Prompto listens for footsteps. His eyelids feel bloated and heavy, the swelling so severe that he can only peek at his surroundings—and even then, all he can make out are monstrous silhouettes along a lightless hall. So he rests his eyes and listens. In the distance, he hears the mechanical clicks of the MTs, their bodies creaking and hissing with every disjointed movement. If he had a wrench, he thinks he could take one apart; dig his fingers into the grooves and rip the armor off piece by piece. He wonders what he would find inside.
“Your kind have always been a mystery to me.”
His head jerks in surprise at the sudden intrusion, prompting a raspy groan as his neck muscles spasm in retaliation. Slow and steady , he reminds himself as he carefully sags against his restraints.
“Try as they did, the researchers never could figure out the pattern behind the transformations,” Ardyn continues. His voice sounds closer than usual, but it’s impossible to tell whether he’s in the room or not. His footsteps are silent, as if weightless. “At first, they thought genetics might determine the subjects’ daemon forms. They began transforming entire families, but they saw no pattern, no reason as to why one subject turned into a ghoul and another an imp. The researchers had their theories, but do you know what I think?” Prompto felt a cold breath against the exposed flesh of his neck and knew that Ardyn was near— too near. “I think it’s all random. Meaningless. Your dear mother took the shape of a snake. I wonder what kind of daemon you might become?”
For some reason, Prompto feels the urge to laugh. He supposes it’s all he has left. He’s survived this far on the graces of good humor; why not laugh even now, at what might be the very end? He tries, but his throat feels too parched to let out anything but a sad croak. He thinks about his throat, and of cold, delicious water, and refuses to consider Ardyn’s question or the comment on his mother. He can’t allow himself to dwell on it.
A faint rustling sound interrupts his thoughts, then: “Congratulations! Your long-awaited guests have finally arrived.”
The words filter into his mind slowly, like grains through a funnel. He listens for footsteps … and this time, he hears them. Beyond the rustling sound that draws closer and closer, beyond the mechanical clicks of the MTs, he hears the frantic thump thump of feet against stone—three pairs, headed directly for him. He can’t help the rekindling of hope deep inside him, though he tries to resist. Ardyn’s statements are like riddles, and Prompto can only imagine what cruel irony awaits him at the end of this one.
Then he feels it: a coldness against his belly, followed by a pain so severe that it almost seems sweet. He tries to scream, but again, his throat is too dry for it. The coldness retracts—slowly, teasingly—and in its place is a warm liquid that spills down his abdomen. The now-familiar stench of iron clogs his nostrils.
He still hears the footsteps, but they seem more distant now, like fading echoes. When his body hits the floor, he barely notices. Noct, he thinks. I’m sorry.
A voice is speaking to him. His whole body hurts, and his stomach especially, but he ignores the pain and focuses only on the sound.
“-wasn’t like this last time. This wasn’t supposed to happen.” The voice trembles with every word, though whether with anger or with sadness, Prompto isn’t quite sure. Something warm presses gently against his forehead. “I’ll go all the way back this time, to the beginning. And I’ll fix everything. I promise.”
He opens his eyes as wide as they’ll go. In the corner, he sees Gladio and Iggy standing elbow-to-elbow, though both are turned away, as if they can’t bear to look at him. Noctis is hovering directly above him, but his eyes are closed now. Fresh tears streak both his cheeks. Prompto allows his own eyes to close and listens to the soothing thump thump of Noctis’ heart. Like footsteps, he thinks. And then he hears nothing at all.