Final Breath Still Trapped Behind My Teeth – 1/2 – Spiralgal

Title: Final Breath Still Trapped Behind My Teeth
Author: Spiralgal
Fandom: Final Fantasy XV
Genre: Fantasy, Action Adventure, Pre-Relationship, Slash
Relationship(s): pre-Nyx Ulric/Noctis Lucis Caelum
Content Rating: Teen
Warnings: Violence-Canon-Level, Discussion-PTSD, Discussion-Trauma, Discussion-Self-Image-Issues
Author Notes:
Beta: Jahaliel
Word Count: 27,500/54,800
Summary: Nyx Ulric was meant to die with the dawn but finds himself stumbling out of Insomnia, somehow still alive. Barely holding himself together, he is found by Prince Noctis Lucis Caelum and his retinue. Desperate for a purpose and lead by the words King Regis’ ghost, he joins the group as they begin a journey to reclaim the kingdom—or is there perhaps some other purpose waiting for them?
Artist: Leilsilver


 

 


Intro

Nyx stared at the light falling over the horizon, Glauca finally quiet somewhere behind him. He could feel the flames slowly building within as his time came to an end. With a quiet sigh, Nyx let his eyes slip closed and his head fall back. The magic of the ring had let him accomplish his final task and he was resigned to his end. Nyx felt his arm beginning to give out as the fires flared and—

The world around him vanished. Caught mid-fall, Nyx`s supporting arm jerked and his eyes flew open. Once again, he was surrounded by the kings of old, this time without the ring as a catalyst. A disjointed grunt slipped from his lips without his permission, as Nyx stared up at the towering forms of ghostly blue surrounding him in surprise.

“Something has changed,” boomed a voice.

“A shift in the crystal,” came another.

“The loyalty of the ring,” murmured a third.

“Magic peaked before its time,” a quiet voice whispered from the darkness.

“What,” Nyx said flatly.

A palpable ripple went through the spectral figures, the kings of old seemingly taking notice of him for the first time, a quiet rumble of disapproval seeming to fill the air. Nyx felt that was distinctly unfair, considering that without the ring he couldn`t exactly come here on his own and so would have to have been specifically summoned there.

Before any of the specters could criticize him for interrupting, another voice struck out from the darkness, this one familiar.

“Glaive Ulric,” King Regis addressed him, “you have been granted reprieve.” The interjection seemed to have settled the others, and they took up the thread.

“The Will of the King of Light now holds back your Price.” The largest specter, that had been tearing apart the imperial dreadnaughts, seemed to move and loom over Nyx while the voice rumbled through him.

“His life is now your life, his death your death.” The specter Nyx had fought Glauca atop was striding forward and Nyx felt its attention on his back like a knife pressed to his spine.

“And so you shall still perish with the dawn,” the quiet, dark voice whispered in Nyx`s ear.

 “Our Bargain is at an end; our Light has set.” The Rogue, the only one Nyx could recognize on sight, was suddenly face-to-mask with Nyx, her whispering voice burning in his head.

“Your death here has been denied by the Will of the King of Light,” boomed the Conqueror.

“But your life is still forfeit,” came the words of the Wise.

“It belongs now to the King of Light,” whispered the Rogue.

“With each dawn his power in you will lessen, and your death will grow nearer,” slid through the darkness.

“The Reign of the King of Light,”

“The Chosen King, Foretold of the Draconian,”

“Has begun.”

A ripple went through the strange world at the end of their declaration. The ghostly blue forms drifted away from Nyx and began fading into the distance.

“It is never wise to surprise the Draconian. It is always best to obey both the letter and the meaning of his Word,” that voice without any accompanying spectral form softly murmured in Nyx’s ear.

Whatever vision Nyx could claim to have in this place was fading when King Regis’ voice spoke again. “Seek out my son, he will likely have need of you and will be your only hope for answers.”

As the darkness of the world of the Kings of Old began to fade and splotches of color began to appear, that dark voice whispered in Nyx`s ear one last time.

“The King of Kings… to cast out the Usurper and usher in dawn’s light will cost the life of the Chosen. Many sacrificed all for the King; so must the King sacrifice himself for all.”

The quiet haunting rhythm of the words lingered in Nyx`s ears as, with a lurch, the world resumed. The strange weightlessness Nyx had forgotten about in front of the Kings of Old ended as his back smacked into the ground, forcing the air out of his lungs in an unprepared gasp.

Nyx lay there, wheezing, feeling very confused as the rays of the sun crept up his body. With every moment that passed, Nyx could feel the fire retreating from his limbs, gathering into a small ball just behind the base of his sternum.

When the last of the fire had retreated there, Nyx heaved a gasp and tried to curl around it; it felt like a hand had reached into his chest and seized onto that ball of fire. It squeezed, slowly and steadily seeming to compress the fire as Nyx gasped and gagged at the sensation. Finally, the sensation retreated, leaving behind a burning seed of fire surrounded by a shell of what felt like brightest light.

Nyx blinked blearily at the sky for a few endless moments. The Will of the King of Light holds back your Price, they had said. Is that what this was? That seemed a little literal, but he wasn`t keen on arguing about what exactly was keeping him alive. Carefully, Nyx relaxed back upon the rubble and tried to catch his breath, waiting until he didn`t feel like he was going to break something if he moved.

Finally, Nyx tried to sit up. He barely made it a few inches before he was biting his lip and curling around his arm, whining horribly. Well, he thought hysterically through the pain, this sucks. He might have been given a stay on death, but that apparently had not extended to the damage his dying had already inflicted.

Slowly, oh so slowly, and carefully, oh so carefully, Nyx managed to sit up, arm that had worn the ring still curled tightly to his chest, gasping all the while. Once upright, he took a break, slumping slightly, letting his back curve forward, just breathing through the pain. Apparently, the Light of Kings had blocked out a great deal of the feedback from his body, and it was taking this chance to inform him just how much he had been abusing it through the night.

Eventually, the pain settled to manageable levels and Nyx was able to blink his eyes open and take stock of his surroundings. What he saw was…. rubble.

Well of course, Nyx thought with a little mental giggle. What was he expecting from a titanic battle between oversized kings, a giant daemon, and assault ships, especially with him and Glauca thrown in as well?

Right, Glauca. He should probably at least check and see if the bastard was dead, finish him off if he was somehow still alive, and figure out where his second blade had landed when the bastard had tossed it away.

With a groan Nyx pushed his way to his feet one handed, still refusing to move his damaged arm. Once on his feet he swayed as his scrapes and bruises began screaming again, though they quieted after a few deep breaths. Slowly, he began pacing towards Glauca.

When he finally reached the man, Nyx bent over him. One-handed he pulled out his blade and held the mirror-bright metal at an angle just in front of the man’s face. Despite the position making his body ache he remained there for a minute, but when no fogging of the blade ever occurred, he nodded to himself grimly satisfied and straightened again. That was Glauca done.

Now focused on finding his other blade, Nyx paused before giving a little mental shrug. Doesn’t hurt to check, even if I’m sure of the result, he thought to himself. Carefully, Nyx reached out to that mental sense he had of his weapons, as he had done just minutes earlier in the battle, and tried to warp to the blade not sitting in his hand.

Nothing happened.

Well, Nyx thought, looks like I’ll have to do things the old-fashioned way. Again. Thinking back to the battle, Nyx remembered the harsh blow that had traveled up his arm as Glauca knocked the blade out of his grip. It had gone… somewhere behind and to the left of him, hadn’t it? And then he had warped behind Glauca, so now hopefully it would be somewhere in front of and to the right of him.

Turning his gaze that way, Nyx sighed at the sight of the looming piles of rubble. Of course it couldn’t have flown into one of the clearer sections, of course it had to fly into the area with the big piles.

Well, unless he was willing to leave it behind without even trying, there was nothing for it but to start searching. At least he had an idea of where to begin.

Ultimately, it took Nyx close to half an hour to locate his wayward blade. He had had to take frequent breaks during that time to catch his breath and try to steady his aching body. His left arm had kept swaying and sending white-hot bursts of heat up into head until he finally conceded.

It had taken a bit of work, but he had managed to one-handedly detach the ribbons that had somehow made it through the fight unscathed and were still hanging on his coat. He had then used their length to fashion a sling for his arm and tie it down to his body as well as he could manage. It still had a little too much give in it, but it was a vast improvement over nothing at all.

Soon afterwards Nyx had found his blade, and then had a very awkward time contorting his back and arm trying to get the blade back into the sheath that was made for a left-hand draw. Eventually Nyx had had to concede that going behind his back wasn’t working, and bulled his way through a very painful hug to get the kukri securely in place.

That done, Nyx stood in the rubble, gazing blankly for a moment. Now what, he wondered.

Nyx could feel a yawning blankness in the back of mind, threatening to swamp his senses and leave him paralyzed. If he stopped too long, he would be tempted to think about what had happened in the last few days. Such contemplations would have to happen eventually, of course, but Nyx desperately wanted the distance of either safety, or time between him and those memories.

One thing at a time, he thought. Panic and breakdowns are for when the crisis has passed, so think. What are you going to do now?

Thankfully, King Regis had already solved this question for him. Seek out my son, he had said.

The young king had left Insomnia shortly before the Imperial Retinue had arrived, on his way to Altissia. Where he was now Nyx couldn’t be entirely sure of, but the first step was obvious. Leave Insomnia. That should probably be followed by, get somewhere safe, treat his injuries as best he could, and sleep.

With his immediate future figured out, Nyx took stock of his surroundings again, this time trying to place where exactly he had ended up. He didn’t exactly know the entire city by sight, but he could see the highway he knocked Glauca off of nearby. Knowing it was his best bet for figuring out where he was and getting out of the city quickly, Nyx set off.

Chapter 1: Escaping Insomnia

Nyx had managed to get out of the city without much trouble.

He had taken advantage of the destruction to snag a coat out of the window of a destroyed store in order to cover up his injuries and Kingsglaive insignia. It was, conveniently, shapeless enough Nyx could simply toss it on over what he was wearing without trying to adjust his arm, but the price attached to what was little more than a piece of cloth was ridiculous. Nyx hadn’t been able to help a snort at what Insomnians were willing to pay for “fashion”.

Closer to the gate, Nyx had been grateful for his forethought as one person here or there became a stream of people fleeing Insomnia. He had breathed a sigh of relief once he was across the bridge and in Leide, the worry about Imperial forces somehow stopping him finally dissipating. But as Nyx was passing over Ostium Gorge, he had heard booted feet marching in step in the distance.

Choosing one of the barriers of the old check point to stop at in case he needed cover, Nyx had looked back to see a squad of Magitek Troopers approaching from the direction of the city, a troop carrier just lifting away from one of the oversized Armors. They hadn’t yet done anything to stop the people now running to escape them, but Nyx had been sure that access to the city, either in or out, had been about to end.

Turning away from the sight of the MTs and back to the road, Nyx had barely managed a few paces before he had stumbled.

Well, he had thought self-deprecatingly. I guess I can call step one done, if just barely. Step two it is.

Nyx had been on Wall duty often enough, but he honestly didn’t know the lands next to Insomnia very well. A couple glances around as he got his feet back under him, and he had squinted into the distance curiously. Was that—? Nyx had managed to spot a thin trail of smoke against the cloudy sky, and after another few minutes had confirmed to himself that it was indeed the sign of a Haven.

It was a little too close to Insomnia to truly count as safe, but with the way his body had been threatening collapse it had been more than enough. The motivation of having a destination in sight had given him enough of a second wind to reach the Haven without falling on his face in exhaustion, but it had been slow going.

Thankfully, the MTs had stopped their advance at the old check point, and once Nyx had reached the Haven they had been out of sight.

Now he was here, safely at a Haven, with no Imperial encounters likely in the near future. Step two done, he thought to himself, now for step three. Step three was looking pretty painful. With an anticipatory wince, Nyx finally turned his attention to the complaints his body was making.

Everything felt horrible.

Luckily, if he ignored his arm, all of his pain seemed to be of the aching or throbbing kind, no sharp stabbing pains anywhere. There had been a lurking dread in the back of Nyx’s mind that he would have a broken or cracked bone somewhere, and he would have just spent the entire morning walking around making it worse.

But what Nyx was feeling in his body right now could probably all be fixed with a Hi-Elixir or two.

Except my arm, Nyx thought with a groan, the limb seeming to throb even worse, as if demanding his attention, my arm feels like it’s on fire.

Making a face to himself, Nyx removed the shapeless coat covering his arm and slowly began undoing his haphazard binding. When his arm was free, Nyx used his right hand to pull it away from his body and hold it up.

Yep, definitely looks bad. Also, definitely looks like something covered in ash, Nyx thought to himself. Wincing, Nyx tried to move his fingers and was incredibly pleased to see them respond, even if it hurt like hell to do it. Good news was always welcome.

Okay, despite appearances, my arm still functions, likely because the damage came from magical fire rather than normal fire. Still, Hi-Elixirs are a must.

Carefully lowering his arm, Nyx searched through his pockets for his stock of curatives, but the searched pockets were empty. Widening his search to the other various hiding places on his uniform, Nyx finally found a bottle, only to groan despairingly on pulling it out to discover it was a mere Potion.

A Potion? Really? All I have is a Potion?

After staring in disbelief for a minute, Nyx grudgingly downed the Potion. Anything was better than nothing at this point.

For a moment, the potion seemed to work. Coolness spread down his limbs and he could feel his stiffness easing. But the cool faded quickly from his arm, back to the uncomfortable heat.

Nyx sighed in frustration to himself but was already resigned. He couldn’t exactly do more when apparently all his pockets were empty. Slowly he bound his arm to his chest again.

His injuries tended as best he could manage, Nyx wrapped himself in the coat against the threatening rain and curled up on the Haven. Sleep was next on his list, and despite the day only being hours old, Nyx had been awake more than 24 hours at this point, and felt he deserved the break.

His mind did not agree.

Despite the exhaustion dragging at his limbs, Nyx could not fall asleep. Hoping to distract himself enough for sleep to sneak up on him, Nyx began to plan.

The young king could be anywhere between Insomnia and Altissia, and Nyx had no way of knowing where he was, no way of contacting him, and no phone to contact him with even if he did. So how was Nyx to find him?

Wandering around and hoping for the best was not any sort of sound plan. It was possible that one of the refugees from Insomnia might have a way of contacting him… but finding that one refugee would be like finding a needle in a hay stack…

Perhaps— perhaps he could find a Crownsguard? The Crownsguard had been posted away from the Citadel— they would have had a good chance of surviving… Of course, with the rivalry between the Crownsguard and the Kingsglaive as well as recent events… they would likely be disinclined to help him……

Perhaps the Marshal? The Marshal of the Crownsguard— he would surely have a way to contact the young king… and Nyx had heard rumor that he was exceedingly fair in everything…The man had never displayed the typical Insomnia Xenophobia in his interactions…

Okay, Nyx thought sleepily, finally beginning to drift off, I have a plan… Find the Marshal… Convince the Marshal… Find the King…

Waking up to concerned blue eyes in a pale face framed by feathery black hair rather put paid to that plan.

Chapter 2: A Shoulder to Lean On

Later, Nyx would be able to admit, if only to himself, that his head had not been on straight.

The events of the Fall of Insomnia had still been raw for him. The burn of betrayal had still been fresh. There was a pool of grief for his newly dead comrades and his likely dead countrymen in the city that Nyx hadn’t even begun to contemplate.

Honestly, some part of Nyx had been perfectly fine with not living to see the fallout. Living through the Fall of Galahd had been painful enough. Living through the Fall of his second home would only be worse.

