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Nightmare by the Dashboard Light

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It’s 7:47 p.m. when the Regalia sputters and dies. The sudden silence rouses Ignis from his doze in the backseat. He blinks awake, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, and glances out the window—and then his heart nearly seizes when he registers that they’re in the middle of nowhere, and worse, that the sun has almost dipped below the horizon.

“Noct,” he says, as evenly as he’s able, and pulls himself forward to get a look at the dash. The needle on the gauge is pointing at E. “Did you forget to fill up at the last petrol station?”

“Uh,” Noct says. He scratches his cheek sheepishly. “Maybe.”

Gladio curses a blue streak and slams a palm against the back of Prompto’s seat, startling a yelp from the blond. Ignis just closes his eyes and counts backwards from five. How many times has he warned Noct not to get caught outside after dark? How many bloody times? This cannot be happening. It cannot…

But there’s little use in dwelling on what should have been, not now, when time is of the essence. He reaches for the handle of his door and crisply says, “Prompto, Gladio, out of the car. Now.”

For once, they listen without question or complaint. The next thirty seconds is a scramble of activity as they get in position to start pushing. Ignis takes the driver’s side mirror, all the better to direct Noct as needed. There’s a parking spot about fifty feet up the road. In the gloaming, Ignis can see the fluorescent glare of the spotlight that will illuminate it through the night. If they’re lucky, it will keep them safe until dawn. 

But only if they’re very lucky.

As they push, Ignis keeps an eye on the horizon. Now, the sun is but an incandescent halo crowning the mountains, and it’s dying fast. He estimates they have about ten minutes until the daemons show their faces.

“Faster,” he calls over his shoulder. 

“I’m going as fast as I can!” Prompto whines.

Sweat beads Ignis’s forehead and dampens the underarms of his shirt. He tries not to think too hard about his burning muscles or the shortness of his breath. He focuses only on putting one foot in front of the other, on Gladio’s grunts of exertion behind him. 

They’re almost there. Only ten feet to go. 

Five feet.

Two feet.

The Regalia rolls under the spotlight just as the sky swallows the sun. As if on cue, the terrible sound of metal scraping on metal pierces the stillness—an iron giant, Ignis is certain of it. And it’s right behind them.

“Everyone, back in the car!” Ignis shouts.

They pile inside as quickly as they exited, all breathing hard and glistening with sweat. Ignis slams the auto-lock button, just in case. He’s almost positive daemons don’t know how to operate door handles, but loath as he is to admit it, he’s been wrong before. Not that it will matter much, anyway, if the iron giant just smashes in the windows and cleaves them all in half.

“They can’t come into the light, right?” Prompto says, his voice very small, as he cowers in the front seat.

“No,” Ignis says, “unless they’re very desperate or suicidal.”

Prompto looks at him in horror. “You mean there’s a chance they may?”

Ignis doesn’t answer. He pulls off his glove and wipes his sweaty forehead with it, twisting to glance out the back window. The good news is that the iron giant hasn’t entered the circle of light. The bad news is that it’s currently pacing around behind the Regalia, like a hungry predator waiting for dinner to venture out of its hiding hole.

“What’re we gonna do?”

At the sound of Gladio’s lowered voice, Ignis turns to look at him. His eyes shine in the darkness, unmasking the trepidation he never dares show to Noct. It dawns on him that Noct and Prompto aren’t the only ones relying on him for answers.

“We can’t leave the car,” Ignis says. “It’s too dangerous.”

“So we’re just gonna sit here all night?”

Ignis bites his lip. As much as he detests the thought of it… “Yes, we may have to.”

Gladio groans and leans back against the leather seat, running both hands through his hair. Ignis dares another glance out the window. The iron giant has gone still. Now, it stares at the Regalia, its gargantuan blade resting against the pavement. Ignis’s skin crawls at the sight of it. He can’t help but wonder what it’s thinking—or if it even thinks at all. He’s never had much cause to ponder the thought processes of monsters.

They sit in silence for a while. Ignis scrolls through his phone, looking at his list of contacts for someone he can call. The Marshal? Dave? Cindy? 

