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a friend is a soul-reflecting mirror

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At the start, they were the same.

Well, almost. Vector was shorter and maybe weaker, but he was also faster than Nasch and had the entire underground system of the castle memorized at age five.

(And there was the thing where Nasch was always being followed by part of the Crownsguard, as if he can’t fend for himself, and he’d sneak off with Vector to the less modern parts of the city; unbothered.

Unbothered, because the gods were watching over him. Vector wishes he could say the same about himself.)

Back then, Vector didn’t quite hate Nasch. He really doesn’t know what Nasch thought of him. Nasch who would bail Vector out of trouble when his father was chiding him; Nasch who would secretly study magic with Vector, saying it’s stupid that Vector isn’t supposed to use a power that is so useful.

(“You can warp, too?”

“Yeah.”

“Then practice with me.”

“But I’m not supposed to.”

“Who cares?”

“Everyone who isn’t you, Nasch,” is what Vector wanted to say at that time.

But he never did.)

But no one really wanted Vector to use his own power; it was very much expected of him to eventually become part of the Kingsglaive and then pretend to be using the queen’s power even when there’s no need for it.

And so Vector was sent to school with Nasch and punished by his father after every test, no matter how well he did.

If he did too well, Nasch would look bad, after all.


 “The prince has reached the first place in the exam leaderboards,” the principal says, satisfied.

 Nasch doesn’t look at the principal, doesn’t look at Merag. Instead he looks at Vector.

 (Has Nasch always had dark rings under his eyes?)

 When Vector asks him about his change in his study ethic afterwards, Nasch shrugs. “I felt like it.”

 “You felt like it? You skip almost every day.”

“I felt like it,” Nasch repeats. Then he smirks. “Better catch up.”

 From then on, Vector’s father would no longer speak a word regarding Vector’s grades, ever again.


 On some of the days they sneak out of the palace, they’d end up meeting Yuuma.

Yuuma, the Oracle who smiles like the sun in spite of knowing his life won’t be long; the guy who would sneak out of Tenebrae with little more than a backpack and a dagger, to heal people in the outskirts while slowly but steadily making his way over to Lucis; even healing the people on the train and the ferry that lie on the way.

 “Dad’s been getting weaker, lately,” Yuuma looks at his feet as he sits between Vector and Nasch. “They say it’s because he talks to the gods. I talk to the gods, too, but it doesn’t hurt me that much.”

 (Neither Nasch or Vector have the heart to tell Yuuma that the reason why he’s less bothered is because his powers will only fully develop when his father dies. No wonder on Nasch’s part, considering the same goes for Nasch and his mother.)

 Vector doesn’t know who Yuuma walked for days on foot from Galdin Quay to Insomnia for— him or Nasch.

 Both , is what Yuuma would answer, but Vector doesn’t feel confident about asking him.

 People don’t usually come to meet Vector. It’s always Nasch.

 Then again, Yuuma only knows Shingetsu Rei, friend to the future king. Not Vector, the one from the side of the royal bloodline no one wants anything to do with. After all, Vector’s father is from Niflheim, originally.

 (But Shingetsu, Yuuma has said in the past. Even if I am the Oracle, that doesn’t change we’re friends, right? )

 Vector would love to believe that, too, but Astral— the god Yuuma formed a covenant with years before they met— does not take a liking to Vector, and perhaps he’s right to do so.

 But despite all this, they are happy now. Vector and Nasch were never best friends, but they have yet to be confronted with the reality of their heritage.

 Those times don’t last.


 Vector and Nasch stop being the same when Vector turns twelve.

 "You can’t put such a burden on our child,” he hears his mother pleading behind closed doors. She carries the blood of the royal family, the same blood that flows through his and Nasch’s veins. She’s Nasch’s aunt, but her legal relevance is limited; and her marriage is a political one; one she didn’t ask for, one that didn’t change anything in the grand scheme on things.

 (Both in the past, the present and the future, Vector would think she probably didn’t ask for him either. But she was always a good mother.)

 He hears his father yelling, and then the unsheathing of a sword.

 No.

 Vector rips open the door to see his father lunging at his mother, and he sees red on her clothes, and the next thing he knows is he’s warped in front of his mother and—

 A scream. Vector stares at his sword— the one his mother gave him when she found out he trains with Nasch— buried in his father’s body, and then Vector screams, too.

 “Father, I—”

 His father collapses in front of him, and Vector’s vision fades to black.


 Vector wakes up to see familiar purple hair buried in a book, as well as a white room.

 Hospital.

 (‘COSMOGONY’, he hasn’t seen Nasch read that in a while.)

 “What did I—”

 “Wait. “ Nasch puts the book on Vector’s bedside table and gets up, walks to the door and puts his ear against it. Then he rips it open. “Who— Oh. Merag.”

 (Merag, Nasch’s sister, a Glaive-in-training who might have it worse than Vector himself. Twins in the royal bloodline never both inherit the power. Nasch emerged the lucky one.)

 They speak in swift, quiet words, and Vector can’t quite follow. The next thing he hears is Merag’s steps disappearing into the distance.

Nasch closes the door. “Listen, about your parents…”

Flashes of what happened before pass Vector’s eyes, and his head hurts and he can’t really focus on what Nasch’s saying and—

“Vector, you need to listen to me.”

Vector’s voice is barely audible, but he’s sure Nasch hears it. “Are they dead?”

Nasch goes very, very quiet for a bit, then he slowly nods. “Funeral’s in two days.”

He looks like he wants to say something, but he doesn’t.

“What are you hiding from me?”

Nasch scowls. “Nothing.”


 Vector spends the next two days waiting for the consequences of having committed murder, but nothing happens.

Instead, the queen makes a public statement that Vector’s parents have died of illness. In the castle, they say it’s suicide.

Vector thinks about those things as he sits down on the left side of the grave— the one his mother rests in.

This is my fault. Because she wanted to protect me—

Vector can’t hold back the tears, but he bites his lips so no one can hear a sound.

(But really, isn’t it Lucis’ fault? For treating those who aren’t blessed by the Gods like that?)

Vector clenches his teeth and gets up.

It’s like nobody knows the truth, except for Vector. Not about the hypocrisy of royalty, not about how his parents died.

Incidentally, Vector never asked who found him and his parents that night.


 Vector decides to ask someone who probably knows.

“Don’t you know?” The Glaive speaking to Vector is Durbe, the guy who joined the Kingsglaive two years ago specifically to be around Nasch; planning to be part of the Crownsguard later. He's one of the youngest Glaives.

Vector doesn’t know Nasch’s history with the guy, but it can’t possibly justify how far Durbe is going.

Bad taste.

Apparently Vector said that out loud, because Durbe raises eyebrow. “What did you just say?”

Vector shakes his head. “Nothing. —I don’t know.”

“Then it’s probably classified information you aren’t supposed to know.” Durbe reaches into his pocket and hands Vector an envelope. “You have been asked for.”

For the first time, Durbe looks really, really annoyed.


 “As the last remaining member of your family, you would usually take over their duties. But alas, you are too young for that.” The Glaive in front of the throne room— one of the old guys who know too much about Vector’s heritage for comfort— does not take Vector seriously. In fact, he can sense some sort of condescending air to it. “So instead, you are to become Prince Nasch’s personal bodyguard. The queen will tell you more about your duties.”

Vector nods and puts on the fake smile he always has around that kind of person. “Of course.”

He walks past the Glaive, into the throne room, where the queen— Nasch’s mother, Vector’s aunt— sits. She’s a genuinely nice person, Vector doesn’t doubt that, but she’s also his mom’s sister, a spitting image despite the two years they are apart.

Why is Nasch allowed to have that?

She looks weak these days, weak from sustaining the wall that protects the city.  There are no guards here, and Vector suspects that means the conversation is personal.

“Auntie— I mean, your Majesty.” Vector bows, and the motion feels unnatural. But when hasn’t it? He steels himself. Then. “You asked for me?”

“Yes. The guard already told you, right? It’s not the most optimal, I know.” She looks apologetic, as if knowing what fate she subjects Vector to. “It’s just that… I can feel my health declining. And Nasch has yet to learn to be a king. Not to mention he has few bonds that will last him through life. So in case I pass away, there’s got to be someone to keep him going.”

Vector wants to protest, but there’s no real point to it, at all. “Okay.”

Not okay.

She smiles. “Thank you, Vector.”

“It’s nothing, your Majesty.” Vector bows again. “About my parents—”

“I am sorry, I’m sure the suicide shook you.”

“Suicide?” Vector blurts it out without thinking.

“Yes?” The queen looks surprised. “I thought you found them after it happened, and then Nasch found you?”

It then occurs to Vector that most likely, Nasch misinterpreted the situation and reported what he saw.

Heh.

Vector can’t even be happy about it.

“I… passed out,” Vector says. Technically, that’s not a lie. “So I didn’t know.”

