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Resting Star

Chapter Text

The first ripple of Regis Lucis Caelum’s decreasing competency and sanity was the day he threw his nine-year-old son to the Crystal.  There was no explanation, and the way Noctis had fought with him in a panic was something seared in the minds of those witnessing it.

From there, he locked down the city, preventing travel even to other neighborhoods outside of specific times of day, or with passes of permission.  The people of Insomnia, ever-loyal, were unhappy but abode by the rules set for them.

That fist of regal intent cinched tighter and tighter, slower and slower, through the years.  It drove his step-son, Ravus Nox Fleuret, away from Lucis and into the hands of the Empire of Niflheim.  It kept his step-daughter farther than she would’ve wanted to be otherwise, but still present to try to give him care as his body ailed from his connection to the Crystal.

The people felt the shift in the loss of their prince, the prophesied Chosen King.  So young and already confronted with death from the moment he was born, again when he was eight, it seemed his was a journey that would be marveled at by future generations to come at how one young man could have endured so much.  Those with reason understood the Lucii didn’t waste their status as royalty.  The crown weighed heavy, so to speak.

So why would the king make the decision to abandon his child into a world of unknowns?  Did the king know more about what the Crystal harbored than he let on?

About ten years passed without sign of Noctis Lucis Caelum ever returning, until, after a very subtle incident involving the Crystal and its color, an explosion strong enough to knock out the Wall and almost entirely fuse the throne room doors in place, saw the return of His Highness.

Although he seemed locked into a deep slumber not unlike his time as a child, the Citadel medical staff were astonished.  He was in perfect condition.  Well, the scars of his childhood trauma remained, and the predicted consequence of such severe injuries being dealt at such an important time in his childhood, but he was incredibly healthy, clean, and he had a muscular build of someone who had been consistently training in combat as he would have been anyway, had things not gone the way they had.

Everyone wanted to focus on his return, but there was the matter of the Wall, that golden, wafting shield up above Insomnia, having collapsed when the explosion of Noctis’s return happened.

Already, reports were flying in from checkpoints across the city of daemonic activity starting to stir.  An evacuation of the southside subways occurred just forty-five minutes after his return.

As Regis rushed from the room where Noctis was held in the Citadel Infirmary, he passed by Gladiolus Amicitia and Ignis Scientia, who had just arrived after attempting to have a normal night out on the town.  Gladio didn’t even have a chance to make fun of Ignis having a conversation with a cute little stripper before things went absolutely insane.

“Stay with him!” the king ordered them as he rushed along, right on past.  “As well as the medical staff!”

“Yes, your Majesty,” the young men complied, bowing low to him as he moved on.

As Regis headed out of the infirmary, Cor Leonis went to follow him.  He didn’t get very far before Monica Elshett was running up to his side, and matching his brisk pace perfectly.  “We have a problem,” she said quietly.

“Yes we do.”

“Beyond the Wall.”  Cor looked down to her, furrowing her brow.  “Dustin called.  He’s been outside the city, meeting with Hunters to see if they can account for any of the glaives and guards that went missing after Tenebrae.  He said he spotted Empire airships moving in from the north and west.”

That was unbelievably bad, and Cor’s expression got even more grim than it already was.

“Do we know how they’re here so quickly?” he asked quietly.

“I’d say whatever leak we have, but…”

“…that would imply they’ve been on standby all along, which isn’t possible,” Cor finished, thinking.  “Where’s the princess?”

“On her way back,” Monica replied.  “She should be getting to the main gate shortly.”

“I want you to go back to the infirmary and stay with Ignis and Gladiolus with Noctis.  Should something transpire during which we can’t stop an invasion of the Citadel, I need you to do all you can to get those boys out.  And call the princess’s caravan and tell them to stay outside the city.  In fact, get her to Hammerhead.”

Monica nodded in understanding.  “Right away, marshal.  Has his Highness woken up?”

“No.  Gladiolus can carry him if it comes to it.  The doctors are saying he’s in near-perfect condition, so somehow, he’s been taken care of.  It’ll be okay to throw him over a shoulder if need be.”

Monica didn’t look convinced, but nodded regardless and stopped moving with Cor, so she could backtrack as ordered.  It was just as well because Cor was starting to think, and consequently worry, and the Astrals seemed to show mercy on him in the form of Clarus appearing from the side, from a hallway, as Regis passed it by, and fell into step with their monarch as Monica had with Cor.

The marshal stopped walking, allowing them to head for the elevators without him.  Clarus would take care of their increasingly insane king.  He needed to find Drautos.

 

~*~*~

 

Luna received word of Noctis’s return as her entourage of cars began to convene at the city gate.  All the same, that spectacular news was punctuated with a plea to leave, all from the same call to her driver.  “It was a member of the Crownsguard,” he said through the intercom between his cabin and hers.  “The request came from the marshal, however.  They’ve detected incoming Empire air ships.”

“No, I will not leave,” she directed strongly.  “Get me to the Citadel.”

“…yes, your Highness.”  His hesitation was obvious and, on one hand, Luna did feel bad that she would be directing the group with her to go into a potential war zone of the Wall couldn’t come back in time.  On the other hand, she had capable fighters and healers with her that would be beneficial to the sort of fight the Empire would be bringing to the table.

Within Insomnia, as they made the relatively long journey for the Citadel from that gate, it was clear that daemons had capitalized on the Wall’s lowering first.  Fires billowed, smoke pouring into the sky, and people were running for their cars to activate the specialized headlights that were strictly of the Crown City to help brighten the city, to keep daemons out of there where they could.  Some parking lots even had coordinated efforts to turn the cars there around and form circles, or boxes, with the lights strategically facing to protect people deciding to stay with them.

Luna had approached Regis a few times after she learned those headlights were unavailable out in the world, with the people who actually needed them, who actually dealt with the daemons every night.  He insisted production would drop for those within the city, and she thought him insane.  What did it matter?  The Wall protected the people.  Their cars didn’t need those daemon-warding lights.  The last time they discussed it, he actually became so angry at her, he nearly stood up at her, imposed his size at her.  He managed to contain himself, but his body language was clear, and frightening.

Had he known that night was going to happen when Noctis returned…?  It was the only thing she could imagine, that she could justify at that moment in time.  As if he lacked the words to explain, so he got angry instead.  It seemed that Regis had forgotten a lot of his eloquence in the years since Noctis went away.  Insanity was a difficult thing to understand, and Luna wondered if he was going insane because of what he knew of the future.

Was it really fair for the father of the Chosen King to know so much and be able to say so little?

Her thoughts were cut off as her phone began to ring.  Not the one known by those there, but the one she only used with Ravus.  She would have been lying if she said her blood didn’t run cold as she went to answer it.

“…hello, Ravus,” she said slowly, warily.

“Are you in Insomnia?” he asked, with backdrop of absolute chaos behind him.

“I am,” she said slowly.  “Ravus—”

“You need to leave, sister.  If you choose to stay, I’ll not be able to treat you as anything but the enemy.”

Luna frowned to herself.  So, he was with the airships.

“Brother, before you do this, I want to tell you something.”

“Lunafreya, if you intend to talk me out of this…”

“I won’t.”  She wouldn’t have been able to, anyway.  “I asked Cor Leonis to look into… the allegations.  I know it took me a while.  He said he would, because he knows he, nor the king, nor Clarus would have initiated an order of retreat.  I had to go to Lestallum for a short stay, but he messaged me stating he’d gotten some suspicions on who might have.”

“It doesn’t matter now,” Ravus insisted after a pause that had Luna’s heart starting to hurt.  “We’re coming regardless.”

Luna opened her mouth to speak, to tell Ravus that Noctis had returned.  If all she knew was correct, the Citadel officially had a nuclear bomb within its walls.

But… the Empire had made its choice.  Ravus had made his choice.

“Godspeed, brother,” she whispered somberly, disconnecting the line right after, despite hearing Ravus beginning to reply.  She turned the phone off completely, and tenderly pulled the battery from it.  That done, she activated the speaker between her and the driver’s cabin.  “Tell the rest of the caravan to stay here, for those who make it and need medical attention,” she directed.  “I want you to get me to the Citadel right now.  After you drop me off, return here.  If there is anyone in need of help, please take them with you along the way.”

