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Firebringer

Chapter Text

Ignis drowned in dreams. They flickered like old films, leaving him a spectator to his subconscious’s whims. Some were flashes of memory, others garbled visions of days both future and past. Most of all he saw Noctis, at every age he had known him and some that he had not. He let himself float, too exhausted even in the arms of sleep to attempt intervention.

It was not until he found himself in Tenebrae, standing among the sylleblossoms of his birthplace, that he felt the draw of consciousness.

Unlike the other dreams, this one was in full color. The cornflower blue of the petals stood out against the lush, fresh green of the mountains. It reminded him of his mother, of her voice telling him tales in the soft accent he had inherited. Those had been in the days before he had become a Lucian, before he took up the mantle of his father’s name.

His mind allowed him a moment of peace to enjoy the sweet breeze and the soft kiss of the sun.

It was only when he heard a small sigh that he realized he was not alone. Before him, kneeling with her back turned, was a young woman clothed in white. He studied her, struck by the familiarity that she evoked. He could not place her until she spoke.

“I wish you could see how beautiful it is here,” the woman said. Her voice was one he recognized from radio broadcasts and news segments, but her words perplexed him.

“It is indeed beautiful, Lady Lunafreya,” he said. She rose in one, quick motion, spinning fluidly to face him. Shock widened her sky-blue eyes. She crossed the space between them and cupped his face in her hands, staring up in him in wonder.

“Ignis,” she gasped, as if she had been witness to a miracle beyond understanding. “You are not blind.”

Chapter Text

Being licked into consciousness was not Ignis’s favorite way to wake up, but it seemed that fate had dedicated this day for the displeasure. He attempted to swat the creature off, but his arms had not caught up to his mind, and so only managed to twitch.

“Umbra, come on, give the poor guy some space!” The voice was easy to recognize: Prompto. Ignis silently blessed him as the weight on his chest was lifted, allowing him to groan in relief.

“Iggy?” Opening his eyes proved extremely difficult. His eyelids ached, and his eyes stung as if he had accidentally rubbed hot sauce into them. The world was blurry beyond his nose, but that at least was no surprise; it always was when he first awoke.

A smear of peach topped with gold appeared over him. Definitely Prompto.

“Ignis!” The younger man crowed his name, obviously delighted by his effort for reasons he could not place. “You’re back with us! How are you feeling?”

Like hell, if Ignis was to be truthful. However, he had never been one to make a fuss.

“I am alive,” he managed, his voice cracking from disuse. That in and of itself was a surprise. He had given himself to the Kings of Lucis, bartered all that he had left, his very own life, and they had accepted the payment readily. By all accounts, he should be dead, a morbid price paid to a dynasty of kings.

The memory slowly returned to him. He had been dying, his sight fading to black, but then there had been –

“Noct.” Ignis sat up abruptly, and then instantly regretted the movement as a wave of nausea hit him.

“Whoa, whoa, take it easy there!” Prompto yelped, grabbing his shoulders and easing Ignis back down onto the pillows. “Not so fast. You’ve been out for a while, dude.”

“How long?” Ignis asked, closing his eyes tightly as he urged himself not to vomit.

“Two weeks, give or take a few days.” No wonder he felt so terrible. He would be lucky if he had avoided bedsores, much less malnutrition.

“Noct?” he asked again. Prompto hesitated a moment too long.

“He’s – fine. I think? He went into the Crystal, and he didn’t come out.” That was right. The last thing Ignis remembered was Noctis warping into the Crystal, looking back at him from its shining blue depths. “We took it to Angelgard. Bahmut’s orders, believe it or not.” Of course Ignis could believe it. They had met three of the six personally; one more was only par for the course.

Strange, it had not been Bahmut’s voice he had heard while approaching the Crystal. He found himself sure of that. Who had it been, then?

Ignis dared open his eyes again. “Where are we now?” Surely not the Umbral Isle.

“Cape Caem.” Ah, yes. That was why this ceiling looked familiar. “After we took the Crystal to Angelgard, we came back here. To wait, I guess.”

“We’ll have a long wait,” Ignis said with sudden certainty. Prompto whined at the idea.

“For how long? It’s been weeks already.”

“Ten years.” How did he know this? No one had ever told him so, and yet Ignis felt confident in his assessment, in the same way bizarre facts seemed common knowledge in a dream.

“Ten years?” Ignis felt Prompto jump up from the bed. “That’s crazy! We’ll all be daemon food by then! We’ve already lost a whole hour of daylight!”

“I don’t like it either,” Ignis replied, trying to soothe him. The volume of Prompto’s voice was giving him a headache.

“What is all this yelling about?” A different voice, much lower, gruff. Gladiolus. Ignis managed a small smile.

“Iggy’s awake!” Prompto announced, distraught instantly forgotten. A delighted bark punctuated his sentence. That was right; Prompto had mentioned Umbra. How strange. Why was the messenger here?

“Iggy?” It was Gladio’s turn to loom over him.

“Good morning, Gladio.” Even blurry, Ignis could see the way his small joke made the larger man smile.

“Good morning to you too, Specs.” Gladio reached down and squeezed Ignis’s shoulder. “It’s about time you woke up. What were you trying to do, break Noct’s record?”

“Perish the thought.” Ignis dared sitting up again, slower this time.

“Oh, speaking of Specs--!” Prompto hooked Ignis’s glasses over his ears, pushing them up the bridge of his nose. The world cleared. Perhaps Ignis would forgive his loudness after all.

“Thank you, Prompto.” Able to properly take in the room, he glanced around. He was in one of the smaller bedrooms, one that had only a single bed in it. It appeared the same as it always had, save for the fact the bedsheets (and no doubt Ignis himself) reeked of sweat, body odor, and – dog?

Umbra’s tail started to wag the second Ignis looked down at him. He no longer had the harness, nor the notebook, but he was as recognizable as ever.

“He’s been keeping you company,” Gladio explained, reaching down to give the dog a fond pat on the head.