“I see. I’m sure that must be a big shock to you.” The queen looks sad. Vector is sure she’s suffering more than he is. She didn’t get to have a proper chat with her sister for years, and now she’s dead.

(As for Vector, he feels detached. Something is wrong, but it’s out of his reach.)

Vector nods. “Was that all?”

“No.” The queen, slowly but determinedly, lifts herself up from her throne. “A birthday gift. You turned twelve, right?” She hands Vector a thin but heavy box. “Don’t look inside until you’re in your room, okay?”

Vector nods. “Thank you, your Majesty.”

The queen’s smile weakens a little. “I’m sorry you have to go through this. About your room… we decided to relocate you to Nasch’s chambers, in the interest of keeping you safe from prying eyes.”

Vector isn’t sure how to feel about that.


 In Nasch’s chambers— they’re really more of an oversized apartment with a secret way out so Nasch can get to school unseen— there is silence.

“Nasch, you there?”

Vector navigates his way to Nasch’s bedroom to find Nasch asleep, sprawled out on his bed, with Vector’s sword on the bedside table. The blood from the night before is gone.

Right then, Vector considers killing him. There’s only one other person capable of wielding the power of Kings, and that’s Vector.

If Nasch dies, Vector is the next king.

(Vector does not want the title. He just wants to stop feeling powerless.)

So he sets down the box and takes his sword from the bedside table before sitting down on Nasch, sword barely an inch above where Nasch’s heart is.

It would be so, so easy.

This isn’t Nasch’s fault. It’s Lucis’ fault. But Lucis would be doomed without an heir.

(Vector ignores the trembling in his hands. He’s a murderer already, what does one more matter?)

Why does one more matter?

“What are you waiting for?” Nasch opens his eyes, calm and unyielding.

“What the hell.” Vector puts a cut into Nasch’s shirt. “Not gonna beg for your life?”

“Never.” Nasch doesn’t move. “But let me ask you one thing, Vector. Will this bring them back?”

No, it won’t, asshole.

Vector scowls and lets the blade sink into Nasch’s flesh, just the tiniest bit. Nasch winces, but it doesn’t feel satisfying. “One day, I’ll kill you.”

“You can try.”

“Tch.” It’s no fun without a fight. It doesn’t feel earned.

Nasch smiles the slightest fraction when Vector takes out the sword. Then. “Get me a band aid.”

Dick .

Vector gets up and nods. “Sure.”

(Vector goes out of his way to look for Merag’s penguin-themed band aids she keeps in Nasch’s room.)

Nasch looks ready to punch him, in fact—

Vector barely dodges the punch aimed at him. “Oi, Nasch. That doesn’t befit a future king, does it?” A smirk.

Nasch scowls, then looks away before applying that ridiculous band aid. “So? What’s in the box?”

“Birthday present. Haven’t looked yet.”

“From mom?”

“Yeah.” Vector carefully opens the box to reveal two daggers, hilts covered in beautiful red crystals; like Nasch’s.

“I mean, to be fair, I was wondering why you didn’t have any.” Nasch yawns. “I still think it’s ridiculous that nobody wanted to teach you how the power works. What if I bite it? What if you’re the guy from that prophecy?”

Vector agrees, but hearing it from Nasch makes it worse these days. “If I’m the guy from the prophecy, I’d rather watch this world go to hell.”


 The next few years pass quicker than Vector would like them to.

 Nasch accepts Vector’s grudge quietly, moving on as if nothing had happened. It only pisses Vector off more.

 It’s like he knows what’s up, except he definitely doesn’t know, and it’s infuriating.

 Eventually, Yuuma’s father dies from the strain the communication with the gods put on his body, and Vector can’t help but to think of Yuuma.

 As for Yuuma, his visits are delayed more and more, until one evening when he shows up in Vector’s bedroom without warning.

 “I won’t be able to come here anymore for a long time, Shingetsu. I had a vision and… They’re gonna take over Tenebrae.” Yuuma doesn’t quite look at Vector.

 “Then stay here, idiot.” Vector grabs Yuuma’s hand, but Yuuma shakes his head.

 “They won’t harm me. And I need to help people. And if I stay here, they’ll target this kingdom. And the crystal.”

 Again about the damn crystal . Vector doesn’t quite curse, but he clenches his fist.

 Why is it always about prophecies and crystals and the gods?!

 (For a second, he wonders what Nasch would do. But then he remembers Nasch is a coward with no backbone who lets himself be guided by the flimsy concept known as destiny. Why else would he not do something against this already?)

 “That doesn’t matter.”

 “It matters to me!” Yuuma looks sad. “So I… have a request. Don’t forget me, okay?”

 “I won’t.”


 About seven years after Vector’s parents’ death, the world hasn’t quite gone to hell yet, but it sure lost some of its remaining quality.

 The queen no longer leaves her throne these days. She looks old— much older than she is. But she has to sustain the wall, and it’s not fair. “Will you be my son’s best man? I intend to have him married to Yuuma, in Tenebrae. We can’t ignore Niflheim any longer.”

 Vector initially had no one but himself to blame for his grudge against Nasch, but now it’s personal.

 He nods all the same. It means getting to meet Yuuma again, and it means getting to finally leave this place.

 "I’m sorry for all you’ve been through.” The queen looks genuinely apologetic. “That power… Make good use of it.”

 “...I will, your Highness.”


 The day of their departure coincides with a certain peace treaty, as Vector hears. He doesn’t quite buy the empire’s intent for peace, but nobody believes him anyway.

 “You wouldn’t be wrong to doubt the possibility of a smooth procedure, Vector,” a voice behind him says. “But if it happens, it was destined to happen in the first place. Nothing is coincidental.”

 Astral, with his dismissive expression.

 Vector scowls. “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be with Yuuma?”

 "I need to observe the King of Light.” And he disappears into thin air.

 Oh, so it’s about Nasch again.

 Vector sighs and gets to packing his stuff.


 “See you in a month or something.” Nasch tries to act relaxed, but Vector can see the tension in the way he clenches his fist. “Be careful, mom.”

 The queen nods. “Stay safe.”

 To Vector’s surprise, Durbe is right beside her. Durbe seems just as surprised by that.

 Vector opens his mouth to say something, but the queen shakes her head. “Go now. We wouldn’t want the crowds to hold you back.”

 Vector can’t help but to feel like the world is indeed about to go to hell.


Nasch is a shit driver.

Not actually shit in the sense of slow, obnoxious and bumping into things; but more in the “constantly almost running people over” way while being incredibly smug about it.

He seems too happy.

“God, you’re disgusting when you’re happy.”

“What’s your bad mood about?” Nasch raises an eyebrow. “I mean, you always have something against me, but this sure is something else. Jealous because of Yuuma?”

Yes .

Vector shakes his head. “No.”


 Vector and Nasch, even having grown up training together, are by no means a good team.

 Both of them are incredibly stubborn, and so they spend the first night getting lost, with the day after being characterized by them taking turns napping inside the car.

 The second night, even more disastrously, involves them fighting an Iron Giant on sleep deprivation and what feels like a potion overdose. Great .

 “Think we can take another one?” Nasch smirks.

 “Maybe it finally kills you off.” Vector picks up and pockets herbs from the ground. He and Nasch both severely underestimated the amount of food needed to survive a week-long journey, and now all they have is cup noodles and bread.

 They decide to not go for another Iron Giant, instead they go for Hammerhead, barely dodging the incoming daemons and only getting saved by daybreak.

 “Welcome to Hammer—” The woman interrupts herself, eyeing Nasch intently. “What are you doing here?”

 Vector is sure he’s seen her face before. A long, long time ago.

 Nasch, pathetically resting on his sword, appears to be blanking, too, as he asks, “Who are you?”

 The woman shakes her head with a sigh. “You forgot your fiance’s sister?”

 Tsukumo Akari. Yuuma’s older sister. Vector only met her once, when Yuuma turned 8 and he celebrated his birthday in Insomnia. But he’s sure Nasch has seen her a bit more often.

 “Oh. Then shouldn’t I be asking you what you’re doing here?” Nasch raises an eyebrow. “Shouldn’t you be in Tenebrae?”

 “I left when the Niffs took over.” Akari sighs. “We didn’t know how ugly it would get, so I am here in case the others need to flee. Though I might be in the city for Yuuma’s wedding.”

 Nasch doesn’t look happy. Vector smirks. “So what do you work as, Akari-san?”

 Akari eyes Vector for a bit, then. “They sent you along?”

 Vector can feel a jab at his heritage coming. It is not common knowledge, but a member of one of the royal families would know.

 To Vector’s surprise, Nasch answers first. “Any issue with that?”

 "...Listen, I’m just trying to take care of my brother-in-law here.” Akari then points at the caravan. “It’s on me. Now get yourself a bath and some rest, I don’t want Yuuma to marry you in that condition.”

 Nasch complies way too fast, making it obvious he wants to go.