Those orders were all the more profound, about halfway to the Citadel, when an explosion to the north, trained on a power supply building, caused half the city to black out.  The way the power of the city ran, it didn’t go in sectors, but rather in types.  Certain supply buildings powered light, others powered secondary light, while others supplied power for, say, climate control and cell phones.  The building struck knocked out the apparent secondary lights, with sub-lanterns of street lights going out and dropping the normal bright haze of the night streets down several levels.  It was bright enough to keep daemons off the streets still, but it dimmed out a good portion of sidewalks, parks and buildings’ window lights.

Despite the Wall, Regis had always made certain all precautions were maintained, should daemons be able to access the city.  In fact, those secondary lights were once the primary light grid.  Following the attempt on Noctis’s life, however, they were turned into the secondary grid, with the primary being bigger and brighter.

The effects of the Wall and the secondary grid going out started to become obvious, as Luna’s car passed by a park situated around one of the Wall’s conduits, and the ground began to bubble and toil with the inky blackness of the Starscourge.  People, who were huddled in the park originally for the surrounding of lights, scattered in a panic as streaks from Kingsglaive warps appeared in the sky.

So many people were going to die, she realized, and she closed her eyes.  Insomnia was the single most populated city in the world, due to it having protections not even a place like Altissia could guarantee, and she had to prioritize herself.  That was the hardest part of all.  Noctis returning meant she needed to start placing the many over the few, even when it was difficult to do so.  Her body was a vessel meant to wither for his Ascension, and she couldn’t allow the process to start too soon.

She could heal, but to fight…

One time wouldn’t hurt.  “Stop the car,” she said quickly, just as they were about to pass the park by entirely.  “Under a lamp.”

The driver did so, and she grabbed for her trident as she slid out of the car, not even waiting for him to come open it for her.

In the darkness, illuminated only by the lapel flashlights hooked on the glaives, she could see the creature that emerged was a massive, serpentine creature with the head of a woman.  Not quite the creature sent to kill Noctis, but close enough that it was ironic that she was determined to stop it.

“Princess Lunafreya is here!” she heard a little boy gasp from where he and his father were hiding behind a statue.

She smiled over to him and called, “Go to the street lamps!  It’ll be best there now!  Follow them for the main gates, leave the city!”

“That’s a good—yes, your Highness,” the father called back, grabbing hold of his son and pulling him right off his feet to start running.

The princess returned her gaze to the daemon as she approached.  Her attacks couldn’t hurt humans, which was why she needed guards of her own, but she was a white mage to the fullest as the Oracle, and that made her poison to the beasts that crawled through the shadows.  So, she gave no warning as she slammed the end of her trident down to the ground, its three prongs pointed to the sky and bursting into a white light.

The serpent screamed at the light, and the glaives engaging it shot away, around, and for Luna’s side when they realized what was happening.  They too would know they couldn’t be harmed, but they could protect her back as she focused on the daemon itself.

“Nice to see you, ma’am,” one said as he landed next to her.

“And you,” she replied calmly, despite the furious look in her eyes.  “Please, don’t worry.  This will be quick.”

 

~*~*~

 

Cor found himself pausing as he approached Titus Drautos, something catching his eye from outside.  In the distance, a column of light erupted through the darkness quickly enveloping the city, and he knew that light well.  It was so bright, so tall, it illuminated buildings and the clouds around it, at least by a mile.

He hadn’t expected Luna to simply adhere to his request, but he also had hoped she wouldn’t get out of the car before arriving to the Citadel.  Damn it.

He proceeded on to where Drautos was barking orders to his glaives, with the one who salvaged Noctis from the throne room standing nearby and looking eager to get orders himself.  It was something Cor sympathized with.  Prior to his and Clarus taking charge of the Crownsguard, they operated on a purely order-based system.  One didn’t breathe without being told they had permission.  It was an inefficient way of running things, they both felt.  If a commander was killed in battle, empowering the troops to command in the commander’s stead was the best way.  Of course, the warworn Kingsglaive was a different beast, but…

“We need to speak,” Cor hissed to Drautos once he got in to his side.

“One minute—”

“All of you, get to evacuating the Citadel,” Cor ordered the rest of the glaives, while grabbing hold of Drautos’s arm.  “Evacuate them with orders to leave the city as fast as possible.”

Although confused, the glaives agreed so they could get the hell away from whatever dispute was clearly about to go down between the two leaders.  Cor looked over to Nyx.  “Princess Lunafreya’s in the city,” he directed.  “Find her and stay with her.”  He’d put himself on a priority list with how he handled Noctis, so Cor would be fine with that.

“Sir.”

Nyx bowed and hustled away as well, for much the same reason as the others, even though he was a bit curious.  It wasn’t his business, ultimately.

Once the area was clear, Drautos ripped his arm free and glared at Cor.  “Explanation?” he snapped.

“The Empire’s on their way in, as if they were waiting for something like this,” Cor said, his phrasing very deliberate for as awkward as it might have sounded.

“Hardly surprising,” Drautos replied glumly.  “After all, I’ve been telling you people for months that we’ve been having increasing issues holding them back.”

“If you were having such a hard time that they were able to lurk over the horizon, waiting for a breach in the Wall, you should have requested a draft, and assistance from the Crownsguard.”

“Perhaps if I didn’t have to write out a formal request and sign it in the blood of a newborn, it’d have happened,” the captain snapped, moving from Cor, and slamming his shoulder against the marshal’s as he tried to move past.

Cor let the hit slide, but then said, “I’ve become aware of some information.”  Drautos stopped and looked over his shoulder at Cor, but said nothing.  “Of an order of post abandonment the day before Tenebrae was annexed, to both glaives and guards stationed there.”

Still, Drautos said nothing.

“It implies someone knew the attack was incoming.  I would like to believe it was less about assisting the Empire and more about saving lives,” he said.  “But the problem is that I’ve cleared Claurus, and I know I never passed an order like that.  Neither would the king.  For all his faults, the queen was dear to him, as friend, wife and Oracle.  That leaves only one person who would have had the ability, the resources, to put out an order that appeared to have come from the king to retreat.”

There was a fair bit of silence, before Drautos was snorting and turning to reply.  “I’ve always liked you, marshal.  You’re strong in your allegiances and convicted in always having the truth in the open, and what you know you have to do for your people.  But when does the sacrifice of the men and women sworn in to protect the majority and the leadership start to outweigh the need to protect?”

Cor listened, his face stone.  He felt that was a confession, but to what end was his betrayal?  He was claiming it was for the lives of the people who served under them, but was it really?

“That doesn’t cover why it happened the day before the attack,” Cor pointed out.  “That’s awfully convenient.  About as convenient as the Kingsglaive not spotting Empirical forces lurking and waiting for a breach like this.”

Drautos nodded, eyes focused tight on Cor’s face.  “Unlike the Crownsguard, the Kingsglaive are beholden to the people first, not the king.  Especially not to a king that would feed the only hope we would have to bring an end to half our troubles in this world to an unknown entity instead of allowing the process to move naturally.”

“Awfully seditious,” Cor pointed out darkly.  “Especially now that the prince is back.”

“And he won’t be harmed.”

In a flash, Drautos was stripping his sword from his sheath, allowing the velocity of doing so to slam the hilt right into Cor’s solar plexus.  The marshal lost the air in his lungs as he stumbled back, and reached for his own katana; he took to simply ceasing breathing altogether so gasping for air wouldn’t knock his concentration off balance.

That pause from the blow was enough time, however, for Drautos to lift his free hand up and slam Cor in the face with a powerful blast of magic.  It was the kind of magic that the glaives had exclusive to them.  Not elemental, not black, not white, but a neutral magic that did nothing more than throw a body back by about fifteen feet, like getting hit with a car.

Cor hit the floor and rolled, and his body automatically started breathing on him, causing him to gasp and and choke while trying to get his bearings.