Since finding himself not dead, Nyx had kept things simple, breaking survival up into bite-sized pieces that could be accomplished on auto-pilot. No input from his head required. Survival had stretched in front of him, end goal nowhere in sight, and it had promised time for everything to settle and for his emotional reaction to die out.

Waking up to find his end goal staring him in the face threw Nyx rather terribly.

He blinked, trying to focus on the eyes of Noctis Lucis Caelum. Interrupted sleep and mental exhaustion both were leaving him speechless. It wasn’t until he felt a squeeze at his shoulder that Nyx realized there even was anything to feel at all.

Nyx slowly dragged his eyes away from that face to a shoulder. Then down an arm, to a hand, and to his own shoulder. It took several seconds of confusion before his brain put together the feeling of a squeeze at his shoulder with the shoulder he was looking at.

“Ow,” he said blankly, still confused. He tried to sit up; vague training in the back of his head demanding he bow or kneel to greet his King.

Sitting up was a bad idea.

Nyx made surprising progress before his entire body seized in pain. He jerked his right arm up to try and save himself from a painful reintroduction to the ground. Nyx thought he might have heard a noise, but he was too busy hissing in pain from stiff muscles that were making every movement agony.

The hand that came down and grasped his left upper arm just proved how much more he had to learn about agony.

Nyx shrieked, throwing himself away from that hand to land painfully on his back. His coat slid and pulled around him. It fell open, letting in a rain that was wonderfully soothing in its coolness.

Breath knocked out of him, Nyx was stunned to hear cursing above him. His eyes struggled to focus past the pain. When he was able to make sense of his sight again, he saw the King hovering over him, hands held a careful distance away from his skin. There was a look of concern on his face. Over the king’s shoulder hovered a tall blonde man in glasses, also looking concernedly in his direction.

Nyx was gasping slightly, trying to get his breath back. He tried to talk, only to cough. You don’t realize how many muscles are involved in coughing until every single one of them is sore and begging not to move.

A hand was pressed to Nyx’s chest, soothing him almost immediately. His body calmed under that hand, the urge to cough quieting. A warm light seemed to radiate from it, easing his aches and pains. Even the fiery pain that had been reawakened in his arm seemed to dissipate.

For the first time, words managed to penetrate his brain. “Take it easy, okay?”

Nyx huffed a silent laugh at the obvious advice but was distracted by the next question. “Can we help? Do you need anything?”

The sight of his King’s face creased in concern was not helpful. Nyx decided this after a moment too long of trying to formulate an answer. He brought his right hand up to cover his eyes. Immediately, he was able to think clearer without the sight.

“Ahhh, I could use a couple Hi-Elixirs,” he answered in a voice thinner than he liked. The rain soothed his face and hands, and it wet lips cracked by magical fire. “All I had on me was a Potion, and I used it before I fell asleep.”

Beyond his hand, Nyx heard some vague mutters and footsteps. The hand on his chest lightened like the owner had leaned away. After a moment its full weight was back, and then Nyx heard the sound of glass breaking.

The rush of the Hi-Elixir through his system was sweet. The throbbing agony of his arm was suddenly quiet. The tension that Nyx knew came with over-worked muscles and battle-fatigue washed away. The headache he hadn’t even realized was there was very pointed in its sudden release. With a relieved sigh, Nyx pulled his hand away from his eyes, stretching his back slightly against the ground just to enjoy the new range of movement.

After a minute of simply basking in the feeling of soothing magic—a novelty after the night he’d had—Nyx tried to sit up again. The motion must have been obvious, because immediately another hand was grasping the shoulder blade of his good arm and helping him upright.

Looking at his helper Nyx was once again faced with his King. Once Nyx’s eyes had fallen onto his face, there was a quirk of the lips into a tiny, apologetic smile and the king was saying, “Sorry, we only had one Hi-Elixir on us.”

Nyx mind was still sluggish with exhaustion. All he managed was a, “It’s fine, Your Majesty. I’m already much better.” Everything went fuzzy for a moment as he took a very long blink. When he opened his eyes again there was a patient look of expectation on the king’s face.

“Sorry, what,” he mumbled. He was still desperately tired. He couldn’t have gotten more than a couple hours of rest, and it was nowhere near enough for his body or his mind.

The King’s eyes seemed to soften. The hand at his shoulder blade moved to cup his elbow. The hand he hadn’t even noticed had remained, low on his chest, pulled away to reach around his hip. “Come on, you shouldn’t rest here,” he was saying. Pressure on his elbow and back urged him upwards. “You said you needed another Hi-Elixir, and this is much too close to Insomnia. Let’s get you up.”

Nyx felt like he was supposed to protest his King’s words. His sluggish mind couldn’t think fast enough to try. Instead, he obeyed the implicit order and began climbing to his feet.

The details grayed out in his mind, which meant he probably couldn’t have managed it without the help. He vaguely registered multiple hands on his body. Two other figures beyond the blond and the King making noises. A conversation.

He knew that they had made a slow shuffling progress to the road, tripping over parts of the landscape, but he couldn’t actually remember it.

He only really came back to himself when he heard a car door close. He registered that he was sitting. There was a door at his back. There was still a warmth at his elbow. His hand was gripping the rumpled folds of a jacket, pressing against a chest in front of him.

His gaze darted between his hand and the face that chest belonged to. His King stared back at him with a furrow in his brow and a frown pulling at his lips. Nyx tried to say something. He didn’t know what. His voice wouldn’t work.

“Hey,” the king spoke softly instead, “you can rest. It’s okay.”

A strangled noise caught in Nyx’s throat. His body relaxed. Without his consent he folded over, his forehead coming to rest on that chest. His hand loosened and slid freely until it was caught in the folds of the king’s jacket without any input from him.

Nyx heard the other doors opening and closing. More people got in the car. He felt the engine start with a purr underneath them. The car began to move.

The warmth at his elbow vanished and a hand came to rest on his back. Cradling him.

Nyx closed his eyes.

Chapter 3: Recovery

Nyx was alone in the car.

“Just stay here, I’m sure it won’t be long,” the young king had said before he and his retinue had exited the car and left him there.

Nyx leaned on the door behind him, unable to fall back asleep. Part of him was cataloguing the view out the windows, the restaurant in the distance and store in front of him. The rest of him was numb to the world as he struggled to put his thoughts in order.

The entirely too short catnap Nyx had fallen into had at least stilled the reeling in his head. He could still feel the grief lurking in the dark corners of his mind, but it was no longer looming just over his shoulder, threatening to break him. Rather, everything he had to do now was weighing on him instead.

With a shiver, Nyx closed his eyes and just breathed for a moment. Bite-sized pieces, he reminded himself. You’ve just been dropped into someone else’s mission. Sit-rep.

Opening his eyes again, Nyx starting laying things out in his head.

I am safely out of Insomnia.

I am not being pursued.

I am in a safe place… physically, Nyx conceded. Next.

I was injured, Nyx reminded himself, thinking grudgingly of the beating he had taken in the night.

Forcing his mind away from those memories, Nyx firmly thought, I and others have tried to heal those injuries. So, how was he now?

Wincing preemptively, Nyx began stretching against the car door he was leaning on. There was still the burn of over-worked muscles, but by and large the sharp pains and overwhelming aching seemed to have faded.

Feeling slightly less pessimistic, Nyx shifted his coat and looked down at his arm. He winced again.

It had retained the same ash grey color he had observed earlier, and paying attention now, Nyx could feel an unnatural heat in it. When he tried to wiggle his fingers, he ended up slapping a hand over his mouth to strangle the scream that tried to escape.

Well, he thought, momentarily lightheaded, that’s still broken. It was a hysterical thought but summed up his feelings on the matter rather nicely.

Nyx slumped against the door when the pain had faded back into a dull burning sensation and he had managed to choke off the whimpering noises his body wanted to make. It seemed like every time he checked in on his arm it was worse. Nyx wasn’t sure if that was because it was indeed getting worse, or if as he relaxed further and further from battle mode, he was feeling it more and more.

Okay, Nyx thought, and even in his own head he seemed desperately breathless, injuries are not recovered yet. He took a long breath in and out. Next.

I found the King. Nyx let his eyes slip closed, and corrected the thought sardonically, The King found me. Next.

Next… he didn’t know what was next.

He had been ordered to get the Oracle and Ring out of the city and to the young King. He had passed on that duty to Libertus.

The Captain had ordered him to rendezvous with a trap. His being a traitor rather invalidated any other orders he might have given before or after.

The ghost of King Regis had ordered him to find his son. His son had found him.

Nyx didn’t know what he was supposed to do now. The simplicity of orders to follow had deserted him, and all he was left with was trauma and questions.

“…your only hope for answers.”

Annnnd he was back to the young King.

Nyx sighed, and then startled badly as the door across from him opened, his eyes flying wide to land on the face haunting his thoughts.

The young King gave him a small smile of acknowledgment as he slid into the car. The other doors opened to admit the rest of his retinue, but Nyx was distracted by the hand holding a bottle out to him.

“Here,” the King said, “another Hi-Elixir. We made sure to stock up.”

It took Nyx’s brain a moment for the words to penetrate. It took another moment of bewilderment before he vaguely recalled being asked how he was back at the Haven. He had requested a couple Hi-Elixirs only to be told the group just had the one.

“Right,” Nyx said, still thrown, and reached out to accept it. “Thanks.”

Nyx considered the Hi-Elixir in his hand for a moment before sliding it into the open fingers of his left hand. Closing his right around hand and bottle both, he crushed the bottle. The liquid flashed in the darkness of the car before sinking into his left hand.

It probably made no difference, but there was a long-running argument amongst the glaives over what injuries healed first when one used a healing item. Some argued that healing items were undiscerning and gave individual injuries a random amount of healing. Others argued that healing items treated the worst of your injuries first. A third group argued that the area of application was the most important factor; that if you had a major injury you wanted to apply the item as close as possible to get the most possible healing on that injury.

Nyx had never joined in the arguments either way, but in this moment, he wanted to eke out every possible advantage. The rest of his body was feeling fine, if achy. At this point it was only his arm that he wanted healing for.

The magic of the Hi-Elixir spread through his body, immediately cooling the horrible heat in his arm. Nyx would even swear that he felt the bones in his arm begin to resonate with the magic.

After nearly half a minute, the sensations faded, and Nyx opened eyes he hadn’t even realized he had closed. A glance at his arm didn’t show any visible change, but it was no longer an agony just waiting for the chance to overwhelm him.

When he looked up again, the King was still watching him, with a dark-haired man peering over his shoulder. “How’s the arm?” the man asked.

“Still wouldn’t dare use it, but it noticeably improved this time,” Nyx answered. His lips quirked in a weak attempt at a joking smile.

The man visually assessed him for a moment before meeting his gaze again. “Take another, we just stocked up,” he ordered him, before turning his gaze on the King. “Budge up, Noct, I can’t get in with you taking up both seats,” he grumbled.

The young King rolled his eyes as he turned to situate himself in the seat. Nyx awkwardly moved his legs to try and give him room as he realized he was also taking up part of the middle seat. Before he could figure out how to rearrange himself, a hand entered his vision with another Hi-Elixir.

Nyx reached out to accept it even as he followed the hand back to a blond with freckles in the front seat. “Thanks,” Nyx said again, and the blond smiled with obviously forced brightness at him.

“No problem, man!” he said cheerfully, letting his arm drop.

Nyx repeated his procedure of breaking the bottle in his left hand, his eyes sliding shut to enjoy the feel of the soothing magic. Again, the cool spread through his arm. This time Nyx could feel phantom sensations of the magic tracing up and down the sinews and veins in his arm. His fingers twitched at the sensation.

It took several seconds for him to realize it had been his left hand that had twitched, with no accompanying agony—unlike just minutes earlier. Nyx opened his eyes in surprise and stared down at his hand.

“Huh,” he said. Slowly and carefully, Nyx flexed the fingers of his left hand. He rotated his left shoulder. He moved his left elbow awkwardly against the bindings.

There was still a deep ache, but no crippling agony. No screaming as his flesh threatened to dissolve into cinders. No biting his lips off to contain his shrieks.

There was still an ache, and his arm still had that tight, dry feeling of a burn; one that, if mistreated, would be a constant agony.

Gonna have to rethink my use of agony, Nyx thought with a mental snort. It has a new meaning, and all my old uses of it are going to seem flippant in comparison.

Another voice intruded on Nyx’s thoughts. “Better?” it asked, startlingly close. Nyx jerked as he threw a look to his left, meeting the eyes of the driver. It was the same blond in glasses he had vaguely registered at the Haven.

“… Much,” he answered, fluttering his fingers a little. The lack of pain was still novel.

“Good,” the blond replied, already turning away.

There was a sudden warmth against Nyx’s knee and the door to the backseat slammed shut. “What was that call you got?” the dark-haired man was asking distractedly.

“That was just Dino,” the young king answered, “wanted us to swing by for some reason.”

“I dare say we can put that off until later,” commented glasses.

“Yeah,” grunted the king, “Cor comes first.”

Glasses started the engine and the car pulled out of the gas station.

Nyx was still distracted by the warm light that seemed to be radiating from his knee and blinked a little in surprise. Guess I’m headed for the Marshal after all, he thought.

There was a no doubt hysterical giggle trying to rise in his throat. He managed to swallow it down but couldn’t stop the sardonic mental commentary.

I’m currently in a very nice car, going—a quick glance to the dash on his left—no more than 5 over the speed limit, heading across Leide towards the Marshal of the Crownsguard.

Just what I expected not to happen after waking to the face of Lucis’ new King.

Nyx couldn’t stop the laugh that wheezed its way out of him this time.

The blond in the front turned to eye him in concern at the sound. “Hey, yHeysdfou okay?”

“Fine, fine,” Nyx went to wave his left hand in assurance since his right was busy trying to hold his laughter in. He recalled it was bound up when it didn’t manage to get anywhere. “Just thinking that this is not where I expected to end up when I fell asleep this morning.”

Nyx pushed off the car door behind him and finally dislodged the silly coat he was wearing, letting it pool around his hips. He found the knot in his makeshift sling and started picking it apart.

He glanced up distractedly at the sudden hiss of breath from the blond in front. “Geez, what happened,” he exclaimed. Nyx tilted his head in confusion. The exclamation had brought the others’ attention on to him. The King made a pained noise and reached around towards his face. Nyx froze, hand holding the just freed end of his ribbon.

The King’s arm stopped just before it reached his face. Nyx felt preternaturally aware of it, as if it was radiating a light that he could feel caressing his skin. He blinked at it stupidly in surprise.

There was a gentle clearing of the throat from the driver’s seat. The king dropped his arm with a frown. “It would seem whatever affected your arm spread up past your shoulder. There are ashy lines of the same color and texture as your arm spread over your neck and face.”

“Are you sure you’re okay?” the blond asked anxiously, “What could do that!?”

Nyx grimaced slightly in memory and went back to unwrapping his arm. “Like I said, I’ll be fine. I overextended myself, used more magic than could safely be channeled at once.”

The dark-haired man, tone brusque, was quick to ask, “Could it happen again? Could it get worse?”

“Nope,” Nyx answered. “I’m fresh out after last night, and that particular boost is now entirely out of my reach.” As he unwrapped his arm, Nyx was noticing the smudges and color changes revealed. It suggested that most of what he was seeing was actually ash, and his arm might look entirely different if he could wash it off. A glance at the ribbon in his hand suggested the same.

With a tiny forlorn sigh, Nyx carefully rolled the ribbon up to tuck into a pocket. He would need to clean it before attaching it to his uniform again.

That taken care of, Nyx reached towards his face to see if he could feel what the others were talking about. He stopped at the sight of his fingers, still an ashy white, and the thought of smearing that all over his face. He made a face, switching hands and dropping his left into his lap to probe with his right instead.

