The door beeps and Noct enters another locker room. He quickly scans the room—nothing worth picking up, and no sign of Prompto, Gladio or Ignis—and deems it useless, turning around and leaving just as fast as he came.
He takes off at a light jog, keeping his footsteps light. He doesn’t need to attract anymore MTs to his spot. Zegnautus Keep hums, machines whirring in the background, like the entire building itself is alive.
Then, there’s a crackle over the intercom. Noct grits his teeth, already prepared for the voice that’s bound to come true.
“Another dead end!” Ardyn chuckles. “My, keep this up and you’ll never find your dear Prompto in time.”
“Shut up!” Noct says, despite the fact that he knows Ardyn won’t listen to him, that Ardyn’s taking pleasure in the way he’s getting riled up, that Ardyn’s only toying with him like a puppet on a string. “Where the hell is he? What did you do with him?!”
“You needn’t worry, Noctis. He’s still here with us. In fact, why don’t I get him right now?”
‘What?’ Noct thinks and the intercom goes silent. He shakes his head, doesn’t dwell on Ardyn’s words. He tightens his grip on his father’s sword, the one thing keeping him from going mad, and continues down the hallway. It’s empty, save for the occasional body of an MT laying on the ground.
The map he found isn’t much help either, what with the way the Keep is built—entirely like a maze and without any of the fun—and the way Ardyn’s closed off hallways. It’s near useless, but better than nothing, and if the map is correct, it means that at the other end of the hallway, he’ll reach some stairs to another floor.
So engrossed is he in concentrating that he doesn’t realize the intercom’s turned back on until he hears a weak “Noct?” over the speakers. It’s Prompto’s voice and it comes from everywhere at once, sending Noct’s mind reeling.
“ Prompto!” Noct shouts, hoping, praying that Prompto is able to hear him. “Prompto! It’s me, I’m here! Where are you?”
“Noct… it’s you? It’s really you?” Prompto says. He sounds so weak, and breathy, like talking is sapping all the strength he’s got left. “You’re… here? You came…?”
“I did. I’m gonna get you out of here, I swear. Prompto, just tell me where you are and I’ll come get you, okay?”
Prompto coughs and he starts to say something, only for him to be cut off with a scream. It’s nothing like the screams Noct’s familiar with. Not the one he lets out when he sees a spider in a tent or the one he does when Noct’s taken a particularly bad blow from a daemon. It’s terror, pure terror and pain.
“Oh, dear,” Ardyn says, all saccharine, all fake concern. “I can’t have you spoil the ending, now can I?”
There’s another scream.
“ Prompto!” Noct cries out. “What’s going on? What the hell are you doing to him?! Ardyn!”
“I’m only teaching the boy a lesson.”
“Fuck off! Leave him alone!”
“My, such vulgar language. Perhaps you need to be taught a lesson as well. Oh, but you’re so far away.” Ardyn hums for a moment, deep in thought. “I suppose your friend will have to take your punishment instead, then.”
“ No!” Noct says, but it’s already too late. There’s the sound of metallic clinking, and Prompto’s screaming again—he’s cut off by a sob for a brief moment, then he’s screaming again. It echoes, repeats through all the intercoms until it’s digging in the back of Noct’s mind and it’s all he can think about.
Something drops on the ground and Prompto stops. He’s breathing heavily and sniffling. For a moment, Noct only stands still, not even daring to take a breath.
“Have you learned your lesson?” Ardyn says.
“I—I have. I’ll calm down. I’ll do what you want. Just… tell me where to go, and don’t touch him.”
“I don’t think you’re in any position to be making demands, Noctis.” His name is a purr on Ardyn’s tongue and he hates how disgusting it sounds. “However, as I’m feeling so generous right now, I’ll play along. I’ll leave the boy alone, so long as you behave yourself.”
“Noct,” Prompto says, broken and weak. “Noct, please…”
That’s all Noct needs to agree. “I told you, I’ll do it. I’ll do it.”
Ardyn laughs. Noct’s completely under his control but he doesn’t have a choice, not when Prompto’s involved. He follows Ardyn’s every word as the man continues to tease him over the intercom, following the path laid out for him. He fights daemons and MTs and he keeps going through hallways and rooms that lead nowhere.
Then he makes one mistake, cusses at Ardyn under his breath, so quiet that he can barely hear it. But Ardyn does, and he’s rewarded with the sound of snapping bone and Prompto’s garbled yell.
Then he makes another mistake, ignoring Ardyn’s instructions to look in a room on the way to another staircase.
Prompto begins to beg. He’s begging for Ardyn to stop, begging for Noct to come, to pay attention, to stop hurting him, begging for it all to stop.
Noct’s gone through countless floors and rooms and he’s no closer to Prompto than he was before—Ardyn speaks through the intercom, just out of reach, watching a play he’s laid out all for himself to enjoy. He watches Noct’s every move and Noct realizes he’s getting bored when Ardyn starts doling out punishments for no reason.
“Look at what you’ve done. That computer had very valuable research, I’ll have you know. Now, it’s gone forever, thanks to you. Are you hearing this, Prompto? You can blame Noct for this.”
“I was particularly fond of those daemons, and now you’ve gone and slaughtered them! I suppose Prompto will be the one to pay for your cruelty. What shall I do? Break a finger for every daemon killed? Stab him as you did those daemons?”
“You’re so very slow, Noctis. Don’t you want to save your friend? Perhaps I should offer you more incentive. Tell me, Noctis, have you ever heard a body burning under a Fira spell?”
Noct doesn’t know how Prompto’s still alive at this point. He should have died ages ago, but knowing Ardyn, he’s probably got some sick tools to keep Prompto alive. The thought of Ardyn healing Prompto just to break him again nearly sends Noct retching.
Having Prompto fall unconscious sounds like a blessing at this point, but a selfish part of Noct needs to hear those screams as proof that Prompto’s still alive.
Noct takes a deep breath, steeling himself, and breaks into a run. Exhaustion pulls at his bones, but like hell is he gonna slow down before finding Prompto.
“Just hang in there, Prompto,” Noct says, louder than usual, in hopes that Prompto’s still able to hear him. “I’m coming for you.”