“Yeah, he and Pyrna came with Ravus,” added Prompto. Ravus? Ignis vaguely remembered Noctis saying something about how the commander had come to their aid. Had he come all the way to Cape Caem? “Pyrna left when he did, but Umbra took one look at you and has refused to budge since.”

Strange. Ignis had never really interacted with the dog, save to point him Noctis’s direction once in a great while. He offered the back of his hand, cautious, and received a friendly lick to the knuckles.

That was a mystery that would want for solving. But later. For now, Ignis could not see anything bad about having a divine canine at his side.

“Cor will want to talk to you once you’ve got your bearings,” Gladio said. “But I can tell him to buzz off for a while if you’re not feeling up to it.”

“Dude, he just woke up!” Prompto said, but Ignis waved away his protest.

“No, I should like to talk to the Marshal myself. First, however, I think I am far overdue for a shower.”

***
A shower turned out to be a bath, as Ignis’s legs were too shaky to hold him at first. They strengthened enough by the end of it that he could stand in front of the mirror and shave off the horrifying growth that had gone unchecked across his face. He found himself inspecting his newest scars as he did so. Nothing so severe as Gladio’s twin cuts, but much more noticeable than any he had received prior. A slash that split his right eyebrow. A deep nick across the bridge of his nose, where he had broken it in his youth. A slice in his lower lip. Wounds from his fight with Ardyn, he realized, not wounds from the Ring as he initially had thought.

Only one scar remained to remind him of his act. It encircled the middle finger of his left hand, flaring out like a starburst between the first and second knuckles.

He would have to remember to wear his gloves.

Umbra kept him company, as the canine had apparently done throughout his coma. He was never more than a step away, and he eagerly trotted after Ignis as he finally decided he was acceptable enough to leave the bathroom.

Monica found him in the hallway and greeted him with a hug, which threw him off balance just from the sheer shock of it. He was grateful when she turned straightaway to business, and lead him to the room that had become both Cor’s bedroom and office.

The embrace from the Marshal was even more jarring. Despite the healing Noctis had given him, apparently Ignis had been closer to death than he realized. If nothing else, he had certainly convinced everyone else of it. It was comforting, in a way, to see how much even the most stoic among them greeted his awakening.

Cor gave him a rare smile as they parted. “Good to have you back with us,” he said.

“Good to be back,” Ignis answered, meaning it.

“Gladiolus and Prompto told me what happened.” The Marshal’s eyes did not stray to Ignis’s left hand, but he felt the itch of the scar just the same. Ignis had to wonder just what all they had told Cor, and what had been left out. “Sounds like you did as bad a number on the Chancellor as he did to you.”

“Worse, if I may say so myself,” Ignis said. “Though I fear he was – is – much more than we had known previously.”

“What do you mean?” This was where the telling got hard. No one needed to know what Ignis had found out more so than the Marshal, however.

“Izunia is a name he gave himself. His birthname is Ardyn Lucius Caelum.” Cor inhaled sharply, studying Ignis’s face as if he thought he would say such a thing in jest.

“How is that possible?” he asked, after determining Ignis was serious.

“From what I gleaned from him before our altercation, he was the Founder King’s brother,” Ignis said. “He is not so much immortal as unable to die, but I do believe I have weakened him significantly for the time being.” Cor looked extremely disturbed by the idea, and Ignis could not blame him. The memory of Ardyn still sent chills down his spine.

“That is not all.” Perhaps a cooler head would have told him to wait, to not press the matter now, but while soaking in the tub Ignis had come up with only one viable reason he was still alive. It was the same reason that the Oracle had sent him that horrific vision on the altar with her dying breath.

It was his duty to make certain her vision did not come true. Once he had his goal in mind, Ignis was not one to hesitate, no matter how weary he might be in body or soul.

“I have learned something terrible about the role of the Chosen King, and Noctis’s fate,” he continued. The image of Regis’s sword piercing Noctis’s chest brought tears to his eyes, but he blinked them away stubbornly. Cor was studying him again, ready to hear whatever news he brought.

“There is a cost to ending the Starscourge, one greater than any of us ever expected. If all goes as the Six have planned, defeating it once and for all will cost Noctis’s life.”

Ignis expected to see horror on Cor’s face, shock, surprise. The same emotions that squeezed his chest and made it difficult to breathe.

Instead all he saw was calm sorrow as Cor nodded his head, as if this was a truth he had already long accepted.

Ignis’s blood ran cold.

“You knew.”

Chapter Text

If he had been questioned a minute prior, Ignis would have remarked that he did not have the strength to knock over a wine glass, much less take a full-grown man off of his feet. His body was still weary, weakened by wielding a power far beyond its capacity.

Ignis felt none of it as he called a dagger to his hand and slammed Cor against the wall, a white-hot rage providing him all the energy he needed.

“You knew,” he snarled, baring his teeth like a wild animal. The normally unflappable Marshal scrabbled at Ignis’s iron grip, his protests cut off by the tip of the blade under his jaw. “This entire time, you have known! You encouraged Noct, you lead him forward, knowing it would kill him?! You traitor, you bastard! How could you, we trusted you, Noct trusted you -- !”

Ignis’s own words were curtailed by a sudden flurry of activity in the room. He became briefly aware of Monica on his left, yelling something he could hear but not process. Dustin was on his right, attempting to pry the dagger from his grip.

Then an impossibly strong set of arms encircled his waist, and he was lifted off of both Cor and the floor.

He flailed, attempting to escape capture, but Gladiolus’s grip was like stone as he dragged Ignis from the room. There was a cacophony of voices, but all he could feel was the inescapable burn of fury.

“What’s going on -- ?”

“I have no idea – “

“Ignis just woke up and then he tried to murder Cor!”

“Iris, get Talcott and stay inside!”

“I need a first aid kit!”

Then there was the familiar creak of the front door’s hinges, and Ignis found himself unceremoniously thrown out into the grass.

“What the fuck, Ignis?” The shock of the ground jarred Ignis back to his senses. He rolled with the momentum, finding his feet again. Gladio and Prompto both stood on the porch, staring at him. Gladio’s face was red with anger, and Prompto was ghost-pale.

