closer together for the future. Until then, he would have to trust in Drautos' ability to turn a group of soldiers into a team. So far, it seemed his trust was not misplaced.

Young Nyx, in particular, seemed to excel with his magic. He was an adept fighter who had a well-rounded grasp on every skill Drautos had taught them. Whereas many of the others had greater success with elemental magic or with the space-bending magic of Eos, Nyx favored no skill in particular. He could warp and phase as easily as he could summon a handful of flames. But sometimes he distracted himself—a faraway look in his eyes as he hesitated a second too long and took a blow he should have been able to avoid.

"What ails him?" Regis asked.

"Ulric?" Drautos folded his arms over his chest. "Who knows. Stoic as a rock, that boy. But he was in Galahd when Niflheim attacked. Might be he saw too much and grew up too fast."

Regis pursed his lips. "A far too common occurrence in this age of war."

"Your Majesty!"

Regis turned to see a boy not much older than Ignis in Citadel staff colors running up the stairs toward them. He held a folded piece of paper in his outstretched hand.

"Missive from Master Amicitia, Sire." He doubled over, putting one hand on his knee and struggling to catch his breath.

Regis took the note and opened it with a flick of his hand. It said simply:

Cleigne—two imperial dropships and more bearing metal crates. Familiar.

Metal crates. Like those the empire had been using to transport daemons into Gralea, perhaps? It seemed they were soon to discover what Niflheim had been doing with them.

"Captain." Regis tucked the note into his jacket. "Are they prepared for their first mission?"

"They have a solid grasp on the magic—we have been at this eight months. So long as you don't intend for them to fight the whole imperial fleet, I expect they can hold their own."

"I know not what I expect them to fight. But I do expect they will have a better chance of handling it than the army." Regis turned toward the stairs. "Make the arrangements and await my word."

"As you say, Your Majesty." Drautos bowed. As Regis descended the stairs, he heard Drautos' earth-shaking bellow calling the Kingsglaive to attention.

Fifteen soldiers were hardly a match for two dropships full of MTs and an indefinite number of daemons.

Only time would tell if fifteen Kingsglaives were.

Regis withdrew from their headquarters and sought Clarus. He found him, along with the rest of the council, awaiting in the throne room. A brief discussion followed, wherein Regis laid out his plan before his advisers, allowed them each a moment to express either their approval or disapproval, and then pushed forward the order to deploy the Kingsglaive. They departed from Insomnia in the vehicles commissioned specifically for their transportation and, in part to appease the council and in part to ease his own conscious, several squads of Lucis' traditional soldiers followed in their wake.

And then the waiting commenced. A dozen matters stood to occupy the time between the Kingsglaive's departure and report of their progress—the media was requesting an official statement from the throne regarding the invasion in Cleigne, Cor had left time-sensitive intelligence reports on his desk, and Felice had petitions from the Outlands demanding more military support—but none of them were sufficient to fully distract his mind from the task at hand. Or from the fact that he would doubtless miss dinner tonight.

They waited. Dusk fell. A brief report had come in to indicate that their forces had arrived on location in Cleigne and then nothing.

Uncertainty ate at him. Had he sent them away too early? Had he assigned them an impossible task? Would the Kingsglaive be demolished before it had a chance to even scratch the surface of its potential? Had all those months of training been for nothing?

Night set fully in. Regis missed dinner and began counting the hours until his chances at reading Noctis and Reina a bedtime story were lost. If only they had news of the outcome, the rest could wait until after he had seen his children.

"Your Majesty, word from the front!"

Regis turned his gaze as the messenger ran down the length of the throne room.

"Captain Drautos reports a successful mission with no casualties and few injuries. Full report to follow."

Regis let out a breath. Around him, the council did the same.

"It can wait until he returns." Regis rose from his throne. "Court is adjourned. This council will reconvene for a debriefing upon the return of Captain Drautos and the Kingsglaive."

There were murmurs of acceptance from among the council galley. Regis descended the steps from his throne and swept from the room before anyone could place anything else before his feet. Avunculus fell into step behind him once he was beyond the audience chamber.

"Word will come for me once Captain Drautos is within the Citadel," Regis told him.

"Very good, Your Majesty."

He reached their room just in time; Jenet had them washed up and tucked into bed already. All he needed to do was step through the doorway to steal their attention away.

"Dad!"

"Father!"

"Good evening, my dearest ones." Regis smiled. "So sorry I missed dinner. I thought I might make it up with a bedtime story?"

"Tell us about the octopus again, Dad!"

"I want to hear about Mother!"

Tempting as it was to tell a tale of Aulea, Regis was exceptionally bad at turning down requests from his son. Each time he thought to, that dark little voice whispered in his ear that Noctis would only have so many years to enjoy. Reina had a full life ahead of her.

"Another night, perhaps, my dear," he said to Reina. "Let us, instead, have the Return of Ultros."

Noctis cheered. Reina's lips twisted in what might have been disappointment, but it lasted only a moment. Then she smiled and resettled herself among her pillows.

"Alright," she said.

Regis smoothed her hair back and leaned forward to kiss her forehead. Her smile brightened. Such an agreeable child. How could do anything but love her?

He took Jenet's place, in the corner between their beds, and told a ridiculous tale of a monsterous, octopus-like daemon who threatened the safety of all of Insomnia until Regis, along with Wes, Clarus, and Cid, vanquished the evil and set all right in the world once more. Noctis was thrilled and enthralled. Even Reina appeared to enjoy herself as she curled in her bed with her arms wrapped around Chika the Chocobo.

Though Regis kept half an eye on the clock and endeavored to finish the tale before the Kingsglaive could return, Avun knocked on the door all too soon. Regis met his gaze and gave him a nod.

"Can't you sleep with us, tonight, Dad?" Noctis asked as Regis rose from his seat.

"I fear not, my son." He tucked Noct in, pulling the blankets up to his chin and leaning over to kiss his forehead. "Not this night. Goodnight, my dearest ones. Sleep well."

He pulled himself away and turned off the lights, leaving just the blue glow of their starry night light to illuminate the room. Outside, he found Avun waiting.

"They have returned?" Regis asked.

"They have, Your Majesty. Captain Drautos awaits in the council chamber."

"Then let us make haste," Regis said, and made good on his words.

In the council chamber, he found his advisers assembled and Drautos standing before them. He made the necessary apologies and took his seat at the head of the table.

"Your Majesty." Drautos bowed. "We encountered two dozen Magitek soldiers and no less than three daemons under imperial yoke. I hesitate to say they were tamed; so far as I noticed, they did not harm any of the imperials, though Niflheim's soldiers seemed to keep well enough away from them. The Kingsglaive engaged the daemons in their first true combat encounter as a team. Given the circumstances, they all performed quite well. No one was killed, though some did sustain injuries. All in all, I would consider the skirmish a victory for Lucis; we dispatched their soldiers and daemons, relying only on the infantry soldiers for the distraction they provided. With a little more training, I believe the Kingsglaive could easily handle forces of that size on their own."

"An encouraging report, Captain," Regis said. "Though you have neglected to comment where my mind went first: daemons in the daylight."

"Yes, Your Majesty. As preliminary reports stated, they seemed to have been carried across the ocean in large metal crates. The doors were thrown open not long after we arrived, and, though the beasts initially recoiled from the light, they did emerge. And apparently unscathed."

Where his surmise of the Kingsglaive's abilities was encouraging, this was disturbing. Daemons under imperial control in dusklight. In their natural environment, they did not emerge until full dark. Was it possible that the imperials had engineered some way to make them sunlight resistant? Or had the light never harmed them in the first place, and they were merely adverse to being exposed to it? Were some daemons able to walk in the day while others could only exist at night?

Too many questions came with this attack from Niflheim. Somehow, Regis suspect that not even Cor's operatives in Gralea would be able to find the answers for them.

Chapter Text

In the year that followed, there passed very few events of note. The Kingsglaive grew, doubling in size by winter and again by the following summer. Each time that Regis stopped by their headquarters it was to see the training grounds full at capacity as newer recruits learned to manage their magic. As the Glaive grew, so, too, did their utility. The skirmish against daemons in Cleigne became the first of many. Even as the number of daemons that Niflheim unleashed on Lucis increased, it seemed their organized attacks decreased in frequency. A concerning fact, to say the least, but the spies in Niflheim uncovered no information that would suggest the empire was planning something bigger. If they were, it was being hidden very well.

Reina and Noctis finished their third year in school. While Regis put little stock in grades given to seven year olds, Reina completed everything with top marks while Noctis merely passed. Their governess said he was more interested in running and playing, rather than doing his school work. Regis heartily supported that. Those good memories and a full childhood would serve him better in the years to come than any knowledge he gained in school.

The twins turned eight that summer. As had become tradition, Regis left the kingdom entirely in Clarus' hands and spent the day with his children. It was through too quickly, and the summer as well. Before he knew it they were back in school again, beginning their fourth year. It would be time to teach them other skills, soon—their magic, for one, and then how to hold a blade. On that, Regis was torn. He wanted Noctis prepared for what would eventually come; the sooner they began his training, the more well equipped he would be. On the other hand, they were both so young. Handing his son a sword—even a wooden practice blade—and instructing him how to defend and kill seemed like admitting his childhood was over. And Regis wasn't ready for either of them to be adults, yet.

He never would be.

So he told himself one more year. One more year before he would teach them of their magic and put them in the care of a combat instructor, even though he had insisted that young Ignis begin his training when he was eight and Gladiolus had been at it for longer than that. But never mind. Those two were tasked with keeping the Crown Prince safe. Better that they be well prepared.

It was just barely late enough in March to be called spring. The snow had all melted, but the nights were still well chilled. Nevertheless, the creatures of warmer months were beginning to wake and reclaim the world. Lightning bugs had been spotted in the hills on the outskirts of the Crown City and Noctis begged Regis nightly to go out and see them. Finally, Regis found the time in his schedule to do so, and they set an evening to venture out of the Citadel on a brief excursion.

As was so often the case, the kingdom had different plans. Reports from Niflheim came in that evening just in time to catch Regis before he left. He might have put them off, foregoing another night of sleep in favor of having a few hours with his children, but Cor's operatives were wont to send time-sensitive material. If he did not stay and see to this now, he might lose the opportunity to do so later.

And so he made his apologies. No amount of reluctance could have made the task easier.

"Why?" Noct stared at him, fists clenched at his sides and mouth set in a stubborn line. "You never do anything with us. You promised you would come with me to see the lightning bugs!"

He had no idea the pain it caused Regis to hear those words. He didn't do enough. He was failing Noctis, just as his own father had failed him, in spite of his very best intentions.

"I know, my son," Regis said, voice tight with regret. "I can only suggest that you go without me."

The Crownsguard would be with them, and Jenet as well. Perhaps Noctis could see his lightning bugs, even without Regis present.

"Well then I will!" Noctis lost volume control. "But not because you said so!"

He turned around and stomped away. Regis resisted the urge to stop him. He passed by Reina who was standing silently a few feet away, looking crestfallen, but not mutinous. Sweet Reina. All these years being disappointed and she was still willing to be only disappointed. He could only hope that she never traded her disappointment for Noctis' anger.

"C'mon Rei."

"I don't want to go," Reina said, voice small.

"What'dya mean?" Noctis turned his anger on her, instead. "Dad's not coming. Get over it! He's never going to come see lightning bugs with us. So let's go!"

"No," Reina said.

"Ugh. Stay, then! I'm going anyway!"

"Reina, my dear," Regis took a step forward. "Go with Noctis. I know you are disappointed that I cannot join you, but you will have fun, even in my absence."

"NO!"

Eight years old and he had never heard her scream like that. She had never even told him no, before.

She ran the few steps to him and threw her arms around his waist. "No, no, no, no, NO! Don't go, Noct! Stay here with me and Father!"

Noctis stood with Jenet, arms crossed over his chest, and made a face at her. "No way I'm staying. I want to see lightning bugs. I don't care what you say."

"Your Majesty." Avun cleared his throat. "Marshal Leonis is waiting."

Time sensitive reports.

Regis sighed inwardly. "Reina, my dear, you really must let go. If you do not want to go with Noctis, you may stay here. Jenet, if you will please accompany Prince Noctis to the hills—the cars and Crownsguards are already awaiting to take you there."

Jenet curtsied and led Noctis away. Noctis went without looking back, even when Regis called farewell after him. It took another moment to extract himself from Reina, and then she stood in the hall, staring after her brother. The last he saw of her, for the time, she was running after Noct and Jenet. Perhaps she had changed her mind, after all.

He joined Clarus and Cor in his study and they passed the next two hours pouring over the intelligence from Niflheim. Ackers and Elshett had managed to infiltrate a research facility inside Zegnautus Keep itself. More impressive, they had escaped with an array of digital files in their possession. Regis squeezed together with Cor and Clarus on the lounge as they sifted through the files on Cor's computer.

Someone knocked at the door.

"Enter." Regis spoke, but kept his eyes fixed on the screen.

Avunculus opened the door. "So sorry to bother you, Your Majesty, but Princess Reina…"

Regis looked up. "Yes?"

"She has been sitting outside for near an hour."

So she had stayed, after all.

"Sitting?" Regis' brow furrowed. "In the hall?"

"Yes, Sire."

He motioned. "Send her in."

Avun disappeared from the doorway. A moment later, Reina appeared. Her cheeks were dry, but her eyes were red-rimmed, as if she had been crying not long before.

"Reina, my dear. What is it?"

"Nothing, Father." She tugged at her dress. "I just… miss Noctis."

"As do I, my dear. But he will be home soon, and I have no doubt that he will bring many tales to share."

"No," she said.

"No?" Regis raised his eyebrows.

"I mean yes. I'm sure he will." She dropped her gaze.

Clarus cleared his throat.

Regis sighed. He couldn't very well send her away and condemn her to sitting in the hall waiting for him, as it seemed she would do. "Come here, my dear. Come and sit with me while we wait for him."

"Regis," Clarus said. "There are images here that are hardly suitable for a child."

"Then she will not look at them. Will you, my dear?"

Reina came and climbed obediently into his lap. She buried her face against his chest. "No, Father."

"Good girl."

They passed another hour in this fashion. Reina shivered against his chest, though it was warm in the study with a fire in the hearth. He held her tighter and rubbed his hands over her arms, trying to focus on the task at hand and not his many failures as a parent. They were halfway through the files when another knock came to the door.

A pounding, immediately followed by: "Your Majesty! Daemons in Insomnia!"

Regis' head snapped up.

Impossible. Absurd and impossible.

The Wall was whole; he could feel it thrumming silently overhead, constantly drawing his strength to keep itself erect. How could daemons possibly be inside the Crown City?

He rose, shifting his hold on Reina so she sat in his arms instead of on his lap. She wrapped her arms around his neck and held on tight as Regis threw open the door. Avunculus stood outside, along with a contingent of Crownsguard.

"What is this?" He demanded.

"Daemons—"

"Reports of a giant snake-like monster, Your Majesty."

"Noctis." Reina's voice was so tiny it was nearly lost in the wash of others. But Regis heard it clearly, cutting through every other thought in his mind.

Noctis.

"My son?" Regis asked.

"Sire, we have been unable to contact the prince's entourage."

"My car and two squads of Crownsguards. We leave immediately." He set Reina down. She grabbed hold of his pant leg, but only loosely. "Cor. Clarus. Come."

He stepped away, breaking Reina's grasp on his trousers. If only the Kingsglaive were present! But Drautos had requested full deployment this week—an in-field training for the newest recruits as they learned to fight daemons and monsters beyond the Wall and outside their training ground. He should never have sent them all.

They reached the front of the Citadel, where cars were already waiting to take them to the hills. Regis had pulled open the door to the Regalia before he noticed that Reina was still dogging him. No time to convince her to stay.

"In." He motioned her and she slid into the back seat before him. Cor took the wheel and Clarus the front seat.

With Cor behind the wheel and a daemon at their tail—so to speak—they left the city lights behind, weaving past the traffic in downtown Insomnia and blazing down the lesser-driven roads toward the hills on the outskirts of the city.

"Flames ahead," Cor said.

Regis leaned forward to look through the windshield. The road climbed and then fell before the drop-off near the outer wall. Not more than five hundred feet ahead of them, a car blazed like a bonfire. In the flickering light he could just make out the creature reports had spoken of: a many-armed daemon with the body of a snake and the torso of a woman. A few Crownsguards, dwarfed by the monster, approached and were flung away.

"Marilith." Regis clenched his hands on the backs of the front seats. "Faster, Cor."

Cor pressed the accelerator to the floor. The Regalia shot down the road with a speed that was bordering on reckless. If, for any reason, he had needed to stop of turn abruptly, they would either flip the car or hit whatever they needed to avoid. But Noctis was down there. All thoughts of caution had long since passed from Regis' mind.

It took too long to reach them. Try as he might, Regis could not separate out his son from any of the dark-clad shapes that moved below. Or those that lay unmoving on the ground. It seemed there were less and less of the former and more of the latter with each passing second. He ground his teeth together and willed time to move more rapidly.

Cor hit the brakes and swerved off the road into the grass. It might have been a good idea to have put on a seat belt.

The daemon was before them. The Regalia skidded to a halt in the grass just outside the strewn circle of dead and—hopefully—injured. Regis vaulted from the car, reaching for the power of the Lucii and every soul bound to his from beyond death.

"Father—"

"Stay, Reina."

He fixed his eyes on the daemon and only the daemon. As he advanced, the Armiger sprang to life around him: six spectral glaives, loaned to him by the power of his ancestors and amplified by the might of the Ring of the Lucii. He flung them at the marilith, gaining the benefit of surprise—for an instant, at least. Then it turned its full attention of Regis, straightening with all six blades bared and letting out an inhuman scream of rage.

Cor and Clarus flanked him. The Crownsguards rushed ahead, as they were trained to do. Protect the king.

Not tonight.

It swept them aside, two by two, cutting through their ranks with ease. Regis stepped between them.

"Check for survivors," he ordered.

They broke rank and retreated. Regis called the Armiger and thrust them forward in a flurry; each added blade was another piece of focus and fighting with six was much like juggling six flaming weights. All of his focus was dedicated to this: the task of forcing this creature out of his city, one way or another. He swung one glaive and the next and the next, with hardly a millisecond to spare for each motion before he moved down the line, finally coming full circle to direct the first glaive once more.

The daemon matched him blade for blade, perhaps, but not in strength. Though it parried his blows, he caught its swords with his and forced it backward; the power of his will and magic against its brute strength. Inch by inch, foot by foot, it slid backward across the muddied earth, toward the sheer drop-off before the wall. It strained him more than he wished to admit. Ten years ago he would have destroyed the thing outright. Now he had ten years of age, ten years of the Wall weighing him down to drain him of his strength. But if he could hold a barrier in place over the entirety of Insomnia, if he could withstand an imperial siege as war cannons and soldiers and Magitek armor blasted the Wall for weeks on end, he could do this. He could protect his son.

He would.

The marilith held its ground at the edge of the cliff. Regis pulled back one blade, forcing the others forward harder still, and swung for the daemon. He caught it straight across the face. And, with another hair-raising scream, it fell tumbling down the cliff face.

The Armiger dissolved, leaving Regis to deflate in the wake of the strain.

"Regis—" Clarus stepped beside him.

Regis silenced him with a motion. He could worry all he liked. Later.

"Noctis?" Regis turned.

Clarus turned as well. Crownsguards huddled over a pair on the ground near the still-blazing car. One of those on the ground was a child.

Regis pushed passed Clarus, brushed by Cor, and covered the distance to Noctis in five strides. He would throw the Crownsguards aside, if need be. Perhaps they foresaw that, because all of them scattered before him, leaving Regis to drop to his knees before Noctis.

Not his son. Not Noctis. Not now. Not like this. He was meant to have a full life. He was meant to grow into the King of Light before he was forced to pay for anything with his life.

"Noctis?"

His eyelids fluttered, but his eyes never focused on Regis. They shut again.

"Noctis!"

And the last words they had shared had been harsh. Regardless of his efforts, Regis had only disappointed him. He shouldn't have stayed in the Citadel, tonight. He should have gone with them. He should have been here.

"Regis—" Clarus laid a hand on his shoulder.

Regis jerked away, lurching forward to lay his hands on Noctis. His healing magic was weak—better used in potion brewing than touch-healing, but the Lucii had more varied skills. He reached for them now—The Oracle King—and beseeched them.

Please. Lend me the strength to save my son.

The Ring of the Lucii blazed to life on his hand. Power surged through him, bursting from his hands as he laid them on Noctis. Beneath his palms he could feel everything that was wrong. Too much. More than he could possibly heal with all the strength in his body and soul. Perhaps if he dropped the Wall and channeled all that strength through the ring, instead, he could have done it.

Nevertheless, he tried. He poured magic into the wound that cut across Noctis' back, knitting flesh like he so often knit together the broken magic of the Wall. The rapid outpouring of blood slowed to a trickle. The severed tendons reached out and tied cut ends back together. Chipped bone reformed. Muscles wove back together.

Someone shoved him. Hard.

He lost both balance and concentration. His shoulder hit the ground before he could think to throw out a hand.

Clarus' face appeared over his. Livid. "You idiot. You aren't twenty anymore, Regis! What the hell do you think will happen to Lucis if you pour your life into the ring to save Noct?"

It would fall. The Wall would crumble, Niflheim would come, and the crystal would fall into Imperial hands. He would have broken every oath he swore at his coronation.

And he didn't care.

He reached up to shove Clarus aside. Or he meant to. Instead he grasped Clarus' shoulder and found him as immovable as the Wall itself.

No strength left.

Not even the strength to fight for his son's life.

Clarus' face disappeared, leaving Regis staring up at the blue-violet glow of the Wall between him and the night sky.

"Cor, start the Regalia. Call ahead to the Citadel. We will need all available medical staff in the prince's room and a gurney at the entrance. You—help His Majesty up. Get him in the car."

One of the Crownsguards grasped Regis' arm and hauled him upright. Regis jerked his arm free with a growl.

"I can handle myself quite well enough."

"You can't see straight, let alone walk," Clarus snapped at him. "Now I can handle you or I can carry your son, but I can't do both. Which would you rather entrust to someone else?"

Regis shut his mouth. Clarus eased his hands under Noctis' motionless form and lifted him up as if he were no more than a doll. Regis hardly took a breath. Every bump and twist seemed to cause him physical pain.

"Your Majesty?" The Crownsguard knelt at his side, hesitant to grab hold of his arm again.

Regis reluctantly allowed him to, accepting the help to his feet and, further, the help to walk to the car. His steps were as unsteady, as Clarus had predicted, and the walk back to the Regalia seemed much too long. When he was finally seated, Clarus passed Noctis into his arms.

Distantly, he heard Reina cry out as she slid across the seat toward them, but he couldn't make sense of any words she said—if she had said any. He had all but forgotten she was waiting in the car, at all. At the moment, it was all he could do to clutch Noctis against his chest and resist the urge to pour more of his strength through the Ring and heal him further. Even so, he could feel Noctis' pulse thrumming away beneath his fingers—too thready and weak. He had lost a great deal of blood. Too much.

Regis smoothed Noctis' hair back from his face and left a bloody smear on his forehead. How had he been so foolish? How had he let them go alone? How had he ever put the kingdom before Noctis? If he survived this, Regis would give him everything. Anything he wanted would be his. If it was within Regis' power, it would be granted. Without reason. He would drop the kingdom to spend time with his son before it was too late. Whenever Noctis wanted.

If he survived.

Regis' memories of the car ride back to the Citadel were dim and disjointed. He remembered Noctis' face, too pale and streaked with his own blood. He remembered the itch of magic just underneath his skin, waiting to be called on. He could have given his life for Noctis', that night. He wanted to. But Clarus was right. If Regis had sacrificed his strength for Noct, who would protect him after Regis was gone? With no one left to uphold the Wall, there would be no one capable of keeping the empire away from the Crown Prince.

No, they both needed to survive.

By the time they had reached the Citadel, some of Regis' strength had returned. Enough, at least, that he could stand on his own. He kept at Noctis' side as they wheeled him to the upper levels and into his bedroom. A full hospital staff seemed to be present. Regis only hoped it would be enough. He could do nothing more for Noct. Not tonight. Not if he wanted them both to live.

He stood inside their room, well out of the way, and watched the bustle of activity as Noctis was laid out in his bed, his clothes cut from his body, and the bloody gash across his back revealed. To look at it, one would think Regis had done nothing at all. It certainly did not look half-healed. He should have done more. He could have done more.

"Father—!" A scream broke through his thoughts. He turned toward the door to see Clarus wrestling with Reina.

"Reina…"

Dear, sweet Reina, whom he had let accompany them to the site of a daemon attack and witness not only the combat that followed, but the state of her twin brother in the aftermath. He hadn't offered her a single word of comfort. He didn't have any to give. But he wanted her in his arms all the same.

"Release her, Clarus. Come here, my dear."

She ran to his arms as soon as Clarus set her on the ground. Regis lifted her off her feet, gritting his teeth against the exertion.

"Reina… my little girl." He wrapped her up in his arms and held her tight. She was whole. She was safe. All at once he was selfishly grateful that she had not gone with Noctis, tonight.

He didn't notice the tears on his face until Reina brushed one away. Oh, Reina. He kissed her forehead and held her tighter. Try as he might, he could think of nothing to say to her. He had told the two of them enough lies for a lifetime. He refused to tell another and swear that Noctis would be fine.

He stood there with her until he forgot he was standing. He stood there until he forgot his legs were attached to him, and his arms as well. Everything ached and the strength had all gone out of him; if he had thought of it, he likely would have dropped Reina. He didn't have the strength to hold an eight year old for hours. But he must have, anyway.

He had vague memories of Clarus pushing him into a chair, so perhaps he had looked as if he would drop her. Or drop himself. Either way, they sat—just out of the way—while the doctors buzzed around Noctis' bed. They had no magic, neither their own nor borrowed, and Regis hadn't the strength to loan his, even if they could have wielded it. In spite of what he might have told himself or Clarus, the unavoidable certainty that he had overdone it was beginning to settle in. This was not the sort of weariness that would pass within a day. Certainly not if he didn't intend to sleep. He would not be able to wake in the morning and complete the healing he had begun. Nor the next morning. Nor even the morning after that. He had walked the line of his own mortality too close, tonight. He would pay for that, in the days to come. But more irksome than his own weakness was the fact that he could do nothing more for Noctis.

What he needed was someone else with healing magic.

Eventually the doctors cleared away, telling him they had done all that could be done, for now. Noctis was stable, though not conscious. He still looked pale as death. Hardly a contrast to his white sheets.

"Regis."

Clarus stood over him. Regis couldn't remember when he had come in. Perhaps he had never left.

"If you would like to get some rest, he will be well looked after," Clarus said.

Regis looked back to Noctis. "No, Clarus. I do not intend to leave his side."

"And Reina?"

He dropped his gaze to Reina. She was sitting in his lap, staring up at him with wide blue eyes. Her mother's eyes. She begged him not to send her away with those eyes. Even if she hadn't, he never could have done it. He needed her to remind him that Noctis was not the only reason he kept living.

"I think it would be best if she remained with me," Regis said.

"Very well," said Clarus. He turned toward the door and Cor followed after.

"Clarus," Regis said.

They stopped.

In all of Eos, only one other person still living had access to the sort of magic Noctis needed. And she could use it without so much cost.

"Send word to Sylva."

Chapter Text

For a few hours, at least, they were alone. Reina slid off Regis' lap and inched her way toward Noctis' bedside. Regis took the opportunity to replace the armchair in its usual place: in the corner between Noct and Reina's beds.

Reina tentatively threaded her fingers with Noct's, holding his hand as if she feared he would shatter when touched. "I'm sorry, Noct…"

"What are you sorry for?" Regis asked.

"For not telling him to stay."

In the hazy rush that had been the past several hours of his life, he had all but forgotten his last conversation with Noctis. When he had thought of it, he had thought only of his own regret at disappointing Noct, at not being present to protect him. Reina's reaction to the situation had entirely slipped his mind. Until now.

"You did tell him to stay." In fact, she had screamed for him to stay.

"But not hard enough. I should have told him harder."

He had never known her to scream like that. He had never known her to tell him no when he asked her to go. She had her peculiarities, perhaps, but…

He leaned forward to lift under her arms and drag her back onto his lap. The hand he settled over her legs shook.

But what if they weren't peculiarities?

"Reina… why were you so adamant not to leave today?"

Most days she was docile and content to do as she was asked. She never wished to leave his side, but she would do so—almost exclusively without complaint, excepting a few notable occasions. There had been that day when he had returned too late for breakfast and found her in tears over not seeing him before school. She had needed to see him, she said.

Hadn't that been the day he had narrowly avoided being electrocuted during Drautos' training?

What was it she had asked him, at the time? If he was alright? A bizarre and unprompted question.

Unless she had some impossible knowledge.

"I was scared… of bad things happening," Reina said after a long pause.

"What made you believe anything would happen?"

"Because it's a bad day. It felt bad."

It felt bad.

"My dear, do you recall the morning I missed breakfast and found you in tears because you wished to see me? You said you needed to see me and… you asked if I was alright."

He didn't expect her to remember. She was upset most mornings when she didn't get the chance to see him. He could think of little to set this morning apart in her memory. For all he knew, there were often tears involved when he was not present.

"Mhm." She bobbed her head.

"Do you remember why you needed to see me?"

Her face twisted with thought. Finally, she said, "I was worried that you were hurt."

"And why would you think I might be hurt?"

"It just felt bad."

It felt bad.

It might have been coincidence. Surely, if she was upset frequently enough it was bound to line up with something bad actually happening on occasion. So why should it grate on him so?

"I see," Regis said, though he understood no more than he had before. Indeed, if anything, he understood less. "If ever you feel this sensation again, my dear… will you be certain to tell me?"

"I will, Father."

"Thank you, my dear."

She curled up against his chest, staring at Noctis' bed and remained there for the rest of the night. No one came in to tell them it was past bedtime for the princess. With a pang of guilt Regis realized he hadn't spared even a second to wonder what had happened to Jenet. When he did, he knew the answer. She had been on the ground, prone, beside Noctis. That no one had clustered around or attempted to move her was telling enough.

Regis shut his eyes against the too-harsh lights. For her and the Crownsguards who had given their lives to protect his son, he sent a silent prayer that their souls reach the Beyond to know peace. Then he rose and shut off the overhead lights, before settling back in the chair with Reina on his lap and a blanket from her bed thrown over both of them.

He fell asleep that way. No one was likely to come in and tell him he shouldn't. Crea would have, if she had still been here.

Then again… if he hadn't fired her, she would have been where Jenet was, that night.

For the first time, he had cause to feel thankful for that decision. Perhaps he had already saved her from the burden of queen and crown. But tonight that choice had saved her life without a doubt.

He still missed her.

He fell asleep with vague thoughts of calling her back. She had loved these children as much as he did. If she knew they had no one left to care for them, she would have returned.

When morning came, it brought Clarus, who woke him with a gentle shake. Regis opened his eyes in time to catch the reproachful look Reina was giving Clarus. She had always been adept at that look.

Either Clarus didn't notice or he didn't care.

"Breakfast," he said.

Avun had set the breakfast tray on Reina's bedside table and stepped away.

Regis waved them both away. He sat forward, keeping one arm wrapped around Reina, and rubbed sleep from his eyes. Reina hugged him around his neck and buried her face in his shoulder. Noctis was still in the same position he had been before; lying on his back, too pale, but breathing steadily.

"You really must eat," Clarus said.

"I am not hungry."

"I don't care."

No. He didn't. One look at his face made that clear enough.

He buttered a piece of toast and thrust it under Regis' nose. "Eat."

Regis took it, but only to placate him. It tasted like cardboard. He gave half to Reina, who looked about as enthusiastic as he felt. Like father like daughter. Then he took the cup of coffee that Clarus pushed into his hand and drank that down. Coffee, at least, seemed palatable. The remainder of his breakfast tray remained cooling on the bedside table.

"Cor would like to remind you that we did not finish reviewing the intelligence material, last night," Clarus said after a few moments of silence.

Regis had fixed his eyes back on Noctis' motionless figure. "Review them without me."

"As you say…" Clarus said, disappointed, but not surprised.

They fell silent again. Regis forgot anyone else was in the room until Avun cleared his throat.

"Your Majesty, you also have court scheduled at nine, and Captain Drautos is due back in Insomnia, today; the debriefing—"

Regis lifted his hand. Avun fell silent.

The twins had always looked so fair-skinned with their ebony hair and deep blue eyes. He hadn't truly registered how much color they had until it was gone. The mere difference between Reina and her brother was stark to the point of discomforting. He shouldn't have been so pale.

He had lost a great deal of blood.

Clarus and Avun were still standing behind him.

"Regis—"

"Leave us."

Clarus stepped in front of him, blocking his view of Noctis. "You cannot simply disregard the kingdom. I know you fear for Noctis, but all that can be done has been done and someone must now see to Lucis. There was a daemon in Insomnia, Regis."

For the first time that morning, Regis' eyes properly focused on Clarus. He sat up straight in his chair, jaw tightening, and met Clarus' gaze levelly.

"Then see to Lucis," he said. "I have more important matters to contend with."

He said it and, at least in that instant, he meant it. Lucis could burn. Let Niflheim have the crystal. Daemons take the Astrals and their bloody Ring. The only thing that mattered was keeping his children safe and he intended to do so with his life, if need be.

Shock struck across Clarus' face. He backed away, leaving Regis' view of Noctis clear once more. Regis leaned back in his chair, wrapped both arms around Reina, and fixed his gaze on his son. Behind him, Clarus muttered something to Avun and they both withdrew.

For a while longer they were left alone. Just him and his precious children. And his guilt and regrets. What would Aulea have said, if she could see them now? Would she have hated him for allowing Noctis to go out alone, last night? If he had been a better father, none of this would ever have happened.

An hour passed. Maybe two. A hesitant knock came to the door.

When Regis did not react, it was followed by a hesitant cough.

"Your Majesty." The voice belonged to Agnys. The governess. "The princess' school begins in less than an hour."

Regis tore his eyes from Noct's bed and looked across at Agnys. Then he looked down at Reina.

"Do you wish to attend?" He asked.

"No, Father." Her response was immediate. He might have known without asking, but he meant to give them both whatever they wanted.

He looked back to Agnys. "If you would have her excused, whatever is required, I would be grateful."

"Of course, Your Majesty." She bowed and left.

Again the three of them were left alone. It was probably not the best way for him to be left, but it was what he preferred.

This time when the silence was broken, it was by Reina. "Is he going to wake up, Father?"

"I have no answer for you, my dear…" He looked from her to Noctis. So small. Too small. Regis was meant to protect them. "I ought to. A father should have all the answers, should he not?"

A single tear escaped and ran down his cheek. It was lost in his beard before he could think to hide it. Fathers were meant to be strong and immovable. He was doing a poor job of most fatherly things, these days.

Reina sat up on her knees in his lap and threw her arms around his neck. "Don't cry, Father… everything will turn out alright."

He was too stunned even to hug her back for a moment. Then he did, and he hugged her more fiercely than ever. Here he was, bemoaning his own shortcomings, and his eight year old daughter was all grown up and doing her best to step into that place no one else dared tread. He smiled, melancholy and bitter that he allowed himself to take comfort from his child where he should have been giving it, and grateful beyond measure that he had such an astute and empathetic little girl. She was such a singular child.

He would do better. For both of them.

Eventually Clarus returned and stood silently staring at Regis with that look that said he wished to speak, but not in front of Reina. By that time, Regis was feeling at least a little bit contrite regarding their altercation that morning. Not that he was prepared to admit as much. But he coaxed Reina off his lap and convinced her to sit in Noctis' bed with him, instead, and he stepped outside to have a word with Clarus.

"Word has been sent to Tenebrae," Clarus said stiffly. "And the Kingsglaive has returned from the field. Captain Drautos hints that he has information regarding imperial movement on the outskirts. Do you intend to miss the debriefing entirely?"

Regis still meant what he had said. But Clarus' unspoken rebuke was almost as painful as the coldness with which he regarded Regis. He needed to attend the debriefing. He needed to see and be seen.

He leaned around the corner to look in on Noctis and Reina. Reina had already fallen asleep with her head on Noctis' pillow, curled up beside him.

Regis sighed, looking back at Clarus. "Find someone to watch over them."

If he was pleased with Regis' choice, he didn't show it. "Very well."

It took longer than it ought to have for Avun to make him presentable. By the time he reached the throne room, everyone was waiting for him, including Captain Drautos. It wasn't until then, when Regis was seated on his throne looking down that he remembered how tired he was. It was a soul-deep exhaustion, born from too much energy spent on magic and too little rest afterward. Oh to sleep without dreaming.

He listened to Drautos' report. Or, at least, he heard it. Some of the information may even have registered, but he had no questions to ask and nothing insightful to contribute. Clarus carried the discussion that followed and Regis found his mind wandering back upstairs, to where his children slept.

When everything had concluded, no one seemed inclined to keep Regis for anything. Clarus followed him as far as the hall, grasped his shoulder, and gave him a tight-lipped smile.

"He'll be alright, Regis."

"I shall believe it when it comes safely to pass," Regis said.

And that was all the apology that passed between them. They parted ways again, with Regis returning to the upper levels to see to his twins. He found them more or less where he had left them, and under the watchful eye of an attendant. Regis excused the servant and took up his spot by Noctis' bed once more.

Someone had tucked Reina in with a blanket. She slept soundly beside Noctis while Regis watched over them, too exhausted even to close his eyes and go to sleep. What if Noctis woke while he dozed? Or worse? His mind filled with uncomfortable possibilities and all hope of rest was chased from his brain by building anxiety. No, he couldn't sleep. Not while Noct was like this. It was a wonder he had managed even a few hours the night before.

Eventually Reina stirred, stretched, and blinked blearily across the bed at him.

"Good morning, my dear," Regis said. "Or perhaps I should say 'good evening'."

She sat up and rubbed her eyes. She was still wearing her dress from the night before. It occurred to him that she and Noctis were accustomed to having someone see to all of their needs: to tell them when to bathe and get dressed and when to eat. Had she eaten at all, today? No more than he, probably. It was fine for him. But she was a growing child, yet.

"Are you hungry? I will have someone bring…" Regis glanced toward the door and caught a fleeting glimpse of a small face in the doorway. "...some dinner—come in, Ignis, it is quite alright."

Ignis reappeared, a little more red in the cheeks than usual.

"Your Majesty, Your Highness." He bowed to them. "I apologize for the intrusion."

Regis brushed his apology aside and waved him forward. "Not at all, Ignis. Your place is with Noctis, after all."

He stepped forward, eyes fixed on the bed. Regis followed his gaze. Noctis hadn't moved at all from where he had been laid. He still rested on his back with his arms at his sides; only the shallow motion of his chest indicated that he lived at all. For a long moment, no one spoke; they watched Noctis, hoping for a change and yet dreading what might come. Regis cursed his own weakness and lack of foresight yet again, torturing himself with what might have been. If only.

He had no notion that anyone else was doing the same until Ignis spoke.

"Your Majesty." He stepped forward, hands clasped before him, and bowed again. "I must apologize. I should have been with Prince Noctis."

The surprise was enough to make Regis tear his eyes from Noct. "And why is that?"

"I'm meant to take care of him, Your Majesty. You said so yourself."

So he had. And yet, at the time, speaking to a six-year-old Ignis, the eventuality that eleven-year-old Ignis would ever feel guilty for not protecting Noctis against an undefeatable foe had never crossed his mind. It seemed that all three of them had come through from last night with regrets of their own.

"Ignis." Regis sat forward in his chair, resting his elbows on his knees and fixing Ignis with a serious gaze. "While it is, indeed, your duty to look after and advise the Crown Prince, it will be some years yet before anyone has any expectation that you could possibly face—and defeat—such an assailant as attacked him last night."

"But I—"

Regis lifted a hand to silence him. "No, Ignis. You are not at fault, here. Someday, perhaps you will have the chance to prove your mettle in battle for your prince. But you would be of little use to him in the future if you were to throw yourself at a daemon's mercy, today. Had you been present, I have no doubt that you would have tried valiantly to protect Prince Noctis. But so, too, did many others. And today we mourn them."

Ignis dropped his gaze. Regis grasped his shoulder. "You are no more to blame for what happened than Princess Reina is." He glanced to Reina, who was listening intently to every word he spoke. "Do you understand me? Neither of you are responsible for this misfortune. I never wish to hear you think otherwise."

Reina looked mutinous, but only for a moment as he held her gaze. Then she lowered her eyes, demurred, and murmured, "Yes, Father."

"Yes, Your Majesty," said Ignis.

"Good. Now, then. Ignis, would you be so kind as to let your uncle know that we require dinner? You are, of course, welcome to join us. And after that—" He looked back to Reina. "It will be time for a bath and bed for you, little Princess."

If she had no nanny, he might as well act like her father, for once.

"I want to sleep in Noct's bed," she said.

"And I shall not stop you from doing so. But you still must eat dinner, have a bath, and put on clean pajamas."

She seemed to accept this. Not that he had expected any argument from her; he never had experienced trouble getting her to do what he asked. So they ate dinner, sharing a peculiar meal in Reina and Noctis' bedroom. Reina was distracted and disinclined to eat, though she usually ate anything that was placed before her. She kept looking over her shoulder at Noctis, as if to assure herself that he was still there and still breathing. Regis could hardly blame her. He caught himself doing much the same thing more than once. He convinced her to take one bite for every bite he did, and that seemed to work. She always had liked to imitate him—his way of speaking and eating and walking and sitting. Even now he occasionally found himself taken aback by a familiar mannerism, manifest in his daughter.

It wasn't until after, when Reina was out of the bath and towel dried and bundled into her pajamas in Noctis' bed that he realized he had eaten, too, when he had started out the evening with no stomach to do so. And he couldn't help but wonder, as he tucked her into bed and gave both her and Noctis a kiss, who had coerced whom into eating dinner.

Reina lay with her back to the wall on the far side of Noctis while he lay directly in the middle of his bed. Her eyes followed Regis as he crossed the room to shut off the lights and then returned to sit beside Noctis' bed. In the blue glow of the night light he could still see her eyes open, watching him.

"Go to sleep, my dear."

"What if Noctis wakes up while I'm asleep?"

"Then I have no doubt you, too, will wake." She always had been the lighter sleeper of the pair. When Noctis had cried in the night, so, too, had Reina. The opposite had not always been true.

"What if something bad happens?"

How was it that she asked precisely the questions he asked himself? He had no answer when the question was in his mind alone. Yet, when his daughter asked, it demanded a response. Fathers were meant to know everything.

"Then the same bad thing would happen, regardless of you being awake or asleep. But nothing bad will happen," Regis said. "Do you see this? This machine is recording Noctis' heart rate and breathing. If anything were to go wrong, the doctors outside would all come rushing in immediately to put him right again. Alright?"

"Alright."

She continued to stare at him.

"Reina. Close your eyes, my dear."

She shut her eyes, obedient as ever. In spite of the nap she had taken that afternoon, Regis had little doubt that she was exhausted enough to fall asleep as soon as she did. Just this once, he was proven wrong.

"Father?"

"Yes, my dear?"

"Will you hold my hand?" She reached out toward him, across Noctis.

Only one response was acceptable. Regis shifted so he sat on the edge of the bed—it was more than wide enough for Noct and Reina, and with Noctis in the middle it left ample space for Regis to sit—and took Reina's hand in his.

"I love you, Father."

"As I love you, little Princess. Now go to sleep."

She blinked up at him, eyelids already too heavy to hold open for long. In spite of that, she managed a few more words. They slurred together as her tongue fell asleep before her brain, but the meaning was clear enough, nevertheless.

"Noctis will be okay…"

And she was asleep, leaving Regis to wonder if she knew, somehow, just as she had seemed to know about the daemon before it had attacked, or if she was simply saying what she hoped would be a comfort to him. Impossible to tell, one way or the other.

Now he was stuck, sitting on the edge of Noctis' bed, holding Reina's hand so she could sleep. It was not a comfortable position to sit in for long. Within a few minutes his back, from his hips to his neck, was beginning to ache. He might have slipped his fingers from hers and crept away to sit back in his chair, but he feared waking her and not being able to convince her to fall back asleep again. The only other solution he could think of was to kick off his shoes and lay down on Noctis' other side.

He did. And he lay with his arm across Noctis and Reina's hand clasped in his, keeping his eyes open to watch over them. It was harder, now that he was lying down. His mind spouted the same reasons why he couldn't sleep: what if Noctis woke? What if he didn't? And in response he provided the same answers he had given to Reina. Somehow, his mind quieted. He lost the fight against gravity for control of his eyelids.

And the last thing he wondered, as he drifted off to sleep beside Noctis and Reina, was:

Who had convinced whom to go to sleep?

Chapter Text

When Regis woke the following morning, the sun was already well in the sky. Light streamed in through the windows, filling Noctis and Reina's room. And Noctis slept on.

"Good morning, Father." Reina sat cross legged on Noctis' far side, with her back to the wall and a book in her lap. She smiled tentatively at him as he rolled onto his back and tried to make his brain work.

"Why did no one wake me?" He asked, not fully expecting an answer.

"Mr Scientia came in earlier and he thought about it. But later Master Amicitia closed the door and I heard him giving orders that no one was to bother you."

Of course he had. Clarus had been trying to convince him to get some sleep for two days. Now that he had, Regis wasn't certain he felt any better for it. He was stiff and sore in muscles he hadn't even known he had. That was the price of using too much magic. If he didn't have enough strength to feed into the Ring, it would take the energy from somewhere else. Now he was paying for it, as if he had forced himself to run a marathon.

"What is the time?" He asked.

"Nine fifty-four," Reina said succinctly.

Later than it should have been, if she was going to school. It seemed that was unlikely to happen today, either. He told himself it was alright—that she should be allowed to stay with Noctis for as long as necessary—but it felt like an excuse he told himself for being a poor father. She was still wearing her pajamas. He was still wearing yesterday's suit. Some example he was setting for her.

"Have you eaten breakfast?" He asked.

She shook her head.

Here, at least, was something he could do. "Then let us have breakfast sent up. In the meantime, you will change out of your pajamas and brush your hair."

She stared at him for a moment, perhaps taken aback by receiving such instructions from him, when he usually took so little note of their day-to-day routine. But she marked her page in her book and set it aside.

"Yes, Father," she said.

He swung his legs out of bed, pushing unkempt hair from his face, and went to the door. Outside, he found Avun standing guard, no doubt following Clarus' orders to perfection.

"Your Majesty!" He started, then bowed.

"We require breakfast for myself and Princess Reina, Avun. After that, send word to Clarus that I am awake, and report to my rooms to perform whatever magic turns this—" he gestured to himself "—into a king."

The last order brought a smile to Avunculus' face, though he ducked his head in a bow to hide it. "Of course, Sire."

As Avun left, Regis glanced back into Noctis and Reina's room. Reina had disappeared, but Noctis was in much the same position as he had always been. Loath as Regis was to leave his side, the task of stepping away for a shower seemed less insurmountable today. When he searched for the reason why, the only thing he could recall was Reina's sleepy declaration that Noctis would be alright. It was foolish, to put so much store in an offhand remark made by an eight year old. But, perhaps, if he had done so before, none of this would have happened.

He went. And, by the time he had showered and undergone Avun's meticulous care, breakfast had arrived. So, too, had Clarus.

"Regis." He joined them in the lounge, though he did not partake of the breakfast tray.

"Clarus. Has there been any word from Tenebrae?" Regis ate slowly and deliberately; though he didn't feel particularly hungry, he was sharply aware of the fact that Reina watched every move he made and imitated him with unnerving precision. At least it meant she was eating breakfast.

Then again, it meant he was, as well.

"Not yet," Clarus said. "It has only been a day and a half, and you know what it is like to send notes through the imperial blockade."

It would be more difficult to send the royal family through the imperials blockade, but if Noctis didn't make dramatic improvement soon, it was likely they would be forced to do so.

They spoke idly of concerns of the kingdom and council for the remainder of the meal. It was clear enough that Clarus had other subjects he wished to discuss, though none he wanted Reina to overhead. And so, after they had eaten their fill—or at least until Regis had eaten as much as he could force himself to—he sent Reina back to sit with Noctis while he withdrew to speak privately with Clarus.

The lounge was full of doctors and nurses and more Crownsguards than was usual. Not exactly the best place to discuss sensitive subjects. On the far side of the lounge was the private library, where a more personal collection of books were kept for the royal family's entertainment. For several years following Aulea's death, it had sat more or less untouched. He certainly did not have time for leisure reading. But more recently the selection of books had been carefully curated for a younger audience and Noctis, Reina, and Ignis all used it, now.

The library was far enough away that they could sit with the door open and not be overheard, provided they kept their voices low, and still near enough that if someone shouted from Noctis' and Reina's room, it would be audible.

They sat on either side of the chess table.

"Search parties were unable to find any sign of the daemon," Clarus said without preamble.

Regis furrowed his brow. "Did we expect they should? They do not retain physical shape after death."

If it could be called death for a daemon.

"There was always the chance that it survived," Clarus said. "Regardless, it must have left some trail when it entered the city. A creature like that cannot simply appear out of thin air."

"Indeed," Regis said, "And it did not find its way into Insomnia on its own."

"I have ordered the Kingsglaive to search the entire perimeter of the Wall, beginning in the northeast, where the daemon was found. Gods willing, we will know how it entered the city before the week is out."

In the northeast.

"I have no doubt they will find the wall is sound. Instead, have their efforts focused on the earth," Regis said.

"You have an idea?"

"I suspect we may be soon to learn what Niflheim's interest in our northeastern shores has been, of late."

"You think they dug under the cliffs?" Clarus asked.

"I think it a sight more likely that they went under the wall, rather than through it."

"Very well, I will—"

"Father! Come quick!"

Regis was on his feet nearly before his brain had caught up with his legs. He knew not the cause, only that Reina had been left in the other room with Noctis and that she would never have shouted for him unless something was very wrong. In the few seconds it took to cross the lounge and reach the door to their bedroom, he had already imagined a dozen possible explanations, none of which were good.

The medical staff all reached the room before him. He was forced to push his way through to reach Noctis' bedside, and when he was close enough to see either of his children, what he found stopped his heart for an instant.

"Noctis…"

Alive and awake, staring wide-eyed at the crowd his bedroom was suddenly hosting.

Regis dropped onto the edge of the bed, taking Noct's hand and covering it with his own. It felt too cold in his palm.

Behind him, the sound of shuffling feet and murmuring voices faded away. The door shut.

"Noctis." Regis could manage no more than that. He squeezed Noct's hand and fought against the stinging in his eyes.

"Dad…" He turned his head slowly to the side, as if it was nearly too heavy to move, and looked at Reina. "Rei…"

"Noct!" Reina gave a tearful laugh and threw her arms around his neck.

"I thought I was burning… and daemons…" Noct said. "But then I heard you."

"Noctis…" Regis said. "I will let no one harm you."

It was a promise he meant to keep. At all costs.

Whatever else Clarus had on the agenda for that day was put on hold. Regis remained with Noctis for the whole day, once more leaving Clarus and the council to handle affairs without him. He allowed the doctors in to check on Noctis more than once and, throughout the course of the day, several things were established.

First, in spite of Regis' efforts to repair all the vital structure with the magic of the ring on the night of the daemon attack, Noctis had sustained enough nerve damage in his lower back that he had lost sensation from his waist down. The was concerning enough and, when the doctors admitted their inability to treat such an injury beyond the superficial, it was all Regis could do to pray that Sylva would be capable of reversing the damage. That Noctis might never walk again was currently a very real possibility.

Second, while the physical damage done to Noct was the most easily quantified, he had sustained some deeper injuries, as well. Ones which Sylva had little to no chance of treating.

The first hint was in how quiet he was. Unconsciously, Regis had expected Noct to wake in much the same mood that he had last seen him in: reproachful and irate. That would have been easier. To prostrate himself and beg for forgiveness would have been a simple solution. But Noctis gave not even the slightest indication that he remembered their last conversation. Regis tried to make it right, nevertheless.

"I apologize for not being with you, Noctis," he said. "I know you had wanted me present—and I had intended to go along. If I had, I would have been able to protect you better. I am sorry…"

Noctis stared at him. His expression gave away nothing of what he thought underneath. It was so blank and enigmatic that Regis began to wonder if he had heard the apology at all. If he had truly registered anything that Regis had said. Was he so lost in his own nightmares that thoughts of daemons blotted out everything else?

Noctis blinked. He looked at Reina, who was holding his other hand.

"Noct knows it's not your fault, Father," she said, as if words had passed between them.

Noct pulled his gaze back from Reina and looked to Regis once more. Regis looked between the two of them. They always had communicated in ways that no one else understood. Was it possible that she knew his mind, now, even when something prevented him from speaking it?

Was it possible she had foreseen the daemon attack and the fact that Noct would wake up?

Too many questions surrounded that child. He had no answers for any of them. He knew of only one person who might. Word came from her a few days later, by which time Noctis had made little, if any, improvement on his own. He ate meals, but had to be coerced to do so. That was not wholly new. He had never expressed any interest in vegetables, but it seemed his appetite was worse than usual these days. It did mean that the whole of the royal family had no interest in taking meals. If it hadn't been for Avun, the three of them would have starved in that week.

Mostly, Noctis slept. When he did, it was fitful, broken by nightmares of fire and daemons. He cried for Jenet who would never again come to his side, and it took Reina or Regis—or both—to calm him. He could sit up in bed, but that was the extent of his mobility. In time, many of the injuries he had sustained would heal themselves—the cuts and bruises and, perhaps, even the nightmares. But some things would never improve without help.

And so, when Avun arrived with a letter from Tenebrae, Regis stepped outside, leaving his sleeping son under Reina's watchful eye. Sylva's letter was succinct: she had received his note and trusted in his judgement; if he believed that the best course of action for Noctis' health was to bring him to Tenebrae then she would welcome him with open arms. By then, he had already made up his mind that it was Noctis' only chance for a full recovery.

"You mean to take him yourself, then?" Clarus asked, when Regis showed him the letter.

"I certainly do not intend to trust his safety to any other."

Clarus nodded grimly. "I will, of course, accompany you."

"You?" Regis asked, taken aback. "And who shall watch over Lucis?"

"The council will do well enough left to its own devices for a time," Clarus said. "And I will see if we cannot establish more secure and efficient channels of communication for the duration."

"Someone must remain behind, Clarus."

"Must they?" Clarus raised an eyebrow. "I am your Shield, Regis. I cannot very well shield you from across the ocean."

"You are also the Hand of the King."

"And I will continue to be so in Tenebrae."

Regis might have ordered him to stay. The council could rule Lucis on its own, yes, but more often than not they needed someone to end disputes and be the final voice of reason. They were also exceptionally bad at making rapid decisions, and if Niflheim tried anything nefarious while Regis was away, some quick thinking would be needed.

But he also needed someone in Tenebrae whom he trusted unconditionally. Someone he could confide in, knowing they would put Noctis' safety above all else, if necessary. And that person was Clarus. It had to be; Weskham was still in Altissia and Cor, while adept at action, was not a man to ask for counsel.

Regis grasped Clarus' arm and gave him a tight smile. "Very well. Then we go to Tenebrae. Together."

"What of Reina?" Clarus asked.

"What of her?"

"Will you bring her as well?"

The deeper implications of that question were understood; Noctis may have been the Crown Prince but, in the event of his Ascension, Reina was the true heir to the throne—though none save Regis and Clarus knew as much. Furthermore, to have two thirds of the royal family in Tenebrae and beyond the safety of the Wall was dangerous enough, but to take every living Caelum and put them in one scarcely-guarded place was tempting fate.

And yet, how could he think to separate her from Noctis and himself? How could he think to separate Noctis from her? Noct had hardly spoken a word to anyone else since he woke up, but sometimes Regis caught the two of them with their heads together, whispering when they thought no one was watching. And there was the other thing, as well. Reina's premonitions—if they could be called that. If they were something to be taken seriously then he wanted her kept as near as possible. And he wanted Sylva to look at her, for all the good it would do.

"I fear we must," Regis said at last.

As of yet, he had not confided any of his concerns about Reina to Clarus or anyone else. For the moment, he would watch and wait. If she gave him further reason to believe her statements were more than mere coincidence then he would reconsider.

Clarus studied him a moment. Whether he suspected there was more behind Regis' decision than mere sentimentality or not, he held his tongue.

"Very well," he said. "When are we to depart?"

"As soon as you can arrange safe transportation for us. And send word ahead so that Sylva will expect us."

He parted ways with Clarus and returned to Noctis' bedside, where he found Ignis trying to bribe him with a handheld video game.

"This one, I am assured, is very popular right now." Ignis pushed a game box across the bed toward Noctis, who only stared at it. Ignis hesitated a moment before continuing. "I also bought this one, because it has a very cute picture of cats on the front."

He placed another game on the small stack. It was not altogether clear whether Noctis was looking at the game or through it. But after a moment he reached out and picked up the one with cats. He studied it for long enough that Ignis' hands began to twist nervously together. Then he handed it to Reina, who broke the seal and opened the box.

Ignis stopped wringing his hands and sat up a little straighter. "Does he like it?"

"He wants to see this little white cat." Reina pointed to the picture on the front as she extracted the game from the box and put it into the handheld device.

At that moment, Noctis looked up and noticed Regis standing in the doorway for the first time. In spite of the fact that Reina was, at the time, busy with Noct's game, no sooner had Noctis given Regis a tentative smile than she, too, looked at the door.

"Father!" She smiled brightly. "Ignis brought games for Noctis."

"So I see," Regis said.

Ignis made the mistake of trying to turn around, stand up, and bow all at the same time. He ended up losing his balance and stumbling forward before righting himself, performing a second—neater—bow, and ducking his head to hide his flush. "Your Majesty," he murmured.

Regis entered the room fully and laid a hand on Ignis' shoulder. "Did you thank Ignis, Noct?"

Noctis looked from Regis to Ignis as Reina passed him the gaming device.

"He doesn't need to," Reina said.

"I beg to differ," Regis said.

Reina looked stricken, as if she had just realized what she had said. "Oh! I don't mean he should be rude. Just that Ignis knows, already. Don't you, Ignis?"

"Ah… of course. Your Highness." Ignis bowed.

Curious, that he called Noctis 'Noct', but Reina—though they had all three know each other for the same time—'Your Highness'.

Reina blinked at him. Noctis, whose attention had been stolen away by the game console, switched on his game with cats so that the sweet little tune interrupted conversation for a moment.

"He is very thankful," Reina said. "Because it's very boring just sitting here and I can't take him outside, but he's tired of my books. So now we will have something else to do."

"I see." Ignis bowed again. "Well, you're welcome, Noct. If there is anything else I can do, you need only ask… or… Reina can ask."

Noctis appeared not to hear. He leaned closer to Reina and pointed to something on the screen.

"No, I like that one with the pink nose," Reina said. "Or that one. Yes, that's cute." She looked up at Ignis and smiled. "Thank you, Ignis! We are going to have a farm with a fat brown cow."

"Of course," Ignis said. "I will leave you to it… I fear I must finish my schoolwork—but I'll come back tonight."

Noctis looked up from his game and waved as Ignis backed away. It was the most direct response Regis had seen from him all day. Ignis waved back, then fled.

That was fairly typical of all interactions with Noctis, since he had woken. He would speak scarcely or not at all. More often, Reina seemed to translate his wordless thoughts or emotions into something the rest of them could understand. When it was only the three of them, he would talk—though it was nothing compared to the never ending flow of stories and stream-of-consciousness that usually came from him—but when anyone else was present, he became entirely mute. Regis began to despair that anything—even a prolonged stay in Tenebrae—could bring back the son he had once known.

"I can't explain it, Your Majesty," Noct's doctor said, when asked. "Though I admit my specialty is not psychology. Prince Noctis has survived tremendous trauma, Sire. All I can say is that it does unpredictable things to people, children especially. But if he takes comfort in his sister then I would only recommend keeping them together as often as possible. In the meantime, perhaps it would be beneficial to seek a professional opinion."

"You believe he should see a psychiatrist?" Regis asked. He knew only one of those, so far as he was aware, and they hadn't spoken in years. "I doubt he could be convinced to speak."

"Ah, well. There are some who specialize in children and trauma. I am certain, with the right expertise, someone could get through to him."

"Very well. If you have a recommendation—"

"Pray, do not tell me what is to be done with my own door. And do not intrude on the privacy of the prince and princess."

Regis turned toward Reina and Noctis' open door, where one of the medical staff was standing. That had been Reina's voice, surely, and yet, with a whole lifetime of age and command that she did not possess. Regis motioned to the doctor to hold a moment, and stepped into the doorway.

"What is going on?" He asked.

Inside the room, Reina and Noctis were in much the same position they usually were; bundled up in Noctis' bed. He had never, however, seen such a look on Reina's face. It took a moment before he recognized it—and the tone she had used moments before.

So. All those years of imitating Regis' every move had served some purpose. She was now fit to terrify the Citadel staff.

"I—nothing, Your Majesty." The nurse bowed out of the room and practically fled down the hall.

Regis only spared him a glance before entering the room fully and coming to sit down in his empty chair at Noct's bedside.

"Noctis just wants to be alone, sometimes," Reina answered his unspoken question. "There are too many people coming in and out all the time."

"Indeed?" Regis studied Noct. "Well then. Perhaps you will be pleased to hear that we are going away, Noctis. To Tenebrae. There resides there a woman—a friend—who will help to mend your injuries."

Noctis and Reina both stared at Regis. He had the distinct and immediate impression that he had said something wrong. For a moment he was prepared to change plans at a moment's notice—if going to Tenebrae would cause them distress, then he certainly didn't wish to take them—but Noctis tore his eyes away and looked pointedly at Reina and the reason for their concerns finally clicked into place.

"Ah. All three of us. Of course. I should never dream of splitting you up," Regis said.

The relief was tangible. The twins exchanged a shaky smile and Reina hugged Noctis around the neck.

Someone knocked at the door. Regis turned to find Clarus in the doorway. "Everything is prepared, Regis."

Regis settled a hand on each of their heads and smiled fondly at them. "We depart tomorrow. Someone will be along to assist with your packing; I shall see you both quite soon."

With any luck, Tenebrae would hold some comfort for the three of them.

And some answers.

Chapter Text

Tenebrae was, for all official purposes, part of the empire. Though, at one time, the two nations had been separate, Niflheim had annexed Tenebrae a few hundred years before, leaving only Fenestala Manor under the control of the Nox Fleurets. And so, while Sylva might still have been the Queen of Tenebrae, for all practical purposes, 'Tenebrae' referred only to the capitol building itself and the pocket of land around it; a minuscule safe-haven in the midst of hostile territory.

As such, travelling to Tenebrae meant crossing the ocean and passing through Niflheim, though not the heart of the empire. It was difficult enough to traverse the outer settlements without attracting note, especially given that one member of their party was confined to a wheelchair and two were wholly unable to defend themselves.

After much debate, it was decided that they would travel light in as small a group as was feasible. The whole royal family would go, of course, and with them the King's Shield. Cor also insisted on accompanying them. Regis would have preferred to have one more friend at his side. Unfortunately, he was short on those, these days. Weskham was still in Altissia. He was Regis' eyes and ears within Accordo's newly independent government and, much as he wished to, Regis could not justify calling him back for this.

Drautos was a possibility, as were some of his more adept Glaives. But in the end it was decided to be in Lucis' best interests if the Kingsglaive all remained in Insomnia. It left him with an easier heart, knowing that he left Lucis in the hands of capable men and women who wielded his magic.

So they departed from the Crown City with only five. They fit neatly in the Regalia and the Regalia fit neatly on Regis' boat. All they needed to do was slip by without attracting imperial attention.

It was Noctis and Reina's first time beyond the Wall. Regis would have been lying if he had claimed he didn't fear for them every minute they were outside of Insomnia. When they hung out the windows, he resisted the urge to pull them in and bundle them up in his arms. This was, after all, their kingdom. They had every right to see it. Indeed, had circumstances been different, he would have taken them across the kingdom well before now. But Lucis was not as safe as it had once been, when the Wall had covered the entire continent.

They passed south through the desert of Leide and across the Duscae wetlands to Cape Caem, where Regis' boat awaited in the harbor. From there, they traveled south and west toward Niflheim and into the lion's mouth. Though they set forth early in the morning, it was dark well before they reached the shore. The night was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it offered them some cover as they made their approach. On the other hand, they were well beyond the Wall, now, with nothing to keep the daemons away.

Noctis dozed. Reina remained faithfully at his side throughout, yawning, but refusing to shut her eyes. Though Regis remained high-strung and vigilant throughout, keeping his eyes outward and standing nearby his twins at all times, they saw neither hide nor hair of any daemons—not on the crossing, nor within Niflheim itself.

From the shores of Niflheim they drove through the night to reach Tenebrae, not daring to stop along the way. Cor, Clarus, and Regis were well accustomed to long, sleepless nights. The twins fell asleep in the back of the Regalia, propped up against each other.

By the light of dawn, they reached Fenestala.

Through the willowy silver trees, amidst stony grounds scattered with blue flowers, the manor itself and the haven of Tenebrae rose.

They were expected.

No sooner had Regis opened the door to the Regalia than a young girl, not more than a few years older than Noctis and Reina, came racing up. She had Sylva's golden blonde hair.

"King Regis!" She stopped short and curtsied to him, smiling. "Mother sent us to escort you to the manor."

Behind her, a tall boy with equally blond hair followed at a more leisurely pace. He pushed an empty wheelchair.