“Don’t worry, Leonis,” Drautos advised, turning on his heel, ready to depart before Cor could stand again.  “Things will work out in the end.  If you play your cards right, you might be alive to see it.”

Chapter Text

“He’s grown so much.”

“He’s still short, though.”

“I don’t understand why he’s sleeping, but I’m glad it appears he’s been taken care of.”  Ignis Scientia looked over at Gladiolus Amicitia, who was standing and looking out the infirmary room window.  The older and larger young man had been anxious since they stepped in there, and Ignis couldn’t figure out why.  “Are you alright?”

There was a part of him that worried that all connection as the King’s Shield had been severed over the years, and Gladio’s mind was on the people outside.  The city was starting to burn under the weight of attacks from both daemons and airships Monica Elshett had confirmed were Imperial.  It’d be understandable, but still distressing.  It’d been a long time, and a Shield and his prince needed years to bond and become brothers; years Gladio didn’t get, where Ignis at least got some.

“If the Empire makes it to the Citadel, we’re gonna need to get him out of here,” Gladio replied, looking to Ignis.  “But I’m not sure if we’ll be able to make that run successfully.”

“With Monica at our side, I’m certain we can.”

Gladio snorted at the positivity, and looked back out the window, arms folded over his chest.  “Wonder what Noct’s gonna say when I tell him you were talking with a stripper.”  Ignis glared at Gladio, who managed to crack out a grin because he didn’t need to look at the steward to know he was glaring.  “She was cute.”

“I hardly noticed,” Ignis replied, haughty.

“Yeah, okay.”

“She was intelligent.”

“That’s definitely not something a guy normally says about a stripper,” Gladio admitted.  Though, immediately after saying that, he amended that with, “Oh, right, we’re talking about you, not a normal guy.  You probably gave her your number in case she gets into trouble in all this.”  When Ignis didn’t respond with a denial, Gladio shot a wide-eyed look over at him.  “You didn’t.  Did you?”

“I’m invoking my right to silence.”

That made Gladio laugh out and he shook his head.  “Be careful.  The smart ones are usually thieves.”

“That’s a hell of a bloody stereotype,” Ignis called out.

“No, that’s experience with a missing watch talking.”

You spend too much time around those places, then.”

“Boys, really?” Monica asked as she leaned in from where she posted herself, just outside the door.  “Is this the sort of argument you want to have around the prince?  The doctors think he’s in a coma, which means there’s a good chance he can hear you.”

Gladio smirked, while Ignis frowned.  “You’re right, Monica,” Ignis conceded, bowing his head.  “Our apologies.”

“Oh, trust me, I’ve heard worse,” she mused.  “I’ve been a soldier since the both of you were in diapers.”  She knew how the chivalry game worked.  Insomnian men were charming in how they managed to balance chivalry with their respect of women fighters, in her opinion, so she’d never berate them.  Especially when it came to the two harmless boys in that room.

“I have a question,” Ignis continued, allowing Monica’s dismissal without argument.  She nodded her permission for him to ask.  “Did the doctors notice anything promising when they tested him for responses?”

“Yeah,” she confirmed.  “He responded to stimuli on his feet and hands, and his eyes reacted to light.  They think that the shock of returning here might’ve knocked him unconscious.  They did try smelling salts, I think, but—”

Her words were cut off when the entire Citadel rocked violently, an explosion thundering through the walls and knocking out the window right in front of Gladio.  It was only because he was looking over at Monica that he didn’t get glass blasting into his face.  It did tear through his back and into his skin, but outside of a wince and a grunt, he didn’t show how much that actually hurt.

Instead, he rushed over to scoop Noctis up from his bed.  “What’s the best way out?” he asked quickly.

“We ought take service elevators on the south side of the building to the garage,” Ignis replied, just as fast speaking.

“We can go to my place—”

“No, we should go for Prompto’s,” Ignis interrupted, hurrying for the door.  “Once we’ve got Noct safe, I’ll help you get to your sister.”

“Lead the way,” Monica said, holding out her hands so that a long epee could appear in one hand, and the other arm could materialize a shield.  Monica was a petite and narrow-framed woman, so the epee was a particularly savvy weapon.  It was the same weapon class as Gladio had been teaching Lunafreya, although for her, he’d selected the rapier.  The rapier had more immediate damage value, but the epee—when wielded by someone with expert precision as Monica could—could deliver a fatal strike without the recipient realizing during an adrenaline rush.  So, despite its small presence, neither young man doubted how she could cover them. “Quickly, but so that I may catch up if we come into danger from the front.  Gladiolus, take center.”

“Right away,” Ignis complied as Gladio nodded in confirmation.

Outside the infirmary, chaos was breaking out all around them.  Medical staff had been abuzz within as they departed, already waiting for incoming casualties and possible fatalities, so seeing the chaos outside the infirmary was… sad, but not surprising.  No one had ever really thought about if the Empire had managed to invade the city.

Ignis had a grim thought as he navigated the chaos, that perhaps the king had foreseen that day, and perhaps that was why he had been so overly vigilant about his lockdown of Insomnia.  Perhaps it was a case of his not knowing the day, not knowing the hour, but knowing that the moment Noctis returned, they would be at their most vulnerable.

Perhaps, when he regained consciousness, Noctis would know, but Ignis realized he had no room for theorizing in that moment.  He needed to keep his eyes on the situation before them.

Through the chaos, to the service elevator, Ignis was quick to hit the call button.  The dial up top indicated it had quite a few floors to descend before reaching them, so he turned to Gladio.  “Do you need me to take over?” he asked.

“No, I got it, Iggy,” Gladio assured as he adjusted the sleeping prince in his arms a bit.  “What good of a Shield would I be if I couldn’t carry his dead weight half a mile?”

“You do have a point,” Ignis replied passively.  As yet another thought crossed him, it ended up being a more productive one, and that was reaching out to Prompto to make certain he was home.

He drew his phone as the elevator opened, and he intended to text Prompto on the way down, but stopped dead when he saw a familiar face standing in the elevator, with a not-so-familiar face.

“Ravus,” he breathed, pulling back, more in front of Gladio and Noctis.

“I had to figure you’d be heading for this direction,” Ravus said.  He stood tall and proud, adorned with the emblems of both his home and of the Empire, on a coat of white.  For once, he was absolutely everything opposite of King Regis.  Niflheim had treated him well.  “I see he truly is back,” he commented, looking at what little of Noctis he could see from around the steward.

“We cannot relinquish him to you,” Ignis advised strongly.  “Not with your allegiance as it is now.”

“He’s not going to be harmed, Ignis,” Ravus replied.  He noticed Monica as she stepped out from behind Gladio.  She was clearly torn.  He was still the step-son of Regis, and although things had ended in bitterness and finality between the king and the prince, Regis had never formally declared him an enemy of the state.  “You don’t need to be harmed, either, Monica.”

“Your people are attacking,” she pointed out.  “In case you haven’t noticed.”

“We only want the prince and the Crystal.  But since we know neither will be obtainable without a fight, we’ve skipped the formalities,” Ravus explained, calm but dire.  “I know the Crownsguard and the Kingsglaive have no say in who their enemies are; the King does.  So too do the Emperor and the Chancellor of Niflheim.  The military forces have orders to only take down those who pose a risk to this takeover.  Which is why I ask that you not resist.  Cooperate, and you’ll be unharmed.”  The harsh looks, the tense body language that said they were ready to fight, and it was all discouraging and made Ravus sigh.  “What you’ve been told is going on isn’t the truth.”

“You would say that,” Gladio accused, narrowing his eyes.  “You really expect us to believe it?”

“No, I suppose not.”

“Your Highness,” Monica addressed then, her tone diplomatic even though she had yet to release her shield and weapon.  “I have to ask: What is it that swayed you to side with those who took Tenebrae, and your mother?”

“I suppose I can’t expect you to trust me,” Ravus said looking to the side in thought, and as if Monica hadn’t said a thing.  It irritated Ignis and Gladio, honestly.  “There’s no way I can allow you onto this elevator with the prince,” he said after a thoughtful pause.  He straightened himself and squared his shoulders, looking between the three.  “Therefore, I’ll make a deal.”