But what could any of them do? It would be foolish—not to mention dangerous—to summon Cindy all the way out here in the middle of the night to tow them to safety. She has grit, but she’s not a hunter or a warrior, and if the four of them can’t take on the daemons, what hope would she have? As for the Marshal and Dave, there’s no guarantee they’re near enough to reach them by dawn.

He tries dialing the Marshal anyway. The call hangs on dead air, refusing to connect. One glance at his phone shows him there’s no signal here. Muttering a curse, Ignis shoves the useless thing back in his pocket.

“Is anyone able to make a call?” he asks.

Next to him, Gladio wakes the display of his device, illuminating the cabin of the Regalia with a pale, cold light. “Nope…we’re probably way out of range of the closest cell tower.”

“My phone’s dead,” Prompto says solemnly.

“I don’t have any reception here, either,” Noct chimes in.

“Well, that’s just our luck, isn’t it?” Ignis says shortly. “No cell signal, no way to get to a safe location, no food or water…”

Gladio puts a placating hand on his arm. “All right, calm down, Iggy. We’re gonna figure this out. Let’s just keep our heads on—”

“What the hell is that?!” Prompto screeches.

They all look at him. In his terror, he has flung himself backwards and now lies sprawled across the gearshift, half in Noct’s lap. He stares, wide-eyed and pale, at the passenger side door.

“What the hell is what?” Noct asks.

“Th—there’s a—a thing outside my window!” Prompto sits up a bit, peering cautiously at the glass as if he wants an answer to his question, yet fears to have it. “It’s in the light! I mean, I think it is! I didn’t get a good look.” 

Skin crawling, Ignis glances at Noct, then at Gladio. “Did either of you see anything?”

“No,” Gladio says, while Noct shakes his head.

Ignis leans across Gladio to investigate. From this vantage point, he can’t see much. But that doesn’t mean some tiny daemon hasn’t managed to scuttle across the illuminated pavement and take refuge under the car. He’s about to draw back when Gladio’s thumb hits a button next to the door handle. With a smooth mechanical sound, the window starts to glide down, letting in cool night air.

For the second time that night, Ignis’s insides clench in horror. Before he can ask Gladio exactly what in the world he thinks he’s doing, an imp leaps at the window, its head slipping through the opening between the car door and the pane of glass. Prompto screams again, grabbing at Noct, while Ignis’s heart leaps into his throat.

Gladio, however, merely bellows and punches the creature in the face. It drops to the road outside with a dull smack, its flesh hissing and emitting black smoke as the light falls on it. With a shriek, it darts back into the shadowy wilderness.

“What were you thinking?” Ignis demands as he jams a thumb into the button, closing the window again. 

“Sorry. I didn’t think anything would actually jump at the car.” Gladio runs a hand through his hair and lets out a shaky laugh. “Figured if we opened the window, we could find out for sure what Prompto saw. My bad. Won’t happen again.”

“Better not,” Noct mutters. 

For a time, they’re all silent. Ignis ponders their situation, analyzing it from every angle, yet sees no solution besides spending the night in the Regalia. Gladio stares sullenly out the window while Noct drums his fingers on the steering wheel, a nervous pattern that puts Ignis even more on edge.

“I have to pee,” Prompto says quietly.

Gladio snorts. “Better hold it.”

Prompto squirms in the front seat, shoving a hand between his thighs, as if putting pressure there will keep his bladder under control. “I’ve had to go for three hours. I don’t think I can.”

Ignis pinches the bridge of his nose. His head has begun to throb. It would be best if they all just slept, but he doubts they’ll be doing much of that, given the tension in the Regalia. Not to mention the iron giant still stalking around behind their vehicle, and the imp chittering outside Prompto’s window. 

Anxiously, he checks his phone. It’s 11:06 p.m. Only seven more hours until dawn.

“Use this.” Gladio passes an empty plastic bottle into the front seat.

“Dude. I’m not peeing in a bottle in front of you guys.”

“You’d rather piss your pants?”

Sulking and reluctant, Prompto accepts the bottle. Instead of using it, however, he clutches it to his chest and bites his lip, seemingly intent on holding out until desperation obliterates his shame. That’s quite all right with Ignis. He’s of the firm belief that there are some things friends shouldn’t share.