"That is very kind of you." Regis turned to motion to his children, only to find them not behind him at all. Noctis was still seated, as he had expected, but Reina sat squarely between him and the door, staring suspiciously out.

"Where have you left your manners, sister-dear?" The blond boy caught up with his sister and bowed to Regis. "Please forgive us, King Regis. I am Prince Ravus Nox Fleuret and this is my sister—"

"Lunafreya." She smiled at Regis, though her eyes flicked toward the twins. "You must be Princess Reina and—" She peered around Reina. "—Prince Noctis."

Both of them stared mutely at her.

"Manners, my children: say hello," Regis said.

"Hello, Princess Lunafreya and Prince Ravus," Reina intoned, as if reading the text from a page.

"H..hi," said Noctis.

He had heard of worse starts to friendships. Then again, he had heard of better ones, too.

In a few minutes, they had Noctis transferred into the wheelchair and all their luggage unloaded from the Regalia. Reina insisted on pushing Noctis, in spite of Lunafreya's polite offer to do so. She was, however, very nearly too short to see over the top. Regis walked behind her; when she faltered climbing the hill to the manor, he placed his hands over hers and added his strength. Far from detesting his trespass on her independence, she beamed up at him. They walked the rest of the way in that fashion.

Princess Lunafreya spoke while they walked; she proved herself a good host and an excellent guide, taking them along the easiest route and showing them all the best views as she filled in the history Tenebrae and Fenestala. Prince Ravus had less of her precise formality; his possessed an easygoing grace and he interjected occasionally along the way, though he seemed largely content to allow his sister the spotlight.

They reached Fenestala, where Sylva and a few others awaited them in the outer courtyard—if it could be called that, when it was made primarily of ancient trees and stonework older than Insomnia.

"Regis." She smiled and bowed her head when they stopped before her. "It has been too long."

"Sylva." Regis returned her smile, though his was tighter. He could not help but recall that they had parted on less than favorable terms, when last she had been in Lucis. Did she still think of Noctis' death as little more than the Gods' will?

Her smile faltered. She hid it adeptly, sweeping out a hand and motioning them inside. "Please, come inside. You must be exhausted."

They were led inside the manor—an ancient building, more castle than tower—built from cut stone and carved archways. Though the early spring air was chill, a perpetual draft seemed to pass through the halls. It left Regis with the impression that they were, in fact, inside a floating castle. Indeed, the views from the windows suggested much the same thing, as the earth around Fenestala dropped off sharply into the thick forests below. He hoped the bedchambers were a little warmer. For Noctis' sake, if not his own.

After some brief discussion, they were given guest chambers; a series of suites, side-by-side and interconnecting. Much to Regis' relief, the windows inside latched tightly and the hearths all hosted welcoming fires. Though he was inclined to take advantage of a warm bed and four walls to get some sleep for the first time in two days, he was reluctant to leave Reina and Noctis on their own. They, too, seemed disinclined to leave his sight. And so, in the end, all three of them curled up in Regis' bed for a mid-morning nap. In the adjacent rooms, Clarus and Cor did much the same thing in their own beds.

It was difficult to pinpoint time in Tenebrae without a clock. The light always had a silvery color after it filtered through the tree branches and perpetual mist. As such, when Regis woke, he had no notion of whether he had slept through the whole day or not at all. Noctis and Reina were still asleep. It seemed what rest they had gotten along the way hadn't been enough. They were growing children, still, after all, and Noctis healing on top of that. They needed what sleep they could take.

Regis eased his arm out from beneath them, hardly breathing as he watched them for signs of waking. No sooner had he shifted, however, than Reina's eyes opened. She wasn't as asleep as she appeared, after all. Regis held a finger to his lips and nodded toward Noctis. Then he extracted his arm the rest of the way, squeezed some feeling back into his fingers, and rose. After a lingering glance at Noctis, Reina followed him. He led the way out to the balcony, leaving the door cracked open behind them.

"So." Regis leaned against the balustrade and looked out over the grounds. "What do you think of Tenebrae?"

A casual question that any might have asked their daughter in his position. But Regis had ulterior motives.

"It's pretty." Reina could just see over the edge of the balcony if she stood on her toes. "We don't have trees like this."

"No, indeed." He studied her critically. If she had some nagging sensation about their trip to Tenebrae, she would have told him. Wouldn't she? "And how do you like Princess Lunafreya and Prince Ravus?"

"Mmm…" She inched closer to him, wrapping both hands around his arm and leaning against him. "They seem nice, I guess. Princess Lunafreya knows a lot, doesn't she?"

"She seems well versed in matters of place and people."

Reina tilted her head back and stared up at him, silent for a long moment.

"I should know more, shouldn't I?" She asked, finally.

Regis raised his eyebrows at her. "My dear, I think you will find that you know more of Lucis than either Princess Lunafreya or Prince Ravus."

She dropped her gaze. "I don't know that much."

A strange sort of mood she was in. Never before had he heard her speak of wanting to know more about Lucis.

"You are only eight, little Princess," Regis said. "And I believe Princess Lunafreya is a few years older."

Someone tapped on the bedroom door. Not wanting them to wake Noctis, Regis hurried to answer it with Reina trailing behind him.

Outside in the hall was none other than Princess Lunafreya herself.

"Your Majesty." She curtsied. "I came to see if you were all rested. My mother wished to invite you to have tea with her and she thought I might give Prince Noctis and Princess Lunafreya a tour in the meantime."

Regis glanced over his shoulder to find Noctis stirring. He pushed himself up on one elbow and knuckled his eyes. Much as Regis was reluctant to leave them alone, still, he did wish to speak privately with Sylva.

It took some convincing. Both Noctis and Reina stared stonily at him when he suggested they spend the afternoon with Princess Lunafreya, but in the end they were both willing to try, if only for curiosity of a new place and people. Once, Noctis would have leapt at the opportunity and Reina would have gone along simply because he did. She might even have been made comfortable by his enthusiasm. But Reina was no longer the more reticent twin.

Regis left them in Princess Lunafreya's care, promising to see them soon, and went to seek Sylva in her private drawing room.

"Regis." She greeted him as he arrived and motioned him toward one of the many seats available. Regis took the sofa, and she an armchair across from him. "I know you are eager to learn what I can do for Noctis; I had only a brief glance at him when you arrived, but I am certain you will be pleased to hear that, with care and attention, I should be capable of healing him entirely."

It wasn't until then that Regis realized that of the myriad concerns pressing in on him, whether or not Sylva would be able to heal Noctis had not even entered his mind. He had simply taken for granted that she would be able to do so; if they could reach Tenebrae and provide her with the time she needed, then Noctis would walk again. She could cure those afflicted with the Starscourge. He had no doubt that she would thus be able to mend some severed nerves and tendons.

"Thank you," Regis said, nevertheless. "That is welcome news indeed."

She scrutinized him for a moment, evidently dissatisfied with his response. "You have something else on your mind."

"Astute as ever." He gave a tight smile. "Indeed. I have many other matters on my mind. Some which you may or may not be able to help with."

She spread her hands. "I am at your service, my king."

Unless he asked her to protect Noctis from his fate.

Regis pushed aside the intrusive thought and focused on the matters at hand. He could not justify his bitterness for her willingness to accept the prophecy when he, himself, had already done the same.

"In addition to Noctis' physical well-being, I am concerned about the changes manifest in his personality," Regis said.

"Oh?"

He detailed the differences, so far as he could list them, in Noctis' demeanor since the night of the attack; how a happy and outgoing boy had become withdrawn and muted, how Noctis hardly spoke and allowed Reina to explain his thoughts and desires for him, and how his sleep was plagued with nightmares most nights.

"I hardly know what to do for him, any longer," Regis said.

"Everything you describe is within the realm of a child's natural response to trauma," Sylva said. "Noctis' world has been turned inside out. He must reorient himself—re-learn what it means to be alive. Not only has he experienced his own mortality at the tender age of eight, but he has also lost the woman who was akin to a mother for him."

Regis' brow furrowed.

"I am given to understand that his nanny was one of the casualties," Sylva said. "Is that not correct?"

Jenet. Of course.

Regis sighed. It was terrible of him, but amidst everything else he had forgotten more than once that she was gone at all.

"No, you are correct," Regis said. "Though she had only been their primary caretaker for a handful of years. In truth, I have no notion what they think of her death—or how much they comprehend it."

After all, Crea, too, had left their lives forever. The result was much the same, to children, even if the cause was different.

"I would not be surprised to learn that they understand better than you think," Sylva said. "Nevertheless, it may be something you should speak to them about. They have each other—and they will speak with each other—but it is important that you remain open to them as they go through this process. Broach the subject of that night—cautiously—and ensure both of them that if and when they wish to speak about it, you will make time to listen."

Making time was not one of his strengths. Nevertheless, Regis could see the wisdom in her words. "If you believe it will help, I will do so."

"I do," she said. "As for the rest, it will likely heal in time, like all other wounds. But do not be alarmed to find that Noctis is never quite the same little boy he used to be. This will have changed him—both of them, in all likelihood."

Her words struck at the heart of his fears. "So he will never be as he was?"

"Are any of us ever the same as we once were?" She asked. "Are you the same man you were before Aulea died?"

Regis dropped his gaze, leaning forward and putting his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands.

"No," he said. "Of course not. But I wished to spare my son from any such experience."

"As would we all, for our children. But that is not our choice. You can only choose what to do, now that it has occurred."

He stared at his shoes for a moment longer. She let the silence sit, undisturbed, until he was prepared to break it. The second concern on his mind was more difficult to broach. Expressed poorly, it would sound as if he was attributing too much significance to coincidences or flights of fancy. That was part of why he had, thus far, told no one about it.

"There is one other thing," he said slowly.

She waited.

"Have you any knowledge of a sort of magic that permits one glimpses or hints of what is to come?" He asked, finally looking up at her.

"You speak of the gift of prophecy?" Sylva asked.

"Perhaps," he said. "Though perhaps not to distinct. Or not so developed."

She studied him curiously and long enough that he began to wonder if she wouldn't answer his question until he gave more information.

But eventually she did. "Historically, that is a magic reserved for the Oracles, as dictated by the will of the Gods. When it suits them, the Astrals have been known to deliver knowledge unto the Oracle, thereby granting mankind a glimpse into the future. This, I believe you know, is how the prophecy of the Chosen King came to be."

That was all familiar knowledge and not entirely what he had been hoping for. "And nothing else? No others, to your knowledge, have ever known of events before they came to pass?"

"No. The future is not for mortals to read, as some book laid open before them."

It was as he had feared, then. No help would be found here for his concerns of Reina's premonitions.

"What prompts these questions, my king?" She asked.

He nearly refused to tell her. If she knew nothing of a magic that would explain the coincidences he had observed, then it made no difference if she never learned of his suspicions. It was easier to share information later than to take back what had already been told.

But he needed to tell someone.

So he told her the tale of Reina on that terrible night when Noctis had been attacked. He told her, also, of what she had said of the day Drautos' training in magic had nearly gone awry, and how similarly she had phrased her description of each event.

"It may be little more than coincidence," Regis said. "But I cannot help but wonder if it could be more."

"Regrets of what we have or have not done in the past may lead us to believe all manner of things," Sylva said carefully.

Regis sighed. He might have expected as much. She had no reason to believe him. Hell, he had no reason to believe as he did. Perhaps she was right and what he really needed was a heavy dose of reality.

"Yes," Regis agreed at length. "I suppose they might."

"It would be dangerous to assign too much weight to the impulses of a child. Your son is the Chosen King, blessed with the favor of the Gods. It is he you should concern yourself with."

Something about the emphasis she applied made implicit her comparison between Noct and Reina. Noctis was to be the King of Light, blessed by the Gods. Blessed indeed. Meanwhile, Reina was nothing at all. Was that truly what she believed?

Regis drew himself up to his full height. "Which makes my daughter heir to the throne, and the one who will lead Lucis into a new age of peace and prosperity." He turned to the door before Sylva was on her feet.

"Regis—"

"King Regis." He stopped with his hand on the door. "Or Your Majesty."

He pushed the door open, leaving her alone to ponder her own words and beliefs.

However long it took to mend Noctis would be too long.

Chapter Text

In the dark of night, screams split the peaceful silence. Too solid to be a dream. Too sharp to be an accident.

Regis jerked upright in his bed and stumbled for the door, only to realize it wasn't his bed at all, nor was the door where he expected it to be. He stared at the blank wall for a solid three seconds before he remembered where he was.

"Father!"

That was Reina's voice.

Visions of the marilith in Insomnia tore through his mind. Daemons in Tenebrae. His children were not safe.

He groped for the connecting door in the dark. By the time he had the handle, he was prepared to tear through the wall itself to get to Reina. Luckily for Sylva and whoever would have had to deal with an Armiger-sized hole in the wall, he managed to force the door open before summoning his glaives. And inside Reina and Noctis' room was…

Nothing.

Moonlight filtered in through the window, the curtains swayed gently in the breeze, and the remains of a fire burned down to embers in the hearth.

Reina sat upright in her bed, eyes open, screaming as if her life depended on it. Noctis was on the floor between their beds, dragging himself toward her. Regis swept in as the hall door open. He pushed passed Sylva as she entered, scooped Noctis up off the floor, deposited him on Reina's bed, and took Reina's shoulders in his hands.

"Reina." Her eyes were open; she stared through him, not at him. "You must wake up, Reina."

No sooner had he grasped her shoulders than she was trying to pull away from him. "No—No!"

"Reina." Regis forced more command into her name. "Look at me, Reina. Nothing else. Just me. See me."

Her frantic squirming ceased. She blinked and did as she was told. She always did as she was told.

"F...father?" She didn't believe what she saw.

"Just me," Regis said.

Realization sank into her. Her rapid breathing dropped into sharp gasps, then sobs, and she fell against his chest. Regis gathered her up in his arms, holding her as tightly as he dared.

Behind Reina, Noctis leaned forward, his legs flung out at an awkward angle, and touched her back.

"Are you alright, Noct?" Regis asked.

He nodded, wide-eyed and pale in the moonlight. "Was it a dream, Rei?"

Reina shook her head against Regis' chest. She quivered in his arms and gulped at the air as she struggled against her tears. Regis smoothed her hair back. He could not draw steel on the monsters of her nightmares. Would that he could.

"It was just a dream, right, Dad?" Noctis asked again.

"Yes, it was a dream." At the time, he believed it. "Just a dream, Reina."

He had forgotten that others had come running at the sound of Reina's screams until Sylva called his attention.

"Your Majesty…"

Standing in the doorway were Sylva and her children, Clarus and Cor, and no fewer than a dozen of the household staff—some of whom were armed guards.

He waved a dismissive hand and turned to face his children again. His daughter had woken screaming in the night as he had never heard her scream before. His heart was still hammering against the inside of his rib cage.

"I will see to them. Thank you for your attentiveness."

Clarus and Cor lingered a moment after the others, but eventually took the dismissal. The door shut behind them.

"Don't leave us, Father." Reina's voice was muffled against his chest. In spite of that, it quivered at an unusually high pitch.

"No, my dear," Regis said.

It took some maneuvering to situate all three of them in Reina's bed. Not because the bed was too small for them, but because Noctis' ability to move was still hampered by his injuries and Reina refused to let go of Regis. After some minutes of fumbling about, they were finally settled, Reina against Regis' chest and Noctis on her other side.

No matter how tightly he tucked the blankets around her, Reina continued to shiver. Long after Noctis' breath had fallen into the steady rhythm of sleep, Reina clung to Regis' shirt. His mind tried to fit discordant pieces together as he smoothed circles over her back.

Noctis had been having nightmares since the attack. That was natural, if unnerving. But Reina had gone nearly two full weeks without any night terrors. Was it possible that fears from what she had seen that night had only been delayed in reaching her dreams?

"Reina, my dear." Regis brushed her hair back and looked down at her. "Did you dream of the daemon?"

She shook her head. "It wasn't a dream."

His brow furrowed. Wasn't a dream? Of course it had been a dream. An especially vivid and terrifying one, doubtless, but a dream nevertheless.

Even so.

"What was it?"

"It was real, Father."

He opened his mouth to explain that, sometimes, when dreams were especially clear, they could seem just like reality, but he stopped himself.

"And what happened?" He asked, instead.

"Metal men rained from the sky with guns and fire," she said. "People ran from them, but I was too scared. I couldn't move. I tried when Ravus told me to go. He told me to run and not look back, but they hurt him, and I… I couldn't find you, Father…"

"Metal men?"

"They had metal faces, all the same, and red eyes like stop lights."

Magitek soldiers. For a moment it was all he could do to stare at her. Reina had never seen an imperial soldier, on that he would have staked his life. It was just possible that they had been on television during their attack on Insomnia a few years before, but Crea would never have allowed them to see such a thing. No, Reina had no way of knowing what a Magitek soldier looked like. Nor did she have any way of knowing that they existed at all—not, leastways, in any way that would allow her to describe them in such detail.

She had no way of knowing that a daemon would attack Noctis or that Drautos would narrowly miss Regis with a bolt of lightning, either.

"Reina…" He tried to keep his voice even and calm, in spite of the growing concern in the pit of his stomach. "Did it feel anything like the day Noctis was attacked?"

"I don't know…" She shook her head against his chest. "I feel scared."

He held her tighter, pushing his own fears away in favor of hers. "I will not let anything happen to you, little Princess."

She was silent against his chest for a time. Her shivering had subsided.

"Father…" She said after a time.

"Yes, my dear?"

"Metal men didn't really fall from the sky, did they?"

"Not yet, little Princess."

"Are they going to?"

He pulled back enough to look at her and saw utter trust on her face. Whatever he said, she would believe.

"Not anymore, my dear."

Whether she understood what he meant or not, she nodded and curled up against his chest once more. In seconds she was fast asleep. Regis only wished he could have done the same. Instead he lay awake, running through too many possibilities.

So Reina had seen Magitek soldiers invading Tenebrae in her dreams. It might have been only a dream, but Regis was disinclined to believe that. Not after every other peculiarity he had noted from her. Sylva claimed that none but the Oracles could glimpse the future, and them only when the Gods willed it.

To hell with Sylva.

Regis knew his daughter. He had seen her hysterical on only a handful of occasions, now, and each time could be connected to some catastrophic or near-catastrophic event, which she had no way of knowing about at the time. Once was happenstance, twice may have been a coincidence, but thrice was prophecy, whatever Sylva claimed.

He had little choice, then, but to believe that Niflheim would invade Tenebrae while they were present. That they came while the royal family was in Tenebrae could not be chance. Their attack would be an attempt on the Lucian royal family and no less. How neatly done it might have been; all three royals in one battle and the kingdom of Lucis falls after, with no king on the throne and no Wall to protect the Crown City.

The question of how Niflheim knew they were in Tenebrae at all was another concerning one, but not one that Regis was concerned with at the moment. He tucked it away for later. When they were all safe.

They might simply have left in the morning. It would have been easy enough to arrange their passage back to Lucis—their transportation depended on none but themselves and no one else need be notified. And yet, they had come here for a reason. Noctis was still healing. Though Sylva saw to him each day that they remained in Tenebrae, the process was slower than Regis would have liked. If they left too early, they risked Noctis never walking again.

If only he knew when the empire would strike! But Reina's description of her dream had not included a date.

Morning came with Regis having slept not a minute more and having come no closer to a decision. But, if nothing else, Clarus and Cor would need to be informed of what little he had learned and subsequently decided. Following breakfast, Regis left Noctis in Sylva's care—she would protect the King of Light with her life—and he withdrew to have a private conversation with Clarus and Cor.

Reina followed at his heel, clinging to his hand and nearly tripping him more than once when she stood too closely. He was at a loss for what to do with her. He might have convinced her to go with Prince Ravus, as the pair of them had seemed to get along well so far during their stay, but he was reluctant to let her out of his sight. He had no idea when Niflheim might strike, only that it would be in Tenebrae and during the day. Better, then, that he kept Reina at his side at all times. On the other hand, this was a conversation that, in all likelihood, should not include her.

Then again, it concerned her, at its heart.

Regis relented. He allowed her to follow them as they withdrew to the guest rooms. From his demeanor, Clarus and Cor both knew something was amiss. They arranged themselves silently in the sitting room that joined their three rooms and waited. Regis fumbled with his words, search for a starting point.

He chose the middle.

"It has come to my attention that Princess Reina is uncannily sensitive to the events around her. In the past two weeks, I have struggled with my own doubts on the subject, but last night I was forced to admit the least likely solution may, in fact, be the truth. My daughter detects—in some way I have not yet determined—dangerous events before they come to pass."

And he worked his way back from there, recounting the evidence from the smaller pieces building up to the largest—her dream the previous night. Reina sat on his lap and clutched at his arm throughout. Cor and Clarus remained silent, but he watched as quiet skepticism drained away in the face of the evidence he presented.

"I admit, what you claim seems fanciful at best," Clarus said. "And yet, I must conclude—at the very least—that it would be foolish not to act out of caution in this case. If the princess' dreams come true, it will throw light on our doubts. If not…" He spread his hands. "Then we have lost nothing."

"Save perhaps, extra time for Noctis' healing," Regis said.

"Then we will have to find a suitable way around, in which we do not pay for our caution with the prince's health."

Cor rubbed his chin and tapped the arm of his chair. "I am not convinced by dreams and coincidences… but I do agree with Clarus. We should have a care how long we remain here—with or without prophecy, we leave ourselves open to attack."

"Have we any idea when the attack might occur?" Clarus asked. He looked at Regis, though his eyes flicked toward Reina.

Loath as he was to ask her further questions about her nightmare or put any additional pressure on her, she was their only source of information.

"Reina," Regis prompted cautiously. "Do you know when the metal men will come?"

She shook her head, pressing her lips tightly together.

Well. That was that. Whatever this magic was, it did not give her the knowledge of when, nor even where, save on the occasion that she recognized her surroundings. In this case, the 'where' was outside in Tenebrae.

Clarus sighed. "I suppose we shall simply have to make plans to return on short notice and remain vigilant. If we can—"

Reina slipped off Regis lap, out of the circle of his arms, and drifted toward the open door to his bedroom. Clarus looked from her to Regis and back. She opened the door and disappeared inside.

"Reina?" Regis rose to follow her.

He found her passing straight through into the room she shared with Noctis. She crossed to the wardrobe, where all of her clothes had been unpacked and neatly hung. She stood up on the edge of the wardrobe to reach the dresses and counted them. They had packed two weeks' worth of clothes and gone through roughly half of them. Seven hung in the wardrobe.

"Reina?" Regis stopped behind her.

"Tomorrow." She pointed to the first dress. "Thursday." The next dress. "Friday." And worked her way down, labeling each dress with a name of the week.

Then she ducked out of the wardrobe, slipping past Regis, and went to the dresser. A polished wooden box for her jewelry sat atop it, and she opened this, laying out all the jewelry inside in a neat line.

"This week." She picked up the first necklace—an array of emeralds hanging from silver chains—and put it on. Then she pointed to the next necklace, with matching earrings. "Next week." And so on until every piece of jewelry was labeled…

And every day from today until five weeks from now had a unique dress and jewelry combination with which to be identified.

Regis dropped onto the edge of her bed, staring at her. "My dear, you are more clever than the king of Lucis and his two closest advisers."

She giggled, clasping her hands in front of her and twisting back and forth.

"But it requires you to dream the same dream again," Regis said. "Do you think you can do that?"

The smile faded from her face. Her hands switched to clutching at the front of her dress.

"I do not mean to press you, my dear—I should never wish for you to experience such a thing once, let alone multiple times. I would not force you against your will."

She stared at him with her mother's eyes for a moment, her gaze flicking once to the doorway where Clarus and Cor stood.

"I can do it, Father," she said. "I… I can try."

He smiled and held out his hands to her. She came, allowing him to pull her into a tight hug.

"My brave little girl."

She hugged him around the neck. "Will you wake me, again?"

"My dear, I will always be there to wake you. All you need to do is call out to me and I will come. I swear it."

She spent what remained of the day with him, disinclined to leave his side for any reason. For his part, Regis was grateful to have her close, in spite of the work that needed to be done. At least he knew she would be safe if she was in his arms.

Noctis was a different matter. While Regis would have preferred keep Noctis inside with them, he was also loath to enforce such a restriction when Noct wished to be out and playing with Princess Lunafreya. That their friendship had blossomed so neatly pleased Regis beyond his best hopes for them, though he hoped they fared better in the years to come than Regis and Sylva had. King and Oracle were meant to coexist—if not as one, then at least in friendly harmony. None of those things could have been said of Regis and Sylva. Not anymore.

But those were concerns for another time. For now, Regis focused on how and when they would leave Tenebrae. Some of their plans were vague and foggy by necessity; as they still had no notion of when Niflheim would attack, they could do little but wait and hope that Reina managed to see the same future once more, and that her plan for discerning the date would work.

"We should send word ahead to Caem to expect our arrival sooner than previously planned," Clarus said.

"Niflheim knew we were coming here," Cor said. "Only a few ways that could have happened."

"You mean to imply that someone—either in Tenebrae or Lucis—informed on us?" Clarus asked.

"Either that or someone saw us en route," Cor said.

"That is more likely, don't you think?" Clarus asked.

Cor shrugged.

"Let us assume," Regis said, "That the most likely scenario is true, but take precautions for the least likely. Though we took care to cover our trail, it is entirely within the realm of possibility that we were witnessed by imperial spies—either within Lucis or in Niflheim itself. We also do not know how many people in Tenebrae are aware of our presence here; though I trust that Sylva would not intentionally betray us, she may well have spies among her staff. We are, after all, inside the empire. And finally—though unlikely—it is still possible that one of our own within Lucis betrayed us."

"But so few knew of our destination," Clarus objected.

Regis lifted a hand. "That does not make it an impossibility. As such, let us share our plans as little as possible. We will make our arrangements—quietly—and prepare to leave at the first hint of an imperial presence. At least until we have more information, that is the best we can do."

Clarus and Cor both glanced toward Reina, who was curled up in Regis' lap, hugging one of his arms and staring out the window.

"Do you intend to tell the Oracle?" Clarus asked.

"I intend to tell no one. Not even Noctis. For, reticent as he may have become, he has still never understood the meaning of a secret."

If Noctis knew, he would tell Luna and Luna would tell her mother and while neither of them were imperial spies, there was no accounting for who else was listening in. Hence the reason they were sitting in the center of their lounge with all windows and doors closed, and the phonograph playing loudly by the entrance from the hall, having a conversation in lowered voices.

"And… Princess Reina?" Clarus asked.

A little late to worry about that, given that she was a key part of their plan. Nevertheless, Regis had no concerns about her.

At her name, Reina looked up, broken from her reverie.

"Reina, my dear," Regis said. "Will you promise me not to speak a word of any of this to anyone at all?"

"Not even Noctis?" She asked.

"Not even Noctis," Regis agreed. "We have allowed you to sit in upon very private meetings. If you wish to continue to do so, you must learn to keep very adult secrets. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Father." She stared up at him and he was struck by the utter trust and adoration on her face. Struck, and a little bit unnerved. She would have done anything at all he asked of her. "I promise not to say a word."

"Good girl, Reina."

While Clarus and Cor might have accepted the word of an eight year old less readily than Regis did, he knew she would prove herself to them. Before this was over, they would have no more cause to doubt her. Nor her premonitions—though the implications of the latter were less clear.

That night, after a quiet dinner taken with the Nox Fleurets, the entire royal family retired to Regis' rooms. He had anticipated that Reina would wish for him to sleep in her bed, or vice versa. He was not altogether surprised to find that, once Regis had agreed to this, Noctis also wished to share the bed. And so all three of them occupied Regis' room, leaving the twins' room empty for the night.

It was strange to be the primary adult in charge of their care. Never before had Regis needed to worry about whether Noctis had a bath after a day of sitting in the dirt or Reina had brushed her teeth properly. The most his bedtime responsibilities had ever consisted of was reading the occasional bedtime story, when his schedule allowed for it. For the first time since they were born, Regis felt like he might truly have been their father in function as well as form. Once they returned to Lucis, they would need a new nanny. But for now they were his children alone. If only it could have remained that way.

He found he was not so inept at such things as he had feared. Noctis hated going to bed—partly, no doubt, due to the nightmares that had haunted his sleep as of late—and would concoct every excuse to push bedtime back. Tonight, Reina was displaying the same hesitancy to sleep, though it showed only in the way she tugged at her nightshirt and stared at the bed as if it were a monster come to devour her. But Regis had discovered that Noctis would always agree to lay in bed and hear a story, and once he was in bed he never could keep his eyes open long. Regis could only hope the same worked for Reina, tonight.

It did, after a fashion.

Though Noctis was fast asleep five minutes into the tale of ancient dragon-hunting knights, Reina lay cuddled against Regis, fighting sleep for long after. She clutched at the front of his shirt, as if fearing he would disappear. Each time he thought she had finally fallen asleep, she caught herself fading and her eyes jerked open once more. She wasn't even listening to the story, anymore. Regis knew, because he had long since stopped telling it and started speaking whichever words passed through his mind in no particular order. The instant he stopped speaking, however, she would wake fully.

So he continued, talking about nothing at all in low, steady tones. He smoothed her hair back from her face and traced soft patterns across her forehead, down her nose, and over her cheeks. Her eyes shut properly; this time they didn't open again.

"You look so like your mother, when she was your age, my dear…"

He let his hand fall away from her face. She turned toward him, shifting in his arms, and slept on.

"Good night, little Princess. I fear I cannot wish you sweet dreams. I must hope for foul ones; all of Lucis hangs upon your nightmares, tonight."

Chapter Text

He had intended to stay awake waiting. If Reina did indeed dream of the future, as he hoped, then he wished to be alert and focused when she needed him to wake her. In spite of his best intentions, however, the long day and prior sleepless night caught up with him.

He dozed.

Reina jerked in her sleep. Her hands tangled in the front of his shirt and she tensed against his chest.

"Reina?" Regis blinked back the haze of sleep and struggled toward proper consciousness. He found her curled tightly in a ball, breathing fast and irregular. She gave a tiny cry—not the screams of the night before, but he had no way of knowing if this had been the precursor for the first time, as well.

He grasped her shoulders and shook her gently. "Reina. Wake up, my dear."

She squirmed in his grasp. "Noct!"

On her other side, Noctis stirred. "R..Rei?"

"Reina." Regis cupped her face in his hands, turning her face toward him. "Look at me, Reina."

Her eyes flicked open. Her pupils were fully dilated and she stared through him, rather than at him.

"Just me. Nothing else," Regis commanded. "See me."

She gave a gasp as if surfacing from a dive. Her eyes focused.

"Father…?"

"Just me, my dear." He pulled her into a hug, smoothing back her tangled hair and feeling her quivering against him. "Just me."

"Rei?" Noctis reached out to touch her back. She turned and, as soon as Regis relinquished his hold on her, threw her arms around Noctis' neck instead. He hugged her back, looking wide-eyed up at Regis.

"Another nightmare?" Noct asked.

"Yes, my son," Regis said.

If all he expected came to pass, he would have to think of some way to explain it all to Noctis. But for now, it was simpler to tell him only what they knew for certain: that Reina had dark and terrifying dreams.

After a moment, she pulled away from Noctis, breaking completely from Regis' grasp, and ran to the other room. Regis took a moment to assure Noctis that all was well—or as well as could be expected—and he followed Reina to the other room.

She stood at the wardrobe, sifting through her dresses. "Tuesday."

She ran to the dresser and traced her finger along the line of jewelry still laid out on top. Then she turned to look at him. "Next Tuesday."

Six days. But never mind that, now.

Regis dropped onto the edge of her bed, dumbfounded. "It worked." He said it more for his own benefit than hers. "We altered our plans, and your dream changed as well."

Reina nodded.

Miraculous. Terrible and miraculous. If she could dream—if she could look ahead at will then never again would they be caught unawares. Every move Niflheim planned to make, she would know. If Niflheim somehow learned of their early departure and adjusted accordingly, she would know.

A whole world of possibilities exploded before him.

She could learn where and when Niflheim would strike. He could send troops to fortify every position before they even arrived. She could learn numbers, precise movements of their army, and Lucis could plan against them.

How far ahead could she look? Was she limited only by events she would personally experience, or could she see other things? Could she look years into the future and gather intelligence from Niflheim that was now only plans on paper?

She could win this war for them.

She could be the only person with a chance of finding out if Noctis could be saved.

She could—

Regis stopped himself, reeling in his rampant mind. She stood before him, tiny and terrified. Eight years old, motherless, and neglected by her too-busy father. And now he was dreaming of how to use her as a tool.

Wasn't that the same fate he fought to free Noctis from?

"Oh, Reina, dearest, come here." He wrapped her up in his arms and lifted her off her feet. "Come here."

He carried her back to his room and tucked her into bed between Noctis and himself. She was still quivering. Dream or not, she had just experienced—for the second night in a row—an army of Magitek soldiers invading Tenebrae and cutting down everything in their way in an effort to eliminate the Lucian royal family. He could not spare a single thought for what might be possible with her magic. What mattered was here and now—assuring her she was safe and sound and loved.

And he would not, no matter how great the temptation, ask her to look into the future for him again.

It took some time before Reina stopped shivering. She wedged herself between Regis and Noctis, with her back to Regis' chest and her arms around Noctis' neck. Strange. The night before she hadn't been so concerned for Noct. Had more than simply her dress changed when she dreamed, tonight?

In the quiet of her subsiding shivers and dried tears, Regis allowed himself the feel the relief he had denied himself when she first woke. It had worked. Against all odds it had worked and he was more certain than ever that he had been right to trust in Reina's premonitions. Though they still had no concrete proof, they did have a date. It meant fewer days of frantic over-preparation, simply waiting for the empire to strike. They would make plans—quietly—and ensure that Noctis would be healed by the day of their departure.

Once more it was Noctis who fell asleep first while Regis lay awake, pouring over plans in his mind. He tried not to think of the dangerous possibilities her new powers presented.

Reina also lay awake. When Noctis was well and truly asleep, she gingerly extracted herself from him and turned to look up at Regis.

"What is it, my dear?" He asked.

"Everything changed."

His brow furrowed. Against his better judgement, he asked the question foremost on his mind. "What did you see?"

"I wasn't with Ravus. I was with you. The metal men rained down and we ran to find Noctis, but he was outside, where they were falling. Everything was still burning… but I wasn't afraid because I was with you."

He tried to sift through all she said. Reina's first dream and—subsequently—Regis' reaction to it, had been cause enough for her to remain with him all day. Likely, she would have done the same every day thereafter, and so when Niflheim had arrived this time, that was where she had been. It was strange to think of the future as events rather than plans, but it was stranger still to see such immediate results from such small changes. Now that they knew which day it would occur, how would her dreams change? Would she, instead, see them safely in the Regalia on the way to Insomnia? Or would Niflheim catch up with them along the way?

He would not ask her. He could not resort to using his daughter as a tool in this fashion.

Regis combed his fingers absently through her hair, working out the tangles that had grown since the previous morning. He leaned forward to kiss her forehead.

"I swear, little Princess, I shall always protect you. Now try to get some sleep."

"Father?"

"Yes, my dear?"

"Did I do well?"

That she even needed to ask broke his heart.

"My dear, you performed admirably. I do not exaggerate when I tell you that tonight, you have saved many lives. Gods only know what might have happened, had you not foreseen this future."

She smiled sleepily up at him before burying her face against his chest and falling promptly to sleep, exhausted from her restless sleep.

The question remained, of course, of why she could see such things. Sylva had offered no explanation for it, and of everyone in Eos, she was the only one left alive with more knowledge of magic than he had. Or at least different knowledge than he had. But of course, he was not limited by the grave. The Lucii might still hold the answers he sought.

And so, for the first time, Regis dropped out of consciousness into a dream-like state, and called them to him. It was less unnerving than being summoned against his will, though no less humbling. He met them where their souls resided—trapped in the In-Between. They appeared, rather than arrived, and though only a dozen were visible, he had the sensation of being looked down on by a hundred more.

:Young king. For what purpose have you summoned us?: It was King Somnus, the Mystic, who addressed him.

In this place, thoughts flowed more easily than words. His consciousness was bound to theirs just as theirs was to his. While he did not actively hold all the collective knowledge of one hundred and twelve generations of Lucian monarchs inside his head, he did hold the potential for it—contained within them. He opened his mind and, in a careful and continuous flow, fed them all the information he had gathered on Reina and her strange dreams.

"I seek understanding of this phenomenon," Regis said. "Have any other Caelums held the same gift?"

Silence for a moment, as if the collective kings were searching their consciousness or exchanging uncertain glances among themselves.

:No,: Somnus said, at last. :There is no such power among the Lucii.:

"Then you must at least have some knowledge of it."

:You misunderstand, young king. The Caelums hold every ounce of true magic in Eos, yet no Caelum has ever held the power to witness events yet to pass. Therefore, this power does not exist.:

"But it does exist! I have showed you. How can you see what I have seen and not understand that?"

:The universe is more complicated than you yet understand. No one—not even a Caelum—could ever determine what would occur in the future. What you have witnessed must therefore be either a mistake or simple coincidence.:

"Coincidence? Is it coincidence that she dreams the precise events that will come to pass? Is it coincidence that she knows when I am in mortal danger?"

:You have yet to observe proof that either of those is objectively true. If you do, then return to us. It would mean a substantial reevaluation is in order.: He paused. :But I doubt that you shall.:

They faded away, like pillars of flame smoldering out into smoke. And Regis was left standing in an empty un-place, frustrated and alone. He groped for the strand of magic that anchored his soul to his body and dragged himself back to consciousness. He opened his eyes to the same black of night he had shut them on. Reina and Noctis both slept soundly beside him.

At least he had learned one thing, however useless it seemed: the Lucii knew no more of this than anyone still on Eos did. If that was the case, we would simply have to investigate himself.

The following day he told Clarus and Cor of all that had come to pass in the night—they were both pleasantly surprised to learn Reina's plans had succeeded so neatly—and inquired after Noctis' healing with Sylva. After some gentle prodding, he learned that she had laid a slow cure on him. Though she could accelerate the process by seeing to him daily, the healing would naturally continue, even if they were forced to leave Tenebrae early, for any reason.

The rest of the day passed without incident. Though Regis wished to, he did not ask Reina to attempt to dream the future again. She had more than enough to contend with without the added pressure from him.

Even so, she asked to sleep in his bed once more, and he could hardly deny her that. She slept through the night.

They counted the days until the imperial attack. Each night, Reina slept in Regis' room, rather than her own. She spent some days with Ravus or with Noctis and Luna, but a large portion of her time was devoted to sitting with him even—and perhaps especially—when he had private meetings with Clarus and Cor.

Plans were made. In the dead of night between Monday and Tuesday, he shook Reina gently awake.

"Wake up, my dear. We are leaving."

She rubbed her eyes and blinked up at him. "Noctis?"

"You must prepare yourself and I will see to Noctis. Alright?"

She nodded. He went next door to wake Noctis. All of their possessions had already been packed—quietly, once everyone else had fallen asleep—and all he needed to do was carry Noct to the car. He hadn't accounted for Noctis not wanting to leave.

"What about Luna?" He asked, once he was sitting upright in his bed.

"Princess Lunafreya will be quite alright."

"But I can't leave without saying goodbye! And the notebook—I need to take the notebook!"

The book in question was sitting on his nightstand. Regis passed it to him and he clutched it against his chest. That part, at least, was simple to deal with. The rest less so. Regis dropped to one knee in front of him, taking Noctis by the shoulders.

"Listen to me, Noctis. If we remain here, even for a few more hours, everyone in Tenebrae will be in grave danger."

Reina's first dream implied that Sylva, at least, would not have survived the attack. He could not have said what fate awaited Lunafreya or Ravus, should the events of Reina's nightmares come to pass.

"As soon as it is safe to do so, I will explain everything to you," Regis said. "But at this moment, you must come along quietly. I fear saying goodbye to Princess Lunafreya is quite out of the question."

Tears built in Noctis' eyes. Regis wiped them away before they fell, hating that he was the cause. But it was the best way he could see to keep everyone safe.

"Come along, now." He rose to his feet and lifted Noctis into his arms. "Reina is already waiting for us."

"Will I ever see Luna again?" Noctis asked as they made for the door.

"I have no doubt, my son. A king and his oracle are entwined by fate."

In the room next door, Clarus, Cor, and Reina were all waiting with the bags. It was something of a stretched to carry everything in one trip; on the way up, they had the aid of the household staff and a wheelchair. Now they had neither of those things. But they managed all the same, leaving behind nothing save a single, sealed note, addressed to Sylva, on Regis' nightstand. It would explain as much as he dared to put into words.

They hurried to the car, picking their way cautiously down the broken and uneven path in the dark with only moonlight to guide their way. And they stole away, as thieves or spies, with little to suggest they had been in Tenebrae at all.

The night swallowed them up. In spite of the dangers, Cor kept the headlights switched off. They had no reason to suspect that the imperials would attack Tenebrae early, but they also had no reason to suspect they would not be watching Fenestala. He drove slower for the lack of light, but if it prevented their detection it would be worth the extra delay.

In the seat beside Regis, Reina and Noctis huddled together. Regis pulled off his coat and covered the two of them with it. He leaned forward in his seat and stared through the front window, wincing each time the engine growled or shadows flickered in the forest. On either side of him, Clarus and Cor were equally as tense; it showed in the strain of Cor's hands on the wheel and the way Clarus turned his head this way and that, keeping the widest range of their surroundings visible at all times. A flight through the night in Niflheim was not quite the departure any of them had initially planned for. But they had known for a week that it was what this would come down to.

"Dad…" Noctis' voice was tiny with a tiny catch. "What's going on?"

Regis looked back at the twins and hesitated. Telling Noctis would only leave him more concerned, doubtless. He was already terrified, if only due to the tension of everyone else in the car. Small wonder. When adults were afraid, it frightened their children.

He settled on a—hopefully—comforting half-truth. "We must leave Tenebrae under the cover of dark, but that does leave us vulnerable from other sides. You have nothing to fear, however. If anything or anyone should come after us, I will protect you both."

Noctis did not need to know that the particular threat they were concerned with came from daemons. He had enough experience with them to last to adulthood. And enough trauma.

He reached back to ruffle Noctis' hair, managing a smile for him, and caught Reina's eye. She stared at him with that unsettling endless gaze. For a moment he feared she might tell Noctis more. He raised his eyebrows at her, a silent warning to keep her word. She blinked slowly and it was almost a nod. It was certainly ascent. He turned back around to keep watch.

At the pace Cor set through the dark, it took them twice the time to reach the shore. All the while, they stretched their nerves tight enough to hum when plucked. Every tree branch that stretched out across the road was a daemonic hand reaching for them. Every rustle of the wind was a burst of miasma to summon a daemon.

But nothing crossed their path. And, so far as any of them could tell, they reached Regis' boat completely unobserved.

Dawn broke over the ocean. It was a welcome sight, seeing the sky pale and grow blue by parts, and all of them breathed more easily for the light. On the open deck of Regis' boat, Noctis dozed, still wrapped in his coat. Regis sat beside him, content to be used as a pillow. Much as he wished to do the same, he could not afford to let his watchfulness lapse. Reina sat on his other side with her knees tucked under her chin and her arms wrapped around her legs, very much awake. She had been nearly as reluctant to sleep this past week as Noctis had in the weeks before. Perhaps she feared more Dreams.

On the ocean, they had no cover to hide their passage. Cor set a course as directly as he could for Caem. If any islands had stood between Tenebrae and Lucis, they might have skirted around them as some form of camouflage, but nothing save open ocean separated them from home.

As the sun climbed higher in the sky, Regis found his mind wandering back to Tenebrae. Had the imperials arrived, yet? Had Sylva taken his note to heart and seen to the safety of her family and people? Would the Magitek soldiers wreak havoc on Tenebrae, in spite of not finding the Lucian royals? He found no answers in his musings. Only more questions. It could be weeks before he learned the truth of what happened at Fenestala today.

At long last, Lucis was visible on the horizon—a thin line of rock and trees breaking the monotony of the sea. It stretched in every direction, resolving from a rough patch into concrete land until Caem itself was visible. Regis let out a breath as he leaned back in his seat. It might not have been the safety of the Crown City, but at least Lucis' harbors offered more refuge than either Niflheim or the sea had. From Caem, they had only to cut across his own lands during the day, fearing no daemons; even imperial attacks on their own soil were unlikely. Here, Niflheim would face the whole kingdom of Lucis rather than three royals displaced from their home.

In the half hour left of their journey, Regis dozed, feeling more at ease than he had in weeks.

Chapter Text

The harbor was deserted when they arrived. That should have been hint enough that something was amiss. While it was true that they were not expected, the residents of Caem manned the lighthouse full time for fishing ships and military vessels. Someone should have been present.

Instead of making the sensible choice and casting off as soon as they found themselves in an abandoned lighthouse, they tied off and climbed out of the boat. Regis lifted Noctis into his arms; he couldn't manage to do so without waking him. Noct wasn't as light as he had been eight years ago. Or Regis wasn't as strong. Or both.

Clarus took the stairs first with Cor on his heel and Regis following with Noctis. Reina trailed after them, holding onto Regis' belt, as he had no hands to spare for her.

"Where the hell is everyone?" Cor muttered under his breath. He glanced over his shoulder, as if expecting to find imperials advancing from behind.

Clarus held a finger to his lips but exchanged a nod with Regis. He pressed his back to the stair rail and drew his sword, advancing one step at a time. No sooner had Regis put one foot on the bottom stair than Reina tugged at his belt. She stood behind him, feet planted, eyes wide with fear.

"Don't go up there, Father!" She whispered urgently.

He put his foot back on solid ground, turning to face her. "What is it, Reina?"

"It feels bad."

Feels bad. Just like the night Noctis had been attacked.

"Clarus—"

The top of the stairwell exploded.

Clarus was thrown backward, tumbling down the stairs until he hit Cor. Regis winced and turned his back with no hands free to cast a shield. He covered Reina and Noctis—as well as he could—with his own body. He couldn't fight while he held Noct. He couldn't protect them.

"Back to the boat," Regis ordered. "Reina, I need you to take your brother."

She was shorter and of slighter build than Noctis, but she turned her back readily and let Noctis cling to her like a backpack. The sound of armored footsteps began a steady descent down the metal stairs.

"Go, Reina! Back to the boat. I will be right behind you."

Though she gave him a lingering look of fear, she did as he said. Regis turned and summoned the Armiger as Clarus and Cor backed down the stairs in front of him. Clarus' clothes were singed and one side of his face was badly burned, but he held firm to his sword nevertheless.

The heavy footsteps rounded the turn in the stairs. A towering man in Magitek armor stood staring down at them through a faceless mask.

"General Glauca," Regis said.

A hundred questions sprang to mind: had he simply been waiting here for them? Had he been part of the attacking imperials in Niflheim, but had arrived in Caem ahead of them once he realized they had fled? How had he known they would come to Caem at all?

No time to wonder. Glauca lunged with his massive blade held aloft. His feet never seemed to touch the ground. In a whir of Magitek energy, he glided down the stairs and closed the distance between them. Regis threw forward all six of his blades to catch the incoming blow. It narrowly avoided cleaving Clarus and Cor in two. Though they stood with swords drawn before him, Regis had little doubt they could not face this foe in a contest of strength. For every instant that Glauca pushed against him, Regis doubt drained away farther. The might of the Armiger could stand against Glauca's Magitek, but his Magitek-augmented strength was too much for any one man to contend with.

"Go!" Regis shouted. "Protect my children."

They wasted precious time exchanging a glance.

"Regis—" Clarus began.

"Go! If you value any of our lives, go."

They fled, ducking beneath his blades and darting around him while Regis struggled to hold Glauca at bay. It was not physical strength he expended to do so, but magical strength. Nevertheless, the result would be the same, in the end. If he survived it. His body screamed with the effort as he collected every bit of unused willpower and threw it behind his blades, thrusting Glauca back and throwing him against the wall. Regis threw the Armiger after him. They imbedded—half in his suit, half in the wall—pinning him for a time. Regis didn't wait to see how long it would last. He turned and fled to the boat. Perhaps he could have eliminated Glauca altogether, but he wasn't going to find out while his children were in danger.

Cor had the motor of the boat started already. Noctis sat on one of the couches, inching closer and closer to the edge with every passing second. Reina stood at the edge of the ship, only prevented from jumping over by Clarus' firm hand on her shoulder.

"Father!" She screamed, hands clutched to her chest. "Look out!"

He registered her warning too late. The shield was still building in his mind and Glauca's blade cut through, shattering it and cleaving the flesh across his shoulder and back. Everyone on board was screaming, but Regis had ceased to register words or meaning. He called back the Armiger and they came as Glauca's blade rose up in the air once more. Later he would pay the price for so much magic. For now he threw his strength behind them and held Glauca at bay.

Another sword flew in from Regis' right, catching Glauca across the side and sending red sparks showering across the ground. Glauca turned and swung at Clarus instead, forcing Regis to adjust his hold on the Armiger. Clarus deflected the blow rather than trying to catch it with his blade; it slid off the edge and hit the wall.

"I told you to protect my children!"

"I am!"

They could debate the technicalities of disobeying orders later. Regis took advantage of Glauca's momentary imbalance and swung all six blades for him at once. They struck, one after another, though they seemed only to slide harmlessly off his Magitek armor. If blades could not piece his hide, perhaps he would fare less well against magic.

Regis gathered a handful of lightning, focused it into a lance, and thrust it at Glauca's chest. He was flung backward, lightning crackling over his armor and, for the first time, Regis heard a groan of pain from him. So there was a man underneath, after all. No time to find out who. Clarus seized his arm and jerked him toward the ship.

They ran.

"Cor! Let's go!" Clarus shouted.

The boat was already moving when they reach it. Clarus pushed Regis aboard first, where Reina and Noctis were both waiting wide-eyed and terrified. He turned to haul Clarus up afterward.

"Reina, take Noctis below deck," Regis ordered. "Clarus—" He reached out for Clarus, letting the Armiger fade away, to touch Clarus' burned skin, but Clarus knocked his hand away.

"Don't you dare," Clarus said. "I've seen what that does to you. Spend your strength on getting us out of here alive."

Back on the harbor, Glauca was climbing to his feet. His armor was smoking from the bite of Regis' lightning, but he was still moving. He picked up his blade and started toward them again. The boat was picking up speed, but not fast enough. Regis put one foot on the bow of the boat and reached for his elemancy once more. This time he drew more lightning, enough to fill both hands and then some. He struggled to hold onto it as it fought against him. But he needed the right moment. Bulky Glauca may have been, but Regis wasn't willing to test how nimbly he could move in that suit. Not today, in any case.

The boat passed the edge of the harbor just as Glauca reach it. He leapt and Magitek glowed from within his suit, propelling him much higher in the air than any man could have jumped. Regis released his lightning. It hit Glauca square in the chest and exploded across his Magitek suit. The blast was enough to knock him back to the ground, though it was anyone's guess how long he would remain there.

"Faster, Cor!" Regis shouted as the engine roared beneath the deck. "Take us out of here!"

The boat lurched beneath his feet and Regis had to throw out a hand to steady himself. He kept his eyes fixed on Caem's harbor and gathered another handful of lightning, just in case. By the time Glauca climbed to his feet, he was only a few inches tall in Regis' view. He walked to the edge and stared after them, as if considering his possibilities. Then he turned and walked back the way he had come.

Regis let out a breath.

"Are you alright?" Clarus asked.

"I suspect I will survive." Regis winced as he reached over his shoulder to touch his back. His fingers came away wet with blood. His whole back was afire. "And you?"

"The same," Clarus said. "You should get the bandaged up."

Regis made a noncommittal noise. He could have said the same to Clarus.

"He may try to meet us outside Insomnia," Clarus said after a moment.

"He may," Regis agreed. "But we are within radio contact, now. Let them know we are coming. And have the Kingsglaive prepared, in case of incident."

"Of course." Clarus turned and walked stiffly toward the helm. It wasn't until then that Regis noticed not only his face had sustained burns. The whole right side of his body was singed, with large holes burned straight through his clothes into his skin. And he uttered not a word of complaint.

Oh, Clarus. If only he would have allowed Regis to do something for him. But he was right. The healing would drain too much, and they weren't safe, yet. Further, they had no idea what else General Glauca was capable of.

For now, at least, they had enough space to breathe in. Regis retreated below deck to find Reina and Noctis huddled up in the lounge there, clinging to each other as if they were the other's lifeline. When Regis appeared on the stairs, however, Reina leapt to her feet and ran to him.

"Father!"

"Dad!"

Reina flung herself at his legs, tears streaming silent down her cheeks.

"There, now…" Regis scooped her up into his arms. "Everything is alright. Everyone is safe."

Regis carried her back to the sofa and sat down with her in his lap, taking care to sit very straight, as his back reminded him of the blow he had taken.

"What was that, Dad?" Noctis asked.

"That was a man—I believe—by the name of General Glauca, wearing a suit of Magitek armor."

Reina climbed off his lap and knelt on the sofa beside him. "You're hurt!"

Noctis turned to look as well. Regis winced, leaning forward to put his elbows on his knees. "I will be fine."

The look she gave him was heartbreaking. Regis sighed. "I believe there is a first aid kit under the sink."

She hastened to retrieve it for him. When she returned, he stripped to the waist and made a poor attempt at cleaning up the blood. The cut ran diagonally across his back and between his shoulder blades. Even trying to reach it was painful. He might have asked for help, but Clarus and Cor both had other responsibilities to contend with—and he wanted as many eyes on the sky as possible.

Reina watched him sharply and winced whenever he winced. Noctis looked between the two of them. Finally she reached out and grabbed the bloodied towel with both hands, as Regis tried to dab blood away.

"I can do things," she said. "Just tell me what."

"Reina, you do not—" He stopped himself and truly looked at her. The look on her face was concern and hurt and reprimand. He knew what it felt like to watch someone suffer and be unable to do anything about it. She was only eight. But he could use an extra pair of hands, no matter how small.

He sighed and released the towel, facing forward and putting his elbows on his knees. "To slow the bleeding, you must apply pressure all along the cut. Can you do that?"

"Yes, Father." She shifted so she stood on the sofa behind him. The towel stretched across his back and he felt the press of her palms between his shoulder blades.

"A little more firmly." Regis winced. "There. Just so. Make sure you have all of it, and then do not move."

It took much longer than it might have with Clarus helping him, but Reina was excellent at following instructions, provided that Regis could explain in clear detail exactly what he needed her to do. In the end, he was bandaged—if not adeptly, then at least lovingly—around his back and chest and the burning pain was subsiding to a dull throb.

Reina was covered in his blood.

Regis leaned gingerly back on the sofa, careful to let only the un-bandaged portion of his back touch. She sat forward, staring at her blood-streaked hands and arms.

"Go and wash up, my dear."

She blinked slowly, closed her hands into fists and opened them again, watching the blood smear between her fingers.

"Reina…?" Regis leaned forward to touch her back. "Do you need help?"

She seemed not to even hear him.

"If I had Dreamed again… I would have seen this," she said. "You wouldn't have been hurt."

The fact hadn't crossed his mind, before, but it sank in with certainty, now. More heavy was the weight of what that knowledge would do to her.

"Reina," he said firmly. "Look at me, Reina. This is not your fault. Do you understand me?"

She turned to look at him. "I could have Dreamed. I did it once, I was just scared. But now you're hurt and—" Her eyes flicked toward the stairs. "—And Master Amicitia is hurt."

Regis turned to find Clarus standing at the bottom of the stairs, looking as if he had just arrived but was intent on not interrupting the conversation.

"I'm still scared, but I think I can be brave," Reina said. "I don't want anyone else to get hurt."

Regis had no words to give her. He leaned forward and kissed her hair. "We'll speak of this later. Now go get cleaned up."

Clarus approached as she hopped off the sofa and went back to the sink behind the wet bar.

"I see you managed, after all," Clarus said.

"I had help." Regis nodded toward Reina. "And you? Ready to submit yourself to the same?"

"I only came down to tell you we've been in touch with Insomnia. The Kingsglaive is out in the field at the moment, but word has been sent to recall them immediately." Clarus sighed. "But I suppose you're right. It's several hours, still, to Insomnia. I'd rather not have burns and an infection."

"And people call you stubborn." Regis leaned forward and began sifting through the first aid kit, searching for something he could sink his magic into. This way of healing, at least, was less burdensome.

"I pride myself in being less stubborn than you."

"Sit down, you old fool."

Clarus gave him a lopsided smile, which turned into a wince, and sat down in Reina's vacated spot. Regis managed to turn up some old burn cream, though he had no notion of when the boat had been restocked. It might have been decades old, by now. Nevertheless, he began the process of enchanting it with healing magic, grasping the tendrils of his magic and weaving them into the cream to turn it into something of a poultice, which would accelerate the natural healing process. When he unscrewed the lid on the jar and turned back to Clarus, it was to find Clarus watching him disapprovingly.

"This form of healing does not cost me near as much," Regis responded to his unspoken worry. "In return, it is not nearly so effective."

Any further objections Clarus had were swallowed as Reina returned to sit with them. She sat with Noctis, but Regis could feel her eyes on him as he worked with Clarus' burns. Guilt was eating her up. Guilt that Regis had no way of reaching to dismantle. Would she ever believe that this hadn't been her fault? The fact was that she might have been able to prevent it, if she had been able to control her foresight well enough. And if she had been willing. But the same might have been said of Regis, if he had been willing to press her to look ahead once more. No, it was not her fault, preventable or not.

It took the better part of fifteen minutes to bandage Clarus' burns to the best of his ability. It was near impossible to put bandages on only one side of his face, so they did without and trusted that Regis' magic would take hold soon enough. When that was through, they both returned to the deck of the boat, though it took some convincing to keep Reina and Noctis below.

Cor had no more news from them. Nothing new had been heard from Insomnia in Clarus' absence and General Glauca had not made his whereabouts known. Much as Regis prefered to know where his enemies were, he would have been content not to meet face-to-face with Glauca again for some time.

The day wore away. Insomnia was halfway around Lucis, which meant they were forced to follow the perimeter all the way around the continent. The route was several hours longer than driving straight across the kingdom. Nevertheless, though his body was beginning to ache with weariness, Regis remained alert. He paced the length of the boat to keep from becoming drowsy.

Down below, Reina and Noctis were a different matter altogether. He made a point of checking in on them regularly; around midday he found them both curled up on the sofa, fast asleep. He smiled and left them to their peace. They had hardly slept more than he had in the past day.

By the time they had rounded the eastern edge of Lucis and caught sight of the bridge that connected the Crown City to the mainland, the sky was golden with dusk. They had been in touch with Insomnia once more since their departure from Caem; the Kingsglaive had been recalled and would await them on the shores of Cavaugh. So far, no imperial crafts had been spotted in the vicinity.

As they neared the shore, Clarus stepped downstairs to wake Reina and Noctis while Regis remained at the bow of the boat, keeping a sharp eye on the surrounding inlets. It might have been difficult to hide an entire Magitek transport from view of the city, but one man in a Magitek suit could still pose a substantial threat to them. As they had learned in Caem. Glauca was not to be underestimated.

Against all odds, nothing of note came to pass. Though Captain Drautos himself was not present, a dozen Kingsglaive awaited them on the shore of Cavaugh, taking charge of Regis' boat and escorting them and the Regalia back inside the Crown City.

That, in itself, was suspicious. Why would Glauca not give chase? Why would he allow them to escape his grasp after so boldly declaring that Niflheim would take over Lucis with ease? More questions for another time. He had enough of those, now, to fill whole tomes.

Chapter Text

After weeks spent fearing for Noctis' life and subsequently planning their opportune escape from Tenebrae under Niflheim's nose, it was jarring to be back in the Citadel and behind the Wall, where physical threats were distant and the likelihood of being overheard by imperial spies was slim. That wasn't to say that life in Insomnia was without its challenges, however.

"As per your instructions, Your Majesty, I have arranged for a new nanny for the prince and princess." Avun gave his report on relevant domestic matters over dinner on the night of their return.

Being eager to return his children to their regular schedule, Regis had elected to have their evening meal in the dining room in spite of the exceedingly long day they had all shared. Noctis surprised no one by picking vegetables out of his soup and leaving them on his plate. Reina, however, did little more than push her food around her plate unless Regis actively coaxed her to eat.

"I trust you have chosen someone reputable," Regis said.

"She comes with the highest recommendations, Sire. A woman by the name of Sandre. I hope you will find her acceptable."

"Indeed," Regis said. "I suppose we shall see."

Reina lifted a spoonful of soup and let it fall back into her bowl. Whoever this woman was, he hoped she could cope with everything that ailed Reina and Noctis. They had been through a great deal in the past few weeks. He didn't even know where to begin putting them right.

In Tenebrae, Regis had grown accustomed to being the sole caretaker of his children. And so, though he had weeks of work to catch up on and because their new nanny was not due to arrive until the following day, Regis tucked them into bed and read them a bedtime story, himself. It was difficult to hold the book and turn the pages while Reina insisted on holding his hand throughout, but they managed nevertheless.

Once they had dropped off to sleep, he sat in silence in the dim light of their room for a time. The desk in his study was doubtless piled high with matters that needed his attention, but, then again, they had not expected him back for another week at least. Surely those matters could wait until morning, given that he hadn't slept in two days.

Sleep. Yes. Sleep sounded wonderful.

He slipped his fingers from Reina's grasp—or he tried to, but her hold only tightened. She opened her eyes and regarded him seriously, without a trace of grogginess.

"You were meant to be sleeping," Regis whispered, leaning forward in his chair.

"What if I Dream?" She asked.

"Then I shall wake you, my dear."

"How will you know?"

"I suppose you shall have to tell me." He squeezed her hand. "If anything ever goes awry, call out to me and I shall bring you back."

"But what if nothing happens for a long time? I can't tell when I'm Dreaming… It just feels like normal."

She posed questions he had no answers for. He should have. Fathers were meant to have all the answers, but he simply didn't know enough about her Dreams to offer any sort of assurance. He should have been able to tell her everything would turn out fine if she went to sleep. He couldn't.

But he did know, at least, what her magic looked like from the outside when she was lost in a Dream. She had gone into the In-Between and, somehow, from there, experienced the future. And so he would simply have to prevent her from leaving her body until they were prepared to deal with the other questions.

Regis gave her a tight smile. "I believe it will be safest if we prevent you from Dreaming entirely."

"You can do that?" Her eyes widened.

"I believe so." He held out his other hand to her. "Come along, then. It will be simpler if you sleep in my room tonight."

Reina took his hand readily and allowed him to lift her out of her bed. They left Noctis to his rest—ever since Tenebrae he seemed to have little trouble sleeping anywhere at all—and retired instead to Regis' rooms.

It was not an exercise Regis had ever attempted before, but the premise was simple enough. She simply needed to be barred from the In-Between; given that she had no magical training and seemed to be falling in quite on accident, he could build a wall of sorts to keep her out and she would have no way to break through it. Indeed, she might not notice it existed at all, save that, as a result she could not Dream. In theory, at least.

She curled up against his chest. Regis wrapped an arm around her and reached for the core of her magic. No sooner had he touched his magic to hers, however, than he was struck with an immediate sensation of wrongness.

Peculiar. Regis' own connection with his body was as a ball in a socket; with some effort he could pop out of his body and cross the veil, where he could speak with the Lucii. Reina's soul, however, was as a ball in an indentation. The slightest nudge this way or that sent her rolling out along the path of least resistance—always toward the In-Between. Only consciousness kept her upright and contained.

In the few moments it had taken for him to look over her core, she had begun to fall asleep. And as she fell, her hold on the physical slipped. Her soul dislodged from her body and drift inexorably toward the In-Between, as if the only thing that kept her in the physical realm was a conscious, waking attempt to remain in her body.

Regis caught her before she crossed the veil. He pulled her back to her physical form and she went willingly, like a sleepwalker turned about and directed back to bed. Even so, she would not remain; as soon as he released her she began to drift once more, forcing him to pull her back and hold her in place.

He moved closer, studying the connection between body and soul as he held her in place. And there he found the reason hers was so different from his.

Her natural bonds to her body been broken—blasted open, by appearances. A messy and spontaneous tear. Indeed, it appeared so recent that it was practically raw. If it had been a physical injury, he had no doubt it would have been excruciating, but he had no notion what the equivalent metaphysical sensation must have been. She hadn't complained of pain and yet, she might not even have recognized it as such. And he had never met a more stoic eight year old.

He made a note to investigate what, if anything, Reina felt from this more recent tear. For now, he could do little more than ensure her sleep remained restful. He bound her gently in place with his own magic, ensuring two things: first, that she would remain in place unless she actively tried to escape her body, and secondly that he would immediately know if she did. That would have to be sufficient for now.

In spite of his exhaustion, it took Regis a long time to fall asleep. When he finally did drift off, he was haunted by unanswered questions and problems he couldn't solve.

In spite of Regis' accrued hours of sleep deprivation, he woke, as was his custom, with the dawn. Reina was still curled up in his arms asleep—and well contained by his magic. No sooner had he begun to extricate his arms, however, than she stirred. She must have inherited his good genes of being utterly incapable of sleeping through anything at all.

"Good morning, my dear." He smoothed her tangled hair back from her face. It never ceased to amaze him how rapidly long hair spawned tangles. She could do nothing at all and it would be tangled in an hour. How did she ever keep it neat?

"Good morning, Father." She beamed up at him.

"No Dreams?" He asked, though he already knew the answer.

Her smiled deepened and she shook her head. "Mm-mm."

"Excellent," Regis said. "Then I believe we have solved one problem, at least. Provided that you keep your promise and do not try to see ahead without my supervision, we should be able to prevent accidental Dreams."