“He knew,” Ignis managed, his voice quavering with emotion. “He knew the entire time, and he said nothing, did nothing, encouraged us – “

“Knew what?” Prompto interjected, absolutely baffled.

“That he was dooming Noct to die!” Silence fell between them like a blow. Even the breeze seemed to have stilled, afraid to draw attention to itself.

“What?” Gladio’s question came out as a flat statement, his gaze boring into Ignis as if he could puzzle out the meaning from visual clues.

Ignis became aware that he was crying. For how long, he did not know. He vanished his dagger, removing his glasses so that he could mop at his face with his sleeve. As the rage subsided, the ache of sorrow and betrayal welled up in its place. He did not understand how Cor, a man who had known Noctis since birth, who had played the role of fond uncle to both the Prince and himself, who had stepped in to train Ignis when he had insisted on becoming part of the Crownsguard himself, could have so willingly sent Noctis to die.

He tamped down on a sob. “That is the part of the prophecy that they never told us,” he said, voice cracking. “The price the Chosen King must pay to heal our star. It will cost him his life.”

“No. No no no no.” Prompto looked between the two of them desperately, silently begging them to tell him this was some elaborate joke. “That can’t be right. That can’t be how it ends.”

Gladio stood silent, continuing to stare Ignis down. When he finally spoke, his words perplexed Ignis.

“He pulled a dagger on Cor.” Prompto paused in his panic to frown.

“Uh, yeah, big guy. That’s kinda why you threw him out the door.” Gladio shook his head.

“He pulled a dagger. From the Armiger.” Prompto seemed to get Gladio’s point, his lips forming around a surprised ‘oh’.

“What does that have to do with anything?” Ignis snapped, slamming his glasses back onto his face. He was bone-tired, angry, and distraught. He did not have the patience for whatever nonsense had distracted the Shield.

“Dude, none of us have been able to pull anything from the Armiger since we left Angelgard,” Prompto finally explained, awe in his voice. “We’ve been cut off.”

That could not be right. Ignis found himself sidetracked as well, reaching out into the ether again. His dagger appeared in his hand, as it had since the day he had been granted the power. He dismissed it, and called a polearm. It too came easily, and disappeared at his whim.

“We need to talk to Cor,” Gladio said after watching the display. He waved away Ignis’s protest. “There has to be more to this than we are seeing. We need to let him explain. Can I trust you not to stab him for a few minutes?”

Ignis scowled. “I am making no promises,” he growled, but the fire in his heart had been tempered for the moment.

“Just behave yourself, all right?” Gladio shook his head, turning towards the door. “Prompto, keep an eye on him.”

“Me?” Prompto squeaked, obviously uncertain of his qualifications for the position. Ignis trudged back into the house after them.

They found Cor being watched over by a concerned Dustin, who had placed a patch on the Marshal’s neck. Nothing too drastic, Ignis noticed. He had missed the artery. Monica stepped forward, keeping herself between her captain and Ignis, warning him back with a stern look.

He had to clamp down on his anger the second he saw the other man, but Cor returned the glare with nothing but tired resignation.

“We need to talk,” announced Gladio, taking the seat across from him. Prompto hovered at Ignis’s side, as if not sure how seriously he was supposed to be taking his guard duty. Ignis himself leaned against the wall, crossing his arms and staring a hole into floor. “Did you really know something about Noct dying?”

“Yes,” Cor admitted. Gladio inhaled sharply, and Prompto whispered a pained ‘no’ under his breath. “Regis told me, many years ago.” The words hit Ignis like a punch. His Majesty had known? The thought was beyond belief. Regis had always been a doting father, when his Crown had allowed it. He had loved his son, given him everything he could have ever wanted –

And had gazed at him from afar with sorrow in his eyes.

Ignis gritted his teeth, closing his eyes. It would not do to think ill of the late king. It was not his place.

“He was as horrified as you are now, Ignis,” Cor continued. “We all were. He employed researchers, sent expeditions, begged the Gods. He did everything in his power to try and find another way.”

“And he was unable to?” Ignis asked, though he knew the answer. Regis would not have sent his son to die unless he had no choice.

“It is Noctis’s life, or that of all of Eos. I think we all know what Noctis himself would choose.”

Ignis could not argue that point, however much he wanted to. He knew better than anyone else in the room what Noctis’s choice would be. He had seen it. There had been peace in Noctis’s face as he had closed his eyes one last time, the moment before his soul was scattered into the void.

Ignis resisted the urge to scream.

“Just because the King didn’t find something doesn’t mean there isn’t a way, right?” Prompto spoke up. “Iggy said we have ten years until Noct gets back. That’s a really long time! Surely we can find something before then!”

“He did?” Ignis opened his eyes to see Cor frowning at him.

“Are you sure, Iggy?” Gladio asked, obviously as confused as the Marshal. “How do you know that?”

“It seems Ignis has several matters to explain to us,” Cor said, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees. “Including how he has retained a connection to the Armiger. If you would, Ignis?”

Ignis felt a petty urge to stay silent, but it passed quickly. It was difficult to maintain his anger after how Cor had spoken of King Regis. Of course Cor would have made the decision as reluctantly as His Majesty.

“I do not know for certain,” Ignis said, “but I have a theory.” He glanced at Gladio, knowing his friend would have likely come to the same conclusion he had. “Did you tell him?” Gladio shook his head.

“Didn’t seem to be my place.” Ignis gave him a grateful nod. He would have far preferred never to have to tell anyone of his sacrilege, but at least he would get the chance to confess his own sins. Absently fingering the scar beneath his glove, he spoke.

“I bore the Ring of the Lucii for a short period of time,” he said. Dustin and Monica both gasped; it felt as if they sucked all the oxygen out of the room in doing so. Ignis had the dubious honor of seeing the Immortal himself shocked twice in one day. “I do not mean to be presumptuous, but it may be that doing so created some sort of connection between myself and the Crystal, one that does not require Noctis as a proxy.”

For a long moment, everything was still.

Cor stood abruptly, striding over to Ignis and snatching the glove off of his left hand before he could protest. He swore as he saw the star-shaped scar, an echo of the one that now framed Ignis’s right eye.