He started with his neck. He couldn’t feel anything in particular, but he did feel an oily residue on his neck and on his fingers. When he drew his hand back, his fingers were covered in dark streaks. Nyx grimaced unhappily and dropped his hand. If the ash was leaving such streaks on his hand, it was probably worse on his neck. He didn’t particularly want to make his face into a finger painting when he could wait for a bathroom and mirror instead.

Glancing up, Nyx could see pinched expressions on the faces of the blond and the King. “So,” he said, trying to break the awkward quiet of them watching him explore his injuries. “I don’t think I ever caught all your names.”

“Right,” the blond cried, jumping on the topic. “I’m Prompto! Prompto Argentum. And you already guessed, but this is Noct!” He waved at the King.

Nyx gave Prompto a small smile, catching the quirk of the king’s lips out of the corner of his eye. His gaze trailed over to the man sitting behind the young king, and he tilted his head in question.

The man met his eyes for a few moments before grunting neutrally and nodding. “Gladiolus Amicitia,” he greeted Nyx. “And driving at the moment is Ignis Scientia.”

“A pleasure to meet you,” Scientia commented. “And you would be?”

“Nyx Ulric, Kingsglaive,” he introduced himself. “It’s good to meet you all as well.”

Prompto leaned forward, bouncing slightly in his seat. “What was that thing you were wearing?” The question was asked excitedly, as if he couldn’t contain his curiosity any longer.

Nyx glanced down and grabbed the coat from where it had fallen around his hips. “This thing?” he asked, puzzled.

“Yeah, that thing,” Prompto said with a well, duh tone.

Nyx snorted slightly. “I think it’s supposed to be fashion,” he answered, holding it out towards the blond. “I just grabbed the thing to cover up anything that might capture Imperial interest.”

Prompto had grabbed the coat and begun exploring it. He gasped as he came across the price tag Nyx hadn’t bothered to remove. “Two thousand Crowns!?!?” he exclaimed in shocked dismay.

“Is it really?” Scientia commented, glancing away from the road for a moment to observe the garment a second time.

“I suppose that’s why you said it’s fashion,” Amicitia said with a snort.

Nyx’s lips quirked slightly. “It’s literally a shapeless piece of fabric with a hood, of course it has to be fashion to cost that much.”

“Man, there aren’t even any pockets in this thing,” Prompto complained. He had been exploring the coat further, refusing to believe Nyx’s description. He wasn’t having any success in disproving it though.

Nyx leaned back against the door, enjoying the dismay on Prompto’s features. He agreed wholeheartedly with the kid’s disgust. Two thousand crowns really was excessive for something that could be recreated with a 50-crown trip to the fabric store, a needle and thread, a pair of scissors, and half an hour of work.

“So, what, you just grabbed it out of a window,” Amicitia inquired.

“Yep. I was in Sector 5; most of the buildings had been battered pretty badly. This was on the ground, and it wasn’t until I grabbed it that I realized it was anything other than a simple piece of cloth.

“Any value it might have had probably would have disappeared in the rain anyway.”

“Well.” Prompto brandished the coat in front him, giving it a stink-eye. “I’d say it’s definitely been put to a better use as concealment than it ever would have gotten as a coat.” With that statement, Prompto dropped it back in Nyx’s lap.

Solemnly, Nyx scooped it up. “Thank you,” he said gravely, holding the coat to his chest like a treasure.

Prompto grinned, but Nyx was distracted by the huff of laughter that had come from beside him. Blue eyes danced above a small smirk, and Nyx felt a ridiculous surge of pride at getting his king to laugh.

He let himself relax there in the car for a while.

The sky had just begun to darken when they pulled off the paved road and onto one made of dirt.

“Just a few more minutes,” commented Scientia from the driver’s seat. And indeed, they were pulling into an outpost just a few minutes later.

Everyone began getting out of the car, and this time Nyx joined them. As he stepped out, he stumbled. One of his knees was tingling pleasantly but incessantly, and combined with his exhaustion, it was enough to disturb his balance. He caught himself on the door, but it took too long to feel steady again for his comfort.

“I dare say we should get some rest,” Scientia commented from beside him. “The Marshal can wait until morning.” He was looking over at Amicitia, but Nyx was certain the comment was for his benefit. He was pathetically grateful to the man for letting him pretend privacy as he recovered.

“There’s a caravan there, and I’m sure I saw a Haven as we were driving in,” Amicitia said. “What’s it gonna be Noct?”

“I’m gonna have to go with running water,” the King decided as he rounded the back of the car. When he met Nyx’s eyes, he gave him a gentle smile. “Besides, you look like you dearly need a real bed tonight.”

Nyx almost startled when the King came all the way up to him and grasped his elbow. He telegraphed the move clearly in case Nyx flinched, but didn’t hesitate to grasp Nyx’s ash-covered skin. “Come on.”

Nyx wanted to protest but was rather distracted. The skin-to-skin contact made it feel like there was a sun blazing through his elbow. The light didn’t burn; rather it soothed the intangible magical ache that had set in the moment Nyx donned the Ring.

He barely even noticed the trip to the caravan.

He did notice when the grasp on his elbow was finally relinquished and he was gently ushered into the shower. When he came out, he found a t-shirt and a pair of sleep pants waiting on the counter. He dressed.

When he stepped out of the bathroom a bowl was pressed into his hands. The smell wafting from it made him salivate. He devoured the food. When the bowl was empty, Nyx was hit by a wave of tiredness and swayed on the spot.

Hands directed him to a bed. His mind began drifting the moment his head touched the pillow. He was aware of murmuring and movement around the caravan. Eventually a warm body came to rest at his back. The line where they were pressed together on the narrow bed radiated heat.

Nyx’s body pressed greedily into that heat. The noise and movement in the caravan stilled, and he relaxed.

He fell asleep.

Chapter 4: Wisely Avoiding Things

Nyx woke up actually feeling some version of okay for the first time since things started going to shit. He stretched, enjoying the pull of burning muscles just waking up for the day. After a moment to simply bask in the nice comfy bed he was laying on, Nyx rolled over—

And came face to face with his King.

Nyx managed to strangle his shriek into a small “meep!” of surprise. He stared dazedly at the face of the man sharing the bed with him.

Black hair laid soft and downy against his pale skin. The hair was parted to frame his face, drawing attention to the soft eyelashes, delicate nose, and sculpted cheeks. Pale lips were parted slightly in sleep.

Nyx found himself barely resisting the impulse to reach out and touch the hair that looked feather soft. His urge to run those dark locks through his fingers took a long minute to settle. When it did, Nyx pointedly pushed himself upright, putting some distance between the king and himself.

Crisis averted, Nyx looked around the caravan and was surprised to realize the King’s retinue was missing. Surprised and confused, Nyx carefully maneuvered himself around and off the bed.

When Nyx eventually stumbled out the door, he found the other three sitting in chairs around a small table. Amicitia glanced up at him.

“The princess still asleep?” he asked.

Nyx snorted at the nickname. “Yep,” he answered.

“Time to get him up then,” the Shield decided, climbing to his feet.

“Please, sit. Have some breakfast.” Nyx’s attention snapped to Scientia, who was indicating the fruits and cereal set out on the table.

It took them half an hour to be ready to go. Nyx had pulled his uniform back on, looking with regret at the missing sleeve and the others had taken care of some final morning duties. The King had risen and had breakfast. They had packed the food and extra clothes into the car.

Then they had headed into the outpost, looking for some sign of the Marshal, and had run into a Crownsguard named Monica. While the King and his retinue stopped to chat with her, Nyx had prowled the outpost, wary.

When the four had turned to head out, Nyx was already standing on the path. The King’s eyes sought his, and then flicked to the path. Nyx nodded and set out ahead of them, slow enough for the four to overtake him.

They fell into a ground-eating pace, the outpost disappearing behind the hills as the path twisted.

Amicitia huffed amusedly. “Can’t keep up with this guy.”

“First the Crown City, then Hammerhead, now the royal tomb?” Prompto interjected.

Nyx found his head tilting slightly in curiosity.

Scientia adjusted his glasses before commenting, “His nickname should have been ‘Cor the Restless’.”

“Somehow not as catchy as ‘Cor the Immortal’,” opined Amicitia.

“Making it out of Insomnia only adds to his legend,” said Prompto, voice peppy.

The King sighed. Something in the noise made Nyx glance over at him, and he caught an expression flickering across that pale face as he said, “Well, fortune favors the bold.”

The expression faded without his retinue seeing it. Nyx was stuck puzzling over it even as Scientia commented, “The wise make their own luck.”

Amicitia ended the speculation on the Marshal by saying, “You think it’s a coincidence he’s made it out of all those battles alive?”

Nyx finally turned his attention back to the path, a furrow in his brow. The young king’s expression was still playing over and over in his head. Was that… bittersweet? What could that mean?

Eventually Nyx had to shrug the expression off, putting it aside to deal with later as they encountered a group of unfriendly thunderocs. Prompto’s gun going off had brought all their attention to the birds.

They all readied their weapons, but it took only a moment to see just how frustrating the battle would be. Unless the birds swooped down to attack, they were firmly out of reach. The young king made a tsk-ing noise in his throat before throwing his sword at the birds and warping up to meet them in mid-air.

Nyx paused where he had been adjusting his grip on his knives for a throw. Seeing the King’s warp-trail reminded Nyx that he himself was grounded before he could make the toss.

His frustration brought back his helplessness as he was forcibly reminded that King Regis had just died. He watched unseeing as the King warped through the sky, felling each bird with a single hit. He was caught by the furious grief and the anger at the Lucii rekindling in his chest.

The battle was short, and the three land-bound members didn’t participate at all. Thankfully, it was just long enough for Nyx to wrestle the emotions boiling in his chest back down to a simmer.

As they continued on after the battle, Amicitia again drew his attention by commenting, “Wonder what drew him to the royal tomb.”

“A morbid curiosity for the late kings of Lucis?” suggested Scientia.

Nyx unsettled emotions and recent encounters with said kings had him muttering, “An intense desire to flip them off?”

When Prompto, who had been walking closest to him, choked incredulously, Nyx realized he might not have been as quiet as he had thought he had been.

At the end of the little canyon were two towering pillars positioned like gates. One last thunderoc lingered between them, and Prompto was quick to draw and begin firing on it. He emptied his magazine into it and began reloading just as it finally dropped from the sky.

Walking past the bird’s body, Scientia announced, “We’re here.”

Past the gateway the canyon widened, and a set of stairs led up towards a small curved building. “A tomb fit for royalty,” Prompto commented as they climbed the steps.

Amicitia sighed resignedly. “Let’s go in and find the marshal.”

From the top of the steps, the tomb was larger. There was another set of steps leading downwards; it had helped disguise the true size of the building. Nyx hesitated slightly as the other four proceeded down to the door but couldn’t really hang back this time without drawing attention. And hadn’t he originally intended to find the Marshal anyway?

As he stepped through the marble doorway an unfamiliar voice said, “At last, your highness.”

Nyx gave an involuntary twitch at the form of address even as the King said, “Cor,” with warmth and relief in his voice.

The Marshal’s gaze swept their group; Nyx could tell he was verifying their status and searching for injuries. He stopped on Nyx, a slight frown appearing on his face as he assessed him.

Nyx automatically straightened, falling into parade rest under that gaze and fixing his own on the King. He answered the silent demand that had been on the Marshal’s face, saying, “Nyx Ulric, sir.”

The moment stretched, only to be broken by Scientia. “Noctis sensed him shortly after your phone call. He was only barely past the Imperial check point and was badly injured. He has only just recovered.”

Nyx could feel the Marshal’s eyes lingering on his face, likely tracing the scars that had been pointed out the day before. He hadn’t remembered to check them that morning and had been too out of it the night before to see what they looked like with the ash washed away.

Thankfully, the King broke the uncomfortable moment. He pointedly ignored any and all of the silent judgment the Marshal was giving Nyx’s unexpected addition, and said, “Tell me what I’m here for.”

With palpable reluctance, the Marshal looked away from Nyx. His gaze settled on the plinth in the middle of the room, and he extended a hand over it, as if testing for heat. His answer was spoken to the plinth. “The power of kings, passed from the old to the new through the bonding of souls.” A shiver went down Nyx’s spine, remembering the towering spectral forms in the Ring of the Lucii.

“One such soul lies before you.” The Marshal was looking at them now, two hands presenting the raised casket and bas relief to them. “To claim your forbears’ power is your birthright and duty as king.”

“Birthright and duty,” the young king muttered to himself. “The entire world, waiting on my birthright and duty.” Nyx couldn’t see the young king’s face, but the sad, bitter tone was perfectly clear to him.

Some of the harsh lines on the Marshal’s face faded. “Your father had faith in you. He always believed that when the time came, you would ascend for the sake of your people.”

The King—or was he a prince still? The talk of ascension confused Nyx—raised his face, looking away from the casket and to them. His eyes seemed to have an inner glow in the strange light of the tomb. Nyx found himself involuntarily stepping closer, trying to figure out what was going on behind those eyes.

They closed, cutting off the compulsion that had drawn him forward. “I will,” he said flatly and sighed.

He turned back to the casket and held his hand out over the sword. It began to glow and float upwards, passing through the statue’s hands without problem. Nyx’s eyes wanted to follow the sword as it rose but were stuck on the tension in the King’s—Prince’s—shoulders. He had braced himself, as if expecting a mighty blow.

When the sword suddenly shot forward, Nyx was staring straight at the young king as he flinched, turning his head sharply. The ghostly images of several weapons revolved around him, one glowing blue. He didn’t turn his head back or relax his shoulders until they had faded away.

The Marshal started speaking immediately, as if he hadn’t noticed anything strange. “That’s not the only power your forebears left you. Your journey’s just begun; another tomb lies close by. I suggest you head there next. There are tombs scattered across the land; all are on dangerous ground.”

The Marshal’s cadence paused, and he turned to look at the rest of them. “I’ll go with you, for the time being.” Nyx’s neck prickled as the Marshal seemed to focus solely on him. “Not only to help, but to get a measure of your strength.”

The silence after the Marshal spoke stretched. His words had seemed to be addressed to the King—Presumptive King? —but he had been looking at Nyx as he said them. The unknown element was obviously bothering him. Finally, the King—Prince? Nyx really needed to figure this out—seemed to come out of his reverie with a shudder and turned to the entrance.

“Where’s the nearby one?” he asked, voice distant.

“Keycatrich Trench,” the Marshal answered, gaze switching back to the young king and brow furrowing. “We know there to be a crypt deep inside the tunnels.”

The king still seemed distant, but he nodded and headed out the door.

Chapter 5: To Fight

When they had exited the tomb, the group had been unpleasantly surprised by a pack of sabertusks. The battle hadn’t taken long, but Nyx had felt a watchful gaze on his back the entire time.

“Don’t get too full of yourselves over that,” the Marshal had commented afterwards.

Walking now through the small canyon, Nyx couldn’t stop from asking the question that had been bugging him. “So, I’m confused about something.”

Nyx could feel the gaze of Scientia and the Marshal focus on him, and the tilts of the others’ heads showed they were listening as well. He waved towards the front, where the King was leading the way.

“Is he… How…” Nyx groped for words. Finally, he gave in and asked bluntly, “Is he officially a King or a Prince?”

Prompto snorted a laugh.

Scientia however graciously answered him. “While Noctis is now the sole vessel of royal power, and his word carries the weight of a King’s, his official title of record will remain Prince until he ascends the throne,” he explained clearly, and then moved to adjust his glasses. “There is even historical precedent in the official histories. Events that occurred after the death of the previous monarch but before the ascension of the next refer to the uncrowned ruler as Prince or Princess rather than King or Queen.”