"Can I sleep in your bed every night?" She asked.

Regis chuckled and kissed her forehead. "We shall see, little Princess. We shall see."

He considered her a moment, gratified to find her bright-eyed and high-spirited as she had not been in weeks, before he remembered the question he had meant to ask her.

"Reina, my dear," he said. "Are you in any pain?"

She blinked at him. "No, Father."

"I do not mean in the traditional sense." He struggled to find words to describe what he truly meant. "It would be a sensation much deeper than, for instance, a cut or a bruise."

She shook her head. "I don't think so…"

Eventually he resolved to show, rather then explain. He reached out his magic to hers and touched the place where her bonds to her physical form were torn wide open.

Reina cried out and squirmed in his arms.

Regis released her. "So sorry, my dear—I only meant to show you where to look."

She stared wide-eyed and open-mouthed up at him for a long moment before leaning closer and burying her face in his chest. He wrapped his arms around her again, cursing himself for his lack of foresight. What he had done was akin to prodding an open wound. Who would do that to a child on purpose?

"It doesn't hurt…" She said after a time. "It just feels…"

He let her search for the words without interruption. Finally she looked up at him.

"You know how you feel when you're standing in front of everyone for a recital and everyone is looking at you and you're going to forget all the notes and everything?" She asked. "Right here?" She pointed to her stomach.

"Nervous?" Regis asked.

She nodded. "It feels like that. Except spikier."

"Anxiety," Regis suggested. "Or panic, perhaps. Is that akin to what you felt before Noctis was attacked?"

"Mmhm."

"And the rest of the time, when nothing is amiss and I am not being exceedingly ill-mannered, how does it feel?"

"Less spiky."

But ever-present. Not, by any stretch, a sensation he would willingly submit his daughter to for an indefinite amount of time. Small wonder she had little desire to sleep at night.

"Is it going to go away?" She asked.

"I believe it will heal on its own, yes," Regis said. The possibility that she would live with that sensation on and off for the rest of her life was not one he wished to plant in her mind. "For now, we shall simply have to tread carefully."

Regis' habit of rising with the dawn combined with Noctis' habit of sleeping in late meant they were both back in Noct and Reina's room before Noctis had noticed Reina missing at all. Regis had them both up, dressed, and prepared to descend for breakfast when their new nanny arrived. She seemed a good sort and neither Noctis nor Reina had any immediate objections to her—beyond Reina's usual reluctance to let him out of her sight, which seemed more prevalent the past week—so Regis left them in her capable hands following breakfast and went to his study to find the inevitable pile of papers waiting for him. It was soon supplemented by a long line of people.

Results from the Kingsglaive's search of the outskirts of Insomnia had arrived while he was in Tenebrae: a tunnel ran beneath the wall and connected with the northeastern cliffs outside the city. It was a few questions answered: they knew, now, how the daemon had gained entrance and also why Niflheim had showed so much interest in that region in the years before. But for every question it answered, it spawned two more. How had they managed to dig a tunnel underneath the wall without anyone inside the wiser? For all the reports were inconclusive as to whether or not the tunnel had occurred naturally and the hole formed through natural erosion at the surface, it seemed too convenient to be likely, to Regis. Furthermore, how had their own search of that area revealed no such tunnels—nor even caves—running in from the cliffs? It made no sense. Captain Drautos had searched that area, himself, more than once.

Correspondence with Tenebrae remained, as of yet, unanswered. So Regis was left to review and ratify those official decisions that had been made in his absence or give some ruling on matters that had been unsettled.

The work filled up every spare moment of his day; Regis didn't even notice he had missed lunch until Avun arrived with a lunch tray. It seemed less than an hour later that it was full dark outside.

And he hadn't seen his children since breakfast.

In spite of the pile of work still awaiting his judgement, he pulled himself away and went to them. It was past dinner. Indeed, it was past bedtime, but he found Noctis and Reina, both cuddled up in Noctis' bed with the lights on, very much awake.

Regis stopped in the doorway, wondering at his own sense of time, and glanced at the clock to make certain it was truly as late as he thought it was.

"I do believe you are meant to be asleep at bedtime," he said.

"Noct doesn't like the dark," Reina said.

"I see. And yet, you did sleep last night with the nightlight on, Noctis."

"We need a bedtime story," Noctis said.

"Is that so?" Regis pulled up his usual chair into the corner between their beds and sat down. "Did Miss Sandre not tell you one?"

Both twins shook their heads.

"Did you ask?"

Again, they shook their heads.

"We don't like her," Reina said.

Regis raised his eyebrows. "And why is that?"

"She made me leave Noct," Reina said. "She said I had to go to school because I wasn't hurt and only Noct could stay home."

That was not precisely what he had intended when he had said he wished Noctis to have time to recover from his injuries.

"Did you tell her you wished to stay?" Regis asked, brow furrowing.

Reina nodded.

"Avun." Regis turned to call over his shoulder toward the open door.

Avunculus appeared within a second. "Yes, Sire?"

"Fire Sandre. Find a new nanny."

He paled a shade. "Of course, Sire." He bowed. "Might I ask what she has done…?"

"You might ensure that the next one you hire takes my children seriously. Children they may be, but the fate of Lucis rests on their shoulders. They are the prince and princess. See that they are treated as such."

"Of course, Sire." He bowed again, then disappeared.

Regis turned back to his children, setting aside his displeasure and focusing on them. "Now, then. A bedtime story, is it? What would you like to hear?"

Somehow they convinced him to sit in Noct's bed with them. By the end of the tale—which was, so far as Regis could tell, not about anything at all, but consisted of him attempting to turn their many plot suggestions into a coherent story—both of them were laying half across his lap, tangled up and fast asleep.

He stared at the slowly rotating night light, which projected a blue starry sky across the whole room, for a full ten minutes before accepting that he was not going to be able to get up without waking them. So reluctantly bid farewell to his hopes for a hot shower, tossed his coat and tie across the chair beside the bed, and settled himself more comfortably between the pair of them. Reina stirred, as he had known she would, but was content enough to snuggle up with her arms around his neck and her head on his shoulder and fall back asleep.

He had slept in more comfortable positions in his life. But, in the end, happy children were well worth the trade-off of a hot shower at night for a hurried one in the morning.

He forgot that, having fired their nanny that night, he would have no one to pass them off to in the morning for the purpose of taking a hurried shower at all. Thankfully they were old enough, by now, to mostly occupy themselves.

Even so, it was a peculiar day. Reina and Noctis were both out of school until Noctis was recovered. Regis had work of his own to see to, but was also reluctant to leave them entirely alone. Ignis had school of his own until the afternoon, and so they were forced to improvise. While Regis worked, Reina and Noctis occupied themselves quietly in his office. They had school work to do and they attended to that, for a time. While it was somewhat distracted to have them present, they never failed to bring a smile to his face, simply by being. More than once Regis looked up to find them with their heads together over the coffee table, quietly discussing whatever was written in their books.

When Ignis returned from his lessons, he took charge of Noctis—who was all too happy to go somewhere more interesting. Reina, however, dragged her feet.

"Would you prefer to stay here?" Regis asked.

Reina brightened in an instant. She looked up at him and nodded.

It made no sense that she would prefer to remain cooped up inside with him when she could have been going on some adventure with Noctis and Ignis. Nevertheless, if that was what she wanted, that was what she would have.

She remained. While Regis sifted through the piles of paper that had accrued in their absence, Reina lay prone across his sofa, kicking her feet contentedly as she read whatever book she had brought from upstairs. Every so often she hummed half-recognizable bits of music to herself, as if she had forgotten she was doing so at all. He could not fathom why simply being in his presence could make her so content. Then he caught himself watching her with a smile on his lips and realized it did much the same for him.

It always had.

Chapter Text

By the following day, Avunculus had arranged for someone else to see to the twins during the day and—in theory—all Regis needed to do was leave them in his hands and go about his business. In practice it was more easily said than done. Most things were, he had found.

The introduction went about as expected: Noctis refused to make eye contact but mumbled a greeting when prompted to do so. Reina stared up at their new nanny with a more piercing gaze than any eight year old had any right possessing, and greeted him without needing to be told, but with more hostility than warmth in her tone. She also forced Regis to break her grasp on his hand before he could leave at all. He promised them he would see them as soon as possible—they all knew it was an empty promise—and made his escape.

His office felt more empty for their absence. He was almost inclined to nix the need for a nanny at all and insist they could stay with him until Ignis arrived every day but, while Reina might have been content to do nothing save sit quietly for hours at a time, Noctis would have wanted out—even if he never admitted it. And it was better for the two of them to remain together.

He dragged through the day. Around lunch time, word came from Tenebrae at long last. The letter, penned in Sylva's hand, read as follows:

King Regis,

I must offer my most sincere gratitude for your timely warning. As you said, the imperial forces arrived in the morning and swept through Tenebrae, searching for any trace of you. It is only due to your advance warning that we were able to minimize panic and prevent any casualties. I had little choice but to allow a full search of Fenestala, though I did so reluctantly, fearing that once inside the imperials would be unlikely to leave again. When they found no trace of you and yours, however, they left immediately in force. I pray that they were delayed for long enough and you did not encounter them along your return trip.

I know not how you gained advance knowledge of this attack, but I thank whatever providence brought it to you. On your information, my children are safe and my home is whole. I hope the same can be said of you and yours. I cannot imagine where the empire gained its information of your stay. I can only swear that none of mine would have compromised your safety in any way.

Faithfully yours,

Sylva Nox Fleuret

Regis read it over twice before handing it to Clarus. Clarus' eyes swept the note and a furrow formed between his brows.

"You told her nothing of Reina's future-dreams?" He asked.

"I told her of my suspicions before. She had no inclination to believe that such foresight was possible."

What she did believe was that Reina was an expendable spare—the King of Light's sister and therefore nothing, in her own right. Regis clenched his hands on his armrests. Had he been a more spiteful man, he would have left no note.

"Admittedly, before the first of the dreams, your suspicions were on thin ice," Clarus said.

"Suffice it to say we shared words on less than friendly terms," Regis said.

"I see." Clarus glanced over the note again. "Well, you might add the lives of the Nox Fleuret's to Reina's ever-growing list of credits."

"Indeed." Regis pursed his lips and tapped his fingers on the arm of his chair.

Clarus cleared his throat. "You still don't intend to let her use this, do you?"

Regis avoided his gaze and stared resolutely out the window. The temptation to press Reina to look into the future and learn everything she could possibly learn was high. It also disturbed him to no end.

"She wants to help," Clarus said softly.

"She is eight years old, Clarus. Need I remind you that her first Dream witnessed the fall of Tenebrae in a blaze of fire. She still has nightmares about that, even when she is not looking ahead. What other horrors would you have her witness?"

"If she witnesses them in her Dreams then she would have witnessed them in her future," Clarus said. "The only difference is that you could prevent her from ever truly living through those things."

"Do you truly believe it matters? To her, Tenebrae did fall to Niflheim while we were present. She lived it. It was not a mere dream to her," Regis said. "And if she were to reach further and stretch for greater future risks, she would undoubtedly experience far worse than she otherwise would be subjected to."

"You cannot protect her forever."

Regis brought his fist down on his desk, sending a reverberating thump through the wood. "You think I am ignorant of this fact? Each minute of each day I am reminded that my son is to be torn from my grasp to serve a higher purpose and there is nothing I can do to stop it! Must the same be true of my daughter?"

He glared across the desk at Clarus, half out of his chair, while Clarus met his gaze levelly. A minute passed before Clarus sighed and lowered his eyes.

"I understand the need to protect your children as much as the next father. It is bad it enough to pledge my own son as Shield to the Chosen King. Gods know what I would do if our places were reversed… or if my Iris was forced to follow the same path." He turned to gaze out the window, but the faraway look in his eyes said he saw nothing of the city outside. "Everyday you must choose between what is best for Lucis and what is best for your kingdom. With Noctis that choice was stolen away from you. And so I counsel not that you should sacrifice Reina's wellbeing for that of the kingdom, but that you should more deeply consider what will be best for her, in the long run. Do not fool yourself into believing that being sheltered from this will benefit her, merely because it makes you feel a more competent father."

Before Regis could even begin to compose a response, someone knocked at the door.

"Enter."

"Your Majesty." Avun appeared in the doorway. "So sorry to interrupt, Sire, but I've received word that Mr Dalmas has… ah… lost track of the prince and princess?"

"Lost track?" Regis rose from his desk.

"It would seem they have disappeared." Avun backed out of the doorway, though Regis hadn't moved a step.

"How the hell—?" Clarus took a step forward, then stopped and reached for his phone. "They could be anywhere. I'll summon Cor—"

Regis lifted a hand. "No, Clarus. They are within the Citadel. In fact, if I am not very much mistaken, they are still in the upper levels."

When he had bound Reina to her physical self with his magic, he had not anticipated using that link to learn where she was. Nevertheless, it did have that benefit.

"Come." Regis stepped out the door, which Avun had already vacated, and set a course toward the royal quarters.

"I am so sorry, Your Majesty," Avun said as they walked. "It seems I have blundered twice in as many days, attempting to find a suitable caretaker for the prince and princess."

"I do not blame you, Avun," Regis said. Though he was beginning to wonder if Reina and Noctis weren't intentionally causing trouble for their caretakers.

He followed the line of magic that bound him to Reina; it led them through the royal lounge and into the private library. A small balcony connected the library to the world outside, though the blinds were most often drawn and closing the doors from view. All the other windows in the library were tall and narrow—allowing in light, but little by way of view of the balcony. And yet, when Regis pushed aside the blinds, it was with little surprise that he found Reina and Noctis sitting outside, legs dangling as they hugged the railing.

Noctis and Reina turned when he opened the doors.

"Hello, Father." Reina smiled.

"My dear, do you realize you have half the Citadel searching for you two?"

"Oh." Reina peered around him to see Avun, Clarus, and a rather flustered Mr Dalmas crowding into the library. "We only wanted to be alone."

Regis glanced back at the others before stepping out onto the narrow balcony and closing the door behind him. He leaned his back against the doors and looked out across the city, biting back a sigh.

"I understand it can be difficult to secure any measure of privacy in our station. Nevertheless, I must impress upon you the seriousness of sneaking away from those who are meant to be watching over you. You are the heir to the throne."

"I'm not," Reina said flatly. She turned back around. "Just Noct. So it doesn't matter what happens to me."

Her words drove daggers through his heart. It was the first time, so far as he was aware, that she had truly acknowledged the difference in hers and Noctis' positions. He had not missed the bitter note in her voice. This was precisely what he had been intending to avoid when he had refused to declare either of them heir to the throne five years ago.

Regis stepped forward and sat down on the balcony next to her.

"Reina, dearest one, of course it matters what happens to you."

Though he leaned forward, trying to catch her gaze, Reina stared resolutely across the city.

"Princess Lunafreya told Noctis he is the True King, who will cure the Starscourge."

Regis' mouth went dry. That was a conversation he had meant to have with Noctis, himself. When Noctis was older. Putting such a burden of expectation on him now could only harm him. He should have had several more years of youthful freedom.

Now it was all in the open.

"He is, that," Regis agreed. He glanced past Reina to look at Noctis, who was sitting quietly on her other side. He looked less concerned about this prospect than Regis had feared. Perhaps the young Princess Lunafreya had done a more adept job than he gave her credit for.

"If Noctis is the Chosen King…" Reina said, "What am I?"

He should have been more concerned about what the revelation would do to Reina, it seemed.

He stared at her for too long, heart frozen and brain stalling. What could he tell her that would not do more harm than good? She was his little Princess, she was Noctis' twin, she was—by and far—the most important person in their lives, excluding each other. But he could not ask her to define herself based on the opinions of others. She was asking him for something of her own, not an assurance that he loved her.

"You have asked me an impossible question, my dear," Regis said carefully. "I cannot define what you will become in the future any more than I can bring your mother back to life. Some of us are raised knowing that we must learn to fill a certain position in adulthood, in a way, that makes our lives easier by giving us certainty. You have a place in the future, just as Noctis does. That I do not yet know what it is does not make it any less important than his. The fact is that someone, long ago, foresaw the king that Noctis must become and wrote down those words so that Noct and everyone around him would understand what he must do. But most people do not come into their lives knowing where they must end up."

"Someone foresaw Noctis." Reina had finally turned to look at him. "Someone like me?"

"It may well have been."

"Why do I see the future, Father?" She asked. "Am I meant to see something important?"

"Ah, Reina." Regis sighed and gathered her up to him, pulling her into his lap and sitting with his arms around her. "You have a knack for posing questions I do not know the answer to, my dear. I know that your magic is exceedingly rare—so rare, in fact, that none in the line of Lucis or the Oracles know of its like."

A few days ago he might have said it was Gods-given for a specific purpose, but ever since he had taken a closer look at her magic he had begun to wonder. The severing of her other ties had been deliberate—clearly and carefully done. If her ability to see the future in her dreams stemmed from the tear inside her, however, he was inclined to believe that it had not only been accidental, but had resulted in a potentially permanent injury.

"I can, however, definitively say your dreams have saved lives. Today we received a letter from Tenebrae; when the empire came, no one at Fenestala was harmed."

Reina, who had been laying listlessly against his chest where he had pulled her, sat upright. "Ravus is okay?"

"I am led to believe he is in perfect health," Regis said.

"And Luna?" Noctis asked.

"Also completely safe," Regis said.

Noctis and Reina exchanged a grin.

"And I have no doubt you saved our lives in Caem, the day of our return," Regis added.

Reina looked up at him, mouth twisting. "But you still got hurt."

"That is, unfortunately, an inevitability in life." Regis kissed her forehead. "Now, then. I did come here only to ensure your new nanny knew of your whereabouts and to impress upon you the seriousness of slipping away unnoticed. Will you promise me not to do so again?"

Reina and Noctis glanced at each other.

"What if we want to be alone?" Reina asked.

"Then please, inform someone that you wish to be left alone and take your privacy in a known location."

Another glance.

"Alright…" Reina said finally, though not without a certain reluctance.

"Good girl."

Regis turned to glanced through the doors. A small crowd of people were still loitering in the library. He would have to ensure that whoever they were left with understood what leaving the prince and princess alone entailed. Certainly not half a dozen people crowding around just on the other side of their door.

However, one good thing had come from the budding crowd: Ignis was inside the library.

"I do believe young Ignis has arrived."

Noctis brightened. "Specs?"

"If you promise to behave yourselves for him, I believe the three of you can be left without alternate supervision," Regis said.

Reina's mouth twisted as she stared up at him. "Can I stay with you, Father? I promise to be quiet."

Half of him wanted to insist that she go with Noctis and Ignis. It would do her much more good to run and play than to sit in his office for the rest of the day. But she had her mother's eyes and employed them exceptionally well.

"Very well." Regis sighed.

They returned to his office with Clarus following after. Any further discussion Clarus may have desired on the topic of Reina's ability to see the future were put to a halt. That was one benefit of having her in his office. Another was that Regis was practically certain to be on time for dinner. So he dined with his children and even managed to not miss the first course.

Try as he might, Regis could not convince himself that nothing had changed. His children were different. He could not definitively say the change was for the worse—it had been only a few weeks, in truth—but sitting with them so often only made the differences more stark. He mourned the happy smiles and cheerful chatter.

Nighttime was the worst.

That was when the monsters came out. Had he been any other father in Eos, he would have dealt with this the traditional way: a duel to the death with only the strength of his wits against the monsters of his children's imaginations.

But he was not a typical father, nor were his children typical children.

"Your Majesty. Apologies, but it is seven o'clock." The face that appeared in the cracked open doorway did look apologetic. Not that it mattered much.

"Thank you, Avun," Regis sighed, shutting the book that had lain open in his lap and turning back to his children.

Typical children might have asked if he really must leave without finishing the story. But these were not typical children.

They stared across at him, both tucked up in the same bed; the only indication of their disappointment was the size of their eyes. Tears dry before falling, if you hold your eyes open wide enough.

He smiled tightly. It felt resigned—he didn't even want to know what it looked like.

"I fear it is time, now, for bed." He stood, groaning at the protest of his stiff muscles, and reached out to put a hand on either of their heads. "Are you both going to sleep in Noct's bed?"

Two heads bobbed without exchanging a glance or a word.

"Then lay down—there we are." He pulled the blankets up to their chins and tucked them in tight, then he leaned over to give each of them a kiss on the head. "Goodnight, my dear ones. Sleep well."

He turned off the overhead light on his way out, leaving the room lit only by the cool glow of a starry night light that spun on the windowsill. The door remained ajar, so that those who lingered nearby in the hall could hear if either of them called. And so he left the two most precious things in his life in the hands of a few Crownsguard and some nurses who would all tell them lies when they woke in the night with bad dreams.

Because the worst thing about nighttime was this:

The monsters were all real.

He found his way to the council chamber with Avun dogging his steps.

"Your Majesty." The guards at the doors opened them before he reached them. "The council awaits."

And so they did. All twelve, seated on either side of the long table carrying on quiet conversations—all of which silenced as soon as he entered. Twelve chairs screeched against the floor as their occupants stood.

Bows and murmurs of "Your Majesty" followed as he crossed to the far end of the table and took his seat. Once he had, the others resumed theirs.

"Clarus." Regis glanced to his left; no other words were necessary.

"Word has finally come in from Tenebrae," Clarus said. "The Oracle sends thanks for the timely warning of the imperial advance. As our preliminary intelligence suggested, her household sustained no casualties, thanks to His Majesty's note. She also details that she implicitly trusts every one of her household staff who were privy to our presence in Tenebrae."

"So she believes that information fed to Niflheim did not leak from her end," Hamon said.

"That seems to be her impression, yes."

"Then your passage must have been noted—either by imperial soldiers here or in Niflheim itself," Aldebrand said.

"That may be the most likely alternative, but it will also be the most difficult to rule out," Clarus said. "I suggest, instead, that we settle on that conclusion only when all others have been exhausted."

"But what other options have we?" Felice asked.

"Surely you are not suggesting that one of our own gave information to the empire," Aldebrand said.

"That is precisely what I am suggesting." Clarus ran his eyes down the table and Regis followed his gaze, noting the reaction to his half-veiled accusation. Mostly their faces held shock, though one or two suggested outrage.

"Ridiculous!" Said Aldebrand. "Only a handful of people in Insomnia even knew your destination and your departure was kept strictly out of the public eye."

"Which means we have only so many places to look," Clarus said. "It should, therefore, be an easy possibility to rule out."

And so it went, back and forth, for what must have been an hour, at least. A quarter of the table denied the possibility. Of the others, half moved for an immediate investigation of every potential party immediately, never mind the fact that an open investigation might give them away as quickly as a spy in their midst.

Just past eight, the door cracked open—in spite of the subtlety of the motion, the sound was audible throughout the chamber—and Avun appeared in the space.

"Your Majesty, the princess…"

Peeking around Avun's legs was Reina. She clutched her chubby little chocobo to her chest and stared wide-eyed into the room. Regis motioned and Avun ushered her in, though she stopped just inside the door. When it shut behind her and the echo faded, she looked back, as if regretting her choice to come inside at all. She turned around to stare down the length of the council table and found every person in the room watching her.

A tear fell down her cheek.

Regis rose and took immediately to her side.

"Reina" He dropped to one knee in front of her, laying his hands on her shoulders. "What troubles you, my dear?"

"I… I can't sleep…" Her voice quivered and cracked. Another tear joined the first.

Regis brushed both of them away and bit back a sigh. So she had not fallen asleep after all. He was beginning to despair of her ever sleeping without him. It had only been a week and a half since her first dream, but he had hoped his fix for her dreams would also serve as a fix for her sleep.

"Come along, then." He held out his hands to her. "You may sit with me, if you are very quiet."

She lurched forward and threw her arms around his neck, letting him lift her off her feet and carry her back to his seat. They earned some few curious glances along the way, all of which Regis disregarded. Unprecedented it may have been, to allow an eight year old to attend a confidential meeting. It was also unprecedented for an eight year old—indeed, for anyone at all—to foresee an imperial invasion and save countless lives with her warning. For one exception he made the other.

Regis resumed his seat. "Pardon the interruption. Pray, continue."

His councilors exchanged looks across the table. Clarus cleared his throat. "Any investigation will need to be discreet. Given that most of those we could task with an investigation in the first place would be under suspicion, we will need to tread carefully."

Reina quivered against his chest. Regis wrapped his arms more firmly around her and lowered his head to kiss her hair.

"It is alright, my dear. You are quite safe with me," he whispered.

It took another moment, while Regis smoothed his hand over Reina's hair, before her shivering subsided. After that, she fell asleep. Properly, this time, with her knees tucked up to her chest and her head resting in the crook of his arm. In spite of how much she had grown, it was difficult not to appreciate how tiny she still was while she was curled up in his lap. Noctis would hardly have fit, anymore. Reina seemed to have no such difficulty. He couldn't help but hope she never grew much bigger.

Chapter Text

For better or for worse, a pattern formed in Regis' days. In the four weeks after they returned from Tenebrae, the twins went through twice as many nannies. Some were let go for failures on their own part or due to some grievance that Reina and Noctis held against them. Others Regis sent away for less concrete reasons; it seemed impossible to find someone with the proper mix of rigidity and compassion. He resorted to giving each new nanny a debriefing on what he expected for his children.

The problem was, his standards changed week by week as well. He struggled to quantify what he needed from their caretaker; he only knew what he didn't want when he saw it. He did not, for instance, want someone to keep his children from him if they cried to be with their father. On the other hand, he was beginning to wonder if allowing them to sit by his side whenever they wanted wasn't doing more harm than good. He wanted them taken seriously and given the respect they deserved, but they also needed a caretaker who understood they were still children. He had hoped they would stay that way for rather longer.

Noctis' injuries healed. He walked again; seeing him on his feet brought tears to Regis' eyes. But the other changes remained. Noctis was still a reticent boy who was more likely to stare in silence than answer a question posed to him. Regis never could tell what he was thinking anymore. Once, Noctis had been wont to tell him, even without prompting.

The time came to send them back to school or not. If they were kept home indefinitely then more permanent arrangements would need to be made. Regis wasn't even sure where he would have begun. And so, in spite of Reina's protests, Regis ruled that they would return to school. It would, at least, simplify the nanny situation. He hoped. If they were away at school for the same hours that Ignis was gone, then the necessity of having someone in the Citadel to care for them was less dire. He could accept a subpar nanny if they were only in his or her care for a few hours a day, at most. Still, he hated settling for less than the best.

Reina still wouldn't sleep through the night. She would fall asleep—or appear to—when he read them a bedtime story, which he was forced to do each night for precisely that reason. As soon as he left their room, however, she would wake and follow him. Sometimes he found her sitting on his bed with Chika the Chocobo clutched in her arms when he returned from his shower. Other times she wouldn't let him out of her sight at all. When he asked her about it, she only said she couldn't sleep without him. He still didn't know what that meant or what to do about it. He only knew it wasn't doing wonders for either of their sleeping habits when she stayed awake waiting for him to return from a late meeting and he lay staring at the ceiling, worrying about her.

It was late spring—nearly summer—when matters finally came to a head.

"Must we go to school, Father?" Reina stood side by side with Noctis in the royal lounge, tugging at the front of her uniform skirt.

"I should like for you to go." It was not the first time he had reiterated the fact this week.

Reina dropped her gaze. Noctis pulled one of her hands away from her skirt and held it in both of his.

"In a few more weeks you will reach summer vacation," Regis said. "After that, you will not have to worry about school again until September."

Reina nodded, looking at her shoes. Her knuckles had turned white where she gripped Noctis' hand.

He gave them each a kiss on the head and ushered them gently out of the Citadel. Then he went to attend to his own business, putting his children firmly from his mind. He had a long list of matters demanding his attention, many of which he intended to finish before his meeting with Captain Drautos.

It was just before lunch when Avun pushed into his office in a rush.

"Sire, I've just been on the phone with the school—"

Never a good start to a conversation. Regis was on his feet before Avun had reached the conclusion. "What has occurred?"

"It seems Princess Reina is in something of a panic. No one can calm her nor even, apparently, get a coherent word out of her. They are requesting your presence…"

Panic from Reina meant tragedy for others. He was scheduled to meet Drautos in less than half an hour, but that could wait. Or be cancelled altogether.

Regis swept past Avun on his way out of the office. "Crownsguard—send word to Marshal Leonis to ready the Regalia."

Avun kept on Regis' heel as he made for the front of the Citadel. "Apparently it was Prince Noctis who insisted she needed to see you, Your Majesty."

Yes, he would. For all the time Reina spent translating Noctis' silences, it seemed Noctis was only willing to speak when he did so for her.

Cor was waiting with the engine running when Regis reached the front of the Citadel.

"Avun, see that my afternoon meetings are cancelled," Regis said, dropping into the back of the car. "Drive, Cor. The school."

They made good time. For all that his children had been students there for three years, Regis had never set foot inside. It had been chosen more or less because it looked good on paper and those he had sent to investigate assured him that it was a reputable school. And once again he had trusted his children's fate to the hands of others. Today, at least, he would do something himself.

Their progress through the school did not go unnoticed. Regis attracted attention everywhere he went, most of all outside the Citadel. It was for the best, given that he had no idea where he was meant to be going. Thankfully, someone had foreseen that and sent him a guide. So while the passersby—students and staff alike—gawked, Regis was led through quiet hallways and sunny courtyards until they reached a small office off the back of a classroom.

Inside, in addition to the desk and chair and obligatory office plants, was a woman of middling age, kneeling across the floor from Reina and Noctis, who both sat huddled up in the corner. Tears streamed down Reina's cheeks and her breath came in short stops and gasps. Noctis had his arm around her shoulders. When Regis entered, the woman leapt to her feet.

"Your Majesty!"

He lifted a hand to silence her.

"Reina?" Regis stepped inside.

Her head snapped up and she looked at him. "F-Father!" Her voice stuttered and caught with a sob in the middle.

She held out her hands and Regis complied, scooping her up into his arms. "Shh, Reina, my dear… I am here, now, little Princess."

In spite of that, it took several more minutes for hysterics to subside into quivering sobs. It would be, he gathered, some time yet before she would be ready to tell him anything at all—if she even had anything to tell him.

"Reina, my dear," he murmured. "I am going to take you and Noctis home. How does that sound?"

"You… you will stay with me?" She asked between sobs.

"For the rest of the day, if that is what you wish."

She nodded.

He made their excuses—it was unsurprisingly simple for the King of Lucis to make excuses for anything at all, he found—and the three of them returned to the Citadel in the Regalia. He carried Reina all the way to the upper levels. By the time they reached their destination his arms ached, but he didn't set Reina down until she could sit in his lap.

She had calmed somewhat during the car ride, but she still clung to him and quivered with shaky breaths. When at last she had regained a more normal breathing patterns, the three of them had been crammed in an armchair for nearly an hour.

"Reina…" Regis smoothed her hair back from her face. "Can you tell me what it was that upset you so?"

She shook her head. "Felt bad."

Regis tightened his hold on both of them, assuring himself that both his children were safely in his arms. "What did, my dear…?"

She shook her head.

"Being at school?" He suggested.

After a moment of consideration, she shook her head.

Perhaps he had a less firm grasp on what her feelings meant than he had thought. Was it possible that she had experienced some subconscious glimpse of something she would never even have experienced? If so, the event she dreaded could have been due to happen anywhere at all. And how could she feel the future, at all, if she was bound in the physical realm and unable to wander through the In-Between?

"Does it feel better now?" Regis asked.

She nodded.

Then presumably something had changed. But what else had he done, save take Reina and Noctis from school?

The hours passed with the three of them sitting in that chair. Eventually Noctis retrieved a book for Regis to read. By the time Ignis arrived to take charge of the twins, only Noctis was awake to be taken charge of. But he was, by then, assured that Reina would be fine. He gave her a kiss on the head and went to play with Ignis.

Not long after, Clarus arrived.

"I gather you have had an eventful afternoon," Clarus said.

Regis sighed. He set aside the book and shifted his hold on Reina. His arm was asleep, but he didn't dare move it for fear of waking her. The night before she had been awake until two, sitting outside his door waiting for him to return from his council meeting. He almost preferred that she simply interrupt, but doing so seemed to distress her as much as, if not more than, remaining awake until the early hours of the morning.

"I do not know what to do about them, anymore, Clarus."

"They have had a trying few months."

"They have had more than that. I have one child bound to be the King of Light and another who can see the future in her dreams. When I prevent her from doing so she cannot sleep and even then she has these feelings that I cannot interpret." Regis shook his head. "If only they had someone I could trust to care for them. But none of these people Avun brings me can do anything about any of this. I have no notion where to even begin, myself."

Regis sighed and ran his hand over his face, pinching the bridge of his nose. There was only one person he could have trusted to advise him about the current state of affairs in his household, and she…

Was still in Insomnia.

"Clarus." Regis shut his eyes. The council would be up in arms.

To hell with the council.

"Have word sent to Crea. I will offer her double her salary—anything she wants—if she can set this right."

Four years had passed since he had sent her away. He could not regret the choice he had made, but most days he wished their situation could have been different. Reina and Noctis had spent the better part of a year asking every day where Crea had gone and why. He still had no good answer for them. How could he explain to a five year old—or even an eight year old—that their nanny had left because she didn't want to be queen?

Since then, they had stopped asking so often. Now and then, one of them would mention her in conversation—or they had used to, before all of this happened. So they remembered her, at least. Beyond that, he had little notion what they recalled of her.

For his part, Regis knew nothing of what had become of her, save that she was well provided for by the crown and he would have continued to do so indefinitely. It was better if he did not know. But if he could offer her the position she had once held instead, now was the time.

Her response came to his desk two days later.

To Whom it May Concern,

I must offer my most sincere gratitude for the offer of renewed employment within the Citadel. That His Majesty still holds me in high esteem flatters me greatly. I know of no higher honor than to be recognized by King Regis.

Unfortunately, I cannot offer my services to the royal family at this time. In spite of His Majesty's most tempting offer, I must decline.

Respectfully Yours,

Creare Vinculum

Regis read the brief letter twice before the words managed to penetrate his skull.

"She said no?" Regis looked up at Clarus, incredulous.

Clarus shrugged. "It has been four years, Regis…"

"I am not asking her to rekindle a relationship I ended." Regis clenched his hand on the letter and before he registered what he was doing it was crumpled into a ball. "I only requested her return for my children."

"And she may well have children of her own now," Clarus said.

Regis fell silent. Another possibility that had never occurred to him. Had he truly expected her life to simply be put on hold after he had cut off contact with her? She had been only in her early twenties when last he had seen her. Four years was time enough to start a new life. Or a new family.

He uncrumpled the note and smoothed it out on his desk.

He had expected her to drop everything and leap at the chance to return. She had been broken when he sent her away and he still wished she could have stayed. He had thought she would feel much the same, even after all this time.

Perhaps he had been asking her to rekindle an old flame. He just hadn't realized until now.

He dropped the letter on his desk and leaned forward, putting his head in his hands. Was he doing this for his children or for himself?

"She was my last hope, Clarus."

When he looked up, Clarus wore a tight-lipped, pensive expression. "If you truly believe that Miss Vinculum is necessary for the prince and princess' well-being, you have hardly exhausted all avenues available."

"I would rather not issue a royal decree to secure a competent nanny."

"So I assumed," Clarus said. "But you might impress upon her the severity of the situation. As it stands, she has merely received a rather formal invitation to return to her prior position. She knows nothing of what occurs within the Citadel—much of that we have taken pains to keep secret. And even what little has leaked into the public eye will not be easily interpretable to her."

"What do you suggest?"

"Go to her yourself. Or at least write to her personally and invite her to the Citadel to come see them. You can explain your needs and she can see for herself why you have called her back."

"Writing will cause less of a stir," Regis reached for his pen. "Better to keep this out of the public eye for as long as possible."

"I will leave you to it then."

Regis motioned his dismissal, leaving his eyes fixed on the blank sheet before him. It took several false starts and half a dozen crumpled sheets of paper before he had a letter worth sending her.

Dear Crea,

I was saddened to receive your response. I realize these four long years have only put space between us and by now you must have many other affairs demanding your attention. If it is truly your wish not to return, then I shall respect that. I should appreciate, however, if you would definitively decline my request only after understanding the full extent of why I ask. This is not information that I trust to paper.

Please, Crea. Come to the Citadel once more. I will make room in my schedule at a time of your choosing so that I might explain matters fully to you. If, at the conclusion of our conversation you are still disinclined to accept my offer, I will let you walk away, never to be troubled by the crown again.

Yours,

King Regis Lucis Caelum CXIII

He sent the letter off with Avun and waited less patiently than was suitable for a king. Nothing had changed with Noctis and Reina in the past two days, but Regis had allowed them some time off from school. He was loath to send them back at all and indecisive as to whether or not it was worth the trouble for any of them. He longed to ask Crea, but as of yet he had no notion whether she would agree to stay at all. He ran hypothetical conversations through his mind and convinced himself she would have to stay, once she understood.

Her response arrived a day later. Short and prompt, but somehow leaving Regis hopeful nevertheless:

Regis,

Wednesday. 5:00 PM. I can't stay over-long.

Crea

By which she told him in not so many words that if he failed to make room in his schedule, as he had promised, she would not wait for him.

He made space. He ordered Avun to clear away everything from 4:30 PM on. Though she said she couldn't stay long, she would need to see Noctis and Reina, surely, and dinner was at seven, followed by their bedtime routine. He caught himself thinking wistfully of how their lives had been before. Dangerous thoughts led to dangerous places. He couldn't afford to expect that any of them would fall back into those old habits. Everyone had changed.

He only knew the half of it.

Wednesday came. Regis was distracted all morning and into the afternoon. When 4:30 arrived and his schedule broke free he retired to the private drawing room on the ground floor and paced. The Crownsguard had instructions to see her inside and escort her here. She would be prompt, of course. She had always been punctual.

The minutes took too long to pass. He counted seconds as they ticked by on the clock above the fireplace and began to wish he had chosen a room with a view of the front of the Citadel.

It was five minutes until five when Avun knocked on the door.

"Miss Vinculum, Your Majesty." Avun poked his head around the door.

Regis motioned and Avun opened the door fully, waving Crea inside.

"Thank you, Avun." Crea smiled at him.

She hadn't changed at all. She still smiled just as easily, in that way that lit up the room. She still wore her hair in a bun, in spite of its valiant efforts to escape.

She was still beautiful.

They stood staring at each other for long enough for Avun to close the door.

"Crea," Regis said at last.

"Regis." She smiled, but it wasn't happy. She dropped her gaze and twisted a ring on her finger. Her left ring finger.

"You… are married?" He asked.

"Engaged." She looked up at him. "I went back to school and… met a very nice teaching assistant."

"I see…"

She looked away again. Perhaps because she was unnerved by his shocked stare as all of his unintentional hopes came crashing down around him.

"I thought this would be easier." She laughed uncomfortably. "But you see why I can't accept. I can't be the royal nanny and start my own family."

"No, I… I understand," Regis lied. "Yet, you have not given me the opportunity to explain myself. Please—sit. I… have ordered tea."

She gave another one of those laughs. This time he heard the tears behind it and he hated himself for breaking the idyllic life she had carved for herself in his absence. If she had met a young man who loved her and could marry her with no strings attached, then Regis should have left her to him.

"I… did not mean for this to be so painful for you," he said.

"No." She swiped at her eyes. "I know. You think about people a great deal, you just usually fail to understand them."

Regis could think of nothing to say to that. She and Weskham both had that talent of reading him that he could never fathom. Having her back in the Citadel—even if only for a few minutes—made him miss Weskham more than ever. A diplomatic mission to Accordo had turned into something much bigger and much more personal. Though the original intent had been more or less accomplished, Regis was reluctant to pull him back to Lucis when he had already tied strings in Altissia.

Crea sat. Regis took the armchair across from her and they stared at the empty coffee table until tea arrived, thinking of all the nights they had spent in her room upstairs, drinking tea from chipped mugs with a variety of novelty tea infusers.

The servant who brought the tea poured them each a cup and withdrew. They stared at their tea, rather than each other, while Regis tried to sort out his thoughts. For days he had rehearsed this and now that she was in front of him all words fled him. He had no notion of where to begin at all.

"How are Reina and Noctis?" Crea asked finally.

Regis sighed. He set his tea down untasted. "How much have you heard?"

A furrow formed on her brow. "About Reina and Noctis? Nothing at all. Oh, there were news reports a few months ago that they had taken some time off school, but no one put much weight on it. Why? What has happened?"

"The papers truly printed nothing about the marilith?" Regis asked.

"That daemon inside the city? No, they did—but no mention was ever made of Noctis or Reina." Concern grew on her features.

So they had done a better job than he had suspected in covering this all up. He had thought surely someone would have made the connection.

"Regis, will you please tell me what is going on?"

"From the beginning, then," he said. "Or as near as I can manage."

He told the tale, from Noctis' attack by the marilith through Tenebrae and Reina's strange dreams to the present. Against his better judgement, he found himself pouring out details he had intended to leave vague. The only people who knew of Reina's premonitions were Clarus and Cor, and yet they weighed heavily on Regis' mind night after night. He could not sit and share tea with Crea and not bleed out everything that had been poisoning his mind for months. It was all he could do to keep from telling her of the true fate that awaited Noctis.

When he finished, Crea sat, her tea grown cold in her hands, staring at him with wide eyes and parted lips.

She let out a slow breath and leaned forward to set her full teacup down. "I… don't know what to say, Regis."

"Say you shall return." The words spilled out before he could stop them.

"Regis, I can't—you know why I can't."

"What will it take?" He asked. "Anything in my power, I will grant, I swear it. You know I love these children more than life itself, Crea. Please. I am begging you, as a father. I am terrified of losing them and I have nowhere left to turn."

She continued to stare at him, pale-faced and stunned.

"Please," Regis repeated.

She swallowed hard and gathered her wits. She shut her eyes, let out a breath, and said, "I can't move back in. I will choose my own hours, but I will also arrange for a proper staff of my choosing to cover any extra shifts. More importantly, I will make myself available for consultation regarding any decisions that concern the prince and princess. I trust you'll make time for that."

"Of course." He could hardly breathe for fear of breaking the spell. Had she truly said yes?

"And I will take the doubled salary." She shot him a little smile. And in that moment he was forced to admit he had been wrong.

She had changed.

In four years she had matured a great deal.

Which made him think an even more dangerous thought:

She could have been queen now.

Chapter Text

Crea left before seeing Reina and Noctis that evening. Against his better judgement, Regis let her go. If there was to be any harmony between them, he needed to recognize now that she was never coming back. She wasn't his and she never would be again.

A treacherous voice in the back of his mind insisted that she could be if he acted quickly. She was engaged, yes, but she clearly felt something for Regis even so.

He longed to drown out the voice with a stiff drink, or perhaps five, but he hadn't had more than the occasional cognac in years. He couldn't afford to be intoxicated anymore. If he wasn't coherent enough to care for his children, no one else was likely to. Or they would, but it would be done poorly and not to his specifications. So he left the decanter of cognac on the sideboard in his office and ensured that his children both ate dinner and brushed their teeth before bed. Reina fell asleep in his lap and he carried her back to his bed, knowing full well she would only wake and follow him if he tried to leave her in her own room.

The following morning they rose and went to breakfast together, as was their ritual. It was there that Crea found them.

The doors opened for her and all three of them turned to look.

"Good morning, Your Majesty, Your Highnesses." She was smiling this morning; it was nothing like the melancholy smiles she had given him the day before.

For a moment it was as if no time had passed; each and every morning that he had rose to find her already awake and tending to the twins came back and somehow the empty time between filled up with nonexistent memories. Crea was back. It didn't matter what had or hadn't happened since she had last been on his staff. She would set things right.

And then time caught up with him.

Reina and Noctis stared at her. In the slight widening of Noctis' eyes, Regis saw recognition, but on Reina's face was nothing but utter disinterest. Indeed, even the scraps of openness that Reina displayed while Regis prodded the pair of them into conversation were now tucked away.

Had he really thought this would be so easy?

He gave Crea a tight smile in return. "Good morning, Crea." Then glanced between Reina and Noctis. "You remember Crea, Noctis, Reina. Say hello."

"Hi…" Noct said.

Reina continued to regard Crea stonily from across the table. She tilted her head to one side, as if trying to decide something. She noted Regis' eyes still on her and straightened in her seat.

"Good morning, Miss Crea," she said and Regis couldn't help but note she chose his manner of speech. Her mimicry had improved tremendously in those few years. "Noctis missed you."

Crea was taken aback, but, to her credit, handled it gracefully. "Well, I missed Noctis."

She stopped on Noctis' side of the table and leaned over with her hands on her knees. "Do you still have your cactuar?"

Noctis nodded. It was sitting on his pillow, in fact, though it was in rather sad shape. Worse, even, than Chika, because Noctis had once had the habit of being rather rough on his toys. He did not, however, continue to carry it around, as Reina did for Chika.

"Father missed you too," Reina said.

Regis felt the heat rising to his face and took a hasty drink of water to cover the fact.

"And you?" Crea straightened and regarded Reina with a smile. "Didn't you miss me?"

"I used to." Reina took a bite from her toast, chewed it thoughtfully, and swallowed. "Then I stopped."

"I see," Crea said gravely. She raised her eyebrows at Regis. "That is a healthy choice to make, I think."

"I don't think I like you very much, Miss Crea," Reina said matter-of-factly.

"Reina—" Regis began to tell her off for her rudeness, but Crea motioned that he leave it.

"And why is that?"

"You make Father unhappy. I don't know what you did. But he felt sad ever since yesterday and I think it's your fault."

"Reina," Regis said, "Sometimes people are hurt and no one is at fault."

"But it is her fault." Reina looked back to Crea. "It is, isn't it?"

"I suspect I may be the cause," Crea said gravely. "But your father and I have discussed matters and we've come to an agreement."

"No," Reina said. "You say you did, but he doesn't feel that way and he still hurts and it's your fault."

It was about that deep in the conversation, while Regis fought to keep from squirming in discomfort, that he thought to wonder at how she knew any of this. She had been translating Noctis' unspoken thoughts for months and people only found it odd in passing. This was the first time she had ever done the same to him.

"Well then," Crea said, "I suppose I'll just have to deal with that. I've promised your father I will come and help with you and Noctis every day, and so that is what I will do for him."

"He doesn't need help with us." Reina pushed her plate forward and looked to Regis. "Father, may we be excused?"

He was too stunned to do anything except consent.

Reina pushed back her chair and hopped out of it. "Come on, Noct."

Noctis slid out of his seat and followed her. In a moment Regis was left at an empty breakfast table while Crea stood by.

"I am so sorry," Regis said as soon as his brain began producing words again. "She has never done anything of the like before."

"No?" Crea was still looking at the door. "Well, this is good, then."

"I fail to see how."

"Both of them clearly have more on their minds than you're aware of, whether because they're not sure how to express it or because they're actively keeping it hidden—more likely the former—and so all we can do is take what clues they give us and try to make a whole picture. The more clues the better, wouldn't you agree?"

"I suppose so." He hadn't thought of it like something systematic, before. In spite of everything, he felt a surge of gratitude that Crea was back. "Do you have any preliminary ideas?"

"A few." Crea shrugged one shoulder. "We'll see. Give me a few days—are you going to be busy tonight?—mm. Scratch that. Bad question. You're always busy."

Regis cleared his throat. "I could make time if you think it is necessary."

She considered. "Yes. Let's do tonight. What time do they go to bed?"

"Eight o'clock—though you are welcome, of course, to make any changes."

"We'll talk after eight, then."

"Ah, it should be noted that they do not fall asleep if I do not read them a story and Reina will not sleep through the night without me, regardless."

"That makes things more difficult."

"Indeed," Regis said. "So, if you intend to stay that late, I shall see you around dinner and thereafter—unless you think it would be better if I do not come…"

"No, by all means—if they won't sleep without you, we'd better have you."

"I only thought—" Regis sighed and shook his head. "—I have no notion of what to do with them, Crea. Am I coddling them by catering to these wants? Would it be better if I forced Reina to sleep in her own bed each night?"

Crea held up her hands. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves. For now, let's keep doing what you have been doing. Let me get to know them again. Then I can tell you what I think. Alright?"

"Very well."

"I'll see you tonight. Enjoy your breakfast, Regis."

And so that night, Regis joined Noctis and Reina for dinner, as was his custom. Crea elected not to eat with them, much to his disappointment. She told him it would be better if she interfered as little a possible with their usual routine tonight. Neither Noctis nor Reina was much changed at dinner, not that he had expected them to be. But Reina's unusually sharp tongue from the morning had disappeared in Crea's absence; she was her usual, sweet self. Regis chose not to ask about their day with Crea, lest he provoke Reina's ire again.

Crea was waiting for them upstairs, but she stood back and allowed Regis to walk the twins through their normal bedtime routine, keeping well out of the way and out of sight. Reina sat on his lap for their bedtime story and, as usual, he read until both of them were sound asleep. Once they were, he set the book aside, gathered Reina up in his arms, and glanced about for Crea.

She was leaning in the doorway.

"You've come a long way, Regis," she said quietly. "I still remember teaching you to rock them to sleep."

"It is much simpler to put them to bed, these days," he said, matching her volume. "Though no less trying."

"Whatever people tell you, it doesn't really get easier when they get older. It's just less work."

He stared down at Reina sleeping in his arms and thought that must be true. While they no longer required a small army of staff to keep them fed and clean and entertained all day, their well-being weighed on his mind all hours.

"Will they wake if we talk here?" She asked.

"Not, I believe, if we are very quiet."

"Then we'll be quiet." She drew up a chair from Noctis' desk and sat facing him. "So. I've been with them all day. That—in addition to what you told me last night—should be enough to draw some conclusions."

"Then you know what to do." Regis fought to keep the desperation from his voice. He was only moderately successful. "Please, Crea—whatever it takes. Fix this."

"First I need to know what you want. If everything was 'fixed,' as you say, what would be the outcome? Do you want for them to sleep through the night without your intervention, to not need you present in order to make it through basic, day-to-day tasks? Do you want them to be open enough to be able to communicate what they feel with you? Are you expecting to see the return of the children they were before all of this happened? What is important to you?"

All of those things sounded good. But none quite reached the heart of what he wanted for them. If any came about naturally they would be favorable outcomes, and yet they were mere side effects, rather than goals.

Regis looked down at Reina, asleep in his arms, and Noctis curled up in bed.

"What I want is for them to be healthy and happy. I want them to grow into strong, confident people who are prepared to take on the world." He leaned forward and brushed a strand of hair from Noctis' face. "For that is what they must do."

"Then we'll prioritize what is best for their growth and mental health."

Regis nodded mutely.

"I must warn you that it is unlikely to coincide very much with what is best for you."

"That matters very little to me."

Out of the corner of his eye he spotted her melancholy smile and the motion of her hand as she moved to touch him, then stopped herself.

"I know," she said.

They sat in silence for a moment, looking anywhere but at each other.

"Well," she said at last. "There's no time like the present: what I suggest you do, for now, is much the same as you have been doing. Make time in your schedule to eat with them each morning and evening. Make as much of their care your own doing as possible. They aren't trying to be manipulative or anything like that; they're expressing their needs and right now, what they need is to believe that their father will always be here for them when things go wrong. And something will go wrong. They know that now. And they fear it. So be with them. Whenever they want."

"But Reina would be with me every minute of the day if I allowed her," Regis objected.

"Then let her."

"I cannot—I have duties I must see to. You know this."

Crea shrugged one shoulder. "You asked me for my advice and I've given it. It's up to you to decide how to carry it out. Or if to follow it at all. She won't die if you don't."

"But she will grow up poorly." The implication was in her words.

"She might." Crea shrugged again. "I can only tell you what I see. And what I see is a little girl who is insecure in her father's love."

"She… does not believe I love her?"

"It's more complex than that. I think she understands that you love her, but sometimes she wonders how much."

"More than most anything." He dropped his gaze to Reina and brushed his fingers across her cheek. "You must know that, my dear."

"If you want her to believe it, you'll have to show her. It's not too late to salvage."

He smoothed his thumb over Reina's cheek. She turned her head and snuggled closer to him.

"I will do whatever you recommend," Regis said to Crea.

"Make a point of asking her what she wants. If she wants to be with you, let her."

He nodded.

"And Noctis?" He asked.

"Noctis is afraid of you disappearing, like Jenet did. He's also afraid of disappointing you."

Regis tore his eyes from Reina to look up at her. "He could never."

She shrugged one shoulder. "Still a common fear. You can help by taking his failures—everyone has failures—in stride and teaching him to take them gracefully. Let him see you fail, once in a while; he thinks he needs to grow up to be you and he believes you're a god. It helps us to know that our idols are humans too."

"I will do all I can," Regis said. "Do you believe they should be left in school or taken out? I have often wondered, these past months, if it would not be easier on them to remain here all day…"

"I'm not sure yet. Let me see them on a school day and then we'll talk."

"Of course. And… there was one more thing…" Though he hesitated to ask when it rode the line between an affair of the kingdom and of his children.

"Yes?" She prompted when he let the silence stretch too long.

"Reina's future dreams… I have been preventing her from looking ahead for fear of what she might see—and what that might do to her. The Dreams she had in Tenebrae were… traumatizing." He gazed down at Reina. "On the way back to Insomnia, she practically begged me to let her help. And though I promised we would discuss it, that is a conversation I have been actively avoiding. Am I wrong to hold her back?"

Crea pursed her lips in thought. "It seems she wants to be useful to you, even if she must see terrible things to do so." She shook her head. "I don't know, Regis. I don't know anything about magic. Allowing her to feel helpful could do wonders for her confidence, but I can't say for certain what the price of the trade off would be. If there was some way to do this in a more controlled environment—allow her to use her magic and be useful without risking so much—then I would say go for it. But I don't know enough. I don't know if it's possible."

"Nor do I." Regis sighed. "No one knows anything of her magic, me least of all."

"I gather you know something," Crea said dryly. "Probably more than anyone else, though that's not necessarily comforting. In any case, if there is nothing else, I should be getting back."

"I—no. No, there is nothing, for now."

She rose from her chair and returned it to Noctis' desk, then she gathered up her things and prepared to leave. The treacherous voice in Regis' head was shouting for him to stop her.

"Crea—" He stopped her at the door with a word, but he had no notion of what he had stopped her for. He could not ask her to stay. He had no right to that, anymore.

He had never had any right to it.

"Yes?"

"Thank you. For everything. I do not know what I would do without you."

She smiled. "You're welcome."

And she left him alone with his children, wishing that four years ago had gone differently.

He carried Reina back to his room and settled her in his bed. Then he lay awake for a long time, wondering at what Crea had said.

That Noctis feared both losing him and disappointing him was, in hindsight, not overly surprising. The first seemed an effect of the marilith attack. The second more likely sprouted from having had the fate of the Chosen King thrust upon him at such a young age. Regis could hardly blame Princess Lunafreya for her part in that, but he did wish it had been done differently. It seemed a common theme with him these days.

However, the fact that Reina doubted how much he loved her was both concerning and baffling to him. What had he done to leave such an impression in her mind? Whatever it was, he wished with all his heart that he could go back and reverse it. Doubtless, though, it had been more than one event. How many times in their lives had he neglected them? More than he could count.

And yet, it was only Reina who had this concern, not Noctis. Or, in any case, it was not so strong as to be worthy of note in Noctis.

He wasted away too many hours of sleep worrying about it. When he did finally drift off, it was with his mind no easier than it had been.

He woke the following morning to much the same worries. Reina woke with him, though she was content to remain snuggled against his chest for as long as he would allow her to. She smiled up at him—bright, if a little bleary—and covered a yawn.

"Good morning, Father!"

"Good morning, my dear." He smoothed her hair back from her face and returned her smile, though his faded too rapidly. She seemed so happy. How could she have such great worries and still smile so sweetly?

"Little Princess…"

"Yes, Father?"

"You know that I love you and your brother more than anything in this world… do you not?"

Surprise crossed her face, though only briefly before her smile returned. "Of course, Father!"

Of course. As Crea had said, it wasn't simple and it did not have a simple solution. Actions, as he well knew, meant more than words. He would not be able to fix this merely by telling her it was so, but he would try to fix it by showing her.

"Well, what would you like to do today, little Princess?"

She blinked up at him, as if she wasn't certain how to answer the question.

"If you could do anything at all, what would it be?" He tried again.

"Um." She tugged at her sleep shirt. "Stay with you?"

A peculiar answer, if ever he had heard one. Surely an eight year old ought to have wanted something. And yet, the best thing she could think to do with her day was follow him around in whatever capacity that entailed.

"Well. That is easily enough granted, I suppose."

She brightened and her whole face split into a smile. "Really?"

"If that is what you wish—are you certain you would not prefer to go play with Noctis and Ignis?"

"Mhm."

"Very well. Our first order of business, then it to get dressed."

And so, as Crea had recommended, Regis did. Crea herself arrived just have breakfast to take charge of Noctis—for what little that entailed while Ignis was about. He may have been only a few years older, but Ignis was proving a capable caretaker and he was one of the few people that Noctis would hold a conversation with.

True to his word, Regis allowed Reina to remain with him. It was a challenge to split his attention between his work and his daughter—Crea's words had him on edge and he checked and triple checked every choice he made, every word he said in Reina's presence. She sat on his lap whenever he was seated and he made a point of giving her some little token of affection regularly—whether to kiss her hair or hug her more tightly or tickle her sides—and when he walked through the halls she kept on his heels so long as he held her hand. It seemed to work. At the end of the day, she was in high spirits and she giggled and laughed through dinner. Her mood was contagious; even Noctis was smiling and joining in before dessert was through.

Crea left before dinner that night. The next day the twins returned to school and Regis saw them through their morning routine while she observed.

"I hate standing by while you do all the work," she commented, once Reina and Noctis were on their way.

"You are more than welcome to take over."

She shook her head. "I will if you prefer, but it will only make Reina dislike me more."

"Why should it?"

"Because I would be taking away time that used to be shared between the three of you."

Not something he had considered, before that moment. She was ever adept at making him think from a new perspective.

The day passed without event. The evening held another quiet talk with Crea, once the twins had fallen asleep.

"I think you should take them out of school," she said without preamble.

"Of course. If you believe it will help—though I have no notion of how to go about giving them the tutors they will require."

"I'll take care of that," she said. "Did you know Reina shows signs of having an anxiety disorder?"

"Yes." He looked at his daughter, asleep in her bed but holding onto his hand. "She told me she feels nervous all the time. It seems connected to her magic, somehow, but it is beyond my understanding."

"She shows more anxious habits at school. I think it will be less stressful for her to stay here for now."

"And Noctis?"

"Noctis doesn't seem to have strong opinions either way, but he would rather be with Reina. It occurs to me that he shows signs of depression."

Regis turned to look at her. "Noctis?"

"Mhm. But he doesn't have the words to describe it. I'll talk to him about it and see what I can learn."

"How do you…?"

She flashed him a sly smile. "You ought to know. You paid for my degree."

"Then you can do something for them?"

"I am doing many things for them."

Regis turned to look back at his children. He squeezed Reina's hand in his and pursed his lips. "Yes. I suppose you are. I do not mean to be ungrateful, but I cannot…" He pinched the bridge of his nose. "I only want them whole."

Her hand landed on his shoulder, startling him from his own dark thoughts. When he looked up at her, she smiled tightly at him and squeezed his shoulder. "We'll get there, Regis. I'm doing all I can."

Chapter Text

The following morning, Crea swept into the dinning room with a packet of papers tucked under one arm.

"Good morning, everyone." She flashed a smile around the room, though it seemed to Regis it wavered when it reached him. Did he look so terrible to her? There had once been a time when seeing him was cause to make her smile more deeply rather than more falsely.

"I need you to sign these, Regis." She set the packet of papers on the table and pushed them toward him.

He lifted the first page off the top and glanced it over. "Withdrawal from school?"

"I expect you could probably do it however you liked, given your station, but I thought it best to go through the usual channels," she said.

"Yes, of course." Regis set the page back on the stack. "I shall have them for you as soon as possible. Do you intend to keep them home beginning today?"

"Might as well." She shrugged one shoulder. "A few days one way or the other won't matter. I've started assembling private tutor candidates—if you like, you can take a look at the options and weigh in."

"I would like that, yes."

"Great. I'll leave the files out for you when I go home tonight."

Regis bit back an objection and swallowed the cold lump in his throat. What had he expected? That she would stay up to all hours of the night waiting for him, as she had done when she was searching for a music teacher for Reina?

"Thank you," he said.

She flashed him a strained smiled. Did it hurt as much for her as it did for him?

No. If it had, she would have fixed it already. He bore this only for her sake and his children's. If it had been within his power to make a choice and bring them all together again as they had been before—a whole family—he would have done so in an instant. She did have that power. That she did not use it meant she had no desire to. If it pained her to be near him it was only from some lingering sense of respect and friendship; she ached because he did, not because she longed for the way they had been.

Besides, that insurmountable obstacle still lay between them. Even if she had still loved him, and loved him more than whatever other man she had met, he could never ask her to give up all that she was and become the Queen of Lucis.

But she could have now.

Or else he only wished to believe that, so he could torture himself over choices long past.

"Are you done with your breakfast, Reina?" Crea asked.

"Yes." Reina sat with her hands folded in her lap and her napkin folded beside her plate. She didn't make her dislike of Crea overt, in the fashion that most children did. It was, in fact, unnerving how polite she was in spite of her initial declaration. She was quiet and obedient, regardless of whether it was Regis or Crea who gave instructions. She never lashed out or refused to do as she was asked, even if it was Crea who had done the asking.

"Well, then. I believe you have lessons with Miss Agnys this afternoon; what would you like to do until then?"

Reina regarded her stonily, though something like confusion crossed her face. "Are we not going to school?"

"Nope," Crea said. "Not ever again, unless you decide you want to go back. You'll stay here in the Citadel and learn from hand-picked teachers with just you and Noctis as their students."

Her eyes widened and she glanced across the table at Noctis, who was still picking vegetables out of his omelette. He paused and looked up at her, as if she had said something.

"Noctis wants to play in the garden," Reina said. She glanced at Crea. "You can come."

The tweak of Crea's mouth said she was trying not to smile. "Thank you, Reina, for the generous offer. And what would you like to do?"

"I will stay with Noctis," she said.

Crea caught Regis' gaze and lifted her eyebrows. He wished, in that moment, he had Reina's talent for guessing what other people were thinking.

He had no chance to find out. Crea spent her day with Reina and Noctis, and left Regis well alone to find the time to squeeze extra paperwork into his schedule. When he stole away from his work in the evening to have dinner and put his children to bed, he met Crea in the hall and delivered the requisite paperwork to her.

"Ah ha!" She took it, flipping through to make certain he hadn't skipped anything, and handed him a new stack of papers in exchange. "The candidates, as promised. And now I leave these two extraordinarily perfect children in your competent hands and bid everyone a good evening."

"Will you not stay for dinner?" Regis fumbled for an excuse to keep her as he tucked the papers under his arm.

"I'm afraid not. I'm expected." She gave him a smile, almost apologetic, and turned to give Noctis a hug. She offered one to Reina, who politely refused, and straightened to wave goodbye to the three of them. He would have taken the hug that Reina didn't want, but Crea didn't offer it to him.

She left him to dine and see his children to bed on his own. Once they were both asleep—at least temporarily—he returned to his work.

His desk still held a half-read stack of reports from Drautos, detailing the progress of their most recent recruits. Though it was still growing, the Kingsglaive was becoming every bit as valuable as Regis had hoped. What with the empire employing daemons in their attacks more and more recently, having magic on the frontlines was a benefit Regis would not soon have traded away.

Not but an hour or two after he had left Reina and Noctis asleep in their beds, a knock came to his office door and Avun showed Reina in. She wore pink pajamas with cute little chocobos dotted all over them and clutched chubby Chika to her chest. Her eyes were red-rimmed, but her cheeks were dry.

"Reina, my dear." Regis rose from his seat. "What is wrong, little Princess?"

She held out her hands to him and he scooped her up, though she was growing too big to comfortably pick up—or else he was growing too old to comfortably do so.

"Bad dreams," she said, voice small.

Regis' heart skipped a beat. "Dreams?"

She shook her head. "Normal ones, but scary."

"I see." He took her back to his desk and settled her in his lap. "Thankfully, I am extraordinarily skilled at battling ordinary nightmares."

"Mhm." She tucked her feet up in his chair and curled against him.

"And Chika as well," Regis said.

Reina leaned back and looked critically at Chika for a silent moment. "Miss Crea gave her to me."

"I know."

"Why does she make you sad?"

Nightmares he could handle. Uncomfortable conversations with his eight-year-old daughter were another matter altogether.

Regis sighed. He smoothed his hand over Reina's hair and leaned back in his chair, staring at the fireplace across the room. "I suppose it is because I love her and she does not love me."

"Oh."

Reina squeezed Chika so the chocobo's fat little face squished between her hands.

"It makes me sad when I love someone and they don't love me back, too," she said.

Regis furrowed his brow and looked down at her. "Whom do you love that does not return your feelings?"

She flapped Chika's wings and bounced the chocobo in her lap, refusing to meet his gaze.

"I don't want you to love Crea," she said.

Her lack of answer all but confirmed his fears. It was precisely as Crea had said, wasn't it? He tucked those fears aside and pressed on.

"Why not?"

She looked up at him, her eyes shining bright with unshed tears. "Because I want you to love me."

"Reina, little Princess, I do love you!" He brushed the tears away as soon as they fell. "I love you and Noctis more than anything in the world."