 “Feeling heroic?” Vector laughs.

 “Just pissed by this bullshit they always pull around you. They can talk after they beat you in a fair fight.” Nasch cracks a knuckle. “Like me, that is.”

 “When did you last beat me, bastard?”

 “Don’t know, but it can’t hurt to increase the count.”

 Of course, that’s a stupid suggestion as they’re both dead tired and exhausted, but when have they ever made good decisions?

 “Bring it. After the bath.”


 Thankfully Vector and Nasch are used to sharing their space, or else they’d be tearing each other’s heads off.

 Nasch lets the water run hot for way too long, so Vector has to shower in almost cold water, and fuck you, Nasch .

 Vector figures he can get revenge in the upcoming fight.


 Nasch is still incredibly strong, and his use of warps to avoid everyday responsibilities shows in the way he’s used to them.

 Vector can’t say the same for himself, but he’s slowly getting back into the habit of fighting against an actual person using the entirety of his magical capabilities.

 (Back then, they didn’t want to further his natural talents, in fear of a coup d’état. All he knows is self-taught or learnt from Nasch, and they know each other’s styles awfully well. The more experienced has the advantage here.)

 It’s frustrating.

 Nasch warps behind him. “You’re not paying attention.”

 “Says who.” Vector dodges the attack, summons his daggers— the ones from his twelfth birthday, which prove to be more useful than expected— and throws them at Nasch.

 Nasch’s eyes widen and Vector futilely reaches out to summon the daggers back to his hands, except it’s too late and—

 “What are you doing, Vector?!” This is a familiar voice. Clad in what undoubtedly are Crownsguard clothes stands Durbe, having blocked Vector’s daggers with his sword.

Now that’s interesting.

Chapter Text

What.

Nasch still remembers the day he first met Durbe. Durbe was around 9, then, and Nasch wouldn’t have noticed if not for a lot of coincidences, such as Vector as well as a lot of guards being sick, letting Nasch sneak out of the city and into a village nearby.

Durbe was poor at the time, but he always hunted and shared his food with a group of children who didn’t have any.

As Nasch would later find out, Durbe’s parents fell prey to the daemons soon after his birth, and he took it upon himself to protect kids who were younger than him.

Back then, Nasch helped Durbe when he was struggling while hunting a Sabertusk. That’s when they first really met.

“Thank you,” Durbe said back then, wary of Nasch’s crown city-made clothing. “You’re not from here, are you?”

“I’m from Insomnia.” Nasch always kind of liked the city.

“Must be nice in there.” Durbe gave him a mild smile then, one Nasch wouldn’t understand until many years later when Vector dared him to camp at the border of the city until daemons show up.

“Why don’t you come there with me? It’s safer there. And they let you run errands if you need money.” A prince’s naiveté, of course, but to this day Nasch likes to think that the city is the easier place to survive at.

Back then, Durbe laughed. “They wouldn’t just let me in, would they?”

“They will. Come with me.”

Nasch is sure Durbe only came along that day to prove a point.

(And although he ended up being wrong, Nasch doubts that Durbe laments that.)

Nasch had somehow neglected to mention that he’s the crown prince, and so he was quite confused by Durbe’s bafflement at how he told the guards to register Durbe as a citizen of Insomnia.

“Who are you?”

“You can call me Nasch.”

Prince Nasch?!”

“Yeah, but don’t call me that. Just Nasch is fine.”

“Alright. ...Will we meet again?”

“Why not?”

(Four years later, Nasch ended up accidentally bumping into Durbe in the palace. Turns out Durbe joined the Kingsglaive for him, to be part of his Crownsguard one day.)

Back then and now, Nasch doesn’t know how to feel about that; but he also feels like being a Kingsglaive or Crownsguard member is better than fighting for one’s life in a beast-overrun village.

So here they are again, and perhaps Nasch shouldn’t be baffled by Durbe coming to his rescue, but he is. He didn’t tell Durbe goodbye before he left Insomnia; in fact, he didn’t even tell Durbe the exact route he chose to go to the ship.

Then again, it’s Durbe.

Durbe looks like he’s seen better days— His eyes are bloodshot and he looks like he’s had to deal with worse than the two almost sleepless nights Nasch and Vector went through.

(But he also has his sword drawn, and Nasch would rather avoid casualties first.)

“Let it go, Durbe, we were just training. What are you doing here anyway?” Nasch crosses his arms.

“The kingdom, it’s…” Durbe hesitates, then. “There have been complications with the peace treaty, so the queen sent me to keep you safe.”

Damn it.

“What is that supposed to mean?!” Nasch needs answers, now , and no vague responses.

Durbe averts his eyes. “I don’t know the details, yet. So I would prefer to share what I saw after we get more information.” He then makes eye contact with Vector, who nods.

“Great. My own Crownsguard thinks I’m a wimp.” Nasch crosses his arms. “My mother isn’t... gone, is she? What about Merag?”

“Maybe if you calmed the hell down and waited, we’d find out,” Vector hisses. “I assume you’d tell him if you knew, wouldn’t you, Sir Durbe?”

It’s mocking, but then again those two never got along.

(Sometimes, Nasch forgets that his mother is the only even sort of parental figure Vector had after his own parents’ deaths.)

Durbe nods. “I would. I do not know about the whereabouts of Merag; she was not with the queen by the time things went south. ...I am to accompany you to Galdin Quay. Nasch— The queen said you have something in your possession, for emergencies?”

(The day before Nasch left, his mother gave him a thick and neatly sealed envelope. He was to never open it until the right opportunity arises.)

“Yeah,” Nasch says quietly. “Now?”

Durbe shakes his head. “Once we get news on what happened.”

“Promise me you’ll tell me everything then.”

Durbe nods. “I promise.”

Nasch pointedly ignores the way Vector sticks out his tongue in the background.


Nasch sleeps early and uneasy the following night, having decided to try and not think about it too much; but he wakes up in the middle of the night anyway and—

“...to take the ring to safety.”

That was Durbe’s voice, from outside. Nasch sits down next to the door to listen.

“Where is that kid, then? How did he even get into the crown city if he’s not with the Niffs?” Vector sounds irritated.

“I heard them speak of the Oracle, so he might be a friend of Yuuma’s. Now then, Vector. I will be clear.” Nasch can hear one of them getting up from a chair.

“Oh, is it because your precious Nasch almost got hurt?”

“If you attempt to harm him, I will not hesitate to go after my duty.”

“Ooh, scary.” Vector cackles. “So. Do you think the queen’s alive?”

Nasch gets closer to the door to be sure to hear the answer.

There’s a moment of silence, then suddenly Durbe’s hand is on Nasch’s shoulder.

“Nasch, you need to work on your stealth.” Durbe smiles. “Let’s go to bed.”

Nasch can’t help but to feel like things aren’t going well.

The following night is full of nightmares.


When they depart, Akari hands them a tiny notebook. “Phone numbers,” she says as if that explains anything.

Nasch raises an eyebrow. “Whose?”

“All the important ones. Yuuma’s, Ukyou’s, mine, Kotori’s, the high commander’s—”

“The high commander of Niflheim?!” Durbe seems offended.

“Yeah, Yuuma befriended him. Don’t know how or why, but it seems to work, and it’s why Yuuma could visit me for so long.”

Nasch has heard of Tenjou Kaito. Supposedly a really powerful dragoon much like Merag, his goals don’t align with the army’s, let alone his father’s.

Faker, the emperor of Niflheim. Rumor has it he is a scientist in his spare time, but nobody knows how much credit he takes in the creation of the magitek technology.

Nasch wouldn’t trust Tenjou Kaito, but he would trust Tenjou Kaito to side with him against the emperor. Somehow, he knows that without meeting him.

(Maybe it’s because Yuuma went on for days about what a nice guy Kaito is and how he catches butterflies with his little brother.)

“Thank you,” Nasch flips through the notebook and finds some unfamiliar names, but he figures he can figure it out elsewhen. “We’ll be on our way then.”

“Take care. And tell my brother to show his face sometime.”


For some reason, Durbe takes the wheel. Nobody actually questions it, he just does.

“I admire your driving skill, Nasch, but I don’t think it’s the most appropriate for this journey.”

“You can say you’re worried he kills someone.” Vector laughs.

“What was that?!” Nasch scowls and takes out the notebook. The handwriting is familiar.

Crossed out, “mom”.  Below that, the same with “dad”.

Nasch sighs. Akari and Yuuma don’t have it easy.

Takeda Tetsuo, that one guy who always creeps on Merag. Nasch still wants to beat him up.  Nasch skips the pages with Yuuma’s friends’ numbers on them.

Tenjou Haruto, must be Kaito’s brother. A teenager now, maybe?

And then there’s Faker, but the number is crossed out in red ink.

Nasch figures there is a history there, one he should never ask Yuuma about. Next page.

Christopher Arclight.