“A deal,” Ignis echoed, getting a nod from Ravus.

“Ignis, you go.  Leave Monica, Gladiolus and Noctis here.  I’ll assure their safety.  In your freedom, look deeper into the Astral War.  What you seek isn’t within Insomnia, but abroad.”

“Let us go all, and we’ll do so,” Ignis pressed back, an explosion down the way making him nervous.  He wasn’t certain of their ability to fight Ravus of all people, but it was coming down to that being the only option they had.  “If there’s a reason we should trust the Empire over our own, and we find it, we’ll return.  But I’m sorry, I can’t—we cannot leave Noctis here.”

Ravus sighed with a shake of his head.  With that line drawn from Ignis, he clearly felt he had no choice but to draw his sword and swing it fast and hard around, in front of him.  There was no way, at the distance he was, that he would hit them with the blade.  However, he didn’t need to.  While not nearly as astute in magic as his sister, Ravus still had the blood of the Oracle in his veins, and could create the next Oracle in marriage if it so needed to be, and he displayed that power through a shockwave of white and blue, gold and green, each color translucent and neon and vibrating through one another.  It shot forward, and slammed into all three, knocking them across the hall.  The only reason Gladio managed to hang on to Noctis through the force was because Monica managed to get between him and the attack just in time, and held her shield up, vertically to match Noctis’s position in his arms.

Still, the mere impact of him against the corner of the elevator’s shaft door on that other side, and Monica against him, nearly had Gladio dropping him.  Blunt force to the back was always horrific and painful.

“I’ll make you see who the true enemy is here,” Ravus announced grimly, raising his sword for another blast attack.  “I’ll make you see the truth here.”

He swept the sword down once again, another powerful wave forcing its way through the air, and again, Monica did her best from the floor to shield the boys behind her.  The attack itself was just as brutal as the last, but it was also laced with a spell to push them into unconsciousness.

It was a sleep spell, and Ignis realized Ravus really was simply trying to disable them, rather than to actually hurt them.  He didn’t have much time, as his entire body grew heavy and his vision blurred, to really reflect upon that realization, but it was there.

“Please—don’t let them hurt him—” he outright begged of the prince, words slurring heavily.

“They won’t, Ignis.”  Ravus sounded so confident of that as he watched expectantly.  “The enemy…”

That sentence went unheard, as the cast on Ignis took full hold, and he fell into a deep sleep, slumping back against the wall he’d landed against.

 

~*~*~

 

In the middle of the increasing number of daemons cropping up throughout the city, Lunafreya continued to do her best to cast them away and allow those trying to get to light and safety a way through.  She feared no daemon, but when she saw the airships start to fly in, things became compromising.  Prior Oracles had proven the skillset bestowed unto that position were combat-worthy against daemons, but nothing else.

That was bad enough, but what came next was something she was unsure she could handle, and it came with the sound of a roaring horn, organic but unnatural. Unidentifiable.

She slowly turned in the direction she felt it come from, as the blast came with a shockwave strong enough to make her stumble.  She wasn’t the only one, the people she was trying to help to shelter turning in the same direction.  In doing so, she didn’t even notice the fact that Nyx Ulric was landing out of a warp just behind her, where she had been facing previously.

Towering high above most, if not all, the buildings within Insomnia, save the Citadel itself, was a creature oozing with daemonic presence.  Armor plated, dragon-like, and foreign, unlike anything anyone had seen in the past.  Luna, someone who was taught from a very young age about every known variant of daemon in the world, had never seen anything like it before.

But she could tell it was a daemon.  It felt like one, its mannerisms screamed of one, and—

“It’s wearing Magitek,” Nyx said from behind her, as shell shocked as she was.

She slowly turned her head, and frowned just slightly at him.  She knew his voice from prior and better days, so even though he had his face guard pulled up over his mouth and nose, she could tell it was him.

“…what do we do?”

He was silent for a moment, his racing mind clear in his eyes.  That silence seemed to go on for an eternity.  Just when she was about to ask if he was still with her, he raised his hand up to a communication piece in his ear.

“This is Ulric. … Yeah.  We need to evacuate the city,” he said, looking at Luna.

She nodded and hurried for a couple of men who had taken to helping her herd others.  A man named Harold, and a man named Federico, both from Altissia.  They bowed as she approached, but she quickly urged them straight.  “We need to evacuate,” she said quickly.  “Start urging people to make for the fastest route out of the main city, to the suburbs to start, but they must get out of Insomnia entirely.”

“Understood, your Highness,” Federico said quickly.  He frowned slightly and then added, “Good luck.”

“Thank you, and you as well,” she replied to the young man, holding a soft smile.  “Encourage them to find stores, even if they have to break into them, and get lapel deterrent lights at the very least.”  There was little time for a thing like ‘laws’, in her opinion.

“Got it.”

As they took off to do as they were told, and Luna turned back to Nyx, he let out a, “Shit,” in quiet distress.

“What is it?” she asked with a frown.

“Two more are reported to have been seen off the east and south coasts,” he said, lowering his hand.  “And… Prince Ravus has apparently taken Prince Noctis, Gladiolus, Ignis and and a member of the Crownsguard, Monica, hostage.”

“So… he’s truly returned?”

“Yeah, and I’ve got questions, but we need to get you outta the city, too,” Nyx insisted, stepping forward with the intent of taking her and guiding her off.

She stepped back, just out of his grasp.  “I will not leave,” she said firmly.  She loathed taking the tone of a pushy princess, but it was warranted then.  “I need to get to my step-brother.”

“It’s too dangerous,” Nyx insisted.  “You—”

“Listen to me.”  Luna stepped in close to him then, looking him right in the eyes.  Even though he was so much taller and larger than she was, she carried herself like someone completely unconcerned.  “We are watching the prophecy to which Noctis is tied come to life this very moment,” she whispered viciously.  “My duty as his Oracle is to be by his side.  I will go to the Citadel.  If you help me, that’s better, but I will not depend solely on it.”

Nyx stared at her for the longest moment, before throwing up a hand in flabbergasted surrender.  “Fine, but can your white magic do anything if we come up against the big guys?”

“No more than your black magic,” she admitted.  “I’ve not fought anything greater than a red giant.”

“Then if we’re doing this, I need you to do what I say, when I say it,” he stipulated, his tone leaving no room for argument.  “I can’t keep you safe if you don’t work with me.”

“I will follow your guidance,” she agreed.

Nyx sighed and nodded.  “Alright.  We’re going to the subway.  It’s close quarters, but if you can keep your light going for a long time…?”

“I can,” Luna confirmed with a nod.

“Then I can fight off whatever decides to push in a lot easier there.”

Luna nodded in agreement again, confident in the both of them where Nyx was vastly less so, but he would do everything in his power to keep her safe and get her to the Citadel as she so wished.

He hoped she would be able to fill in what the hell Ifrit was doing in the throne room at the time of the prince’s return…

 

~*~*~

 

When the colossal daemon announced its presence over in downtown, that trumpeting could be heard and felt clear out to the city suburb of Prompto’s home.  The already panicked neighbors started running out of their homes, to their cars, down the street, anywhere to try to escape.  Prompto frowned and stayed where he was, in the front room of his home, because the monster, whose shoulders seemed to be armored with epaulettes of jaws and fire from where he was, was making its way clear past their neighborhood, and there were daemons skittering through the darkness of the houses.  He could even see them on his own porch, the light of which had burned out mere days prior and he just hadn’t gotten around to replacing them because he had been so busy.

While the cracking of limbs and the chattering of teeth, and the occasional sigh from the small creatures on his dark patio were disturbing, he managed to stay calm after turning all the lights on in his house.  He had a pistol on hand, one blessed by the Magic of the King so it would never run out of bullets, so he could hold out until the daylight, he assured himself.

He did try to get pictures, flashing the camera at the window.  The results were the sorts of things they’d use in horror movies, honestly.  The reflection of the flash overpowered much of the creatures beyond, but just enough could be seen in their frantic recoil to show inhuman features.  A few pictures, their hands were against the lower part of the window, and it was so creepy.