"I know."

And yet, there was a disconnect between knowing and understanding, and Regis could not begin to grasp how to bridge the gap. She knew he loved her. He told her as often as he had the opportunity. And yet, she did not believe him.

"Loving Crea does not diminish my ability to love you," Regis said.

"I know."

"Please do not say that unless you truly believe me."

She stared up at him, lips pressed tight together.

"Do you love Noctis?" Regis asked.

"Mhm."

"Would you love him any more if you did not love me?"

"No."

"And would you love me any more if you did not love him?"

"No…" Her tone suggested she could think of an exception, which she never elaborated on.

Regis sighed. "I love you so much, my dear, that I cannot imagine how I could possibly love you more."

She stared at him with that same look on her face.

"Do you believe me?" He asked. "Please do not lie to me."

Her mouth tightened. Her bottom lip quivered. "No."

Regis bit back a sound of frustration. He gathered her up in his arms and kissed her hair. "Why, my dear? What cause have I given you to believe otherwise?"

"You love Noctis more." Her words, muffled against his chest, struck through his heart like a knife.

"That is not true. Why do you believe that?"

And here they reached the edge of what she could quantify. She sat silent against his chest until Regis looked down at her, then she shrugged one shoulder in a hopeless fashion as she dried her cheeks once more.

"I don't know," she said.

"I swear on my life it is not true." He brushed away tears upon tears. "Can you think what I might do to change your mind?"

Her eyes brimmed and more tears fell. "I just want you to love me."

He brushed those away too, gathered her up in his arms, and held her against his chest. "I do love you, my dear. I love you as much as Noctis and more than anything or anyone else in the world. I swear I will prove it to you."

For the moment, that was where they stood. A none-too-small part of Regis wanted to call on Crea for help, but it was late and—however dire he feared matters were—it could wait until morning. Reina fell silent, leaving Regis to guess whether or not he had made any headway in changing her mind. He guessed not.

As had become custom, she slept in his bed that night when he retired to his rooms, and they rose before Noctis was out of bed, although not by much. They arrived back in the room just as Noct was stirring.

"Dad." Noctis rolled over so one arm hung off the side of the bed. "Will you finish the story?"

It took a moment for Regis to guess what he was talking about. The night before, Noct had fallen asleep before the conclusion of the bedtime story. Presumably that was what he referred to. Regis glanced at the clock. They had a few minutes before breakfast.

"Very well. Bring me the book." Regis seated himself on the floor and Reina folded automatically into his lap. Noctis crawled out of bed, still yawning, and deposited the book in Regis' outstretched hand.

"I want that spot," Noct said.

"Nuh uh," said Reina.

He sat on top of her.

Reina squirmed and laughed. "Noct! You're too fat!"

Regis arranged his arms around them as Reina pushed Noctis off her lap, and found the correct page in the book. He left them to settle their own differences as he began reading. For all that Noctis had been the one to suggest the story, he seemed more intent on teasing his sister than hearing the conclusion of the tale. Nevertheless, Regis read on determinedly, dodging whatever fists came too near to his chin right up until Noctis stopped wiggling altogether.

Regis glanced down to find Noct looking toward the door. And there, in the open doorway, was Crea. Surprised as he was to see her before breakfast, he couldn't help but feel a certain relief at her presence. If anyone knew what to do with Reina, Crea would.

"Ah, Crea. I had not expected you so early."

"Oh," she said in a would-be offhand manner. "I happened to wake up a bit early, so I thought I'd come a bit early."

She may have been skilled in a great many things, but lying was not one of them. He set that aside.

"And full glad we are for it." He ushered Reina and Noctis out of his lap to go get dressed and rose to his feet, pulling his suit straight. "May I speak with you privately?"

"Of course," she said, though her voice caught. "I'm at your service."

He led her out of the twins' room, across the lounge, and into the library. He shut the door behind them, but situated himself so he could see through the glass walls if Noctis and Reina appeared in the lounge.

"Last night Reina came to my study because she could not sleep—that is not unusual, as of late, but we had a conversation that left me ill at ease." He paused, gathering his thoughts before pushing onward. "She told me she believes I love Noctis more than I love her."

Crea tugged at a lock of her hair. "You know… that makes a lot of sense."

Regis let out a breath. Perhaps it made no sense to him, but she would know what to do with this mess. She would sort them out.

"I told you she doubted that you loved her, right?" Crea said.

"You did."

"But it makes more sense if she doesn't doubt that you love her… only how much. You tell them all the time that you love them. I was never quite sure how she could believe otherwise."

"I told her I love her as much as I love Noctis, yet nothing I could say would change her mind."

"Mm…" Crea twisted the loose lock of hair around her finger. "Nothing's ever so simple."

"So it would seem. What must I do?"

"I'm not sure, yet. Give me some time to observe and think… maybe talk to her about it—though we've established she'd rather not talk to me."

He sighed. "I do apologize for that. I have no idea why…"

"Oh, I do." Crea flashed a grin. "She's jealous—but—"

"Jealous?"

"Oh, come on, Regis." Crea said, and amusement bubbled around her words. "She doubts how much you love her and then, for the first time in four years you have another woman in your life, albeit sparsely. Of course she's jealous. More curious—I know you said she seems to know what Noct is thinking, but you never mentioned before that she seems to know what you are thinking. Or at least feeling, since the other half of why she dislikes me is because of how I make you feel… actually, I expect all of why she dislikes me could be explained by that…"

She knew.

She knew that Reina could—somehow, for reasons Regis couldn't fully explain—sense what Regis was feeling and thereby knew that Regis still loved Crea. And so now Crea knew that, as well.

"I didn't mean…" She broke off, hesitating. "I just… does she feel what you're feeling?"

"She seems to," Regis said cautiously. "It may have something to do with our link through my magic. I have no notion. It is not something I have experienced—or even heard of—in the past."

"I see. Well. That ball is entirely in your court, I'm afraid. In the meantime I'll think about the other problems." She turned to glance over her shoulder.

"Crea."

"Yes?" She turned back.

"Are you quite alright?"

"Of course. Why wouldn't I be?"

"You did arrive quite a lot earlier than usual and—you will forgive me for noting—but you are not a good liar."

"I… um… had a bit of a disagreement with my fiance, last night." She stared down the row of books past his right shoulder. "I just didn't want to rehash it this morning."

"I see," he said. "Well. You are always welcome here."

Her eyes flicked toward him and he couldn't help wondering yet again. Did any of her old feelings for him still linger? It was pointless to hope at an argument. Indeed, it was pointless to hope at all. Even if she had still loved him, their situation would have been no more simple than it had been before. He still could not marry her. Not unless she was prepared to accept everything that went along with that.

"Thank you," she said.

They continued to stare anywhere but each other until Reina and Noctis emerged and they had an excuse to walk away and speak of other things.

"Will you have breakfast with us?" He asked as they left the library.

"Oh, I already ate." She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Besides, you should have what little time you can with your children."

"Yes, I suppose I should. Another time, then. And I shall hope to hear from you soon, regarding…"

"As soon as I know anything, I'll tell you."

He went to breakfast with his children and second-guessed every interaction he had with them. What was he missing? How could Reina have come to believe this when he tried so hard to give them the same? He loved them both, as different as they were, in all their own ways. How could she believe otherwise?

Except he hadn't succeeded in giving them the same, had he? Four years ago he had declared Noctis Crown Prince. By her own admission, that fact made Reina wonder what her place was. If Noct was heir to the throne, what was she?

He considered Reina across the dining table and resolved to bring the question up with Crea.

"And what plans have the two of you for today?" Regis asked them.

Reina and Noct exchanged a glance across the table.

"Noct wants to catch the fat cat in the courtyard," Reina said.

"Ah yes, the elusive ginger cat. And will you go with him, Reina?"

"I will, Father," she said.

Another oddity. Sometimes she spoke like she was eight years old. Other times like she was eighteen.

"Well, I wish you both the best in your feline hunt," Regis said.

And so, when breakfast was cleared away, he parted ways with the twins, sharing a hug and a kiss with each of them. Before returning upstairs, he stopped at his study to pick up the folder Crea had given him the day before—he had nearly forgotten about the tutors for Reina and Noctis in everything else that had occurred. Better not to delay the matter of their education any further than necessary.

He found Crea more or less where he had left her, still upstairs in the royal quarters, but not in the lounge or library. She was in her old rooms.

"Crea?"

She spun, fingers dropping away from the windowsill. In that instant, he caught not merely the surprise on her face, but the sorrow as well. Then she dropped her gaze and sighed.

"I was just reminiscing."

He pursed his lips in what was not quite a smile. "We left a great many memories in this room."

"Yes…" She turned around, sighed once more, and stepped toward the door.

He held out the folder of papers to her. "The files—it very nearly slipped my mind, but I did find the time to glance over them. The top three seem to be the most promising candidates, to me, but I defer entirely to your judgement."

She took it. "Thank you."

She stepped out and he moved aside to let her go.

"Crea."

"Yes?" She turned.

"I must apologize."

"What for?"

"For calling you back here. You must know it was not my intent to cause you any discomfort. It did not occur to me how painful it might be for you."

Much as he wanted to ask her if she felt the same, he didn't. What would that gain either of them? More pain.

"For you, too." She tucked the files under her arm and smiled sadly up at him.

"Yes… And yet, I was at my wit's end with nowhere else to turn." He returned her smile tightly. "You have dragged us from a dark place, Crea. All three of us."

"That's what I'm here for." Her smile, this time, was more cheeky and wry.

"Yes, I suppose you are…"

If only she were here for something else.

He cleared his throat and straightened his suit. "Regarding Reina…"

"Yes?"

"I had wondered if she might not be affected by this whole affair of Noctis being heir to the throne…"

"Mm. I think it could be very important, yes. Have you noticed that sometimes when you ask what she would like to do she avoids the question by saying what she will do?" She tugged at a lock of her hair.

"I admit to giving it very little thought," Regis said. "Is it important?"

"Yes… though it's difficult to explain why. It's as if she spends more time worrying about what other people want, and so when you ask what she wants she has no idea how to go about addressing that. She'll go with Noctis to the gardens, even if she would rather stay with you, because Noctis wants her with him. And she puts his wants ahead of hers."

"Why would she do that?" Regis' brows came together in the middle.

"I don't know. It may be a result of Noctis being heir to the throne while she is not." Somehow she managed to say just what he feared most.

It was his fault. Everything that had happened and would yet happen had been due to his own inattentiveness. He should have been more thoughtful, but at the time all he could think of was his own pain.

"Why did you do it?" Crea asked.

Not an accusation, merely a question tinged with sadness.

"Last time we spoke, you were resolved not to declare an heir until they were much older," she said carefully.

Regis sighed and shut his eyes. He could have told her, then, what it was that weighed so heavily on his heart. That Noctis would give his life for Lucis and that, in fact, Regis expected that Reina was far more likely to hold the throne than her brother.

And then she would have that weight on her shoulders. Never to be free of it.

"It was not a simple decision. More than that I cannot openly say."

"I see…" she said, although hurt flashed in her eyes. "Well. What's done is done and I trust you have done what was necessary."

"I appreciate your confidence." He turned away, crossing the lounge to the windows and staring out across Lucis. It would all fall to Reina some day. And yet she would live her life believing it was Noctis' burden to bear. "But I often doubt the wisdom, myself. Alas, as you say: it is now in the past and I cannot lightly steer aside from this course."

He didn't notice Crea had followed until she touched his arm.

"Well then let's make the most of what has been done," she smiled, sad but somehow reassuring in spite of that. "Noctis is Crown Prince and Reina stands in his shadow. Whatever comes, she will always face that. But it doesn't have to shape who she becomes. Let's both think how to combat it."

Regis attempted a smile, which likely looked more a grimace. "It is ever on my mind. But I will consider. And I am relying on you."

How did she always manage such warm smiles when matters were so grim?

"I'll think of something. We'll think of something." Her hand slipped down his arm and, just for a moment, her fingers brushed his and she squeezed his hand. Then she let go and dropped her gaze, as if she had been caught doing something she oughtn't have.

"Well. I must be off." He broke the silence with an excuse. Likely he did have somewhere to be, but he wouldn't remember where it was until he was gone. "You will find Reina and Noctis in the inner courtyard. I believe they have gone searching for a particularly fat ginger cat."

"Thank you," she said. "I'll see you later."

He fled. To be with her was both wonderful and torture at the same time. After so many years spent missing her, to have her back in the Citadel was a breath of warm air after a frigid winter. And yet, after so many years spent missing her, to have her back and still out of reach was infuriating. It was as bad as wanting her and denying himself out of guilt.

He passed the day in his usual fashion. That evening, when he reconvened with his children, Crea was still present and, much to his surprise, accepted his invitation to share dinner with them. Furthermore, she lingered after, as Regis walked Reina and Noctis through their usual nighttime routine. He hoped that meant she had some news for him. He dared not hope it meant something else—not even something so small as that she wished to avoid her fiance for a few hours longer. If she preferred Regis' company to his—

Dangerous thoughts.

He slipped away from Reina and Noctis once they were asleep, and shut the door behind him. Crea was waiting in the lounge.

"Dare I hope you have drawn some conclusion?" He asked.

"I have, though you aren't going to like it."

He sighed. "I like none of this." And gestured her toward the lounge, where they sat across from each other. "Come. Tell me all."

"I don't for a minute believe you're doing it on purpose—in fact, I suspect you haven't even noticed you're doing it at all. But I think Reina believes you love Noct more because that's what you are telling her every day."

Regis' brows came together in the middle. He did nothing of the sort. In fact, he had been combing his actions all day searching for anything he had missed and found nothing.

Crea lifted her hands. "Let me explain. You do things. Little things that not even I noticed until I started looking. But now that I'm thinking back, I'm remembering more of them." She took a breath and gathered up her mental list. "At dinner you are more likely to pry for details of Noctis' day than of Reina's. This could just be because he's more reticent with his answers, so when you receive a one-word response you want more and you ask a follow-up question to coax it out of him. Meanwhile, Reina gives you exactly the answers you're looking for from the start and you don't feel the need to ask anything else of her. The result is that you spend more time focused on Noctis. Breakfast conversation is much the same, from what I have seen. Part of that might be because you spent all night with Reina and you have no reason to ask her how well she slept over breakfast if she woke in your bed. It is, therefore, a small stretch for me to assume that most interactions with them proceed in this fashion."

"All this because I ask Noctis more questions?"

"Not entirely, but it's more significant than you think. Imagine, from Reina's perspective: she wants to be the center of your attention. But whenever Noctis is around, he holds your attention for the majority of the time. The only way she can have you to herself is when Noctis is asleep. I wonder if that isn't part of why she can't seem to sleep on her own."

"You believe she is lying about not being able to sleep in order to gain my undivided attention?"

"Nothing so devious," Crea said. "I daresay she can't sleep. Or can't stay asleep or fall back asleep or whatever the case may be. She has some need that isn't being met. Like when you wake up in the night feeling terribly cold or thirsty or whatever. It's hard to sleep if you're not comfortable, and she isn't comfortable until she's reminded that you do love her—which you only do when Noctis isn't around"

"I tell them both that I love them regularly."

"Of course you do. Both of them. But for nearly four years now, Reina has been growing accustomed to living in Noctis' shadow. When you say 'I love you both more than anything on Eos,' what she hears is 'I love Noctis more than anything on Eos… oh, and you're here, too, Reina, I also love you.'"

"That is not my intention." His hands closed hard on the edge of the sofa.

"I know, Regis. Never for a minute do I believe you meant any of this to happen. And I'm not blaming you. I'm only telling you what I've seen."

He sighed, dropping his gaze to look at his shoes. "What else?"

"Other things that follow much the same pattern: when they brought home graded work from school that one day, you made a point to praise Noctis'—again, I suspect this is because he was performing more poorly while Reina seemed to excel—but the result is detrimental. Much of what I've seen boils down to the same thing: Reina is—and always has been—an exceptionally well-behaved child; she does everything to the letter on the first try, exactly like you want and it's so easy to take that for granted when Noctis is struggling along and seems to need more help."

Regis sighed, running his hands over his face. "Anything else?"

The sofa shifted beside him. He looked up to find Crea had taken a seat next to him. Her hand landed on his knee. He covered it with his.

"I know you think you've failed her."

"Have I not?" He asked.

"Of course not. She's not even nine. And things will change. Both of your children will grow up fine."

He squeezed her hand. He could have used a hot mug of tea with a silly little chocobo infuser, just then.

"Noctis is going to die." The words fell out before he could stop them. He stared dead ahead at the coffee table.

Silence.

"What..?" Whispered, as if she didn't want to believe what her ears had heard.

"The Chosen King brings light bought with his own life. So the prophecy foretells. He is unlikely to live past twenty or thirty. I only wished to give him the best life he could have in that time. I never thought… I never meant to hurt Reina at the same time. Gods know she will sit the throne when he is gone and all our hopes for the future rest on her shoulders."

She was quiet for too long. Still, he couldn't bring himself to look at her. At length her hand slipped out from underneath his and she turned his head to face her. Her eyes brimmed with tears she struggled not to shed, but even as she stared at him, mouth working but no sound coming out, a single tear escaped and drifted down toward her chin.

"Gods, Regis…" She whispered. "You've known this all along?"

"Since their fifth birthday, though I suspected a year before."

She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him tight. No more words passed between them for a long time. He held her to him, allowing himself to draw comfort from her nearness and forget she couldn't stay.

When she did speak, it was nothing he had expected.

"I think you should let Reina Dream."

"What?" He released her.

"Hear me out," she said. "Right now, Reina feels apart from you. She feels secondary. She feels unimportant. For all the reasons we have discussed, including that Noctis has been declared crown prince. Give her this chance to feel as if she has a place in the world, equally as important as Noctis', since I gather you would rather not tell her that she could still become queen."

"That would require telling her why," Regis said. "And if I allow her to Dream she is likely to find out as well—perhaps even experience his death."

"She will learn eventually."

"When she is older." Much as he would have preferred to spare her from that pain forever.

Crea shifted on the couch so she faced him. "For one moment step outside your head and imagine your daughter as a whole person—an adult, responsible for her own choices and actions, and not someone you can simply protect from the world. When that young woman stands mourning her brother on her coronation day, will she thank you for sheltering her? Or will she wish she had known sooner?"

Regis could only shake his head. "I will think on it. I promise nothing more than that."

"That's enough," she said. "Like I said, I'm just here to tell you what I see and give you my best advice. It's up to you what you do with that."

"I know," he said. "Not so different from my councilors."

"Less trying, I hope."

He smiled. "Much less trying. Though it helps that you don't have anyone to argue over this with, save me."

"Yes…" she said slowly. "Perhaps I would bicker with the rest of them if I was sitting at that table. Or perhaps I'd knock their heads in like a bunch of unruly children."

Regis laughed in spite of himself. "I should appoint you to my council."

"Oh yes," she said dryly. "The royal nanny on Lucis' ruling council."

"I would argue that you do at least as much for Lucis as half of them. And you do considerably more for me."

"Well let's keep it that way, shall we? Some things are best done without any extra people," she said.

Chapter Text

Of all the advice Crea had and would yet give him, this piece was the one he could not abide. For every other decision regarding his children he had been happy to take her word as the final judgement on the matter. But not Reina's Dreams. It had less to do with how much he trusted Crea and more to do with his own musings on the situation.

It was the same problem he had mulled over and debated with Clarus countless times since their return from Tenebrae. If he were to allow Reina to use this strange magic of hers, he would want her to look ahead to matters regarding the future of Lucis. Reina, being who she was, would respond to his wishes whether or not he openly asked them of her. From there it was a short leap to turning her into a tool for the kingdom.

The technicalities of it ran far deeper. Was the council to be told? If so, what were they to be told? How much would be shared publicly? How much would be kept behind closed doors? How would actions be justified when they had no more to go on than a Dream recounted by an eight-year-old? And if the council were to know of this, each member would each have their own agenda to push. People would be lining up to ask her to look ahead to this event or that. Where did it end? Where would he draw the line?

All that, of course, was assuming she could even control her foresight to such a degree. Thus far, she had done it only once intentionally. Magic of any sort was dangerous if not used correctly. This strange sort, which he knew nothing about, was doubly so.

Far simpler that they never open this box of troubles at all.

So, in spite of Crea's advice, Regis dragged his feet.

Tutors were hired, Reina and Noctis were officially transferred into their tutelage, and spring wore into summer. In those days he saw Crea more frequently when she arrived early or stayed late, but they did not discuss her reasons for doing so again. A selfish part of Regis hoped it was for the same reason. The rest of him wished she could find some happiness and hated himself for doing this to her. If he could have let her go he would have, but he relied too heavily on her. She was the only person in Lucis he could trust to take care of his children.

He avoided, also, discussing Reina's Dreams with Crea. She didn't press the point. Perhaps she understood he needed to make this decision in his own time.

Important decisions, however, had a way of forcing his hand if he waited too long.

The council doors opened, not for the first time, to Reina in her summer pajamas with Chika the Chocobo clutched in her hands. By now, her presence at their meetings was practically commonplace. In spite of that, when he met her gaze across the long table she was still afraid. It occurred to him that it might not be the nightmares at all that made her so nervous, those nights, but the simple act of coming to see him while he was in council.

He motioned and she crossed the room. Though his councilors glanced her way, offering smiles or nods of recognition and greeting as she passed them, she stared fixedly at him, her eyes never leaving his face. When she reached his side he lifted her into his lap and she buried her face against his chest. He smoothed her hair back and kissed her head.

"As you were, Clarus," Regis said.

Clarus cleared his throat. "The investigation has yielded little, as of yet. Regardless of where we might all stand on this issue, this matter cannot be rushed. If we were to proceed with any less caution than we are currently employing, the results could be disastrous."

"Surely there is something that can be done to expedite the process," Felice said. "We may well have a traitor in our midst and we are all content to wait months, if not years to uncover him or her?"

"Would you prefer to alert said traitor and find them fled?" Hamon asked. "Let us allow Marshal Leonis and Master Amicitia to proceed as they deem appropriate. This is, after all, their jurisdiction."

"Better that we waste no more resources on this foolish hunt," Aldebrand said. "The Outlands are crawling with imperials. If we wonder how they learned of the royal family's departure, we need only look outside our own walls."

A knock sounded on the door. All eyes turned, though some of the councilors glanced first toward Regis, as if to remind themselves that Princess Reina was already in the room. It was a rare occurrence that anyone else would disrupt a council meeting.

Avun opened the door and peered inside. "Your Majesty, Captain Drautos has just returned from the field and is wondering when he ought report to you."

Regis raised a hand to stop the murmur that ran through the room. Drautos wasn't due to report back until the following morning at the earliest.

"Bid him enter," Regis said. "We will hear what he has to tell tonight."

Avun disappeared and the doors opened fully. Several things happened at once. Drautos strode in; Reina—who had previously been fast asleep—awoke so sharply and sat upright so abruptly that she knocked her head on the underside of Regis' chin; her hands balled in the front of his jacket, but when he moved to rub his chin she caught his hand along the way. She was staring at Drautos with wide-eyed horror.

"Reina?" Regis craned to see her face. It was painted with panic such as he had never seen. He could only liken it to the expression on her face while she was caught in the Dream in Tenebrae, eyes open but unseeing before he had woken her.

"Reina," he said more firmly, to no avail.

All down the council table, eyes were fixed on the pair of them. At the far end, Drautos was paused mid-bow, looking both concerned and bemused. Only Clarus was staring at Regis, his expression heavy with meaning.

In Regis' arms, Reina sat as still as a statue. If she was breathing, he could not tell.

"Excuse us a moment." He rose to his feet. Clarus followed a beat after.

They crossed the room and the only movement Reina made was to turn her head to keep her eyes fixed on Drautos. When they were closest to him, near the door, her hands tightened in Regis' jacket and she recoiled, but she kept him in sight until the doors closed behind Clarus. Then the tight tension turned into quivering terror and silent tears fell down her face.

"Reina," Regis tried again.

She threw her arms around his neck and buried her face in his collar as silent sobs wracked her small frame.

Clarus caught Regis' eye again. "Perhaps it would be a wise idea to summon Cor and a few Crownsguards."

He had little doubt that Reina's reaction was to Drautos. Still, his mind struggled to grasp that concept. Drautos. A general in his army for years and the Captain of the Kingsglaive more recently. A more driven man Regis had never met and not once in their years of acquaintance had Regis ever thought to doubt him.

Until now.

It seemed unlikely that Reina would have such a strong reaction unless he was not what he seemed to be. Whatever he was, he would cause something catastrophic. Something that terrified Reina so badly that she could not even scream.

"It is possible," Clarus pressed, "That we have found our leak."

And if they arrested him now they would have to explain to the council that he had been arrested because Reina was afraid of him. And if they explained that much, they would have to explain the rest. And so would come the questions: why hadn't this been mentioned before? Why was her magic not being put to use for the good of Lucis?

But if they did not arrest him then whatever Reina feared so much about him may well come to pass.

Regis pursed his lips. Reina quivered in his arms, still senseless with panic, her small hands clenching and unclenching against his back.

"See it done," Regis said.

Clarus issued a few, succinct orders to the Crownsguards standing outside the council chamber. Regis sank onto one of the benches in the antechamber and wrapped both arms around Reina. And they waited. Avun was sent back inside to make excuses for their absence and promise that the king and Hand would return shortly, if the council and Drautos would only wait patiently.

Outside, the Crownsguards assembled. A squad of four along with Cor and the guards who were stationed outside the council chamber. By that time, Reina had calmed down enough to turn in Regis' lap and observe the goings-on. Though intermittent shivers and sniffles still gripped her, the tears had largely ceased.

"Reina," Regis tried once more. "Will you tell me what frightened you so, my dear?"

"Th...That man…" Her voice caught when her breath hitched.

"Captain Drautos?" Regis asked.

She nodded. She took a deep, quivering breath and managed, "He is a bad man, Father."

Regis looked up to find Cor and Clarus watching them. No further explanation was needed to fill Cor in on the events of the evening.

"Have you cut off his magic?" Cor asked.

"Not yet," Regis said. "I thought it best not to give him any warning."

Cor nodded.

"As soon as the doors are open, then," Clarus said.

"Yes." Regis rose to his feet, shifting his hold on Reina. "Now let it be done."

"Crownsguards, with me," Cor called.

They advanced on the door. Regis reached for the line of magic that bound him to Drautos. He gave Cor one last nod.

The door opened. Regis severed the bond, tearing Drautos free from him and severing his connection to the crystal. From within the room he heard Druatos' response—a sound half of surprise and half of pain.

"Titus Drautos," Cor said, "In the name of the king, you are under arrest."

A shocked murmur followed his words.

"On what charges?" Drautos' tone was pained, as if he struggled to force the words out at all.

"Treason. Come with us."

A brief moment of silence followed, in which Regis could only surmise what was happening inside the council chamber. He held Reina more tightly to his chest, though she was quiet by then. Her eyes were fixed on the open doors. She was not, however, at ease. Tension sang through her body, such that even when he tried to hold her more closely, she was stiff and immobile.

Too late he realized they should have asked her. It might not have done any good, but if she had any inclination about what might occur in the future simply by considering the possibilities then it would have been worth trying.

It might have saved lives.

Red light burst from within the council chamber. The doors flew open more fully as someone was thrown into them; a Crownsguard came tumbling out and smashed into the far wall before hitting the ground, where she lay without moving. The two guards outside the doors exchanged looks before charging in, themselves. Shouts issued from within the chamber, but nothing to tell Regis what had happened—save that it was still happening.

Clarus drew his blade and advanced, keeping his back to the wall for as long as he was able. It was just as well—he narrowly avoided a second body as it was ejected from the room; this one tumbled only a few feet out, where it lay bleeding sluggishly from a gash across its chest.

Clarus ducked around the open door, sword at the ready, and looked into the room. His eyes widened, then his face hardened.

"General Glauca," Clarus said. "I might have known you were never of the empire."

Glauca? Drautos was Glauca?

Regis' brain refused to comprehend. What he did register was Clarus disappearing into the room. The room from which two people had already been flung—dead—into the antechamber. He turned to set Reina down on the stone bench, but she clung to his arms.

"Let go, Reina."

"Don't go in there, Father."

"I must, my dear. Now release me."

From within the chamber he could hear the clash of metal. Cor shouted orders over the din; he had only four soldiers left, by Regis' count.

Someone cried out in pain and breathed their last breath as a cry.

Three soldiers left.

Reina clung ever more tightly to Regis' arms and wrapped her legs around his waist. He couldn't detach her without wasting precious time. He couldn't take her in with him, either.

"Reina. Release me this instant."

She met his gaze squarely. Fear was still written in the quiver of her features, but her jaw was set stubbornly.

"No," she told him for the first time in her life.

The next cry that came to the room belonged to Cor. Regis swung his head toward the doors, then back toward Reina with a sound of frustration. They had no time for this argument. The one time he needed Reina to be obedient and compliant, she showed her stubborn streak.

"If I merely stand outside the doors," he suggested.

"I'm coming with you," she said.

Not exactly the bargain he had wanted to make. But another Crownsguard erupted from the council chamber to hit the ground, and he wasn't willing to make any more sacrifices, either.

He shifted his hold on Reina to free up one hand and summoned the Armiger. The six blades, drawn from the In-Between in spectral form leapt to his call, surrounding him and Reina. He prepared a shield but didn't cast it. Then he stepped in front of the doors.

The council chamber was a war zone.

The table was upended in the center of the room. All the councilors were crowded along the walls; some of them had blades at the ready but none of them were eager to advance after watching Drautos take down every Crownsguard who had entered the room. Cor did not have even two soldiers left, by that point. Three lay in the antechamber outside. Three were strewn about the room. Cor and Clarus alone circled Drautos—no, Glauca, in his Magitek armor—who stood calmly in the center of the room with his massive sword in hand. Cor's shirt was streaked with his own blood and he moved stiffly. Nevertheless, he moved. And he struck out alongside Clarus, attempting to catch Glauca off-guard.

It might have worked, save that Cor's blade, when it found purchase on the back of Glauca's armor, glanced off harmlessly, doing little more than throw a shower of sparks in the darkened room. Clarus fared worse; his blow was deflected by Glauca's sword and Glauca caught the front of his robes before turning and flinging him into the wall. Council members scattered around him. He hit the ground. Still breathing.

"Drautos," Regis called. "Put down your blade. You cannot hope to win against the entire city, whatever power you may have."

"I have no need to destroy the city." His voice was the same as Regis had heard on the videos from Niflheim, with no trace left of Drautos underneath. "Only the fool who sits the throne."

"Let him out," Reina whispered.

He lunged for the door. If not for her warning, Regis would have reflexively thrown up a shield in the doorway and trapped him inside. Inside, with Cor, Clarus, and a myriad of hostages.

Instead Regis stepped to the side and let Drautos charge into the antechamber. Drautos spun before hitting the far wall and turned to find Regis now with his back to the council room.

"You cannot hope to beat me, either, Drautos."

"The king of peace—a weak old man who cowers behind his Wall and chooses life or death for his subservients—and a child with a stuffed chocobo. Yes, indeed, Your Majesty, such a threat the pair of you pose."

If he meant to draw Regis' attention to Reina as a vulnerability and thereby distract him from the matters at hand, it was doomed to fail. It might have worked, if he had done so earlier. But he could feel Reina's magic pulling against his. He realized, now, that when he had bound her to her physical form, he hadn't trapped all of her. A piece had always been in the In-Between, so small it had escaped his attention. Until now. Was that why she continued to feel the future, even if she did not Dream it?

"I will need both hands, my dear," he murmured to her.

She ducked under his arm, legs still wrapped around his waist, and wriggled her way around to his back. Predictably, Drautos struck while Regis was thus distracted. He met all six blades of Regis' Armiger in the air; they caught his blade and held. With a growl, Drautos forced his weight against them, but Regis held firm until Reina had stopped moving. Once he was certain she was secure, he pushed back.

Drautos' blade flew into the air. He stepped back a few steps to keep his balance and his sword came clattering down a few feet away. Regis threw the Armiger after him, one after another. They struck, clashing against his armor and forcing him back step by step until he had nowhere left to flee. He swatted at them and, though they sparked against his armor just as Cor's blade had done, the spectral blades inevitably began to find the flaws in his Magitek suit. Or, in the absence of flaws, they created some.

One glaive plunged into Drautos' side and a groan of pain issued from beneath his suit. So he was still human, underneath it all. Or, at the very least, he could still bleed like one.

Regis pressed more determinedly. If he could land one strike then he could land another. If he could harm Drautos then he could kill him.

Through the whirlwind of blades, Drautos dove to the side to retrieve his own sword. He rolled and straightened, holding his blade in hand, but never did the barrage of the Armiger cease and Regis watched more than one strike pierce through his armor.

"Stand down, Drautos," Regis said. "And you may yet live."

"Survival is for the weak." Even with his Magitek-modulated voice, he sounded pained. "The strong prevail."

He swung his sword and knocked away the next wave of Armiger strikes. "Something you know nothing about. Mark my words, king. Lucis will fall."

Drautos turned and leapt through the window behind him. Glass shattered. Magitek fire roared to life in his suit and, with a red blaze at his heels, he soared into the sky.

"Since when can that thing fly?" Cor stumbled to the shattered window, one hand pressed to his side where blood soaked his shirt.

Footsteps thundered in the hall behind them. Regis turned to find a whole battalion of armed and armored Crownsguards pouring into the antechamber from outside.

"Where did he go?" Clarus leaned in the doorway, holding onto the door for support and wincing at too-deep breaths.

"He must be in the city, somewhere," Cor said. "If we move quickly—"

"I fear it is too late," Regis said. "He will have fled to the tunnels."

"The tunnels?" Clarus' brow furrowed. "The Kingsglaive sealed those after their investigation."

"Recall, Clarus, who gave that report," Regis said.

Clarus swore under his breath. "Drautos."

"So he's gone, then?" Cor asked. "We let him escape."

Not an ideal situation, by any stretch. And yet, as he glanced around at those still living and those who lay strewn and unmoving across the floor, he was forced to admit it could have been much worse.

Regis banished the Armiger and turned away from the window. He shifted Reina from his back into his arms. "Send for the doctors—I expect the pair of you to submit yourselves to a thorough examination. Then have the Crownsguard search the perimeter. I should like confirmation that he has left the city, followed by a proper collapse of the tunnels."

"What of the Kingsglaive?" Clarus hadn't moved from where he leaned in the doorway.

"Where one apple is rotten, others are bound to follow. I will trust none of them until we have confirmation," Regis said.

"We have no way to get that," Clarus said.

Regis glanced down at the child in his arms, who was staring wide-eyed up at him. "On the contrary, Clarus. I believe we have always had a way."

Chapter Text

In a few more minutes, the council chamber and antechamber were both bustling with activity. Regis sought some solitude in the hallway outside, thought even that was limited. The whole Citadel was waking now, ten o'clock at night or otherwise; it would have been difficult to find someplace quiet when the entire Crownsguard was beginning to mobilize and no less than a dozen of them were watching Regis' every move.

As the small parade of doctors marched past, Reina's eyes followed.

"Reina."

Her eyes flicked toward him. It took an extra moment for her to focus. She was tired and he should have let her rest, but he could not afford to assume that Drautos would not alert his fellow traitors—if indeed there were any—to tonight's events. He would still have had radio contact with all of them.

"Listen to me, my dear. You have done extraordinarily well tonight. Many lives were saved because of you and I could not be more proud of you." He cupped her face between his hands, kneeling before her as she sat on the hallway bench. "But I fear our work is not yet over. I need you to help me before we can rest. This is very important, little Princess. Lucis is still in danger but with your help we can ensure our people's safety. Will you help me?"

She blinked at him, still clutching her chubby little chocobo to her chest. Her eyes looked much too large for her face, tonight. The pallor of her skin did nothing to diminish that. Nevertheless, she nodded.

He told her what he required of her. And when she had agreed, he gathered her up in his arms and set off for the Kingsglaive headquarters.

Uneven footsteps followed them at a rapid pace. Regis turned to see Clarus following at a hobble, wincing with every motion.

"I thought I told you to see a doctor," Regis said.

"Broken ribs," Clarus said. "Nothing they can do."

"Save instructing you not to go chasing after your king, I suspect."

"If you are doing what I believe you are doing, someone needs to chase after you."

Regis sighed. He ought to have convinced him to stay. If they were walking into another fight, Clarus was in no fit state to engage. Nevertheless, he would never agree to remain behind, either. And arguing would only waste valuable time.

"And they call me stubborn." Regis shook his head and continued down the hall.

By the time they reached the Kingsglaive headquarters, they were followed by not only Clarus, but a small contingent of Crownsguard. Though Regis had given no such orders, he had no doubts as to who had. Stubborn Clarus might have been, but he knew when he needed backup.

They paused at the end of the hall, which led from the Citadel proper to the wing given to the Kingsglaive for training, working, and the housing of their trainees. While plans were underway to arrange for city housing for the growing force, for now they all fit within the Citadel wing. At the moment, Regis was thankful for that.

"Have them assembled." He directed the order to the Crownsguards, rather than Clarus. "And bring them before us one at a time. They may already be aware of what has transpired. If they are not, pray, do not tell them."

"Very good, Your Majesty." The head of the squad bowed and led the way down the darkened hall with the others trailing after.

"Clarus, with me." Regis took charge of Drautos' office. It would have to go to someone else now. If anyone among the Kingsglaive was still trustworthy.

He took a seat behind the desk, which was neat to the point of emptiness, and settled Reina on his lap. Clarus took up a position behind his chair.

"You might sit," Regis said.

"Hardly a position for the King's Shield."

"Stubborn bastard."

He thought he heard Clarus chuckle, but before he could look, a knock came to the door.

"The Kingsglaive are assembled, Your Majesty."

"Send in the first," Regis called.

The door opened and one of the Crownsguards entered, followed by a Glaive who was wearing trousers but little else. Regis recognized him—he had been among the first trainees to join the Glaive, three years before. The Crownsguard shut the door and stood before it.

"Nyx Ulric." Regis looked him over.

"Your Majesty." He bowed and froze in that position.

Regis glanced at Reina, who shook her head.

"He's just a person," she said.

Regis let out a breath. He couldn't help the relief he felt just at one name being cleared. If one was untouched, that meant the entire Kingsglaive was not corrupt. All of this work had not been entirely wasted.

"Rise, Ulric," Regis said.

Nyx straightened, though he still stood as stiffly as if he were made of stone.

It took a moment of rifling through Drautos' desk to find what Regis was looking for: the full Kingsglaive roster. He passed this, along with a pen, to Ulric.

"Mark by your name," Regis said. "You may stay; I expect you to take up your blade if the situation calls for it."

If events took a turn for the worse he wanted a Glaive available to subdue the traitorous Glaives. Crownsguards and Clarus would be of little help against an elite force of soldiers. Not, leastways, until Regis managed to sever the magic of the Kingsglaive in question.

"Send in the next," he ordered as Ulric took up an at-attention post to one side of the room.

The next Glaive was one Libertus Ostium, who also received a mark by his name and clearance to remain in the office, though it was rapidly becoming too crowded. The third Glaive made the first two useful, rather than merely decorative.

"Luche Lazarus," Ulric announced as the third Glaive entered.

The response from Reina was immediate. She clutched at Regis' arm, which had been wrapped loosely around her, and squirmed in his grasp in an effort to push herself farther away from Lazarus.

"Seize him." Regis reached for the line of magic that bound this Glaive to him. His attention was split, however, by ensuring that the order was directed to the loyal Kingsglaives alone and not the Crownsguard in the room, and by the moment of hesitation as he gave thought to the fact that Reina sat on his lap—in front of him and in the line of fire, should Lazarus attack.

He did.

Before Regis could tear the line, Lazarus threw out his hand and lightning arched from his fingertips. Regis reacted automatically, as he had when Drautos had done much the same thing during training. Now he wondered if it hadn't been an accident at all.

The barrier sprang up around him and Reina. He had just enough foresight to extend it in front of Clarus before the lightning struck, dancing across the clouded surface and splintering harmlessly over the edge. While Regis continued to grope for the correct strand of magic, Ulric and Ostium charged in from the side. They collided with Lazarus, one after the other, and knocked him off his feet. For a moment, magic swelled around them. Cries of pain mingled with grunts of frustration and it was impossible to tell from which Glaive each had come.

At last Regis untangled the three strands of magic, isolating Lazarus' alone, and severing it. The rush of magic splashed back at him, as a hose suddenly split down the middle, and then ceased. On the floor in front of the desk, the three Glaives froze. Regis had to rise from his seat, dropping his barrier, to see that Ulric had Lazarus pinned with a blade against his throat.

Clarus cleared his throat, looking a shade paler. "Practical considerations aside, perhaps it would be better to sever all of them until proven innocent."

It would take days—if not weeks—to rebuild those bonds. Each tie took something of him and while the bond itself was not draining once it was established, the creation of the link did cost him more than he wished to admit. Nevertheless, Clarus was right. The Kingsglaive was not corrupt in its entirety, but some of them presented a danger. If it saved lives, it was worth the extra time and effort to rebuild the necessary bonds.

He reached out, separating Ulric and Ostium from the group of Kingsglaives and holding the group of strands on their own. Besides those two loyal Glaives, he had a weaker bond to Clarus and Cor each, and another, more peculiar, bond to Reina. Those he set aside as well. All others he severed. Quickly, cleanly, and entirely.

Magic burst through the room. Regis winced, gritting his teeth and clutching the arms of his chair. Even having expected the backlash, it was painful to break so many ties so quickly.

Outside in the hall were cries of shock and alarm. When those subsided and Regis recovered his composure, he lifted his head and called for the next Glaive to enter.

And so it went. Well into the night and creeping into what could reasonably be called morning, they inspected Kingsglaive after Kingsglaive. The rot had not crept so far as Regis had feared. Of the roughly fifty Kingsglaive that Regis had recruited over the past three years, less than a dozen were condemned on Reina's wordless terror. The rest were marked clear, though it would take some time to restore magic to all of them. For the moment, Regis settled for explaining an abridged version of the situation to Ulric and Ostium, and naming Nyx Ulric as acting Captain of the Kingsglaive until further notice. If Regis had any luck at all, perhaps he would prove a suitable replacement for Drautos.

But their display before the Kingsglaive had one unavoidable side effect. Some of the Kingsglaive now knew of Reina's magic. Or, at the very least, Ulric and Ostium were aware that their traitorous brethren had been condemned on no more than a little girl's panic. Regis could only hope that the pair of them proved trustworthy enough to bear that secret. For secret it was. Not even the council yet knew the reason why Drautos had been condemned.

It was past two in the morning by the time Regis finally returned to his rooms with Reina in tow. There was still much to do, but it could wait until they had both rested and reconsidered the situation.

Reina, at least, was already in her pajamas. That saved Regis the effort of getting her ready for bed. As it was, he only cared enough to replace his suit with more comfortable sleepwear before falling into bed beside her.

She yawned hugely and inched up to turn off the bedside light. Then she settled down beside him and yawned again. In spite of that, he could make out the smile on her face, once his eyes adjusted to the darkness. He couldn't help but return it.

"Reina, my dear, you are an extraordinary child." He had been telling himself the same thing for years. It was high time she heard it too. Though it was difficult to think of her as a child when she had just saved countless lives.

Reina's smiled stretched.

He hated to think how the night might have gone differently if she had not been present, but that was where his mind wandered, nevertheless. He came to the uncomfortable conclusion that, had Reina not been there—or if he had not taken her so seriously—this night would have concluded with a dozen traitors still in their midst; imperial snakes, poisoning the Citadel, poised to strike. There was no telling when they would have done so or what would have come of it. Nothing good.

"There is no doubt in my mind that you saved Lucis tonight, little Princess." He brushed her hair back from her face and smiled fondly down at her. She had witnessed terrifying things, tonight. She had felt panic that no one else understood. And yet, she still beamed up at him as if she had no regrets in the world. As if she would willingly have made the same trade every day of her life and come out the better for it.

"You have been asking this of me for several months, my dear, and I believe it is high time I gave you a proper answer." Regis steeled himself. In that moment he knew it was a more difficult concession for him to make than for her. "Beginning tomorrow, you and I will explore your magic together. And I will let you loose to see the future… and glean what you might about the present."

Her smile grew deeper still until it split her whole face and scrunched up her eyes. "I can help?"

"Yes, my dear. I believe you can."

Chapter Text

They woke late the following morning. So late, in fact, that it could hardly have been called morning at all—though the descriptor may have leniently been applied to the hour at which they had gone to bed. Regis woke with the sun already well in the sky and the hands on the grandfather clock in his bedroom creeping toward noon. Reina slept soundly beside him, peaceful in spite of their misadventures the night before.

He rose, doing his best to avoid disturbing her, and crept away to don his suit and at least run a comb through his hair. When he returned, she was sitting upright in bed, holding Chika in her lap and rubbing her eyes.

"Good morning, little Princess." Regis paused in the doorway, catching sight of himself in the mirror and stopping to straighten his crown. He glanced at the clock. "Though it may be more appropriate to bid you 'good afternoon.'"

"Good morning, Father." Reina yawned, untroubled by whether it was morning or noon or afternoon. She smiled. "You will let me Dream, tonight?"

"Yes, indeed." He had not forgotten his promise to her, nor had he—as of yet—come to regret it. Last night her magic had saved lives. What might she have achieved if he hadn't been so adamantly holding her back? "Now come along, my dear. I fear we have slept away much of the day and many things yet remain to be done."

She slid off the bed and took his hand, following him out of his rooms and into the hall beyond. In the royal lounge, they found Crea and Noctis.

"Regis!" Crea was on her feet in an instant. "Avun told me what happened last night—are you alright?"

"Unharmed, though I fear there are others who cannot say the same," Regis said.

Noctis joined them in a moment, silently drifting forward and wrapping Reina up in a hug. "You're supposed to be there when I wake up."

Regis only caught the words because he had been standing so close to Reina in the first place. They had always made an effort to return to the room before Noctis awoke. If he knew that Reina slept few nights in her own bed, he had given no indication of it—at least not to Regis. It was unclear how much passed, either verbally or otherwise, between the twins.

"I'm sorry, Noct…" Reina hugged him back, though she was already several inches shorter than him and her voice muffled against his chest.

Crea stopped before him, hands clasped in front of her. "I'm glad I arrived early enough to be here when he woke, but we both decided it was better not to disturb you."

"Thank you, Crea."

"Have you changed your mind, then?"

Somehow she knew, not only that he had been avoiding taking her advice in the first place, but that last night's events had pushed him where her recommendation could not.

"I have," he said. "I shall have to make time to explore this magic with her but I believe it will be for the best. At the moment, however, I must see to my other duties. You will look after her for me?"

"Of course. I'll even feed her breakfast, which I expect you're going to skip." She cocked her head to one side and smiled at him. "Aren't you?"

He sighed. Such a simple reprimand and yet, more effective than any of Clarus' disapproving looks or Avun's habit of hovering around with a meal tray.

"I will see if something cannot be arranged," he said.

Her smiled deepened. "Go on, then. Don't let us keep you. We'll be here when you get back."

Goodbyes were made, though only reluctantly on all parts, and Regis made his escape. He hoped to find that Clarus was out on medical leave and Cor as well. His expectations were not so optimistic.

Indeed, when he arrived in court, it was to find Clarus already present and seated. Regis shot him a disapproving look, which he pointedly ignored.

They had yet to decide what, if anything, to tell the council. Nevertheless, such matters were for discussion behind closed doors. The throne room was a largely public chamber and, even when empty, it was better not to discuss such sensitive matters there. Clarus did, however, ascend from his seat and come to speak quietly with Regis. He moved more stiffly as he climbed the stairs and suppressed a wince at certain motions.

"I trust that Her Highness is in good health this morning," he said, once he stood beside Regis.

"Better health than my Shield, at least," Regis said. "You might have stayed home, Clarus."

"And left you to deal with this mess on your own?" His voice came out more strained than usual. "Hardly."

Regis looked him over and saw, as ever, a man who would have given his life in defense of Regis'. It didn't often come to that anymore, but it seemed the last few months were more eventful than any number of years before. And last night, barring some rapid decision making, Clarus might have made good on his vows in the most final way possible. If Regis had not listened to Reina, what might have become of Clarus and Cor?

And if he had listened earlier and allowed her to Dream, what then? Clarus would have been standing tall and uninjured.

Regis sighed. "I must apologize, Clarus. There was no reason to cost you so much pain."

"No reason? We were faced by an imperial in our midst."

"I have not forgotten. And yet, I wonder if everything that happened was not entirely preventable."

Clarus considered him through narrowed eyes for a moment before understanding dawned. They could not speak openly of Reina's magic here. Not until decisions had been made regarding what to share with the council. But he could still hint.

"Then you have decided to take preventative measures?" Clarus asked

"I have," Regis said tightly. "And I hope I shall not come to regret it."

Clarus cleared his throat and, to all appearances, changed the subject. "I hope Princess Reina was not too disturbed by what she saw last night."

Regis knew better.

"No indeed. In fact, she seemed in high spirits. I am led to believe that she enjoys being involved in the kingdom, in spite of potential threats. Though I cannot say I fully understand the benefits, she seems to think they outweigh the costs."

"That is good news." Clarus turned away, glancing down the throne room. "When we recess, I would beg a moment of your time, Your Majesty. There are matters we must discuss."

A good Shield was ever willing to step in front of his king. A good politician was a master of understatement.

Regis suppressed a smile. "Indeed. At the earliest convenience."

The earliest convenience occurred a few hours along, when court broke for the afternoon. It took more effort to escape from the councilors, who endeavored to dog Regis' footsteps and learn the answers to their myriad questions.

"You may discuss these matters with His Majesty at this evening's council meeting," Clarus said when they stopped outside Regis' study. "Until then, I trust that all talk will be suppressed. These are matters of national security."

And he shut the door firmly but gently in their faces.

Regis sank into his chair. "I would long since have gone mad without you to stand between me and the unending barrage of questions."

"I am your Shield, Regis." Clarus walked more slowly to the chaise and laid down across it with a groan. "Gods. I had forgotten how painful broken ribs were."

"We are not young men anymore, my friend."

Clarus' eyes flicked toward him. "I haven't given up hope just yet."

"Oh, by all means. Cling to it for as long as you are able."

"I intend to." Clarus stretched, winced, and settled into a more comfortable position. "Now. What are we to tell them?"

"The truth? That my daughter sees the future in her dreams and experiences some sort of premonitions while awake?" Regis tapped his fingers on his desk. He shook his head. "I am disinclined toward that route."

"For her sake?"

"Primarily. I am hardly settled on allowing her to do this at all; I will not see her become a tool for Lucis. And it raises uncomfortable questions."

"Not so many as omitting the truth does, however," Clarus said.

"Yes, that has its own problems."

Regis stared at the top of his desk, Clarus stared at the ceiling, and together they sat in silence for several minutes. Regis could think of no other explanation for Drautos' attempted arrest—and the subsequent arrests of a dozen Kingsglaives—than the truth. Without describing Reina's magic, they had no way to answer any number of questions the council would undoubtedly have.

"We may have to tell them," Clarus said at last.

Regis made a noncommittal noise.

"I would, of course, stand beside you in defense of the princess' autonomy and privacy."

Regis sighed and dropped his chin to his chest.

"They cannot overrule your judgement, only make their complaints. And once we have heard those I will put an end to further discussion. Use of the princess' magic will be entirely up to your discretion and not a subject open for discussion among the council."

"That is all fine and well," Regis said, "But they will discuss it in our absence, nevertheless. And when anything goes amiss they will ask themselves why the princess did not foresee it. When they have questions without answers they will wonder why I do not press her for them. Discontent will grow."

Clarus sighed and fell silent for a moment.

"Then we need not tell them it can be controlled," he said after a time. "Which is not entirely false. As of yet we know little to nothing about her dreams and premonitions. That you have resolved to learn more with her can be omitted from our explanation. We will simply choose our phrasing carefully and imply that control is out of the question."

"That may work," Regis said slowly. "The situation in Tenebrae might be disclosed, along with any number of more uncertain premonitions she has had. We need only make it clear that her feelings predict unfavorable outcomes in the future, not that there is any possibility she could look ahead at will."

"You have, yourself, said that no one else has any knowledge of this magic—neither the Oracle nor the Lucii," Clarus said. "It is, therefore, not far fetched that her magic is unknowable."

"Yes…" Regis nodded slowly. "Yes, I believe this will work. Thank you, Clarus! You have once more saved me."

"That is my job, Regis," Clarus said. "But if you would like to repay the favor…"

"Yes?"

"Have someone bring me food so I never have to move."

By the time the ruling council convened for their evening meeting, Regis and Clarus had solidified the last of their plans. Not that anyone could plan how a council meeting would go. Nevertheless it was reasonably guaranteed that, in any given session, Aldebrand would come out in support of the upper class, Felice would vehemently disagree with everything he said, and Hamon would sit back and watch the chaos unfold with something suspiciously like amusement on his face.

The council doors closed behind Regis with a booming that echoed through the room. His and Clarus' footsteps on the tile floor punctuated the silence as all eleven councilors watched them. During the day, light poured in through the back windows and illuminated the entire room, but during these evening meetings, the lone chandelier above the council table cast long shadows in a lopsided rectangle around the table. The light never quite reached the corners of the room, which gave the impression of something lurking just on the edge of observation.

Murmurs of greeting followed Regis and Clarus as they passed. To each, Regis gave a nod of acknowledgement before taking his seat at the head of the table. Clarus was seated to his left and, once the rustling of robes ceased and silence fell, all eyes turned expectantly toward Regis.

Regis settled his hands on the arms of his chair and began. "All here in this chamber have borne witness to the former Captain Drautos' flight from the Citadel. That the former Captain of the Kingsglaive and Niflheim's General Glauca are one and the same was not a secret I had kept from you, but a revelation I discovered only moments before we all saw the truth with our own eyes."

As he and Clarus had previously agreed, Regis told the tale—beginning in Tenebrae and working forward—of Reina's peculiar brand of magic. He omitted those details as were necessary to protect her. None interrupted his tale, but he could see on their faces that not all were inclined to believe it offhand, either.

Aldebrand folded his hands on the table in front of him and his eyes flicked along the line of his peers on the opposite side before returning to Regis. Felice kept her gaze locked on Regis throughout, lips parted in shock. Hamon was as unreadable as ever—his face blank and his gaze unmoving—if not for the narrowing of his eyes, Regis might have thought he had fallen asleep with his eyes still open. Clarus was the only one among them who looked not at Regis, but at the others.

When his story was complete, silence fell in the dim room. Regis sat back in his chair, steepled his fingers in front of himself, and waited. The trance broke first as the councilors began to turn away from him and look toward each other, exchanging wordless glances across the table. But none of them wished to be the first to speak. Regis had no intention of making it easier for them.

It was Hamon who had the courage to do what the others would not. He leaned forward in his chair so that the light from above caught the wrinkles in his aging face and made them look all the deeper.

"If we are to believe that the princess can indeed catch a glimpse of what lies in store for us," His tone made it clear that he did not believe, but was also not willing to call his king delusional. "Then what is to stop her from seeing everything that lies in store for us?"

"Though Her Highness may, on occasion, have been granted these chance visions and premonitions, we have no way to direct this power," Regis said.

"The Caelum family has been Eos' sole expert on magic for as long as magic has existed," Aldebrand kept his tone light and sprinkled flattery on top of criticism. "Surely if any can control this, you can, Your Majesty."

"Do not misunderstand," Regis said. "This is not Caelum magic. Never in the history of Lucis has one of royal blood possessed the ability to look into the future. Not even in the amassed knowledge of the Lucii is there any understanding of where such a gift could have come from."

Silence fell again, and again the councilors took to exchanging meaningful glances with their neighbors. The Caelum family might have had all the magic in the world, but Lucis' ruling council contained the only people in the kingdom to have mastered mind-to-mind communication in a look. Or so they thought.

"It does us no good to waste time arguing over the origin or nature of Her Highness' unique ability," Clarus said. "Let us, instead, take it for what it is: a gift, which has saved the royal family, and perhaps the kingdom in whole, more than once in only a few months. We would be wise to take note of any future dreams or premonitions that the princess might have and act accordingly—with the knowledge of what has occurred in the past. In the meantime, we might lay this matter to rest."

"But those men and women of the Kingsglaive have been arrested without evidence," Felice objected. "And—if I am to understand it—without any intention of giving them a fair trial."

"Those men and women formerly of the Kingsglaive are traitors to the crown," Clarus said.

"On what proof?" Felice asked. "We cannot condemn people on the word of an eight-year-old."

"Would you have given Captain Drautos the benefit of the doubt, as well, Master Felice?" Aldebrand sat forward in his chair. "Perhaps we were hasty in attempting to arrest him, in spite of his attempt on all of our lives."

And so it began. Regis suppressed a sigh and leaned back in his chair, his eyes flicking toward Clarus. Clarus gave him a long-suffering look.

"Drautos murdered several members of the Crownsguard in front of us," Felice said. "That is certainly condemning evidence. The Kingsglaive, however, have done nothing."

"Let us not forget that Drautos was officially arrested before any of that occurred," Aldebrand said. "By your reasoning, he should never have been arrested in the first place, and thus none of those lives would have been lost. And so we would continue to have a snake among us."

"That is not what I said. They have been arrested—as Drautos was—and still have done nothing to justify that. How are we to know what they would have done, if not arrested? I assume that the princess' dislike for these people was fueled by future actions that they will no longer take. If we have prevented those actions without knowing what they might have been, how are we to determine appropriate punishment—if, indeed, any is necessary?" Felice asked.

Here Aldebrand hesitated. His eyes flicked toward Regis, as if searching for support.

"Master Felice makes a valid point," Regis said, "One which must be given due consideration. We walk a new and uncertain path—there are no definite answers, here."

Would that there were. If only Reina could have told him what she had seen for those Glaives—except she hadn't seen anything; she had only felt.

"Bear in mind, however, that Drautos was not the only traitor who turned to his blade when confronted with his crimes. That some did not speaks little of their guilt and more of their intelligence," Regis said.

Murmurs of agreement rose to meet his words. Felice cast her eyes down the table and found herself sorely outnumbered. She had expressed reasonable concerns. But Reina was correct, in this.

"On the subject of the Kingsglaive, Your Majesty," Hamon said, "You intend, still, to maintain them?"

The question gave Regis pause. Here was the chance to do away with an organization that had begun to fester. Yes, he had cut the tainted bits out, but if he maintained it, who was to say that the same disease would not return to its ranks? Was it not better to remove the whole limb?

"If we are to assume that Her Highness' ruling on each member of the Kingsglaive was due to some glimpse into their future," Clarus said carefully, "Then we might also assume those who still remain will continue to be loyal to us."

He retained logic and pragmatism when Regis' hold on them slipped.

"Any additions to their ranks, however, should be considered carefully," Clarus said.

Indeed. As they should have been in the first place. Instead, Regis had been so caught up in developing an elite army of magic-wielding soldiers that he had lost sight of the Lucii's first warning to him: take care whom you grant power to.

"If they are to be maintained, then I believe their magic will have to be restored," Hamon said.

"Indeed," said Clarus, "And a new Captain must be chosen."

Significant glances leapt from person to person down the table. Uncertain murmurs rose up and died again. None of them had much notion who was in the Kingsglaive, now that Drautos was not.

"One of the charter members, perhaps?" Aldebrand suggested, then hesitated. "Many of them were quite young, though, and three years in the Glaive is a poor substitute for Drautos' long history with us. Nevertheless, I believe it would be best to put one of their own in charge—if only for practical reasons of magic training."

The silence that fell was heavier. Drautos' long history with them stretched back over a decade. Had he been working for the empire all along? What other hints had he dropped that they had never known? What information had he fed them? How often had he doomed Lucis' efforts in the war?

Thoughts for another time. Or for no time, given that they benefited no one.

"If I might, Your Majesty," Clarus said, "There were two Glaives, I believe, who retained their magic and assisted in the arrest of the others."

"Indeed," Regis said. "Nyx Ulric and Libertus Ostium."

"Might one of them be suitable?" Clarus asked.

Both were young, only in their early twenties. Ostium was a capable soldiers, but he was not a leader. He had the heart, as it were, of a follower. Ulric had a wolfish feel to him; he was dangerous, but only to those outside his pack. He would give his loyalty and fight to protect his kin—whether his fellow Kingsglaive or all Lucians or the royal family themselves. Whether or not he had the capability to lead such a pack remained to be seen.

He was also their best option.

"Let Nyx Ulric be named Captain of the Kingsglaive," Regis said.

There was a general murmur of assent among those assembled. It was an uncommon occurrence indeed for all the members of the council to agree on an issue without any prior argument. Best not to linger, lest they change their minds.

"There remains the issue of the Kingsglaives' magic." Clarus was looking a little more pale than usual, but he pushed on nevertheless. "Most have been stripped of their abilities in connection to last night's events. How soon do you intend to reforge those bonds, Your Majesty?"

"It ought be done as soon as possible," Aldebrand said. "Every second they are without, Lucis is deprived of its soldiers."

Never mind that the Kingsglaive had only existed for three years.

"I can begin immediately," Regis said. "Though I cannot reconnect all of them at once. Granting them control over my magic is taxing on me, at least at the onset. It will take several days before all of them will be restored."

"Then we can begin tomorrow," Clarus said. To Aldebrand, he added, "Lucis has survived this long without an army of magic-wielding soldiers, we will manage a few days longer."

No one offered any further objections to this plan. When silence fell at the conclusion of one subject, Clarus once more took up the torch and drove the meeting forward.

"In addition to these matters, my Crownsguard have established that Drautos did, in fact, flee the city last night, through the same caverns that the marilith initially entered. As His Majesty surmised, the tunnels were not filled in, contrary to Drautos' reports. We can only speculate what else the empire intended to use them for. Presently, they are being filled in by the Crownsguard. Since concerns regarding the loyalty of the Kingsglaive have been handled already, I would request that they, too, join the effort. The tunnel system is proving to be more extensive than we imagined and it will take time to safely close off access without compromising the city structures that sit on the surface."

"As they can do little more of use until their magic is restored, I see no issue with this," Aldebrand said.

General sounds of agreement were made all around. A surprisingly cooperative evening.

"If there are no further concerns, I believe we might adjourn early tonight." Regis glanced toward Clarus. "Especially given that Master Amicitia was injured during Drautos' attempted arrest."

Clarus flinched as if Regis had brandished a whip before his eyes. He could take issue with the reminder later, provided that he went home and rested after he was through lecturing Regis.

"Of course, Your Majesty," Aldebrand said.

"Apologies, Master Amicitia," Felice said. "It was careless of us to forget."

The look on Clarus' face indicated he would have preferred that everyone forgot for just a few minutes longer. Nevertheless he bowed his head. "Don't trouble yourself. It is only a minor injury."

And he refused to let Regis apply his magic. Did he really think suffering through broken ribs was going to make him more rugged and masculine? It seemed an idea foolish enough for Cor to entertain, but not Clarus.

"Nevertheless, we will adjourn for the night," Regis said, more definitively this time.

In response to his words came the cacophonic scraping of a dozen chairs on tile floor. Each councilor rose and bowed to Regis before turning and taking their leave. When the heavy metal doors slammed shut behind the last of them and the echoing sound faded away, Clarus was the only one still present.

"I do not need you to protect me, Regis."

Though anger seethed behind Clarus' eyes, Regis met his gaze levelly. His pride had taken a blow. Bad enough that he should have been injured by a foe he could not protect his king from, but now that same king was rearranging schedules to accommodate him.

"My friend, for all the times you have made choices in the interest of my health, you might allow me this one on your behalf," Regis said.

"That is my job," Clarus said. "You, however, have more important responsibilities elsewhere."

"Then consider it for the good of the kingdom or for my own mental well-being." Regis pushed his chair back and rose. "Now go home and rest, Clarus. And the next time you find me frustrated with my fading youth, you might remember this and grant me some empathy."

He turned and left Clarus to consider what he had said. Clarus would go home and put the whole event aside. He had more grace than Regis, in that respect. Or perhaps he simply knew when he had come up against someone too stubborn. But he would leave it alone. Eventually.

In the meantime, Regis had an appointment to keep.

Chapter Text

By rights, Noctis and Reina should both have been asleep by then. He had tucked them into bed following dinner, read them the requisite bedtime story, and kissed them both goodnight before he left for the council meeting. In practice only Noctis was asleep, while Reina was sitting outside Regis' door.

She picked herself up and dusted herself off, as Regis approached. Chika the Chubby Chocobo had been keeping her company, and was now squished against her chest in an embrace that would have been deadly for any living creature.

"I can Dream tonight, Father?" She asked.

"As I promised," Regis agreed, "We will begin to explore your magic together from this night onward."

Or however often he had the energy to do so when night rolled around. He would simply have to make the time. For all their sakes.

Reina brightened, her face splitting in a smile. Regis smoothed her ebony hair from her face and pushed open the doors to his rooms. She did so look like Aulea had, at that age.

She followed him inside the door and into his dressing room like a little duckling at his heel. He removed his crown and set it on the center island as Reina climbed on top of the shoe bench and planted her elbows on the island and her chin in her hands.

"Will Noctis wear this one day?" She asked.

"The crown?" Regis worked at the straps that held his cape and pauldron in place. "Unlikely."

"Why not?"

He forced his mouth shut when the truth tried to break free. She was eight. It was one thing to unburden himself on her nanny—a grown woman whom he had known and been close with for years—and quite another to leave his child with the weight of such a terrible truth.

"The heir has a coronet—though in practice, Noctis never wears it—"

"He doesn't like it."