Nyx absorbed the information before he nodded to himself several times. “Right,” he muttered.

The King—Prince, it was officially Prince

The Prince glanced back at him over his shoulder. “Honestly, unless someone wants an audience or I’m in the Citadel, titles are a pain,” he stated firmly. “Just call me Noctis.”

Nyx’s pace stuttered for a moment and he stumbled to a stop. “Uuuhhh,” he squeaked embarrassingly. The Prince slowed his pace, maintaining eye contact. Nyx gulped helplessly.

“I’ll… work on that,” he temporized desperately.

Nyx nervously looked around at the others, trying to shake off his surprise. Scientia had paused and was looking at him contemplatively.

He met Nyx’s eyes after a moment, but if he was about to say something it was lost when the Marshal spoke.

“Long years ago, we waged a fierce battle here against the empire.” Nyx’s eyes were dragged to the front of the group. They had exited the narrow canyon into a wider one. Over the ridge, Nyx could see Imperial drop ships zooming through the sky. “It all went to ruin, and after that, the empire moved in like it owned the place.”

“Trespassers in our own lands,” Scientia muttered, likely also spotting the ships.

The drop ships halted and began descending, dropping out of sight. Nyx frowned. Given the Marshal’s words, they would likely have to go through whatever had just arrived on those ships in order to get to their destination.

Indeed, the canyon was now twisting towards where the ships disappeared, the two walls falling away from each other. There were ruins scattered in the open space, though the road curved to follow one of the walls.

And positioned along the road were MTs.

They had a large gun set up and Nyx spotted several snipers positioned on top of piles or ruins. Thankfully they were still out of range, but it looked like a couple had spotted them, as they took up aggressive stances and aimed at the group. In the distance, far beyond this group of troopers, Nyx spotted the movements of a Magitek Armor.

It was Prompto who spoke up. “Err, how do we get through all that?”

The Marshal seemed to shrug. “Take ‘em head on or sneak up from behind. The choice is yours.”

There was the sound of crystals shattering, and Nyx glanced over to see Prince Noctis taking a few practice swings with a sword before he leveled the tip at the MTs. “Head on is just fine,” he declared flatly, and started forward.

Since he was looking at the group, Nyx saw when the Marshal summoned his sword in a flash of magic, and his mouth fell open. How—? He still has access to the royal magic? How is that fair, Nyx flailed, internally, just a little.

He was snapped out of his thoughts when the Prince declared, “I’ve got the snipers,” before he threw his sword and disappeared in a warp.

The fight turned out to be pretty easy, despite the numbers against them. Nyx and the Marshal had plowed their way across the field, not bothering to kill the MTs in their way, to reach the stationary gun. They managed to take it out before it could put anyone down for the count.

While the Prince was taking out the snipers, his retinue had fallen into a pattern of covering either Scientia or Amicitia as they took down MTs one at a time. With the gun out of commission, Nyx and the Marshal had circled back to them, taking down whatever was left. The Prince had quickly joined them. The MTs, already damaged when the veterans had dashed across the field, had fallen quickly.

As they regrouped, the Marshal asked, “You alright, highness?”

Nyx glanced up just in time to see a tiny smile quirk up Prince Noctis’ lips. “Of course.”

“And you, Marshal? Ulric?” asked Amicitia.

“No problem,” came the Marshal’s response.

“Just fine,” Nyx chimed in firmly. He was already turning his focus back to the road, trying to find the Magitek Armor he had spotted earlier. Unfortunately, the ruins provided ample opportunities for the things to hide, and plenty of blind spots.

After a moment the group of them proceeded down the road again, following the Marshal’s indication. Thankfully for Nyx’s blood pressure, they only had to pass two ruined buildings before they found the Magitek Armor patrolling around a dropship.

Scientia pointed it out. “A Magitek armor…”

The group was silent for a moment, taking it in, until Prompto worriedly commented, “How dangerous is that thing?”

“It’s actually pretty simple in terms of what the Empire could field,” Nyx told him, “plenty dangerous to a civilian, certainly worse than the MTs, but not worth getting worried about.”

Scientia adjusted his glasses and nodded at him. “Indeed, this particular model only rates as mildly dangerous.”

“Shall we?” Nyx glanced over to see Prince Noctis with his head tilted questioningly at the armor, leaning forward slightly.

“Think you’re up to it?” asked the Marshal, casually re-summoning his sword. “Let’s see what you can do.”

The battle went almost as well as the previous one. The Prince had managed to warp on top of the armor and sever its missile launchers before it could litter the battlefield with mines. The rest of them had moved in to try and knock its legs out from underneath it.

There had been a bad moment when they had been surprised by a second Magitek Armor. It had been hidden from view behind the dropship and launched missiles at them immediately as it came into sight.

The Prince had managed to shout a warning in time for them to brace themselves. Prince Noctis had then taken it upon himself to engage the new opponent, a cry of, “Prompto, cover me,” their only warning of his plan.

Nyx had distinctly heard Scientia and Amicitia curse as the Prince warped away, but all the close-range fighters had been a little too busy with the first Magitek Armor to disengage. The armor had gone down only minutes later. When they had turned to face the second armor, they had found Prompto hollering a victory.

“Impressive,” the Marshal commented, surveying the armor that Prince Noctis and Prompto had taken down alone. “Not bad. You’ve come a long way.”

As they took a moment to catch their breath, Nyx noticed the Prince giving his friend a fond smile. He couldn’t stop his own lips from twitching upwards slightly as well.

The moment passed, and Prompto commented, “So where are these tunnels?”

“Just over there,” the Marshal said, indicating where the road they had followed ended at the base of a cliff.

Nyx hadn’t quite looked away from Prince Noctis, and so he noticed as the smile slid off his face and his lips turned downwards. It only lasted a breath before his face smoothed out into an impassive expression.

“Guess we better get a move on,” the Prince murmured.

It was apparently all the signal they had been waiting for as the group set off. Once they were back on the road, Nyx could see how the path slipped down into the earth, a tunnel mouth with a rise on either side of it.

As they headed towards it, Prince Noctis made a sound of surprise. He broke off to scramble up the embankment, and at the top bent to pull something from the dirt. “Prompto,” he called. “Look.”

The Prince was holding up a strange hunk of metal. Nyx squinted at it in confusion even as Prompto let out a squeal of excitement. “Dude! Good spotting,” he cried.

As Prompto darted forwards, the hunk of metal finally resolved into a piece of machinery for Nyx. From the way Prompto was checking it over and exclaiming excitedly, Nyx concluded it must be some kind of weapon.

“It looks rather worn,” observed Scientia, also examining it. “Cid could likely help upgrade it.”

“Guess we better keep an eye out for parts, then,” Prompto commented cheerfully, sending the weapon away in a flash of magic.

With that diversion finished, the group headed into the dark opening.

Chapter 6: Enter the Tunnels

A few feet inside the tunnel, Prince Noctis paused and glanced back. Nyx was grateful for the chance to let his eyes adjust to the darkness and followed the direction of his gaze to the Marshal. After a moment or two, a subtle frown crossed the Prince’s face and he turned forward to continue. Was he expecting the Marshal to say something? Nyx wondered to himself.

Their group of six continued into the dark, all of them bar Nyx turning on flashlights affixed to their clothing. Nyx grimaced at the unfortunate necessity, already anticipating the sickening vertigo of flashing beams and alternating patches of darkness and light. The wide walls and high ceiling of the first chamber turned into another manmade tunnel, sloping downwards. Within a minute it opened up into a more natural cavern. Something glinted at the back of the cavern, and Prompto exclaimed, “Look!” directing them towards it.

“There’s a door,” Amicitia observed as they drew closer.

Prompto was practically turning in circles, trying to take in the details of the cavern. “What is this place,” he wondered, stopping for a moment as his flashlight fell on the wall of sandbags several feet deep, and taller than he was.

“It appears to have been a shelter,” Scientia answered him, inspecting the rusted metal doorway set into the rock.

“People lived here?”

“It’s a good location,” the Marshal spoke. “When the Empire brought the battle here, people fled the fighting, but they didn’t want to flee their homes. It seems they took refuge here instead.”

Prompto had grown still as the Marshal spoke. Nyx slanted a look his direction, noting the downturned angle of his face and the way shadows fell across his eyes and mouth, hiding the shape of his expression. Whatever mood had come over the blond vanished as they started down the stairs beyond the door, curiosity returning with a vengeance. “What this? A cable… Wonder where it leads.”

Scientia was again the one to address his statement. “We can follow it and see.”

The Prince apparently agreed, because that’s the way he led them. The cable ended at a generator. “Might still run,” Prompto speculated, “start her up?”

Starting the generator brought on the overhead lights strung through the tunnels, and the blond breathed a sigh of relief at the sight. Nyx, personally, was just grateful to have some light other than the flashlights. Mystery of the cable solved, they headed back to where the path had split and followed the second branch deeper into the tunnels.

Under the constant electric lights, it became obvious the tunnels were in a bad state of repair. Prompto commented, “Don’t like the look of that ceiling.”

Amicitia, also glancing upwards, hummed and replied, “Long overdue for some TLC.”

Nyx was peering into the few side corridors they passed, wondering where they lead, but the Prince was so far forging straight ahead. Soon though, their path ended at a T intersection. As the group entered it, there was a metallic clang, and Prompto jumped nearly a foot in the air, exclaiming, “What was that!”

“My bad,” Amicitia said curtly, “kicked a can.”

Prompto managed a shaky exhale, complaining, “You are killing me here, big guy! Are you trying to give me a heart attack here or somethin’!?”

Nyx heard a faint snort from Prince Noctis as he began heading left. Nyx was a few paces behind him as headed for a pile of rubble, stooping down to grab something just as the whole place trembled, bits of dust falling from the ceiling.

Nyx cursed quietly, tensing to dart forward and pull the Prince away—a pile of rubble meant the ceiling had already collapsed once and would be even weaker now, shit—but the Prince was already moving back, holding himself on his toes in case they had run or dive out of the way of something. They were all tense for a moment, waiting to see what might happen, but the rumbling settled quickly.

“If it’s all the same to you guys,” Prompto began, voice throbbing with tension, “I’d rather not get buried alive.”

Everyone took a moment to breathe. They could all feel a tension building, a pressure to finish quickly and get back out of the tunnels before anything further could collapse. Ignis was the one to put it into words though, saying, “Let us be quick.”

“Ah,” said Prince Noctis, posture relaxing as he turned away from the dead end. He glanced down at the object in his hand for a moment, and then over to Nyx. After a moment, he realized the Prince was looking at his bare arm.

Prince Noctis parted his lips, almost like he meant to speak, but was silent. Nyx felt his skin prickling, and the longer the moment stretched the more aware he was of the scars on his arm. “Ulric.”

The moment broke. Nyx blinked and found the Prince standing in front of him. He was still trying to pull himself back together from where his anxieties had gotten him lost in his own head, but managed a “Yeah?”

“Here,” and Prince Noctis held whatever it was he had found out to him. Nyx fumbled only slightly as he accepted it. “The Kingsglaive uniform has some great protections but missing a sleeve won’t do you any favors.”

It was a bracelet.

For a moment Nyx’s mind was blank before he managed to kick it back into gear. Carbon Bangle, he identified belatedly. Force redirection magic. Mass produced for the army several kings ago, continued the litany that had been drilled into them by the quartermaster. Production facility located in greater Lucis; access lost shortly after the Wall was retracted, destroyed soon after by Imperial forces. No new stock will arrive, don’t lose it in the field.

Well, he thought dryly, guess someone didn’t get the message. The deadpan humor steadied him enough to choke out a, “Thanks,” even as he was already mechanically sliding the bangle around his bare wrist.

Prince Noctis nodded at him, and then headed past him to the other passage. It was blocked by a gate similar to what they had seen at the entrance, which creaked open easily at the Prince’s touch. Prompto made a pained noise at the sound and muttered something Nyx didn’t manage to catch through his scrambled thoughts. Amicitia’s chuckle, though, came through loud and clear. “What, too atmospheric for you?”

There two kept muttering at each other, but Nyx didn’t try and make out what they were saying. The passage beyond the door quickly ended at another T junction, but this time Prince Noctis ignored the direction blocked with rubble and advanced down the open corridor.

A short distance down the corridor, a set of green metal doors appeared. Amicitia tested them when they drew abreast, but they were locked up tight. As he sighed and stepped back, however, Prompto gasped, “Did you see that?”

The blond’s tone was just on the edge of freaking out, and Nyx tensed. “Something ran past,” he explained, pointing a shaking hand at the mesh replaced the bottom foot of the door.

“What was it?” Scientia’s voice was serious, and the glance Nyx flicked his way caught only concern.

His glance flicked to Amicitia next, finding the Shield equally serious. “Dunno,” he said, obviously considering. Having been the one to test the doors, the man would have had the best chance of also catching a glimpse of whatever Prompto had seen.

“It’s not going to stop us,” Prince Noctis said quietly.

“Uh, we’re not going to run?”

“Prompto, we’re the strongest thing in these tunnels,” the Prince told him reassuringly.

Nyx, meanwhile, was coming to the realization that the Prince’s retinue had apparently never explored a dark, abandoned pit in the earth before. He found himself eyeing the Marshal, one eyebrow arched incredulously. The man looked back at him, expression inscrutable, but gave a tiny shrug.

It’s like that, then, Nyx thought, looking away with a tiny sigh as the group started moving again. So. Well-trained, but little experience. They peered down a side passage sealed with another gate. Prompto tested this one and muttered, “Locked. Total shocker,” when it wouldn’t budge.

I’d guess never been out of Insomnia. Well, he corrected himself as they examined an old well in the floor, in a mission sense. The Prince did go to Tenebrae as a child. They moved on. He seems to be the most at ease with this, and he knew to immediately go for the snipers and the missile launchers when we fought earlier. Does he—

Bang! Bang! Bang!

Prompto shrieked. Nyx, paying more attention to his thoughts than his surroundings as he was, almost jumped out of his skin. They had come to a room filled with more sandbags and an old army-issue canister of ice magic; as Prince Noctis had stepped into it a fierce banging had come from behind another set of doors.

“Whatever it is, it’s playing with us,” Amicitia rumbled in reply to something Nyx hadn’t heard. Despite knowing the likely culprit, he was still stuck trying to calm his racing heartbeat.

As they moved further into the room, Prompto called, “Hey, wait.” When the Prince threw a glance his direction he explained, “Neeeeeed to brace for this.”

Nyx thought he might have seen a smile playing across Prince Noctis’ lips as he turned away, heading towards the far corner of the room. Prompto was standing in front of the doors, taking deep breaths to psych himself up. Prince Noctis stooped to grab something from the ground. He stood, twirling a coin between his fingers just as Prompto nodded determinedly. “Okay. I’m gonna’ count to three. On three, you open the door. Got it?”

The rest of their group was also positioning themselves to be ready for whatever might come through the doors. Prince Noctis definitely had a smile now. “Sure Prom. Whenever you’re ready.”

“Alright. Okay.” Prompto nodded to himself. “Here I go.

“One.

“Two.

“Three.”

The door rattled, but didn’t open.

The breath the retinue had been holding went out of them. “Different door, same story,” said Amicitia, managing to sound disappointed despite his tension.

Since they had reached a dead end, they turned around. As they left the room, there was a clanging from the passage on their left; when they peered down it, they discovered there was another gate, just barely visible, standing open. Curious and wary in equal parts, they passed through it.

There were stairs, and at the bottom the rough-hewn passage turned to the right. After a couple feet the wall on their left gave way, opening up into a natural cavern. The lights strung throughout the tunnels were strung here as well, one of them pinned to the wall and shining a light on the sandy ground at the back of the cave.