Other than that, he didn’t do much, because it was safe indoors.  So confident in that fact, he didn’t plan for when the power suddenly died.  Every house, every floodlight neighbors had thrown out windows in an attempt to brighten the outdoors, went out all at once, and he realized the titanic creature likely took out the power grid just by walking its way to wherever it was headed.

It’d only be a matter of time before daemons started entering the homes that were then safe for them.

“W-Well…”  He frowned a little, as he pulled his camera strap over his head and grabbed up his pistol and holster.  He wasn’t fully initiated into the Crownsguard, so he couldn’t do the nifty things Ignis and Gladiolus could, with materializing weapons out of thin air—however that worked—so he had to physically carry the weapon.  “Guess I gotta make a run for it,” he said to himself, murmuring it.

He realized, as he got to the door, that he’d have to go out shooting, and that he should likely follow some of the neighbors to help keep them safe.  They all went in all manner of directions, so he’d just have to wing it, and whatever direction he ended up going, he’d just help whoever he could along the way, and maybe he’d find a way to head for the Citadel.  They had all been so kind to him, he needed to repay the favor.  Scary as it was.

With the knowledge he couldn’t waste more time in there, Prompto rushed for the front door, and crashed through it fast.  His patio had a fence that stood a bit taller than he, so rather than attempt to shoot through the goblins out there, he grabbed the fence and used his momentum to hike up the damn blockade, dropping onto the grass on the other side.  The patio daemons started making a displeased ruckus, but he did everything he could to block it out, along with the sounds of literal warfare breaking out overhead and further into the city.  A lot of people were going to die that night, weren’t they?

A deep, yet somehow piercing, roar cracked through the night air, close enough to make Prompto recoil, but far enough away that he did nothing but that, and he looked to his left, where it seemed it came from.

People began to scream and reroute, although from what they fled was unseen right then, and Prompto took off in that direction.  The roar was close enough that it was obvious they were running for a reason, because it was taking them back towards the monster towering over the city, when they were trying to get away.

As he came to the intersection at the end of his street, he looked in the direction from which they were escaping, and found himself coming almost face-to-face with a behemoth.  He’d never seen a behemoth in person before, but it was something they studied in school, and again in his training.  Something he found a little funny, since most all the Crownsguard had never seen such creatures firsthand before, either.

What made the lurching creature even more disturbing was the dark, purple and black miasma hovering around it, pouring from its skin, and flying up into the night sky.

Prompto bit his lower lip briefly, before shouting, “Everyone, get away!” as he drew his pistol.  Utilizing a spell he was taught by a gunner from the Crownsguard only a few weeks ago, the pistol was fired at the daemonified beast’s face.  Instead of hitting it with a bullet, however, the round he fired burst into a bright light that lit the area up for those trying to flee, and outright blinded the behemoth, causing it to snarl and recoil violently, and rub at its face and muzzle with a taloned front paw.

It was a temporary fix, though.  Prompto had no idea how he was going to fight a daemonified behemoth by himself.  They were alleged to have notoriously thick skin, almost impervious to basic ammunition.  He’d need a higher caliber gun, and he’d be best to have someone who used melee weapons to get involved.

The burst of light faded, and the behemoth turned its dark expression towards him, intelligent and understanding he was the cause of that pain; snarling and starting to creep towards him.

That was when he got an idea.  Most anyone who could help would be in, around or approaching the Citadel.  He was fast.  Maybe not as fast as the monster animal, but he was smaller and could slow it down via obstacles, and maybe it would turn its attention on some of the enemy forces that had to be flying in on all those airships.  He hoped.

It was all he had.

“Time to run, Prompto,” he breathed, before whirling on his foot and starting off as fast as he could.

Unless he ran into someone on the way to the Citadel, he was going to just about die on arrival, but he’d run that sort of distance in the past just to see if he could.

And that time, there wasn’t a full-out daemon apocalypse happening, which was going to serve as his motivation to not pass the hell out on the way.  Hopefully the gods were looking on him favorably that night, even if they weren’t looking favorably on Insomnia at that moment in time.

Chapter Text

In a desperate attempt to route the behemoth towards the chaotic fighting closer to the Citadel, Prompto had taken to shooting lights out and taking the darkest paths he could find, without running smack dab into other daemons or enemy soldiers.  He’d pause long enough to fire a round at the behemoth to keep it antagonized and focused on him, or to grab another weapon once his gun ran out of ammo.  He’d been told that whenever he was able to connect to the power of the King, he wouldn’t have to worry about ammunition running out, but he wasn’t there yet.  Fortunately, there were weapons scattered among fallen soldiers and police, the numbers of which increased the closer he got to the Citadel.

Just as he felt as though his lungs were going to burst—he’d been running as fast as he could for longer than he should have without a proper warm up, at the very least—he rounded a corner to pass through a park that was just blocks away from the Citadel.

That wasn’t in the cards for him, however.  He found himself coming face-to-face with a large group of magitek troopers and Empire soldiers, and he tried to brake himself, only to slide out on the ground and slam onto his back.

The worst of it was that they were all facing that way, to listen to a commander or… something, which he spied in an airship to his right, landed on the street.

“Open fire!!” a woman bellowed from his left, and Prompto immediately curled in on himself, to protect his head, even if there was no chance that would help him when the bullets started piercing his skin.

The air turned hot with gunfire, and the sound of ground MTs running mixed in with the thunderous sounds, and it took the blond boy a slow second to process that they weren’t attacking him, but the behemoth on his tail.  He uncurled his body and lifted on his hands enough to stare at the onslaught occurring back in the alley.  The daemonic behemoth roared and snarled, and started to run towards the soldiers.  As magitek troopers slammed melee weapons and close-range rounds into it, it spun and swiped, clawed and battered at them with its paws, tail and horns.  It was actually fascinating, seeing how the mechanical soldiers burst apart like the alarm clocks he once used as target practice (because getting up on time was for losers, despite him being up no later than 7AM faithfully every day for his runs).

As soon as it cleared itself a path, it set to charge in on the actual humans outside the alley, but immediately recoiled when a massive spotlight hit him from a mech standing near that woman.

With damage across its body eventually showing, and seeping black smoke in place of blood, the monster decided to take its leave, rather than to allow the light to continue to burn its flesh and weaken it to the gunfire pounding away at it.  The force of its feet in its escape kicked MT parts out and around like they were leaves, showing just how insignificant they were to something like that, especially when daemonified.

Prompto was stunned to say the least.  Even more so when the woman who shouted at him approached, her boots thumping down the ramp of an open infantry airship from which she was posted, no weapons drawn, and waving for the soldiers around them to lower their weapons.

He had enough time to pull up to his hands and feet, and stumble backwards from her as he stared with wide eyes, before she was asking, “You okay, kid?”

While he couldn’t see much of her identity, what he could see of her was… really very pretty.  But her clothes were emblazoned with the symbol of the Empire, so he was wary.  “Does it matter?  You’re gonna kill me anyway.”

“We’re not here for civs,” she advised.  Her stare was scrutinizing, as if she was seeing someone familiar, but only vaguely so, and was trying to place the face.  It wasn’t long before that changed, and her eyebrows went up behind the caged helm she wore.  “I’ll be damned.”

“Indeed,” a second person commented.  Descending from the ramp was an old man, a little shorter than Prompto, due to age and a slight hunch to his back.  He was probably close to Prompto’s height when he was younger.  “I was wondering where you’d gone off to.”

“…what?” Prompto asked, at a loss.  By that time in his life, he was used to military and nobles speaking over his head and assuming he understood them, but never when it pertained directly to him.

“I see you’ve taken to learning weapons, hm?” the old man pressed, confident in phrasing, gravelly in tone.  He gestured to Prompto’s gun, grasped with white knuckles in Prompto’s right hand.  “I bet it’s come quite natural to you, no?”

The man took another step forward, and Prompto stumbled back and snapped that gun up, training it with both hands on the man’s head.  “Stop!” he ordered, though he lacked the confidence the elder man held.