“Guys, who’s Christopher Arclight?” Nasch yawns.

“Isn’t he the oldest son of some scientist who had fallen out of the emperor’s favor?” Vector stretches.

“Isn’t that classified information?” Durbe averts his eyes from the road for a bit, immediately hitting the brakes when he notices animals crossing the street.

“I have my ways,” says Vector, and Nasch is sure by that he means his father.

(Vector might hate Niflheim more than anyone else does.)

They let the animals cross, then they keep driving, as they saw coeurls approaching from afar.

Nasch flips to the last page of the notebook.

A message.

Hi, Shark,

I hope this message reaches you! I told sis to give it to you in case I don’t get to come back to Lucis and you might need it. I have two of these books, so don’t worry. So wherever you are right now, I hope it helps you! See you soon!

Yuuma

Nasch can’t help but to smile.

“Ew.” Vector, of course, ruins the brief moment of happiness. “Durbe, was anything in that restaurant’s food yesterday? Nasch is smiling .”

Durbe readjusts his glasses. “Well, you didn’t say something deplorable for nearly ten minutes. There must have been something in the food indeed.”

Nasch thinks he might have been a bad (or good?) influence on Durbe.


The trip to Galdin Quay goes smoothly and fast. They stop to catch and eat food on Durbe’s demand as he deems cup noodles inappropriate food for Nasch, despite the fact that Durbe himself has been known to eat them for weeks because nobody told him he can ask for food in the palace’s kitchen.

(It turns out none of them are great cooks, so they leave it to Durbe because he can make what looks like stew without burning it.)

When they keep going, Vector naps in the backseat. Usually, Nasch prefers that seat, but since Vector is already napping there, he takes the front passenger seat.

“Uhm, Nasch…” Durbe seems reluctant to keep speaking.

“What is it?”

“Earlier, you said I’m part of your Crownsguard.”

“Yeah? Of course.”  Frankly, Durbe is quite high on the list of people Nasch would trust with his life, but he would never say that.

Durbe smiles. “I see.”

“By the way, Durbe, how did you find us?”

He doubts Durbe’s sense of direction. After all, Durbe had a habit of getting lost in the palace.

“I asked a man named Mizael for the way to the next gas station and hoped you’d be there. He even gave me a ride on his dragon. He said he was in favor of the royal family’s wellbeing because they fight Niflheim, and Niflheim has previously harmed dragons.”  

“On his… dragon?”
“Yeah, he’s friends with a dragon. But he had to go immediately. Said he was feeding dragonlings elsewhere.”

“Huh.” In the distance, Nasch can see the beach. He grabs his water bottle and empties its contents over Vector’s head. “Wake up.”

Vector headbutts Nasch, hard. “Fuck you.”


Galdin Quay is beautiful. Nasch is sure Merag would love the place if she was here, and he hopes she’s safe.

(She doesn’t pick up her phone, and Nasch can think of few things more unsettling than that.)

“It’s Merag, she wouldn’t bite it before you get married,” Vector says when Nasch tries to call her for the fourth time. “You’re really pissing me off when you’re like this. Shouldn’t you be happy?”

“Happy? How the hell would I be happy when I don’t even know—”

“Stop whining.” Vector rolls his eyes. “There’s sharks here. Go look at them and quit brooding.”

Nasch isn’t sure if Vector cares, but this sure helped.


It turns out Vector has lied, because of course he has, so now Nasch is half-sulking while looking at the water. “Isn’t the ferry already meant to be here?”

Not that Nasch wants to go considering the circumstances.

Durbe’s next to him, cleaning his glasses. “I don’t see it, and the residents don’t know much either. Maybe we should call—”

“Oh, if it isn’t Prince Nasch,” a man with a ridiculous hat, ridiculous glasses and a suit that makes him look like a bug.

If there’s a person who exudes the concept of untrustworthiness in its entirety, it’s this man.

Nasch doesn’t even want to know how the guy managed to approach them without them noticing.

Nasch raises an eyebrow. “Who are you?”

“A man who cares about people, of course.” The man smiles. “And because I care about people, I would like to provide the future king with some information— the ferry you seek won’t arrive for a while.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It’s a rumour I heard. Something about the empire.”

“Not buying it.”

“You can choose to believe what you want, your Highness. Well, I will be on my merry way.”

The guy leaves, and Vector comes back. “Who was that creep?”

“Where were you?” Durbe never really scowls, but this is the closest he gets.

“I was feeding a cat.”


 

It’s late into the evening and they’re already at the hotel when Vector shakes Nasch awake at night.

“What…?”

“They have the newspapers for tomorrow already. I stole one.” Vector doesn’t look like he’s feeling smug about it, and that’s concerning.

“Of course you did— wait. Shouldn’t we wake D—”

“Fuck, no. If there’s something shitty inside it we might wanna do stuff he won’t let us do.”

“Good point. Let’s go.”

They sit down, their legs dangling in the lukewarm water around the pier.

“Why did you wait for me?”

“Because. This is personal, right?” Vector shrugs. “Not even a guy like you deserves to hear whatever’s in there secondhand first.”

Nasch laughs lightly. “Didn’t know you still had a heart.”

Vector opens the newspaper.

Insomnia falls.

“Fuck.” Nasch half skims the page, until—

The queen as well as crown prince Nasch both have been confirmed dead, but their bodies have been lost to the fire. The crystal has been taken to Gralea—

It feels like a punch in the gut. “Hey, Vector. I’m alive, right, so maybe mom’s also—”

Vector slaps him. “You know very well that’s not true. I didn’t get to look away back then, so you sure as fuck won’t get to, either.”

“Of course I know!” Nasch punches the ground. “But she had the ring, right?”

“And thirty years of bearing it.”

It hurts to know Vector is right. It hurts to be powerless in the face of injustice.  But it always has. As a kid, Nasch could just do better in school so Vector wouldn’t have to deal with his father’s injustice. But as an adult, he can’t even save the life of a single person.

Frustrating .

“What the hell are we gonna do now?” Nasch gets out his phone. “Barely anyone escaped… Oi, do you have Alit’s and Gilag’s numbers? I wanna know if they’re safe.”

Alit and Gilag, renowned hunters in the Crown City. Nasch never sought out the interaction on his own, but he and Vector kept meeting them by chance. It would be a small relief if at least they were alive.

“Alit gave me his number for sparring once.” Vector takes out his phone.

In the moonlight, Nasch can see that Vector’s eyes are red, with pride likely being the only thing to keep him from crying.

He’s sure his own eyes are no different, so he decides that this should stay their secret.

It’s the second time for Vector, Nasch knows.

(He doesn’t know what Vector gets out of helping a guy he doesn’t like.)

“Alit. What the hell happened.” Vector turns the phone on speaker mode and then tones down the volume just enough for him and Nasch to be able to hear it.

“Yo, Vector, long time no hear.” Alit’s usual happy-go-lucky attitude sounds fake like this. “You, heard the news, right? Do you think it’s true that Nasch is—”

“Nope, right here, alive and well,” Nasch says. “It’s good you're alive— wait, is Gilag fine?”

“Hey, Nasch! Glad you made it. Gilag’s alright aside from a few broken ribs, but we all got those. Has been out all night hunting food for the refugees. Merag here got real roughed up though.”

“Merag?! She’s alive?”

“You actually thought this nightmare of a person could die.” Vector laughs, Nasch swipes at him.

Alit makes an affirmative noise. “Alive as ever. Oh, yeah, bad news. She said the Ring of the Lucii got taken by the Niffs.”

“Great…”

“Durbe did mention that he saw the queen telling a kid to take the ring to safety.” Vector pulls his jacket closer.

“Why the hell is he telling you these things and not me?” Nasch scowls.

He knows why; it’s because Durbe cares. But still.

“Because you act like a moron anytime you’re provided with information.”

From the phone, Alit sounds unhappy. “Come on, guys, don’t argue. So, how come you’re together?”

“Personal bodyguard.” Vector sighs.

“Oh, true.” Alit laughs. “And Durbe’s with you? He must be quite a handful to deal with.”

Alit and Gilag originally hunted around the village Durbe lived in, having grown up in the city but very close to the outside.

“It’s okay. He prevented Vector from stabbing my eye out.”

“That was an accident.”

“Sure.”

“If you harm my brother, I’ll kill you.” Merag’s voice.

“Merag!” Nasch probably shouted loud enough to wake people up, but he doesn’t care. “You’re safe. What happened? What about mom—”

“She put away the ring for its own safety’s sake when they reached her chambers.” Merag’s voice trembles. “She didn’t have a chance.”

Nasch punches the ground again.

“So why the fuck was no one prepared for this when all of you acted suspicious right before the day of the peace treaty? Did you guys just not plan?” Vector seems angry.

“Mother said the city would fall one way or the other, so she tried to do it with a minimal amount of casualties.”

“To hell with that.”