"So I have gathered, yes. In any case, when a prince is crowned as king, he receives a crown unique to him."

"What will happen to your crown?" Reina set Chika down on the island and picked up his crown.

Regis finally managed to shrug out of his cape and began working at his outer layers. "I suppose it will remain with me."

Too late he realized the implications of his statement—though even in hindsight he couldn't imagine what else he might have said. Thankfully, she seemed not to connect this discussion of crowns to any idea of death or mortality. Instead she set his crown down gently and gave it a little nod and a smile, as if to indicate that it was right for Noctis not to wear Regis' crown. Then she slid off the bench and rounded the island to his side.

"Can I hang up your coat, Father?"

"If you wish." He pulled it off and laid it in her waiting hands. "On that rack right there."

It took her a minute to find a way to reach first the empty hanger and then, once she had the coat on the hanger, the rack once more. She managed to gain the last few inches of required height by stepping up on the bottom of the rack and stretching as far as her arm would reach. The coat hung a little crooked when she was through with it, but she turned back and beamed at him.

He smiled. She came running back to receive next his vest, then his tie, then his shoes, and when he was down to his shirtsleeves he shooed her off to get into bed while he pulled on his sleepwear. He entered his bedroom after to find her tucked up in the middle of his bed with Chika tucked in beside her. Sometime during the night she would stretch out like a starfish and he would end up with a corner of his own bed while Chika had a whole half to herself.

"How does it work, Father?" She asked as he climbed into bed beside her.

"I know little more than you, I fear. But I will tell you what I understand. Or what I believe to be the case: there is a place outside of this world we live in, all around us—like water surrounds a bubble. That place, which we call the In-Between, is not constrained by space and time as we understand them. When I use my magic to warp or phase, I am passing through the In-Between to appear in a different place. This occurs physically: my body briefly enters the In-Between and then re-emerges elsewhere, without ever having moved. I believe that what you do is similar, but with time instead of space. Your spirit enters the In-Between and emerges at some other time, rather than some other place."

She listened with rapt attention and her mouth in a small 'o' shape.

"So I warp ahead in time," she said at length.

"That is my understanding."

"But you can warp wherever you want."

"Within limits, yes. Perhaps, given practice, you might do that same. However—and this is very important, Reina—we must explore your limits carefully. I understand precisely how far I am able to warp or for how long I can phase. A human, Caelum or otherwise, is simply not meant to exist in the In-Between for an extended time. I do not know what such limitations of your magic might be, but I know they will exist. We must find them and work within their confines. Becoming lost in the In-Between is a very real and dangerous possibility. This is not a game; it is a matter of life or death. Do you understand that?"

"Yes, Father."

"Good girl. Now, before we begin, I must teach you something. Currently, I am preventing you from entering the In-Between, because you do so without noticing and without intent. I need you to understand what it feels like to be here, rather than there, and—more importantly—how to tell when it is time to return." He turned to face her. "Close your eyes and focus inside of yourself—the same place you feel uncomfortable when something bad will happen."

He shut his eyes as well and reached out toward her. It wasn't far to reach, with his magic already wrapped up with hers. Indeed, in the months that had passed since he had bound her in place, numerous tendrils and tangles of her magic had wrapped around his, like vines growing over a trellis. He extracted himself carefully; the process was not so different from attempting to sneak out of bed without waking her.

"Don't leave, Father."

He paused, taken aback that she recognized not only what he was doing, but that his magic was a piece of him.

"I am not going anywhere, my dear. But if you wish to dream the future I must release you."

Her magic clung to his, only falling away reluctantly when given little other choice. He began to wonder if the growing of her magic over his hadn't been an accident at all. Had she known all along that he was there, holding her in place, and so she had wrapped around him much the same way she held to his arm when she was afraid?

"Will you come back, after?" She asked.

He would need to, at least until she was able to control herself more fully. He didn't tell her that, however, for fear that it would discourage her from learning control.

"I will, little Princess. For now you must focus. Do you feel this place, where you are now?"

"Where you kept me?"

She was more aware of what he had done than he gave her credit for. "Where I have held you since Tenebrae, yes."

"Mhm."

"This is where you belong. This is the place you must return to when you are through dreaming."

"But it feels anxious here," she said.

The wounds he had observed before—the ones that made her feel perpetually nervous, by her description—were still healing. But they were healing.

"That is because when you dreamed first in Tenebrae, you were injured. Not physically, but magically. I believe that the vision of what would happen in our futures was so strong that it pulled you—unwillingly—into the In Between, thereby tearing your natural bonds to your body. You feel this way because you are still healing."

"Will it go away?"

"In time, I believe it will improve. I cannot promise more than that. For now you must recognize that this place is where you belong, even though it may be uncomfortable sometimes. Will you remember that? Will you return here when you are through dreaming?"

A pause. It was not a question that should have required consideration.

"Because you'll be here," she said, finally.

"I will be here. And I shall do everything in my power to keep you safe."

"Alright."

"Good girl. Now, then, the last thing I must teach you tonight is when to return. If you drift too far or too long, I will call you back. Do you feel my magic, holding you?"

Her magic curled over his automatically at his question.

"Yes, Father," she said.

"And can you feel this?" He tugged gently at the strand of her magic.

"Yes, Father." Her voice resonated through his soul, rather than his ears.

"That is the feeling you should be aware of. When you feel that, you must promise to return; simply follow the line of magic back to me and I shall wrap you up tight and safe once more."

"I promise, Father."

"Very well. As for the remainder: where—or when—you might go and what you might see, we shall leave to be explored another night. Tonight, simply Dream and remember to return when I call."

She agreed readily. It seemed an odd conversation to have immediately before she curled around Chika the Chocobo and shut her eyes. To anyone else it would have been a nonsensical series of events. But Regis very carefully released her magic, concerned that she would drift as soon as he was no longer holding her in place. Instead she remained precisely where he had left her. The only response she made—and the only indication that she noticed his withdrawal at all—was a small and sleepy sound of objection. She curled closer to him, as if to make up for the magical distance with physical closeness. He wrapped his arms around her and smoothed her hair back.

"I have not gone anywhere, my dear," he whispered, reaching back to turn off the bedside lamp. "And I do not intend to."

That seemed to satisfy her. Though she balled her fists in the front of his shirt and buried her face against his chest, she did not stir again. And eventually, lulled by the steady motion of his hand on her back, her breathing fell into a deep and steady pattern. She shifted once in his arms, finding a more comfortable spot on her back with Chika held loosely to her other side, and then she settled fully. Regis watched the steady rise and fall of her stomach, keeping his magical senses tuned to her as he waited for any sign of motion.

This was only the second time that she had attempted to Dream on purpose. It would be the first time he had watched for it. Thus he had no notion of what to expect from her. At first he thought she would drift into the In-Between as soon as she dozed, but that had not happened. But sleep had cycles and it was possible she could not Dream the future until she could dream at all.

So he waited.

The grandfather clock counted down the seconds with steady ticks and tocks. He only heard them when he was listening for them. They blurred into minutes: ten, fifteen, twenty. It might have been wise to have learned more of sleep and dream cycles before they set out on this expedition, but it was too late to do so now.

The trouble was, Reina wasn't the only one who had had a long day and an exceedingly long night before. If he was waiting indefinitely, he was going to fall asleep as well. And while he had no doubt she could Dream without him, she could also venture too far too easily without him. Unless he wanted a repeat of the nightmares of Tenebrae, he needed to remain awake.

He pushed himself upright, ever so slowly to avoid disturbing her. Her hands fell away from the front of his shirt and she murmured in her sleep, but did not stir. He rearranged his pillows just as carefully. Even the rustle of the blankets seemed an echoing noise loud enough to wake a sleeping child; he nearly shushed himself more than once, as if he needed to be reminded that Reina was asleep.

And so she remained. By the time Regis was propped up among his pillows, she was still sleeping soundly and without any notice of his change in position or the worry he had spent to get there.

From the upright position it was easier to keep his eyes open. He rested one hand on Reina's shoulder and focused his eyes on the clock face. Her core was still soundly seated in her center. It gave no indication of wanting to move. How long had it taken before? And what had caused those Dreams? If not a natural part of her cycle, then what had drawn her out of her body and into some realm where she could see time as he saw distance?

The clock reached the one hour mark since Reina had fallen asleep. It chimed midnight not long after, yet another sound he didn't hear unless he was listening for it. By then the steady tick-tock of the grandfather clock had faded once more into background noise, lost in the occasional sound of wind outside, the beat of his own heart, and the gentle sway of the Citadel towers, only noticeable from so high up.

He had half a mind to wake her and ask if she had not been able to reach whatever state allowed her to Dream. But she was well asleep, by now. Better that she have that rest. In all likelihood, she wasn't even cognizant of where she needed to go. If so, this process of exploration was going to be much more complicated than he had first thought.

An hour and a half passed. Regis rearranged his pillows, brushed his fingers over Reina's sweet cheeks, and leaned his head back. His resolution to remain awake slipped. He would just rest for a moment and then wake to check on her. He would know if she drifted.

His eyes shut fully. And he dropped out of consciousness and into the wonderful numbness of long-awaited sleep.

Chapter Text

The next thing he remembered was daylight. At some time during the night he had rearranged himself so that he lay with Reina gathered up to his chest. He had no pillow, because his were all stacked upright, still. Chika, as predicted, held the lion's share of the bed, and Reina had submitted to being held in her sleep, though one arm and one leg stretched out into the empty side of the bed.

Conscious memories returned. With a jolt that shook the bed, Regis sat upright and reached for Reina with his magic. He shouldn't have fallen asleep. He shouldn't have left her unattended. If he had been too tired to carry on waiting, he should at least have ensured that she would not Dream while he could not supervise her.

He needn't have bothered.

Nearly as soon as he had established that her spirit was still in place, Reina stirred at his motion. She tensed in his loose hold, making a sound of objection, before opening her eyes to blink up at him.

"Good Morning, Father…" she mumbled. Any other words she might have had were lost in a yawn. When she could move again, she stretched and rubbed her eyes.

"Reina," Regis combed sleep-tangled hair from her face, "You did not Dream, my dear?"

A look of consternation crossed her face. Her mouth bunched up to one side and she shook her head. "I don't know how, Father."

"And yet you have done so in the past."

She pushed herself upright and her hair out of her face. "In Tenebrae, the future pulled me. I could feel it as soon as I closed my eyes at night, and I thought of a monster waiting in the dark, waiting to grab me and drag me under." she said. "But last night I fell asleep and nothing happened. There was no monster waiting for me. I don't know how to reach that place without it."

"I see," Regis said. "Then it seems our lesson of how to return was rather premature. Nevertheless, I would caution you not to forget; if you should slip away, even unintentionally, it will be of the utmost importance that you remember how to return here."

"I will, Father."

"Good." Regis sat up, running his fingers through his hair and finding a mess where usually there was order. No matter. Avunculus would soon set him right. "For now there is little more that we can do. We may try again tonight and see if you cannot find some way into that place—preferably with no monsters involved."

That imagery of a great black beast reaching out from the In-Between and grasping his little girl in one clawed hand before dragging her away from him was quite enough horror for one morning. He wished she hadn't described it at all.

"But I don't know how." She followed when he climbed out of bed.

"And that is a conundrum we must address. It would be easier, certainly, if one of us had some notion of how these things work. Alas, we have no such understanding to our benefit." He pulled on a dressing robe, left his bedroom with Reina trailing after him, and opened the outer door into the hall. Avun was waiting for him.

"Good morning, Sire." Avunculus bowed.

"Good morning, Avun." He turned back to look at his duckling with her stuffed chocobo. "Now then, Reina, I would like you to put this out of your mind until tonight."

She nodded.

"Now run along. I know you would not want Noctis to wake in your absence."

The day itself was unremarkable. His thoughts wandered occasionally toward Reina and searched subconsciously for some solution to their problem. Mostly, however, he felt relieved that she had not Dreamed. And from that relief came guilt. He had told her she could learn to Dream—indeed, he had told Crea the same. If he was still harboring some desire to protect Reina from visions of the future, they would both be held back by those.

The reforging of the Kingsglaive began that day. Regis could manage four or five bonds on a good day, but that day he built only three before he was forced to admit that it would be best for the others to wait. Clarus assisted in that decision by standing over Regis' throne with his arms crossed and a glower on his face. He was determined to make up for Regis' shortened council meeting by scrutinizing every action Regis took in search of something potentially harmful. He was like an overprotective mother, searching candy wrappers for minuscule holes and throwing out anything not airtight.

Meanwhile, Regis was only an overprotective father, allowing his daughter to feel confused and a little bit lost because it was better to feel lost than to actually be lost in some realm of magic where he could not reach her.

Nevertheless, when night came, he once again released her from the hold of his magic—she didn't need it while she was awake, strictly speaking, but she insisted on having it all the same—and propped himself up among his pillows to wait for something to happen.

Nothing did.

Again she slept soundly for an hour and a half and again Regis grew complacent and drifted off beside her. In the morning she said much the same thing as she had before: she did not know how to reach the place where she saw the future.

After the fifth such night, Regis' guilt got the better of him and he was forced to admit he would need to do something if he wished for this training to advance at all. He didn't, but he conceived a plan anyway.

"I have a theory regarding your Dreams, my dear," he told her on the sixth morning as she sat on his bathroom counter, watching Avun trim his beard. "I cannot say for certain if it will help, but I may, at the very least, be able to teach you how to reach the In-Between."

"The place where I Dream from?" She asked.

"That is my theory, at the very least," Regis said.

"Please don't speak, Sire," Avun said.

Regis shut his mouth and gave Reina a sheepish look. She giggled and kicked her feet, which hung over the edge of the counter. Avunculus tilted Regis' chin back and shaved the underside of his chin clean while Regis contemplated the ceiling.

"Father," Reina said after a few minutes, "If you can reach the In-Between, why can you not Dream like I do?"

"Your Highness, please do not enable him," Avun said.

Reina clapped both her hands over her mouth and stifled another giggle.

It was a few more minutes before Regis was permitted to answer. Once Avun had dealt with the more delicate work and instead moved on to trimming around Regis' ears and along his cheeks, Regis judged her could manage a few words without interrupting anything important.

"If I knew the answer to that question, my dear, we would be much farther ahead than we are currently. Most often when I use my magic, I pass through the In-Between physically—or else I store physical items there and reach inside to retrieve them—whereas you seem to visit spiritually, for lack of a better word. It may be that this is akin to the way I speak with the Lucii, for that is where they reside, as well, but I cannot say for certain until we have tried."

She was staring at him with her eyes open wide and her mouth in an 'o'. He would do well to remember she was only eight.

Regis cleared his throat. "Suffice it to say, little Princess, that we will simply have to learn these things together."

She smiled at that and kicked her feet again. "Mhm!"

Crea was early again. She usually was, these days, and Regis couldn't help but wonder if tension in her relationship was the cause. A selfish part of him hoped for more of whatever trouble it was that brought her to the Citadel more often than not. The rest of him realized her life outside was her chance at happiness. He had nothing to offer her but that which she could not accept.

"Good morning, Regis, Princess Reina." Crea greeted them both with a smile, though it seemed to Regis that it didn't quite reach her eyes.

"Good morning, Miss Crea," Reina said stiffly.

Regis rested his hand on Reina's shoulder and squeezed gently. "Good Morning, Crea. I hope you are well?"

"Well enough," she said with another forced smile. "Noct went down early with Ignis, but I think—"

The chime of the elevator interrupted her. The doors slid open to reveal Noctis and Ignis, the latter juggling two trays from the kitchens. One was piled high with breads, pastries, and muffins, with a little jar of jam in the middle, nearly obscured. The second had a short stack of plates with a pile of silverware and napkins, all separated from a heap of scrambled eggs and more bacon than five people could possibly eat in one sitting. Behind Noctis and Ignis followed a single servant, who bore a tray full of glasses and a few pitchers.

"Noctis! Did you make Ignis carry all of that up here by himself?" Crea chided.

Noctis' shrugged.

"It's no trouble, Miss Crea," said Ignis as he weighed each of his steps on his way into the lounge, keeping both hands and the trays on top very still.

Crea lunged for Noctis as soon as he was within range. He was too big, now, for her to pick up and swing around, but she could still manage to get his feet off the ground and pulled him in a circle. Years of experience had taught her just where he was most ticklish; he yelped, then laughed as she tickled his sides.

"Such bad manners for a prince!" Crea teased.

Noctis' only response was a scream of laughter as he dropped to his knees and tried to squirm away from her.

Regis grinned and shook his head. "Thank you, Ignis. Will you join us for breakfast?"

"I would be honored, Your Majesty." Ignis bowed.

"Rei—!" Noctis managed between giggles. "Help—!"

"You should be nicer to Ignis, Noct." Reina put her hands on her hips and stuck her tongue out at him.

"It truly was not an issue," Ignis insisted. In spite of that, a smile tugged at his lips as he watched them.

When Noctis was too out of breath even to laugh, Crea stopped. They both knelt on the ground, laughing intermittently as Crea hugged him. She kissed his cheek and smoothed down his messy hair.

"Now look, you've messed up your hair again!" She said.

"Huh-uh," he said, still struggling to catch his breath. His eyes fixed on Reina and he shot her a playful glare. "You're a bad sister."

"Nuh uh!" Reina said. "It's your own fault. Besides, shouldn't you tell Ignis he's a bad Hand? It's his job to take care of you."

Noctis rounded on Ignis. "Specs, you're supposed to take care of me."

"My apologies, Prince Noctis. I judged that Miss Crea was doing a fine job of it."

Regis chuckled. They were a family, even if a bit disjointed and untraditional. If only he could have made matters more official. But he would have to accept that the closest Reina and Noctis would have to a mother was a nanny. At least he could now say that she was. With any luck, she would remain that way. Noctis needed her. And that was to say nothing at all of how Regis felt.

Regis dragged his thoughts back to the present before they could turn a bright morning dark.

"Let us eat, shall we?" He said.

They shared a casual and comfortable breakfast with the whole extended family. It was nice to have Ignis around in that he was as much a brother to Noctis as Regis could have hoped, even if he wasn't truly a son to Regis. On the one hand that was a welcome relief—Regis had scarcely enough time for his own two children; what would he have done with a third? On the other hand it would have been nice for the extension of his family to have been fully mutual. Nevertheless, Ignis was welcome at their table at any time. And Regis had no qualms holding otherwise private conversations in front of him.

"Crea," Regis said, as he buttered a bit of toast for himself and had it immediately stolen by his daughter, "What have you on the schedule for today?"

"Not much; no lessons, except Reina is meant to meet with Miss Agnys in the afternoon. Otherwise I thought we might go for a walk in the gardens to see the flowers in bloom."

"I have heard word among the staff that a long-haired white cat has been spotted among the south flower beds," Ignis said.

Noctis perked up. "The fluffy one?"

"Possibly the same."

Every stray cat, every pet cat belonging to the staff, and every lost cat wandered in from the city that had ever crossed onto Citadel grounds was carefully noted and categorized by Noctis, Ignis, and Reina. Regis would not have been surprised to learn that a detailed list of every such feline existed, somewhere in Ignis' possession.

"Well, then it's settled," Crea said. "We'll have to go for a walk in the gardens, now."

She exchanged a knowing smile with Regis. Whatever had been troubling her when he and Reina had first emerged had since been overshadowed by contentment, so that this smile truly shone. Regis was so distracted by that, he nearly forgot what he had asked the question for in the first place.

"Might you find an hour or two in which to spare Reina for me." He glanced over his shoulder and found Avun waiting at the mouth of the hall. "Provided that Avunculus can find some space to squeeze her in to my schedule."

Avun bowed. "You have a short break following lunch, which was meant for signing—though I expect that may be fit in elsewhere, as necessary, Your Majesty."

"One o'clock?" Regis asked.

"I think we can manage that," Crea agreed.

Reina leaned closer on the couch and stared up at Regis, an unspoken question on her face.

"I told you I could teach you—or at least attempt to teach you—how to reach the In-Between. In fact—" He glanced back at Crea. "—send Noctis along as well. It is time that the three of us began discussing magic and what it means to be a Caelum."

Noctis glanced from Regis to Reina, his expression unreadable. "We're going to learn magic?"

"That is the hope, my son."

That afternoon, as promised, Crea delivered Noctis and Reina to him in one of the Citadel training rooms. It was doubtful that they would need the space—at least not today—but Regis preferred to err on the side of caution. Best not to destroy his office while teaching two eight-year-olds how to wield their ancestral magic.

The training room was much the same as the one Regis had used to teach Drautos magic, some few years ago. Some good it had done them. Had that accident with the lightning been accident at all, or an attempt on Regis' life? Had Reina's panic attack at school all those weeks ago been simply to keep Regis from his meeting with Drautos? Had Drautos been traitor to them so far back? And if so, how had Regis never noticed a single sign?

Thoughts for another time.

Reina and Noctis filed into the empty room, their cautious footfalls echoing down the length and back. At this time of day, the afternoon sun poured in through a series of tall windows in the back of the room, illuminating bright rectangles of black tile all the way across the floor. Two benches on either side of the entrance and a few racks of practice weapons were all the furniture the room boasted. The remainder of the space was open and flexible enough to use for any sort of physical training.

"I believe we shall begin," Regis said once they stood before him, "With the most simple of magics. It requires brief contact with the In-Between—though only physically. In this lesson, I hope you will both come to understand what and where this other plane of existence is, and how to reach it. From there," he focused on Reina, "it should be a shorter leap to do what you have been attempting for your Dreams. Are you both ready? ...Very well."

He launched into an explanation, much the same as the one he had given to Drautos three years before, though he endeavored to break everything down into smaller, eight-year-old-sized pieces. Reina and Noctis were both exceedingly intelligent, but they were still eight and it was often difficult to predict just what they would or would not grasp on the first attempt.

When he had completed both explanation and demonstration, Regis granted them each a practice blade, since neither had a sword of their own to use for this training exercise, and set them loose to attempt to reach into the In-Between on their own.

It went about as well as could be expected. Noctis endeavored to reach the In-Between by stabbing the air with his practice blade in hopes that it would penetrate the barrier between planes, while Reina spent more time focusing inward and less time reaching outward. He allowed them to explore on their own for a time before giving any further instruction.

Reina, at least, understood what the In-Between was. She had been there before and, while she might not have consciously known how to reach it, she was capable of doing so. It was the only way she could possibly have Dreamed.

To Noctis, however, this was entirely new. So Regis left Reina to her exploration and focused his efforts first with Noct.

"Reach out first with your mind, my son." Regis dropped to one knee in front of him, narrowly avoiding being impaled on a practice blade. "Once you understand what your destination is, you will have less trouble reaching it."

"How?" Noct asked.

"Look inside. Here." Regis brushed his magic against Noctis' to give him some direction.

Though they were eight years old, Regis had never spared much attention for the magic of his own children. He did so, now. Where the Kingsglaive had once held only the roots of power—frayed strands that might once have connected their blood to the Crystal and now served only as a foundation for the bond Regis made with them—Noctis held the entire tree. He possessed a stronger bond to the Crystal and the Astrals than Regis had ever seen, even among Caelums. Though, admittedly, Regis' experience was limited, the fact that such a small child could hold such great power was astounding to him.

Noctis truly was the King of Kings. The Crystal had not chosen him on a lark. It had not been mere happenstance and misfortune that named Regis' son as the King of Light. No. Noctis held the amassed power of two thousand years of Caelums, dormant in his chest.

He needed only to learn how to use it.

Regis suddenly felt unequal to the task. He held in his hands the Chosen King and he was expected to teach this boy all he would need to face the darkness and Gods knew what else?

"Here?" Noctis asked.

He could only put one foot in front of the other and do his very best. For Noctis' sake. For Eos' sake.

"Precisely so, my son. Now close your eyes a moment; sight will only distract you from seeing what is truly there. Reach out with your magic, not your hand. Let your awareness flow out from you into the space you occupy… there. Do you feel that? Like a curtain, closing you off from another room?"

"I think so."

"That is the In-Between. Or, more accurately, that is the barrier between worlds. That is what you are endeavoring to cross."

He left Noctis for a moment, assured that he had enough guidance at least to make some progress, and turned instead to Reina. She had made little progress of her own.

"Where are you struggling, my dear?" He asked.

A look of consternation crossed her face. She opened her eyes to look up at him, but the furrow remained on her brow. "I know it's there, Father. I know it is. But I can't even reach out to it. It feels like someone tied my hands to my sides and I can't move them at all."

Strange. And not a complaint he had heard before. Reaching out was natural—almost instinctive—once a Caelum realized they were meant to be reaching with their magic and not their hands. Regis dropped to his knees before her. And he reached out to her.

What he found nearly made him recoil in shock.

Inside her, where there should have been a myriad strands of magic stretching out in all directions, connecting her to Eos, the Crystal, the Astrals, and all… was nothing. It was worse, even, than looking inside a Kingsglaive without bonds. Their magic was as an empty flower pot, placed and then forgotten, holding the potential to grow but needing outside help. Reina's magic—if it could be called that—was a leveled forest.

Every line of magic that should have been inside her was cut. Severed. Methodically, intentionally, with so much precision that not even a single fiber of magical connection remained intact. From those stumps of connections, she should have been near as powerful as Noctis, if not precisely as powerful. That fact alone sent his mind reeling. Noct was the Chosen King, meant to be the most powerful Caelum in their entire line. But here he had a twin and his twin was just as competent. Or she would have been, if someone had not crippled her—and he had no doubt that someone or something had done this intentionally. No accident could be so thorough and organized.

Regis sat back on his heels, mind buzzing, eyes wide, and mouth open. How had he never noticed this before? He had looked inside her when he kept her from visiting the In-Between. But then, he had been distracted by what he found regarding her connection to her body. He hadn't thought to look further.

This was not a consequence of what had happened in Tenebrae. Those injuries she had sustained from Dreaming so forcibly were just now beginning to mend. But this was a series of surgical cuts long since healed over and accepted by her body as normal. It could not have happened less than a few years before. Perhaps longer. Perhaps as far back as her birth.

Or perhaps at the same time that Noctis had been declared Chosen.

For if he was the True King, the One King without peer or parallel, how could his sister be allowed to hold the same power?

Chapter Text

The door to the training room flew open, banging against the wall. If Clarus had knocked first, he either hadn't left enough time to respond or Regis had been too preoccupied to notice.

"Regis." Clarus' eyes swept the room before landing on Regis, who knelt before Reina. "We have a problem."

More than one, it would seem. Somehow, Regis didn't think Clarus had come to tell him about Reina's magic.

He rose to his feet, ignoring the protest of his joints. He was getting too old for this. "What has occurred?"

"The troops working at the tunnel report movement on the other side of their block."

"Imperials?"

"We can only assume. And it would seem they are intent on breaking through."

Drautos. They should have known he would take advantage of their weak point before they had a chance to fill it in. He knew all of their vulnerabilities because he had built them in himself. At least he had no allies in the Kingsglaive to speak of.

"Assemble the Kingsglaive," Regis said. He glanced back at his children. "I am sorry to cut this short, dearest ones, but I must see to the kingdom. You will find your way back upstairs to Miss Crea."

Once he had their affirmative that they would withdraw to somewhere safe, Regis left with Clarus.

"Only eighteen have been restored," Clarus reminded him, as if there had been no break in their conversation.

Regis paused. He had been moving more slowly than he would have liked with the restoration of the Kingsglaive. Now, when they needed magic the most to defend Lucis, he had but a limited number of them.

"Then I will join them." Regis resumed walking.

"Regis, you know that is unwise. You should remain here and allow the Crownsguard and the military to bolster to Kingsglaive. We can hold the tunnel and prevent them from emerging with what resources we have."

"And if Drautos should emerge to cut through our ranks?"

"Then the Kingsglaive can engage him."

Regis shook his head. "Gifted with my magic they may be, but most of them are little more than children in combat. They have only a few years' experience fighting daemons and Magitek soldiers."

"I would argue they have more familiarity with Drautos than you do yourself. They were trained by him."

"You forget who trained Drautos," Regis said. "Who picked him out of Cavaugh when the imperials crushed his hometown and turned a soldier to a general."

Not that Regis could be credited for Drautos' drive and determination, but they had trained together. Long ago. They had even been friends, Regis had thought.

He had trusted Drautos.

Regis sighed. Clarus grasped his shoulder as if guessing his thoughts. "This is not your fault, Regis."

"I should have seen it coming. I should have sensed something was amiss about him."

"None of us did. Don't forget, you were not the only one who interacted with Drautos."

"And yet, only Reina…"

She never had liked him. Not since the first time they had met when Regis had brought Drautos to dine with them one night. Luckily, that dislike had grown to pure terror after Tenebrae. Or else they never would have uncovered his treachery.

Clarus squeezed his shoulder again. "I hope you don't mean to face him out of guilt."

"No. Simple pragmatism drives this; thus far when we have encountered General Glauca, I have been the only one to stand against him. If the Glaive can prove themselves his equal then I will leave him in their hands. Until then, it would be best if I was nearby."

"Very well. Then I shall come with you."

Regis opened his mouth to object, but Clarus didn't give him the chance.

"I may not be able to protect you against Drautos—though if it comes to that, I will stand at your side—but there will be others among their number whom I can face. And see that you make it out the other side to face Drautos unhindered."

Regis sighed but could think of no reasonable argument against it. The fact that the last time Clarus had faced Drautos—less than a week ago—he had emerged with two broken ribs, which he still nursed now, would hardly dissuade him. He would come. And he would do his duty to Regis, whatever Regis might think of that.

Orders were given regarding reinforcements at the mouth of the tunnel on the northeast side of the city. Those Kingsglaives who were already present were the ones that Regis had not yet restored—the others were still within their headquarters, applying themselves wholeheartedly to their training. When Regis and Clarus left the Citadel, it was with eighteen Kingsglaives at their heels.

Cor was waiting in front of the Citadel with the Regalia and a contingent of Crownsguards to reinforce those already at the tunnel. He pulled the door open wordlessly when Regis and Clarus approached, giving a nod to each of them as they passed by. He shut the door once they were both in and, a moment later, slid into place behind the wheel.

"You are not to engage in this battle, Cor," Regis said.

His eyes caught Regis' in the mirror. In that sliver of his face, disapproval was clear.

"It is bad enough that Clarus is running about with broken ribs." Regis shot Clarus a reproving glance, which Clarus ignored. "You took a blade to your side and you cannot convince me that has healed in a week."

"I'm fine," Cor said.

"Like hell you are," Clarus said. "If you go charging into battle, it will reopen everything that has managed to heel."

They reached the outskirts of Insomnia with the tension still hanging between them. The last time Regis had been in these hills was the night the marilith had attacked Noctis. He could still see the flames engulfing the overturned cars and hear the screams as those few tried to stand between daemon and prince. Now all that was left of that night was a scorched patch in the wild grass.

Cars lined the road, most of them black and bearing the Caelum royal crest, but the armored military vehicles were beginning to trickle in to join the Crownsguard cars. Cor pulled off the road and into the dirt.

Regis pulled his door open and stepped out. When Cor did the same, Regis caught his door and his eye.

"You are not to engage, Marshal Leonis," Regis said. "That is an order from your king. You are to remain here and see to the organization of the incoming forces. Do I make myself clear?"

Cor bowed stiffly, the little muscle along the side of his jaw twitching as he fought to keep the scowl from his face. "Yes, Your Majesty."

"Good," Regis said. "Come, Clarus; let us be off."

They crossed the remainder of the distance on foot. The Kingsglaive who arrived by the truckload just behind the Regalia followed after them with little formation or organization, but a certain grace nevertheless.

The mouth of the tunnel was not visible from the site of the marilith attack. Drautos had taken great pains to keep it hidden from view. It was at the base of the cliff—the same drop that Regis had forced the daemon over that night—and it matched up neatly with the rock, looking like little more than a gap between boulders from the outside. There was space enough, however, for a full-grown marilith to squeeze through. And once beyond the gap, the tunnel opened up into a true passage.

The Crownsguard has set up their base of operations at the bottom of the cliff; from there they orchestrated the slow process of filling the tunnel. They had gone so far as to clear out more of the entrance so that a small vehicle could pass through. It would have been easier simply to collapse the whole thing with explosives. But the tunnels ran underneath one of the communities on the edge of Insomnia and the resulting shift of earth on the surface would doubtless affect those buildings and people poorly.

A Crownsguard office approached and bowed as soon as they were on level ground again. "Your Majesty, Commander. By our best estimate we have only a few minutes before they break through what we've managed to fill. They aren't worried about collapse, I'd wager, or they'd be moving a bit more carefully."

"One last push in an effort to take advantage of the weakness he introduced," Clarus said under his breath. To the Crownsguard, he added, "Have you withdrawn all your men from the tunnel?"

"Yes, Commander. Everyone is present and accounted for."

And, indeed, in the flat land outside the mouth of the cave, there stood a few dozen Kingsglaives in casual fatigues and half as many Crownsguards. They lined either side of the entrance waiting—either for orders or from an explosion within.

"Keep the way clear," Regis said. "We make our stand here in the open. If we can keep them within the tunnel it will be to our benefit, but I have little doubt that Glauca will break free. When he does, your men are not to engage. He is to be left to the uniformed Kingsglaives and me"

"As you say, Your Majesty." The Crownsguard bowed and went to relay the orders.

Behind them, the rest of the Kingsglaive gathered. Captain Ulric stepped up to a level with Regis and Clarus and bowed deeply.

"Tell me, Nyx Ulric," Regis said without taking his eyes from the mouth of the tunnel, "Can your people face Drautos?"

A pause, though Regis could not have said if it was of consideration or hesitation.

"Your Majesty, morally, we would all happily cut him down," said Ulric. "But if you're asking if the Kingsglaive is physically capable of holding against General Glauca, there's only one way to know for certain."

A not altogether reassuring response. Nevertheless, they could hold the line behind Regis; they would be suitable backup if he faltered and they were more than a match for any MTs Drautos had brought along with him.

Before Regis could open his mouth to give these orders, Clarus spoke.

"Captain, have your men take up position in front of His Majesty. If General Glauca makes an appearance, you are to focus your efforts on taking him down—alive, if possible, but I think we would all prefer a dead general to one who stands against us and free. If Drautos is not with them, engage whatever comes through that tunnel. You are our first line of defense."

"Yes, Sir." Ulric bowed and took a step back, motioning to his Glaives and calling out orders. In short succession they were all arranged at the mouth of the tunnel, between Regis and whatever danger Niflheim might throw at them.

Regis shot Clarus a sideways glare. "That was not my intent," he muttered, barely moving his lips.

"Which is precisely why I gave the order," Clarus said in equally hushed tones.

"You cannot possibly still be upset with me for calling that council meeting early."

"This has nothing to do with that. This has to do with you forgetting that you are king and people need you. You cannot simply throw yourself on the front lines, anymore. Even if you were—" He didn't finish the sentence. He didn't need to. The damage was already done.

Even if Regis had still been a capable young man, he wouldn't be allowed on the front lines. But seeing as he was a rapidly aging king who could barely lift his sword some days and was sorely out of practice due to the clucking of his mother hen, he was doubly not permitted on the battlefield.

Clarus shot him a look like he wanted to apologize for the insinuation. Regis stared dead ahead.

From the tunnel, the deep pounding and crumble of rock became a muffled explosion. The ground shook. Dirt sprayed out from the mouth of the tunnel and the Kingsglaives in the front threw up their arms to shield their eyes.

"Your Majesty, if they continue like this, it could collapse the district above the tunnel." The Crownsguard they had met on arrival returned.

"I daresay they are not concerned about structural damage," Regis said.

"But they are desperate enough to choose speed over safety of their troops," Clarus said.

"What does safety matter for men made of metal?" Asked the Crownsguard.

Another explosion sounded. A few rocks, none bigger than a few inches across, broke free of the cliff face and tumbled to the ground.

"Very little," Clarus said. "But if the tunnel collapses, they will have wasted their chance to enter the city."

"It also tells us that Drautos is not with them," said Regis.

"Not yet, in any case," Clarus agreed.

One more explosion rocked the earth. This time gravel and small rocks were ejected from the mouth of the tunnel and hit barriers cast by the Kingsglaive. After the ringing of the blast faded, the steady rhythm of marching metal footsteps began.

"Glaives, form up!" Ulric shouted. "Hold position!"

Clarus shot Regis one more warning glare before drawing his own sword with borrowed magic. Regis left his where it was: in the In-Between.

When the dust about the mouth of the tunnel had cleared, they could make out the shapes of Magitek soldiers marching two-abreast. As soon as the first one was visible, a Glaive's blade sprouted from its chest and, in a streak of blue magic, the Glaive followed shortly thereafter to pull his sword free.

It was the first time Regis had seen the Kingsglaive in action properly. Observing training and knowing that they were proficient in his magic was one thing, but seeing them actually put it to use was quite another. They cut down the Magitek soldiers that flooded from the tunnel with clean efficiency. No two Glaives ever seemed to pick the same target and, though blades swung, lightning leapt, and fire blasted, the only ones who were hit were the intended targets, in spite of the close quarters. Regis was grudgingly forced to admit that Drautos had done a good job of training them. They were a true team. Not simply a collection of soldiers who happened to share Regis' magic.

It was best to keep them that way.

For a few minutes, it seemed as if nothing but Magitek soldiers would come. Clarus still held his blade at the ready, but his hold had loosened and his stance had grown more relaxed. Surely Drautos would show his face. Why pour so many resources into an impossible task? He must have known that his Magitek soldiers alone could never hope to win against such odds. Attacking a city at a bottleneck was a fool's errand.

He must have been playing at something else. Regis' mind jumped from possibility to possibility, endeavoring to find some other weak point that Drautos might seek to exploit. This attack alone was foolhardy and suicidal. Why waste the effort unless it was a mere decoy?

A Kingsglaive was thrown out of the tunnel and past Regis' left shoulder. He landed a few feet behind with a muffled groan. In the mouth of the tunnel, the red glow of General Glauca's Magitek armor was just visible.

"Kingsglaive, with me!" Ulric shouted from amidst the fray. "For hearth and home!"

A dozen blades flashed blue and shot toward the red glow. Regis couldn't see if they found their mark or what happened when they did, but he could hardly fail to notice when two more Glaives were flung out of the tunnel, as if picked up and thrown. The heavy footsteps of Glauca followed. He emerged into the light, straightening to the full height of his armor once he was free of the mouth. His mask held no eyes, but the way his head swivelled before snapping in Regis' direction left little doubt as to where his attention was fixed.

Ulric stepped in front of him, curved blade bare in his hand. "We trusted you, Captain."

Glauca swung his sword. It narrowly missed Ulric as he phased out of the way and struck at Glauca's side. Ulric's blade skimmed the surface of the armor, sending sparks flying but little else. He tried again, searching for a joint and throwing his weight behind it. Drautos shrugged him off, spinning and knocking him backward with an outstretched hand. Where Ulric disappeared, half a dozen more Glaives took his place. But they all discovered much the same thing.

Their blades could not penetrate his armor. Only a spectral blade or one imbued with the fire of the ring could break through his Magitechnology.

The Kingsglaive regrouped and attacked, instead, with their elemental magic. They learned rapidly that lightning seemed to do more damage. It, if nothing else, caused him to recoil and sent electricity dancing over his armor. They moved in formation, building a cage around Drautos and standing two together: one behind to throw lightning and one in front to build a shield when Drautos turned his attention on them. Which he did. He spun in their midst, sword out and smashing against every shield in the circle around him. It was difficult to say how much progress they made toward incapacitating him—though the occasional grunt of pain was evidence that he could feel the result of their magic from within his armor—but they at least had him contained.

Or they would have, if everyone hadn't forgotten his suit was now equipped with flight.

Surrounded on all sides, Drautos crouched and leapt into the air. The hum of Magitek followed him.

"He's coming back down!" Clarus adjusted his hold on his blade, craning to see directly above them.

And he meant to land on top of Regis, unless Regis was very much mistaken.

"Stand down, Clarus."

Clarus hesitated.

"That is an order," Regis sharpened his tone. "Stand down."

Glauca plummeted toward him, sword held point downward. Regis counted the seconds and held his ground. When Drautos was too close to change course—and only then—Regis threw out his hand and built a hemispherical shield around him.

Glauca's blade slammed into the top of his shield. Regis winced, feeling the cracks in his magic as the force of the blow reverberated through him. But it was nothing to holding the Wall under a sustained imperial assault.

The speed at which Glauca had come down sent him careening off the side of Regis' shield and tumbling to the ground. Before he landed, Regis released the barrier and threw a bolt of lightning at him. He commanded more power than the Kingsglaives could summon; Glauca was thrown backward and tumbled head over heels in the dirt, losing hold of his sword along the way.

Dust billowed up in his wake. The Kingsglaive rushed in, putting themselves between Glauca and Regis once more.

"I must thank you, Your Majesty. Without you, I would never have risen through the ranks and become Niflheim's General. I might have forever remained a lowly informer." Drautos' voice came out deep and echoing, modulated by the Magitek armor he wore. It sent a shiver down Regis' spine to hear his once-friend and comrade's voice perverted in such a fashion.

"And how is that?" Regis asked.

"Without your magic I would have been little more than a spy to them. But you gifted me with the one thing they never knew how to recreate. And you were so accommodating when I had questions about warping from here to Niflheim. Fool that you are, you believed it was a skill I intended to put to use for Lucis' benefit. Did you truly never suspect that I had succeeded, when I stopped asking questions?"

The look on Regis' face was answer enough. Glauca threw back his head and laughed, a deep booming laugh.

"If you ever ventured past your precious Wall, you might learn something of the world, Your Majesty. You might grow into a man and lose your childish naivete."

"You mean to convince me that you had been using my magic to warp from here to Niflheim? Preposterous. The strain of stretching so far would kill you."

"I don't need to convince you of anything. That I stand here alive is proof enough. Perhaps the risk was too great for a king unwilling to embrace uncertainty and step outside his shell of calm. But that is, after all, why you created your Kingsglaive: so that you could extend your reach without ever putting yourself in danger."

Regis said nothing. He refused to argue his decisions with a man unhinged. Nothing he could say would change Drautos' mind, and perhaps there was a hint of truth in it. Regis did put a higher value on his own life than that of his Glaives. If the king fell, so too would Lucis. If a Glaive fell Lucis lost only one life.

Only. As if the fact that a person did not sit a throne and command the ring made their heartbeat worth less. It was a trade he never wished to make, a comparison that should never have been thought. And yet it was choices of this kind that filled his life. One life or a thousand? A Glaive or a king?

"The worst part is that you are completely aware of it. Not merely a fool, but a coward as well," Drautos said.

"And you are a betrayer and a treasoner. Did you truly come here to hurl insults at me?" Regis asked.

"No. I came here to kill you and end the line that should have been broken generations ago."

"You are outmatched, Titus," Regis said. "By those you trained yourself. Did you truly expect to win this fight?"

Drautos climbed to his feet. A few feet away, the blade that he had dropped seemed to melt into molten metal; it flowed across the ground toward him like some sentient being.

"Glaives," Drautos said, "You stand for a weak king. He left your homes to be taken, sacrificed your families like lambs. And all he gives in return are hollow promises. Do you truly believe he will ever retake those lands you once called yours? He will leave them to rot, letting the empire take every scrap of land in Lucis while he sits and grows fat on his gilded throne behind solid walls. Join me. Niflheim rules your homes, or it will soon. If you truly wish to see them again, you will help me kill this weak pretender among kings and take a stand with the winning side."

It hurt to hear what Drautos truly thought of him. All those years—decades—and he thought Regis only cared for his own safety and that of Insomnia?

But there would be time for such introspection later. What mattered now was this: Drautos had attacked the city not on some fool-hardy mission, but in an effort to kill Regis. It had been a less foolish plan when he believed that his traitors were still among the Glaive.

"You waste your breath, Titus," Regis said. "Your turncoats have been flushed from the ranks. The Glaive is as it was always meant to be: the King's Glaive. You will find no sympathy here. Best you lay down your Magitek and surrender peacefully. There is no need for this to end in bloodshed."

The Kingsglaive closed in on him slowly. All around, The Crownsguard and the rest of their reinforcements were cleaning up the last of the Magitek soldiers who had come through the tunnel. It had never been their intention to take Lucis by force, only to provide enough of a distraction for Drautos and his traitor Glaives to eliminate Regis.

For a moment it seemed as if Drautos would lay down his blade—so to speak—and accept this defeat. But his head swiveled toward the open mouth of the tunnel and he crouched to leap again.

Too late, Ulric shouted: "Hold him!" But before even one of them could move, Drautos was airborne again.

This time he kept low, leaping over heads and diving back into the cave.

"After him!" Ulric shouted and the Glaive moved as one in response.

Before the red glow of Glauca's Magitek armor was out of sight, the Kingsglaive were charging in after him. Into the dark with no notion of what lay in wait.

"Kingsglaive!" Regis lifted his voice and flung it over the assembled soldiers and guards. "Fall back!"

Hesitation rang before their footfalls skidded to a halt and another moment passed before they began to back out of the tunnel. Too many moments.

A blast lit the tunnel, throwing fire and rock back at the retreating Glaives. Some managed to build their barriers in time, others were struck by rocks the size of their head and fell motionless to the ground. The earth shook. The small rocks that had been falling periodically from the cliff face while the imperials blasted through rained down.

"Out of the tunnel, quickly!" Regis shouted over the cracking of stone.

Those still on their feet seized the others and began dragging them back. Farther down the tunnel, muffled by the earth, another blast sounded.

And the surface fell.

Dust and smoke rose from the city district beyond as the tunnel collapsed. A channel opened up, some six feet deep and ten feet wide. Whole buildings tipped sideways as their foundations were swallowed by the earth. Others split in half when the middle crumbled. Vehicles tipped nose-first into the hole when the road beneath them bowed and shattered, and one leg of the east overpass cracked and careened off to one side, tearing the freeway bridge. Cars rained down from above.

"Gods help us," Clarus breathed.

"I want every available unit—emergency personnel or otherwise—in that district immediately," Regis said. "Ulric—make provisions for your injured. Then take the rest down there to aid in damage control."

"Yes, Your Majesty."

"Clarus, emergency services. Then take the Crownsguard to the east district. They will need all the help they can get."

"Of course, Sire."

"Cor!" Regis shouted.

Cor's head appeared at the top of the cliff.

"Start the engine."

Chapter Text

The devastation was worse up close.

Half the roads into the northeast district were compromised. Cor stopped the Regalia before the line of destruction and they left the way clear for emergency vehicles—if any dared test the roads. Ahead, car alarms blared, people screamed, dogs barked, and a jet of water shot up from a few blocks away.

The Crownsguard and those others that had been at the tunnel when it collapsed were some of the first on the scene, with Regis among them. They poured from their cars and surged into the collapsing district on Clarus' orders.

"The people are your priority," Clarus called out over their assembled numbers. "Seek out survivors—those trapped or in need of aid. Use caution. Remember your field training. If you have any doubts about the nature of their injuries and they are in no immediate danger from their environment, do not move them. We leave that to the professionals."

He waved them on.

Regis stepped from the Regalia.

"You mean to assist?" Clarus asked. "I won't presume to advise you otherwise, but be certain you do this pragmatically and not through some sense of guilt. What will it mean to have the King of Lucis trudging through this?"

"Tonight, I am not their king." Regis pulled off his crown and tossed it on the back seat. "I am merely another able-bodied man with two working arms and legs."

He unbuckled his cape and pauldron and dropped those in the Regalia next. Cor nodded slowly, a hint of approval underneath his stoic expression.

"I suppose," Regis said as he turned toward them, "It is no use attempting to convince you that neither of you are able-bodied at the moment."

"No, Sire," Cor said.

"None at all," said Clarus.

Regis sighed, then nodded. "Very well. Let us go."

The damaged region was larger than they could easily cover with what aid Regis had brought. Even with the Kingsglaive close behind and the growing sound of sirens from across the city, it would take hours—if not days—to sift through everything and ensure that everyone was accounted for. But at the very least there was a pattern to the destruction. So they followed the path of the collapsed tunnel and joined the Crownsguards and civilians in the hunt for injured.

"It has not collapsed entirely," Clarus noted.

And indeed, ahead of them, even as they followed the line of the tunnel, patches of buildings still stood unharmed along the way.

"It can't be stable," Cor said.

"No," Regis agreed. "Come." He broke into a jog. "We must evacuate everything along the path, even as it still stands."

Civilians from across the district crowded toward the collapsed line as Regis jogged past with Clarus and Cor at his heels. More than a few of them glanced his direction and shouts of recognition followed them down to the two-story apartment building that stood—still erect—directly across the top of the tunnel. The ground shivered when they reached it.

A growing crowd stood on the street outside.

"King Regis! What's happening?"

"A collapse beneath the city—I must have everyone away from this building, immediately," Regis said.

"There are still people inside, Your Majesty!"

And, indeed, even as the ground shifted beneath their feet, refusing to settle, heads peered out windows above, upper bodies hung halfway outside as people squinted down the way.

"Everyone out!" Clarus shouted. "Out of the building! Quickly! It may collapse any moment!"

Faces disappeared from behind windows. Upper bodies ducked back inside. In a moment the outside door flew open and the flood of people began. Most were full content to run away from the building. That the ground gave another lurch under their feet and the building shifted and creaked only added to that sentiment. But a boy—not older than thirteen—ran past Regis heading toward the doors.

Regis caught his arm. "Stay outside, son."

The boy pulled against him, testing his grip, then turned and—finding himself looking up into Regis' face—stopped. His eyes turned wide and round.

"King Regis!"

"Indeed," Regis said. "And it is not safe inside your home any longer. Whatever you would return for is not worth your life."

"But, Your Majesty—my little sister… I told her to stay inside and she won't follow if people are running. She's only five, Your Majesty, Sire."

Regis' features hardened. "Apartment number?"

Confusion flashed on the boy's face—then understanding. "Number 243, second floor all the way down the right, Your Majesty."

Regis released his arm and moved for the doors. By then the flow of people coming out was trickling to a halt.

Clarus stepped in front of him before he reached the doors. "You cannot go in there, Regis. This whole building could collapse at any moment."

"I will not condemn a five-year-old girl to death, Clarus. These are my people and I am sworn to protect them."

Clarus' mouth twisted with indecision.

"Stand down," Regis ordered. "Now."

Clarus stepped aside and Regis moved past him. Inside the doors, the building was deserted. Apartment doors hung open, trails of belongings littered the floor as if people had grabbed armfuls of whatever was closest and rescued as much as they could without stopping to pick up what fell. Regis was halfway up the stairs before he noticed Clarus and Cor were following him.

"And people call me stubborn," Regis muttered under his breath as he took the steps two at a time.

"You know what they say, Regis," Clarus said. "A king's guard must be at least as stubborn as he."

"No one says that," Regis said.

"I just did."

"You—"

The building lurched. Regis flung himself forward and grabbed the stair rail as the ceiling cracked and plaster rained down on them.

"No time for that," Cor said, moving past them as soon as the building had settled again. "Let's move."

Regis and Clarus followed him up. The stairs creaked with each step. At the top, rubble littered the hallway in addition to whatever belongings people had dropped on their way out—the roof was beginning to come down in bits and pieces.

They turned right and followed the hallway. Regis took the lead once more with Clarus and Cor at his heels. Before they had reached the end, the earth shook again; this time the hallways cracked and split behind them as the right side of the building—their destination—dropped a few feet. The whole hallway tilted to that side, sending them sliding down the rubble-strewn hallway and into the wall.

"This whole building is coming down, Regis," Clarus said.

Regis picked himself up and reached for the door nearest them—the farthest apartment on the right and one of the few that was closed.

"How ever would I get by without you, Clarus?" Regis growled as he turned the handle and found it locked—or at least jammed.

He shoved his shoulder against the door. The wood gave by a fraction of an inch.

"Cor." Regis stepped back, motioning.

Cor slammed the heel of his boot into the door just beside the handle. It flew inward, swinging on its hinges and slamming into the wall behind. Inside was a dingy, sparsely-furnished apartment. They stepped into what might have either been a sitting room or a bedroom—a few worn-down armchairs, an old television on a stand, and a couch strewn with blankets and pillows as if someone slept there often—and caught a glimpse of movement behind the sofa.

"Come out of there," Regis called, gently but firmly, as he took a step on the uneven floor. "We are here to help; your brother is waiting outside and he is very worried."

A little face peered out from behind the couch—a child with sandy brown hair and the same button nose as the boy outside.

"There you are, my dear." Regis crouched down, bracing himself to keep his footing as the floor creaked and shifted. "Come along, now. We shall take you to him."

"We don't have time for this." Cor stepped forward. The face behind the couch vanished.

Regis threw out his arm. "Cor."

Cor halted.

"Come here, now, my child." Regis softened his voice as he turned back to the child. "I will let nothing harm you."

Her face reappeared. Her eyes darted toward Cor.

"No, not even him." Regis held out his hands. "Come now. Let us take you to your brother."

She looked back to Regis and, after a moment, inched out from behind the couch and toward his outstretched hands.

The building lurched again. Regis fumbled for something to hold onto as the building leaned and floor beneath his feet strained—creaking and cracking. The window behind him shattered outward. A portion of the ceiling immediately to his left collapsed, throwing chunks of wood across his line of sight. The hall outside splintered and tore in two.

And the child yelped and was thrown into Regis' arms—half of her own volition and half due to gravity. Regis wrapped her up and climbed unsteadily to his feet.

"This way!" Clarus shouted from near the shattered window.

Cor was already clearing shards of glass from the sill and looking down. "It's only about six feet down. Can't say the ground is solid, though."

"Go," Regis said to Clarus. "I'll hand her down to you."

"You first," Clarus retorted. He held out his hands. "And will hand her down to you."

The earth shook. Regis lurched toward the wall, keeping a firm hold on the child.

"Clarus Amicitia, get outside this instant."

Clarus looked as if he was prepared to fight for that, but he turned and swung his legs over the sill. He twisted and dropped out of sight.

"You next, Cor."

Cor vaulted out the opening and disappeared. Regis stepped up to peer over the side.

"We're right on top of the tunnel, Regis." The window was right above the top of Clarus' head. "Move quickly."

He held out his hands for the child and Regis lowered onto the sill, throwing one leg over and bracing himself in the opening. He lowered the child down to Clarus, though she held onto his arms, squirming as he tried to take her.

"Let go, my dear. He won't hurt you," Regis said.

The earth quivered. And several things happened at once.

Cor shouted: "Move!"

Regis began to slip out of the window as the wall tilted closer to the ground. He lost his hold on the child who fell screaming into Clarus' arms. Cor seized Clarus around the waist and flung him backward as the ground beneath their feet crumbled and the building toppled sideways, throwing Regis out of the window and into the path of destruction.

The apartment came down on top of him. So to speak. If he hadn't already been lined up with that window, it would have crushed him. Instead he ducked back inside the apartment he had just been thrown out of—though this time it was sideways. Everything that had been inside and not nailed down—and some things that had been nailed down—came sliding down the now-vertical floor toward him. Regis dove to one side, standing on one wall and pressing himself against another. The couch narrowly missed him as it crashed into the window. A lamp fell at his feet, showering his shoes with broken glass. The old television came barreling down the floor and slammed into the wall not six inches from where he was crouched.

And then there was darkness.

Regis stood in the pitch black of the collapsed apartment with no clear notion of which direction was up, let alone out. The air was thick with dust. It caught in his throat and nose. He coughed and covered his face with his sleeve, hoping to filter the air. In practice, this was a poor idea—his suit was as saturated with debris as the air was.

"Regis?!"

Voices, faraway and muffled, shouted from off to his left. Regis reached out and brushed his fingers over the textured surface of what must have been the ceiling.

"Still alive!" Regis shouted back. Though he almost wished he hadn't, as the effort meant he was choking on dust again. "Are you safe?"

"We're fine!" That was Clarus. "Can you get out?!"

"I expect so!"

Though it was the most undignified use of the Armiger in at least two generations.

"Well then stop mucking about and get out here!" Clarus shouted.

Regis sighed—no empathy from his Shield—and he reached into the In-Between to call on his ancestors for aid. It was, he reflected, still a life-threatening situation. Though doubtless the threat that an apartment building ceiling posed to him was rather less immediate than say, General Glauca or a Marilith, it was still a danger to the king's life.

The Armiger leapt to life around him, six spectral blades casting an eerie blue light on the wrecked apartment. He caught glimpses of all the bits and pieces that he had only narrowly avoided being crushed by and felt distinctly more lucky than he had in the dark.

He took hold of the Armiger with his mind and magic and swung them. The ceiling splintered. Light broke through the wood. He carved his way through the insulation and the crawl space and, a few moments later, stood blinking and coughing in the daylight with the spectral swords still dancing around him.

A hand slapped his back, a little harder than a friendly pat. "Next time," Clarus said, "You go first."

Clarus and Cor were not the only ones outside to see Regis cut his way out of the fallen building. In addition to the girl and her brother, a small crowd of civilians had gathered and now stood in awed silence as Regis banished the Armiger. A strangled cheer went up among them and applause broke out.

Someone sent up a cry and in moments the onlookers were chanting, "Long live King Regis!"

A camera flashed and captured what was undoubtedly the most unattractive picture of him in several years.

"Don't worry." Clarus slapped his back again, more affectionate and less annoyed this time. "You only look like a building fell on top of you. And I'm sure those photos will only be on every front page tomorrow."

A child darted out of the crowd and threw herself at his legs. Regis managed to keep hold of his balance only due to the many times Noctis and Reina had done much the same thing to him. He looked down and found that same sandy-haired child hugging him around the legs.

"Kath!" Her brother broke free from the crowd. "I'm so sorry, Your Majesty! Kath, you can't just hug the king!"

Regis stripped off his dusty coat, pulled a few splinters from the sleeves, and draped it around the child's shoulders. He dropped to one knee before her and she hugged him around his neck, instead. He hugged her back, but felt a stinging ache to have his own children in his arms once more.

"Be good for your brother now, Kath," Regis said, as he pulled away. "Run along. Stay safe, my child."

He shooed her gently away and rose, giving her brother a nod.

"No, I take it back," Clarus said, picking a three-inch chunk of wood from Regis' hair. "That picture will be on every front page tomorrow."

Regis sighed, combing his fingers through his hair and shaking several more splinters out. Once he had done the same to his beard, he waved to the crowd and turned away.

"Come. We have more to do," he said.

It was more difficult to accomplish anything once it became common knowledge that the king was out and about in Insomnia. An ever-growing crowd of people followed him wherever he went. On the upside, it meant they never had a shortage of people when a collapsed wall or fallen beam needed to be lifted and just knowing their king was lending his aid inspired others to do the same. In spite of the solemnity of the occasion, there was something heartening about working alongside his people to help those in need.

Past dark, Clarus' phone rang and he stepped away to answer it. Regis caught a few words here and there; someone was checking on his location.

"Is there a problem?" Regis asked when Clarus returned.

"Not as such. Simply that Crea was asking after your whereabouts on the twins' behalf."

Regis groaned. Crea. He had left her alone with Reina and Noctis without giving any word or indication of when he should return. They hadn't gone to sleep without him in months. Unless he wanted them awake all night he would need to return to the Citadel—but there was so much work still to be done here.

Clarus lifted a hand before Regis could voice any of that. "It seems she has also indicated that she has no issue with staying on late tonight, and that she will handle the children as necessary."

Thank the Gods for that woman. But—

Regis sighed. Could she really convince either twin to sleep when no one else had been successful since before Tenebrae? Could he trust her to care for his children as much as he did?

Yes. Yes, of course he could. That was, after all, why he had asked her to come back in the first place. She would do what needed to be done so that he could do the same.

Slowly, Regis nodded. Much as he wanted to return to his children and wash away an evening of filth and horror, he had work to be done here. He would stay until it was through or until he could stand no longer. Whichever came first.

They were rather close upon each other, as it turned out.

The night wore into pitch darkness in the collapsed community. Power was out in that sector, so no street lights lit their search for more survivors. The shimmering glow of the Wall overhead and the lights from the surrounding city districts made walking less hazardous, but for all else they resorted to flashlights and emergency flood lights set out by the firefighters. They dug through rubble until their fingers were raw, their backs ached, and their clothes were more tatter and stain than clothing, anymore.

By that time, the emergency services had long since taken control of the situation. Bit by bit, the Crownsguards and Kingsglaives were relieved and released from duty for the night. Regis, Clarus, and Cor stayed until after the last of them had left.

"Your Majesty." A voice called through the dark, accompanied by the sound of boots on rubble.

Regis turned and was immediately blinded by a flashlight. He winced, throwing up a hand to shield his eyes.

"Whoops—sorry about that—" The light adjusted to point toward the ground. It was another moment before he could see the person behind it: a middle-aged woman with grey-streaked brown hair pulled back into a tight bun beneath her fire cap.

"Lynette Sol. Fire chief." She held out her hand and Regis took it, feeling a calloused palm against his smooth one.

"Chief Sol," Regis said. "What can I do for you?"

"More's the point of what you've already done for us, Your Majesty. I'd like to thank you for coming out to help, and bringing the Crownsguard and the Kingsglaive along as well! The extra hands at the start made the difference of lives, for certain."

"That was my intent," Regis said. "Has there been any estimate on the number of casualties?"

"Last tally was at one hundred thirteen injuries and seven deaths."

"And how many yet unaccounted for?" Regis dragged his forearm across his sweaty brow. It was difficult to say whether the shirt left his forehead streaked with dirt or vice versa, but the end result was much the same as the initial condition: both were filthy.

The fire chief shook her head. "Hard to say still, Your Majesty. Some people up and fled to friends or family in the rest of the city."

"I see," Regis said. "But you intend to keep looking."

"Oh, yeah. We'll be here all night."

That was rather what he had been afraid of.

"I admit I have had more enjoyable nights, but I am certain there have been worse ones, as well," Regis said.

She laughed. "To be honest, Your Majesty—not that I'd dream of advising the king, but—we'd get along fine if you wanted to bow out. So to speak."

A camera flashed in the darkness and she flinched. Regis hadn't even noticed the crowd until then. They were ubiquitous.

"Ah," Regis said. "Or, more to the point, you might do your jobs more efficiently without all of this." He nodded toward the reporters and curious onlookers. "Is that not so?"

She looked immediately relieved that he had said it and spared her to trouble of explaining it to him. "That's about the way of it, Your Majesty. Begging your pardon."

"No, no. Not at all. You are quite right. There comes a point when extra hands only get in the way." He glanced at Clarus and Cor, standing on either side of him. "It is time we took our leave; however well-meaning, we are no longer helpful, here. Let us leave matters to the professionals."

So they left a very thankful fire chief behind and returned to the car, where more reporters were waiting. Cor and Clarus did an admirable job of parting them and clearing the way for Regis to climb into the Regalia, which he did rather less gracefully than he would have liked. Once everyone was inside and all the doors were closed, Regis sighed and leaned forward to glance at himself in the mirror.

He was filthy. His best efforts had not removed all of the splinters and rocks from his hair and beard, every inch of visible skin was smeared with dirt and grease and gods-knew what else. His arms were the same up to the elbow, where he had rolled his shirtsleeves. His once-white shirt was now positively grey, though there would doubtless be a strangely clean impression left behind once he removed his vest. His cravat had gone missing. His coat he had left with a five year old and never expected to see again. And he had a cut over one eye that he didn't remember receiving. That was in addition to the various scrapes and bumps that he did remember acquiring.

He groaned and dropped back into his seat. "This face is going to be in the papers for weeks."

"Don't sell yourself short, Regis," Clarus said. "Months, at least."

Regis groaned again. Clarus laughed. Cor shook his head and drove them back to the Citadel.

At the Citadel, they earned nearly as many curious looks as they had on the street. For the marshal of the Crownsguard to be rugged and dirty was one thing, but the king and his Shield being anything short of immaculately groomed was unheard of.

Avun met them in the entrance hall and blanched at the sight of Regis.

Regis sighed, stopping before him and holding his arms out to his sides. "Not salvageable, I gather?"

Avun glanced him over, taking in his grey shirt, torn trousers, and scuffed shoes.

"I fear not, Sire," he said grimly.

"I am afraid the state of my clothes was not the first concern on my mind when the apartment building fell on top of me," Regis said.

"Sire—"

"Clarus has already scolded me thoroughly."

"Yes, but Sire—"

"I realize there may have been more pragmatic solutions."

"Sire. Where is your crown?"

Regis lifted a hand to his head automatically. He found a long splinter in his hair where his crown ought to have been.

"Gods only know, Avun." Regis sighed. "I would like to see my children now, and have a very long shower, if it is all the same to you."

"Of course, Sire." Avun bowed, dissatisfied, and let Regis step past him into the elevator.

"You two." Regis turned to face Cor and Clarus, holding the elevator doors open. "Should do the same. And Cor—"

"Yes, Sire?"

"Have that damn injury checked, again. If you think I did not notice you wincing today, you have strongly underestimated me."

Cor bowed without bending his waist. Regis let the doors shut.

The silence, filled only by the gentle whir of the elevator as it ascended, seemed deafening in comparison to a cacophonic day. Regis groaned and leaned back against the rail, resting his eyes for those few moments of quiet. Much as he wanted to return to his children, he dreaded what he would find upstairs. At that precise moment all he wanted was to shower and fall into a clean bed for a few hours' uninterrupted sleep. He feared he would find Reina and Noctis still waiting for a bedtime story, instead.

The lift chimed. Regis sighed, straightened, and steeled himself.

The doors opened. Beyond was silence. The lounge lights were dim and Regis' eyes took a moment to adjust as he stepped out of the elevator. When they did, he found the last thing he had expected.