“The hell is that thing?” Noct asks.

Ignis peers around the front seat again. “What?”

Noct points out the windshield. Just beyond the circle of light, the atmosphere shimmers, warping, like air baking on a flat, endless highway. From it, a necromancer emerges, its dark robes blending with the night.

“Those things don’t have special door-unlocking powers, do they?” Prompto asks.

Gladio grunts. “Nah, but they can kill you dead as a doornail with their mind beams.”

Prompto whimpers.

Ignis sits back in his seat, quietly thinking. The iron giant has resumed its pacing; he can hear the rhythmic clanking of its parts moving to and fro behind the Regalia. The imp is nowhere to be seen, but he’s certain it’s still out there, just biding its time. And now, a necromancer. They’ve had their fair share of grim situations these past few weeks, but this is by far the grimmest of them all.

“Noct,” he murmurs, “do you have any magic flasks?”

“Uh.” Noct digs in his pockets, producing a handful of lint, a couple of arcade tokens, and a single glass vial. A pale blue cloud churns within, glittering with minuscule floating crystals. “Yeah. Blizzara. I forgot that was in there.”

Ignis has never been the praying type, but he thanks the gods all the same for this small mercy. “Good. I need you to roll down the window and cast it on the necromancer.”

Prompto whips around, gaping at him in horror. “But the imp—”

“I am well aware,” Ignis says. “But we haven’t much choice. We must try to send some of these daemons away, or I’m afraid we won’t make it through the night.” He touches Noct’s shoulder to ensure he’s paying attention. “Listen closely. You’re going to roll down the window just enough to get your hand outside. Cast immediately. Don’t delay. Understood?”

Noct nods. It seems like they all hold their breath as he reaches for the window controls. Even Prompto, for once, goes quiet. 

As soon as the window’s rolled down a quarter of the way, Noct lobs the vial at the necromancer. It shatters on the pavement a few feet from the daemon, wrapping it in an explosion of ice. It hisses, writhing, and darts away, the air shimmering again as it disappears back into the dimension from whence it came. 

Ignis releases his breath, sagging back against the seat.

“Hate to be the bearer of bad news, guys, but we got another problem,” Gladio says. He jerks his thumb at the window next to him. “That imp called a few of his friends.”

Ignis leans across him again to look outside, bracing himself on the back of Prompto’s seat. Gladio’s right. Where once there was a single imp, there are now six. One of them is hopping impatiently from foot to foot right outside the circle of light, its bulging, orange, soulless eyes trained on Ignis. A shiver goes down his spine, and he glances at Gladio.

“What do you suggest we do?” he asks.

Gladio shrugs. “Dunno. You’re the one with the brains.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, Gladio.” Ignis checks the back window for the whereabouts of the iron giant. It’s still there, still pacing. “I’ve always valued your input on combat strategy.”

“Yeah, and I know enough to know we’re up shit creek without a paddle,” Gladio says. “We aren’t strong enough to take all of them on.”

“Indeed. And if we get out of the car, we may attract more of them.”

Gladio chews on his bottom lip for a moment before he leans forward to tap Prompto on the shoulder. “How many bullets you got?”

“Uhhh…” Prompto pops open his ammunition pouch and takes an inventory. “Five. I used up most of my supply on those coeurls we fought earlier.”

Gladio nods at the imps outside the Regalia. “Think you can scare some of them off?”

Prompto glances uncertainly at the creatures surrounding their vehicle. “I guess so. I mean, d’you think it’s a good idea to open the window again? Remember what happened last time?”

“We don’t have much choice,” Gladio counters.

Prompto looks to Ignis for instructions. For his part, Ignis can see where both of them are coming from. It’s dangerous to give the daemons any kind of opening, but sitting here like defenseless prey is no less so. 

“Any idea how they’re tracking us, Specs?” Noct pipes up. “Maybe if they can’t see us, they’ll go away.”

Ignis pushes his glasses up his nose. “It’s difficult to say. I don’t have enough experience with daemons to know for sure.”