“How are you alive?” the Marshal demanded. The note of awe in his voice disturbed Ignis deeply.

“By no strength of my own,” he quickly clarified. “I very much should be, but Noctis saved me.” The story came tumbling out of his mouth, eager to be heard now that he dared speak of it. He told them all of Altissa, of Ravus, of the vision at the altar. Of finding the Oracle dead, and Noctis unconscious. Of Ardyn, and how the ring had slipped from Noctis’s hand. How he had nearly taken it upon himself there, but had taken a great risk instead, knowing that Ardyn did not truly want to kill Noctis, not yet.

The only secrets he kept for himself were his pleas to the Kings of Old, and the simple fact that, as he lay dying, he had felt a morbid sense of peace that he had the honor of doing so in Noctis’s arms.

“I believe there is a way,” he insisted as the story ended, taking advantage of his rapt audience. “There must be a way to avoid Noctis’s death, to write ourselves a different end. Otherwise, why would the Oracle have sent me such a vision? She was not a sadistic woman, by any means, and would not have simply shown me an unchangeable future.”

He looked to each occupant of the room, realizing he was pleading with them to believe him, to not leave him alone in his desperation.

“Of course there is!” Prompto said suddenly. Ignis felt a rush of fondness for the younger man. Even if no one else was willing to fight fate with him, it was a comfort to know he would have at least one person at his side.

“Well, what else are we gonna do while waiting for Sleeping Beauty to wake up?” Gladio said, adding in his gruff offer of support.

“Perhaps we failed before,” said Monica, speaking directly to Cor. “But if there is any chance we could still find a way to save him, we owe it to Noctis.”

To Ignis’s surprise, a tiny smile crossed the Marshal’s face. “I cannot say I am an optimistic man,” he said, looking to each occupant of the room. “But I do agree that if anyone can defy the prophecy, it is the people in this room.”

All of Ignis’s residual bitterness at the man fell away, replaced by a spark of hope. Umbra appeared by his feet, barking his approval, his small tail waving wildly behind him. Ignis bent down to stroke his soft ears, comforted by his presence.

I swear to you, Lady Lunafreya. Your trust will not go unrewarded.

Chapter Text

The melodious notes of the Insomnian Royal Orchestra’s Fifth Symphony stirred Ignis from sleep. He found himself humming along to the familiar tune as his sharp mind began to plan his day. It would be a good hour, if not two, before Noctis awoke. Time enough for a shower and a shave, and a leisurely start to breakfast. Perhaps he would make a frittata. It had been some time since he had made the effort.

Then Ignis opened his eyes, and his life fell back apart.

The miserly gray of the walls reminded him that this was Cape Caem, and it was no longer a retreat of kings. It had been months, now, since the line of Lucis had walked these halls, and it was a question if they ever would again. Noctis would not wake for any meal Ignis fixed, no matter what pains he took.

The sting of reality drove Ignis back under his covers, shielding him. He lay there, ambitions shattered, until the weight behind his knees began to stir. Umbra stood, stretched, and then placed a small foot on Ignis’s thigh. Getting no reaction, he pawed the man with the other, adding in a piteous whine. Ignis groaned, knowing he would be momentarily forced from his cocoon.

It seemed that being one of the Oracle’s twenty-four divine messengers did not exclude one from the need to go tinkle.

“I am getting up,” he grumbled, receiving a chipper bark of approval in turn. Fumbling for his glasses, Ignis forced himself upright.

In times past, he would have taken care not to look slovenly even on this short trip out of his room. Now he allowed himself to stumble down the stairs in only lounge pants and a t-shirt, shaving long forgotten. Frankly, he considered it an accomplishment he had managed to get up at all.

Ignis slid on his shoes and escorted Umbra outside. It was still dark, but that was no surprise. According to Dustin’s calculations, the sun would cease to be visible by the end of the year. Already it was a struggle to see the starts.

If there was a silver lining to any of this, it was that Noctis would not have to suffer through such darkness. He had always loved the stars so.

That train of thought would lead him nowhere. Ignis shook himself, calling for Umbra. The canine trotted back to him with his tail held high, as if he had accomplished some great mission.

“I do hope you have not bothered Iris’s strawberries again,” Ignis said. This was no time to be drowning in his sorrows. He had found no leads so far, true, but that did not mean today was not the day.

Umbra complained as Ignis started back for the stairs. “I will get to breakfast in a bit,” he assured him. Umbra did not seem to be convinced, but trudged after him all the same, his constant shadow in these painful days.

Ignis’s inbox lacked the hope Ignis had been seeking. A bill had come from the hunters he had sent on a fruitless search of Fortsmouth. A colorful newsletter announced The Meteor’s next issue. Gladio had written him a short note, letting him know that he and Cor were having some success finding the survivors of the Kingsglaive. Prompto had sent him a photograph of himself and Wiz working on a new barn they hoped would help keep the birds safe during the long night.

Ignis turned his attention to Brandtslist, which had been one of the few websites to survive the Empire’s vicious censorship campaign. These days it was mostly used to barter necessities, but on rare occasion a valuable book would make an appearance. The libraries of Insomnia had been raided after its fall, and now the only hope to find some of the rarer volumes was when the looter decided to unload them. Today, however, the highest brow books on the market were a series of sordid romance novels. Ignis forwarded the link to Gladio and seriously considered returning to bed.

The sound of his phone ringing startled him from such thoughts. By the time he managed to answer, the woman on the other end of the line was speaking. “Ignis, isn’t it? Of course I remember you boys. I just got your message – “ Sania Yeager. Ignis had left the message two weeks ago, but he did not interrupt her to point that out. “—and yes, I do have quite the little library of my own back in Lestallum, and I’d be happy to let you have a look-see, but I’m not going to be back there for at least a week – and so I got to thinking, you’ll have all that time to wait, and you’re still a hunter, aren’t you? I have just the perfect task for you, then. I need samples from the mandrakes of the Myrlwood.”