Frankly, Nasch agrees with Vector on that front. To hell with that.

“So, what am I supposed to do? Go marry Yuuma anyway?”

Whether Nasch wants that or not is another question. Better Yuuma than pretty much anyone else, though.

Merag sounds exhausted. “No. Stay safe, stay hidden. Meet up with me tomorrow.”

“Make that the day after tomorrow.”

“Why?”

“I got stuff to do.”

“Don’t do anything stupid—”

“Can’t hear you. Glad you’re safe. Bye.” Nasch hangs up and hands Vector his phone back.

Vector raises an eyebrow. “Didn’t know you could be like this to your precious little sister, Nasch.”

“Oh, shut it. We have better things to do.” Nasch gets up.

“Such as?” Vector smirks.

“Revenge.”

Chapter Text

Their revenge involves Vector writing a polite note to Durbe with a request to please not come looking for them, as well as reassurance that they definitely aren’t doing anything dangerous.

“He’s not gonna buy this, is he.” Nasch raises an eyebrow.

“We just need to be faster than he is."

”Which shouldn’t be too hard, considering the Chocobo rental service is not working."

They drive to the closest military base, trailing a ship flying ahead of them.

“You know, we’re screwed if they notice us.” Vector laughs. “Would you rather go to bed?”

"As if." Nasch accelerates.


 The part where stealth is involved is not Nasch’s forte, so he leaves it to Vector to do the necessary determination of the route as well as destroying the generator.

Except Nasch is also impatient and sick of having to hide from the people who took away his hometown, so he rushes straight in, knowing Vector will go unnoticed regardless of what he does.

There’s few actual humans (for a given definition of human) inside the base, but the few present ones are quick to realize that they’re in trouble.

“Prince Nasch is alive?! How can that be—”

“So they don’t even inform their own citizens of what’s propaganda or not?” Nasch hits the guy with the hilt of his sword, knocking him unconscious.

He won’t spill human blood if he doesn’t have to.

Nasch defeats several MTs, until the red glow of the generator stops and Vector rejoins him, back to back.

Vector chuckles. “You know, I could stab you right now. For rushing in like an idiot.”

“You could also stab a few more MTs first.”

“Good suggestion. Whoever loses has to drive and cook tonight.”

“You’ll lose.”


 

Of course they tie.

Vector looks around. “Now that’s boring. No one left?” They’d already restrained the humans in case they wake up.

“Seems not.”

“Please don’t kill me!” In the corner, one of the humans.

Vector takes one of his daggers and tips the guy’s chin up. “And what reason do I have not to? You and your despicable empire killed millions.”

Nasch scowls. “Oi, Vector. Don’t.”

“Why not?”

“Don’t soil your hands in blood.”

“You’re funny.” Vector laughs. “Not like you would get it. Besides, aren’t you being hypocritical? I bet you’d love to see these guys dead.”

Yeah, but mother wouldn’t want this. I would never be able to look Merag in the eyes if I did something like that, either.

“No,” Nasch hisses.

“Liar.” Vector removes the dagger from the soldier’s chin. “Well then, time for a rematch. Ready, Nasch?”

“What—”

Vector throws the dagger, Nasch dodges, and behind him he hears the sound of metal meeting metal.

“Tch.” The newcomer wears a long white coat and holds his lance firmly in one hand. “I don’t have time for this. Back off, now.”

“First he blocks my daggers, then he doesn’t introduce himself— he’s kind of rude, like you, Nasch, isn’t he?” Vector laughs.

“You weren’t aiming at me?” Nasch raises an eyebrow.

“I was. I just knew you’d dodge.”

Never feel too safe, huh? Nasch chuckles. “So, what’ll it be?” He looks at the newcomer.

Vector shrugs. “We weren’t planning to have casualties, but I wouldn’t mind making an excep—”

“Don’t be conceited.” The guy leaps into the air, diving straight back down above Vector.

Nasch warps towards Vector  and retreats to higher ground with him.

“What the hell is that guy?!” Vector scowls.

“Oi, Vector. Doesn’t this guy seem a lot like—”

“You?”

Nasch sighs. “No, he—”

“Maybe you should talk less.” The guy lands a kick on Nasch’s blade, causing Nasch and Vector to fall painfully.

They dodge another attack.

“Wait, this guy’s a dragoon, isn’t he?” Vector tries to land hits, but with little success.

“So what if I am?” The dragoon knocks Vector over and places his lance on Vector’s chest. “I don’t care about Lucis. I don’t even care about this base. So will you just leave already? It’s not like you two can beat me anyw–”

“Say that again, asshole.” Nasch warps behind the dragoon to attack, but he parries.

Oh ? Then try.”

Nasch might not be bad at aerial combat because of his practice with Merag, but he’s still miles away from the talent of a trained dragoon. He manages to knee kick the dragoon and knock him to the ground, but the guy keeps soaring back into the air.

Where the fuck is Vector anyway—

Suddenly, it’s freezing cold.

Vector took the time to prepare an ice spell strong enough to temporarily freeze both Nasch and the dragoon in place.

“Bastard,” Nasch hisses at Vector. Then he looks at the dragoon. “Oi.  Are you Tenjou—”

“Kaito! You’re here, too? What a coincidence. . Wouldn’t want you missing out on my fanservice.” A man with a scar over one of his eyes approaches from afar, taking his time. Nasch can make out another person behind him, but isn’t quite able to identify any features.

Another one? Nasch looks in Vector’s direction, and he looks just as uneasy.

“IV.” The dragoon— Tenjou Kaito— scowls. “Just tell me where Chris went.”

“Eh? You don’t know?” IV laughs. “Is that why you came all the way here from Tenebrae? To find out where V, oh wait, Chris is?”

“Just tell me already.” Kaito breaks free from the ice. “When he left, he took research on the cure to the Starscourge with him. I need it.”

“Oh, because poor Haruto will bite it if you don’t?” IV smirks.

Nasch is currently upset on Kaito’s behalf, and he’s unsure how to feel about it.

The person who’d been walking behind IV now steps out of his shadow. “There is no need for us to engage Kaito in combat, let’s just destroy this base and keep looking for a cure.”

“III,” IV hisses. “That was a bad idea.”

“You… too?” Kaito’s face temporarily shows surprise, then it twists into disgust. “Why do you two still obey that man? He uses you as tools, look at your own bodies—”

“We don’t obey him. We’ll cure him, and then we’ll try to fix ourselves,” III says determinedly while pointedly covering one of his hands. “And then we’ll go back to being family again.”

Family, huh? Nasch crosses his arms.

Kaito smirks weakly. “Did he order you to do that?”

“No, but he did tell us to blow up imperial bases,” IV says with a grin, “which is really not that far from our goal.”

“That’s our job already, fuck off,” Nasch grumbles.

IV raises an eyebrow. “And who would you be?”

“Take a quick guess.” Nasch warps behind IV.

“Oh?” IV smirks. “Well then, prince , what would you think of beating the High Commander over there up together?”

Vector warps over to their side, too. “I don’t know about Nasch, but I’m up for it.”

Kaito scowls. “Numbers don’t matter, I can still take all of you—”

A ringtone.

Nasch recognizes the tune immediately, that’s—

“Yuuma,” III and Vector say at the same time, just to glare at each other.

Yuuma made all of his friends set a custom ringtone for him— it’s an upbeat pop song that was popular in Tenebrae for a while. He never changed it.

It’s Kaito’s phone that was responsible for the sound. He sighs and takes it— Nasch figures Kaito knows that the majority of the present people know Yuuma.

“Yuuma? Haruto went elsewhere with Chris? What?! Altissia? You have the— Okay, that’s good, hide it. I’m coming over immediately. No, stay where you are. This is my business— why are you always meddling?” Kaito sighs frustratedly and pockets his phone again. “Okay, I don’t have time for you. If something happened to Haruto, you’re dead, IV. As for you, Nasch—”

“What?”

“I didn’t send any signals, but I’m pretty sure reinforcements are on the way anyway. You’d  better get out, now .”

“Didn’t you just want to fight me?” Nasch crosses his arms.

“I wanted to kill IV.” Kaito’s grip tightens around his lance. “And you’re Yuuma’s ally, so I won’t kill you unless I have to.”

There’s a flash of light, and Nasch can see the shadow of Kaito leaping into the night.

“That was weird,” Vector says, already moving near the exit. “I don’t know who or what you guys are, but if at all possible, can we have any sudden fights after we get out of here?”

Unanimous agreement.


 

Now Nasch didn’t understand half of Kaito’s conversation with III and IV, but he did understand that a bunch of people are sick and looking for a cure.

“I mean, I’d be pissed, too.” Vector says as he and Nasch warp ahead, but who knows where they parked the car anyway? Even if it’s dawn, they deliberately put the car in a hard to find space and MTs are everywhere and—

“Let’s split up,” III says. “I’ll distract them and make my way back to Yuuma.”