Soldiers started to raise their weapons, but the old man held up his hands and barked, “Halt!” A smile broke out on his face after that order.  “He won’t do anything.”

“Don’t bet on it,” Prompto threatened, reaffirming his grip.  “I’m a member of the Crownsguard, after all.”  He could hear Ignis and Gladiolus lecturing him for that.  It wasn’t official yet, and it was downright dangerous to say that, but…

Really?” the old man asked, at least appearing legitimately surprised.  He looked to the woman.  “Imagine that.”

She slowly tore her eyes from the blond teenager, and looked to the man beside her.  “… Maybe in training,” she remarked after a long pause.  “Either way, dealing with him is a waste of time.  We have more important things to worry about.”

“On the contrary, commodore.  Even if he’s in training, he will provide invaluable data.”

“Are you serious?” the commodore asked, her tone that of deadpan bemusement.  “We’re in the middle of a takeover, worry about it later.”

“Take your men and your share of magitek troopers, Highwind.”  The man smiled wickedly at Prompto, who was baffled over how unconcerned he was with the gun drawn at him.  “I’m Chief Research Verstael Besithia,” he introduced with a grand flourish of his hands.  “I already know that asking you to come willingly is hardly going to work.  Thus, I suggest you start running.”

“What…?” Prompto asked, stepping back more.  He slowly lowered his gun, noticing the weapons on him following him as he had been doing so with Besithia.

The old man patted at the pockets of his uniform, and produced a stopwatch from one.  It had some sort of… device, a small touch screen, attached to it, which he started working on. “Oh, it’s hardly a favor, my child.  This has officially become a hunt.”  He raised his gaze to Prompto, as a good fourth of the MTs around them turned in unision and started stalking towards him.  “Start running.”

Normally, Prompto would’ve complained about having just caught his breath, about his legs aching, but there was something so sinister, and in a way that almost felt inexplicably familiar, that he found his words catching in his throat.  Rather than question Besithia, or argue, or posture, he shoved off from the spot he occupied, to start running back from where he arrived.  There were fewer of the automated soldiers that way, and just a few well-placed shots cleared the way enough for him to safely pass through.

He didn’t see how they moved, but the clunking and clattering he heard behind him said they ran incredibly fast.  Faster than he, it seemed, as those sounds actually started to close in on him.  Right, okay, they didn’t have to worry about injury or exhaustion.

Which meant they’d move stupidly, while he’d have to be smarter because he did have to worry about that.  He was at least smarter than robots, right?

 

~*~*~

 

With a smooth series of warps, phases and slashes of his daggers, Nyx Ulric tore through the last few daemons that stood between him and Princess Lunafreya, and the subway they were targeting.  While Luna held her light that could keep the daemons away, Nyx had her using it sparingly.  “If we get into trouble I can’t get us out of, you need to be in ship shape, Highness,” he had advised.

Though the soldiers were proving more dangerous than the daemons, and more numerous as well.  So they made the decision to go into the subway, which was at a halt, and navigate to the Citadel that way.  It meant they could only be attacked from two directions, if Luna kept her light active.  No daemons would cross her barrier, and it would leave Nyx to recuperate so long as there weren’t hordes of soldiers.

They rushed down the narrow entrance, a side-entrance in an alley used as an emergency exit, and were able to gain easy access because of the magnet-based locks being powered off.  Emergency lights were on within, but they were starting to fade.

So, while Nyx went to secure the door to hold up anyone entering behind them, Luna brought her hands up in front of her, and focused as she started forming an orb of golden-white light.  “It won’t be as bright and spread out as if I had my trident, but it’ll be strong enough to keep us safe,” she promised.

“Works for me,” Nyx replied.  Fastening a rope around the door’s handle, and a nearby rail, Nyx cut the remaining rope off so he could keep that with him, and walked over beside her.  “You okay?” he asked, eying a cut across her arm that had been delivered when she was knocked into some scaffolding after they got the civilians they were protecting on a somewhat safe route out of the city.

“Of course.”

Nyx poked the cut, and Luna yelped and jumped a bit at the pain.  “You want me to heal that?”

“I thought we’re conserving our energy for important matters,” Luna retorted.  She lifted her other hand, casting the orb into the air and allowing it to hover above and in front of her.

“I think preventing you from getting some horrible disease you aren’t the immediate cure for counts as ‘important’.”  He took hold of her arm, underneath, keeping his grip firm but Luna could feel she could pull away if she wanted.

His other hand hovered over the wound, and green, sparkling light transferred from his glove, to the wound.  From the feel of it, it was a simple cure spell.  Enough to help the injury start knitting itself together.  “This doesn’t even bother me,” he advised as he worked.

It dried over quickly enough, and continued to glitter and heal, even as he released her and stepped away to observe that orb.  “Thank you, Nyx,” she said.

“We can wrap it if you want, but I think leaving it exposed unless we get into range of daemons and can’t avoid them, or something else toxic, would be best.”  Luna nodded her agreement to that, and thus he turned on his heel and started further into the subway.  “This way, princess.”

She started after him, the orb trailing ahead of her.  It gave them a firm boundary of about five feet to each side, but had enough of a reach in general that they could see beyond that decently, especially with the emergency lighting around them, dim as it was.

After traveling in silence for a while, and listening to the distant scratching and dragging of daemons elsewhere in the subway system, Luna decided to speak.  “Did you have an opportunity to see him…?”

“Who, the prince?”

“Yes.”

Nyx glanced back at Luna briefly.  “…yeah.  I had to extricate him from the throne room because the doors were basically fused closed.  Got ‘em open enough for me to warp through.”

“What?  How?”

“I dunno, maybe you can tell me.  Ifrit was in there.”  He slowed his pace so Luna could join him at his side.  “He came at me like he was going to attack, but kinda just… stared at me before hauling out of there.”

Luna frowned as she thought.  That was odd, but… “Well, the Astrals are supposed to ultimately act as guardians to him as he works to ascend to his rightful place.  Bahamut lives within the Crystal, but it is generally accepted in my family that he is not trapped there, no more than one is trapped in their own home.  Dwells, but not jailed.”

Nyx squinted an eye.  “And that ties to Ifrit…?”

“Perhaps Bahamut called the others in in order to foster him, I suppose,” she replied.  “I honestly haven’t a clue.”

“I thought the rest were sleeping, though.”

That prompted a soft laugh out of Luna.  “Their giant bodies that once roamed this earth rest.  But they exist in multiple planes of existence.  Only the giant and giantess forms can truly sleep, as I’ve always been taught.”

“Huh.  So, what, Ifrit was protecting him?”

“I’m assuming so,” Luna replied with a nod.  “And his staring you down was likely to glean an idea of if Noctis would be safe with you.  I could be absolutely, totally wrong, however.  Please don’t take my word as whole and total fact.”

Nyx nodded in understanding.  The Oracle was powerful, but it wasn’t as though she was some sort of mind reader of Astrals, or humans.  He couldn’t say he had a gut feeling of another motive for Ifrit’s presence and behavior.  Somewhere, on some level, it did almost feel like a passing of a torch.  He just ignored it previously, because that was ridiculous.  Why in the hell would an Astral entrust him of all people, especially when Regis was just outside the throne room?

Yeah, he heard the rumors that the prince hadn’t gone into the Crystal of his own free will, and King Regis had gone a little insane since his son left, and… well, the first part seemed unfathomable.  Then again, it would make more sense, Regis’s turn, if that had been true…

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a child giggling in the darkness beyond the orb’s light.  They’d just reached a shopping den inside the subway’s ticket station, so the area was long, and wider than the tunnel they just exited.  It wasn’t ideal, but passing through to get to the actual train tunnels was necessary.

Luna heard that giggle as well, and went on high alert, her eyes growing wide.  “Did you hear that?”

“Ignore it, princess,” Nyx directed.  “There’re daemons who’re mimics.  Their whole deal is luring good people out to their deaths by sounding like children.  Usually, they’re nagas or other snake creatures.  Pretty damn apt.”