She took a breath, and Ignis quickly jumped into the conversation before he could be treated to a dissertation on the properties of mandrake wood. “Of course, Professor Yeager.” Her laugh echoed through the speakers.

“Oh, how formal you are! It’s darling. Perfect! Fetch that for me and I’ll meet you in Lestallum. Don’t be late!” Being on time would have required both a date and a more detailed location, but the dial tone was already ringing in Ignis’s ear.

Six help him. That woman could out-enthuse Prompto.

“I suppose I am going to the Myrlwood,” he told Umbra. The dog cocked his head in question. Umbra had never spoken, but Ignis felt it was not foolish to talk to him when he seemed to understand perfectly well. “To fetch mandrake wood for Professor Yeager, in return for her allowing me access to her books. At least, I believe that is the deal.”

Umbra answered by leaping to his feet and heading to the door. Ignis sighed. The canine was just as bad as Noct.

“Yes, yes, that does mean I will feed you now.”

***

The trip to the Myrlwood was uneventful, and eerily quiet when Ignis’s only companion was a dog. He had attempted to leave Umbra behind with Iris and Talcott, but he had not gotten a mile down the road before he looked into the rearview mirror and saw Umbra staring back at him. Apparently trying to prevent a divine messenger from going where he would was a fool’s errand.

He found himself wishing for the loud company of Prompto and Gladio as they made their way into the quiet woods, though it made it much easier to avoid the mandrakes while seeking the haven. The air was already carrying the chill of dusk, and he thought it best to wait until morning to begin his hunt.

Setting up camp provided him a short distraction, but it was far too easy to let his eyes wander to the little dock nearby. Noctis had once kept them there for half a day. The Prince had been so delighted by the hidden pond, crowned as it was by a beautiful waterfall. Ignis could still hear his delighted laugh echoing off of the layered cliff face as he pulled a sleek Platinum Myrltrout from the water. It had been a delicious catch, one that had finally given Ignis an excuse to use the rare Allural shallots he had been hoarding.

His heart hurt as he set a plate of garula meat down for Umbra. “I do not know how I am going to last ten years,” he confessed to the dog, sinking down in his chair. “Ten years without ever seeing his face. I don’t even know what will happen to him in that time. Is he even aware, or does he sleep? Will he age in mind as well as in body? Is he all alone?”

“He is not alone.” The voice was a strained whisper, barely loud enough to be audible. Ignis jerked to attention, calling a dagger to his hand. He eyed the darkness beyond the glow of the runes, wary.

“Who is there?”

“This way,” the whisper said. Ignis spotted a flicker of blue light in the distance, beyond the boundary of the haven. A demon, no doubt. A powerful one, if it still retained human speech. He was certainly not going to be following its lea—

Umbra gave a cheerful yip and bounded off into the night.

“Umbra!” Ignis leapt after him. Damn. He could not let the dog be slaughtered by a demon, divine or no.

The blue light faded before they reached it, then appeared again further into the thicket, leading them like a willow wisp through the trees. How could a messenger who defied both time and space not recognize this for the trap it was?

Ignis skidded to a halt when the light’s final destination was revealed. The Royal Tomb.

Umbra padded up to the door and pawed at it with a whine.

“Don’t be shy,” the voice said, strong now. “Come on in.”

That voice. A shiver ran down his spine as he recognized it. He had heard it before, once, in his darkest hour.

He does not care for the world,” one of the Kings had said. “He is unworthy of our power.

He cares for the King of Kings!” a woman had interjected, her tone fierce with passion. “Do love and loyalty mean nothing to you?”

The spirit who had spoken had worn a mask, one that had once stared down at him from statues and paintings in the Citadel.

The first female king of Lucis.

“Crepera.”

Oh, he was surely going mad.

“Come in,” the voice repeated.

Ignis reached into the Armiger, hoping beyond hope – there. The small key materialized in his hand. His fingers shook as he fit it into the lock. This must still be a demon’s trick, or perhaps he had truly snapped under the strain. Whatever it was, he now needed to know.

The door swung open with a creak of ancient hinges. The tomb appeared as it had the last time he had seen it, only the lack of the royal arm suggesting the king’s eternal sleep had ever been disturbed.

“My mask.” It was an obvious request. There was only one place it could be.

Ignis placed his hands on the sarcophagus, gazing down at the peaceful visage of the first king of Lucis, under whom all kings were buried.

“If this is madness, Your Majesty,” he said not to Somnus, but to the memory of the woman who must lie inside. “I beg you to forgive me.” Murmuring an ancient prayer, he started to shove.

The stone groaned, reluctant to part from the base it had lain upon for millennia. Only by using all of his strength did Ignis manage to move it, inch by painful inch, from its place of rest.

It was too late when he thought about the physics of the situation. He leapt back with a curse when the lid finally tilted free, crashing to the ground and snapping in half on the stone tile.

Oh, he was definitely doomed now.

His attention was drawn back to the occupant of the casket. Ornate finery lay heavy on top of a delicate skeleton, swaddling her in the raiment she had made legendary. There, covering her face, was the crown of it all.

Ignis prayed again for forgiveness as he lifted the mask from the corpse.

No sooner had he raised it up did it disappear in shards of light, and with it the tomb was plunged into blackness.

Then she was there, as she had been to judge his worth. She loomed larger than life, the blank eyes of her mask staring down at him. He had defiled the tomb of a king. All Ignis could hope for was mercy in death.

Without warning, the giantess faded, and Ignis’s spotlight flickered back to life. Before him stood the form of a woman who did not even reach his chin. Her black curls were pulled back from a pale face, revealing stunning, deep blue eyes Ignis would have known anywhere; now he knew from whom Noctis had inherited them. Otherwise, the resemblance was only faint. Noctis had definitely never given him a grin quite like hers.

“So, we meet again,” the Rogue King said.

Chapter Text

It was rare that Ignis was ever at a loss when it came to Lucian Royal Protocol. He had been a master of procedure and ritual before he had even hit puberty. However, no rulebook had ever described the manner in which one should greet a dead king.

His traitorous mind recalled that he had failed any test of even normal civility the last time he had stood before her.