The streetlight above them flickers, and they all freeze. The bullet Prompto was holding falls to the floor of the Regalia with a light thump. In the silence, Ignis hears the sound of Gladio swallowing. None of them need Ignis to tell them that if the light fails, they will be in very grave trouble indeed. They’ll go to their deaths fighting, of course, but they’ll die all the same.

“I think it’s worth a try,” Noct says. 

Ignis nods. He’s out of ideas. This one is as good as any. “Prompto, if you’d be so good as to fire a warning shot, perhaps it will scatter them for long enough for us to get down.”

“Get down?” Gladio echoes, casting an incredulous glance around the cramped interior of the car. “Get down where? There’s nowhere to go!”

Noct tilts his seat back so his head’s below the level of the window. “It’ll be a tight squeeze, big guy, but cuddling Specs for the night is better than dying, right?”

“It ain’t the cuddling I got a problem with,” Gladio grumbles, but he offers no further complaint as he slides down the seat, cramming his long legs against the opposite door. Ignis stretches out on the floor of the backseat, his own legs bent at an awkward angle. To say it’s cramped is an understatement. He’s not sure he’ll last fifteen minutes contorted this way, much less six hours.

He holds his breath as Prompto rolls down his window and fires into the night sky. The crack of the gunshot deafens him, and he winces, closing his eyes as Gladio puts an arm over him, his instincts as Shield kicking in even though it isn’t Noct he’s protecting. 

The ringing in his ears eclipses all other sounds. He doesn’t know for sure if the daemons have retreated, whether Prompto’s shot forced them to scatter or only attracted more of them. And he dares not lift his head to find out. He forces himself to breathe, to count Gladio’s breaths, to focus on Prompto’s quiet whimpers in the front seat. 

Just as his heartbeat begins to return to normal, a heavy thud on the roof of the Regalia sends it into overdrive again.

“The fuck is that?” Gladio hisses.

“Don’t move,” Ignis whispers, as Prompto’s whimpers turn into something that sounds more like hyperventilation. “Don’t make a sound.”

He holds himself perfectly still, his muscles screaming with the effort, as purposeful footsteps thump in circles above them. Whatever it is, it’s trying to puzzle them out. Perhaps it doesn’t even know they’re in the car; perhaps it’s wondering where they’ve gone. He hopes daemons aren’t clever enough to work such things out. 

After a stretch of minutes that feel like an eternity, there’s a screech and the footsteps retreat, thumping onto the trunk of the Regalia before disappearing altogether. Ignis lets his muscles relax, shifting a little to ease the kink in his neck. He hears Gladio let out a long breath above him. In the front seat, Prompto’s whimpers quieten, and Noct’s seat squeaks as he makes himself comfortable. 

And somehow, as the night presses in around them, they sleep. 

 

*

 

Ignis wakes to brilliant sunlight shining through the Regalia’s windows. It takes him a moment to remember where he is, and why Gladio is snoring softly next to his head, his warm breath stirring Ignis’s hair. 

The daemons. Of course.

He sits up, stifling a moan as pain shoots through his legs, and looks into the front seat. Noct and Prompto are both asleep, entirely unharmed, curled up each on his own seat and facing each other, their faces slack in respose. 

They survived. They made it through the night. They’ve lived to see another sunrise. 

Gladio wakes, grunting, as Ignis opens the far door and shuffles out, unfolding himself onto the pavement like a rusty lawn chair. When Gladio joins him on the roadside, they stretch together, looking down at the anaks grazing in the valley below, and bask in the warm glow of the sun. 

“I think we should ban Noct from driving,” Gladio says. “Forever. Seriously.”

“I’m not sure we can stop His Majesty from driving his own car, Gladio,” Ignis says lightly. “Though I agree, on principle.”

Gladio throws his arms in the air and bends, letting out a long, low groan of pleasure as something pops in his back. “Guess we should wake him if we wanna get to a Coernix Station before noon.”

“Or we could call Cindy to give us a tow.”

“Can’t. My phone’s dead.”

Ignis checks his phone as well. “As is mine.”

“All right, then. Guess we’re pushin’.” Gladio raps on Noct’s window with two knuckles, grinning as he blinks through the glass at them like a sleepy owl. “Rise and shine, princess. It’s time to go.”