“You don’t trust V?” IV sounds almost hurt.

Nasch suspects III is IV’s weak point, much like Kaito’s weak point is Haruto.

(Just like Nasch’s weak point is Merag.)

“Not when it comes to that, no.” III smiles and turns around. “Well then. I apologize for the inconvenience. Let’s meet again.”

In the distance, something explodes.

“Uh-oh, we should get out of here.” Vector stretches himself. “You know, this is kinda fun.”

“For you.” Nasch sighs and keeps running.

IV is following them.

“Why are you still here?!”

“You guys want to find the crystal, right? And they say the crystal can make miracles true.” IV has an incredible speed. “So I will make use of it.”

“You wouldn’t be able to use it.” Nasch dodges a few shots from the MTs who are still following them. “Tch. Vector! Where’s the car?”

“No clue, but I think we have worse to worry about.” Vector stops, abruptly.

“What do you mean we have worse to— shit.”

A huge, silver dragon. Majestic and terrifying.

“For real?”

From the top of the dragon, it rains arrows. Nasch moves to dodge, just to realize the arrows weren’t aimed at him, but at the MTs behind him.

“What…?”

From above, they hear a familiar voice. “No time for questions, come up here.”


 

When Vector and Nasch make it near the dragon’s head, they do not see one, but two people. One of them, of course, is Durbe; the other is a blonde man with bow and arrows who Nasch presumes is Mizael.

Nasch tentatively asks, “Durbe?”

“Nasch.” Durbe crosses his arms.

Vector giggles. “He’s mad.”

“No— I—” Durbe struggles for words. “What were you thinking? You could’ve died there and–”

“But I didn’t. Unlike her back in Insomnia.” Nasch grits his teeth.

“Her...?” Durbe’s eyes widen. “The queen? How—”

“I stole a newspaper,” Vector proclaims proudly, and Nasch elbows him just because.

“We just wanted to take revenge.”

“But Nasch—”

“Durbe, they’re right.” The blonde guy looks pissed. “They have a right to take revenge.”

“Mizael, you too?” Durbe sighs.

The dragon takes off the ground, and from below they can hear shouting.

“Let me up!” IV, holding onto the dragon’s tail.

Nasch makes a frustrated noise. “Should we just let him hang there?”

“He’s not your friend?” Mizael raises an eyebrow. “Then I don’t really care. He’ll be fine if he was brave enough to climb on Jinlong.”

“Jinlong?”

“This dragon. He’s my friend.”

“O-Okay.”


 

“We’ll have to come back to get the car later,” Durbe says, already in the planning stages as they get dropped off at the beach of Galdin Quay. “Thank you for helping us, Mizael.”

Mizael shakes his head. “You got rid of one of those bases, that’s reason enough to help.”

“Always a pleasure, Miza,” Vector says and smirks.

Mizael scowls. “Don’t call me that.”

And off he goes.


 

“So, where are we going next?” IV yawns.

“I don’t know where you are going, but we have stuff to discuss.” Nasch scowls as he tries to fix his hair.

“I’m patient.”

“Nasch, who is this man?” Durbe pushes up his glasses.

“Don’t know. He has ties to the Niffs?” Nasch shrugs.

“Not anymore,” IV wipes some dirt off his clothes. “And never again. Well, they can witness my fanservice.”

Vector laughs. “Can’t be that bad of a guy.”

“It worries me when you compliment someone.” Nasch sighs. “Okay. We’ll be off for a bit, then IV can try to convince us that he won’t kill us in our sleep.”

“His Highness sure is a killjoy.” IV pouts, evidently fake.

(Nasch’s eyes wander down to IV’s hand; the glove bulges a little and glows in a faint red. He remembers III covering his hand, and makes a note to ask later.)

“Deal with it.” Nasch turns around and heads for the hotel.

Chapter Text

As soon as they enter the hotel, Durbe crosses his arms. “Nasch, please never do that again.”

Nasch rolls his eyes. “What? IV deserves it. Should’ve seen him—”

“No, not that. I mean disappearing at night with Vector like that.” Durbe frowns.

“We were fine.”

“Nasch.”

“Just fuck already,” Vector not so helpfully comments from the bed— he’s playing Duel Monsters on his phone, Nasch is pretty sure.

(Can’t blame him, it’s a great game.)

They choose to ignore Vector.

“—Durbe. What did you see?” Nasch folds his hands loosely, staring at the ground.

Durbe takes a few seconds, then, slowly. “They— the second they walked in, they demanded the Crystal. The queen didn’t want to give it to them, and then everything just—” Durbe goes silent.

“Went to hell?” Vector provides.

“Yeah, that.” Durbe sighs. “Nasch, I’m— I’m sorry I couldn’t protect her.”

“You shouldn’t apologize.” Nasch scowls. “Instead, let’s focus on making the Niffs apologize.”

Vector laughs. “That only sounds cool when it happens in movies, Nasch.”

“Bastard.” Nasch crosses his arms. “So, about the Ring of the Lucii—”

Durbe puts his hand on Nasch’s knee. “Nasch.”

“What?”

“Thank you.”

Nasch doesn’t want to smile, but he’s smiling anyway. “No problem.”

Durbe seems content with that response. “The ring— The queen gave it to a boy, and told him to take it to safety. But I don’t know who he is or why he was there.”

Nasch nods. “So basically what Vector told me.”

“I don’t know about you guys, but I feel like our best bet is chewing out that IV guy and then meeting up with Merag,” Vector gets into a sitting position. “Just staying here won’t get us anywhere, and on top of that it’s boring .”


 

In the end, they decide to question IV while looking for the car, because it’s been a few hours since they infiltrated the military base and they have to go there by foot and can Vector stop whining ?

“Naaaasch. Are we there yet?” Vector dramatically takes slow, big steps after they barely even left Galdin Quay.

“No. Also, stop that.”

“The king sure is easy to anger.” IV sounds amused.

“King”... The label doesn’t feel right on Nasch. He feels like he’s far from sounding, acting or looking anything like a real king.

Nasch scowls. “So, tell me. What’s your motivation?”

“I told you, I want to take revenge on Faker, and then cure my father.” IV seems to have infinite stamina; always a bit ahead of the others. “And then I want to help III.”

Durbe, who’d been quiet until now, speaks up, “Would you care to elaborate on what you are trying to cure?”

“The Starscourge.” IV sighs. “Unsavoury disease, really. And people told me only the crystal can cure it in its advanced stages. So here I am.”

Which isn’t wrong. But—

“III looked fine. How—”

“We’re monsters, that’s how.”

Nasch blinks. “What—”

“Have you never wondered where the people afflicted with the Starscourge go when they vanish?” IV grins, but it looks like an expression of helplessness.

“Well, according to you, they’re monsters, right?” Vector doesn’t seem too bothered. “Huh… Daemons?”

“At least one person here isn’t slow.” IV claps. “In their last despairing moments, they turn into daemons; and they never get what they truly seek. —That’s what my father is about to be like soon, anyway. III and I are different.”

“Daemons are people? What cruelty...” Durbe seems conflicted, and Nasch can’t blame them.

“Do they remember who they were?” Nasch doesn’t really want to know the answer, but he asks anyway.

“Most of ‘em don’t,” IV shrugs. “And the ones that do are the ones you’ll see in your nightmares anyway.”

His expression turns into disgust for a bit before he reverts to a smile.

Fake , Nasch notes.

They’ve walked for what feels like an eternity and there’s still no car in sight. But at this rate, that might be better, for now.

Durbe clenches his fist. “—Who is your father?”

“Does ‘Byron Arclight’ ring a bell?”

It doesn’t ring a bell for Durbe and Nasch, but it sure does for Vector. “Then you and III are his—”

“Science experiments first, his sons second.” IV glances down at his glove to see if it still sits right. “And now that I’ve given you this much fanservice, do your Highness and his protectors accept my help?”

“Your fanservice won’t include telling us the exact nature of you being a science experiment?” Vector prods. “Not a good show.”

“Can’t overindulge my fans’ curiosity.”

Nasch sighs. “Welcome on board.”


 

When they finally get back into the car, IV insists on driving. Which would be great, if not for the fact that IV is a shit driver and doesn’t even tell them where he’s headed.

“So, IV—” Nasch clings to his seat a little. “Why are you so bad at driving?”

“III usually drives. Also, this, too, is my fanservice.”

(Which actually makes sense, as Yuuma’s friend group as a whole is shit at driving, too, because Kotori will always take the wheel.)

They bump into the traffic barrier.

“Oi, don’t break our car, bastard.”

“This is gonna be a long ride.” Vector laughs.


 

Really ? A Chocobo farm?” Nasch feels like he’s stuck in a really bad movie.

“I hate going anywhere on foot,” IV explains. “And we don’t have airships here. Hey, you, glasses guy. You wanna ride a Chocobo, right?”