“I apologize,” he stammered. For his disrespect then, for disturbing her grave, for the priceless stone relief that now lay in two on the marble floor. Crepera turned her attention to the latter, before giving a very Noctis-like shrug.

“No matter. Whenever this is all over, you may commission me a new one,” she said. “Without a beard this time, if you please. You’d think that the least they could do for someone’s funeral is customize the sarcophagus, but no, we all have to have to have ours look exactly like Somnus’s – “

Ignis stared. Having grown up beside Noctis, he knew the elegant stereotype of royalty was nothing close to accurate. Still, it was bizarre to be presented with the sheer humanity of a literal legend, one whose likeness had loomed tall over most of his life.

Umbra interrupted her rant, trotting up to the phantom and offering up a paw.

Crepera cracked a smile, crouching down to shake it. “Umbra. It is good to see that you are still wagging your tail. Are you keeping an eye on our mutual friend here?”

‘Friend’ was a stretch, but Ignis was not going to turn down any good will. He chose his words carefully, wishing to maintain it.

“Not to interrupt your reunion, but I must admit I have many questions.”

“Such as how I am here?” Crepera tilted her head back to look at him with those familiar eyes. “Obvious, isn’t it?” She tapped the middle finger of her left hand. Ignis’s scar itched in response. He had known to sacrifice himself to the Ring would bind him in some ways to the line of the Lucii, but he had never expected the manner.

“And the why?” he asked slowly, rubbing his left hand.

“Because the little rogue king is in need of rescuing,” whispered a voice that sent chills down Ignis’s spine. Calling his daggers to his grip, he searched for the source.

As if the shadows themselves were giving birth to him, Ardyn melted into view. No longer did he look so healthy and vibrant; his skin was mottled, rotting where it sat on the bone. Blackness seeped from his eyes, down his chin. Only the amber of his irises had any light of life. He staggered forward like a corpse on strings, making both Ignis and Crepera take a step back.

“The Ring, pretty keeper of souls that it was, is all gone now!” Ardyn sing-songed the words, one arm jerking in what was no doubt meant to be a grand flourish. “Bahamut has taken it and the little chosen one away, casting out those poor old kings now that he has the one he wants, leaving them to waste away in their graves. He never cared much for the little people, now did he?”

He jabbed a finger at Crepera, a muddled laugh rising from his throat. “Did you think this serving boy would protect you? There’s no Ring for him now, either. You, you’re just a little soul now, barred from death, barred from life, with nowhere to call home.”

“You assume overmuch,” Crepera snapped back. Ardyn ignored her words, lumbering forward until he reached her corpse.

“Do I, now? You have a lot to –” He stopped dead, staring down at her skeleton with raw dismay. “Where is it? What did you do with it?”

“That ‘serving boy’ beat you to it.” The mask, Ignis realized. Ardyn had been after the mask. But why?

“You--” Ardyn whirled on Ignis, oil-tinged teeth bared. “You have ceased to be amusing, you glorified butler –” Ardyn lunged.

Blue sparks lit the air and Ardyn was thrown backwards, barely keeping his feet. Crepera was now between him and Ignis, her shuriken gleaming.

“You will harvest no more souls, Reaper,” she snarled. “The Kings of Lucis will not serve a charlatan.”

For a moment, Ardyn’s face was twisted by pure rage. Then it was hidden behind a façade of nonchalance as he scoffed, playing off his failure.

“So you may have escaped me,” he said. “No matter. The centuries have provided me with plenty more of your fellows.”

He turned his sickly glare on Ignis. “You and I, boy. We will finish this later.”

The threat was left to hang on empty air as Ardyn disappeared the way he had come.

“You should return to the Haven,” Crepera said, dismissing her weapon.

“I can’t leave until I understand what that was about.” Ignis’s questions had only multiplied. His mind was already reeling with half-baked strategies on how to deal with Ardyn, to keep him from ruining his quest to save Noctis.

Crepera chuckled, at ease once more. “I will answer them on the way,” she said.

“You are coming with me?” he asked, derailed for the moment. She stepped forward, holding her mask up between them.

“As you once placed your soul in my care,” she said, “so now my soul is in yours.”

‘You will harvest no more souls’ were the words she had said to Ardyn. That was what he had come for. Not the mask itself, but the being it harbored.

And it seemed that the only reason he had not succeeded was that, somehow, Ignis had gotten ahold of it first.

“I see from your face you’ve figured it out,” Crepera said, approving. “The Accursed can corrupt many things. Even the soul of a dead king.”

The litany of kings ran through Ignis’s mind. Noctis had been but one of one hundred and fourteen. Crepera’s next words confirmed his suspicions.

“Mine is not the only soul to be saved.”

Chapter Text

Ignis had become accustomed to many an odd thing in the last few months. After all, he had been the traveling companion of a king who could summon the gods themselves to his aid.

Walking next to a ghost, however, was a novel experience. The 22nd King of Lucis walked on a cushion of air, passing not around but through the exposed roots and sharp stones that Ignis had to step carefully to avoid. She flickered like a candle flame, at times as real as himself, others so faint he could hardly spot her.

It made holding a conversation quite difficult, but Ignis had too many questions to ignore.

“Your souls are bound to the Ring,” he began, deciding any niceties were just going to be a waste of time. Crepera did not seem the type to stand on protocol, as it was.

“They were,” she agreed, her voice seeming to echo in his mind, not his ears. “And likely will be again. But the Ring is beyond us now, where even the dead cannot go.”

“So Noct is alone.” Despite her prior assurances. For a moment she did not answer, and Ignis thought she might have disappeared completely.

“He is with Bahamut.” Ignis’s stomach churned. He had no idea what the Dragon God was truly like, but he could not help but think that it was Bahamut’s own proclamation that had laid the fate of the world at Noctis’s feet, marked him as the sacrificial lamb.

“I am not so certain that is a good thing,” Ignis stated mildly. Crepera did not share her thoughts on the matter.

“What is of concern now is that Ardyn is corrupting the line of kings,” she insisted. “Already the Fierce has fallen under his sway.”