Luna frowned, but supposed Nyx had a good argument there.  She hated the idea of a clueless child lost alone in that place, but why would they be giggling if so?  After a second thought on it, she realized it could have been due to knowing who she was.  Luring her would only mean the light above her would burn them into non-existence.  So rather than attempting to lure, they would attempt to scare her.  Childish giggles in the darkness, that was often a trope in horror movies she would watch with Ravus.

“Alright,” she relented after that hesitation.

Nyx didn’t move again, even with that verbal understanding.  “I’ll get you to the Citadel alive, princess,” he said, watching her face carefully.  “But I need you to just listen to me.  We deal with this shit all the time in the field.  Escort missions suck in video games.  Don’t make ‘em suck in real life, too.”

Luna tilted her head at that one, actually vaguely amused.  “I didn’t realize you enjoyed such things, glaive.”

“Used to.  We good?” he pressed, clearly one-track minded at the moment.

“Yes.  We’re good.  Ready when you are.”

Chapter Text

Things were getting worse, and there was little time to mull over any of it.  Drautos had made it clear there was some sort of betrayal going on by him, but none of it made sense.  It was clear that it was a plan long in the making, but to what end?

As Cor shambled from where he picked himself up, supporting his chest, to go for an armory unit close to that spot, he tried to think while defending himself from enemy troops running through the building.  He needed to sort it out before he went too far.

A pause to his thoughts came again as he shoved off the wall he’d been clinging to, in order to slam his fist into the throat of a soldier rounding the corner in front of him.  He drew his katana as he swept in to do so, and followed that punch by backing up and swiping the blade across the man’s neck, and allowing him to drop as blood flooded like a waterfall over his armor.  Sheathing the weapon again, Cor collapsed across the crossing halls, against the wall, to continue his way.

Years ago, Queen Sylva had to depart from Insomnia to return to Tenebrae, because Niflheim’s attempts to invade were becoming stronger and the army there weaker.

The day before their final push, an order to return home was dispatched to the Crownsguard and Kingsglaive stationed there to protect Regis’s wife.  The means of delivery was the same for all commanders. Clarus, Drautos, Cor, Regis and Sylva’s orders went through those means, so not signing off on the orders wouldn’t have raised any alarms.  Did no one question, however, that the orders didn’t state anything about how to handle Queen Sylva, leaving her with a weaker state of protection?

Another interruption, another soldier felled.  That time, a bullet grazed his arm, but he’d suffered worse.

Queen Sylva was murdered the day after the Lucis soldiers received the orders and departed.  Tenebrae was officially annexed by the Empire that day.

This happened two years after Regis put his son in the Crystal.

Drautos seemed reverent in the way he spoke of Prince Noctis.  As if he truly reviled the king for what he did, and as if the sentiment was a driving force of the Empire.  That made little to no sense.  Niflheim was bloodthirsty.  It had to be a ploy.  A tactic to make Cor doubt motives.  But what if…

Just as he arrived at the security door leading into the armory, he was once again having to drive his katana through the mouth of another soldier, ripping it free through the side of his skull, and throwing it out to slam into the exposed lower torso of another, of whom he was also quick to rip it out to the side.  The heat of the second man’s open body was hot enough to heat Cor’s legs.

He manually keyed into the door, since even the emergency power was starting to fail from the explosions and turmoil throughout all levels of the Citadel, and he stumbled inside, his chest still burning from that blast of magic from Drautos.

Slamming and locking the armory door, Cor stumbled over for a closet in which various curatives rested.  He couldn’t seem to find anything in the armiger he shared with Regis, and he’d made a firm policy years ago that he would avoid using magic wherever he could.  While he was just one person, that was just a little sliver of less stress on Regis with his powers.  Even with as mad as he was at the king, Regis was still his friend, and he cared for him like a brother.  If he could spare him just a little extra stress and aging, he would do so.

So he pulled out a couple of the dissolving bottles from within, and started to break them by shoving them against his chest, where he’d taken the majority of Drautos’s blows.  He was trying to parse the magic he saw the man display.  That was nothing from the Kingsglaive repertoire.  Even Crownsguard had nothing like that.  He had seen something like it before, but he couldn’t really remember, and trying to recall it escaped him when he looked over to a dormant security station sharing space with the weapons and stock of the armory.

Even as fractures were still mending together, Cor pushed off of the wall next to the potion cabinet, and went over to activate the security station.  Each armory had small emergency generators attached, so it turned on without issue.  Whether or not it could reach all the cameras around the Citadel was the actual question.  While all on different circuits, it seemed all main power sources had been collapsed, lending to the theory brewing in his mind about Drautos.  Most power stations were in locations that were need-to-know.  The main power stations were left out in the open as decoys.  Yes, they served power to Insomnia, but with their loss, only about a fourth of the city should’ve gone dark.  The fact that most of it had, outside places that had their own emergency generators, gave Cor a short list of people who could’ve given that information to the Empire.

He really needed to find where Drautos went to.  He’d be ready for him that time.

About ten cameras of hundreds reported in as still being functional once the main system loaded on the screen in front of him.  He murmured some choice words, before ordering the ten cameras to be displayed over the four monitors above that one, and he straightened to look through them.

Nothing too remarkable was happening on them, which wasn’t too large of a surprise, but on the eighth camera, he saw Prince Ravus stepping out of the bedroom belonging to Prince Noctis.  Through all those years, the bedroom had remained the same since the day he was pulled into the Crystal, like a time capsule to remember him.  No one ever spoke a word about it, because no one really wanted to think of the possibility that Regis potentially sent his son to his death.  It seemed that was a good mindset to have.

Ravus’s rebellion, Cor knew, was only because of his hurt over the loss of Noctis and the death of his mother.  Ravus was truly a big brother, and never once had coveted the fact that Noctis remained the heir to the Lucian throne, even after the political marriage of his mother to Regis.  Ravus wore his anger on his sleeve, and his departure from the Citadel was something Cor could understand, even if he didn’t agree with it.  He understood enough that, even though he and his knew of Ravus’s interaction with a Niflheim citizen that twisted his ideology to that of the Empire, he did nothing to stop it when Ravus decided to leave Lucis entirely.

Perhaps, with Noctis back, he would be more reasonable to speak with.  Maybe, just maybe, Ravus could provide him with straight answers instead of the cryptic and cocky diatribe of Drautos.

Plotting out the best route in his head, Cor shoved away from the security station and headed out of the armory, grabbing a full-body kite shield, decorated in the Lucii family sigil, from a display as he went.  The less he had to fight, the better, and he would actively attempt to skirt around potential encounters, but he didn’t intend to lose if he had no choice.  He just needed to get to Ravus in as good a condition as possible.

That proved easier for the moment, as it seemed that floor had been deemed cleared by the invaders, as a handful boarded an elevator from one of the many elevator halls.  Cor stayed in shadows of a darkened hall alcove, and only proceeded to the elevator hall once he heard the door close.

They were likely going floor to floor after the initial attack, to ensure they slaughtered all nobles in their path.  It was what he would do if he was invading an enemy palace.  The first line of offense was to take out as many guard as possible, and cause other guard to run to fight, leaving the bulk of the location unguarded, unprotected for a flanking attack on all other sides.  It was such a basic form of attack, and one of the oldest tricks in the book.  One might say the defending side was gullible for falling for it, but in the heat of the moment, one focused on the immediate and visible threats presented.

He stepped onto the first elevator to answer the call button, and entered Noctis’s floor.  Cor then slid to the side of the elevator and stooped down to a knee, holding the kite shield in front of him and effectively protecting three of four sides of himself.  His katana was unsheathed, and held to the side, ready to be used if enemy forces attempted to board the elevator.

The ride went smoothly, and after leaning around low, to look out the re-opened elevator to clear the hallway, Cor slid up to his feet and started on his way.