Actually… Nyx squinted. There was something there, half-buried in the sand but shining despite that. “Is that an Ether?” he asked, pointing it out.

“Huh,” muttered Prompto, “looks like. That’s pretty convenient for us.”

Prince Noctis moved forward, heading for the bottle. Amicitia followed, making a grab for him and missing, already giving an exasperated, “Noct,” when Prompto gasped, “Above us!”

Nyx jerked his gaze upward, just barely catching a fading trail of purple light as Amicitia cried, “Look out!” There was a sound of crumbling rocks, the cavern trembled for a moment, and then bits of the ceiling started falling.

They all scrambled out of the doorway to make room for Amicitia and the Prince to dash out. Before they had to consider frantically making a break for it, the trembling calmed. There was only the soft shish of dust streaming out of the ceiling with the occasional plink of a larger rock losing its fight against gravity.

“Well.” The Marshal’s voice was dry as the dust settling in the other room. “That was exciting.”

Slightly cowed by the Marshal’s ‘judging you’ stare, the group silently agreed to pretend the cavern thing had never happened, and continued down the passage. Just a little further on it made another turn to the right and went up a set of stairs.

At the top was a closed gate that swung open easily under Scientia’s touch. Stepping through, they were back on the main corridor, and Nyx recognized the gate as the one they had tried to open earlier. Guess the lock is one-way.

Given what Nyx suspected they were dealing with, he turned left, back towards the locked doors Prompto had seen something behind earlier. Not too surprisingly, one of the doors was flung open as he approached, someone making an exclamation of surprise behind him.

The room they found had several crumbling walls that looked like they once divided the space. Bricks from said walls littered the floor and piled in the numerous corners. Ever the Shield, Amicitia declared it, “A place to lurk if I’ve ever seen one,” as they cautiously passed through it to the tunnel beyond.

Almost immediately, there was a split, but a moment’s glance down the left fork showed it had collapsed. With the Marshal’s judging silence at the back of the group, they hurried down the right fork instead. The floor was uneven, dipping down for a few feet and then coming back up at another gate. This one wasn’t locked, but beyond it was a pile of boulders blocking their way.

It seemed someone else had been this way before, though, because a small gap had been cleared near the ground. There was a particularly big boulder acting as a “roof” on the opening and one of the cables from the generator lead through it. On the other side was another large, natural-looking cavern. The only direction for them to go was a set of doors where the wall tapered, and that’s where they headed.

As they approached them, Prompto commented, “Hey, didn’t we already—”

The doors burst open with a bang, flying off their hinges as a pair of goblins filled the doorway. Nyx’s weapons were in his hands without him consciously thinking about it even as Scientia, Amicitia, and Prompto exclaimed in shock. Prince Noctis seemed to have the same instinct as him, blue already fading around the sword in his hand.

The fight—if it could be called that—was over almost as quickly as it had begun. Prince Noctis warped into the first goblin, knocking it over, and came back up turning into a blow that neatly beheaded the second. The Prince’s retinue hadn’t even fully materialized their weapons when he banished his own a flick of the wrist.

The adrenaline was still pounding through Nyx’s veins as he shoved his knives back in their sheaths. Six damned goblins, Nyx thought with vitriol. Hate them, he swore, thoughts full of profanity, Those fuckers.

Beyond the now busted doors was a room with a familiar canister of ice magic. Full circle, great, Nyx thought, still feeling pissy about the goblins. We must have missed something.

As they headed back down the main corridor, Prompto made a sound of puzzlement. “What is it,” Amicitia asked.

“That. Wasn’t there before,” Prompto indicated something green lying in the pool of light around the well they had inspected earlier. Prince Noctis moved forward to snatch it off the ground. As he stood back up, goblins dropped from the ceiling.

These ones were cleverer, dropping on all sides of the group, but it didn’t help them. Nyx and the Marshal both immediately turned outwards, going for the ones that landed at the back of the group. The daemons made shocked cries as they died and Nyx turned quickly, not wanting to have any of the others at his back.

He needn’t have bothered. All that was left of them was a small puff of daemonic smoke already dissipating in front of Prince Noctis.

For a moment there was silence.

Scientia was the one to break it, giving a small cough and adjusting his glasses. “Regretful as falling for that trap was, I believe we have found a way to proceed.” He indicated the wall opposite the well and when Nyx turned to look, surprised, he realized that there was indeed another passage. More specifically, a passage they hadn’t explored before, so discernable because like the tunnel they had been in earlier, it was blocked by a fall of rocks.

Once through, they decided to follow the lights to the right. It led them to another cavern, and while Prince Noctis continued forward to its far corners, most of the group paused in the middle. “A dead end,” Scientia remarked, unimpressed.

Prompto, who had followed the Prince further, fretted, “I could have sworn this was it,” which was about when the lights cut out.

Even as Nyx turned resignedly towards the cave opening, Amicitia was lowly exclaiming, “The hell?”

Prompto seemed the quickest on the uptake as he cried, “Somebody, turn on a light!” As the retinue worked on sorting their wits out, Nyx heard the chittering laughter fast approaching and readied his knives.

The group of goblins wasn’t that big, but they knew how to take advantage of the tunnels’ instability. A small boulder landed beside Nyx, just grazing his arm. It was enough warning to throw himself backwards, away from that part of the ceiling, just in time for more chunks of rock to fall. He was rising from the crouch he’d fallen into just as a sword flew past him, trailing blue, and Prince Noctis warped into one of the daemons.

There wasn’t anything left to fight after that point, the Prince taking the goblins out efficiently with one blow each.

As they slowly picked their way out of the cavern and back towards the unlighted passage—not that it made a difference anymore—Prompto spoke, “The generator… it must have died, huh?” He was obviously beginning to put the pieces together and doubted his conclusion.

Nyx would give the man a bone. “Goblins are the worst daemons on the face of Eos. They’re also scrawny things that can’t back up the shit they pull.” Somehow, Prompto’s silence did not seem like one grateful to have his thoughts confirmed. Ah, well. Goblins. Nobody liked those fuckers.

The passage soon ended at what looked like a landslide. It hadn’t completed been sealed off, however, as two sheets of metal seemed to have resisted being moved to leave a very thin passage between them.

Turning sideways, they shimmied through into a new section of the tunnels.

Chapter 7: Dark Depths

After finding an Elixir laying in the middle of the tunnel, they had decided to take a side passage. It was rather rough with water dripping from the ceiling, but it had led them around to another set of locked green doors and a gate that stood open.

The passage past the gate was joined by another that looked like the way they hadn’t taken, so they continued straight. Further on there was a closed gate, but it gave way with no resistance. When the end of the passage was just barely visible in the light of their flashlights—another collapse—doors appeared on their right. For once they opened on their first attempt.

The room beyond looked like it had been used as a storage room; it was littered with barrels and metal shelving. There was even an old canister of fire magic propped against the wall. Chairs were positioned around tables made from army-sized crates.

“Wait. Hear that?” While they had been looking around there had been a soft hissing noise but it had stopped with a squeaking sound, followed by the steady dripping of water into a puddle.

Given that these were goblin infested tunnels, Nyx knew it had to be their fault; but from the beginning Prompto had been expressing the worry/hope that there might be people left that they would be intruding on. Now hearing what sounded like someone finishing a shower was playing into that.

Prince Noctis gave Prompto a look before proceeding to the single door in the corner. Inside they found a locker room with showers, but no presence. “Nothing,” Prompto muttered. One of the shower heads was still dripping and the floor around it was wet, but that was the only sign they found of what they had heard.

“That’s weird,” Amicitia declared. That’s goblins, Nyx thought.

The attack came when they exited the locker room, but it wasn’t goblins. Instead, two tarantula daemons were waiting for them.

Prince Noctis gave a startled curse at the sight of them, and suddenly the far one was consumed in a burst of fire. Nyx was impressed; he hadn’t even seen the Prince move and already one of them was down. Prince Noctis turned to face the second, but stopped. Scientia and Amicitia were already moving in, and the Prince seemed to decide to give them the chance to engage for once.

The two men did well at staying out of each other’s way, each getting a number of hits in. Prompto got in on the action too, getting off a couple bullets when he had a clear shot. It took a minute, but they managed to put the daemon down without injury.

When the daemon’s body finally dissipated, Prince Noctis let out a sigh and reached up to run a hand through his hair. After a moment he dropped his hand again. “Let’s keep going. It can’t be long now.”

With that quiet declaration they headed for the double doors in the other corner of the room. Moments later Amicitia, in the lead for the moment, nearly tripped over a piece of machinery lying on the floor, invisible in the dark.

“You okay, big guy?” Prompto hurried forward and scooped the weapon off the floor. “I’ll get this out of the way. You didn’t hurt yourself, did ya’?”

“I’m fine, blondie. Seriously, who leaves a weapon lying in the middle of the hallway?!”

The Marshal snorted, speaking up for the first time in a while. “You’ll find it’s rather common in the dark corners of the world. Something about the places daemons love causes people to leave their weapons as they flee.” The Prince threw him a long look at his words, a pain in his eyes that Nyx couldn’t find an explanation for.

They proceeded forward again. A passage appeared on their left and when they peered down it, a bottle sparkled in the light of their flashlights. As Prince Noctis scooped up the Hi-Elixir, Prompto quietly worried, “The people here sure didn’t do a very good job at cleaning out the place when they left.”

That passage also ended only a little further on where the ceiling had come down and they backtracked. Going straight now, they came to another set of doors in the seemingly endless number of them in these tunnels.

Beyond the doors was the most spacious room they had seen yet. There was more metal shelving, some kerosene tanks, boxes, and crates. As they moved away from the doors they entered and towards the middle of the room, Nyx noticed another set of doors to their right that were likely the locked pair they had encountered earlier.

And then a spider fell on them.

It was an Arachne daemon that had apparently been lurking on the ceiling. Scientia and Prompto were knocked on their asses. “Really?! Again,” Prompto squawked as he scrambled to his feet. Amicitia had already darted in, calling up a shield to guard his comrades.

The Prince, clear of the daemon cursed and called, “I’m out of fire.”

Scientia, on his feet again, calmly responded, “We’ll do this the hard way then.”

Amicitia dropped his shield and summoned a broadsword instead, taking a swing at the giant spider. Nyx darted in while its attention was on the Shield and hacked at one of its leg joints—it was of a height with his shoulders, seriously, he already hated this daemon. The daemon was quick to strike at him but he had already fallen back, keeping track of which leg he had attacked.

The focused attention of the retinue, the Prince, and himself was apparently too much for the daemon, because that was when it whipped out the balls of lightning. Nyx managed to dodge as it deployed them, and marked where they had stopped so as not to stumble into one. Amicitia wasn’t quite so lucky, letting out an “argh” when one plowed into him.

They chased the Arachne around the room several times. Nyx’s focused attacks on one of its legs were noticed and joined by first Scientia and then Prince Noctis. The daemon let out a shriek they finally cut it off and predictably responded with another round of lightning.

The second leg came off a little faster, and when it did the daemon drooped, head dropping into range. It was immediately targeted, and the daemon let out a final cry as it died.

They took a minute to recover, Scientia checking everyone over. Nyx backed up before the man could turn his attention on him, not wanting the fuss. It was then, seeing everyone catching their breath, that he realized two things.

One, he hadn’t relaxed when the daemon had died, and two, it had only been the five of them fighting.

Slowly, he turned to see the Marshal still standing near the entrance, hand hovering over the hilt of his sword.

They stared at each other, Nyx barely daring to breath. And then, “Cor,” called Prince Noctis from somewhere behind Nyx, “You weren’t interested in joining the party?”

The Marshal’s gaze left Nyx to look to his side, and he was aware of someone moving towards them. After a moment the man let his sword drop in a glimmer of blue magic and crossed his arms. “I had faith you had it well in hand. I wanted to observe how you worked together.”

“Oh? What did you think then,” Prince Noctis asked in an indolent tone. The Marshal squinted at him for a moment before looking back at Nyx.

“Tell me, Ulric,” the Marshal’s voice was flat, “Why are you traveling with the Prince?”

Nyx slowly let out a breath. What could he say? “The last order King Regis gave me before he died,” he began slowly, “was to escort the Oracle safely to Altissia.”

There was an exclamation behind him, but it was the sharp movement next to him that had caught his attention. Nyx glanced over, meeting Prince Noctis’ eyes.  The expression on his face was laser focused.

It took a lot more effort than he had expected to wrench his gaze away. He looked back to the Marshal, taking another careful breath. “And his very last order to me,” he continued even slower, “was to seek out and help his son.”

Nyx could practically feel the confusion slowly seeping into the air from the Prince’s retinue. He held the Marshal’s gaze, refusing to waver. Finally, the man grunted, lowering his crossed arms. His eyes flickered towards the scars on Nyx’s arm.

“Like I thought, then,” he said quietly, before his gaze came back up to burn into Nyx’s face. “And where is the Ring of the Lucii now?” he demanded.

“With the Oracle,” Nyx answered, unmoved.

The Marshal eyed him for several minutes before granting him one sharp nod. “Fine,” he said.

The tension pulling his spine straight released, and Nyx let his shoulders slump for a moment before he turned to face the others. He met Prince Noctis’ gaze again.

His mouth was parted slightly, skin pulled tight around his eyes. Worry and a touch of horror seemed to be painted on his face. Nyx’s gaze flickered swiftly to the others, seeing only confusion on their faces. When it returned to Prince Noctis, he was frowning slightly in thought, eyes cast to the ground.

As he watched, the Prince opened his mouth to speak, but stopped abruptly before closing it again. His eyes flickered up to meet his, before flicking away to observe his friends. Nyx felt strangely off-balance by the deflection.

It was Scientia who broke the silence. “This is likely difficult but,” he hesitated a moment, seeming to roll the words around on his tongue. “Could you… describe what happened? When Insomnia fell?” He glanced away. “It’s… hard to accept,” he admitted. “Particularly for us, perhaps, because it seemed like we woke to find ourselves in a bad dream where Insomnia had Fallen in the night.”

Quiet stretched for a moment. When Scientia continued, it was in a voice low like a confession, “Some details might make it more real.”

Nyx drew a breath. It was hard, even for him, and he had been there. How much harder must it be for them, trapped in uncertainty and not knowing anything? The only sources of information they could turn to were either under Imperial control (like the news), had been on the perimeter (like the Marshal) or dead in the Citadel.

Nyx found himself wanting to answer, to tell them what he knew, what he had seen, what he had done. He was opening his mouth to answer, but his voice caught in his throat.

He didn’t know where to start.

He glanced a little helplessly at the Prince, before turning back to Scientia. What could he say?

As he struggled, not denying the request, there was a shuffle behind him. He had stopped keeping track of the Marshal in his distraction and started when a hand came down on his shoulder. Nyx glanced at the man, eyes pleading for help.

The Marshal gave a tiny sigh and a small squeeze of his hand. “Give me a report, Ulric,” he ordered. “What happened the day of the signing?”

Nyx straightened unconsciously, mind clearing. A report. That shouldn’t be too hard. He began speaking.

~*~

“The Princess was missing. She wasn’t with the Imperial party or in her quarters. I followed a hunch that the King had made a tracking device for her safety. She had been kidnapped and was being held outside the city, with a hidden invasion fleet.

“I brought the information to the King and he authorized the Glaive to deploy. Drautos was missing, but we couldn’t wait to find him, and he turned up on comms soon after. We infiltrated the Imperial ships and found the Princess, but it was a trap.” Nyx’s voice stuttered momentarily, and he closed his eyes.