“What does that mean, exactly?”

“Ardyn is corrupting their souls, all but turning them into daemons.” A chill ran through Ignis. Not only did he have to protect Noctis from the will of the gods, but all of his ancestors as well? As if the first task were not impossible enough. If protecting the souls of the dead were as tedious as collecting their arms –

“I do not have time to run all over Eos on some sort of side quest!” he blurted. Obviously, he had been around Prompto for too long.

Crepera abruptly appeared before him, hands on her hips and gaze impervious. “How exactly is rescuing the souls of the royal line of Lucis a side quest?” she demanded. Ignis met her eyes with a glare of his own.

“No offense meant to you or the other Kings, Your Majesty,” Ignis said, firm in his sacrilege, “but there is only one king I truly care about.”

Understanding dawned on her face. She reappeared at his side, allowing him to continue towards the Haven.

“This is in Noctis’s interest as well,” she explained. “His road will only become harder to walk if he is belayed not only by Ardyn but his entire ancestry.”

Bile rose in Ignis’s throat. He would damn Noctis’s entire line in an instant if it kept him safe, but if they were going to cause him harm in the future… that was as entirely different matter.

For a long moment, Ignis kept his thoughts to himself. Finally he stopped, turning to the spirit by his side.

“I have a proposal for you,” he said. Crepera looked aghast, as if stunned he would dare make any demands of her. “You are asking me for a great deal,” he pointed out. “It is only right that I should be able to barter terms.”

“I would think that the aid of your King would be enough,” she said. Ignis ignored the slight.

“I do not care about the road you wish Noctis to walk if it ends in his slaughter,” he responded, voice tight. “I will aid you and the other kings against Ardyn. But only if you in turn aid me in finding a way to save him.”

“Does the world matter in this?”

“Of course.” Only so much that Ignis knew that Noctis would never let the world die when he could stop it. What he would do if he knew otherwise – well. It was best not to think of that.

The eyes of the old king burned as they studied him. But Ignis had faced their judgement before, and he did not fear it.

“Then you will have it. Whatever help I can give, it is yours.”

“Then you can start by telling me everything you know.” His phone dinged with a reminder. Ah yes. He could see what looked to be trees shuffling in the distance. He called a dagger to hand. “And please do not mind if I harvest some mandrakes in the meantime.”

Chapter Text

“Here are the books I have,” Sania said, letting the stack fall to the tabletop with a hefty thump. Those were the words that Ignis had been waiting the past forty-five minutes to hear. He admired the professor greatly for her work, but he did not have Gladio’s patience when it came to corralling the woman’s attention.

The moment he had the books in hand, he was happy to let her dart off, drawn away by whatever new fixation had come to mind. He had his focus now, and he let himself relax into the peaceful monotony of research.

Of course, research was much more soothing when the fate of the world did not depend on it, and one was not accompanied by a ghost and a magic dog.

To say that Crepera’s presence was unnerving was an understatement. She did not always exist, as such; there were long periods of time where Ignis did not see nor hear her. Then he would catch a glimpse of her out of the corner of his eye, bent down stroking Umbra’s ears or staring off into the distance at something unseen, or hear her voice with no evidence of her physical presence. She was a will-o-wisp, haunting the edges of his mind.

Ignis recalled the way it had felt to wear the Ring, how the Kings of Yore had sat council in the back of his head, mingling amongst his own thoughts. He wondered if King Regis had lived like that when he wore it, forever under the watchful gaze of his ancestors. The idea made his skin crawl. Hopefully Noctis would be spared the burden, after his mission was said and done.

His mission. The fate of the chosen one. Each time Ignis considered it, the images Pryna had conveyed to him flashed in his mind. Noctis – he had known it was Noctis the moment he saw him, though he was older, wearier – falling to the sword of his own kindred. Rage flared up in him, but Ignis pinched the bridge of his nose, taking a deep breath and calming himself.

Now was not the time.

Sania had brought him a myriad of texts, some which he was fairly certain had once been a part of the Lucian library. They were far beyond the typical Cosmology. After skimming the titles, he chose a book of apocrypha to begin with. He had read something similar once before, but just a glance at the Table of Contents told him that this went much deeper than the sanitized texts he had read as a teenager.

Suddenly, Ignis realized a boon that came with being haunted by a ghost. Checking first to make sure Sania had gone out of the room, Ignis turned to look at the empty air behind him. “Lady Crepera?”

For a moment he thought she would not appear; who was he to beckon a King to appear at his will? The air flickered with light, however, and she passed into being, cocking her head to the side in the quizzical way Noctis always had.

Gods, how he missed that boy.

“I think we are beyond titles at this point, Ignis,” Crepera said with that familiar half-smile. “Call me Crepera.”

“As you wish.” Ignis was relieved by her lack of formality. “I have a question, if you would humor me.” She motioned for him to continue. “How many did the Messengers number, in your era?”

“Twenty-four,” she answered. Ignis turned back to the desk to make a note of this. Of course, that was the default answer.

“Have you met them all?” She shook her head.

“Only but a few. Umbra, here, and his sister. Carbuncle, of course. Those who accompany the Oracle.”

“Not Gentiana, I assume?” Crepera looked perplexed.

“Who is that?” Ignis marked down her name and promptly struck it out. So Shiva had not taken a Messenger’s form from the beginning.

“Umbra, Pryna, Carbuncle, Garuda, Odin. That makes only five of twenty-four. Meaning there are many Messengers who existed once, who are gone from memory. Do you know any of their names?”

“I do not know the name Garuda, but I know of many others, and those that have met them. Sylph and Siren, Famfrit and Brynhildur –” She went on, but at the end, the list numbered only twenty. Crepera was only the 22nd King of Lucis, and yet, by her time, four messengers had been lost to history.

“Where did they all go?” he asked, looking to Umbra, who did not seem in the mood to answer; the canine simply yawned and rolled over on his back, stretching his legs out in the air.

“Would that we had an Oracle to ask,” Crepera said, gaze also falling upon Umbra. Ignis could not help but agree. If only the Lady Lunafreya still lived, she could likely answer the question. “The Messengers have always been more tied to their line than my own.”