Crea was sitting in the lounge—that in and of itself was not odd, since she had volunteered to stay late—but Reina lay across the couch with her head in Crea's lap. Fast asleep. Reina. Reina, who had, just a few weeks ago, matter-of-factly informed them that she was not happy to see Crea. Reina, who had ever since remained distinctly aloof from her new and former nanny.

Crea stared at him with the same look of wide-eyed surprise that he wore.

"How…?" Regis couldn't even decide which question to ask.

Crea shook her head. "Go and take a shower and get changed," she whispered. "I'll see if I can't get her into your bed without waking her up."

He nodded mutely, though it took another moment for him to remember how to walk. On his way passed her, he paused and laid a hand on her shoulder.

"I cannot thank you enough."

"You don't need to." She smiled. "Now go on! You're dropping dirt on the carpet."

He went. He left his tattered clothes in a sodden heap on the bathroom floor and watched a pound of dirt run down the shower drain. Several more splinters and a few rocks came out of his hair and beard both. His arms sported a line near the elbow where dirty skin transitioned to less-dirty skin. He scrubbed until it was all the same uniform red. And he emerged, clad in a blessedly clean robe, to find Crea sitting on the edge of his bed with Reina in the middle—still fast asleep.

"How on Eos did you convince her to go to sleep?" Regis asked at a low whisper.

"I didn't try," Crea said.

And yet, here they were all the same. He considered her, at a loss for words. As soon as she left he would think of a million things he wished he had said, but now, standing in his room with her for the first time since she had left the Citadel three years before, he couldn't think of a single thing.

"Thank you, Crea," he said, since that was one thing he would always owe her. "I apologize for having kept you from your home for so long. When I left this afternoon I had no notion I would be so late in returning."

"Oh, don't apologize." She rose and he followed her toward the door. "I don't mind staying late."

Though she had gone out of her way to emphasize her right to leave early when first he had hired her back. What had changed?

Regis held the door for her, silent in his consideration for a moment. Before she passed out into the hall, he laid his hand on her arm. "Crea—You know you always have a place here. I know not what has occurred—or is occurring—in your home, but you will always be welcome in the Citadel."

The reddening of her cheeks and the way she avoided his gaze told him he had guessed correctly.

"Thank you." She stepped out of reach and his hand fell away. "Get some sleep, Regis. You look like you need it."

Chapter Text

Regis returned alone to his rooms, where Reina was curled up in the middle of his bed clutching Chika the Chocobo to her chest. And he stopped in the doorway.

Reina.

He had been so preoccupied with Drautos and the imperials and the collapse beneath Insomnia that he had hardly spared a thought for her all day. Had it really only been that afternoon that he had learned she had no Caelum magic?

The grandfather clock struck three in the morning. Yesterday afternoon then.

He was at a loss for what to do with her. She had magic that no Caelum—indeed, no one within the amassed knowledge of the Lucii—had ever possessed, and yet she was completely cut off from the crystal. But she could see the future. He knew she could. He had witnessed that magic from her himself and yet she had not done so since Tenebrae. Try as she might, she could not reach the In-Between again. Was it possible something—or someone—was blocking her? The same someone that had severed her magic?

He could think of few people so powerful. He might have been able to cut her ties to the crystal, if he was so inclined. Beyond him, only the Lucii and the Gods had such control over magic. To the best of his knowledge.

Regis ran his hands over his face and climbed into bed. He gathered Reina up in his arms and held her tight. She stirred. He should have been more gentle, knowing how lightly she slept, but he needed to assure himself that she was whole and otherwise unharmed.

"Father?"

"Just me, my dear." He pressed his lips to her hair. "Go back to sleep, little Princess. I am home now."

She shifted and wrapped her arms around his neck. "I missed you…" Her voice was tiny but clear, as if she fought hard for her composure.

"I know, my dear. As I have missed you." He kissed her head again.

She settled in his arms and, in less than a minute, drifted off once more. Regis continued to hold her, smoothing his hand over her hair. His body ached and cried out for sleep but his mind refused to relinquish control. He found himself looking over Reina's magic once more, inspecting each surgically cut tie and once again establishing that there was no way she could have torn them on accident. He even went so far as to look back at the accidentally torn bonds she had experienced—those that held her core to her center and kept her from drifting into the In-Between. The injury had begun to heal, leaving a messy patchwork of magical scars. But the healing process had reformed what had once kept Reina's soul confined to her body.

Now she was confined once more.

Regis recoiled automatically. Then he looked closer. How had he missed it before? He hadn't even bothered to look when they had first decided to allow Reina to Dream again. Never had it occurred to him that he might have robbed her of that ability. He had bound her in place to keep her from having nightmares when she slept. And while she was bound, she had healed. Healed in place.

No wonder she couldn't Dream, anymore. In Tenebrae she had torn free, but he had trapped her again. Was it even possible for her to slip out on purpose, now? The scar tissue left a messy net, not at all like the neat socket that Regis could move in and out of for his own forays into the In-Between.

He held her a little tighter. "Oh, little Princess. Forgive your fool of a father."

Sometime after four but before five, exhaustion won out over guilt and Regis fell into an uneasy sleep. He dreamed of blinding white-clad figures, whose faces he could never see, coming to take everything he loved: first Aulea, then Noctis, then Reina. He waited for them to come for him last of all, but they never did. Instead they left him to waste away, an old man before his time, wallowing in regret.

"Father—!"

Tiny hands shook him.

Regis blinked, wincing in the daylight. When he managed to focus, he found Reina kneeling in bed beside him, holding onto his shoulder.

"What—" Regis' voice came out more a scrape than even a groan. He cleared his throat and tried again. "What is it, my dear?"

Reina sat back on her heels and clasped her hands in her lap, looking down at him through round eyes. "You had a bad dream."

"I suppose I did." Regis pushed himself halfway upright and squinted at the clock. It was two hours later than his usual hour of waking and several too early for having fallen asleep at four in the morning.

"You did," she said. "I know."

If anyone would know what a bad dream looked like, she was certainly one.

"What was it about?" She asked.

Regis sighed and sat up fully, catching Reina beneath the arms and dragging her into his lap.

"Nothing real," he said, though as soon as he had he wondered at the truth of it. Was he not watching everything he loved being taken away from him? Would he not be left wallowing in regret as he wasted away before he was even old? He tore his mind away from such morbid thoughts and changed the subject.

"My dear, I believe I know why you cannot Dream."

"Why?" She tilted her head back to look at him.

"When I used my magic to hold you in place, I may have unintentionally forced you to remain there."

"How?"

"Well," Regis struggled to find words she would understand. "Do you remember me telling you that you had been hurt in Tenebrae, when you Dreamed the first time?"

"Mhm."

"You have since begun to heal—just like a scraped knee or a cut. But imagine what might happen if you had a cut on your skin with a small splinter or pebble inside when it healed."

Her mouth twisted. "Then it would be inside my skin."

"That is what has happened with your magic. It is now stuck… inside your skin, so to speak."

Her brow furrowed. It was a look of great thought that she had mastered well before she should have been old enough to have great thoughts. To see a one year old with such a look on her face had been something to behold.

"Then cut it out," she said.

"Cut…?" Regis repeated, not certain he understood—or wanted to understand—what she was asking.

"If you have a splinter, you have to get a sharp knife or a needle and scrape so it comes out, or it will be stuck in your hand forever."

"This situation is, perhaps, on a slightly larger scale than a splinter, my dear. I fear it could not be scraped."

"But it could be cut."

Regis blinked down at her.

"If there was a rock inside my skin—" She pointed to the palm of her hand. "—you would cut the skin to get it out, right?"

"I suppose you might, if it was harmful, yes…"

"This is harmful, Father. If I'm stuck in my skin then I can't Dream, and if I can't Dream then I can't help you, and people might get hurt again. Like Noct and you and Master Amicitia and Cor."

Regis stared at her as the truth of what she was asking sunk in. If she wished to see the future, he would have to cut through this. Harm his own daughter. All in the name of the greater good.

"Reina, I want you to understand what you are asking for. I have never done anything of this sort before and I cannot say what the effect will be, but I do know it will hurt you a great deal. Remember how this hurt before, when it was still fresh?"

"Yes, Father."

"It will be worse than that."

Her bottom lip quivered, but she set her jaw. "I trust you, Father."

And in those words he found his greatest fear. Not that his children would grow up to no longer trust him when he made promises he could not keep, but that they would trust him so fully and unconditionally that he could not possibly live up to their expectations. How could he tell his own daughter her trust in him was misplaced?

He couldn't.

On the other hand, how could he willingly cause his daughter harm?

"I want you to do it," she repeated.

Regis ran his hands over his face, sighing. He couldn't do it. He couldn't hurt her. His little girl.

But it was his fault that she could no longer Dream—the cause of those initial Dreams notwithstanding—and someone else had already deprived her of all her other magic. Without ever giving her a choice. Now she asked him to grant her control of what little magic remained to her and he would turn her down because he couldn't stand to harm her.

If she had been older, perhaps… But eight years was still so young to make such a choice.

And yet, he had let her make the choice to Dream in the first place.

It would only get worse if he made her wait for years. Perhaps impossible. By the time he judged her old enough, she would wonder why he had made her wait so long, thereby inflicting more suffering on her.

Regis wrapped his arms around her and crushed her against his chest, feeling her little heartbeat against his. That flicker of life. He would have done anything to keep that flame burning.

"Please, Father." Reina's voice came out muffled against his chest. "Just do it now. Quick, like pulling off a bandage."

"Gods forgive me," he murmured against her hair.

And he reached for his magic and hers, searching for the place where the messy web of scar tissue had grown over her, holding her core in place.

"It'll be over soon," Reina said, because he didn't.

"Yes…" Regis sharpened his magic to an edge and laid it against her poorly-healed core. She flinched as if he had put cold steel against her skin.

"Shh, Reina… it's alright, my dear…" He smoothed her hair back and held her against his chest. "I have you. Whatever happens, I will be with you. Remember that."

She looked up at him with Aulea's eyes. Afraid, but brave. "I trust you, Father."

"Are you ready, my dear?"

"Yes."

He drew his sharpened magic across hers. Bonds snapped. Scar tissue was severed. The net fell apart.

And Reina screamed.

She screamed as she had that night in Tenebrae, as he had hoped she never would again. She screamed as if the whole world was burning around her and she had nowhere to turn.

Regis released his magic and hers. He gathered her up in his arms and held her against his shoulder.

"Reina," he murmured against her ear, grinding his teeth against the piercing scream. "Reina, my dear…"

She curled against him, hands balling in the front of his shirt, face buried against his shoulder so her screams were muffled, and her whole body tense like a strung violin. He screams did not cease. If she heard him at all, she gave no indication.

Gods, what had he done to her?

Someone pounded on the outer door.

Regis cradled Reina in his arms and tried again. He reached out to her with his magic, recalling the way she had wrapped around him when he had held her in place. The wounds first opened in Tenebrae were angry and raw again. Without the healed net to hold her in place, her core wavered and wobbled in place, spreading automatically for the In-Between as if it dragged at her. Regis gathered her up—her soul and her body—and held her tight. Even when she squirmed and tried to break free, he held her.

"Reina," Regis called to her. "Listen to me, little Princess. You are safe. You are sound. I am here and I shall never let anyone harm you."

Her voice hitched and the scream caught, but continued on in shorter bursts.

"Your Majesty?!" The pounding at the door grew more frantic.

"Shh shh shh… Reina. It's alright, dearest." He smoothed her hair back, trying to catch sight of her face, but she had her eyes squeezed shut and her face buried against his shoulder.

It was as if she was lost in a Dream. But he could not pull her back because he already held all of her in his arms. She was not in the In-Between. She was just lost and he had no notion of how to find her. How to calm her.

"My dear." Regis' voice cracked. Fathers were meant to be strong when their children needed them. "Look at me, Reina."

Please look.

She tensed in his arms. Her scream caught again and dropped into a whimper. Regis' heart stopped. He held his breath as she turned her head up toward him. Her cheeks were wet with tears of pure terror—for what, he knew not.

"Father." The one word came out choked and broken, pushed around a sob that was still half scream.

"Reina…" He breathed again.

The door burst open.

Reina jerked upright in his lap, turning in his arms to stare at the door as half a dozen Crownsguards poured in, followed by Avun. For a frozen moment they stood in the adjacent lounge and started through Regis' open bedroom door at Regis and Reina sitting on his bed.

Then Reina gave a gasping sob and Regis realize she hadn't been breathing in that space of time. She did so now, in short, sharp bursts as if she couldn't get enough air. But she didn't hold it in long enough to do her any real good.

"Your Majesty—" Avun, standing behind the Crownsguards, looked distinctly uncomfortable.

"Leave us," Regis said.

"O..of course, Your Majesty." One by one, they began to shuffle back out.

"Avunculus." Regis lifted his voice.

"Sire?"

"If Noctis is awake, send him to me."

"Of course, Sire."

The door shut.

Reina turned and buried her face against Regis' chest again. He wrapped her up in his arms and she lay there quivering and hyperventilating.

"Shh shh shh… Reina, my dear, you must breathe…"

Regis gathered her up and cupped his hands around her nose and mouth. She squirmed, fighting against him.

"Reina," he said, stern in spite of his own terror and guilt. "Trust me, my dear. Breathe."

Her breath fell hot against his palms as she struggled to do as he asked. She began to whimper again: a tiny sound in the back of her throat on every too-sharp exhale.

"Shh shh shh… hush, little Princess…" He pressed his lips to her temple and held her as tight as he could.

She lifted her hands to clutch at his. The little gasping whimpers faded into whimpers without the gasp. He held her there until he could feel her breath evening out and falling deeper into her chest.

The outer door cracked open again. This time it was Noctis who appeared from the outside, peeking tentatively around the door.

"Dad…?"

"Yes, Noctis. Come here, my son."

Regis dropped his hands, leaving Reina to breathe on her own, though she still clutched at his hands and wrists. And she still whimpered.

Noctis did as he was bidden. His eyes flicked between Reina and Regis. "What's wrong with Rei? Did she have another bad dream?"

"Not as such, no," Regis said, though as soon as he had, he wondered if she couldn't have glimpsed something in those few seconds before he had gathered up her magic. "But she is very scared, right now. And I believe it would help to have you nearby."

Noctis clambered onto the bed. As soon as he was close enough, Reina released one of Regis' hands and reached out to her twin instead. Noctis took the outstretched hand. He inched closer until Reina released Regis entirely and threw both arms around Noctis' neck. Regis lifted Noctis carefully into his lap, rearranging so the pair of them could sit within the circle of his arms. He held them both while they held to each other.

A full thirty minutes they sat without moving. Reina drifted back and forth between whimpers and sobs. Regis spoke intermittently, assuring her that everything would be alright, though he felt not in the least qualified to do so.

Eventually both whimpers and sobs faded. She sat quivering and hugging Noctis for some time after that, before she finally looked up at Regis again.

"Reina, dearest…" Regis smoothed her hair back. "I am so sorry. I never meant to cause you harm."

Instead of the fear and loathing he had expected to see from her, she managed a shaky smile. "It's alright, Father." Her voice was hoarse from screaming. "I'll be okay."

Eight years old and already she was braver than her fool father.

"And besides," she said. "I can Dream again, now."

"Did you—?" Regis began to ask before he could stop himself.

She shook her head. "No. But I can feel it, Father. Yesterday you told us about the In-Between and how it was everywhere, but I couldn't touch it. Now I can."

He felt her magic strain against his hold. He loosened his grip cautiously and she spread her senses—so to speak—and grazed the edge of the In-Between.

"Now you can." Regis managed a tight smile. He ran his hands over his face and found tears he couldn't recall having shed. He brushed them away, taking a deep breath.

They sat, just the three of them, bundled up in his bed for a while longer. Regis strongly considered going back to sleep after the night and the morning they'd all dragged through. Indeed, they may have dozed together. Certainly they cuddled up and watched the sun rise higher in the sky until it was out of sight entirely. And they spoke in soft voices of inconsequential things, with long periods of quiet in between.

He heard of how Crea had sat up with them when Regis didn't return from the city, insisting that they eat dinner and get ready for bed, though she had been—they both agreed—surprisingly reasonable about the whole thing. When Regis still did not return, she had been the one to suggest they call and check in on him. And, when they had learned he would not return until much later, it had been Crea who read them a bedtime story or three, patiently working through chapter after chapter of their current tale until Noctis and then Reina drifted off. It had been Crea, of course, who had been waiting in the lounge when Reina inevitably woke in the night, and Crea who had sat with her without trying to force her back to bed while they waited.

The rest Regis knew. But it had been a trying night for both of them. A trying morning, as well. Both were through with now—thankfully—but Regis found himself loath to leave his children and return to the work that was undoubtedly waiting for him outside. He had thoroughly chased off both the Crownsguards and Avun; neither came knocking at his door again. In truth they had only been doing precisely what they should have. He would expect no less from his guards than to come charging in when the princess screamed, inconsolable, in the other room and the king was unresponsive.

Around noon, Reina's stomach began to growl and he realized he had not even bothered to see that his daughter had breakfast. He had skipped that meal as well, but he was used to that. Noctis, at least, had eaten before. Crea had seen to that, as well. Now she was likely waiting outside with nothing to do but stare at the wall.

After a brief discussion the three of them agreed it would be best to get up and have lunch before that hour also passed them by. So Regis dressed, which was immeasurably more difficult when Reina wanted to hold onto his hand at all times, and they emerged together. His muscles were just as sore as he had known they would be after an evening spent moving rubble and carrying children. But it was a good sore and he stood tall, walking only the slightest bit stiffly.

Crea was not the only one waiting outside.

The guards outside in the hall bolted upright at-attention when his door opened. Their salutes of "Your Majesty!" were echoed as queries in the lounge down the hall, and a great shuffling of feet rose to meet them. Before Regis had even reached the corner, several people were waiting at the other end for him. Crea among them, yes, but also Clarus, Avun, a few more Crownsguards, and even Cor.

"Thank the Gods you're all safe," Clarus said.

"Why on Eos would we not be?" Regis asked. He held one little hand in each of his as Reina and Noctis walked on either side of him. Reina walked closer to him—so close he had to take care not to trip over her—and clutched at his hand with both of hers.

"I'm sure I don't know, Regis, but when you fail to come downstairs in the morning and the only report is that Her Highness had been heard screaming earlier in the morning…"

Yes. Now that he considered it, that would be rather worrisome from the outside.

"An unfortunate trail of events has led us to something of a setback," Regis said. "But I believe we can move forward now."

He squeezed Reina's hands in his and she looked up at him. She locked her eyes to his and nodded just once.

Clarus glanced between the two of them, then at the remainder of their audience. He cleared his throat. "If you would prefer not to discuss—"

"The matters are private, yes, but also complicated. In any case, we did not come to discuss them, but to find some lunch—Avun, if you would be so good."

"Of course, Your Majesty." He bowed and hurried off, leaving Regis to find a place in the lounge that both his twins would agree to sitting in.

Reina refused to be separated from Regis or Noctis and, for his part, Noctis refused to be separated from Reina. They managed at last by sitting on the sofa with Reina half in Regis' lap and half tangled with Noct, who sat beside them. An uncomfortable position for any adult, but children didn't seem to abide by the same laws of physics.

The others sat or—in the case of the Crownsguards—returned to their posts, and for several minutes they all stared awkwardly at one another. He would have to tell them, eventually. There was no use dragging it out.

"I believe all three of you are aware of Reina's Dreams, and what she and I have been attempting to accomplish for the past week," Regis said at length.

Clarus, Cor, and Crea all nodded.

"You may or may not also be aware that we have been wholly unsuccessful replicating the events from Tenebrae. Reina has been unable to reach the In-Between—that is to say, the realm from which, to the best of my knowledge, she witnesses these visions. It came to my attention last night after we returned from the city that this was my own fault…"

In short order he told the tale of all he had witnessed and surmised, and what had passed that morning per Reina's wishes. By the time he was through, Avun had returned with a small parade of servants. For a few minutes the lounge was alight with activity as a spread of lunch foods were arranged on the coffee table. Conversation halted, in part so they could digest what had been said and in part so that Regis, Reina, and Noctis could serve themselves lunch.

When the servants withdrew and silence settled once more, Regis continued.

"We gather it has been successful, though she has made no full attempt to Dream. I suspect, however, that those concerns we had dealt with upon our return from Tenebrae will reemerge—the damage I have inflicted does not induce physical pain, but instead seems to produce a constant nervousness."

"We can only hope that nervousness has nothing to do with the future," Clarus said.

"A disturbing possibility." Regis glanced down at Reina, who looked up from her plate. "Reina, my dear… you have said only that you feel bad when something is about to go wrong. How do you distinguish that feeling from what you feel now?"

"They feel the same," she said.

"So something bad could be coming?" Cor asked. "Anything at all?"

Reina's hands tightened around Regis' arm.

"Cor." Regis glanced at him, reproving.

"If she can't tell the difference—"

"Enough," Regis said. "We will take this as it comes. If this pain blots out those senses she would usually use to sense the future then we are no worse off than we would be without her sight at all."

But they had her sight this morning. Before he had cut into her magic and blinded her.

"And if it never goes away?" Cor asked. "You'll do as you see fit, but this was foolhardy."

He thrust needles precisely where Regis was already tender from his own guilt.

"Excuse me, Your Majesty—Marshal Leonis—" Crea's voice was soft, but strong enough to split the brewing argument. "I don't know anything about this magic. Or any magic at all. But if Reina's anxious feelings were caused by some sort of injury then I can say it will heal. Before this morning, she was doing much better than she had been. It might take time, but Regis is right—no one is any worse off than they were before. The benefit is that now, perhaps Reina can learn to control her magic and turn this nervous energy to something constructive. She is an extraordinary child. Let's not start this afternoon by underestimating her."

Regis caught Crea's gaze across the lounge and tried to convey in one look what he couldn't with an infinite number of words. That someone had some smidgen of faith that this would work out salved the self-hatred Regis had been nursing all morning.

Crea gave him a tight smile and nothing more.

Clarus cleared his throat. "Crea is, doubtless, correct. We must simply see where this leads and put our trust in the princess. It is, after all, her magic and she is the one who chooses how to walk this path."

And so she had. And would continue to do so, whatever Regis thought of it.

Chapter Text

It should have been a school day for them, but Regis had rather ruined that by sleeping in until noon. Or at least staying in until noon. But, given the events of the previous day, Regis was wanted in two dozen different places across the Citadel and the city. Indeed, no sooner had the lunch dishes been cleared away than Clarus was laying out each and every obligation that Regis had thus far been neglecting.

"Preliminary damage reports have come in from the collapse—they're sitting on your desk. We'll need to discuss the allocation of funds to rebuild both public and private buildings. Doubtless Aldebrand will stand against any motion to offer financial aid to private owners, but that's an argument for the council meeting. In any case, the collapse will have to be filled in and levelled before anything can be built on top of it and those funds will have to come from somewhere, as well…"

Regis settled back against the sofa, absorbing and organizing his thoughts as Clarus dropped the worries that had been harrying him all morning. In his lap, Reina sat sideways with his arm clutched to her chest and her fingers laced with Noctis'. Regis smoothed his free hand absent-mindedly over her back. She would never let him out of her sight in this state.

"...Oh, and there's a meeting with the press, scheduled—" Clarus looked at the clock. "—We've just enough time to make it. Thank goodness you got up in time, I thought I would have to do it alone."

"You will," Regis said.

Clarus halted midway through standing up. "What?"

"Reina?" Regis tilted his head to look at her. "Would you be alright staying here with Noctis and Crea?"

"No." Her answer was immediate and without hesitation. He hadn't doubted it, but Clarus needed to understand the situation as well as he did.

Regis looked up to find Clarus with a long-suffering look on his face, as if he wanted to tell Regis to leave her regardless of what she said, but wasn't about to do so in front of Reina.

"I have few good options, at the moment, Clarus," Regis said. "I could take her and Noctis with me, but I daresay the cameras and crowds will do little to calm an anxious child. Furthermore, we would then have pictures and video of a highly unsettled Princess Reina circulating through the city, which I am sure none of us want."

While he couldn't think of any specific rumors that it might spark off the top of his head, he had long since given up on underestimating the press. They would find something.

"You could leave her just for a moment to appear on camera," Clarus said.

And send what message to her? She already believed she was lesser than Noctis. Was he to now make choices that put her beneath the press and his public image?

"I could, but I will not," Regis said. "It is high time I established what is most important to me. While I may be convinced to put the lives of Lucian citizens above quality time with my children, you will not convince me to turn away from my distraught daughter for the sake of a press conference."

Least of all when it was his fault she was in this state in the first place.

"My children are the most important people in my life and I will not have you scold me for that," Regis said.

Clarus sighed. "No. You're right, Regis. And I apologize, only—" He paused, giving Regis a curious look. "You might acknowledge that your priorities are changing… and let me know where you plan on drawing the new line."

He turned, waving as he stepped toward the waiting lift. "I'll have someone send the necessary reports up here."

When the lift doors had closed behind him, Regis shook his head. "Ridiculous."

But Crea was giving him a look like she was trying to see inside his head.

"Is it so outrageous that I would choose my children over a damned press conference?" He asked.

"No…" Crea said slowly, "And I don't think Clarus thinks so, either. But… do you intend to go out at all today? Clarus did mention a myriad other things begging for your attention, and the city is in something of a dire situation."

He hadn't considered that far ahead, but the answer came without needing to: "No. I will remain here and they can come to me."

"For how long?" She tilted her head to the side in the way she had when she was trying to puzzle someone out.

"For as long as necessary."

She considered him a moment longer, then nodded, rising from her seat. "No, he's right. You have changed your priorities—and no, I don't think that's bad. But it is different."

Regis let the subject go. If they were determined to see him as a changed man he could do little about it. But only the situation had changed. He had harmed his own daughter and—whatever Crea said—he could not help but wonder if she would ever heal entirely.

They spent the remainder of the day in the royal quarters, together. Mostly Reina only wished to sit in Regis' lap, so he found ways to occupy her that did not require much movement. He read a few chapters of a book to them and watched with no small amount of confusion as Reina and Noctis both piled onto his lap to play a handheld game—the same one, Regis noted, that Ignis had gifted Noctis after the daemon attack.

Clarus came and went. The press conference went off smoothly without Regis' attendance and excuses had been made for his absence. They discussed the damage reports and Regis made his views known before he sent Clarus to deal with the council. They did not need the king sitting at the table in order to argue endlessly. Clarus could listen to that.

Toward the evening, Reina could be convinced to stand or sit on her own, so long as she had one hand on Regis at all times. She stood between his knees at the coffee table and colored in a book with Noctis until their dinner arrived.

Crea remained throughout. Though they might have done without her, Regis appreciated the company. On normal days, the twins were fairly self-sufficient and could be trusted to take care of most personal concerns on their own. That did not include sleeping, but Regis had long since accepted that. Now that he thought back, they had been improving. That, or he had simply grown so accustomed to the new strains on his schedule that it had felt less impossible in recent weeks.

No one tried to convince Noctis and Reina to sleep in their own beds. Regis took them both with him and bundled them into his bed. Usually he would have stayed up hours past their bedtime, but that night he was ready to sleep by nine.

"Father…"

Regis started at Reina's voice. She had spoken so little that day that he had stopped expecting her to at all. Any question was answered with a nod, a shake of her head, or a shrug of her shoulders.

"Yes, my dear?"

"I can Dream, right?"

Gods. In everything else, he had nearly forgotten why they had been through this ordeal in the first place. He had been holding her with his magic all day, though it was more for his benefit than hers. He wasn't even certain if she could accidentally slip into the In-Between while she was awake.

He was tempted to tell her no. They were both exhausted and could do with a full night's rest, unbroken by Dreams or lessons in magic. He would just bind her in place for one night and tomorrow, when they were both more well-rested, they would try again.

But he knew that if he justified one night he would find some way to justify the next. He would keep finding some reason to protect her from this, some reason to keep her tied up and—in the end—she would heal over and lose the ability to reach the In-Between once more.

And so, against his better judgement, Regis said, "Yes, my dear. You may Dream."

He pulled his magic from hers, letting her stretch her senses as she had not been able to do for weeks. She looked up at him, curled against his chest and sandwiched between him and Noctis, and smiled.

"Don't worry, Father," she said. "I want to help."

"I know, my dear. And you shall." He smoothed her hair back and leaned forward to give both her and Noctis a kiss on the forehead. "Goodnight, my dearest ones. And Reina—remember what I taught you. Return when I call."

"I remember, Father."

He turned off the lamp on his bedside table and propped himself up on one arm, intentionally making the position uncomfortable—not that he would have any chance of sleeping with adrenaline and anxiety pumping through his veins. He brushed his magic over Reina's, watching as she fell asleep and more and more of her magic seeped out of her skin and crossed the veil to the In-Between. A part of him wanted to follow her, but he doubted he could have, even if it wouldn't have hindered her. To travel so far in the In-Between that one could actually see the future was unheard of. If Regis had been capable of such a feat, he surely would have discovered by now. It was even a strain to stand with one foot across the veil—so to speak—when he contacted the Lucii.

So he waited without attempting to follow. And he observed.

From this perspective, it seemed as if Reina's magic spread out in every direction, reaching across realms at an impossible range. Then it changed. The net of her magic, previously thrown wide, gathered until a single bundle of strands tied her to the In-Between. Against his chest, she tensed. When he squinted through the dark he could see the motion of her eyes beneath the lids. She breathed regularly, but not restfully. It was as if she was awake, but not within her body.

Regis hesitated, glancing at the clock. It had taken her some fifteen minutes to fall asleep and find a Dream. For he had no doubt now that she was Dreaming, in spite of having never seen its like. He had no notion of how long it would take her to experience anything of note. Should he wake her now, knowing that she had been away for only a minute?

He struggled against the impulse. He had promised this was a skill she could learn for herself. Much as he wanted her back, she wasn't under any immediate duress, so far as he could tell. At least, not of the same panic-stricken variety as before. But he knew his daughter better than to categorize her moods into 'screaming' and 'not screaming'.

He leaned closer, watching her unsleeping-sleep. Her hands closed tight in the front of his shirt and a furrow grew on her brow, more concern than disapproval. Her lips moved, but no sound came out. At first. He smoothed her hair back from her face and hovered, waiting.

"Don't, Father…" she murmured—though not to him. Or, at the very least, not to him now. "I'll do it. You don't have to strain yourself."

Regis' stomach lurched uncomfortably.

Not that. Gods. He had known, when he had first agreed to this, she would see what he did not want her to see. But he could think of only one thing he wanted her to experience less than his own premature old-age.

"Reina." He called out to her, fumbling for her magic and giving a clumsy pull. "Come back, my dear. It is time."

No reaction. Neither in her magic nor in her body.

"Reina."

Noctis stirred as Regis gathered her into his arms and held her face between his hands.

"What's wrong, Dad?" Noctis asked.

"Quiet a moment, my son. I must wake your sister."

Noctis pushed himself upright, but said not another word.

"Wake up, Reina." Regis wrapped his magic around hers and pulled more insistently, this time. "Turn away from that Dream and return to me."

Please. Please, Gods, because he couldn't stand the thought of her seeing any more of that.

Her magic responded first. He felt the strands thicken and shorten, no longer stretched so far. Then she shifted in his arms, her eyes flicking open once, twice, but not quite seeing.

"Look at me, Reina." He leaned over her as he guided her magic back to her center and tucked her away. "Just me. Nothing else. See me."

Her eyes focused. She blinked up at him and a look of confusion and consternation crossed her features. She reached out to touch his face. Her little fingers were cold against his skin as she tugged at his beard and patted his cheek. She stretched out her arm and ruffled his hair.

"You're young again, Father," she said.

Just as he had feared.

Regis sighed, hugging her tight against his chest and kissing her hair. Noctis slid back under the blankets and scooted close enough to hug Reina from behind.

"What did you Dream about, Rei?" Noctis asked.

"Noct—" Regis bit his tongue before he could scold either of them. Try as he might to convince himself he was hiding this for their own security, it was his pride that made him reluctant to share what the future held for him. And his fear.

Reina turned in Regis arms to look at Noctis. Then she looked to Regis, as if to ask permission.

Regis pursed his lips. "It may be useful if you describe precisely what you experienced after falling asleep."

"I… fell asleep." Reina stared up at the ceiling and scrunched up her face as she recalled half-waking details. "And there was a great big, black river. It pulled me everywhere. I thought I would drown but then… I woke up. And when I woke up I was older, but it wasn't strange and sudden. It was as if I was just older and always had been older. I woke up right where I had fallen asleep. Right here, in Father's bed. But Father—" She turned her head to look at him, again reaching out to touch his beard, as if to assure herself it was not yet grey with age. "You were older, too. Your beard and your hair were all silver. And your skin was pale and like paper. I let you sleep in because then I could do all the things you would try to do, otherwise. When you did wake up, your voice was more like gravel and your hand shook when you lifted your fork. You wore a brace on your knee and walked with a cane—"

"Enough." The word escaped him before he could grab hold of it.

Reina stopped mid-sentence. Both twins turned to look up at him, wide-eyed and shocked at the sharpness of his order.

Regis sighed, grappling with himself and struggling to find some way to justify his premature halting of Reina's tale.

"Everyone must grow old, my children. But none of us wish to."

"I'm sorry, Father," Reina whispered.

"No, my dear. You have done nothing wrong." He forced a smile. "We have established, at least, that you are capable of reaching this Dream state on your own, now. Perhaps now you may learn to use it to see what you wish. For now, it is very late and we have all had an exceedingly long day. I suggest we all seek some true dreams."

He pulled the blankets back up to their chins and tucked them in, shoving back the sensation of gnawing dread that Reina's Dream had brought on him. How long did he have before he was reduced to the old man she had seen? How long before he was forced to hobble around on a cane, unable to even support his own weight? How long before all the color went out of his hair? It was already beginning.

Those thoughts and unanswered questions bounced around his mind as he bid his children goodnight for the second time, bound Reina's magic securely so she would not Dream again, and settled in to sleep for himself.

Unsurprisingly, sleep would not come.

He fought the urge to toss and turn and search for a comfortable position. He would not disturb his children with this. He forced his eyes shut and tried to think of something else.

How long before Reina would start trying to take over his responsibilities? How long before she stopped thinking of him as capable of protecting her and tried to protect him, instead? She would grow up well before her time. He wasn't ready for that, even if she was.

"Father…?"

Noctis had fallen asleep. He had thought Reina had done the same, but it appeared he was mistaken.

"Yes, my dear?"

"You said everyone grows old, but it was the ring that did it."

Regis sighed. How much more did she know already, that he had hoped to spare her from? Hoped to spare himself from.

"Yes, my dear. I know."

She was quiet for a long time. Then: "If you give it to me now, it would never happen."

Regis started, propping himself on his elbow and looking down at her with a furrow on his brow. "What would prompt such words from you?"

"I wanted you to give it to me in the future. But it would have been too late. If you give it to me now, it won't be."

"Reina." Regis ran his hand over his beard, trying to find the words. "This is very important, so you must listen carefully."

She nodded, wide-eyed as she stared up at him.

"When you Dream you will see things that I meant to protect you from. You will learn things that will not make sense until you are older. These are adult matters that I am allowing you to explore and, as a result, I expect you will grow up much faster than I am prepared for. Does that make any sense?"

The crease on her brow deepened as she struggled to take his words and turn them into something intelligible. Finally she shook her head.

Regis sighed. "No. I suppose this is another thing you may not understand until you are older. For now, I would like you to try to understand that there are worse things—worse possibilities—than my waning strength. And I have made this exchange willingly to keep everyone in Lucis safe. I would never pass that burden on to you unless I had no other choice. Because I love you too much. And I cannot stand to see you go through what I have—and will."

The thoughtful look was back on her face. For a moment he feared she would struggle to make sense of his language here, as well.

"But what if I love you too much?" She asked.

"What do you mean?"

"You said you love me too much to give me the ring. Because it will hurt me. But I love you that much, too. I don't want you to hurt, Father."

Instead she grasped too well what he meant.

"I know you don't, my dear. But this is how it must be."

"Why? If we want opposite things, why do you win?"

Regis shut his mouth with a snap. Had she really grown so old in one night? She saw the world, still, through the eyes of an eight-year-old and the black-and-white perspective it put on a larger world was… different, to say the least.

"There are many reasons, my dear. One is that I am king and this is my duty for as long as I wear the crown. Another is that, as your father, it is my place to protect you and not vice versa."

"Why?"

Why did parents protect children but children didn't protect parents? A question only a child would ask.

"Because I am stronger and more experienced than you are. That is not, of course, meant to belittle your strengths, little princess, of which there are many—but it is a simple fact of life. At eight years old, you have a great deal more growing to do. And a great deal more learning."

"Then… when you are older and I am stronger than you… I will protect you?"

Regis pursed his lips. "I hope not."

"Why?"

"Because, little princess, it will hurt my pride."

"Oh." She looked thoughtful again. After a moment, she said, "Then maybe you could try not to be so prideful, Father."

That startled a laugh from him. He settled back down next to her and pulled her against his chest. "Oh, my dear. You have no idea how often Clarus has told me the same thing in different words. Do you know what I told him?"

"No."

"I told him to shut up."

Reina giggled.

"But I will not say the same to you. You may be right, little princess. I should learn to temper my pride."

"Or," Reina said, "Maybe you could just be proud of me, instead."

"I am proud of you, my dear." Regis put his chin to his chest to look down at her. "Every day."

"But if I protected you, maybe instead of saying 'oh, no, I'm not strong enough,' you could say 'wow, look at my Reina, she's so strong!'"

He wasn't certain where the smile had begun, but as he stared at her in stunned silence it only deepened.

"You know, my dear, I think that is precisely what I will do. If it comes to that."

Chapter Text

It was almost Regis' normal hour to wake up.

Almost.

Or perhaps he was just going blind in his old age and the clock said nine instead of seven. It was difficult to say for certain. His body still ached, though, all things considered, not as much as he had expected. In spite of the fact that he had carried an eight year old child around throughout most of the previous day and the long day spent shifting rubble before that, he was feeling surprisingly nimble. Perhaps all that effort had done his old muscles some good, after all.

He lay on his one corner of the bed while Reina and Noctis took up the other nine tenths. Actually, all three of them were in less than half of the bed. From the looks of things, Reina had followed Regis across the bed, insistent on cuddling against his chest no matter how he moved, and Noctis had followed Reina. The result was that Regis was nearly falling off the bed. Indeed, it took some flailing and quick thinking when he tried to roll over to see the clock more clearly and instead found no more bed behind him.

It was a good way to wake up. Or, more accurately, it was a way to wake up, which happened to be quite effective. He could now clearly see that the hour hand did, indeed, point to the seven.

Regis shifted, attempting to find some more stable position—preferably standing—and found that Reina was still securely attached to the front of his shirt. He sighed. She was never going to let go. Nevertheless, he attempted to pry her little hands from him. If he was exceedingly lucky he might break her grip without waking her. If he was less lucky. Well.

Reina shifted and stirred, making a wordless sound of objection when he tried to break her grasp.

"I am not going anywhere, my dear. I will be right here in the room."

Her eyes flicked open and she blinked blearily up at him twice before her vision cleared. "Don't leave."

Very little of that had sunken in apparently.

Regis sighed, smoothing her hair back and kissing her forehead. "I will not. But you must let go of me."

She stared at him another moment before reluctantly complying. Regis rolled out of bed, getting his feet underneath him rather less gracefully than he would have liked, but ending upright when all was said and done. Reina remained where he had left her, now holding onto Noctis' arm and staring up at him.

"Something shall have to be done about my work, however. And your schooling," Regis said, half to himself and half to her.

Reina bobbed her head.

"Now, I am going to step outside—just outside—and have breakfast sent up to us. Would you like to come, or would you prefer to stay with Noctis? I swear I will return shortly."

She looked between him and her still-sleeping twin, mouth twisting with indecision.

"I'll stay with Noct…" she said softly. "Come back soon, okay?"

"Quite soon, my dear." He stooped to kiss her forehead again, then went to the door, picking up a dressing robe on the way.

He was not in the habit of walking about in sleepwear, but the upper levels of the Citadel were the closest he had ever known to a private residence. If anyone was going to see him out of his suit, it may as well have been those same servants and Crownsguards that he trusted never to repeat a word they overheard here and to blend into the woodwork until they were needed.

Indeed, one was blending into the woodwork in the hallway just outside Regis' chambers. Regis hailed him and the servant stepped back into physical being.

"Your Majesty?"

"Please see to it that breakfast is sent up from the kitchens. We will dine here this morning."

"Very good, Your Majesty." He bowed. "Will that be breakfast for three, or is Miss Vinculum to be included?"

"I do not expect Miss Vinculum to arrive until after breakfast."

"Oh, but Sire, she's in the lounge, now."

How peculiar.

Regis stepped fully out of his rooms, closing the door behind him. "Then it will be breakfast for four."

"Of course, Your Majesty." Again the servant bowed, this time turning to leave.

Regis followed him down the hall until they reached the lounge. And, as promised, Crea was there.

She looked up when they rounded the corner, startled. Her eyes were rimmed in red and she hastily swiped at her cheeks with a tissue balled in her hand.

"Regis! You're awake." However she tried, her voice was too hoarse to be natural. "I wasn't sure how long you would be, after yesterday, but I thought perhaps I should be here earlier in case Noctis needed me or…"

Her excuses faded away when Regis stepped in front of her, staring down at her with stony appraisal.

"What happened?" He asked.

"Nothing."

The elevator door shut behind the servant. They were alone, but for the woodwork—which may have contained Crownsguard ears, but they were of little import.

"Crea. You are, and always have been, a miserable liar. Tell me truthfully: what happened?"

She dropped her gaze. "Nothing," she said again. "It was just a disagreement."

Regis sighed, dropping to one knee in front of her and taking her hands in his. "A disagreement that sent you fleeing to the Citadel in tears at seven in the morning?"

She pursed her lips. "Yes."

Regis squeezed her fingers with a grimace. "Crea, you—" He stopped himself from saying something stupid and shook his head. "I do not know what is happening with your fiance, though I wish you would take me into your confidence. But I understand. Given our history, that may be difficult. I can only say, then, that I hope you can find some way to work this out—whatever that means for you. In the meantime you are, as I have said, always welcome in the Citadel. And you are always welcome to come to me… for any reason."

"I know." She gave him a tight smile. "Thank you, Regis."

"Father?" Reina peered around the corner. A moment later, Noctis' head appeared above hers. "You said you would be right back…"

Solitude was a thing of the past these days.

Regis gave Crea's fingers one last squeeze and rose to his feet. "Apologies, dearest ones. I was speaking with Crea. I thought the four of us might eat together, if that is alright?"

The question he directed to Reina, as she was the only among their number who might take issue with Crea's presence.

Reina looked past Regis to where Crea was. Some unspoken communication passed between them, which Regis could not even begin to understand.

"She can come," Reina said.

He offered his hand to help Crea to her feet and led her down the hall towards his rooms. The twins joined with them—Reina latching onto Regis' robe as soon as he was near enough and Noctis holding her free hand.

The day was not unlike the one before, save that it seemed the world was determined to pile more worries on Regis' plate. It was not enough for the debates to rage between which deserved the crown's gil more: the war effort or the collapsed sector of the city. In addition to that—and all other manner of governmental concerns—Regis worried about Reina's Dreams and what secrets she would uncover tonight, or the next night, or the night after that. Today, too, had the added concern for Crea and whatever troubles she struggled through that she would not accept his help for.

Night time brought their usual routine, though dinner was taken upstairs in the lounge, since that floor was where Reina was most comfortable. They were four for dinner, as they had been for breakfast; Crea lingered later and later of a night. Regis couldn't help but wonder if that was driven by the same trouble that had brought her early in the morning. He didn't ask. He welcomed her presence at their unconventional dinner table and tried to speak of other things.

It seemed likely that Reina and Noctis would both sleep in Regis' bed again. He was beginning to despair of ever having his room to himself. But he bid them get ready for bed, choose a book from their room, and climb into his bed to wait for him. Meanwhile, he lingered in the lounge with Crea.

She gave him a tight smile. "I suppose I should say goodnight as well."

"If that is what you desire."

The twist of her lips said it wasn't.

"Oh—I keep forgetting to ask you," she said, "The twins will be nine in a couple months. Would you like me to plan something, or did you have anything in mind, already?"

Regis groaned. "I had completely forgotten. By all means, make plans. Though I daresay they will no longer appreciate the more extensive celebrations of their earlier years."

"No," she agreed. "We'll do something quiet. It's been a long time since I got to plan a child's birthday party."

She smiled. And he smiled. And they stood in tense silence for a few moments, shuffling their feet and avoiding each other's gaze while they tried to think of some way to extend the conversation.

"Father…?"

Regis turned to find Reina and Noctis, both in their pajamas, standing hand-in-hand at the hall leading down to his room.

"Is it that time already?" He asked.

Reina nodded.

"I suppose I should be going then…" Crea said. "Thank you for dinner—and breakfast, for that matter."

"Of course. You are always welcome to stay for dinner," Regis said. "Or breakfast. Or both."

She smiled up at him, tugging on the sleeves of her sweater until they covered all but her fingertips. Then she lurched forward and threw her arms around his neck, standing on her toes to reach.

He was immediately struck by the scent of her—so close now. It was the smell of cozy evenings drinking hot tea. It was the smell of lazy mornings stretched out in bed. It was the smell of long nights when the whole world fell away and nothing but Crea remained.

Regis hesitated a moment before hugging her back. She didn't belong to him anymore. She had a home to return to. And a fiance. In a life where she had a chance to be who she wanted to be, rather than what someone else required of her.

A life that she ran away from in the mornings and forced herself back to in the evenings.

He tried not to wonder what that meant.

"Thank you, Regis," she whispered, her voice soft against his ear.

"You are welcome, Crea. Now and in the future."

She pulled away from him; his hands slid down her back and over her waist before falling away entirely.

"Goodnight," she said.

"Goodnight."

"Goodnight, Noctis, Reina!"

"Goodnight, Miss Crea," two voices spoke one set of words.

Crea took a step backward toward the elevator.

"Goodnight, Regis."

"Goodnight, Crea."

The elevator doors opened for her and she stepped backward into the lift. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Tomorrow."

The doors began to shut. She smiled, lifting one hand to wave, though it was only fingertips above a sleeve. "Goodnight."

"Goodnight."

The doors shut. The elevator whirred as it descended.

"She said 'goodnight' a lot," Noctis said.

"Did she?" Regis stared at the closed doors a moment before turning around to face his children.

"Mhm. So did you," Noct said.

So he had.

"Sometimes, my son, when a person is reluctant to leave, they stretch their farewells longer than necessary." Regis crossed to them, smoothing Noctis' hair back. "Come along now. I believe I owe you both a bedtime story."

He whisked them away and tucked them into his bed. He had work to do still, but he sat with them and read their chosen story until they fell asleep. Or until Noctis fell asleep, at least. Reina clung determinedly to consciousness and watched him expectantly when he set the book aside.

Regis sighed, but reached out with his magic to release hers.

"Sleep, my dear." Regis smoothed his hand down her back as she settled in beside him. "And Dream as you will."

He tried not to think of what she might Dream. A myriad uncomfortable possibilities presented themselves. She could Dream of Noctis. She could see Regis' death—inevitable as it was. She might see terrible things that no one could prevent.

But this was the only way to see things that they might prevent. So he let her drift away from him. Once more her magic stretched and slipped past the veil. Regis kept one eye on the clock and one on her. The last time she had given outward indications once she was inside the Dream and beyond what she described as the 'black river.' He expected the same, tonight, but it never came.

Minutes slipped by. Half an hour. He could still feel her magic spread out in every direction. Yet she seemed asleep to all appearances.

By the time the minute hand was rounding back to where it had begun, Regis could stand the wait no longer. He reached out to her, calling gently in hopes of letting Noctis sleep on.

"Reina. Wake up, my dear."

She responded more readily tonight. A quiver ran through her magic before the strands condensed.

"Come back to me, little princess," he called as he drew her gently back from the In-Between.

Her core dropped into place. She took a deep breath and opened her eyes with a frown on her lips.

"You called me back too soon."

"You were away for an hour, my dear," Regis said, struggling to keep the reproach from his voice. "That is quite long enough. It is more than long enough."

"But I didn't see anything, Father."

"You mean you reached the In-Between, but did not Dream?"

"Mm. Mhm." She nodded. "I followed the black river, but it didn't take me anywhere."

"Strange…" Regis mused. "It would appear we have a great deal, still, to learn of your Dreams."

"What if I can't get out of the black river and Dream again, Father?"

"You will, my dear." He smoothed her hair back fondly. "You have done it before and we will learn together what it takes to do so at will. Now go to sleep, little princess."

In spite of his intentions, Regis found himself lying down beside her and shutting his eyes. Just a few moments. He would get up and see to those documents waiting in the other room just as soon as Reina fell asleep.

The next thing he remembered was daylight.

He had fallen asleep still half in his suit.

It took some skill to slide his arm out from underneath Reina and Noctis without waking either of them. He managed, inch by inch, and slipped out of bed with neither twin the wiser. His suit was a wrinkled mess, but it wasn't the first time he had slept in it and, if he was being completely honest with himself, it probably wouldn't be the last time either. He got dressed in a fresh suit on his own, checking that Reina and Noct were still sleeping soundly, before he opened the outside door and admitted Avun—quietly—to work magic on his appearance. By the time his children were stirring he nearly looked himself, again.

Crea was in the lounge again. This time she didn't try to make any excuse. But the smile she managed for him was flat and fake.

Regis sighed. "Crea, if he causes you so much strife—"

He shut his mouth, biting back words better left unsaid. He shook his head. "I will have them bring tea with breakfast."

Breakfast was a quiet affair. Reina and Noctis spoke little and Crea less. Her mind was not in the Citadel or, if it was, it was not on matters at hand. She fretted with the sleeves of her sweater, lifted her tea and set it down untasted, and pushed her breakfast around on her plate. Reina and Noctis finished their own meals and squeezed into one corner of the couch to both stare at the screen on Noctis' portable gaming device. Bless Ignis for that.

"Crea." Regis caught her eye across the lounge. He patted the space on the sofa beside him. "Will you sit with me a moment?"

She set down her unfinished breakfast and came to sit beside him. Noctis and Reina were both engrossed in their game; the only sounds coming from their corner of the sofa were tinny electronic music and the occasional murmur of words either too quiet to hear or not of any known language, save their own.

Regis poured himself a cup of tea, and lifted Crea's full one off the coffee table and handed it to her.

"Far be it from me to either request information or presume to advise you. But I can at least offer you the same thing you have so many times given me." He glanced up at her with a small smile. "A cup of tea in a quiet room with a friend."

The smile wasn't all at once. It started in the crinkle of her eyes and worked its way to her lips, though it had to battle the frown first.

"Thank you," she whispered. "I could use both, I think."

It was the same comfortable quiet that had filled her rooms during the evenings, so many nights before. This time it was broken only be the sound of Noctis' game.

"Do you ever wonder if you might have made a terrible mistake—or be about to make one? One that would change your life forever, and if you get it wrong…" Crea stared at the teacup in her hands.

"Most every day," he said.

She looked up at him, wry. "Stupid question to ask the king. Except his mistakes would cost a lot more than anyone else's."

"Indeed they do. And I fret over them no less… I am only extraordinarily well-versed in pretending not to."

She laughed and leaned against him so their shoulders touched. "I could do with some of that skill."

"Oh, I daresay you are better off without it. Once you begin to hide it away, it grows all the more difficult to air it again. That may sound favorable, but if you ever need help or advice…" He shook his head. "Simply impossible."

"You seem to rub along alright," she said. "Though I do remember you needing a firm kick to do move you in the right direction, now and then."

"Precisely. You do much better without that."

She sighed, looking back down at her teacup and taking a sip. "I don't know what to do. There is no good answer."

"There rarely is, in important decisions."

They sat in silent agreement, finishing their tea, until Clarus came looking for Regis again. Reina was still disinclined to leave the upstairs of the royal quarters and Regis, for his part, was still disinclined to leave her. So he spent another day on house arrest. Clarus brought news from below and carried Regis' instructions as necessary. The council carried on as they usually did, with or without supervision. The weekend had come, and so Regis had a few more days, at least, to decide what to do about Reina and Noctis' schooling if Reina would not leave his side. Or a few more days to hope that it only took that long for her to feel better. He still feared she never would. He still blamed himself for that.

In the meantime, Reina and Noctis played quietly in the lounge, both of them subdued and content to remain more or less sedentary. At one point near noon, Reina detached herself from her twin and crawled into Regis' lap, where she sat with her fists clenched in his coat and her face buried against his chest.

"Little princess… what is it?" He asked, smoothing a hand down her back.

She was shaking. He wrapped her up in his arms, catching Crea's eye and motioning that she should pass him the spare blanket from the empty armchair. He wrapped Reina up in it, though it was early summer and not cold in the least. It seemed to do something for her.

"Feels bad." Reina's voice, quivering, was muffled against his chest.

Regis' stomach twisted at the words. Premonition, or mere panic? He had no way of knowing.

"What does, my dear?"

"Everything."

He hoped that indicated the later, though it did little to lessen the pain she felt. Her breath came fast and she squirmed until he held her tight. Then she settled, holding onto his arm and his coat.

They sat that way for an hour. The only sounds that came from her, as Regis hushed her gently and murmured encouragement against her hair, were terrified whimpers interspersed with sobs. But, bit by bit, whether due to Regis' ministrations or something else entirely, the whimpers faded away and the tears stopped flowing. In another hour she had fallen asleep in his arms, exhausted from the mere effort of surviving.

He could not return to work in the Citadel. Though it was his fault it had happened in the first place, she would never have calmed without him present. It could have been worse—so much worse—if he had not been available when she needed him. No. He would stay with her. He had started this by harming her himself. He would see it through to the end. If indeed there was an end.

While Reina seemed most intent on attaching to either Regis or Noctis, Ignis and Crea did their best to fill in any gaps. Crea saw to it that their meals were arranged while young Ignis tracked down their tutors himself to ask if they might not have something to work on over the weekend, given that they had been without for a few days already. He returned with some books and copious notes in his own handwriting. Then he coaxed Noctis and Reina to sit with him and flip through a book on plants and animals in Lucis.

"An Anak," Ignis told them, as he held the book propped in his lap with one twin on either side, "Is a long-necked herbivore found primarily in Leide. Do you remember what an herbivore is, Reina?"

"Eats only plants," Reina mumbled, scooting a little bit closer and forcing Ignis to lift his arm and put it around her shoulders.

"Precisely correct. And Noctis, can you tell me where Leide is on this map?"

Noctis peered over, pointing to the map that Ignis unfolded from the front of the book.

"Very good, Noct. Now, for what reason might its neck have evolved to be so long? Most other animals have a very short neck."

And so on. Regis watched them for a time, sneaking glances between his own reading, before stepping to the side—but not out of sight—to speak with Crea.

"He is an extraordinary young tutor," Regis said, "But I hesitate to put any more duties on his plate Already he has his own lessons to contend with, and I believe they are quite extensive."

"They are," Crea agreed, folding her arms over her chest as she looked at the three children. "It's definitely not a perfect solution, but it does give me an idea. There's no particular reason why their teachers can't teach in this fashion, save that the twins are more likely to climb into Ignis' lap, having known him for so long."

Regis rubbed his beard. "You believe it would work?"

"I think if we can foster a sense of trust between them and their tutors, it may just work. Even as it stands, changing lessons to this quieter, more intimate format should be simple enough. Then they can carry on with their schooling while you work here for however long is necessary."

"My only concern is that, as I am carrying out so many of my duties from here, private affairs of the kingdom might easily be overheard in our lounge," Regis said.

Crea nodded slowly. "That is potentially a problem, yes."

She glanced around the lounge, as if searching for inspiration. Her eyes landed on the glass doors and walls of the private library.

"Why not use the library?"

"For my work?"

"To speak with Clarus, at least," Crea said. "The rest can carry on as it has been the last few days—not ideal, I'll admit, but at least workable—and when sensitive information needs to be discussed, you can do it in the library where Reina and Noctis can still see you and vice versa. If they need you, you'll know immediately and be only a few steps away."

Regis nodded slowly. "If Reina will accept it, that may be the best solution."

Crea's phone rang. Stricken, she fished it out of her pocket and swiped to refuse the call. "Sorry—uhm. Yes. If we start on Monday, perhaps she'll be a little more open to being apart from you."

"Do you really think so?" Regis asked.

She looked back to Reina and Noctis, heads together with Ignis on the couch. She sighed. "I don't know, Regis." Her phone rang again. She declined the call without looking at the screen. "I still mean what I said—I think she will get better. But I couldn't say when."

Regis nodded slowly. "Then all we can do is provide what she needs and hope for the best."

Crea's phone rang again.

"I think, perhaps, you should answer." Regis raised his eyebrows at her.

She heaved a sigh and rolled her eyes. "It's just Erik."

"Problems are rarely solved by avoidance."

She glanced at her still-ringing phone, then up at him. She sighed again and answered the phone, turning her back as she walked away. "Erik. What do you need?"

Not, Regis reflected, the greeting one would expect in a loving relationship. Though still civil, at least.

"Are you kidding me?" Crea's voice, a loud whisper, was still audible a few steps away. "You called to check on that? No, of course I'm not! I'm whispering because the twins are reading and I don't exactly need this heard by everyone here."

Perhaps not so civil.

Regis turned away, deciding it was best to put some more space between himself and her. He rejoined the twins on the couch, where he could hear her voice but not the words, and picked up his work once more. Crea paced back and forth in the far corner, occasionally gesturing sharply. Then she stopped, one arm crossed over her chest, hissed a few more words over the phone, and hung up. She pressed her palms to her eyes, ran her fingers through her hair and pulled a portion free of the loose bun.

Regis tore his gaze away as she tugged her hair tie free and began reforming the bun. The visual of Crea with her blonde hair falling free across her shoulders reminded him of dimly-lit nights and lazy mornings.

She joined him on the sofa a few moments later. Regis poured her a fresh cup of tea from the pot on the coffee table, which she took gratefully. She abandoned the saucer and held the cup cradled in her hands, staring at the steaming liquid without tasting it.

"Every time we talk we argue," she said. "He doesn't believe a word I say. I don't think he's listened to a word I've said for weeks."

Regis smoothed his hand over her shoulders, putting his work aside again. A myriad of questions came to mind. He bit them all back. Her life was her own, much as he wished it was still a part of his, and, while he was open and receptive to hearing her woes, he was not going to pry into them.

"I told him—after I had already agreed to come back—about us. Before." She stared at her tea, though Regis looked at her. "I guess I should have told him earlier, it just never seemed like the right time. How do you tell someone that the king asked you to marry him? I don't know. I still don't know."

Regis' stomach squirmed uncomfortably. So this was his fault. If he hadn't insisted on bringing her back, if he hadn't put her in such an awkward position four years ago, she might still be in a happy relationship.

First Reina. Now Crea. He had a knack for hurting those people he loved most.

"I've only made it worse, I guess. Every time he picks a fight it makes me want to go home less. So I spend more time here with you, which makes him wonder even more. He insists that I must be doing it to spend more time with you—among other, less savory accusations—and every night when I come home late he implies that I've fallen in love with you again."

"And have you?"

No sooner were the words out of his mouth than he regretted them. No good could come of that question. Either answer was bad.

"I apologize—" he said hurriedly. "—do not answer—"

"No," Crea said.

His stomach dropped.

No.

All those years he had thought of little but her while she was off building her own life. Now he had dragged her back and ruined the relationship she still wanted. He had never meant to hurt her.

"The truth is, Regis," she looked up at him for the first time since sitting down, "I don't think I ever fell out of love with you. I only told myself I had."

He wasn't sure which was worse. This should have been better. But if she loved him still then they were in much the same situation they had been years before. He would still have married her in a heartbeat, but to put the weight of the kingdom on her shoulders was cruel and unfair. He couldn't force her to be Queen of Lucis. He could only love her and regret. He had hoped she, at least, might have some chance of loving someone else.

He sighed, pulling her sideways into a hug and kissing her hair. "And I have always loved you, Crea."

"I know," she said miserably. "That's what makes this so hard."

Chapter Text

Reina did not Dream that night. As before, Regis called her back when she had been gone over-long and she was disappointed with her lack of success. He promised he would think of some way for her to learn to Dream more effectively, but he had no notion how to begin going about that.

The next day was much the same as the previous. Crea was waiting for them in the lounge when Regis emerged.

"Good morning, Regis." She avoided his gaze, keeping her eyes fixed, instead, on her laptop as she typed away.

"Crea." Regis pursed his lips. "You stay here until all hours of the night and arrive before dawn. I am beginning to worry for your health if you sleep less than even I do."

"I'll be fine," she said. "Do you want to read this email before I send it to Noct and Reina's tutors?"

Avoidance, it seemed, was her solution of choice for uncomfortable situations.

"What I want is for you to be happy, Crea." He stopped beside her chair, looking down at her. "And I can't help but worry that I am rather ruining that possibility for you."

Her fingers stopped moving and, though she continued to stare at the screen, her eyes fixed on one spot.

"Crea. Look at me, please."

She looked up at him.

He sighed, running his hand over his beard. A better man would have offered to let her go, but how could he?

"What can I do to help?" He asked.

"You can pretend like our conversation yesterday never happened."

His mouth twisted. He wanted to do that nearly as little as he wanted to send her away again. But she was right. If he had never asked if she loved him, they wouldn't be in this situation in the first place. He had gotten them here. The least he could do was try to get them out.

"I'll handle this on my own," she said. "I just need you not to make it any more difficult than it already is."

"Very well." He walked past her armchair, grasping her shoulder briefly before walking away. She was the nanny to his twins. Not just their nanny, for Crea would never be 'just' anything, but if he wished her to remain nanny to his children, he needed to prevent himself from making the same mistakes he had made last time.

"This email?" He asked, turning back around. "Regarding their new form of lessons, I presume?"

"Yes. I thought I would fill them in regarding the last few days of absence—without specifics, at least—and ask them to prepare something different for tomorrow's lessons."

Regis returned to lean over the armchair and read the draft on her screen. It was neatly done. Diplomatic. Concise. With just the right amount of information provided to make it clear that no further questions were welcome. Regis had little to object to. He bade her send it off and bit back any comments he might have made on how well she might have suited the position of queen after all.

The following day, the twins' school resumed with the new format proposed by Crea. It worked better than anticipated. Their tutors came to them and sat at the coffee table or on the couch with Reina and Noctis on either side of them. Anything that had once resembled a lecture was reduced to a quiet and intimate discussion, which seemed to suit all parties well. When Clarus arrived with the need to discuss sensitive information, Regis withdrew to the library with him, remaining within sight of the lounge so that he could keep an eye on Reina and vice versa. While he did notice Reina's attention focused less on her school work and more on the library during this time, nothing ill came of it and her tutor seemed more than willing to accommodate for her temporary distraction.

At night, a Dreamless sleep ensued and life went on.

In spite of the rigidity of his schedule in those days—the mere fact that he could hardly leave the royal quarters at all, save with Reina and Noctis in tow, was prohibitive—there was a comfort to them. Regis found that he could run the kingdom from atop the Citadel without ever sitting in a council meeting or holding court. Important concerns came to him via Clarus. All other troubles were addressed directly without his intervention. He did not need to be a part of every decision that happened in the kingdom. He read the reports and the notes from various private proceedings after the fact and he addressed questions to Clarus or whomsoever he needed to, and that was that. Lucis had its king. And Reina and Noctis had their father, for perhaps the first time in nine years.

Summer came. The public Insomnian schools went onto summer break, but after some discussion, Crea and the tutors agreed it would be best to keep some structure in the twins' lives, at least for now. They continued with daily lessons, though Crea encouraged the tutors to bring whatever learning aids were necessary to make their lessons fun and engaging—cost not being an issue. As both twins were still reluctant to leave the confines of the royal quarters, this resulted in some interesting visitors.

One morning a zoologist arrived at the Citadel and turned the royal lounge into a temporary zoo, containing carrier after carrier of wild animals from beyond the Wall. A biologist brought microscopes and provided a close look at a wide variety of creepy-crawlies. They even had a specially-arranged nighttime lesson where an astronomer came to set up telescopes on the balcony.

Throughout, Reina and Noctis continued to pile into Regis' bed at night, and throughout Reina struggled to catch a glimpse of anything but the black river of the In-Between. She grew increasingly frustrated with her ability to prove useful, but Regis was secretly relieved. Here she had the potential to Dream and should, if all went well, heal with that potential still intact. But she was not seeing any of the uncomfortable truths Regis went to such lengths to hide from her. Yet. Someday he would have to make good on his promise to find some way to let her Dream more efficiently. But he told himself she should at least heal first.

The twins turned nine amidst a quiet birthday party, containing primarily those people they saw most. Clarus came, along with Gladiolus. Ignis was, of course, invited. Altogether that gave Noct and Reina the company of two other children and a handful of adults, whom they mostly ignored.

So far as Regis could tell, Crea made no improvements on her relationship throughout the summer. She still spent the vast majority of her day at the Citadel, arriving much too early and leaving much too late. While she rarely held hushed phone conversations, she did sometimes send texts with a scowl on her face.

It was September before they began to discuss resuming some other lessons that had been put on hold.

"Father." Reina climbed into his lap one drizzly Sunday morning as he flipped through the latest batch of notes from council proceedings.

"Mm?"

"When will Miss Agnys come back?"