“The ship the Princess was on had some kind of giant daemon patrolling it, and it chased us. We got away and were preparing to leave when we witnessed the Wall fall.” Nyx’s cadence stuttered this time, and he managed to say, “That’s when the traitors attacked,” before his control broke. He covered his eyes and just shuddered through the emotions for a moment.

His next statement was whispered to his hand, “I don’t know that any loyal Glaive that went on that mission managed to make it out.”

It took several minutes for him to calm. Another hand landed on his empty shoulder. The warmth was soothing, and Nyx eventually managed to lower his hand and stare blindly ahead.

“The Dreadnaught was sinking, so the Princess grabbed an airship and I followed. She insisted on returning to the Citadel and the King. We arrived to find the treaty room strewn with bodies. The only people still standing were the King, the Oracle’s brother, and General Glauca. Her brother fell as we arrived, his arm taken by the Ring of the Lucii.” Nyx paused momentarily, before admitting, “It saved him from Glauca’s sword.”

He took a breath before forging onwards. “I engaged Glauca, and the King retreated with the Princess and the Ring to a hidden elevator. I managed to warp to them at the last moment, and we escaped with Glauca pursuing.”

“The elevator was connected to a passage that led to the royal garage. The King entrusted the Ring to the Princess and ordered me to escort the Princess to Altissia. He fell back and erected a barrier between us to prevent pursuit. Glauca arrived… and slew the King.” Nyx drew a ragged breath in and out.

“The Princess and I proceeded out of the Citadel in a car but were attacked by traitors in another airship. I discovered that my magic had gone with King Regis when I tried to drive them away. The City Guard helped waylay the airship, but we lost the car to some Magitek Armors. Daemons swarmed us, and I realized the Empire had planted their own tracking device.

“Drautos came on the comms just as we finished dealing with them, and explained the Empire held all the exits. He directed us to rendezvous in Sector D for an extraction.

“It was deserted when we arrived, so I proceeded forward alone. One of the traitors was waiting and shot me. He left me and pursued the Princess for the Ring. Drautos arrived just as he foolishly decided to try it on. And then—”

Nyx broke off, gaze darting around. He swallowed heavily. “The news had reported that one of the Lucian Insurgents involved in the attack was a friend. A fellow Glaive who had resigned in the wake of the announcement of the Treaty concessions,” Nyx was staring ahead sightlessly again, “he pulled up in a car just then. And he… he ran Drautos over.”

Nyx was shaking, vaguely aware of something wet on his face. “And then Glauca tossed the car aside,” he whispered.

The hands on both his shoulders tightened. There was an angry rumble behind one shoulder, and a hiss behind the other. A cut-off curse came from in front of him. None of them managed to penetrate the scenes playing out in his mind.

“He was slow,” Nyx narrated, “took his time. He waited for the Princess to reach me before he began advancing.” Nyx’s eyes were firmly on the memory. “She was thinking about using the Ring,” he explained to his blind audience. “And I couldn’t let her do that. It was my job to get her out of the city, but Glauca wasn’t going to let her go. So I put the Ring on.”

Nyx’s left hand clenched involuntarily. “I convinced them, somehow. They granted me their full power until the Sun rose, and I repelled Glauca. I gave the Ring back to the Princess and entrusted her safety, and my mission, to my friend. I summoned the Old Wall, and fought Glauca and the Empire’s pet daemon through the night.

“The dawn deadline was apt, because the full power of the Lucii was not kind to my body. I managed a killing blow on Glauca with minutes to spare. I expected to die, but the Old Kings summoned me again to talk a lot of cryptic nonsense. When they had said their piece, King Regis ordered me to find and help his son.”

Nyx wavered for a moment. He could end his report there, but the story wasn’t quite complete yet. “I stumbled my way out of the city somehow. With my arm and my uniform covered, I was just another refugee. Glauca had lied, and the way out of the city was still open. I got to Ostium Gorge with MTs marching up behind me. They set up in the old Check Point shortly after I passed through it.

“I was near collapse, so I headed up the hill to a Haven. I assessed and treated my injuries as best I could. I planned to find the Marshal, since the King could be anywhere between Insomnia and Altissia. When I woke up, the King had found me.”

Chapter 8: Conquering Companionship

In the wake of his recital, Nyx sank into himself. He wanted to fall apart, the emotional wounds he had just exposed still fresh. He resisted the temptation, trying to shut the turbulent emotions away again. They might be safe from pestering right now, but they were still inside lightless, daemon infested tunnels.

At some point, either in his fight for control or during the end of his report, Nyx’s eyes had fallen closed. There was a tug at his shoulder, pulling him around. The second hand slid away as he turned. One of his hands came up, trying to brace himself, and tangled in fabric. Arms came around him and tugged him forward to lean against a firm chest. A hand shifted up and gently pressed his head down to rest on a shoulder.

Nyx shuddered at the comfort, his attempts to box his emotions up failing. Leaning into a warm chest, cradled by strong arms, he couldn’t stop shaking. Biting his tongue to try and stem some of the tide, Nyx could feel tears sliding down his face and soaking into the shoulder he was hidden against.

Of all the horrors that had occurred during the Fall, it was the betrayal that struck deepest. The Kingsglaive had been like a family. Sure, there were assholes, but every family had them. You dealt with your disgust for them, but at the end of the day, you wanted them safe and knew they wanted you safe.

Being confronted with traitors perfectly willing to kill him, who he killed easily and effortlessly when they tried, traitors who had already killed some of his dearest friends… It tangled something up inside him. He grieved the glaives that had died, that he had killed, that had tried to kill him, even as he hated them.

Maybe in the Crownsguard, where co-workers were simply co-workers, the betrayal wouldn’t cut so deep. But Nyx had known every single one of the traitors, had trusted them. Beyond trust, he had regarded them as family.

So he leaned into the freely offered embrace, crying silent tears of grief and shook with the betrayal. He would be fine in a few minutes.

After those few minutes, Nyx’s emotions began evening out. He tried to pull away, aware of the fact that he was practically a stranger to everyone here and was likely making his comforter uncomfortable. But the arms around him merely tightened, somehow aware that he hadn’t put himself back together yet.

So, he gave himself a moment to bask in being held. There was warmth radiating from every point of contact, chasing away any cold he might feel. Its borders seemed to stretch and grow with every beat of his heart.

Nyx let his thoughts wander through the meaningless subject of warmth for a minute before he felt more like himself. When he lifted his head, the arms around him dropped and let him step back. Nyx found himself meeting the soft, evaluating blue eyes of Noctis Lucis Caelum.

Recalling the feathery brushes against his face when he had looked up, the soothing hand in his hair, the scent, the warmth… Nyx felt himself flush. He had broken apart in the grasp of his Prince. He was horribly grateful in that moment that the only light came from their flashlights.

Nyx found himself looking around almost desperately, hoping for something to distract him. He found it when he noticed the metal doors now standing open and realized the Marshal was missing.

Nyx frowned slightly, turning to encompass both the Prince and his retinue. “Where’s the Marshal?” he questioned.

It was Scientia who answered. “The Marshal said he only stayed so long to evaluate your presence. With his questions answered, he felt it better to leave. He will be keeping an eye on the Empire.”

Nyx nodded. The explanation fit with the close eye the Marshal had kept on him since the first tomb. His breaking down for those few minutes was certainly awkward and could certainly have helped chased the Marshal off, but at least it wasn’t the only reason.

Prompto sighed. “It was nice having the Marshal’s help. These tunnels are creepy.”

That seemed to be the signal to move on. With a few desultory comments about the tunnels, they set off into the next section. After only a few paces, something caught Amicitia’s eye.

It turned out to be the Royal Tomb. Prince Noctis unlocked the doors and they all went inside, Nyx going last. He lingered a moment to examine the doors, and was distracted looking around the inside of the tomb, surprised at how similar the tombs were so far.

He had to pull up sharply to not run into the back of Prince Noctis. The rest of the retinue had spread out to view the pedestal, and in Nyx’s distraction he hadn’t paid attention to how close he had gotten. Barely a foot separated him and the Prince.

Nyx was about to step back, when his attention was caught by the unnatural stiffness to Prince Noctis’ shoulders. He was braced as if for something extremely painful, and as he lifted his hand slowly towards the pedestal, Nyx found his own hand lifting as well.

His hand pressed against a shoulder blade just as a light came from in front of Prince Noctis, partially blocked by his body. Nyx felt a shiver run through the Prince even as a weight pressed back against his hand. Before he could contemplate the meaning of either action, his attention was caught by the glow rising past Prince Noctis’ shoulder.

It was a humongous axe, shining with a silver light. At the top of its rise it turned once in the air, menacing. And then it shot down to impale Noctis.

Nyx felt the Prince flinch into his hand, but there was no impact as he absorbed the weapon.

The familiar feel of magic fluttering across his senses and a crystalline tinkling sound had him jolting forward. He nearly plastered himself against the Prince’s back as he remembered what had come next.

A glowing circle of weapons appeared, centered around Prince Noctis. There was just enough room for them to avoid Nyx as they revolved. Again, one weapon glowed blue: the giant axe that Noctis had just absorbed.

Nyx observed the weapons as his heart slowed from the sudden jolt. There were swords, a mace, a crossbow, a trident… The newest weapon glowed, but Nyx found himself unable to identify what weapon the Prince had gained at the first tomb.

Finally, the circle faded away, the magic drawing back into Prince Noctis. Despite being free, and despite the awkwardness of being pressed against his Prince, Nyx waited.

After a long moment, he felt the Prince relax. It was another moment still before he straightened and surrendered the support Nyx had offered.

Nyx took a step back.

The comfortable silence was interrupted by a cough.

Nyx’s gaze swung to Amicitia and found him fighting a losing battle with a smile. Meeting Nyx’s eyes, he gave up and grinned widely. “You had a close call there,” he said.

“Indeed,” Scientia commented, a smile in his voice even if he had discreetly covered his expression by adjusting his glasses. “It would have been unfortunate if he had been hit.”

“Yeah Noct, your magic must be pretty aware of him to flow around him so naturally,” Prompto chimed in cheerfully.

Nyx was distracted from his sheepish embarrassment by a high-pitched noise, somewhere between a squeak and a whine, coming from the Prince. Prince Noctis abruptly turned around and marched past Nyx, out of the room.

For a moment after the Prince passed, Nyx wondered if he had really seen the flush riding high on his cheeks. Amicitia rumbled in amusement, and Scientia laughed softly. Nyx didn’t understand their reference, but he could recognize friends poking fun at one another.

Letting his questions at the exchange fade, Nyx put aside the worry that his actions might have been deemed presumptuous. Prompto came forward to clap him on the shoulder, and Nyx moved with him to follow the Prince. They might be done, but there was still the chance of encountering daemons on their way out of the tunnels.

Prince Noctis hadn’t gone far. He was peering down another branch they hadn’t taken at an intersection. When they came up to him, he glanced at them for a moment before turning towards the path to the entrance.

Again, Nyx thought he saw a flush on the Prince’s cheeks but dismissed the possibility. Hadn’t he himself thought how the bad lighting would prevent anyone from noticing such a thing? It was just the shadows playing tricks on his eyes.

As Amicitia and Scientia caught up to them, Prompto commented, “So, Noct borrows the old kings’ powers?”

Scientia responded with a nod. “More or less. At this rate, he’ll soon rival his Father’s legacy.”

“’The Copycat King’,” Amicitia commented cheerfully.

“Hate to break it to you, but they’ve already got an entirely different title picked out for me.”

The strange comment caught Nyx’s attention, bringing his focus back to Prince Noctis immediately. He titled his head thoughtfully at the trace of bitterness in the words.

Prompto thankfully continued talking without a noticeable pause. “Well? What’s it feel like?”

Prince Noctis sighed. “It’s… like having a second Arsenal. Except this one is stored in a different place to the Crystal Arsenal.”

There was something ever so slightly off to that statement. Like something Prince Noctis was specifically choosing not to say… Also, Crystal Arsenal? Stored in a specific place? There was some important information being casually dropped in that sentence. Perhaps that was the answer to how the Marshal had been able to summon his weapon despite King Regis’ death. Perhaps the Crystal Arsenal was accessible as long the royal blood survived, even if the individual that connected one to it was gone.

“Sounds like you’ll need practice,” Scientia commented. His voice cut into Nyx’s thoughts, reminding him of their current locale. With an internal sigh, he once again set his contemplations of the crystal’s magic aside.

Thankfully, the way out of the tunnels was much easier than the way in had been. It appeared no new goblins had come creeping their way in, so all the fuss of locked doors and detours could be avoided.

They were outside, making their way through the Keycatrich ruins, when conversation started again.

Scientia slowed and turned to Nyx, meeting his eyes. “I had meant to bring it up earlier, but the Marshal distracted us.” He titled his head at Prince Noctis, “Noctis expressed to you his desire to be called by name, but the rest of us have not specified. Please, if we are to travel together, call me Ignis.”

The others had slowed and stopped for this conversation. Amicitia came to clap Ignis on the shoulder but was looking at Nyx. “And I prefer to go by Gladio,” he said.

Nyx met their eyes for a long moment before nodding. “Call me Nyx,” he said with a slight smile. “My friends certainly never called me Ulric.”

“Nyx!” Prompto cheered. Then he peered suspiciously at him. “I don’t have to clarify what I like to be called, do I?”

Nyx’s smile widened. “No, Prompto, your permission was clear from the beginning,” he replied, happy to settle the subject.

Before they could start off again, a cell phone rang.

Chapter 9: Taking Stock

“What’s up?” Prompto asked.

“People to see, bases to burn,” Prince Noctis said with a sigh. “Cor wants us to see Monica at the outpost.”

Ignis commented, “Come to think of it, we did spy a large structure as we turned off the main road.”

“Ain’t gonna be easy takin’ down a whole stronghold,” was Gladio’s opinion.

“Can we really do this?” When Nyx glanced at Prompto, the worry on his face was plain.

Ignis was quick to reassure him. “The Marshal believes we can, or he wouldn’t have asked us. But first things first.”

Noctis had been silent, staring at his phone. He seemed to come out of it now, expression the firm of a decision reached as he looked up at them. “Let’s get back to the outpost then,” he said.

They passed the side canyon that led to the first tomb as they made their way back. Prompto glanced down its length and was apparently reminded of their recent battles and couldn’t resist commenting, “Man, who knew Cor was such a badass?”

Nyx could hear the smile in Prince Noctis’ voice as he responded, “Just be glad he’s on our side.”

When they reached the outpost, Nyx didn’t try and distance himself from the group this time. Having passed the Marshal’s inspection, he could no longer be bothered to worry about anyone’s opinion on his joining the royal party.

Indeed, as they met Monica, Nyx got an evaluating once-over, but there was no comment on his presence. She was thankfully brisk and to the point. A small bow and a, “Your Highness,” was the extent of the formalities before she launched into her briefing.

“The Marshal has apprised me of the plan. We’ve found a back door into the Imperial base. I’ll mark the route on your map.” Here, Monica gestured for them to hand over their map, but didn’t pause in her speech. “The way is secure. You should be able to gain entry relatively easily.”

As Monica walked away, moving on to whatever was next on her list, Ignis gave a quiet sigh. “I am loath to keep the Marshal waiting, but it is late, and we have had quite the busy day. Shall we rest here tonight?”

Gladio was quick to chime in. “Sounds like a great idea, Iggy. What’s it gonna be, Haven or caravan?”

Noctis looked up from the map, running an eye over the group. “Let’s get in another night in the caravan while we can,” he said finally. “I’m sure there will be plenty of occasions for camping out in the near future.”

Nyx couldn’t resist a little sigh of his own, “Sounds great to me.”