Durbe blinks, twice. “Not really—”

“Imagine riding one and swinging that sword. Like a knight.” IV puts a hand on Durbe’s shoulder. “You’d find that cool, right?”

“Knight,” Durbe repeats quietly. Then he turns to Nasch, with the most excited expression Nasch has ever seen on him. “I want a Chocobo, too.”

“Me, too,” Vector says. “I’ll teach it to kick Nasch.”

Great .” Nasch rolls his eyes. “But the Chocobo service was unavailable, right—”

“That’s why we’re here!” IV points at a man standing at the center of the farm. “Wiz over there asked me to kill a behemoth, and I always wanted to be a hunter with lots of fans.”

“He’s treating this as a field trip, isn’t he.” Vector seems amused.

Nasch sighs. “No point stopping him now. What do you think, Durbe—”

Durbe has already rushed over to get details from Wiz.


 

With one behemoth less in the world, they dump some of their savings on a seven-day chocobo rental. Somehow, even Nasch feels satisfied with that.

Durbe immediately purchases the necessary substances to have a white chocobo while going on about how it’s like a pegasus. IV doesn’t dye his, saying it goes well with his hair. And Vector’s is grey, “because they didn’t have black and Nasch took purple already”.

The most mature king and his Crownsguard indeed.

As they ride to the car after yet another errand for Wiz, Durbe speaks up. “You know, I’m glad I didn’t take Mizael’s offer.”

“What offer?”

“He said we could ride some of the older dragonlings.”

“For shame , Durbe.” Vector sounds genuinely offended.

Nasch feels something tug at his hair.  He turns around to look and— “You actually taught it to eat my hair? What the hell, Vector?”

“Hey, hey, it’s all for the best, right,” Vector recites his own fake catchphrase from school.

“You’re terrible.”


 

They camp at the nearest camping spot, and Nasch regrets not learning how to cook. IV is awful at it.

He manages to mess up fried egg— “Kaito’s is worse” —and then compensates for it by adding ketchup.

Vector eats it anyway. “It’s food.”

Durbe, on the other hand, offers Nasch cup noodles from the slowly diminishing food stash. “Would you prefer—”

“No, I’m fine.” Nasch eats the stuff anyway. “But can we never let IV cook again?”

“Let’s just make Durbe cook. He looks like he knows the recipe for everything Nasch likes, even if he’s never made them,” IV suggests with a smirk. “And I bet I’m a better cook than you, Nasch.”

Possibly, yes.

Nasch smirks instead. “You can keep telling that to yourself.”


 

After the meal, Nasch yawns. “Alright, I’m gonna go to bed—”

“You aren’t going anywhere!” A lance barely misses Nasch’s face and lands in the ground behind him.

“Oh shit,” Vector giggles because he knows what’s coming.

Nasch knows, too.

The source of the voice is a slowly approaching, very angry Merag. “You think this is funny? I thought you might be dead, you—”

In the dark, Nasch can’t be sure if he sees a tear in her eye, but he’s sure he sees one. “Look, Merag, I’m—”

“You’re what? Fine on your own? You took Vector with you.” Merag picks up her lance, then she glances at IV. “Who’s that?”

“An acquaintance. And no, I wanted to say I’m sorry.”

Merag sighs and sits down, undoing a few bandages on her legs. “Lend me a hand. And explain yourself.”

Merag has new scars and wounds she didn’t have before, and Nasch wonders about the stories behind them.

How she’s been doing.

“I was angry and…” Nasch reapplies the bandages. He and Merag would often do each other’s bandages after practice hours as children. This is no different.

“And?”

“I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking. But I don’t regret it. I want every single imperial base gone.”

Merag rubs her eye. “I wasn’t gonna stop you.”

“You weren’t?”

That doesn’t sound like her.

“Well, I was gonna stop you, but I really just wanted to give you the Tombkeeper’s Key.” She points at the necklace she’s wearing: The key. “Mother gave it to me before you left.”

“—Thanks, Merag.”

Behind Merag, Vector and IV are rolling their eyes.

Nasch takes the key from her and pockets it safely. “So where do I find the tombs?”

“Mother said you have the map with you?”

“Map?”

“The envelope, I presume,” Durbe helpfully provides.

Nasch pulls out the envelope and unfolds the huge map. “Well, the ship isn’t getting here anytime soon. Time to get to business.”

“I’ll be back on my way then.” Merag gets up. “I just wanted to make sure you’re safe. Alit says you can feel free to come over, though.”

As she leaves, Nasch feels better.

With the key and the map, it’s like both Merag and his mother will always be with him.

Thank you .


 

Obtaining the power of a Royal Arms isn’t like actually being impaled by a sword, but Nasch can’t help but to imagine what it would feel like anyway.

He also figures he’ll likely never find out.

Vector watches the situation, more on edge than usual. Nasch gets it. There is a chance this power would accept Vector as its rightful master, and it must be frustrating to watch.

It’s unfair, Nasch thinks, and so he asks Vector to spar that evening.

“Why?” Vector readies his daggers.

“You seem to need it.”

“Don’t act like you could understand.” Vector goes for the first strike.


 

The sparring sessions with Vector become a regular thing. The others usually cook or hunt while this happens; it’s refreshing to be able to fight someone who’s an even match.

“Oi, Vector.” Nasch dodges a strike. “Why do you hate me?”

“Ask me again in ten years and maybe I’ll tell you.” Vector says that without laughter in his voice, and Nasch wonders if he’s serious.


 

The first God Nasch forms a covenant with is the King of Wishes, Hope. If Nasch didn’t know better, he’d’ve thought Hope is one of the old kings.

Now Nasch could’ve done without some of the specifics that led him there, such as a chase after Mr. Heartland— IV told them that’s the guy in the ugly suit’s name, and apparently he’s a high-ranking Niff almost nobody except for the emperor likes or trusts.

To be precise, it was a chase after Mr. Heartland’s stupid yellow minivan, followed by them losing said minivan’s track, getting lost in the forest and almost missing Hope entirely.

But Hope is there, towering over the trees, and Nasch can’t help but to feel like he’s going to be one of the more likeable Gods.

“Hope! I need your power!”

A voice says something, but Nasch doesn’t speak the Gods’ language. The sigh that follows is more than easy to understand, though.

Suddenly, images flood Nasch’s mind— A younger Yuuma, speaking to Hope; Yuuma running from enemies; Yuuma smiling. “You’re friends with Yuuma?”

Hope nods and extends his finger. Nasch touches it.

“Is that it?”

Hope vanishes.

“I guess that’s it.” Nasch can’t help but to smile.

IV loudly whispers in Vector’s ear, “Is Nasch okay?”

“Yeah, ignore him.”


 

Another two Royal Arms later, IV practically begs them to go somewhere that isn’t Duscae or Leide, so Vector declares that they will be climbing the Rock of Ravatogh.

When asked why, he responds with “You’ll see”, and Nasch really worries about what he’ll see.

Considering IV is why they had to keep coming back to Hammerhead for repairs, they really shouldn’t’ve gone along with this.


 

“I hate fire.”

“I know, Nasch,” Vector sing-songs. “Guess why we’re here.”

“I hate you.” Nasch wipes the sweat off of his forehead.

“Aw, scary..”

They’re so close to the summit, but it feels like it’s been an eternity.

A roar.

“Ooh? We might have company. Time to show them some fanservice.” IV grins confidently.

Durbe sighs. “Please don’t present fanservice to monsters.”

“Who are you calling a monster?” A familiar voice resounds and a couple of warning arrows land in front of them.
They stop.

“Mizael!” Durbe looks a lot happier now. “Then is this place—”

“Jinlong’s home, correct.” Mizael puts down his bow. “What are you doing here?”

“We just wanted to climb the mountain,” Vector says it as if that’s something to be proud of.

Mizael seems to think that’s fine. “As long as you don’t disturb anyone.”


 

“Those dragonlings look nothing like Jinlong.” Nasch keeps a safe distance from the oversized lizards.

Vector is petting them while Durbe just kind of stares at them, and IV is taking in the full sight of Jinlong.

“That’s because they’re not Jinlong’s dragonlings. He just took care of them.” Mizael crosses his arms, leaning against Jinlong.

Suddenly, Jinlong shifts. Flashing images of Mizael and Jinlong pass Nasch, then one of a young Yuuma and his father climbing the mountain.

“Are you—”

Jinlong moves his tail as a confirmation.

A God, here? Nasch supposes it makes sense considering how few dragons still exist, and how this particular one looks like it’s from another world.

“Then, what is your trial?” Hope did not have a trial, but Nasch doesn’t quite trust the peace. “I need your help.”

An image of Mizael. Then, Jinlong’s tail touches Nasch’s hand.

Nasch blinks and decides to guess. “So, you’ll come when I need help, but until then, you’re here with Mizael?”

More confirmation from the dragon.

“Thank you.”

Mizael looks confused. “What just happened?”