It took a moment for him to remember who Miss Agnys was and why she would come back. His eyes moved another few lines on the page before he stopped. Reina's music teacher. They had halted those lessons along with all the others in spring after he had cut her magic, but for one reason or another those ones had gotten lost in the whirlwind while everything else was being sorted out.

"Would you like her to come back?" He asked, setting aside his reports and looking down at her.

"Mm. Mhm." She bobbed her head. "I miss my violin."

With a pang of guilt he realized he had not heard her play in months—verging on years. One more way he had been failing as her father.

"Crea." Regis glanced around and found her sitting with Noctis while he showed her the ins and outs of his new video game. "Would you sort out the matter with Reina's music lessons?"

Her lips parted as she realized the same thing Regis just had—that violin and piano had both been completely forgotten in the past months, save by Reina.

"Of course!" She said. "I'm so sorry, I should have been keeping track of that."

"No harm done, I think." Regis pulled Reina into a tight hug and kissed her hair. "But if Reina wishes to resume them, it is high time she did so."

Somehow it was refreshing to see Reina ask for anything at all, save to remain by Regis' side at all times. Perhaps these lessons would give her something else to ground her and encourage her.

On Monday the rains came, signaling the start of autumn in Insomnia. Miraculously, Crea managed to arrange for Agnys to return to work that very week, and so alongside the rain came Reina's music teacher and the resumption of her lessons.

Miss Agnys was a tall woman with vaguely equine features and a pair of small round spectacles perched near the end of her long nose. She wore primarily black and somehow gave the appearance of formality simply by being. Those things alone made her look quite at home within the Citadel. Even so, Regis was reluctant to give her charge of his daughter. They had gone to great lengths to eliminate the barriers between the twins and their tutors so that Reina and Noctis could both enjoy a comfortable and intimate education, free of pressure and anxiety. Miss Agnys was not the sort of woman who would sit on the floor with eight year olds and discuss music. Indeed, if she had sat anywhere but a stiff-backed wooden chair, Regis would have said she was out of place.

He let Reina go only reluctantly when she slid off his lap and went to greet her teacher. But Reina exhibited no shyness as she crossed the lounge and gave a well-practice curtsy before Miss Agnys. Then, much to Regis' surprise, Reina hugged her around the waist and received a pat on the head in response.

"I missed you, Miss Agnys," Reina said, her tiny little voice hardly even carrying to Regis' ears across the lounge.

"Quite so, Your Highness." Miss Agnys sniffed. "Now that is quite enough sentimentality. I believe the music room is on the floor below."

Regis expected a snag here. They had always held their lessons in the music room within the upper levels of the Citadel—still a part of the royal quarters, but not one used for much besides that—and yet, Reina had scarcely gone anywhere besides this lounge for months. She hardly even let him out of her sight.

But Reina merely took a step back, nodding up at her teacher.

"Very well. Run along, then, no time to waste: your violin and your music."

Reina disappeared down the hall toward the bedroom she shared with Noctis—at least in name if not in function—without a backward glance. When she returned with her violin case, a thin booklet, and a music stand, she set them out for inspection.

"Yes, I think that shall do nicely," said Miss Agnys. "Check your strings! I don't want to hear Beoulve's fourth symphony on a badly tuned violin, Your Highness."

Regis had expected such a firm tone and sharp words to result in a shy and fumbling child, which was the result he had witnessed whenever she had cause to believe someone was displeased with her. But instead Reina set about tuning her violin with steady hands as if she was being coaxed gently. He even spotted the ghost of a smile on her lips.

Had anyone else spoken to his daughter in such a fashion, Regis would have had them escorted off the premises. But something stayed his hand. Perhaps it was Reina's reaction. Perhaps it was that little pat on the head Miss Agnys had deigned to give her at the start.

"Now we descend. You carry your violin. I will take this." Miss Agnys helped her gather up her things and followed Reina toward the scarcely-used stairs beside the elevator.

Reina paused at the top, looking back at Regis and waving her bow.

"Be back soon, Father!" She smiled. He couldn't remember the last time he had seen such a smile on her face.

They went. Regis stared after until Crea started laughing at him.

"Anyone would think it was you who didn't want to let her out of your sight," she said.

He drew himself up with a show of indignance. "I am merely… adjusting."

She ducked her head, which failed entirely to hide the grin. Regis sighed and returned resolutely to his work. It was, after all, a unique opportunity to read without any children climbing on him.

Footsteps approached and someone cleared their throat nearby. "Um. Your Majesty?"

He glanced up to find a Crownsguard standing on the opposite side of the coffee table from him.

"Yes?"

"Sire, it appears there is a young man below, requesting admittance. He claims to be the fiance of Miss Vinculum."

Crea, sitting in an adjacent armchair with Noctis in her lap, looked up sharply at the words.

"I take it he is not expected." Regis glanced at her.

"No, of course not—I would never ask him to come here." Her voice held a note of panic.

"Send him away." Regis waved a dismissive hand, turning back to his work.

"Yes, Sire. Very good, Sire." The Crownsguard bowed.

"Wait—" Crea stood up. "I'll go down."

Regis looked up once more. "Are you certain?"

"Avoidance is no way to deal with a problem," she said, resigned, though she smiled as she quoted his words back to him. "I'll see what he came for and send him away myself."

"Very well," Regis said. "The Crownsguards will assist you in the latter, if need be."

"I should hope not," she said. And she went.

The lift doors closed behind her and the Crownsguard. Regis returned to his work. He lost track of time. It might have gone on for two minutes or twenty, but he only looked up once the packet of papers in his lap was read.

And Crea had still not returned. He motioned to one of the Crownsguards, who stopped pretending to be part of the decor and approached.

"Will you check in with the lower levels that Miss Vinculum is alright?"

"Of course, Your Majesty." The Crownsguard reached for his radio and did just that. After a moment, he returned with the reply. "It seems Miss Vinculum is engaged in an argument with the fellow downstairs but has not asked that he be escorted off the premises. Corporal Tengille has indicated that if the fellow becomes any more aggressive, she'll see him to the gate anyway."

"Any more aggressive?" Regis lifted his eyebrows.

"Those were the words she used, Sire."

Not an altogether encouraging report. On the one hand, Crea was more than capable of taking care of herself. On the other, Regis would have preferred she did not have to deal with this regardless of her capabilities.

"Noctis." Regis rose, approaching Noct. "I may need to step away for a moment. I will be no farther than downstairs, and any Crownsguard here will be able to reach me in an instant. If your sister returns before I do, you may tell her all this."

Noctis looked up from his game. "Alright."

It was a word, at least, which was good enough for the moment.

Regis took the elevator straight down, letting the Crownsguards on either side of it know where he was going—not that he expected anyone to need that information. Once at the bottom, he did not have far to look for Crea and her fiance. They were in the atrium—the intermediary room where the publicly accessible levels ended and anyone wishing to ascend higher one needed royal clearance—and he could hear them nearly before the doors were open. Or, more accurately, Regis could hear him. Crea's voice was absent, or at least inaudible.

"—come up here and see for myself? Why won't you just tell me?!"

Crea's fiance was a tall, thin man, wider across the shoulder than the hip but narrow all the way through. Sandy brown hair accented an angular face with brown eyes set beneath thin brows. Crea stood before him, lips pursed and cheeks faintly flushed. He gestured when he spoke. And he carried on gesturing and speaking—if it could be called that, at this volume—long after Regis had entered.

"If it isn't a secret, why would you hide it? We used to share everything, Cree."

The Crownsguards on either side of the doors bowed as Regis passed between them. Crea's eyes flicked toward him and widened briefly.

"I don't even think you hear me when I speak to you, anymore. Gods. Instead you're off, distracted by—"

"Regis—" The first word he heard from her.

Regis approached single-mindedly, jaw set.

"Yes, exactly. Regis. Spending all hours of the day with him. Half the night, too. Hell, I wouldn't even be surprised to learn what you're doing in the Citadel at two in the Gods damned morning."

"Enough." Regis crossed the last few steps until he was close enough to reach out and tap his shoulder, if he had so desired.

Her fiance turned, his words lost as his mouth drooped open.

"That you come into my castle, demanding to be admitted to the home of the royal family for the sake of picking a fight is disrespectful enough. Now you stand on my doorstep and defame my children's caretaker? That I cannot allow."

A curious expression crossed his features. Here was the face of a man who faced his king and his rival both in one person. His mouth shut with a snap. The muscles along his jaw tensed as he ground his teeth together. His eyes narrowed. His lips twitched, fighting a snarl. And he bowed stiffly, never lowering his gaze.

"My apologies, Your Majesty," he said, in the tone of a child forced to apologize for something he did not do.

Crea sighed. "It's alright, Regis. You don't need to protect me."

"That I know too well," Regis said. "But I mean as I say; I will not stand for this slander in my halls."

"Slander implies falsehood, Your Majesty." Crea's fiance we still half-bowed, but acid dripped from his words. "Do you deny that she has been with you until all hours of the night?"

"She has been with my children, or else on her own."

He straightened, fixing Regis with a treasonous glare. "And you also expect me to believe you've never once touched her while she's been with your children.. Or on her own?"

It was the sort of statement that Regis most often ignored. No response could dignify such a remark and he was well versed in avoiding bait. Had Clarus been present, it was also the sort of remark that he would have snapped at.

Instead, Crea did.

"That's enough! How dare you? You think—? You think—what—? What the hell sort of man do you think he is?" She stepped between Regis and her fiance, though it made little difference, as Regis could see straight over her head. "A better man than you, that's for sure. Because he would never doubt my word. And he would never make such terrible accusations about another person."

She yanked the ring off her left hand and threw it at his chest. "You are not the man I agreed to marry. I expect you out of my house when I get home tonight."

She turned sharply, nearly running straight into Regis before he sidestepped to let her pass. Regis fixed her fiance—ex-fiance—with one last steely gaze before he followed her into the waiting lift. He turned around to see the other man pick up the ring off the ground. Crea remained facing the back of the elevator until the doors closed.

After—when the world was sealed outside and it was just them in the silent elevator—she turned to Regis with tears streaming down her cheeks.

"Crea—"

"We used to have so much in common. I thought… I thought I knew him. And we'd be together forever." She dragged her palm over her cheeks, rubbing tears away. "But that was just me deluding myself, wasn't it?"

"Crea…" Regis hesitated. After the conversation they had had and what he had just witnessed, it was better if he didn't encourage any rekindling of emotions. Better for her. Better for both of them. But he also couldn't stand by idly and watch her cry. He grasped her shoulders, pulling her gently into a hug, and jabbed the stop button on the elevator.

They halted between floors. Outside, the whole world seemed to be vying for Regis' attention. He was always being watched, always being judged, always being guarded. This was the first moment of true privacy he had bought for himself in months. And even this would not last long. They had a minute, at most, before someone began to panic that the king was stuck in the elevator.

He held Crea against his chest, feeling her heartbeat against his. Again. "Sometimes the lies we tell ourselves are the truths we end up living by. If things had gone differently, I have no doubt you would have been happy…"

She shook her head. "You always make everything sound so noble. But I don't think it was. Haven't you ever known someone and… realized you didn't at all?"

"Yes…" Regis sighed.

She pulled away from his chest enough to look up at him. "And what did you do?"

"I tried to offer him mercy… and he made an attempt on my life instead."

Crea sighed. He looked down at her. Her eyes were dry, her palms pressed flat against his chest.

"Somehow, your problems make everyone else's look trivial in comparison, Your Majesty." A little smile tugged at her lips.

Regis smiled back, catching her face between his hands and—before he could stop himself—kissing her forehead. "You are anything but trivial, Creare Vinculum."

"Your Majesty? Is everything alright?" A voice issued from the wall speaker.

Regis heaved a sigh, releasing Crea's flushed face and stepping back. "And that, I fear, is the end of my personal time." He jabbed the button next to the speaker and responded. "Everything is fine. I will be up presently."

And of course, once he had said it, he was forced to make good on his words. He resumed the ascent of the elevator, leaning against the rail and offering Crea his handkerchief. By the time the doors opened, they were both well composed again. And, to all appearances, the king exited the lift apart from his children's nanny with nothing changed between them.

But they both knew better.

Chapter Text

Crea continued to return to her home each night; though the long evenings did not desist, the early mornings did. He missed breakfast with her, but it was for the best. The less time he spent staring at her across the table, the less time he spent thinking how perfect their family would be if she was a part of it.

On other fronts, they made progress. By the time fall set in again, Reina would let Regis out of her sight for nearly an hour before she began to ask after him. She was also willing to leave the top level of the royal quarters, so that their tiny world expanded a little more. They took meals in the dining hall once more, held Reina's music lessons in the music room on the floor below and watched the occasional movie in the cinema room. With Ignis' help, Noctis discovered he could attach his new game console to the large TV in the cinema room, and so some evenings passed with demonstrations of his skill with a controller.

To all appearances, Lucis continued to thrive without Regis' constant presence at every single meeting. He was still consulted throughout the day through an endless stream of missives, reports, and bills to sign, but he forced the council to take matters into their own hands for once, and break up their own arguments. It was good practice for them. Clarus looked a little more harried these days, for which Regis was sorry, but he pulled through well enough.

Reina's Dreams—or lack thereof—were a different matter altogether. Though he continued to allow her an hour each night to explore the In-Between and the black river she spoke of, she could not find her way into the future again.

But at least she could easily find her way out.

"Reina, my dear. It is time." He brushed his fingertips over her cheek and gave her magic a light tug. That was all she required to return, at least from the black river. He had no notion whether it would be more difficult to wake her from a true Dream.

She stirred and blinked up at him. No sooner had her eyes focused on him than tears welled. And fell.

"What is it, Little Princess?" He brushed them away, gathering her closer to his chest. Had she Dreamed, after all? Had she seen what he feared? It had felt no different than any other night when she had seen only the In-Between, to him.

Reina rubbed her eyes. "I can't get out of the river, Father. I can't do it."

Regis wrapped her up in his arms, holding her tight so that new tears fell on his shirt. "My dear, it has not been so long as you think. All magic has complexities that take decades to fully understand. And you are attempting to learn entirely on your own. That is no easy task."

"What if I never do it?"

"I do not believe that will happen. You are a diligent and resourceful young woman. This is a problem you will solve."

"But I try and try and nothing works…"

"And that is the most frustrating part of learning any new thing. We have set for you a difficult task, my dear, and there may yet be many possible ways to approach it. You have every right to feel upset and discouraged."

Reina sniffled against his chest. Regis smoothed her hair back and rubbed slow circles on her back.

"But do you know what?" He asked.

"What?"

"Each night that you try and do not succeed, you learn something new."

She pulled her face from his chest and looked up at him. Her cheeks were streaked with tears. "What?"

He brushed them away and pulled a handkerchief from his nightstand for her nose.

"You learn one more way not to escape the black river."

Reina rubbed her nose with the handkerchief and stared dubiously up at him.

"There are a finite number of methods to try. Each time you fail, you cross one off the list so that the next time you have all the more chance to try the correct method."

She rubbed at her red eyes. "I don't have a list."

"Not precisely, no. But perhaps we could make one. Do you believe you could describe what you have tried well enough that you could later understand the method?"

She considered, her smooth brow wrinkling with thought.

"I can try…" she said, after a time.

"An attempt is an excellent place to begin. No one has ever succeeded without first making an effort."

She managed a little smile at that.

"Shall we begin tonight?" He asked.

At her nod, he slipped into the other room to retrieve a blank book and a pen for her. Then he lay beside her while she documented what she had tried. She chewed on the back of his pen and played with her hair and kicked her feet in the gaps between writing. She crossed out words and whole lines, and replaced them with something else. All the while, the look of intense concentration remained on her face. It took another thirty minutes before she was satisfied, and the empty book held a—rather untidy—first entry in Reina's diary of exploration. It made little sense to him but, then again, he had only the barest grasp on what she experienced in the In-Between in the first place.

He closed the book and set it on his nightstand along with the pen, where it remained at the ready until the next night.

Every night thereafter she wrote in her book. As weeks passed, her descriptions took less time and space. She spent less time kicking her feet and struggling to find the words, and the later entries sported fewer crossed out lines and scribbled words.

And so they made progress.

Perhaps.

It left, still, the question of her other magic—or lack thereof. Since Regis' first attempt to teach magic to her and Noctis, he had not broached the subject again. Not with them, at least.

"I hardly know what to make of it." He told Clarus in the quiet of the royal library while Noct and Reina played outside in the lounge. "I know it is high time that they were educated in their magic, but I cannot very well resume Noctis' lessons without doing the same for Reina. And I will not subject Reina to lessons she has no hope of grasping."

Clarus stared through the glass walls at Reina and Noctis in the other room. "Is there no hint of such a thing in the past? A Caelum born without magic—not an heir, but a younger sister or brother?"

Regis shook his head. "Nothing in the literature, at least. Though it could have been brushed under the carpet, and it is uncommon to find any records of Caelum magic at all. That is a tradition passed on verbally and through possession of the ring."

"And… you have no external knowledge on the subject?" Clarus pressed.

Regis sighed, running a hand over his beard. "I have not yet asked the Lucii."

Clarus looked pointedly out toward the lounge, though his eyes flicked momentarily toward Regis with an unspoken question. He waited.

"In truth, I fear what they will tell me," Regis said at length.

"You have some theory?" Clarus asked.

"Fears and suspicions. Nothing more."

Again they fell silent, contemplating the twins as they leaned over a book laid out on the coffee table. It was a full minute before Regis spoke again.

"There are only so many beings on Eos capable of doing such a thing to her," he said. "And it was done to her. I have no doubts on that subject. I know it was not myself. Any of the other options are all as bad: either those I thought were allies have crippled my daughter for unknown reasons or there exists some other person with powerful control over Caelum magic."

Clarus nodded slowly. "And yet, isn't it better to know where your enemies lie, rather than avoid uncomfortable truths?"

"Yes, I know." He sighed. "Tonight."

"Then I'll expect an update from you tomorrow," Clarus said. "I hold you to it."

And so, following Regis' nightly routine, which now included an hour of watching over Reina while she Dreamed—or did not Dream, as the case was—and then made some note in her diary before tucking her in beside Noctis, he laid down and left his body behind. One of these days he would have to coax them to sleep in their own room again. But not tonight. Tonight he had his own business to attend in the In-Between.

His visits were, so far as he could determine, not dissimilar to Reina's, though he had never felt anything like the black river she described. But he could leave his body behind and fall into the In-Between, much as she did, and call the Lucii to him.

:So. You have returned, young king.: The booming voice of the Mystic echoed through his mind. :Have you come bearing more news of supposed gift of premonition?:

They hadn't seen what happened in Tenebrae or thereafter. It seemed impossible that the hundred souls he carried in his hand and mind could be so oblivious to what was actively occurring in the world. The world they were meant to be protecting.

"I have," Regis said. "Though that is not why I have come before you, today."

Silence as twelve spectral helmets stared down at him.

"I have come to ask about my daughter's magic. Her royal lines have been cut."

Silence still. Not for the first time he wished they had human faces. A face he could read. The armor was blank and expressionless. Were they surprised? Or had they known all along?

"Why?" Regis asked.

:The child is the twin to the Chosen King. Though she may bear the bloodline and the kingdom once darkness has been dispelled, she will not take those gifts with her. They were gifted to our family for one purpose only. And once that task is finished so, too, must the magic be. She is not to bear the magic, nor to borrow it.:

The itching nervousness in Regis' stomach vanished as the bottom dropped out.

"Who?" Regis asked, though he already knew the answer.

:The Draconian himself. Her fate is set in stone, parallel to that of the Chosen King. With his death, the last of the royal magic will be gone. But she will safeguard the kingdom as queen, ushering in a golden age of light and prosperity.:

Light and prosperity. Such a lovely fate. If not for the fact that her twin brother, whom she loved more than most anyone in the world, would have to die to buy that peace. If not for the fact that she would be left alone on a throne with no one and nothing to aid her.

The Caelums had served the Gods for a hundred and thirteen generations. They gave life after life to protect the crystal and safeguard the kingdom. In the end, what would she truly be granted as a reward for two thousand years of service? A royal mess to clean up, if Regis wasn't very much mistaken.

"That they would cut her ties, leaving her to struggle through this darkness at Noctis' side without so much as an ounce of air…" Regis bowed his head. "That they would choose this fate for her, chaining her to the throne just as they condemn my son to death…"

:You cannot change their fate, young king,: the Mystic said. :Nor can you change yours.:

And so that was the end, wasn't it? No hope for either child to live a free life. Though he had guessed four years ago that Reina would inherit the throne, it was now, as they said, set in stone before him.

"There is one magic they did not strip from her," Regis said. "She has the gift of premonition. This I know for certain, though last we spoke it was only suspicion."

A breathless wind, like a hundred voices whispering, swept over him. When it faded, King Somnus spoke again.

:You have proof of this?:

"I do."

He laid it before them: his memories spilled out into the blackness of the In-Between and shared between a hundred minds. Every instance that Reina had Dreamed and what had occurred thereafter. How she slipped so seamlessly into the In-Between and travelled farther—longer—than he had ever known any living being to do. And how he had already resolved to train her to use this ability for herself.

When he had finished, they stood whispering in wordless voices.

:This is not a magic any have ever known,: the Mystic said, finally. :We can only advise you to tread carefully. The child is not meant to carry magic onward. We will need to investigate these matters, ourselves.:

It was no more than he had expected from them. They had no more knowledge of this matter, at least, than he did. Besides, they had given him more than enough to consider.

"Very well," Regis said. "I take my leave, then."

He woke in his body once more with one question closed and a dozen more opened. He stared up at the canopy over his bed while they bounced around his mind.

The Gods had cut Reina's magic. Once more they had made a choice for his children that Regis was not permitted to dispute and had not been consulted for. Why would a god consult a king? Perhaps because He required the king's cooperation to eliminate all darkness in the world. But no. The Gods trusted in fate; it did not matter what choices Regis made. His son would die. His daughter would be left to pick up whatever remained of the kingdom afterward and carry on without her father or her brother. Nothing would change that. Fighting against the future was pointless.

Except.

They had changed the future, hadn't they?

Niflheim had invaded Tenebrae. Fenestala had burned. Sylva had died.

And then they hadn't. It hadn't. She hadn't.

The Gods had cut Reina's magic, but not even the Lucii knew of her Dreams. Were the Gods, also, unaware?

He could ask questions of that sort all night and it would do him little good. The Lucii would perform their own investigations, which doubtless meant consulting the Draconian himself. Regis would simply have to wait. In the meantime, he and Reina would continue as they had been.

Even with that resolve in his mind, Regis could not fall back asleep. He shifted restlessly in his bed for an hour before slipping out, leaving Reina and Noctis curled up together. The grandfather clock in his room read just past three in the morning. He would get no sleep, this night. He dressed and left his rooms to prowl the halls outside. Perhaps a walk would clear his mind.

The Crownsguards he passed stood abruptly straighter and followed him with their eyes. Regis strode to the end of the hall without slowing, having no particular plan besides to let his feet wander while his mind did. He could not stop those unending echos of questions. Not without something to distract him.

He found that something in the lounge: a figure curled up on the sofa with a throw blanket cast over her.

"Crea?" Regis spoke before he could stop himself.

She stirred, taking a moment to blink up at him and another beyond that to comprehend what she was seeing.

"What are you doing here?" He asked.

She sighed, knuckling her eyes and pushing the blanket back. She still wore her sweater and jeans from the day. "I didn't want to go home…"

"So I gather. But why? Surely your former fiance has long since gone."

"Yeah." She gave a smile that wasn't a smile at all and sat up on the sofa. "He took all his things. Only memories left now."

"Ah." Regis took a seat beside her. "That I can understand."

They sat in silence, staring at their hands or their knees or their feet or that potted ivy by the elevator.

"If you require a place to stay," Regis said slowly, "Your former rooms are unoccupied."

"You want me to move back in?" She looked up at him.

"Only if you want to," Regis said hurriedly.

She sighed, pushing her hair out of her face. It hung in tangled blonde locks about her shoulders, reminding Regis of sweet times that had grown sad with age.

"I do, Regis. You know I do. But it isn't a good idea, is it?"

Wasn't it? He had sent her away before because they both knew they would not survive in such close proximity without rekindling a doused flame. But they had. It had been months, and her taking up residence at the Citadel once more would not change much.

She could take breakfasts with them, again. She would be there in the evenings to help ease Reina and Noctis back into the habit of sleeping in their own room again.

And on nights he came home late from council, she might still be awake to offer him a cup of tea.

And when the weather grew foul, they might sit a little closer on the little couch in her private sitting room.

"No." Regis sighed. "It is not."

"No," she agreed. "I'd have to be mad to consider an offer like that."

Were they still talking about the same offer? Or one he had made five years ago?

Regis cleared his throat. "Well. It stands, if you ever lose your mind."

Both offers.

She smiled sadly up at him. "I know."

They passed what remained of the night until dawn mostly in companionable silence. Though Regis itched to fill it with words, he knew they were best left unsaid. And so his mind wandered back to dangerous thoughts and questions he should never have asked. Not even to himself.

He would need to speak with Clarus in the morning. Even if he had not made that promise of accountability, Regis would have sought him. This was a conversation he could share with no one but his Shield.

Reina and Noctis woke not long past dawn, trickling out of Regis' room in search of him. The three of them sat in the lounge, all piled in one armchair in a tangle of limbs, until coffee and breakfast arrived. With breakfast came Ignis and, shortly after, Clarus.

"My dearest ones, I must speak with Clarus." Regis squeezed them both against his chest briefly. "Will you remain here with Crea and Ignis?"

Noctis nodded readily. Reina glanced between Regis and Crea, who was sitting on the sofa buttering a piece of toast.

"You can sit with me, if it pleases you, Your Highness," Ignis offered.

Reina glanced toward him, back toward Crea, and finally back to Regis. She nodded.

"Thank you, my dear," Regis said.

She knelt on his lap to hug around his neck. "Come back soon, Father."

"I will, my dear." He kissed her cheek, leaving both her and Noctis on their feet and rising to meet Clarus by the lift. "My study."

Clarus gave him a curious look, but turned and opened the elevator, stepping back inside after having only just exited it. Regis followed. When he turned to take one last look at his children, Reina had climbed into Crea's lap. Crea looked quite as surprised about this as Regis felt. She gave Regis a wide-eyed look, then a smile. And the elevator doors closed.

"You spoke to the Lucii?" Clarus asked.

"Mm."

They stood in silence but for the whir of the elevator. When it stopped at the bottom they stepped out, side by side, and made their way to Regis' private study. There, once the doors were sealed behind them—and only then—could they speak. Regis waved Clarus to one of the armchairs, took the other, and briefly considered whether it was too early in the day for a drink. Better not to start at all. He spoke.

He told Clarus all he had heard, all he had surmised, and of the long line of dangerous musings that had streamed through his mind ever since. When he had finished, Clarus sat staring at him for a long while.

"No wonder you look as if you haven't slept."

"I haven't."

"So I gather." Clarus studied him across the coffee table, as he might have read a political opponent. "And, after all you have learned, you regard the Draconian himself as an adversary?"

In the hours that had passed since his conversation with the Lucii, Regis had not yet dared put his thoughts and feelings into such clear language.

He shook his head. "How can I? One does not stand against a God. To do so would be folly."

"It seems that He has marked you all for death, regardless," Clarus said.

"And so you condone going against His wishes?"

"As I have said before, I will stand with you, Regis. Wherever you choose to stand."

Regis sighed and ran his hands over his face. "I know. And that frightens me near as much as the rest."

Clarus sat stone-still and regarded him silently.

Regis shook his head. "How could we possibly fight fate?"

"The same way we did in Tenebrae." Clarus sat forward, putting his forearms on his knees. "The same way we did the night you chased Drautos from Insomnia."

Regis shook his head again. "We don't even know if it is possible for her to learn this. Whatever assurances I give her, I understand no more than she does. Perhaps this is not a tool we can use."

Clarus sighed, leaning back in his chair. "I suppose there is no way to find out, save what you've already been doing. Well. We might at least address this other problem. That of Reina being the one who will bear the crown."

"I can hardly believe they would strip her of her magic so thoughtlessly. Do they not see that she must survive this darkness if she is to usher in the dawn?"

"Why not share yours with her, as you have with the Glaives?"

"They have said she is not even meant to borrow."

Clarus' brow furrowed. "Why?"

Regis shook his head. "Explanations are rarely given, even when asked for. All I have is divine decree."

Again they fell silent, each contemplating the city skyline outside the windows as the sun rose higher.

"I fear for her, Clarus. I have given too much to Noctis and not enough to her. I was thoughtless. Yes, he may need both Ignis and Gladio and any other friends he may make in his life to survive the dark times that lay ahead. But when he is gone, who will be left for her? Did I truly expect she would simply take his place among his friends?" Regis ran his hands over his face. "If she is to rule she will need help. She will need a Shield of her own. A Hand of her own. Sisters who will stand beside her and help her rebuild this world. She will need an education beyond what I ever planned for either of them."

The sun was just cresting the tallest of the skyscrapers to the east. The light scattered through the Wall and a cascade of rainbows fell on Insomnia.

"And she will need her magic." Regis rose from his armchair, Clarus a beat after.

"But she is not permitted to borrow." Clarus followed when Regis strode toward the door.

"By divine decree," Regis agreed. He pulled the doors open and swept out. "But the Draconian is not her father. He has no vested interest in her happiness. He requires only that she survives, not that she lives."

Clarus kept on his heel, though Regis set a rapid pace for the elevator.

"And I must make a decision. Not merely as the king, but as her father."

The Crownsguards at the lift opened the doors for them and Regis stepped inside, followed by Clarus. The doors shut as Regis turned to face him.

"Understand me, Clarus: I must choose what is best for my little girl. Perhaps I am choosing to put her before Lucis, or perhaps they are one in the same, for her prosperity will be Lucis' and I can think of no reason why it should be otherwise."

"And that decision is?" Clarus asked.

"She will have my magic. Now and in death, as Caelum magic transcends the barrier between life and death. She will have my magic until the Gods wrench it from her grasp. And she will not lightly give it to them."

Chapter Text

The royal lounge was in much the same state as it had been when Regis left. Reina was still sitting on Crea's lap, sharing a handful of blueberries with her. They had always done that when Reina was just old enough to feed herself. It was nice to see things hadn't changed as much as he had feared.

Noctis was sitting nearby, with Ignis on his other side, picking at a muffin.

All looked up when the lift doors opened and Regis stepped out.

"My apologies for stepping away so suddenly," Regis said. "Crea, what is on their schedule, today?"

"Normal lessons in the morning and Miss Agnys is coming in the afternoon."

"Is it possible to fit in an hour for an additional lesson?" He asked.

"I don't see why not." Crea glanced between Reina and Noctis, who were both looking up at her. "I'm sure we could reschedule any of their normal lessons, if it's important."

"It is of the utmost importance," Regis said. "It is high time I resumed their education in magic."

The expression of both twins turned eager at those words. He lifted a hand. "But I would prefer not to displace their usual schedule, if possible."

"We'll work something out." Crea smiled, though it wavered around the edges and concern lurked behind. He had no time to explain his motivations now. Even if he had, he wasn't certain he could. Or should.

"In the meantime, Clarus, there is one other matter I would discuss with you. I admit it slipped my mind while we were downstairs."

"Library?" Clarus asked.

"That will do, yes." Regis wove through the lounge instead of around it. He stooped to give Noctis a hug and Reina a kiss on the forehead. The latter put him unnervingly close to Crea. He hesitated, close enough that he might have given her the same. Close enough to see the flush on her cheeks as her eyes widened.

Regis swallowed, mouth suddenly dry.

"Thank you, Crea," he managed.

"Of course." Her voice came out higher than usual.

Regis tore himself away and followed Clarus into the library.

"I know what you are going to ask of me," Clarus said, once the glass door was closed behind them. "And Fidelia is not going to be pleased."

"I see no other good options open to us."

Clarus turned away, running one hand over his close-cropped hair. He pinched the bridge of his nose and swore under his breath.

"She is only three, Regis."

"Nearly four."

"That is still too young!"

Regis pursed his lips and grasped Clarus' shoulder. "I am not asking you to put a sword in her hands, Clarus. I am only asking you to introduce her to my Reina. Let them grow a bond like that between Noctis and Ignis."

"But later you will expect her to wield a blade and stand beside the queen."

"As Gladiolus will stand beside Noctis," Regis said. "As you stand beside me. Is that so bad?"

"No." Clarus sighed. "She would have learned much the same regardless, and I expect any Amicitia to stand proudly beside the royal house. But you know Fidelia will not see it that way."

"I know," Regis said. "But times are growing dark and I would have someone beside Reina whom she can trust unconditionally. I can think of no better friend than an Amicitia."

Clarus smiled in spite of himself. "You're right. There are few other routes available to us and none of them are good. I will speak with Fidelia. Tomorrow I will bring Iris to meet Reina and Noctis. I have no doubt she will love that."

But first there was the matter of magic. As promised, Crea arranged an hour of space within the twins' schedule. The training room that they otherwise would have used was on the lower levels. Rather than try to convince Reina to descend so far, Regis ordered one of the sitting rooms on the floor below be cleared out as a practice room for the prince and princess. It didn't have quite the same cut-and-dry feel to it as the large training hall below did, but it would do. They would not need so much space for some time yet.

When Reina and Noctis both stood before him in the makeshift training room, he began.

"I must apologize for taking so long to resume your lessons in magic. At our previous lesson I discovered an obstacle to your learning, Reina, and have only just developed a suitable solution. Your magic is different, my dear. While you have the ability to catch glimpses of the future in your dreams, you have been deprived of the more traditional Caelum magics. You do not possess the necessary ties."

Reina's eyes went round. "There's something wrong with me?"

"No, my dear. Quite the opposite. There is something quite special about you. As for this missing magic it is due to no lacking on your part. As I said, you were deprived of it. An unempathetic being cut your ties without thought for how it might affect you. But you have nothing to fear, my dear. I can repair those bonds; when I am through, your magic will be indistinguishable from mine."

"You can fix me?" She was holding the front of her dress as she stared up at him.

Regis dropped to one knee before her, taking her shoulders in his hands. "I can repair what damage has been done to you."

Reina considered him with those wide blue eyes for a solid minute before finally nodding.

Regis reached out to her with his magic, just as he had to each of those who formed his Kingsglaive. And, just as it had with them, her cut ties hummed at mere proximity to his. Hers, however, had once been intact. The Glaives had never felt that wholeness.

He knit his magic to hers, connecting each of her cut ties back to the crystal through him. Her magic took to his immediately—eagerly—until every bond was back in place, just as it was meant to be.

When he opened his eyes to look at her again, a familiar blue glow was just settling into her skin.

Reina gasped as if she had been holding her breath throughout. She reached out and touched his face as if she had never quite seen him before, and he felt the press of her magic against his, instinctively probings and exploring the world. She lifted her eyes to look around the room and with it her magic exploded outward, sensing everything all at once. She stopped breathing again.

"Slowly, little Princess," Regis cautioned, reining her back in. "One thing at a time, my dear. First you must remember to breathe."

She took another sharp breath, her eyes refocusing on him. "Is this what you feel all the time, Father?"

"Yes, my dear."

"And Noctis as well?" She turned her eyes to her twin, who stood nearby watching the whole process in stunned silence.

"And Noctis as well," Regis said. "And every Caelum before. This is what you were meant to feel, my dear. And I will teach you to use it so that no one can ever take it from you again."

Their first lesson was more exploration than anything else. Once Reina's ties were repaired, he gave her ample time to sit and experience the world. He coaxed Noctis to do the same, though it seemed more difficult for him to consciously harness his magic when, before this point, it had been an entirely passive experience for him. But with some encouragement, Noctis could reach out intentionally and sensed not only the In-Between with his magic, but Regis and Reina as well.

Once they were both learning and exploring willingly—and eagerly, on Reina's part—Regis released them from the lesson and left them to their own devices. He would give them a few days to acclimatize to the newness of it. Reina, especially, would need the extra time. And in those few days, perhaps they would learn things he could not even begin to explain to them.

The following morning, Clarus arrived at the Citadel with young Iris in tow.

Regis couldn't help but smile at the sight of them: Clarus sweeping in with his usual dignity only to have it damped by the child that followed after him, looking around wide-eyed. She stopped just inside the entrance hall and turned a full circle, taking in every little detail. Clarus continued on a few more steps before realizing she was no longer behind him.

"Iris." He held out his hand to her. "Come along."

She stared at him for a moment, then ran with both hands outstretched to take his.

"I miss that age," Regis said.

"It is much more simple to miss when you do none of the work," Clarus said.

Regis scoffed. "As if you do any work for her."

"I have changed at least two diapers."

"In her whole life?"

"Perhaps four."

Regis laughed, shaking his head. "Come, then. The twins are playing in the inner courtyard."

"The courtyard?" Clarus raised his eyebrows. "How did you convince Reina to leave the upstairs?"

"I take no credit for that; Crea has worked her magic in some shape or form. I have no notion how she does it, but since the collapse under the city and my subsequent late return to the Citadel, she seems to have dispelled whatever dislike Reina had of her and instead cultivated trust. That woman is a wonder."

"Yes," Clarus said slowly. "You were wise to bring her back here for them."

Regis glanced sidelong at him. "You think we made the wrong choice, Crea and I, all those years ago."

Clarus sighed and shook his head. "I can't say any better than you what would have happened if you had married her."

"I find myself wondering more frequently, as of late. Perhaps I was too hasty in my judgement of her character. She is stronger—more resilient—than I had thought."

"That can hardly be blamed on you," Clarus said. "She changed in those years on her own. Who among us could possibly say if the same would have happened, had she remained here?"

"Weskham would have," Regis said.

Clarus shot him a grin. "Not even Weskham has the ability to see the future."

They fell silent for the remainder of the walk while Regis' mind strayed to old friends and lost friends. For years now, Weskham had been in Accordo. And while Lucis' relations with the new First Secretary were at an unprecedented high, Regis was beginning to understand that Weskham's continued and indefinite presence in Altissia was necessary for that.

He led the way toward the inner courtyard, setting a slower pace than usual because Iris' legs were less than half the size of his and she occasionally tripped over her own feet as she gawked about. They reached the courtyard and the double doors opened before them into a secluded garden, so thick with planters and creeping ivy that the walls were hardly visible; from the center it was just possible to forget they were still within the Citadel.

And the center was where they found Reina and Noctis. Reina lay on her stomach across one stone bench with a book open before her, kicking her feet gently in the air. On the adjacent bench, Crea sat, looking down the row of potted plants. Noctis sat on the tile ground, amidst a small pile of acorns. As Regis approached, Ignis emerged from between two tall topiary bushes, dragging along the largest ginger cat Regis had ever laid eyes on. Even holding it behind its front legs, as Ignis did, its feet still touched the ground. Ignis was forced to heave and lift it up higher with every step. The cat looked about as pleased with this situation as one would expect.

"I have him, Noct—Oh! Your Majesty!" Ignis caught sight of Regis and promptly released the cat, which took the opportunity to flee. It was surprisingly agile for such a large creature. "Drat."

"Father!" Reina slid off her bench and ran to hug him around the waist.

"Good afternoon, my dear. Are you enjoying the sunlight?"

"It's alright," she said. "Except the garden cat doesn't want to play."

"So I observed," Regis said. "Reina, Noctis, I would like to introduce you to someone."

Reina's eyes went round and her lips pressed together. She had been hiding away in the upper levels for months now. Lately she had not been keen on new experiences. Would that he had thought of that before bringing Iris.

Nevertheless, Regis motioned Clarus forward. "This is Iris Amicitia, Master Amicitia's daughter, and Gladiolus' younger sister."

Noctis leaned on one arm to look around Reina as Clarus ushered Iris forward. Reina balled her hands in the front of her dress, as she was wont to do when nervous.

"Go on, Iris," Clarus urged. "Say hello."

Iris took a step when he nudged her forward, wobbled, and stopped herself. She waved with her entire arm. "Hi!"

Noctis gave a less enthusiastic wave. "Hi."

Reina's eyes widened. Her hold on her dress loosened and her mouth dropped open. She covered it and looked up at Regis.

"Say hello, my dear," Regis said.

"She is so cute!" Reina cried. She lunged forward and dropped to her knees in front of Iris. "Hello, Iris! How old are you?"

"Three!" Iris held out three fingers.

"Three?"

"And one half!"

"Three and a half! That's so big!"

Iris giggled and twisted back and forth so her dress spun around her. Regis could only gawk. He had expected that Reina would hide behind him and need to be coaxed out, as she had when meeting Ignis. In nine years he had never known Reina to engage so immediately and so enthusiastically with a new acquaintance.

"Reina, little Princess, how would you like for Iris to stay here and play for a few hours?" Regis asked.

Reina snapped her head up to look at him. Her eyes shone with enthusiasm he hadn't seen it what seemed like years.

"Can she?" Reina asked.

"That is why we have come," Clarus said. "Iris, would you like to stay with Princess Reina?"

Iris turned to look at him and nodded—a motion which took not just her head but her shoulders and half her torso as well.

"I suppose that is that, then," Clarus said.

"Come on, Iris," Reina said. "There's a great big fat kitty in here. Let's catch him before Ignis does!"

"Kitty!" Iris shouted.

She took Iris' hand and they both disappeared, giggling, through the maze of plants. Regis and Clarus both stared after them, wondering at how a first meeting could possibly have exceeded all of their hopes and expectations so vastly. When he considered the first time she had met Ignis, the difference was as stark as day and night.

Crea had her lips pressed together so tightly it looked as if she feared the laughter would spill out if she opened her mouth.

"Have I made a fool of myself without noticing?" Regis asked.

The laughter broke free. She shook her head, grinning. "Your face! I don't think I've seen you so stunned since I explained what a wet nurse was."

Regis' face went hot.

"Yes, well," he said, as if this were an explanation. "She has been reclusive lately." And how was he supposed to know what a wet nurse was?

"For the past nine years or so," Clarus agreed.

Crea shrugged, still smiling like the laughter was just waiting to bubble up again. "I couldn't have predicted it, but it makes sense. There are no other little girls around here. And everyone she interacts with is older than her."

"I fail to see the significance," Regis said.

Crea sighed. "Of course you do. Never mind then. But I think it's a good thing for her to have some girl friends. She likes Ignis, but I think she still regards him largely as Noctis' friend."

"That was not my intention," Regis said.

"No, I know. But she does anyway."

More puzzles he couldn't work out.

"I shall leave them in your capable hands," Regis said.

"That's what I'm here for." She smiled.

"Reina, my dear." Regis lifted his voice to call after her. "I must be going."

Reina and Iris reappeared from the maze of topiary. Reina flung herself at his legs and hugged him tight; Iris paused a few steps back.

"Do you have to?" Reina asked.

Regis dropped to one knee in front of her, taking her shoulders in his hands. "I have a few things to see to and then I will be right back."

"How long is that?" She asked.

"Two hours at the absolute most, but I will endeavor to return sooner."

She stared at him, lips twisting. "Promise?"

"I swear it, little Princess." He leaned forward to kiss her forehead.

A year ago that same promise would have been a lie. Now he knew with certainty that regardless of what happened in those two hours, he would come back for her. There was nothing he could do in the throne room that he could not do in the inner courtyard with his daughter on his knee.

After a moment she nodded.

"Thank you, my dear. I shall see you quite soon." He gave her another kiss and rose.

"And you, Noctis." Regis stooped to ruffle Noctis' hair. "Have a nice day, my son."

"Bye Dad."

Inevitably, Regis' presence in the public areas of the Citadel drew attention and everyone present wanted a piece of his time. His councillors waylaid him in the halls, hoping to bypass the usual council table arguments by having him agree to something straight out. He tolerated them while he gathered what he needed from his study and kept his few short engagements. Then he shooed them away to have their problems addressed through the usual channels and returned to the inner courtyard, where the Crownsguards had strict orders about who was permitted entry.

He made it back in no more than an hour and fifteen minutes. The rest of his day was spent sitting on the ground, leaning against a stone bench with papers spread about him. Though his back ached something fierce by the evening, it was well worth seeing Reina and Iris play.

They played chase and tag. They raced each other down the length of the courtyard with Reina at a slow jog so that Iris could win every time. They hunted the fat ginger cat and taunted Ignis whenever they caught it. Ignis took this in the same way he took most things: with patience and good sportsmanship. He conceded each victory to them, though more than once Regis spotted him sitting around the corner from where the cat was laying in the sun, so that Reina and Iris could catch it first.

In the span of a single afternoon their family of five expanded by one. And Regis had never been more certain that a choice he had made was the correct one.

Chapter Text

It had become routine. Each night Reina would drop from the conscious world to enter the In-Between and the place she called the Black River. Regis would take note of the time and wake her an hour later with little difficulty. Each time she gave him a shake of her head and reached for the little leather-bound book on his nightstand, where she took note of what she had tried. Some nights were more difficult and Regis had to remind her that even failure was progress.

Indeed, it had become so normal that Regis no longer expected anything else to happen. Most nights he set an alarm and left her to explore while he occupied himself with some work for an hour. Foolishly, he allowed himself to become complacent.

He worked in the other room while Reina and Noctis slept in his bed. His phone sat beside him, counting down the minutes to one hour. It still had fifty-five left before a sharp sound halfway between a whine and a cry issued from his bedroom—so faint he nearly thought he had imagined it.

Regis frowned, glancing at the time and setting his papers aside. He might have imagined it. Chances were that he had; Reina hadn't Dreamed the future in months. But it was better to be safe.

He crossed to his bedroom and peered into the darkness. His eyes adjusted as he entered.

"Reina?"

Reina squirmed in the bed, but when he laid a hand on her shoulder it was to find her taut, with every muscle in her body tensed.

She jerked when his hand made contact. Regis shifted to sit on the edge of the bed, grasping both of her shoulders and holding tight to her magic. He could feel the tension humming in her body and magic both.

"Reina. Wake up, my dear."

A quiver ran through her, as if she fought to free herself from the hold of her Dreams. He hesitated. Whatever she was seeing was likely of great consequence, to cause her so much distress. If she fought against waking, was it because she wished to see the conclusion of some event? Or was it simply because she had lost her hold on reality and no longer understood what was Dream and what was real?

Her body gave another jerk. He made up his mind. Important or not, his little girl was in pain and nothing could keep him from pulling her back from that. To hell with Lucis or whatever else might be in danger.

"Reina," he called her, more firmly this time, tightening his hold on her magic. "Look at me, Reina."

She responded, whether to the gentle pull of his magic against hers or to the sound of his voice. She stirred. Her eyes flicked open as if she had no choice but to obey, but she looked through him, rather than at him. In bed beside her, Noctis had woken sharply—suddenly—as if drawn out of sleep by his twin's distress. He sat upright, lips pressed together in silence as he waited.

Regis glanced briefly toward him before refocusing on Reina. "Just me. Nothing else."

Slowly, bit by bit, she began to focus. At his final words—"See me."—consciousness returned to her gaze and her eyes snapped to his. She took a great, gasping breath as if she had just surfaced from a dive. When the air came out, it was as a sob, accompanied by the spill of tears down her cheeks.

"Oh, Reina, my dear." Regis gathered her up to his chest, holding her tight. "It is alright, little Princess. I have you. I will never let any harm befall you."

She clutched at the front of his shirt, but still she squirmed in his arms. More than once she attempted to form words through the tears, but could manage little more than a syllable—unintelligible and lost in her sobs.

"Shh, shh, shh…" Regis smoothed her hair back. "I know you have something important you wish to tell me, dear one. But first you must breathe. Will you do that for me, little Princess?"

For all his calm words, Regis' heart pounded in his chest. What had she seen that had her so frightened and so desperate to relay the information? How urgent was the situation? Would that few minutes it took to calm her down cost them valuable time?

She had not Dreamed in months. Indeed, he had no notion of whether or not she had succeeded in doing so intentionally or if—as before—something had pulled her under. In Tenebrae she had Dreamed the catastrophe a week before. Could he be certain she would do the same again?

Noctis scooted closer, patting Reina's shoulder awkwardly before hugging her from behind and resting his head against her back.

Regis smoothed slow circles over her shoulders and combed her hair from her face, holding her tight against his chest until the sobs that wracked her body subsided into intermittent quivers and her gasping breaths had faded into little whimpers. He kissed her head and murmured in her ear, calming but otherwise pointless words. It seemed to work. Just as the sound of his voice called her from her Dreams, so, too, did it draw her back from the edge of hysteria until she was breathing more or less evenly against his chest and rubbing her eyes.

"And now," Regis brushed away the last of her tears, looking down at her with a melancholy smile, "You may tell me what you have Dreamed."

"The metal men, Father," she said. "They're coming to Lucis."

Noctis sat up straight, eyes wide.

Regis' smile vanished. "Tell me all."

"I was with you in your office and Master Amicitia came and he said—he said the empire had landed on the south coast, near Cape Shawe."

"Do you know when?" Regis asked.

She shook her head. Of course not. Last time it had taken an ingenious solution on her part and a second Dream to determine the date on which the invasion of Tenebrae would occur. They had taken no such precautions tonight, given that she had hardly Dreamed at all since then.

It could happen tomorrow or in a month. Could he truly justify moving troops to Cape Shawe without knowing how long they would be indisposed? Could he count on Reina Dreaming the same Dream tomorrow night? A gamble, for certain.

"I'm sorry, Father," Reina mumbled, rubbing her face against his chest.

"You have nothing to apologize for, my dear."

"I wish I could help more…" She turned her face up toward him, tears still wet on her cheeks.

"My dear, you have already given warning of an event we would never have known about until it was too late." Regis dried her tears and kissed her forehead. "That is immeasurably helpful. The rest you may leave in my hands."

Reina nodded. She sniffed and rubbed her eyes.

"Good girl. Now then, I must leave you with Noctis for a short while as I drag Clarus from his bed. Will you both be alright?"

Reina looked over her shoulder at Noctis, then back to Regis. Slowly, she nodded. "Come back soon, Father."

"As soon as I am able." Regis lifted Reina out of his lap and tucked her and Noctis both back into bed. "In the meantime, try to sleep again, my dearest ones."

He left them clinging to each other and stepped into the other room, shutting the door gingerly behind him, to call Clarus.

"Regis? Is something wrong?" Clarus answered, awake and alert. It was early in the night, yet. He had likely not even gone to sleep. Unfortunately, he was not likely to do so tonight.

"Reina has Dreamed again," Regis said.

Silence. Then Clarus said, "I'll be there soon."

True to his word, Clarus arrived in Regis' rooms fifteen minutes later. After Reina's Dream, Regis was reluctant to wander far from her. An interesting role reversal, given that she had little chance to Dream while his magic prevented her from wandering in the In-Between. Even so, he preferred to be on hand. What if she woke without him and fell into a panic?

He filled Clarus in on the scant details he had gotten from Reina.

"And that is all we have?" Clarus asked.

"I fear so. It seems as if she Dreams only what she will witness. We are lucky she was in my office at all when you arrived with the report."

"Is there no way for her to discern the date?" Clarus asked.

Regis shook his head. "Not that we have yet discovered."

"Then buy her a watch with a date function and tell her to look at it frequently."

Regis considered. "An idea ingenious in its simplicity. Very well. She will have a watch."

"And, awkward as this may make matters, you should also consider allowing her to be present for significant political proceedings."

Regis' brows came together. "Most of those meetings are no place for a nine year old."

"And yet, she slept through countless council meetings when you first returned from Tenebrae," Clarus said. "If she only Dreams what she will see, she will simply have to see more."

Regis sighed. Hard as it was to admit, Clarus had a point.

"Besides," Clarus added, "You, yourself, have noted that she is likely to hold the throne. This is an education she will need to receive sooner or later."

"Very well," Regis said. "As Crea has taken the first steps toward convincing Reina to leave these few floors of the Citadel, it is no longer such an unreasonable possibility. In any case, she is nearby for all proceedings that I conduct from here."

"Will nearby be sufficient?" Clarus asked.

"I suspect it will be. She seems to react not so much to the events themselves but to my reaction of the events. If I am tense, she will notice."

"How? I'm sorry, Regis, but you are one of the most stoic men in Lucis."

Regis shook his head. "That I cannot answer. But as she senses Noctis' emotions, so does she seem to sense mine. It may have something to do with her strange brand of magic or something else entirely. It is said that the bond between twins transcends our understanding of familial ties. It is not so far-fetched to imagine something similar between the three of us."

"An interesting idea," Clarus said. "But if you believe it will be enough, I will not press."

"Good. Then we are in agreement. Now, regarding Cape Shawe…"

As predicted, neither of them managed much sleep that night. While Reina and Noctis slept the dark hours away in Regis' bed, he and Clarus put into motion the start of a plan that would—hopefully—save the lives of countless Lucians.

Cape Shawe would be evacuated. That, at least, could be done well in advance without knowing precisely when the Imperials would strike. As for fortification of the area, they would limit it to an increased military presence until more information could be gleaned. Troops already stationed in the Outlands could be repurposed to help in the evacuation effort and then assigned to remain in the area. It would leave other fronts more open and vulnerable, but somehow the possibility of an attack on another location seemed less threatening with Reina's Dreams.

Of course, her Dreams were anything but a guarantee. They still had no notion of how they worked and Regis had not taken the opportunity to ask what she had discovered beyond the Dream itself. Later. He would have to ask later.

By the time dawn came, Regis and Clarus had cobbled together a passable intermediate plan with the tenuous hope that Reina would Dream again and learn more. They had also entirely rearranged the day's schedule to fit in the myriad necessary meetings to put their plans into motion.

When the door to Regis' room cracked open to reveal Reina and Noctis in their pajamas, Regis and Clarus were still pouring over a map of the region.

"Father…" Reina climbed straight into his lap, followed shortly by Noctis. It was something of a squeeze, these days, but they managed. "Did I do alright?"

"You have been an enormous help, Reina. Clarus and I have already begun setting plans in motion to prevent the metal men from harming any of our people." Regis smoothed her messy hair back and kissed her forehead. Then he hugged both twins to his chest and leaned back in his chair. "But I must ask, my dear… last night when you Dreamed the future, were you able to escape the Black River on your own?"

Reina shook her head. "It was just like before, Father. Something pulled me that way."

"I see," Regis said. "And you have no notion of what that something may have been?"

She considered, her smooth brow wrinkling with the effort. "It felt like every other bad thing."

"Anxious?"

She nodded.

And again, every such sensation had been connected either to Regis' well-being or to Noctis. Even before Tenebrae: she had been anxious after Drautos had nearly electrocuted Regis during a practice session—in retrospect, the event hardly seemed an accident. How long had Drautos been planning that? He could easily have been hiding his own progress so as to make Regis complacent when they began a new subject.

And beyond that? She had been anxious before the marilith attacked Noctis. Even earlier, she had showed signs of disliking Drautos—presumably because he had designs on Regis' life. And she had mentioned disliking Sylva. Sylva, who Regis himself had uncharitable feelings toward, after their last conversation. Reina's reaction to her had not been so strong as toward Drautos. Had it really been just a reflection of Regis' own dislike of her in the future?

Later she had gone into a panic at school right before Regis was scheduled to meet with Drautos. In retrospect he wondered if Drautos hadn't been planning more than a debriefing that afternoon.

Everything pointed toward Reina's subconscious control over her Dreams. She possessed empathy like he had never known from a child, though it was almost entirely limited to her family. And so, if she wished to protect them, she would see—or sense—any events that might endanger either Regis or Noctis.

She had some sort of control, even if she did not yet understand it.

"Thank you, my dear. That may yet be of help in the future. For now, we will continue to explore your magic as we have been—and I would like to give you a gift."

"A gift?"

"A watch, to allow you to see both date and time, wherever and whenever you are."

Reina brightened. "A very pretty watch?"

Regis smiled, combing his fingers through her hair and pulling a few tangles free. "If you like. I will have Avun find some suitable options for you to choose from. Then we will send someone to collect it."

Reina beamed, a stark opposite of the red-eyed sobbing child he had held in his arms the night before.

And so Regis set Avun to the task of finding Reina a watch, or at least finding someone to pass such a task off to. After, the four of them descended for a rather groggy breakfast and a few extra cups of coffee. Crea joined them halfway through. The dining table was more full than it had been in some time, with both Clarus and Crea joining them. It was just as well that she arrived while Regis still had a moment to spare. Reina's schedule, at least, would need to be adjusted. If she would allow it.

"Reina, my dear." Regis called her attention from her breakfast. "In light of your Dream last night, there are matters that Clarus and I must see to today."

"You mean you have to leave?" Reina frowned.

"That will be the case, yes," Regis said. "However, it would be a great help if you were to come with me."

Her eyes widened. "Me?"

"Indeed, my dear. So far you have Dreamed only events that you will witness in the future. If you were to accompany me through the Citadel, we may increase the chances of you Dreaming something worthwhile."

Her mouth made a little 'o' shape as she stared down the table at him. "If I come with you, I can Dream more so that we can stop the metal men?"

"That is the plan. If you would like to come with me."

This was her magic. He may have consented to letting her use it for Lucis' good, but he would not allow her to become a tool. He would not tell her when and how to Dream. That was her choice.

Reina nodded, smiling brightly. But her eyes flicked toward Noctis. "And Noct?"

Regis hesitated. Reina he could count on to be content merely to sit on his lap indefinitely. Noctis, on the other hand, was more unpredictable and more easily bored. But how could he insist that they separate, when Noctis had been a lifeline to her, these past months? And her to him.

"If Noctis wishes, he may attend as well," Regis said.

Clarus pursed his lips. Noctis glanced between Reina and Regis and finally nodded.

"In that case, Crea, I must ask that you remain nearby," Regis said. Noctis would inevitably grow bored and need someone to distract him—or take him away entirely, if the twins could be persuaded to separate.

"Of course," Crea said.

Regis paused, taken aback by how readily she had agreed. "It will require your presence in court."

She shrugged one shoulder and took a bite of her toast, as if this was of no concern to her. Clarus was right. Those years on her own had changed her in ways Regis could not possibly have imagined.

Regis cleared his throat. "Very well, then. Reina, Noctis—when you are finished with your breakfast, I would like you to get dressed. Formal wear for court, mind."

Noctis nodded glumly, eyes on his plate. Reina bounced in her chair, smiling widely.

"And me?" Crea glanced down at her attire—her usual jeans and a sweater—then back at Regis. "Not exactly court-suitable?"

"I suppose not." Regis sighed. This was becoming more of an undertaking than he had intended. But one could not simply take his child to court when that child was a twin. "Avun. See to this?"

"Of course, Your Majesty."

He would have said the same, even if Regis asked the impossible of him.

"Thank you, Avun. You are a lifesaver." Regis rose from his chair and dropped his napkin on the table. "We will see you in court. Reina, my dear: less than an hour."

She nodded, though her lips twisted in a frown, as they always did when he told her he was to be away from her for any amount of time. At least she was tolerating it better than she had a few months before.

He left with Clarus. Neither of them had any need to return upstairs; they had been dressed and prepared for war hours ago.

It was the first time in many months that Regis had sat in court. His public appearances had been non-existent and his contact with even his own councillors had been limited to brief meetings, missives, and messages delivered via Clarus. As such, his appearance in the throne room caused something of a stir. Murmurs followed the wave of bows as Regis swept down the hall and climbed the stairs to his throne. He parted ways with Clarus near the top and took his seat alone.

No sooner was Regis seated than the questions began.

"Your Majesty, have we heard correctly?" Aldebrand leaned forward in his chair. "Cape Shawe is to be evacuated?"

"It is," Regis said. "Clarus, from the beginning."

He motioned and Clarus took the cue, filling in what they knew and what had already been decided.

"And what, might I ask, is the source of this information?" Hamon asked.

"That is not information for an open-door meeting, Master Hamon," Clarus said.

Hamon seemed to accept this, leaning back in his chair with a slow nod.

"We await further information regarding the intended date of this attack, but as of last night, Cape Shawe appears to be the target," Clarus said. "It remains to be decided when and if to deploy further reinforcements to the Outland soldiers."

"Your Majesty." The voice of an attendant rang out from the far end of the throne room. "Prince Noctis and Princess Reina have arrived."

Regis motioned and the doors swung open. A pause followed, made all the longer for the silence in the court as all awaited their entrance. Then they came. Reina and Noctis walked on either side of Crea, each holding one of her hands. They looked magnificent, all three of them. Fit for the royal court. And, though Reina and Noctis kept close to Crea, walking near enough that she was forced to adjust her step to accommodate them, Crea herself guided them along with steady confidence. Her eye caught his across the room and she held it as they approached the throne. She gave a small smile when they reached the bottom of the stairs.

"Your children, Your Majesty," she announced, before stooping to urge both twins to climb the steps on their own.

Reina took less coaxing. As soon as she was in leaping distance of Regis, she eagerly released Crea and climbed the steps as fast as her little legs would carry her. Noctis, on the other hand, clung to Crea's hand for a few moments longer, taking some extra words of encouragement before he was convinced to follow his sister.

Regis lifted Reina into his lap as soon as she reached him. She settled on his knee and smiled up at him.

"Look, Father!" She held out her left hand and displayed the little mechanical watch that adorned her wrist.

"I see Avun has been efficient as ever," Regis said. He had not expected the deed done so quickly, but there it had been. "Do you like it, my dear?"

"Mhm!" She beamed at him, then fell to studying her watch.

By that time, Noctis had gathered enough courage to climb the steps to the throne and Regis pulled him up alongside Reina. That was a sight for the reporters. King Regis with both nine year olds squeezed into his throne. But never mind that now. He had both his children and that was what mattered.

Crea was still standing patiently at the bottom of the stairs. Here he was celebrating having his cake and eating it too, and she was left standing around just in case. It hurt to do that to her, knowing what he had unintentionally put her through the last time he had forced her to engage with his court. But it would be necessary. He had little doubt of that. And she did not look nearly as perturbed as he had expected.

Regis motioned to one of his attendants. "A seat for Miss Vinculum," he ordered, motioning to the council gallery. "On a level."

Doubtless his choice to put his children's nanny on equal footing with the ruling council of Lucis would raise many a brow before the morning was through. Let them mutter. That gallery was full of those who advised him on the matters most important to the kingdom: justice, finances, war… and the care of his children. That last one was, arguably, the most important. And so the woman who advised him on matters pertaining to those was also the most important among the council.

If anyone thought ill of his decision, they said nothing where he could hear it. Seats were shuffled and space was made for Crea at Regis' right hand. She raised an eyebrow at him as she ascended and took her place. The others would never speak a word to him. But he would never hear the end of it, from her, once they were alone.

"So then." Clarus leaned forward, calling the court's attention back to the matters at hand. "A decision must be made. Are we to deploy a greater force to bolster the Outland troops at Cape Shawe?"

"I don't see how we could justify such an expenditure," Aldebrand said. "Given that we have no notion how long those troops would be simply waiting in the Outlands."

"We must protect the people, regardless," Felice said. "But let us not neglect the possibility of other attacks. We do leave ourselves open by concentrating our troops in Shawe."

"His Majesty is not currently of the opinion that an alternate attack is likely," Clarus said. "If it were, we expect to hear of it in time."

An optimistic expectation, but it did pay to appear confident.

"All concerns of cost and decoys aside," Hamon said, "We should consider that the more troops we mobilize, the more visible we make our knowledge. If Niflheim learns too early that we have inside information, they may well change their plans. I advise we play our cards a little closer, whatever we choose."

Master Hamon's words brought murmurs of agreement among the council. Admittedly, that was not an eventuality Regis and Clarus had considered during their nighttime planning.

"The question then arises," Clarus said, "As to what our goal in this situation is."

"To protect the people in Cape Shawe, of course," said Felice.

"Is it?" Clarus leaned forward in his chair to look down the line of councillors at her. "Or are we looking to gain a tactical advantage?"

"To what end?" Felice asked. "So that we might destroy some empty soldiers? Niflheim will only make more."

"I must agree with Master Felice," said Aldebrand. A miracle of the century. "Intentionally engaging the empire in combat will be costly and will gain us little."

Noctis squirmed in his lap. Regis shifted in his chair, rearranging the twins on his knees, and listened on.

"And if they seek another foothold on our coast? Surely then we must push them back."

"That is another circumstance altogether," Aldebrand admitted. "Our shores must be protected."

Noctis tugged at Regis' lapel, temporarily pulling his attention from the proceedings.

"Dad," Noctis said in a loud whisper when Regis looked down at him. "Can I go play?"

He had lasted about as long as Regis had expected. Thankfully, they had already prepared for this eventuality.

"You may, my son," Regis whispered. Through the ongoing discussion, he caught Crea's eye and motioned to her. "Go with Miss Crea."

Noctis slid off his lap as Crea rose from her seat and descended the steps. Though they drew eyes, most of the council was too engrossed in the brewing debate to concern themselves with nannies or heirs. Regis massaged some feeling back into his leg, shifted Reina across his lap, and tuned back in.

"What we need is more information," said Felice. "We can't act without knowing when they will strike or what their goal will be."

"You forget yourself, Master Felice," Clarus said. "The scant information we have is a blessing. We have only to decide how to put it to the best use."

They talked themselves in circles. If not for the fact that Regis and Clarus had already solidified the more urgent plans—and set them in motion—he would have pushed through a decision regardless of the state of the council. The civilians were being evacuated as they argued and all Outland military forces were being redistributed toward the southwest. Clarus was right. Reina's Dream gave them the luxury of arguing in the first place.

Still, time or no time, Regis grew tired of listening to them, eventually. "We might safely agree that we do not wish to draw attention to our knowledge. Regardless of what their intent—or our intent—may be, we should allow them to carry out their plans to some extent. They will have wasted time and resources on a plan that gains them nothing. Even without further loses, that will be in our favor."