As they headed over, Nyx found himself lifting a hand to his face to try and feel out his scars. He would have access to a mirror in just a few minutes and finally be able to figure out what damage the Ring of the Lucii had left.

Prompto spoke as they reached the caravan. “Hey Noct, you up for some King’s Knight?”

Something about the pause that followed the question had Nyx glancing at Prince Noctis. There was a queer look on his face, almost shock, almost sadness.

“Sure Prom. That’s just what I need,” he said, voice low and heavy.

Nyx lingered another moment, foot on the stairs into the caravan, but eventually went inside to the cramped little bathroom. Putting it off wouldn’t make facing his scars any easier.

Nyx felt a wry smile cross his lips at the unintended pun. Seemed they were infecting him.

His shoulders drooped as he pulled the door to the bathroom closed behind him. Abruptly the weight of the past several days came down on him, and he dropped his head to rest against the door, suddenly exhausted.

Insomnia had fallen. The Empire had won. So many of his friends were dead, and the rest were dead to him. He was supposed to be dead.

Nyx shuddered. Convulsively, his hand came up to clutch at his chest, at the light that continued to glow under his skin, undiminished. He pressed harder on the heel of his palm, and harder still as it began to ache. There was a subtle pulse to the light that he clung to, and slowly it soothed his agitation.

Eventually, Nyx dropped his hand and pushed away from the door. No wallowing, he told himself firmly. The only way to go is forward. And forward he went, to look in the mirror.

Given the way Prompto had exclaimed over his face and the Marshal’s attention, his scars were surprisingly subtle. No one in Insomnia would have deigned to call him white, but Nyx had grown pale since leaving Galahd. It meant the scars didn’t stand out as much as they could have.

His hand came up to trace along the right side of his face. There was barely even the suggestion of a line under his fingers. A tingle that could just as easily come from his imagination as from a true sensation. When he ran his finger across the width of the scar, again, the tingle could as easily be from expectation as from actually feeling anything.

He traced the scar on his cheek again. It had somehow managed to just barely miss his crow’s foot, but it came so close that one of the points had been stretched as the scar distorted the ink. His fingers moved upwards to prod at the suggestion of white that started at the inside point of his eyebrow and swept upwards. That one seemed faint enough that it might very well fade over time.

His fingers continued over to the other side of his face.

Here again there was white pointing to the inside of his eyebrow and stretching towards his hairline that might fade in time. But there was a second branch, an actual scar where his eyebrow arched. He traced it down past his eye, and blinked as his view of the mirror was obscured.

In that momentary darkness he remembered, viscerally, the searing heat that had pulsed through his veins, the burning in his face. His eyes shot back open, a shiver crawling down his spine. He had dismissed the sensation as exertion during the fight, but the memory seemed more ominous now.

Nyx forced his gaze back to the mirror, fingers lingering just beside his eye. Shakily, he turned his head, that memory of heat guiding his actions.

There was a scar cutting through his hair.

Nyx’s breath left him in a shaky exhale.

It was the most obvious of the scars so far, his undercut exaggerating the effect. The white of the scars cut through his dark hair, the elegant curving and branching like some strange artistic experiment with pattern shaving.

His fingers shook as he traced those scars, any sensation of scar tissue drowned out by the soft bristle of his hair.

Eventually, Nyx managed to pull his fingers back onto his face. There was something raw stuck in his throat as his fingers made it back to the level of his eye. As he dragged them down, he could feel the subtle branches and braiding as the scar tissue thickened. Just below his cheek bone, the scar spread across his face. It softened as it climbed his cheekbone and faded to something that might yet heal as it reached his nose.

Nyx lingered there, on the bridge of his nose, running his finger up and down across the white patch. When he eventually traced back along the trail towards his jaw, his breath had steadied, and his throat had come unstuck. From the bridge of his nose to the point of his jaw, there was an obvious trail across his face, a slash of white.

The slash was wider at his jaw, enough for him to be sure he was actually feeling it as he ran his fingers over it. The thickest patch of scars sprouted up from that point, towards his cheekbone. If it hadn’t been for the scars in his hair, it would have been the most noticeable of all his scars.

Slowly, Nyx lowered his arm, head suddenly heavy. Braced on the counter of the tiny bathroom, he stared blankly at his hands.

Most noticeable of all the scars on my face, he corrected the thought.

His left arm was a mess of scar tissue, creeping up from where he had briefly worn the Ring of the Lucii like some kind of vine. Staring at his hands, they briefly vanished behind a memory of examining the damage on his hand in the middle of the fight and determining that, it would have to do. Nyx closed his eyes for a moment to force the memory away, before looking at his arm again.

There was no patch of unscarred skin larger than his smallest fingernail anywhere on the arm. Nyx knew that the magic had spread up his arm, through his shoulder, and eventually up his neck and onto his face. He knew all that, but he was also exhausted from looking at his scars, from acknowledging what he survived. He wasn’t interested in exploring what the magic might have gotten up to under his clothes tonight.

Happily shoving aside all thoughts of dealing with his problems and acknowledging what had happened to him, Nyx made use of the bathroom facilities and then let himself out. Glancing around the caravan, Nyx noted the simmering pots on the stove, along with the lack of his companions.

He took a moment to check that none of the food was burning before heading outside to see what everyone was up to.

The answer, apparently, was phone games.

The four were sitting around the little table, all with their phones out and focused on a game. Peering over Prince Noctis’ and Prompto’s shoulders, who had their backs to the Caravan, it looked to him like they might even be playing the same game.

He arrived just in time to hear Prompto comment, “Man, Noct, you are crashing and burning so much tonight!”

Noctis snorted. “Geez, Prom, way to rub it in. I already know I’m missing cues, no need to point it out.”

“Indeed, it’s likely Noct will come in last place tonight,” interjected Ignis dryly.

“Man, if only someone had offered a wager this could have been your chance to force His Highness to eat some vegetables,” joked Gladio.

Nyx couldn’t help snorting. “Are you all playing the same game? Together?” he asked, not bothering to drag over one of the more distant chairs and sitting down on the Caravan steps. He vaguely tried to make out whatever was on the screens of the phones.

“You got it,” Gladio drawled. “You wanna join in?”

Nyx snorted again. “I’m charmed, but I don’t have a phone.”

“Whaaaat?” Prompto asked, tone somewhere between a whine and a melodramatic wail, glancing away from his game to face Nyx. “Did you lose it or something?”

Nyx smiled at the concern on the blond’s face. “Nah,” he said, “never got one. Didn’t need it for work and didn’t need it to keep in touch with anyone. It would have been just another expense. Most of the Kingsglaive never bothered with one.” His tone turned slightly melancholy on the last sentence, but he kept smiling.

A tinny explosion came from the blond’s phone, echoed by the others, while he stared at Nyx, mouth an ‘o’ of surprise. Some high-pitched instrument played a musical ‘Ta-dah!’ and the screens in Prompto’s and Noctis’ hands went dark.

Prompto glanced away from Nyx to his phone distractedly, but suddenly sat up with an exclamation of surprise. “What! No way you managed to rack up enough points to tie me dude,” he cried, aiming a kick at Prince Noctis.

“Slow and steady wins the race,” was the smug reply, “shouldn’t have gotten distracted at the end.”

“It is quite timely,” Ignis commented. “Dinner will be done in just a few minutes.”

“You know,” Gladio began, addressing Nyx as he put his phone away, “these two are rather obsessed.” He waved a hand at Prompto and Prince Noctis. “There’s going to be a lot of phone games in the coming nights. We could find you a cheap phone when we get to Lestallum.”

Nyx found himself smiling, the guy’s sincerity was that charming. Despite being the Prince’s Shield, Gladio hadn’t actively worked to exclude him; in fact it seemed the opposite. Sure, Nyx had felt his watchfulness, it was the guy’s job, but it hadn’t been at all personal.

“Seems a little premature, I haven’t even really seen this game.” Nyx waved his hand at the group of them. “I’ll watch some other time, see what all your fuss is about. No need to make plans for a luxury when I don’t even know that I would use it yet.”

“As you like,” Ignis stated, standing from the table and fussing with his gloves. “I will go see about dishing up dinner.” With that statement he dropped his hands and headed for the caravan. Nyx moved to the edge of the steps to let him inside.

“So… Lestallum?” Nyx asked.

Gladio nodded, sprawling back in his chair. “Got a message from my sister. She managed to make it out of Insomnia and was headed there.”

There was a bit of a clatter as Prince Noctis’ phone slipped out of his grip onto the table. Nyx glanced over to see him looking at Gladio with a frown.

Gladio frowned back at him. “What is it?”

“Just,” Noctis said, and hesitated, “just a thought… Lestallum was the biggest town in Lucis outside the wall. That might attract Imperial attention eventually.”

Gladio snorted, and with a sardonic tone said, “They just got their grubby hands on Insomnia. It will be awhile before they bother to worry about territories that they already considered conquered.”

The moment was thankfully broken by Ignis emerging from the caravan with dinner. Serious conversation was abandoned, only sporadic banter occurring during dinner.

Nyx pitched in with the dishes when dinner was done, and soon they were all preparing for bed. Ignis once again produced a set of simple sleep clothes for Nyx, and he ducked into the bathroom to change, pointedly avoiding the mirror.

When he emerged, Gladio and Prompto appeared to be ribbing Prince Noctis about something. Ignis glanced away from their antics to address Nyx. “They’ve gotten into an argument. Go ahead and take one of the beds. It will help motivate them to pick up the pace.”

Nyx’s mouth quirked. The same had happened in the Kingsglaive on missions plenty of times. Whoever went to sleep first had their pick of whatever berths were available, and the idiots who put it off had to deal with whatever was left.

Nyx settled into a bed, and his eyes slipped closed to the sound of cheerful voices.

Chapter 10: Surprise Attack

Nyx woke slowly. The first sensation to penetrate his fogginess was a curious warmth, radiating from a line down his back. Lying on the soft bed, he slowly became aware of the way his body was leaning into that warmth, greedily sucking it up. The warmth seemed to have penetrated through his back, to his chest.

Nyx lay still, drifting between sleep and wakefulness, wanting to preserve the sensation of that soothing warmth. Eventually, he heard movement around him, and he came closer to wakefulness as he remembered where he was and realized the movement came from his companions.

Still, he didn’t move even as quiet voices conversed just below his perceptions. There was a rustle and a metallic shish, and Nyx felt a tiny frown work its way onto his face as suddenly heat fell across his chin.

The heat felt somehow different from the one at his back. It felt… physical? Nyx could actually feel his skin being warm. He could feel the way heat built up in his face and radiated, spreading. But his back…

His back was indeed warm, but now that he was paying attention there were two different sensations. There was indeed a heat source, and he could feel it warming his skin in the same manner as the heat on his face, if lesser. But there was a second sensation, a… brightness? Yes, a brightness that radiated from the same place as the heat source. That brightness was what had reached his chest, what his body was greedily trying to suck in.

Nyx’s drifting was finally interrupted when the heat had moved up his face and fallen onto his eyes. Nyx grimaced as he woke more fully, realizing that there was a sunbeam falling directly onto his face. Someone had opened the curtains of the caravan, probably as an encouragement for waking up.

Grumpily, Nyx rolled over, away from the sun, trying to let his eyes adjust to the light. Oh, he thought, blinking blearily at the back in the front of him. Is that where the warmth was coming from?

Nyx continued trying to blink his eyes into functioning. It was a nice back, topped by the softest-looking black locks he had ever seen. Not really thinking, Nyx lifted one of his hands to drag through the ends of those locks.

They were as soft as they looked, flowing gently through his fingers. Not really able to follow the motion with his eyes just yet, Nyx kept lifting locks of hair just to feel them fall back to the pillow. They feathered across his fingers, the sensation exquisitely delicate.

Eventually, his sight cleared, and Nyx sat up with a sigh. He was reluctant to leave the warmth of the bed, his body positively aching at the thought, but there were things to do today. Quietly, Nyx stumbled his way into his pants and boots, and then headed outside.

Again, the group had gathered for breakfast and was sat around one of the tables. Porridge was on offer for breakfast today, and Nyx sluggishly made up a bowl for himself, barely registering the comment from Gladio about, “waking up sleeping beauty”. As he worked his way through breakfast, his mind slowly started waking. Just as he finished, Gladio reappeared, prodding Prince Noctis ahead of him to the table.

Prince Noctis, who was still wearing a sleep shirt. Prince Noctis, with a head of black hair. Prince Noctis, whose hair looked rather… mussed.

Faintly, Nyx managed to excuse himself to get ready for the day. Quickly, he stumbled into the bathroom in the caravan, and managed to close and fumble the lock behind him. Safely hidden, Nyx stared dumbly at his burning cheeks in the mirror.

He had—

He had been playing with Prince Noctis’ hair.

He had been playing with Prince Noctis’ hair.

He had been playing with Prince Noctis’ hair.

He had been

Nyx managed to cut his thoughts off by dropping his head onto the counter with a pained groan. He could still feel the way his cheeks were flushed, but at least his mind had rebooted.

Okay, he told himself, you did a stupid thing. A thing that could probably get you court marshaled, if there was still a court to marshal. But the important thing, he thought firmly, is no one knows you did it but you. Just— pretend it didn’t happen. Pretend you don’t remember how soft it was, or how mesmerizing—

Nyx cut the thoughts off with a whine. He shouldn’t be thinking such things about his Prince. He shouldn’t know such things about his Prince. He definitely shouldn’t be fixating on such things.

Deep breaths, he ordered himself. The only disaster here will be if it’s one of your making. Don’t let it happen again, it’s that simple.

Firmly holding the last thought in his mind to the exclusion of all others and ignoring the pink in his cheeks, Nyx got ready for the day.

~*~

After looking at the map, the group had decided that they could simply hoof it to the meeting point. It took a mere fifteen minutes to get to the parking spot they had passed two days earlier. From there, Gladio directed them towards the cliffs between the road and the ruins that had been turned into an Imperial blockade. Unfortunately, after several minutes of searching, they had had no success in locating Monica or the rumored back door.

Finally, Gladio had given in and consulted the map again. Turned out they needed to head left along the cliff until they eventually found a tiny valley where Monica had been waiting. Once again Monica had been blessedly professional, and they had split into two groups. Prince Noctis had proceeded ahead to join the Marshal and the rest of them had headed back out of the valley for the frontal assault.

As they headed for the road, Ignis spoke. “Nyx, Monica. If you don’t mind, I’d like to tag you with status monitoring magic, and tie you into ours,” he gestured at the rest of the royal retinue. “It lets us keep track of each other’s health; whether one of us has been hit by a status effect, is being overwhelmed, or needs a rescue.”

Nyx tilted his head, interested. “That sounds downright useful. Why haven’t I heard of it before?”

Monica was also regarding Ignis with curiosity, and the man cheeks were slightly red as he answered. “It is… something of a forgotten technique. As Prince Noctis’ advisor, I had access to several sensitive sections of the royal library, and His Majesty encouraged me in reading the journals of previous rulers.

“I found the spell in one such journal, and His Majesty encouraged me to try it out. I didn’t quite get a handle on it until after departure. The journal also indicated that the spell degraded at what sounded like an exponential rate when applied to groups larger than six people. That would be why you haven’t heard of it before.”

Nyx took the information in thoughtfully. It made sense that if Ignis hadn’t been able to prove the spell was viable yet, the six-person limit would have been considered enough of a downside that it wouldn’t have been considered worth forwarding to the Kingsglaive. Still, such things could be overco—

“I would be willing,” Monica spoke, cutting through Nyx’s thoughts. “It doesn’t sound like an advantage to be disregarded.”

“Oh,” Nyx blinked himself back to the present, “yes. I would also be willing.”