“One of that line still lives,” Ignis realized, his mind already beginning to debate logistics. Crepera made a face, realizing who he spoke of.

“That boy? I would be wary of assuming he would be of any help.” It took Ignis a moment to realize why Crepera knew Ravus at all, but then the answer was all too obvious; it had been the Kings of Yore who had taken the Nox Fleuret’s left arm from him.

“I cannot call him an ally,” Ignis replied, “but he is also not an enemy. Something you must have come to the conclusion to yourself, considering you but wounded him.” Ignis knew all too well the Ring was most often fatal to those deemed both worthy and unworthy alike.

“That was not my decision,” Crepera answered, wrinkling her nose. “I was not in favor of being so lenient to him. The others, however, felt his love for the Oracle was redeeming enough a factor.”

Though he kept the thought to himself, Ignis found himself in agreement with the other Kings at this moment. Ravus had been an vicious enemy, one of the architects of Insomnia’s fall and the death of King Regis. He had nearly killed Noctis himself. Yet Ignis could see in him the same fire that burned in himself; what lengths might he have gone to for Noctis, if he had been in the Lady Lunafreya’s position? Ignis could not say he would not have acted much the same.

“In any case, his past and personality aside, his information is still valuable to us.”

“Why this focus on Messengers?” Crepera asked as Ignis continued to make notes to himself.

“It was the Gods who determined Noctis’s fate,” Ignis pointed out. “I cannot call them down as Noctis could. Even if I could, I would not be able to understand them. And most of the Messengers I do know are not particularly helpful when it comes to communication.” Umbra whined. “No offense meant, Umbra.” Ignis gave the dog an apologetic pat on the belly. “It seems only natural that the first order of business is to find as many of the Messengers as possible and speak to them.”

To even have a hope of doing that, they first needed to know who the Messengers were, and then how to find them.

As he returned to his research, letting Crepera fade from sight once more, one question continued to nag at him.

Where had they all gone?

***

Upon his return from Tenebrae, Noctis, still frail and pale in the depths of his wheelchair, had shown Ignis a small totem. It was carved from a teal stone for which Ignis still had no name into the form of a fox; it was a childish design fashioned from a king's ransom. “This is Carbuncle,” Noctis told him, introducing the little statuette as if it were a living being. “Carbuncle, this is my best friend, Ignis.”

Ignis had taken it in his hand with utmost care, wondering at how warm the object was against his palm. Two black gems glinted up at him expectantly. “Hello, Carbuncle," he had said.

That night, he had the first of many strange dreams. They seemed softer than others, brushed in pale watercolors instead of the thick oils of reality. The place changed, but most often it was a small pool cradled deep in the arms of a forest. A weathered dock, plain but sturdy, stretched out several yards into the water.

Noctis was always there, fishing at the edge.

This night, when Ignis saw him, tears sprang to his eyes. He looked just the same as he had the last time Ignis had saw him, pale skin contrasted against wild ink black hair and dark clothes. As he cast out his line, Ignis noticed the one thing that had changed: on his right hand, the Ring of the Lucii glinted in the sunlight.

He choked on a sob, and his king turned towards him.

“Ignis!” Oh, that voice. He had heard it nearly every day for over fifteen years; the last few months had been a drought.

Noctis dropped his rod, completely uncaring that it slipped off the dock into the water, and ran back to the shore, back to Ignis. He threw his arms around him with an exuberance Noctis rarely showed, and all Ignis could do was embrace him in turn. Ignis could smell a hint of his cologne mixed with the faint scent of lavender in his hair – no doubt from the shampoo at the Leville. He was so warm and familiar and real that Ignis never wanted to wake, wanted to stay in this moment forever.

Noctis pulled back, but only enough to look up at him, his right hand caressing Ignis’s cheek. His fingertips moved after a moment, tracing the scars that had appeared; on his nose, his brow, his lip.

“You’re all right?” he asked, sounding hopeful.

“I am fine,” Ignis insisted. “I do not know what power you pulled from the Crystal, but it was effective.”

“I think it was Luna,” Noctis admitted, his lips tugging downward into a focused frown. “I swore I saw her, for just a moment.”

Ignis could not say for certain himself. If it was true it had been the Lady Lunafreya, he owed her a great debt.

Noctis’s frown deepened, and his expression quickly settled into a sulky glare that signaled that Ignis was about to get scolded. Ignis did not help his own case by smiling fondly at the sight.

“What the hell were you thinking, Specs?” Noctis demanded. “You just about died! You had to know putting the Ring on was a stupid idea!”

Oh, yes. He had known. He had accepted his own death the moment before he had slid the metal onto his finger. It had been the simplest decision he had ever made.

“I could not let Ardyn harm you,” Ignis said. Noctis scowled at him.

“We could have fought him together!” his prince argued, forever unwilling to accept the sacrifices made for him. So few got to see that core of selflessness hidden under a spoiled exterior. It only made Ignis feel warmer towards the young man in front of him. “Why did you go with him? Why’d you go on your own?”

Ignis’s heart skipped a beat. Of course. Ravus must have told them what had happened. Of the choice Ardyn had offered him, of the deal he had struck with the devil. Seeing the pain in Noctis’s eyes, he had to wonder if Noct had ever doubted him. If he had feared that Ignis had turned against him, sided with the enemy.

In this, Ignis was too much of a coward to ask.

“… I believe it was the Lady Lunafreya who guided me,” Ignis finally said. That caused Noct to draw up short.

“Luna?” he asked, suddenly breathless. “How?”

“She sent me a vision.” One that still chilled him to the bone. “A vision of –”

A great clash thundered around them. Ignis clapped his hands over his ears, but it continued in a cacophony of percussion, shaking him down to the bone. He forced his eyes open, looking for Noctis –

But all he saw were a pair of soulless silver eyes in a placid face, jarring his body with every unintelligible word the owner spoke.

Ignis bolted straight up in bed, dislodging a startled Umbra. Cold sweat seeped down his neck, drenching the collar of his sleep shirt.

Bahamut.