"So we should not mobilize the army," Aldebrand said triumphantly.

"If we are to engage them, we must mobilize something."

"Why not the Kingsglaive?"

"The Kingsglaive is a valuable asset," Clarus said, "And it may well prove that we wish to use them for this. But it will be costly—and not merely in gil—to deploy them too early."

"And for nothing," Felice said. "If we don't intend to engage the empire."

That argument ran circles around itself for another hour. In spite of that, Reina remained as still as a statue in his lap. If not for the added heat and the fact that he was forced to rearrange her occasionally, Regis would have forgotten she was there at all. More than once he looked down at her and found her eyes following the conversation. How much could she truly understand of it? Even Regis had, admittedly, tuned out more than once.

But Master Hamon spoke infrequently and, when he did, often brought to light new insights. His voice clicked Reis' mind back into place automatically.

"I believe we are approaching this from the wrong direction. As Master Amicitia has stated, we are to decide how best to use this information to our advantage. We argue whether to engage or not to engage… instead of considering how to turn Niflheim's plan on them."

"We have done that," Aldebrand said, "By mere virtue of evacuating the civilians and fortifying our coastline."

"I don't mean how might we prevent Niflheim from getting what they seek," Hamon said, gripping the arms of his chair and sitting forward to look down both lines of councillors. "Let me put it another way: provided we do not alert them to our knowledge, Niflheim will attack Cape Shawe. We are in a unique position. We know where the imperial forces will be. How can we turn that knowledge into a trap?"

Silence met his words. Regis suppressed a smile; Hamon may have been Master of Justice in Lucis, but somehow he was the only one among the council who could think like an imperial. The council was all too honorable—Regis included. It never would have crossed his mind to counter Niflheim's attack with anything but defense.

"Pardon, Master Hamon," Felice said, "But I don't fully understand what you're suggesting. You mean to ambush their troops when they arrive? I fail to see how this is different from the current propositions."

"No, Master Felice, I am not referring to an ambush," Hamon said. "As you have so rightly observed, killing their Magitek soldiers seems to cost Niflheim very little. No, I mean to strike a true blow to the empire with this precious information. I can think of two ways—doubtless there are others. The first is to do precisely what they have done to us so many times before and strike at them when we know their troops will be away. Admittedly, a risky option, but a tempting opportunity nonetheless. The second is more subtle and requires more manipulation: we bait the imperials into sending the traitor Glauca into battle at Cape Shawe."

"How could that possibly benefit us?" Aldebrand asked. "Glauca will destroy our troops to a man."

"We have the capability to deal with Glauca," Hamon said, "Provided that we know where he will strike. This gives us the opportunity not to be struck by their general… but to take him off the game board entirely."

Chapter Text

It was well into the afternoon before Regis had the chance to step away. Discussion had continued in earnest for hours, though following Hamon's suggestion of a trap, all members of the council had been swayed in a different direction. What followed was less debate and more planning, until the inevitable decision was made:

They would set a trap for General Glauca.

It only remained to decide what the bait would be.

Reina was extraordinarily quiet and still through the entire court session. When they finally recessed, she walked hand in hand with him from the throne room and down the hall to the elevator.

"What are you thinking about, my dear?" Regis asked her.

"Hm?" She looked up at him, as if pulled from her thoughts by his words.

"You have been silent all day. I merely wondered what thoughts occupied you through court and beyond."

"Oh," she said. "I am thinking of many things, Father. Are you going to catch the bad man?"

"That is our intent. Only time will tell if we will be successful."

"Maybe I will Dream of it."

"Perhaps you will," Regis agreed. Indeed, he was hoping that tonight's expedition into the In-Between would bring new insights on the coming invasion.

"And I'll have my watch!" She held out her hand, proudly displaying the little watch as it ticked away.

"You must remember to wind it," Regis cautioned.

"Mr Scientia told me it will wind itself." Reina inspected the little watch critically. "I just have to wear it and walk around."

She swung her arms in exaggerated arcs, taking giant steps, which still amounted to half of Regis'. He chuckled. He swung his hand back and forth with her, matching his steps to hers, however slow it made their pace. The Royal Quarters were not going anywhere.

They reached the lift at the same time Noctis, Ignis, and Crea did, and shared an elevator going up. Noctis had dirt smudged from the knee down, and streaks of mud on his face, but he beamed up at Regis as the doors closed.

"There's a striped cat in the gardens, Dad!" He said.

"A new one?" Regis raised his eyebrows.

"Yup! Ignis couldn't catch it. It scratched him."

Regis glanced down at Ignis, who displayed his hands and arms to show several angry red marks from elbow to wrist.

"That does not seem the sort of cat one should play with," Regis said.

"It just didn't like Ignis," Noctis shrugged, unconcerned about the state of his retainer's arms. "It liked me plenty fine."

Regis cleared his throat. "Yes, well. See that you have those scratches looked after, Ignis."

"Of course, Your Majesty."

Regis looked toward Crea, who was trying not to laugh at him. He sighed and put on his best long-suffering face.

"Leave it to you to be worried about them playing with a cat." The laughter won. It spilled out while she spoke and thereafter.

Regis folded his arms over his chest. "It has bloodied Ignis' arms! It could have all manner of diseases, and if it had bitten Noctis—"

"He might get rabies?"

"He might!"

Crea grinned and ducked her head.

"I do not appreciate being made a fool of," Regis said.

"Then I promise to only make fun of you in private."

The doors opened. Crea patted his elbow and walked past him.

Noctis glanced between the pair of them before leaning forward to whisper conspiratorially in Reina's ear: "Dad likes Miss Crea!"

"Shh!" Reina hushed him sharply. She caught Regis' eyes on her and giggled.

"Miss Crea likes Father back," she whispered in return.

Regis sighed and followed Crea out of the elevator. It was a conspiracy. And conspiracy against the king practically amounted to high treason. They should both have been buried in stuffed animals and forced to undergo corporal cuddling. This was not how he had imagined his afternoon meeting with Crea going.

He caught up with Crea in the lounge, leaving Reina and Noctis to do whatever it was that nine year olds would do when left unsupervised. Hopefully it involved bandaging Ignis' arms.

"I apologize for putting you through court this morning," Regis said in an undertone. "I hope it was not too trying for you."

Crea shrugged one shoulder. "It was fine. Though I expect your decision to seat me with the council will have tongues wagging behind closed doors."

"It may very well. I am more concerned, at the moment, over your well-being. The last time I forced you to put yourself before my courtiers you were… upset."

Crea stared at him for a moment, confusion on her face. "At your birthday celebration? Regis that was years ago. Nearly seven, if I'm remembering correctly. I couldn't have been much older than twenty-one or twenty-two, and this job was the first time I had been in charge of anything more important than seeing that the babies were fed when they cried. But afterward I spent a few years in charge of the two most important children in Lucis, with—extraordinarily—the king himself taking my advice. Following that, as you might expect, I was highly sought after."

"Yes, I suppose it has been some while." Regis hesitated. He had expected that, if nothing else, Crea would have been holding back whatever distaste she had for the situation, and that it would come out in full once he spoke to her outside of court. Instead she was not upset at all.

What had he really been expecting? That by putting her into an uncomfortable situation, she would come running back to his arms? If he had, he was more a fool than he realized.

"And you have grown a great deal," Regis added, somewhat sheepishly.

"Adversity does that."

"I, meanwhile, have remained much the same."

She gave him a curious little smile. "I don't think so. Someday something will happen that will make you look back and realize that you have changed."

"Perhaps," Regis said. He had, at least, made a potentially life-changing decision regarding Reina's magic, in spite of the Gods' apparent will to the contrary.

"I'd better go see that Ignis is alright."

"Crea—"

She stopped mid-step and looked back at him.

"You looked lovely today, in that gown. I—"

"Don't, Regis." Her voice was tight—just a bare whisper quivering with warning. "You'll only make things worse."

He sighed. "Yes, I suppose I will."

He turned his head down and she walked away, very much a different woman to who she had been seven years before. But the heart was still there. The core that he had fallen in love with was still blazing underneath. Somehow, the fact that she refused to fall into his arms again only made him want her to that much more.

They whiled away what remained of the day. Regis stayed in the lounge with his children while Ignis took on the task of tutoring them, given that their regularly scheduled school hours had been delayed for court. If this was to become a regular thing, they would need to find some other way of dealing with it. Ignis had responsibilities and classwork of his own; he could not be expected to fill in whatever spare time Reina had with schooling. But that was a worry for another time.

For now, Regis' mind dwelled more often than not on the night to come. While word came and went from the upper levels with plans being made and ideas discussed, Regis found his eyes drifting toward Reina. It was terrible to hope that she would see the future for the good of Lucis. That was precisely what he had been trying to protect her from in the first place. He would not use her as a tool for the kingdom, however tempting it may have been.

But if this plan of Clarus' with the watch truly worked—if spending more time with Regis in court and council allowed her to see more important events—how could he not use that? She had, after all, been the one to ask for this in the first place. And even Crea agreed it was good for her. Perhaps he was being too protective.

The struggle waged beneath his stoic exterior for what remained of the afternoon, through the evening, and up until the twins' bedtime. He sent them to get ready and pulled Crea aside once more.

"I should like, if possible, to transition them back to sleeping in their own beds," he told her in hushed tones once the twins were away.

"I was wondering how long it would take for you to get tired of them." Crea smiled, teasing.

"I am not. I merely think it would be in their best interests if they were to have their own rooms once more. And—alright, yes—it would be very nice to have some sliver of privacy back in my life."

Crea stifled a laugh. Regis waited until she had recovered enough composure to advise him instead of laugh at him.

"Alright, I'll see what I can do. They'll have to be moved together. Noct won't move out without Reina, you know, and his presence certainly gives her an extra layer of security. Thankfully, Reina has been making good progress lately, and I think this new development with her Dreams may help even more. It gives her some confidence to feel as if she's doing something useful. And—I might add—entirely on her own. I gather that you have not been able to help her find these Dreams."

"No. That is beyond my power. I might follow her into the In-Between, for a time, but she would be guiding me. I doubt very much that I would have any insight to add to what she had already learned."

"Frustrating as that may be for you, I think it's good for her," Crea said. "This way, when she makes progress, she can't help but admit it was her doing."

"I had not considered," Regis said slowly. He smiled. "This is why we needed you back."

She gave him a long-suffering look. "Yes. Honestly, I don't know how you managed without me."

Regis opened his mouth to retort, but she only laughed. He sighed, smiling again. It was impossible to be indignant about her teasing.

"I ask myself the same every day," he said. "In any case, you will think on this?"

"I will."

"Thank you, Crea." He resisted the urge to lean in and kiss her cheek or touch her hair. He contented himself with a grateful nod before turning to join his children in his bedroom.

He found them both in bed already, Noctis tucked up properly with Cat the Cactuar and Reina sitting cross-legged beside him, running her fingers along the case of her new watch. She looked up when Regis entered, beaming.

"I'll Dream tonight, Father," she said, no question about it.

"I hope you will, my dear," Regis said as he seated himself on the edge of the bed beside her. "But you must remember that even if you cannot find that future again, you have already given us a great advantage."

She considered him for a moment, mouth and brow both twisted. Then she said, "I'll Dream it."

He smoothed her hair back and kissed her forehead, smiling. "Then let us begin."

Falling into the In-Between was simple for her now. That, at least, was something she had gained control over in the months of searching for the future. He didn't need to hold her back with his magic during her waking hours anymore, and even while she slept she had scant need of his help. Now she curled up beside him and let go of consciousness on her own.

He felt her magic flow out from her body and pass through the veil into the In-Between. And he waited. Last night he had not been present to observe what occurred when she truly Dreamed, instead of merely staying in the In-Between. He had sensed the difference in her magic, true enough, but at the time he had been less concerned with the technicalities of the process and more concerned with waking his daughter. Now, at least, he could watch the entire process.

If she Dreamed.

The seconds ticked by on her wristwatch. The previous night she had Dreamed mere minutes after he had settled down to work in the other room. Ten passed. Fifteen.

Doubt nibbled at the edges of his consciousness. Would he be able to recognize if she was in a Dream? Certainly, he had in the past, but then only because she was in great distress. If she Dreamed of a future in which Niflheim's attack was already anticipated and planned against, would she display any outward signs of Dreaming at all?

Twenty minutes passed. Then thirty. He found himself wondering how much time she could experience in a single minute. Both in Tenebrae and last night she had given him at least an hour's worth of information when he had woken her only a minute after. If he allowed her to Dream the full hour—if she truly was Dreaming—then she could be stuck in another time and place for weeks. Months, even. It was disorienting enough for her to wake and learn that the past hour of her life had never occurred. How much worse would it be the longer he allowed her to Dream?

And yet, if he pulled her out too early, they might lose crucial information.

He shifted in place. Reina slept, to all appearances, peacefully. Her magic was steady and calm, stretched across the veil.

Forty minutes passed and Regis made up his mind.

"Reina, my dear, wake up." He brushed her cheek with the back of his hand, calling to her with voice and magic.

She stirred immediately, not like she had done the night before; her body tensed, her face scrunched, and she let out a little whine before opening her eyes to look up at him. She furrowed her brow.

"Was than an hour?" She asked.

"Nearly," Regis said.

Or two-thirds of an hour which, to his mind, had seemed more than long enough.

"Did you Dream?" He asked, though by then he had already guessed the answer.

She shook her head, crestfallen. "Nothing pulled me out of the river, Father."

"I see." He kept his face and voice clear of disappointment as he stroked her hair, though a dark resignation was settling over him. "No matter, little Princess. You have done wonderfully already."

"You are not upset?"

"No, my dear." He smiled sadly down at her. His little girl, still so worried about upsetting him. Would that she worried more about herself. "Remember that any glimpse of the future you give me is a great gift. I would never dream—if you'll pardon the expression—of asking for more from you. What you give is more than enough."

She smiled more brightly and deeply, though it was broken by a huge yawn. Regis smiled, pulling the blankets back around her shoulders and leaning forward to kiss her forehead.

"Now sleep, little Princess. You have had a very long day."

And so, come to think of it, had he. Two long days without a break in between. He was pushing on toward forty-eight hours of consciousness and, while nights without rest were not uncommon to him, once the hope and rising panic had faded into disappointment and relief—the latter being the stronger—the weight of both days settled down on his shoulders. It was high time he followed his own advice. He would worry about Niflheim in the morning.

He managed to pull his suit off before falling into bed beside his children. With the two of them in his arms it took not a minute before blank sleep took him.

The morning followed their new usual pattern; Crea joined them for breakfast and Reina seemed in high spirits. She talked and laughed with Noctis, kicking her feet under the table and tried everything on her plate indiscriminately.

Clarus arrived as the meal was being cleared away. He raised his eyebrows at Regis: so much meaning crammed behind a simple expression. Regis shook his head, keeping the gesture small so as not to draw attention to their nonverbal conversation. He tapped his finger to his lips. The last thing he wanted was Reina getting the impression that they expected her to Dream. There had been hopes, certainly, but it was best to keep those quiet. She had done well even to glimpse this event once.

Clarus cleared his throat and glanced down the table. "I'm afraid I must announce that I did not bring Iris with me this morning."

Reina's head snapped up and a frown formed on her lips.

"I know the is one of the days she is meant to come play," Clarus said, glancing back toward Regis. "But I was not certain if you wanted Reina in court with you today, Regis."

Something he, himself, had not even considered. Regis sighed, looking at Reina's pout. Clarus was right in saying an education in Lucis' government would behoove her in the future. Furthermore, keeping her nearby so as to ensure she Dreamed any events of significance was a tempting possibility. But at the same time she was only nine. And he had already sworn not to use her.

"If not, it's a simple enough matter to ask Fidelia to bring her here," Clarus said.

"Which would you prefer, little Princess?" Regis asked. "Would you rather play with Iris or come with me? I have some tasks that must be done—meetings I must attend in light of future events."

"How long?" She asked.

"A few hours, perhaps. I will limit them to the strictly necessary and carry out the remainder from upstairs, if you wish."

Reina considered. Last spring she would never have allowed him out of her sight for even a few hours—nor would she have been open to the idea of attending council with him.

"I want to play with Iris," she said at last.

Regis' stomach lurched as if the floor had dropped out from under him. When had she ever chosen not to stay with him, when given the option, save when she had put Noctis' own wants ahead of hers?

Regis patted his lips with his napkin to hide his stunned silence.

"Of course, my dear," he said when he had regained enough of his composure to do so. "Clarus, if you would be so good."

"Of course, Your Majesty. Your Highness." He bowed to each of them and stepped out to contact his wife.

"And with that, I fear I, too, must be away," Regis rose from his place and rounded the table to give both his children a hug and a kiss. "I leave you in Miss Crea's capable hands until I return."

The day passed too quickly, with too many things to accomplish in too little time. Scouts had been posted off Cape Shawe and the whole Citadel was tense waiting for news of Niflheim's fleet. Meanwhile, they made hasty plans to lure the imperial general from the capital. The trouble was determining what bait would draw him.

"As I see it, if we intend to catch the big fish, we will need some tempting bait of our own," Aldebrand said as they sat around the council table in a closed-door meeting. "It will take more than the promise of destruction to bring him out of hiding."

"That's why we must make at least some of our movements known. If Niflheim expects a resistance, they will send their general to meet it."

"Or they will simply not attack there at all. Unless we give him something he cannot resist."

"I have a suggestion, if I may," Hamon said. "Though I have no doubt that everyone will object. There is but one thing I can think of that General Drautos has shown great interest in."

His eyes travelled the length of the table and settle on Regis.

"That being my life?" Regis asked.

"Just so, Your Majesty," said Hamon. "And while using the king as bait may be highly unorthodox, it is a suggestion that needs to be made."

And no one but Hamon was bold enough to do so. Regis nodded at him. "It is an idea that bears considering."

"Perhaps as a final resort," Clarus said. "Regardless, I cannot condone it."

"We have an uncertain amount of limited time, Clarus," Regis said. "How long will we labor over this issue before a decision is made? The bait must be set and the information spread all the way to Niflheim's informants before the time of their attack if our trap is to work. So far it is the only plan on the table with any hope of success."

"It may be possible," Hamon said, "To use His Majesty as a lure without placing him in danger. It is, as you have observed, the information that matters. If Niflheim has word that King Regis will be in Cape Shawe—whatever the reason—that should be all that is necessary. He need not actually go there."

"Perhaps," Clarus agreed, "But Niflheim has spies everywhere in the Outlands. If we spread this news, they may change their plans to attack while Regis is present. And then they would wait for his arrival. We would need a convincing decoy, at the very least, for this plan to work."

"Then we will build a decoy," Aldebrand said. "Meanwhile, let news of His Majesty's visit to the Cape be spread."

And so they had a plan. An uncertain one, as plans went, but there was no certainty in the realm of war. They could only bait the trap and hope for the best.

Chapter Text

A week passed. With each additional day, the atmosphere in the Citadel grew more tense. They had advertised Kind Regis' visit to Cape Shawe on a military matter. With a date settled in place, all they could do was send out their decoy in the Regalia with a contingent of Crownsguards, and wait..

Reina did not Dream again. They had no more information on the attack than they had held before. It was not altogether comforting. They could change the future of Reina's Dreams—they had discovered that in Tenebrae—but which of their actions had already inadvertently affected the outcome of Niflheim's invasion? What if they had unintentionally caused some shift that would prevent the empire from ever attacking Cape Shawe? And how would they ever know?

But they waited. They could do little else. The air in the throne room was thick and tense following the departure of Regis' double. All other matters in the kingdom faded into the background as they awaited news on this front. Nothing constructive was likely to occur today. Regis stepped away with that knowledge in mind. He could wait just as well upstairs as he could in the throne room, and with vastly improved company.

So he passed the morning sitting on the floor in front of the coffee table and having his skills with the crayon critiqued by two nine year olds. Ignis was much less critical. He gave Regis more credit than Regis deserved.

The afternoon was just beginning when the elevator whirred to life and, a minute later, the doors opened.

"Regis." Clarus squeezed out before they were all the way open. "Imperial ships have been spotted in the southwest."

Regis extracted himself from between his twins and rose to his feet. "To the throne room—I would rather be present than have you ferry messages and miss something important."

"My knees thank you," Clarus said.

Regis took a step around the coffee table and glanced back at his children. He opened his mouth to make his excuses to them, then stopped himself. He could not, perhaps, justify bringing Reina to each and every council meeting or session of court. But if he were in the habit of taking her to important ones, She might just see more.

"Reina, my dear. It would help me immensely if you were to attend court with me right now."

Reina, who had been looking glum at the prospect of losing him to politics for the remainder of the day, brightened. "You want me to come, Father?"

"Yes, little Princess. I do."

So he was left making excuses to only one of his children. In hindsight, it may have been a poor choice to insist that Reina come and not also invite Noctis, but they were short on time and he could not afford to have a restless child in his lap.

"Noctis, behave for Miss Crea. We will be back as soon as possible."

Noctis nodded wordlessly, though he stared at his sister as if he would say something to her—or had, but not in any language Regis could understand. Worries for another time. Regis took Reina's hand and they followed Clarus to the elevator. He caught Crea's eye on the way out. The nervous energy in the air had caught her, but she smiled anyway. He must not have botched things with his children too badly if she was still smiling.

The Citadel was already abuzz with activity. Regis and Reina cut through the flow of people with Clarus in their wake. In the throne room, the council gallery was full save for Clarus' empty seat.

"What news?" Regis asked, before he was even seated on his throne.

"Our scouts have confirmed that the imperial ships are bound for Cape Shawe, Your Majesty."

"And word of the general?" Regis asked.

"None yet, Sire. We have no way of knowing until the transports unload."

They waited. Hardly a rustle of fabric could be heard in the entire room. Regis tapped his fingers on the arm of his throne. Reina, in his lap, covered his hand with both of hers. When he looked down at her she smiled up at him and squeezed his fingers.

Nine years old and already trying to comfort him. Where had this child come from? Surely not from him. He had four times her years and a fraction of her empathy.

But of course. She was Aulea's last gift to him.

Twenty minutes passed before news came again.

"Magitek soldiers are dropping from the ships, Sire. Captain Ulric and his contingent of Kingsglaives are lying in wait and our soldiers are maintaining their incognito."

They would wait until the opportune moment to strike. Not until General Glauca had shown himself. Or, in lieu of that, not until all imperial troops had landed.

"Current estimate puts their numbers at roughly thirty soldiers, Your Majesty. More incoming."

The empty men fell from their ships. Numbers continued to rise and Regis compared the steadily growing invading force to their own defenders.

Reina's hold on his hand tightened. Regis held her closer, wondering if he hadn't made a mistake bringing her here. The empty men were her first nightmare. How could he think to subject her to reports of their invasion on Lucis' border?

"One hundred soldiers on the ground, Your Majesty. One more transport incoming."

Already the imperial numbers matched their own. And one Lucian soldier was not equal to one imperial soldier. The Magitek men felt no pain, no fear, and had no need for rest. The Kingsglaive might even their odds, but if that final transport held Glauca, they would not have the opportunity.

"Final transport is open, Your Majesty, and dropping metal crates on Cape Shawe."

Regis shut his eyes. Daemons. They sent daemons—enough to distract the Kingsglaive from the rest of the battle without giving them what they wanted.

"Sire! General Glauca has been spotted!"

His eyes snapped open. Drautos, daemons, and a hundred soldiers. It was just possible that the Glaive could still complete their mission, but only if their pursued it at the cost of all else. Their soldiers would be slaughtered.

"Our forces have broken cover and engaged the imperial forces."

Reina squirmed in his lap, clutching at his sleeve.

Ulric cared about his people. He wouldn't let the Glaive, at least, fall to a hopeless cause. But he also cared about results—honor and duty. If not for the others he would have followed Drautos to the ends of Eos. The soldiers were under another jurisdiction altogether. If the Kingsglaive were engaged with Drautos and the daemons, it was unlikely Ulric would be aware of what was happening to the Lucian troops at all.

Which meant that either Regis gave the order to retreat and lost Lucis its prize or all those men and women would lose their lives today.

Was the imperial general worth a hundred Lucian soldiers?

How many lives could be spared in the future if he was apprehended now? Did that justify making such a sacrifice?

A heavy silence fell over the throne room. Eventually, one councillor cleared his throat.

"Perhaps… reinforcements could be sent?"

"Cape Shawe is hours away by car," Clarus said. "The battle will be long concluded by then."

One way or the other.

Eyes turned toward Regis. He strained for some way out of the situation, some possibility they had overlooked. If only they had baited Niflheim closer to Insomnia. If only they had sent more troops. If only they had been given some notion of how many the empire would send. But the small glimpse of the future they had through Reina's Dreams was patchy and unpredictable. No one could have foreseen this invading force without her. No one could have guessed at these numbers: a hundred Magitek, daemons, and Glauca was excessive for one small coastal town.

"A decision must be made, Your Majesty," Clarus said. "We can call a retreat, but Glauca will be lost to us."

"We can bait him again," Felice suggested.

"But not in this fashion," Aldebrand said. "They will be more wary from here out. And what are our chances of gaining such information on their movements, again?"

Silence fell once more. Every councillor in the room stared at him.

If only he had some way of reaching them in time. By himself, he might be able to turn the tide. To date he was the only person who had stood alone against Glauca. If he could engage the general, the Kingsglaive could handle the daemons and aid the soldiers. But not even the Regalia could have taken him across Lucis fast enough.

Unless.

He did have one other method of transportation open to him. By Drautos' own admission it was possible to reach Niflheim from Insomnia in an instant. Why not Cape Shawe?

Because it was dangerous and reckless. Because he had little notion of what would lay waiting for him on the other side, even if he could somehow trace a path directly there without colliding with anyone or anything. Because the strain of using his magic these days was worse than ever and he was now considering using more than he ever had before.

"None of the options available to us are favorable," Regis said. "But there is one more path we have not yet considered. I should be capable of reaching Cape Shawe on my own, using the same method that allowed Drautos to travel seamlessly between Insomnia and Niflheim in the past."

"The same method that you warned was reckless?" Clarus asked.

"It was. Before we knew for certain it was possible."

Now it was simply dangerous.

They continued to stare, some shocked, others intrigued, and Clarus terrified.

Regis made up his mind. "Contact Nyx Ulric. Direct him to find a place away from the battle, clear of other people or objects in a five foot radius."

That should give him sufficient space. Then he could use his link to Ulric as an anchor to guide him. It would be easier to find the correct location that way.

"Don't do this, Regis." Clarus stood, his voice quiet as his usual stoicism cracked. "Do not throw yourself into danger where I can't follow you."

"I must, Clarus."

"You don't have the strength."

He might have agreed once, not so long ago. But Clarus was wrong. He had strength yet. He could stand alone against Drautos. He could maintain the Wall and still wield the armiger. He could battle a Marilith and still have the strength leftover to save his son's life. He could protect his daughter from her own magic, and pull her back from the In-Between when she ventured too far or became trapped in a Dream. He did more in a day than Cor did in a week, but they coddled him because they had all been too afraid of his waning youth to recognize it

If Drautos could warp from here to Niflheim, Regis could reach Cape Shawe.

"I have some strength left in me, Clarus. Enough to do what must be done," Regis said.

"Captain Ulric has confirmed your orders, Sire."

Regis rose to his feet, turning to set Reina down on his empty throne. She clung to him.

"Don't go, Father."

"Reina, I must. I know this is a dangerous line I walk, but sometimes I must take a risk."

"You could be hurt," she said. "The bad man is strong."

"If I save lives, that is a risk I must take, my dear." He kissed her forehead and looked into her entreating eyes. "Will I be successful?"

She shook her head. "I don't know, Father."

Of course. She only had a sense of what would happen to him and Noctis. No one else. The priorities of a nine year old were narrow yet.

"I must try," he said.

"Captain Ulric is in position, Sire!"

This time when he set her down on the throne she let him go. She sat on the edge of his seat, watching him descend the stairs to the center of the throne room. Then she rose and stood at the top of the steps.

He sorted through the dozens of links through which he shared his magic with others—his Glaives and his inner circle. He found Ulric's and grasped it tight.

"Father!" Reina called after him. "They're not coming here today, okay? Just to the beach."

His focus, by then, was on the magic and tracing a path from the throne room to Cape Shaw. His brain stored the words away without endeavoring to make any sense of them. He would think on them later. If there was time.

Once he was certain he knew were Ulric was, he reached for his own magic.

"Clarus," Regis called. "Keep the kingdom in my absence. Reina—be good, little Princess."

And he turned and stepped into the In-Between.

He had little time to shift and change the space around him, folding it so that he could step through and emerge where Ulric was. The nothingness pressed in on him, threatening to suck his soul from his body if he lingered too long. This was not a place for living beings to dwell. He folded the space as rapidly and precisely as he was able, clinging to life as he groped for the physical world just beyond. If he fell out somewhere besides his destination, he could end up anywhere—still inside the Citadel, in Insomnia but two hundred feet off the ground, inside a tree in the Outlands, or in the middle of the imperial chancellor's throne room.

He grasped for the spot where his link to Ulric exited the In-Between. No time to look beyond. His chest was alright tight with lack of air. He would just have to trust that Ulric had provided enough space for him.

He stepped out.

The world spun around him, green and grey and brown and refusing to come into focus as he tumbled back into being. He hit the ground before he knew which direction was up. And he lay there as the sky spun overhead, still wondering if he wasn't lying on the ceiling.

"Your Majesty?" A face appeared over his.

"Ulric." Regis managed, once he found his voice again. "I believe I may need a hand."

Ulric provided him with one. "Did you warp here?"

"Mh. I do not recommend it, if you were considering the same." Regis grasped his wrist as tightly as his muscles would allow.

Ulric pulled him to his feet. Regis managed to stay upright, only stumbling a few steps, and took several deep breaths in hopes of keeping his breakfast down. That was not a problem he had faced with warping for a few decades.

"Are you alright, Your Majesty?"

Regis convinced his stomach to stay put and endeavored to do the same with his head. "I think so."

He took another breath and straightened, looking up at Ulric. This time the captain had only one head and it remained in the same place when Regis focused on it. Though it did wear a skeptical expression.

"The battle?" Regis asked.

Ulric pointed and Regis followed the gesture. They stood on a hill overlooking the beach that the imperials had landed on. The numbers were about what he had expected: Magitek soldiers fought against Lucian ones while the Kingsglaive split themselves between the few daemons and the man in the Magitek armor.

"We're losing ground, Your Majesty. I hope you're fit to fight. We could use the backup."

"That is why I have come. No time to waste." He led the way down with Ulric on his heels.

Ulric had done a good job of choosing a space, given how poor the instructions Regis had provided him with had been. A short walk took them down to the beach and into the fray. They would have to cut through the bulk of Niflheim's force to reach Drautos.

Regis reached for the In Between and found the Armiger waiting for him. He called it with a thought. Six spectral blades leapt into being, circling around him with each step he took. Ulric sidestepped away from him, giving the spectral glaives a once over before turning his eyes ahead once more.

They reached the fight, cutting through the edge of it and striking out for the coast where Drautos was. The Armiger shot out ahead of Regis. Six inattentive Magitek soldiers were impaled by magic blades and fell to the ground with the red glow of their eyes blinking out.

Regis moved on, cutting down every imperial that stood in his path. When a spray of bullets scattered in his direction he threw up a barrier before even one could find its mark. Ulric's own shield came a beat after his. It might well have been an instant too late, had Regis not been there. Ulric gave him a peculiar look.

Perhaps that look was for a trick he had never seen. Perhaps it was because he had expected his king to be helpless in combat. Else, why would he have a Kingsglaive at all?

And that was how Regis was seen, these days, was it not? That was what Drautos thought of him. A weak old man who cowered behind his Wall, too pathetic even to face the enemies of his kingdom. A king who recruited an elite army to share his magic with, since he could no longer wield it effectively in combat.

False. All of it false.

The Armiger returned to him, forming a whirlwind of blades around him as he advanced. They reached the line of Kingsglaive, where they held the daemons back from the Lucian soldiers.

"Make way for the king!" Ulric shouted from behind him.

A few of the Kingsglaives chanced glances over their shoulders. In that brief instant of time their eyes widened in surprise. Their ranks parted, making space for Regis to pass through—provided he could cut through the daemons.

Or perhaps he didn't need to.

He could see Drautos now, engaged in combat with four of the Glaives and holding his own easily. With that suit of armor, they had little chance of bringing him down without Regis.

Regis gauged the distance, pinpointed his destination, and stepped outside of reality. The Armiger followed. When he re-emerged and instant later on the opposite side of the daemons and Kingsglaives, the spectral arms still circled him.

Drautos was mere feet away. He swung his massive sword at one of the Glaives, who managed to phase out of the way at the last second.

"And lo, the coward king appears," Drautos said, his voice unnatural deep and hollow with the Magitek suit on. "I had thought you fled; once again leaving others to cover your retreat and protect your precious skin."

"Face me, Drautos. You will not find the satisfaction you seek in killing your own students," Regis said. "Ulric, focus your people on the daemon threat."

"But Your Majesty—"

"I stand quite well on my own, thank you Captain," Regis said, keeping his eyes fixed on Drautos.. "Do as I command."

"Glaives, fall back," Ulric called. "Eliminate the daemons."

The Glaives followed orders better than their captain did. Even after the four had left Drautos to join the fight against the daemons, Ulric lingered at the edge of the field, one eye on Regis.

"You are, of course, to thank for my timely intervention," Regis said. "I would never have arrived so quickly if not for your experimentation in warping."

"You astound me, Your Majesty," Dratuos said. "I never thought you capable of stepping outside your own comfort zone. Or outside your Wall… yet here we stand beyond the reach of both. You have nowhere to flee."

"Is that so?" Regis stood with his hands at his sides, tense and prepared to strike with all six of his blades, should Drautos give any hint of attacking. "If this were to go against me, what would prevent me from leaving the way I had come?"

"You, yourself, admitted the stretch would be a strain on your precious energy. The King of Peace is too weak to attempt such a feat twice in rapid succession. I am surprised you are on your feet at all."

Regis smiled bitterly. How many years had he spent listening to people tell him that? His strength was waning. They all worried what it meant when he couldn't keep pace with Cor on a jog around the gardens anymore, or complete the physical aptitude test that Cor used to test his Crownsguards. Clarus fretted when Regis admitted his sword felt a little heavier in his hand, these days.

Yet he held a Wall around all of Insomnia that not even the bulk of Niflheim's firepower could break through. He could face down the Marilith that a dozen Crownsguards couldn't get close to—some good all those push ups and pull ups had done them. He could hold his own against a man in a Magitek suit when it took four Glaives to do the same.

And he could beat Drautos, given the chance.

"It is a struggle," Regis said.

Everything was a struggle. So much so that he hardly noticed the strain at all anymore.

For twenty years he had been holding the heaviest weight in Eos. And everyone wondered why he struggled to do a push up at the same time. What would his strength be if he set that weight down, even for a moment? Greater than it had been at twenty, of that he had little doubt.

Drautos lunged at him. The Armiger reacted in response to Regis' thoughts and six blades met one. And held. Drauto's augmented physical strength against Regis' magic.

Regis strained against him, teeth gritted, sweat beading on his brow. They were matched, for the moment. He needed only muster a little more strength to push him away…

…He didn't need to collapse the Wall. He only needed to take some of his strength back. The shield would remain over the city—visually all but the same. But it would be weak. One blow from an Imperial cannon would bring it crashing down. If only he could be certain—

Reina's words came back to him.

"They're not coming here today"

How she had known he would need that information he had no notion. But she had. She had known well before he did.

Regis loosened his hold on the Wall, letting some of his own strength drain back into his body. It was like the first sip of cold water after a long day in sweltering heat. He had strength he could hardly remember ever possessing. He had to stop himself from taking all of it back. He only needed some. Just one drink to outmatch Drautos.

He threw the extra power behind the Armiger. Drautos flew backward, flung away from Regis' blades by the added force. Regis flung them after him. Six blades, one after the other, shot toward Drautos in his Magitek armor. Drautos' sword came up too late. One was knocked away. One struck his arm. The next four embedded themselves squarely into his chest, each one drawing a grunt of pain from him. He staggered, still on his feet—barely. Regis pushed harder. The blades slid deeper in, cutting through liquid Magitek metal and burying in flesh.

The low groan of pain cut into a gurgle. Drautos dropped to his knees, his sword falling free from his grip.

The last blade of the Armiger lodged itself in the neck of Drauto's armor and Regis flicked it upward, knocking the helmet off.

He approached, drawing his own sword from the In-Between. The weight was a comfort in his hand.

"H...how…?" Drautos choked, his voice no longer unnatural with no mask to hide his face. Blood dripped from his lips.

"In your estimation of my character—of Lucis' character—you made a fatal mistake, Drautos." Regis stopped in front of Drautos, shifting his grip on his sword. "Mercy is not weakness."

Drautos spat at him. Blood flecked Regis' black suit. He glanced down at it, then back to Drautos. Here was the man who had caused countless Lucian lives to be lost. Here was the man who would have taken countless more, if Regis had not stopped him. Completely at his mercy.

"Yet now I find I have none left to give."

In a flash he brought his sword down. With the sickening crunch of metal on bone, Drautos' head came free of his neck.

Chapter Text

It was nearing dark by the time they pulled into Insomnia. The Kingsglaive transports would usually have gone straight to their headquarters, but they were accommodating enough to take Regis to the bottom of the Citadel steps. Clarus awaited him there, with Reina at his heel.

"I can't decide whether to be relieved or furious," Clarus said in an undertone once Regis reached them.

"Let us try relieved for now. You will have ample time to be furious with me in the future." Regis held out both his hands to Reina, though now that he had climbed halfway up the steps, he wasn't certain he had the strength to lift her. If she had still been but a toddler it would have been a different matter altogether. But at nine years of age she was growing too heavy to comfortably carry around anymore. That and, regardless of his stoicism, his unrestrained use of magic today did tax him.

She came running to him, wrapping her arms around his waist and hugging him with her face buried in his coat.

"Reina, my dear, thank you. You words were immeasurably helpful." Regis stroked her hair, holding her loosely.

She peered up at him. "I helped?"

"You did, Little Princess. Is it possible for you to tell me if they are likely to come to Insomnia within the next few days?" He had yet to restore the Wall to full power. He could do it, if the situation called for it, but all things equal, he would have preferred to maintain it at half power while he recovered from the warp across Lucis and his fight with Drautos. Once the adrenaline of the battle had worn off, the exhaustion had settled in. All he wanted now was a very long nap.

Reina shook her head. "I don't think they will, Father." But there was an uncertainty to her voice. Not the same as the declaration she had made just before he had left. He would simply have to be on alert.

"I will use caution then. Thank you, my dear."

"You might as well retire," Clarus said, "If you feel as terrible as you look."

"That bad?" Regis managed a smile. Clarus only glowered in response. Ever the mother hen. And here Regis had thought that was Weskham's job. In his absence, Clarus seemed to have taken it on—after a fashion.

"I'll see to the court and council. I'm sure Avun will send something up for your dinner," Clarus said in clipped tones as he turned to walk back inside.

The relief had worn off already, it seemed.

Regis sighed, looking down at Reina. He made up his mind and lifted her into his arms—though his muscles objected every inch of the way—and climbed the last of the steps carrying her.

In the upper levels, Crea awaited them with Noctis and Ignis.

"Welcome home." She smiled. It faded when she truly looked at him. "Difficult day?"

"One of the most." Regis let Reina slide out of his arms—by that point it was all he could do—and dropped into an armchair. "General Glauca of Niflheim—the man who was once captain of my Kingsglaive and a general in Lucis' army—is no more."

Reina climbed into his lap as soon as he was seated. She waved to Noctis who joined them a moment later. It was a tight fit for the armchair these days. He should have chosen the sofa, but that was two steps farther. Two steps he would rather not take, if at all avoidable.

Crea considered him. She had little notion of the history that had led to this point or the weight of Regis' words, but she knew him well enough to glean something of their significance to him.

Avun stepped away from the elevator. "I will inform the kitchens that His Majesty will take dinner up here tonight."

"Thank you, Avun." Regis rested his head against the back of his chair and shut his eyes. If he could stay awake until dinner, it would be an accomplishment.

He didn't.

The next thing he remembered was Reina hugging his neck and kissing his cheek. "Wake up, Father. Dinner is here."

He blinked, trying and failing to remember when he had fallen asleep in the first place. He gave up. It wasn't important.

"I shall have a bath waiting for you in your rooms, Sire." Avun leaned into his field of vision.

"Thank you, Avun; that sounds lovely." Regis hugged Reina tight, then released her, shooing her away to get her own dinner. Instead she returned a moment later with a plate for him.

He stared at her for a moment before convincing his tired brain to take the plate. What a singular child. She always had been, in one way or another.

The meal passed with little note. Regis was too tired to taste much of his dinner, but he made it all the way through his plate. Crea made sure that Noctis and Reina did the same, though Reina was rarely a trouble in that regard. He left them in her capable hands and made good use of the bath Avun had drawn for him. He had only just climbed out when a knock came to his door. Avun, to see if Regis needed anything else, in all likelihood.

"Enter," Regis called.

Instead of Avun, Crea entered. And Regis found himself standing in his bedroom wearing only a towel wrapped around his waist with a stunned Crea staring at him. A blush rose to her cheeks. It wasn't that she hadn't seen him before but those had been different times entirely.

"Apologies," Regis said hurriedly. "I had expected Avun."

"I'm sorry—I'll just—" She turned back toward the door.

"Crea, wait—" He took a step forward, then stopped himself. "What was it you needed?"

"I…" She kept her hand on the doorknob and her eyes fixed on a spot on the floor. "I was just going to ask if you wanted me to put Reina and Noctis in their own beds tonight."

That was something they had discussed, wasn't it? And while the thought of having privacy again for the first time in months had seemed a priority at the time, currently the thought of sleeping in a cold bed without his two favorite people on Eos seemed unpalatable.

"Not tonight," he said, mouth dry. "Reina saved lives today—mine among them. I would not push her away after that."

"She's worried about you, you know."

Why wouldn't she just look at him?

"I know. She is extraordinarily empathetic for a child."

"Sometimes." For an instant, Crea's eyes darted up toward his, a little smile on her face. Then she remembered he was all but nude and she looked back at the floor. "Anyway, you're probably right. I don't think she would be very receptive of the idea tonight. Might as well let her sleep here."

"It is likely for the best," Regis agreed.

"Well… I'll send them in, in a few minutes. Or you can come retrieve them. Whichever." She pulled the door open and fled before he could respond. It shut behind her, leaving Regis to stare at the spot where she had stood and wish he had thought of something else to say to her.

That night he slept a dreamless sleep with Noctis and Reina wiggling in his arms. The first time they had ever shared his bed, nearly eight years ago now, he had marveled that anyone—least of all they, themselves—could sleep through such a wiggly night. Now he wondered if it wouldn't be more unsettling to have a still and empty bed.

The following day, Regis was feeling marginally better—at least physically—and Reina and Noctis both seemed in good spirits. Clarus was still angry with him, and he made that abundantly clear when he arrived in the morning to request Regis' attendance in court. Rather than provoke him further, Regis went, electing to be a proper king for the first time in several months, though he did first ensure that both Reina and Noctis would accept his absence. They did. If not cheerfully then gracefully. They had interesting school tasks to look forward to and Fidelia was scheduled to bring Iris to play later that afternoon. It was a sufficient distraction for Reina.

Court was more or less as expected. A debriefing was held with Captain Ulric, though it was mere formality, given that Regis himself had been present for the battle. Over all, the council was pleased at the elimination of General Glauca and the recovery of his prototype armor—if for no other reason than that it removed that technology from the empire.

No word had come, yet, regarding how Niflheim had taken the defeat, but they expected intelligence from their agents in the near future. Otherwise, it was business as usual in Lucis.

Regis returned to the upper levels and to his children, once court was adjourned. For once he sought solitude. Most days his children were a great comfort to him, but today he could not shake the feeling of having blood on his hands and the belief that he would taint everything pure that he touched.

Drautos had been a good man. He could not reconcile that with what he now knew of the man the empire had called Glauca. Decades they had known each other. Regis would even have counted Drautos among his friends, before. He had shared his magic, his knowledge of Caelum heritage, everything he had to share. And the result of that was a man who believed him a weakling and a coward who could not protect his own people.

How had it come to this? How was it that no one had suspected a thing? How was it that Regis' hands were now coated with his blood?

It would have been the other way around, if not this.

He took little comfort in that knowledge. Drautos—Glauca—whoever he had been—would not have rested until Regis was dead. And so Regis could not afford to let him live.

How long had it been since he had taken a life? Countless had died due to his actions, but that was incomparable to taking a life with his own hands. A life he had once called friend.

The balcony door slid open. Regis turned to see Crea standing in the doorway to the library.

"I should have known you'd be here." She shut the door and came to stand beside him, leaning against the railing and looking down toward the Citadel drive, hundreds of feet below.

"Why is that?"

"It's where Reina and Noctis like to hide when they want to be alone."

Regis smiled bitterly. "Like father, like children."

"In more ways than that, but yes," Crea said, and nothing more for a time.

Though he had come for solitude, he found he didn't mind her presence. That was just as well. He would not have been able to shoo her away even if he had. And perhaps she knew better than he. Perhaps it was best if he wasn't left alone just now.

"You've been troubled ever since coming back from Cape Shawe," she said after several minutes of silence.

Regis nodded mutely.

"Will you tell me what's bothering you?"

"I don't rightly know how to quantify it," he said. "Titus Drautos is dead by my hand."

"Your hand?" Her eyebrows went up. Before now, she had known him only as a king and a gentleman. Would he be a killer in her eyes, now?

"My hand." Regis looked down at his hands, half expecting to see blood smeared there and spattered across the front of his suit. "I was the only one who could stand against him."

She was quiet for a long time. Too long. He looked up and found her contemplating him with a furrow on her brow. Perplexed.

"There's so much I want to ask, but I understand you don't necessarily share political matters with a nanny."

"Would you like me to?" He asked.

"I'd like to understand. I'd like to know what's troubling you and help if I can."

So he told her. It required delving well into the past: how Drautos had once been his general and then the captain of his Kingsglaive before Reina revealed his true nature. With that foundation he told the tale of all that had happened the day before, with as much detail as he dared recall.

"And now he is gone," Regis said. "I cannot decide if that leaves the world a better place or not."

"I'm not surprised," she said. "He was your friend once. Of course you feel conflicted."

Regis shook his head. "The man that was my friend never lived. I must come to terms with that."

She didn't fill the silence with pointless words. She didn't try to convince him he was wrong. But she stood beside him quietly waiting.

"Any good I might have removed from the world when I took his life was never real in the first place. But it still feels foul to have his blood on my hands."

He clenched his hands on the balcony rail. Crea covered one with both of hers. "I don't think any less of you for having taken a life. Nor does anyone else. You've done what you always do: protected Lucis when you were the only one who could."

He looked up at her. Up to that point, he hadn't realized how concerned he had been that she would think differently of him. A weight lifted from his shoulders.

"Thank you." He caught her hands in his for a moment before he remembered himself. He let her go and turned away once more.

They both fell silent, staring out across the city. Regis saw it not at all. He hadn't for many years. Yes, he was vaguely aware, when he looked out his window, that it was a lovely view and one that anyone in the city would have paid a premium for. He would have much preferred a more humble view. He would have traded all the views of the Citadel for a run-down apartment in the outer city if he could wake every morning to Crea's face. He could have, if he wasn't king.

Regis sighed. Dangerous thoughts. He had believed they had already been banished, but she brought them back whenever he let his guard down.

He studied her out of the corner of his eye. Crea. The only mother his children had ever known, though Regis had always done his best to remember Aulea to them. Where would they have been without her? All three of them would have been lost. Indeed, they had been for a few years. He only realized how badly adrift they had been when she had reined them all back in.

"Move back to the Citadel." The words fell from his lips before he could catch them.

Crea looked up at him, surprised. He tried to decide whether to apologize or stand his ground.

"Please, Crea." His heart chose the latter, with or without his consent. "Reina and Noctis will need you all the more once they stop sleeping in my room. It would be a great comfort to them to have you here all the time."

"Regis…" She sighed, dropping her gaze.

"And I need you."

If she moved back to the Citadel, she would always be just a door away when he needed a sympathetic ear and a cup of tea. Things could go back to how they had been and…

And the council would complain again. They would tell him he needed to marry her or send her away again. It wasn't fair to her, giving her this half life as nanny to the prince and princess, and mistress to the king. She deserved so much better.

She looked back up at him, conflicted.

"Please," he repeated. "I ask nothing more of you. You commit to nothing by moving here. With the hours you work, the only thing that changes is where you lay your head at night. And, as usual, you will still be free to choose your own schedule."

Indecision chased around her face. It took a moment before her expression solidified. "You know I can't say no to you."

"I wish that were true."

She smiled sadly. "Just moving back in."

"Of course."

What was one more lie they told themselves?

Chapter Text

Crea moved back into the Citadel. Over the next few days, Reina's prediction held and Regis was free to give his strength back to the Wall bit by bit at his leisure. It was a comfort to know borrowing from it was an option, provided that they could confirm the Wall would not be needed within the immediate future. If Reina could learn greater control of her Dreams… well, a great many things would improve then. But he could not guarantee it would ever happen.

As it stood, she still spoke of being pulled into the Dream, as if some external entity was in control of her visions. Regis had assumed that the Astrals had no notion of the power she held, but her descriptions made him doubt. Perhaps her foresight was a gift from the Gods to make up for that which they had taken from her. Perhaps it had always been their will that she would foresee the fall of Tenebrae and prevent it.

All was mere speculation; he still had yet to hear back from the Lucii. Time passed differently in their realm and, following their last discussion, Regis had no desire to seek them out again. He had already gone against the will of the Astrals and the warning of his forefathers by granting Reina his magic. That would not lightly be overlooked. In time, word would be passed down to him, condemning his actions.

He prepared himself for that as best he could. Precisely what the Astrals would do once they learned he had disobeyed their wishes was anyone's guess. No one had ever done what he was doing. He had one sliver of comfort, however: all that he relied on them for had been granted through covenant; unless he broke that covenant they could not deprive him of ring, crystal, or magic. And he had no intention of turning his back on the covenant. To protect the crystal, to dispel the darkness that gripped Eos, those were things he, too, desired.

For the time he could do little more than wait.

He persisted with Reina and Noctis' training, guiding them gently along the path he had once followed with his own father.

Iris continued to visit regularly, growing closer to Reina by the week until they were nigh inseparable.

Regis managed to maintain distance from Crea—and she from him—in spite of her change in lodgings. But they did, bit by bit, manage to transfer Reina and Noctis to sleeping in their own room. The first night without them had been lonely. He had nearly changed his mind the next night. But they were nearly ten; he needed to let them grow up someday.

Niflheim was quiet. The loss of their general—the iron fist that was to force Lucis into submission—had sent the nation into shock. Doubtless they would redouble their efforts soon enough. With any luck, Lucis would be able to stand against those, as well.

Winter came. Regis took Reina and Noctis to visit Aulea's grave on the anniversary of her death. She had been dead for several times longer than they had been married by now. He still missed her every day.

He turned thirty-nine that winter. Reina danced better at nine than she had at six; the few extra years of height helped, as well.

And in spring came the Calling that he had been waiting for all year.

He woke one morning with a silent summons in his mind: the simple knowledge that he needed to visit the Crystal. That Astrals called. That they wished to speak with him directly rather than via the Lucii was indication enough of their displeasure.

He rose and dressed as usual, but lingered long enough to take breakfast with his children when they woke. The Gods could wait. His children were more important to him than their wishes. But the longer he tarried the stronger the feeling grew. Eventually he could ignore it no longer. He made his excuses to his family and to Clarus—who had come to discuss matters of state—and went alone to the central chamber of the Citadel, where the crystal was sheltered.

It had been nearly five years since Regis had set foot inside the crystal chamber. The last time he had carried his sleeping son to be weighed by the crystal and learned, to his dismay, that Noctis measured up extraordinarily well. He had spent an entire year dreading that day to come. This one he had anticipated nearly as long, though for different reasons. Today he stood before the Heart of Eos of his own volition. Today he learned how his defiance would be repaid.

The steady violet glow of the crystal filled the room. Regis shifted the mirrors aside and the light increased tenfold, piercing his body and soul. He shut his eyes against the blinding light, but advanced nevertheless.

"I have come, as commanded," Regis said. Though that wasn't entirely true, was it?

A pause. It stretched long enough that he wondered if they wouldn't simply make him wait as penance for making them wait. Petty. But, then again, so had his actions that morning been, after a fashion.

Then the voice spoke. Not in his ears, but in his mind. A voice that boomed so deeply it echoed in his skull and made his head ache.

:Thou walkest a dangerous path, Regis Lucis Caelum.:

"Indeed." He could see no point in denying what they both knew. "Any path unsanctioned by the Astrals is dangerous. Is that not so?"

:Thou hast granted forbidden magic to a child meant never to drink of our power.:

It was not unusual for his questions to go unanswered. The Draconian demanded much of his kings. What, exactly, did he offer in return?

"I have."

Silence, as if Bahamut struggled to comprehend such a blatant admission of defiance.

:Thou shalt rescind that power.:

"I will not."

:Further, thou shalt desist in dabbling. Time is not meant to be witnessed by mortals.:

Not only would Bahamut not accept that Regis could disobey their wishes but—and more importantly—he had also admitted what Regis had been wondering about for over a year. The Astrals did not send these visions to Reina. They had no control over her magic. Indeed, they had never intended for her to possess that magic in the first place. Telling facts, all.

"Our dabbling has saved countless lives," Regis said.

:That is immaterial. Lives are inconsequential in the larger vision. Thou shalt desist. Time is no toy for mortals to peer through.:

Lives were inconsequential. Lives. How could a god trusted to protect humanity speak such words?

"I have no doubt they would disagree. Was it part of the divine plan for Tenebrae to burn? For the Oracle to die? For traitors to remain in our midst long enough to stab me in the back?"

A pause. Hesitation? Could a god hesitate?

:Yes.:

"I cannot believe that."

Still, it was difficult to discount the warning off-hand. What if every change he made for the better in the present impacted the future in some negative way?

:Heed our warning, young king. Step away from this path and return to the light, or darkness will take hold in your kingdom.:

The sensation of connection vanished. The light in the crystal—blinding before—faded to a more manageable level. The Draconian was gone, though he had never been present in the first place. And Regis was left blinking in the crystal light, endeavoring to make sense of what he had heard.

He returned to the upper levels of the Citadel. When he arrived, he had little recollection of the trip. His feet had moved, but his mind had switched gears. As he stood at the top of the stairs, watching his children hard at work with their tutor, he wondered if he shouldn't have gone somewhere else altogether. He needed time to think. He would have to make a choice eventually; a choice that would dictate what path he and his children tread from this point onward. Sitting in the lounge with his—comparatively—happy family was not conducive to such thought.

He passed through, giving Reina and Noctis each a brief kiss, and Avun instructions not to be disturbed unless Clarus arrived. Then he retired to his rooms.

The sitting room in his suite had ample space to walk. He made his rounds, attempting to walk off some of his growing agitation as his mind worked. He was no closer to the solution by the time a knock sounded on his door and Clarus entered.

"You wished to see me?" Clarus asked.

"The Lucis Caelums stand upon a precipice, Clarus." Regis stood with his back to the door, staring out the window across Lucis. "I must make a choice. A side must be chosen."

"Between…?"

"Between Gods and Men. Do I walk the path laid before me, feed the crystal with my own life and usher my son on to buy light and prosperity with his own blood, and my daughter to pick up the pieces and carry on alone? Or do I turn aside into the unknown? The divine plan spells death for so many, but in the end light will prevail. Can I be so certain that Eos will survive, if I stray from the path?"

The greater good. The Astrals asked that he sacrifice his son for the greater good.

"I gather they have learned of your defiance," Clarus said.

"And then some, yes," Regis said. "They have demanded that Reina never again look into the future."

"What could they possibly have against foresight?"

Regis shook his head. "They never offer answers. Only instructions. She is to desist… or else… I know not what."

Clarus came to stand beside him, arms folded, and stared out the window. Would he truly stand with Regis if they stood against the Gods? Regis stole a sideways glance at him. Yes. Of course he would. No matter what path Regis walked, Clarus would walk beside him. If he disagreed, he would make that known… and then carry on following until the end of the road.

"Have you spoken to Reina about this?" Clarus asked.

Regis' brows snapped together. "Have I asked my nine year old daughter to choose the fate of the world? No Clarus. I detest even putting the kingdom on her future shoulders."

"Not to choose. But it may be the case that she can offer enlightening information. As I understand it, you fear that her visions might lead to a future that is safer for yourself and Noctis—as that is where her priorities lie—but is overall worse for all others."

"More or less, yes," Regis said. "That is what I fear."

"Perhaps she would have input on that. No, I realize she does not have control over her Dreams and cannot simply look ahead to experience what the future has to offer if you do not follow the Gods' path—that would make this much simpler—but she seems to have some notion of what will occur in the future, ever without Dreaming it. Is that not so?"

"She has given warnings that did not follow Dreams," Regis admitted.

"Think of it as listening to advice from the council. They give their input as is fitting with their expertise, but the decision is still, ultimately, yours to make."

"Very well." Regis sighed. "Now I need only think how to pose the question."

"I'm afraid I cannot help you there." Clarus squeezed his shoulder. "We'll speak of this again, after."

They both rejoined the others in the lounge, though Clarus only lingered briefly before leaving to tend to his own duties. Regis spent what remained of the day in distracted thought, his eyes frequently on Reina as he tried to decide how best to broach the subject.

She slept primarily in her own bed, these days, though Regis would sit with her for a time while she attempted to Dream. He briefly considered taking her aside to speak with her, but no. While it may have concerned Reina specifically, he preferred to include both twins as often as possible. He had no reason to exclude Noctis from this. Still, he had little notion how to explain the situation so as to express its seriousness without terrifying his children. When bedtime came, he was no closer to an answer. But the time was here, nonetheless.

"Reina, my dear…" Regis lowered himself into the chair in the corner between their beds. "I have some questions about your foresight. Perhaps you can help me answer them."

She peered up at him, already tucked into bed, and stretched out across the gap to take Noctis' hanging hand. "I can try, Father."

"That is all I ask," Regis said. He paused, attempting to collect his thoughts into some semblance of words. "There are other entities—not humans, but magical beings—who also have some understanding of fate and time. I have no notion of how their Sight works—if they can see as clearly or as far as you—but at times their advice conflicts with yours. I know that you do your best to protect myself and Noctis—"

Reina nodded.

"But I am curious if you have any notion of what might occur beyond our family. Is it possible that, in addition to protecting the two of us, some choices may harm Insomnia, or Lucis, or other people whom we may not even know?"

Reina's brow furrowed and Regis' heart sank. He hadn't explained himself very well. He wasn't certain how to explain more clearly without telling her the Gods themselves condemned her magic.

"I protect you from everything, Father," she said, puzzled.

"Yes, I know you do try—but is it possible that protecting me might harm the kingdom? Or the people?"

"No." She said it so definitively that he was momentarily taken aback. "I protect you and you protect the people. If the people were hurt you would be sad. But I don't…" Her mouth twisted as she struggled to find the right words. "I don't let that happen. I protect you from being sad."

"I believe I understand…" Regis said slowly. Although it opened many new questions. Not least of which was—if she could not Dream reliably, how did she have any clear notion of protecting him? She seemed certain about everything she had said. Reina may have been many things, but she was not usually decisive or confident. "Thank you, my dear."

"Did I answer your questions, Father?"

"You did, Little Princess, though I will still need to think things over. Regardless, I believe it is time for you to Dream."

She smiled and nodded. She shut her eyes and dropped easily into the In-Between without needing any more guidance or permission than that. This time he stayed by her side. This time he watched as, seconds after she had fallen from consciousness, her breath caught in her throat, her eyes moved behind closed lids, and her hands clenched in the blankets.

Regis hesitated, as he did each time he was faced with the choice of when to wake her. If she had been capable of waking herself at a Dream's end, he would not have held so many reservations. But she would remain in a waking sleep until he pulled her back to the physical world. Such was as it always had been.

Yet, a moment after the initial tension, she seemed to relax. She Dreamed, still. Her breath came in uneven bursts rather than the slow and steady beat of a sleeping child. Her eyes still moved. Her lips did, too, as if she mouthed words not meant for him. Occasionally she would shift in her bed—not the gradual motion of sleep, but something more like waking motion weighed down by unconsciousness.

And then she screamed:

"Noctis!"

And sat upright in bed, her eyes open but unseeing as tears welled then spilled in a steady stream.

In the other bed, Noctis groped through sleep and dragged himself awake. "R..Rei…?"

"Reina." Regis shifted to sit on the edge of her bed, taking her shoulders in his hands and reaching out to grasp her magic. "Wake up, my dear."

She squirmed in his grasp, her magic pulling against his, resisting wakefulness. She had never pulled back before.

"Don't touch me!" It wasn't her voice—or it was, but not in her tones. Not at this age. She grabbed at his hands, trying to pull away from him.

"Reina." Regis held her more firmly. "Look at me, Reina. Just me. Nothing else."

She stopped trying to pry his hands from her shoulders. The resistance drained from her body as if she had lost the will to fight. The tears continued in a steady stream.

"See me."

She blinked at him, focusing too slowly.

"Father…?" Confusion crossed her face.

"Just me."

She twisted in his arms before he could pull her into a hug. "Noct?"

Noctis was climbing into her bed behind her. She threw her arms around him and cried all the harder.

"I won't—" she said, "—I won't let it happen."

And all at once Regis knew what she had Dreamed. The last thing he had wanted to protect her from. The knowledge he had never wanted to share with either twin, but in spite of knowing that she would eventually Dream Noctis' fate if they persisted on this path, he hadn't been prepared.

"Won't let what happen…?" Noctis asked.

"Reina," Regis said firmly.

She pulled back enough to look at Regis over her shoulder. He shook his head. Some Dreams were better not shared.

"Darkness veiled the world." She stared up at Regis. "Who makes prophecies, Father?"

"That prophecy is written in the cosmogony. Its origin might be traced back to the Astrals themselves."

"Why don't they try to change what they see?"

"I don't know, my dear."

Reina frowned up at him, then looked back to Noctis.

"It was just… dark?" Noctis asked.

"Everything was dark," Reina said. "There was no sun."

They stared at each other in silence—though perhaps unspoken words passed between them, which Regis could not begin to comprehend. He was the one who broke it.

"Reina…"

"Father?"

"Do you believe you could help me to change that future?"

She stared at him for a long moment. He began to understand that she was not even looking at him. Though what she was looking at—thinking of—he could not begin to guess.

"Yes," she said. Definitive. Confident. Certain.

The Astrals had forbidden it.

He was to rescind her magic and forbid her from looking through time ever again, or face their wrath.

He shut his eyes and set his jaw.

It was time to learn what happened when he angered the Gods.

Chapter Text

The violin hummed. Piano accompanied, bringing structure to the melody but fading into the background otherwise—insignificant when compared to the magnificence of the violin.

Reina stood beside the grand piano, her violin on her shoulder. Both of them had grown several times over since the first instrument she had picked up, nearly eight years ago. She was at peace like he rarely knew her to be, when she was wrapped up in her music: her eyes shut, a little smile playing across her lips.

The large drawing room was filled. Every available seat had someone in it. Others still were standing around, lining the walls. Members of the court and council. High-ranking Crownsguard officers. Captain Ulric. And, of course, Regis and Noctis. All of the most important people in Insomnia were in attendance, but when her eyes opened she only looked at one of them.

Outside in the hall, the crowd had spilled over. The servants had been congregating when Regis arrived; try as they might to remain inconspicuous, it was difficult to justify having fifty attendants in the hall for any reason.

Let them listen. Reina's music was a magic all of its own. Regis could hardly remember the last time he had truly listened. It must have been nearly four years ago now. Something always seemed to come up when she held a recital. This was the first in at least two years.

"Your Majesty." Cor knelt by his armchair to whisper in his ear.

Regis glanced sharply at him. Even those few seconds with his attention away from Reina's recital stirred his temper. Regis pressed a finger to his lips and waved Cor away.

"But Niflheim—"

"Can wait," Regis hissed under his breath.

Cor stared at him, taken aback. Regis turned his gaze back to Reina. She still held her cheek pressed to her violin, but her eyes flicked between Regis and Cor, a little wrinkle on her brow. The next few notes of her song wavered—one squeaked discordantly. Even now she feared he would turn his attention elsewhere and walk away.

"Never interrupt my daughter's recital again, for any reason. Is that clear?" Regis whispered to Cor.

"Yes, Your Majesty," Cor said, though he looked as if he said it against his better judgement.

"Now we will have silence," Regis snapped under his breath.

Cor withdrew. Regis looked back to Reina in time to see a single tear streak down her cheek. He fought the urge to climb to his feet and gather her up in his arms, assure her that he would never turn his back on her again. He could do that later. For now, he wanted to hear the end of the song.

A shaky smile worked its way across her face. Regis returned it. She shut her eyes again, letting one more joyful tear fall, before she redoubled her focus on her violin. The second half of the song was all the more powerful than the first, fed by confidence and assurance and the knowledge that her father had just put everything else in the world below her.

A hand landed on Regis' shoulder. He looked up to find Crea beside his armchair, smiling down at him. If he had needed any more reassurance, that was it. The woman who loved his children more than anything thought he was a good father.

A good father.

He intended to keep it that way. Even if it meant standing against the Astrals themselves.