“Your friend is a god, is my guess,” Vector provides.

“Pretty much that.” Nasch yawns. “You know, this stuff always exhausts me.”

What Nasch doesn’t say is that the smooth progress is unsettling; like any second it’ll all turn for the worst.

Mizael looks a bit confused, but not too unhappy. “...By the way, have you taken the Royal Arms from the tomb here yet?”

Oh .

Nasch opens the map. A red X, right on their location. He’d seen it before, but immediately forgotten it. “...I’ll get to doing that now.”


 

With another Royal Arms at Nasch’s disposal, they head for the summit for real this time.

“That friendship was admirable, don’t you think?” Durbe smiles. “Mizael’s and Jinlong’s, I mean.”

Nasch nods, then he looks down the mountain.

(Such a big world, and Niflheim wants to conquer it all.)

“We’re taking it back,” he mutters.

They all just stand there for a while, until Durbe suggests that as they’re done here, they should probably go home.

“You guys go on ahead,” Nasch says, “I need a bit of time for myself.”

Durbe nods. “We’ll be waiting elsewhere then.”

Vector follows him.

And then Nasch screams. He doesn’t even really know what he’s screaming, but it feels liberating to finally get those feelings out. It’d be even better to scream them in some Niff’s face.

“You sure got a lot of anger in you.” IV hadn’t left. “Is that your fanservice?”

“Talk about nosy.” Nasch scowls. “Do you have nothing to be mad about?”

“Of course I do, but—”

“Then scream.”

And he does. “...That does feel good.”

Nasch laughs. “See?”

They keep screaming for a while— one time, Vector screams back from elsewhere— until they’re both too exhausted to keep going.

Then. “Oi, IV. What’s below your glove?”

IV’s expression changes to disgust. “I told you we’re science experiments, right?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s proof of that.” He pulls off the glove, revealing a small magitek core built into his hand.

“That’s—”

“Don’t tell the others, but… MTs are essentially daemons. My father and Faker cloned their own genes to have people to turn into daemons so they can become MTs. And then father gave us magitek cores so we’d be stronger than both MTs and humans.”

Fuck .

In a way, Nasch feels like he should’ve expected that, but in another way he’s disgusted and wishes someone would punch IV’s father.

“Is that why you never get tired?”

“Yeah.” IV sighs. “I considered cutting the thing off once, but V told me there’s a chance I just end up becoming a daemon if I do that. Father has changed ever since that Don Thousand guy appeared.”

“Don who?”

“Heartland works for him. Ever since that guy showed up, everything’s gone to hell.” IV pulls his glove back on. “This is why I need the crystal. I want III to live a normal life.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll make it work.” Nasch means it.

“Thanks, Nasch. Didn’t think you could be a nice guy.”

“I’m not. I just want revenge.”

“Well, that makes two of us.”


 

Lestallum is a beautiful city, no doubt, but Nasch prefers Galdin Quay.

IV and Vector have gone elsewhere to… buy cup noodles, apparently, because they ran out of them and IV has never eaten cup noodles in his entire life; so Nasch and Durbe are the ones stuck getting the actual food from the market.

“You know, Nasch,” Durbe says as he pockets even more fish on Nasch’s request. “You’ve been smiling more.”

“I have?” Nasch blinks.

Maybe I have .

“Yes. And while a lot of horrible things have happened, I’m glad you’re not giving up.”

“If I gave up, who’d kick Niflheim’s ass?”

Durbe laughs. “Never change, Nasch.”

“Oi, what’s that supposed to mean?”

Things should go on like this forever.


 

Traversing the Vesperpool by Chocobo proves to be harder than expected, because Vector makes a game out of trying to push Nasch off of his Chocobo.

When they arrive at the entrance to the dungeon, they’re covered in mud and leaves.

“You know, we should take a commemorative photo.” IV takes out his phone. “Just to capture how my fans look.”

“Since when are we your fans?” Nasch raises an eyebrow.

“Besides, your coat is ruined, so get in on the photo.” Vector pulls IV over.

It’s the shakiest, ugliest photo, but it’s a photo.

Nasch quickly looks away when he catches himself smiling at it.


 

Time passes faster than it should.

Nasch can’t feel himself change, but he can see it in the way he can’t help but to appreciate Merag’s weekly calls and occasional help with the daemons; in the way even IV’s and Vector’s worst pranks are a source of comfort to him.  

Losing that much, having them still be there made it worth it.

He still has nightmares every night, and every Royal Tomb and every imperial base reminds him that he could die any day.

But that’s okay.

It sure beats doing nothing.

That night is a pensive one, illuminated by the full moon. It might be because Merag called them to tell them she finished her work on the Royal Vessel to Altissia. Akari is traveling with them, too. So tomorrow they’ll go to Cape Caem.

(And then they’re only a boat ride from Yuuma.)

Vector sits down next to Nasch. “Something is about to happen.”

Nasch nods. “Yeah.”

“Think you can handle it?”

“Will have to.”

“Don’t worry, you’re gonna die at my hands, so whatever’s in store for us won’t kill you.”

Nasch can't tell if Vector believes that or tries to make himself believe it. Nasch does want to believe it, too, though.

“You’re confident.”

“Just wait and see.”

Chapter Text

Vector can’t say his overall perception of Nasch has changed all that much.

Sure, it’s been ten years since they’ve last seen each other, but Nasch still has the same poorly styled hair and the same poor ability of concealing his feelings, so it’s all good.

Truthfully speaking, Vector never wanted anything to change.

The last ten years have been the most boring and aimless of his life. He’d rather not repeat it. On each anniversary of Nasch’s disappearance into the Crystal, he’d go fight an Iron Giant alone in memory of that terrible first night, just to be able to say ‘fuck you, Nasch, they’re small fries for me now’.

But now that Nasch is back here, it’s like nothing has changed at all.

IV is here, Durbe is here, and that campfire is there.

“I… just wanted to thank you guys,” Nasch now says, and Vector can hear a quiver in his voice.

Weak.

“Hey, no getting emotional until we kick Don Thousand’s and Heartland’s asses,” IV says, laughing.

“I’m not getting emotional.”

Durbe looks at Nasch, but the sadness in his eyes betrays the smile.

Durbe knows Nasch will die, after all.

(Vector wants to say he knows that, too, but he’s not sure if he’s accepted it.)


 

When it's time to leave, Nasch tells Durbe and IV to go on ahead, saying he has something to talk about with Vector.

So they sit on their chairs, and Nasch looks at Vector.

“So, what is it, king ?” Vector smirks.

“Ten years ago, you told me I should ask you again in ten years,” Nasch takes a deep breath. “Why do you hate me?”

Vector laughs so he doesn’t have to cry. “You took that seriously?”

“Of course.”

“It’s a grudge against your family, prophecies, and the gods. You just happen to be at the center of it,” Vector says, truthfully. He can see Nasch’s eyes widen, so he goes on, “But you’re also just really annoying. The way you talk, the way you walk, the way you seem to hold your justice over anything— You’re just a dick, you know?”

Nasch laughs. “That’s all?”

“That’s all.” Vector looks away.

“You know, that wasn’t your fault.” Nasch looks at him with a sincere expression. “That you got your father killed. A lot of people would’ve done what you did.”

“What?” Vector blurts it out, almost. “Wait, how do you bastard know—”

“Who do you think came up with the suicide story?” Nasch scratches the back of his head. “I was thirteen, I didn’t manage to come up with something more believable.”

“What the— why?!”

“Because they’d’ve sent you away for something that isn’t your fault. I didn’t expect them to make you my bodyguard, though.”

Vector scowls. “You just became more insufferable.”

“I can live with that.” Nasch pauses for a bit, then. “It was hard, wasn’t it?”

“I don’t want your pity.”

“I’m not pitying you, I’m saying you did a good job proving them wrong.” Nasch smiles.

Vector may or may not be offended by the fact that he liked hearing that.

“This is why I can’t stand you.” Vector scowls. “...So, you’re really just gonna go and die on us?”

“Yeah,” Nasch says evenly. “Hey, you get to be king, though.”

“Wait, what?” Vector frowns.

“You’re the last of our bloodline who’s still alive. When it’s all over, you’re getting the ring, and the crown.” Nasch pulls out the Tombkeeper’s Key as well as the map. “ And also this. Have fun.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Because no one else will do it, and you’ll be too pissed to not do it.” Nasch isn’t wrong. “Besides, that’s your shot at being a better king than all people you hate, right?”

That does sound compelling.

“Sure, and then I’ll haunt you in the afterlife for making me put up with this bullshit.”

“That’s actually possible, you know that, right?”

“I know,” Vector smirks, but he feels like he’s being weak. “I was serious.”

“You’re on, then. I can kick your ass in the afterlife, too.” Nasch has the same expression.

It’s a goodbye, but not forever. Vector gets up.

“We’ll see about that.”