Through dark blotches of hallways that had no emergency lights in some areas, far down away, he could see Ravus, pacing around in an Empire-emblazoned white garb.  From that distance, he could see epaulette stitching that bore a rank, but he couldn’t make out what rank it was.  Lucian military ranking was so much more simplistic from that of Niflheim, so seeing it at a distance was difficult.  Of course, Lucian ranking was also seen in the way one wore their clothing more than noted ranks on their sleeves or chests.  It made it next to impossible to always tell who was a commander and who was part of the troops to outsiders.  Particularly in the fatigues of the Crownsguard.  The Empire was far more brazen than that.

He started to cross a gallery, a feature of every floor that often served as waiting rooms for guests and rest stops for Regis, the two emergency lights there tinted in red from a slaughter that transpired, causing blood to spray onto the ceiling, the walls, windows, everything.  The body it came from was next to unidentifiable, other than it was a female Crownsguard, judging by the one leg that was relatively intact.  He hoped Ravus wasn’t at fault.

Cor didn’t get a chance to ask him.

From above, the ceiling suddenly burst apart, and Cor dropped to the floor, holding his shield above him, to brace against the heavy, cascading debris.  With those busted parts, a massive armored body slammed into the tiles of the gallery, shattering the plates with the force of a sledgehammer.

That armor was unlike anything he’d seen before.  Dark and metal, with red accents to announce affiliation with the Empire.  The helmet was damn well near demonic in style, sleek and insectoid.

There was intel about him that had crossed Cor’s desk before.  General Glauca of the magitek side of the Empire’s military forces.  They didn’t have much on him, but what was known was that he was downright dangerous, with quite the magical showcase on hand.

Looking up at the hole left from his crash, he saw Clarus looking down over the edge.  His formal attire as Regis’s Shield was drowned out with the sickening wet color of blood, from injuries across his person Cor couldn’t make out from the lower floor.

Without saying anything, Cor waved for Clarus to get moving.  He hoped to whatever Astrals might’ve been listening, now that Noctis had returned, that Regis was alright and Clarus wasn’t dealing with anything fatal, but he’d have to worry about it later.  Just as his conversation with Ravus would have to wait.

As Glauca stood up, his stature was impressive.  Either he was one of the freaks the Empire had conjured up with their foray into genetic splicing with the Starscourge, or that armor was actually power armor of some sort.  He had to be standing at least at the seven foot mark.

The armored man turned to Cor and thrust his shoulders back to straighten himself, and then moved to go on guard, silently acknowledging what Cor already knew was about to happen.

Nodding in acknowledgment, Cor started to go on guard as well, before launching forward towards the enemy commander.

 

~*~*~

 

Although he was some distance away, Ravus heard that commotion down in the nearest gallery, and quickly proceeded in that direction.  He’d stored the boys, as well as Monica, in Noctis’s bedroom for safekeeping, asking that Ignis and Gladiolus be smart and trust him for just once.  There was much going on that they didn’t understand, but he was also fighting against a few angry leaders of the military there.

One of which was General Glauca, and it was unsurprising to walk up on Glauca fighting Cor Leonis.  Glauca was unbelievably powerful.  Ravus was never granted access to his records, but the younger man could smell the manipulation to his person from a mile away.

“Necessary evils must be accepted in the fight against Evil Itself,” Emperor Aldercapt had insisted to Ravus the first day they met, face-to-face.

It made little sense to start, but as Ravus learned more and more, as he studied what they were doing and met those in charge of various areas, he began to understand exactly what it was they were doing, and he agreed.

Regardless, Glauca was one that he wouldn’t mind seeing ended.  While the man shared the beliefs of Aldercapt, he’d taken his desire to fight for those beliefs too far, in the humble opinion of a man within the Oracle’s bloodline.  And… well, the more corrupted Glauca’s body became, the more twisted his anger with Lucis became.

As such, he pulled into shadows and watched as their blades crashed against one another, as they flung magic at each other.  The distinct moves of a glaive were displayed more than once, but Ravus couldn’t tell if Cor saw it through the onslaught of offensive strikes.  Cor was on pure defense after a point, using the kite shield he bore more than his katana.

Ravus would’ve liked to help, but he couldn’t risk someone seeing and believing he’d turned into a traitor.

While he’d never actually seen Cor in combat, he’d heard plenty of stories.  He didn’t necessarily believe all of them, but watching from the shadows in that moment, he began to realize those stories might be true after all.  Where Glauca’s swing of his sword carried enough force to cut through three grown men, Cor stopped it with his shield and didn’t let the fact that he slid backwards from the blow top him at all.  He immediately shoved back into the blade with the kite shield and knocked that arm off to the side.  His motions were fast and every blow of his sword, every blast of magic—something that was surprising to see, given his knowledge of Cor’s abstaining from using too much of the King’s gift—set out with the force to try to shatter Glauca’s armor and to remove him from being a danger.

When their blades collided, the contact caused brilliant sparks that phased neither man.  At least, not until they charged backwards in time with one another, striking one another at different points of their bodies.  Cor’s katana hit with a series of sparks and a cracking of metal, while the general’s struck Cor somewhere in the lower leg.  Cor’s blow dropped Glauca to a knee, while the other’s blow simply staggered him.  By the blood flooding from his leg, Ravus knew it was simply The Immortal’s endurance in effect that kept him upright.

Cor managed to swing around to face Glauca, with his shield up as he charged in, to protect against any swings Glauca made, and then brought it down like a hammer, into Glauca’s back.  Another set of sparks, and cringe-inducing shattering.  It staggered the general as Ravus, and clearly Cor, realized that a soft spot in the armor had been discovered.

Balancing on only his one leg, Cor slammed the shield down again, though that time he’d brought his blade with it.  The blunt force of the shield, coupled with that blade making good use of the damage to the already weak location, dropped the general.

Not necessarily easily, as he tried to fight back, but the marshal left his blade in the man, its end having burst out the front, through the chest plate and stopped only because it hit the floor.  With that in place, Cor grasped the shield and began to, very literally, beat the man to death.

It was honestly fascinating to watch.  Not only because seeing Cor in true combat was something only a lucky few had ever seen, but because Ravus had never so much as heard of Glauca faltering in a fight.  Cor’s luck and skill were truly something to be envied.

The only sad part, in his opinion, was that when Glauca’s helmet fell from his head, helped by Cor’s using the shield to knock it off, the man didn’t hesitate to do an identity check.  The flurry of damage by that shield continued until there was little left but unrecognizable gore.

Only when it was clear that his adversary in no way could return to attack again, did Cor pull his blade free, and then drop backwards, to the floor.  He was out of breath, and needed a rest, but his leg was bleeding horribly, and he was growing pale.

It was then that Ravus ghosted out from the shadows, sweeping around the fallen general and going to help with Cor, who had stripped his belt off by then, in order to use it as a tourniquet.

“This is madness,” Cor said as he worked, not looking up and telling Ravus that he’d known he was there all along.  “Too many people are dying.”

“Because this is the only way,” Ravus replied grimly.  He took the belt, and first went to see the damage so he could properly fix the belt to help.  The damage was bad.  Possibly worse than anything even Lunafreya could heal.  Ravus could see clear to his bone, and even then, the cut continued.  That was unbelievably bad.

“Only way for what?” Cor snapped, looking from the younger man’s hands to his face.

“To get in close enough to speak to Regis,” the prince replied, not looking from what he was doing.  With the belt fixed above the injury, Ravus went for a utility pouch under his coat.  He needed to try to wrap the injury together.  “Cooperate and I promise casualties will decrease.”

“And I’m supposed to believe you?”  Cor spoke without acknowledging the slur running through his words.  “There’s a giant magitek daemon out there, storming the city.”

“Damn,” Ravus muttered as he realized nothing he had on him would do.

Prince Ravus,” Cor barked again, to get his attention.

He looked at Cor.  “Marshal.  Listen to me.  I will get you your answers.  Until then, I am taking you to Noctis’s room with him and the others I collected with him, and I want you to stay there until I can return with medical assistance for you.”  He didn’t know that Cor had first arrived with at least empathy for Ravus, and that empathy was now dwindling fast.  He wouldn’t have cared much if he did know, however.

At the end of it all, appearances weren’t what they first seemed, and Ravus wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer at that moment.

His words were true: Cooperate, and answers would come soon after.