Inside the lavish cradle, upon a pile of soft white blankets lay the smallest creature Bahamut had ever seen. It was barely the size of his fingernail, really.
The baby was swaddled in silk emblazoned with the sigil of the kingdom of Lucis. One who would be king one day; tall, mighty and proud. But in that moment it was merely an infant, its small features puckering unhappily as it woke from slumber. Mewling querulously, the child opened its eyes—and stared directly at Bahamut.
Or seemed to. Through the astral portal he could spy upon the tiny child, but could not go any further. His power was meant for only one, and that one had not come into the world yet.
The small creature before him was not the King of Kings.
“Stop staring at it,” Leviathan snapped over his shoulder. “It’s just wrong for an enormous armoured god to stare at a baby for so long. It looks like one of the beans in that soup Titan likes eating.”
“I just like it,” he said at length. “Are we sure it’s not the King of Kings?”
“You want it to be?” Squinting down at it, gills shivering, Leviathan snorted. “That thing doesn’t look like it could summon a breast to its mouth, let alone one of us. But it’s your prophecy.”
“And not its time.” Below, the infant had begun squalling in earnest. Nobody came to attend it. “Where is its mother?”
Shouldering him out of the way, Leviathan flung a finned hand across the portal, turning the image to swirling white. It cleared momentarily, sharpening into recognisable shapes and colours. Red, mostly, staining the crisp white sheets of childbirth. The eyes that stared up at Bahamut this time were flat, lifeless, and forest green. They did say childbirth was a battlefield all its own, Bahamut reflected tiredly.
Leviathan clucked her tongue. “Guess I was right about the babe not summoning a teat. What’s that old line you had about death in childbed? Birth in blood, death in blood?”
“It was a morbid phase a few millennia ago,” Bahamut protested. “There’s no proof he’ll die violently.”
Slitted eyes narrowed at him, then rolled heavily. Shaking off her mostly-humanoid form, Leviathan returned to her coiling, eel-like splendour and vanished into fragments of light. Bahamut couldn’t blame her for scoffing, really.
No king of Lucis ever went quietly.
Content to watch with uninterrupted interest, he splayed his gauntleted hand across the gory scene and returned it to the infant prince, who was now being held by a decorated male. Dark of hair and eye, he ushered over a female servant dressed in royal livery. With tears rolling down her cheeks, she unbuttoned her blouse and took the baby into her arms. Haggard, the man sat on the wooden box placed at the bottom of the cradle and put his head in his hands.
A wet nurse, loyal to the line of Lucis, Bahamut thought. And the infant’s father. It was then that his eye was caught by the gilded plate on the end of the cradle. Black lines formed letters he remembered, forming three names for the child.
Regis Lucis Caelum.
Perhaps it would be a name to remember, as the years rolled by. Bahamut felt the stirrings of interest in the world of Eos for the first time since Solheim fell, and wondered if it was going to be one of many changes the tiny prince wrought. King of Kings or not, who else in a thousand years had grasped his attention?
He was still staring raptly hours later when Titan approached the portal, palming a bowl of soup and slurping loudly as he looked down at the sleeping child. The infinite realms of afterlife and birth were, unfortunately, public domain for all astrals.
Bahamut tried to ignore him for as long as he could, he really did.
“Look at this,” Titan said, and spat something back onto his spoon, lowering it until it was in line with the sleeping child in the portal. It was a pale, kidney-shaped bean. “Do you think they’re related?”
Of all the—
“You really aren’t taking this pact seriously, you know.”
“I took a splinter of rock through my eye socket. I caught a meteor,” Titan rumbled, his muscles rippling for emphasis. “What have you done lately? Other than stare at babies and make us all uncomfortable.”
“I just like it,” Bahamut repeated stubbornly. “It’s going to be a good baby. Maybe the best baby.”
“It’s not the Chosen and it never will be,” Titan said, gesturing at the portal with his carved wooden spoon. “It will be old and dead soon, shelved with the spirits of all the other kings of Lucis who never passed our tests. Go back to the crystal and wait for the real thing.”
Bahamut ignored him. All they ever did was wait. No harm was done by watching over the bloodline he’d made the pact with.
Finally, Titan finished his soup and burped, turning to leave. Before he did though, he imparted a final piece of advice.
“You’ll crush its mind if you try to talk to it.” Between his fingers, he squashed the bean for emphasis. “Wait until its strong enough to pray to the crystal.”
Casting his hand across the surface of the portal, Bahamut abruptly reduced it to swirling white, pushing himself fully upright. Titan sucked the squashed bean off his fingers and watched him go in silence.
“If he ever needs to pray to the crystal, there is only one thing I’ll be able to tell him of.”
“His death,” Titan guessed. Bahamut exhaled hard, and nodded.
“Bet you wish you hadn’t lost to me in rock paper scissors for catching that meteor. Could be me in the crystal writing bad poetry and condemning kings to death.”
“You’d be terrible at it, Titan. You’ve no grasp of the flow of language.”
Titan shrugged his massive shoulders.
“I get hit in the head a lot. Call if you need.”
As though he ever would, Bahamut thought as he strode forward into the forgiving reach of the eternal darkness. As though any of them ever did. Their wars were done. Until new covenants were forged, they were trapped by their own limitations, their own vows. Their shells remained in Eos: Titan, trapped in stone, holding his meteor atop his mighty shoulders. Shiva, sleeping in the ancestral ice that could not thaw. Leviathan’s mortal shell was asleep in the depths of the ocean, too deep for anything other than the oracle’s song to be heard. Ramuh was lightning and cloud itself, waiting high in the sky for a plea piercing enough to reach him. And Bahamut was of the crystal—incorporeal until he was summoned, waiting to receive the King of Kings.
What he wouldn’t give to matter once more.
Until then, they had the deep oblivion of life and death, a starless space of purgatory and salvation from which they could peer down upon the world.
And, for some strange reason, a small, motherless baby prince whose cries just wouldn’t quite leave Bahamut’s ears.
If that was what waking up was heralded by, Bahamut wasn’t sure he wanted to follow that strange path. Especially if it resulted in death.
Death in blood, he thought as oblivion swallowed him back down into the crystal’s sharp embrace.
He really needed to stop writing poetry in his spare time.