“Very well,” Ignis said, a pleased little smile on his lips. He stopped, extending a hand towards Monica. After a moment, a cloud of yellow lights appeared, swirling down his arm and then out, to Monica. Ignis turned to point his arm at Nyx, another swirl of yellow light tracing down his arm and reaching for him.

The yellow lights dispersed over Nyx’s body, hovering for a few moments. As they faded, Nyx became aware of a curious sensation hovering at the edge of his awareness.

It was like something had come knocking at the edge of his mind.

Nyx closed his eyes, concentrating on the sensation. With his sight cut off, Nyx could focus on the magic sense he had developed over the years.

There was a spell, hovering before him. A little bundle of magic, folded over and over until it was a tiny package, waiting to be acknowledged. It gave an insistent little nudge, like it could feel his attention on it, impatient.

Stumbling slightly over the process, Nyx managed to reach out mentally and accept the magic.

Like it had been the tag on a zipper, with his touch it settled over him. An awareness of his companions hovered at the forefront of his thoughts, proclaiming “safe!”, “healthy!”, “all clear!”. After a moments struggle, Nyx managed to push it aside, metaphorically “turning down the volume” on the spell.

When he opened his eyes again, the spell receded even more. No longer shouting for his attention, it hovered over each of his companions, a subtle feeling of health as his eyes passed over each of them. Turning his head experimentally, until none of them were visible, the spell receded into the corner of his vision, each “healthy glow” now accompanied by a sense of identity rather than the person themselves.

Monica managed to sum up Nyx’s feelings when she spoke. “That’s certainly interesting.”

Luckily, the whole spell business had only taken a minute to settle. Ignis spent a moment checking that they weren’t having any problems with it, and then they continued on their way.

Once back at the main road, they crept slowly up it, minimizing their visibility but moving to a position from which they would be able to observe the gate. The road had a slight bend that afforded them some cover, but also made a clear line-of-sight difficult. Soon enough, they were close enough to make out the gate and its defenders through the sparse trees dotting the landscape.

There was a full squad of Magitek Axemen patrolling a tight rectangle in front of the gate, boundaries exacting enough that it could only be computer guided. A glint slightly closer drew Nyx’s eyes to a sniper standing in the grass. Automatically, he checked the far side of the road for its companion, finding the unit within moments.

“Two snipers on the ground, either side of the gate,” Nyx pointed out lowly.

“I see movement above the walls,” came the rumble from Gladio.

“Those will be the reinforcements we wish to draw out,” Monica noted softly.

Another few moments to study things elapsed before Ignis spoke. “Right then. Prompto, the snipers will be your responsibility. Your first goal should be to keep them off us and occupied. Your secondary goal is, of course, to take them out, but don’t be single-minded in your focus. Also, keep an eye out, more might arrive with the reinforcements. When the snipers are down, provide cover fire for us as you see fit.

“Remember, this is a battle of attrition. Our job is to draw their attention and their troops out of the blockade.” With those words, Ignis began directing them into a formation. They rearranged themselves in their crouched positions, and then waited for Monica to signal that the wait period the two groups had agreed on had elapsed.

A minute later Monica, eyes on her watch, spoke. “Mark.”

Gladio was the first to his feet, leading the group into a run as he summoned a broadsword in a flash of blue, holding it cocked over his shoulder. Ignis and Monica were only a breath behind him in flanking positions. Ignis had summoned a polearm as he rose, and a flash from Monica cleared to reveal a sword in her hand.

Nyx, following at their backs, had only a bare moment to think to himself, Hiding all their weapons in the damn Crystal Arsenal. Then gunshots were coming from behind him, courtesy of Prompto hanging back as their long-distance fighter. They knocked into one of the snipers, and battle was engaged.

Gladio swept into the MTs jerkily turning to face them, Ignis and Monica following in his path. Nyx cleaned up in their wakes, making quick, efficient kills on the MTs they’d left floundering on the ground.

They’d nearly swept up the entire squad parked on the road when Prompto hollered, “Incoming!”

Nyx jerked his gaze upward in time to see the MTs launching themselves off the top of the wall, as blithely uncaring about the fall as they were when they threw themselves out of drop ships. He had to quickly jerk his knives out of the MT at his feet and throw himself into a roll to avoid being landed on. A virulent curse from one of the others suggested they might not have so lucky.

No longer able to maintain formation with the MTs having dropped into their midst, their combat level dropped from dominating the field and overwhelming the MTs to a more typical battlefield chaos.

Once or twice Nyx found himself near one of his companions, able to take advantage of an opening they made while they were in the follow-through. There were also a thankfully small number of times when Nyx had to abruptly abort an attack because Gladio and Ignis hadn’t seen him and had launched an attack in front of him.

This was accompanied by the sporadic sound of a gun firing. Bullets would occasionally land in MTs near Nyx, obviously Prompto’s doing. Thankfully, he must have already taken care of the snipers, because Nyx never heard any cries of pain from a bullet hitting flesh.

In this way they weathered through the second wave of MTs, and then the third. When the fourth wave began dropping over the wall, Nyx heard a voice shout, “Ignis,” in a demanding tone.

When Ignis’ voice came commandingly across the battlefield saying, “Everyone regroup,” Nyx obeyed. Ignis was the strategist, both in their current battle group and of the Prince’s retinue. Even more, Nyx and Monica both had tacitly handed him command when he had laid out their strategy and formation and they hadn’t argued. And so they fell back, forming up around Ignis, all five of them, backs to the road and facing the MTs now milling about confusedly in front of the gates.

Nyx was surprised to feel a cool rush of magic spreading through his body, and took his eyes off the MTs to look around, tensing. There was a faint green glow swirling around them, lingering over scuff marks and wrinkles in their clothing. Ignis was standing at the back of the group, two fingers on one hand pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose, an expression of fierce concentration on his face.

It was that, seeing the way the green hovered like a cloud around Ignis but curled in tendrils around everyone else, that allowed Nyx to finally recognize the feel of the magic as Ignis’. The sudden tension in his body relaxed as Nyx turned his attention back on the MTs, beginning to actually analyze the magic. Some kind of healing effect, he decided. Scuff marks are obvious, and we’re all wearing armor, wrinkles would only come from taking hits. It’s targeting injuries. Likely limited to proximity as well.

Mouth tugging up in one corner, Nyx flipped one of the knives in his hand, and then flipped it again, shaking out his grip. “Guess this counts as our second wind,” he drawled, unable to stop his mouth tugging up at the other corner as well, feeling the reckless grin Libertus had always groaned about spreading across his face.

“I think I’m gonna’ like you, Ulric,” Gladio declared somewhere to his right.

The MTs had finally figured out where there opponents had gone, targeting systems finding them where they stood in the middle of the road. “Shall we,” Nyx drawled.

There was a whoop on his left as Prompto moved forward, and in a flash of blue the piece of machinery they had found the day before outside the tunnels appeared in his hands. “Let’s knock ‘em dead!”

It seemed Prompto couldn’t wait after his declaration, because he was already racing forward. The rest of them followed, Gladio’s long legs soon catching and surpassing the blond as he shouted cheerfully, “Hey! Don’t you leave us behind, blondie!”

It was like the beginning of their battle all over again, Gladio’s broadsword throwing the MTs off their feet while the rest of them came in behind him. Also like before, they managed to mop up the group quite quickly. This time it was Ignis who called out a warning for the next wave of MTs.

There were no cries from being caught under a falling MT this time, all of them well aware by now of the danger. Prompto was managing to keep the area around him rather clear with the concussive blasts coming from his weapon, while Gladio had the sweeping swings of his broadsword.

At some point Ignis’ polearm had vanished and he now wielded a pair of knives. Nyx instantly felt his opinion of the man rise when he saw them, even if he wasn’t quite as skilled with them as Nyx was. In the moment Nyx was watching, Ignis dodged out of the way of one of the troopers into Gladio’s open space, bumping into the man’s hip. Nyx winced with them; if Gladio wasn’t so big that could have knocked one or both of them over.

He had to turn back to his own fight before he could see them recover, but Nyx faintly heard Ignis’ voice calling out, “Apologies.”

Monica, when Nyx glimpsed her through the battle, was fighting in closer quarters. She made quick, efficient movements as she controlled her space and knocked back the MTs that came at her one after another. The arm not wielding a sword wasn’t quiescent either, throwing elbows at or catching blows from whatever MTs weren’t occupied with her sword.

As the number of enemies dropped lower and lower, Nyx kept expecting to hear another alert, another call of “Incoming!”, but nothing came. He darted glances up at the walls whenever he had some breathing room, but no new MTs were visible.

It appeared they might have finally exhausted the supply of MTs at the blockade gates. It was possible there were more behind the walls, but they could take a while to deploy. After the last MT on the road was put down, they took a moment to shake off whatever hits might have landed and stretch. After a few minutes, when no new MTs had appeared, Ignis turned to Monica.

“I am loath to ask, but,” he hesitated just slightly. “When we set out this morning, we did not think about how we would need the Regalia once we broke the blockade. I’m afraid it’s still back at the Outpost. Would you be willing to help retrieve it for us?”

Monica smiled at Ignis. “Of course, it’s no problem. You have things well in hand here.” So saying, she accepted the keys from Ignis and set off down the road.

Nyx was inspecting one of the edges on his kukri when he saw something happening at the gate from the corner of his eye. He straightened, expecting more resistance, but instead the gates appeared to be unlocking.

Nyx could feel a slightly feral grin stretching his lips as he joined Ignis, Gladio and Prompto in lining up before the gate. If it was Noctis and the Marshal: great. If it was some new weapon… Nyx flipped the kukri in his hand to hide the blade against his wrist.

Turned out it was the Prince and the Marshal.

“Noct!” cried Prompto.

“Marshal,” greeted Ignis seriously as they started striding forward. “It’s good to see you again.”

“Alright on your end?” inquired Noctis.

“Right as rain,” bragged Gladio. “The Niffs couldn’t take their eyes off us.”

“Thanks to you we were spared their attention,” complimented the Marshal. Nyx could practically feel his companions preening at that. He was doing the same, if to a lesser extent. Compliments from the Marshal of the Crownsguard were never simply handed out, they had to be earned.

Their group headed further into the blocked section of road, ready to clear out whatever Imperial forces remained. Their cheerfully bloodthirsty plans were interrupted by a voice from the sky, made squeaky and annoying by a loudspeaker.

“Stay right where you are!”

Chapter 11: So Much to Do

The annoyingly squeaky voice had come from a Niflheim officer. The man had jumped into a MA-X Cuirass after taking issue with the fact “Cor the Immortal” had survived the attack on Insomnia.

Honestly, if it had just been the six of them against the MA-X Cuirass it wouldn’t have been that bad of a fight. But either due to the officer’s presence or by his command, all the remaining MTs in the blockade had attacked at the same time. Trying to deal with Magitek Troopers at the same as time as a Magitek Armor born down on you from above, shooting off missiles every few seconds, was not fun.

Still, they managed. When they finally put the Armor down, Noctis, Cor and Nyx quickly cleared off, anticipating the self-destruct to come. Nyx winced when their companions got caught in the edges of the blast. You would think the once in Keycatrich would have been enough for them to learn their lesson, like the Prince obviously had, but apparently not.

They took a minute to do another quick sweep of the area, checking that they had gotten all the MTs, before they met up again on the road. Monica rejoined them at this point, apparently finished with moving the Regalia just outside the gates for Ignis.

“Impressive work,” Cor said. “Seeing you in action puts my mind at ease.” He lifted a hand to wipe over his brow, though what he was wiping away Nyx wasn’t sure. It wasn’t like the man had broken a sweat.

“It’s clear I don’t need to worry anymore. I’ll return to watching the Niffs. ‘Til next time, take care.” Cor’s stoic gaze ran over the group before he turned on his heel to rejoin Monica, but he paused at Noctis’ call.

“Cor! Wait a moment.” The Marshal turned to look at the Prince, one eyebrow cocked. “You mentioned you don’t know where all the tombs are.” Noctis uncrossed his arms to prop one on his hip. “I’ve been thinking about it, trying to remember if dad ever mentioned them.”

“And have you remembered anything?”

Noctis held his arms out, as if proffering something. “I’m not entirely sure, but—” his arms dropped to his sides. “He made a throwaway comment, once, about a trip he took.” Noctis’ next words were spoken slowly, carefully. “He said the Vesperpool was one of the highlights of the trip, because he killed three birds with one stone, and one of them was fishing.”

Gladio’s snort took Nyx by surprise. “Of course,” he chuckled. “I’ll bet the only reason you remember any of that at all is because it had to do with fishing.”

The glower Noctis threw at Gladio was truly glorious, but he continued speaking to Cor.

“I can’t be entirely certain, but given how few his trips outside the City were, ones where he would have been free enough to go fishing—Well, I thought it worth mentioning. If I’m remembering right, the Vesperpool might very well hold two Royal Tombs.”

The Marshal gazed contemplatively at the Prince for a minute. Nyx noted how Noctis shifted his weight uncomfortably, but otherwise stood firm under the Marshal’s gaze.

Finally, Cor gave a slight nod. “If Regis said that, your interpretation is highly likely to be correct. I’ve heard that the Niffs blocked off access to the Vesperpool a while ago. I can place some calls and look into it.” One of the Marshal’s hands came up to rub the bridge of his nose, before he dropped it again. “I’ll contact you when I have more information.”

Some of the tension went out of Noctis’ stance. “Thanks,” he said.

The Marshal nodded to them all. “Take care,” he repeated, and left with Monica.

Out of the corner of Nyx’s eye, he noticed some silent communication occurring between Ignis and Gladio. After a long moment of this, Gladio nodded companionably to Ignis, who set off down the road back the way they had come. Getting the car, Nyx realized.

Nyx glanced at Noctis again and found him staring hard at the ground. One of his hands was tapping on his thigh, one finger at a time. It looked curiously like an unconscious counting movement. When Noctis turned to look towards Duscae, Nyx noticed how his shoulders seemed to drag.

Eventually, Noctis began a slow, resigned sort of pace towards Duscae. Nyx frowned at the Prince’s posture. It looked tired, but he couldn’t put a finger on where that impression was coming from.

Gladio had been dragged into a conversation with Prompto and was patting him companionably on the shoulder, but Nyx could see the way his eyes followed his Prince. When he caught Nyx looking, he jerked his head, silently telling Nyx not to wait for them.

With a tiny nod in reply, Nyx took a few quick steps to catch up with Noctis before matching his slow pace down the road. The Prince glanced at him, checking who it was, but his eyes were distant and smile distracted. His gaze quickly shifted away again, back to the open sky above the far gates.

Nyx was tempted to try and strike up some kind of conversation, but Noctis seemed to be deep in thought about something. Nyx found himself loath to disturb him. Besides, walking together like this, without any rush, was plenty companionable in itself.

It wasn’t more than a minute or two before Gladio and Prompto were catching up with them, accompanied by the quiet rumble of a car engine. “Ain’t so bad out here, once you get used to it,” Gladio rumbled.

Prompto was thoughtful. “Still a lot we haven’t seen, though.”

Ignis, who was pulling up alongside them in the Regalia, responded, “And a lot for us to do.”

Prompto sighed at that, and his “Yeah,” was short and to the point.

Gladio smirked softly at the group of them. “Buck up, we’re just getting started.”

~*~

They stopped at the first gas station in Duscae. Nyx was grateful for the chance to stretch his legs. Climbing into the full backseat of a car immediately after a fierce battle was not his favorite thing to do.

(Also, the line of warmth down his leg where it had been pressed against Noctis’ had been a little much after the way he had woken up that morning. Nyx had nearly blushed, and had needed to stare out the window while reminding himself, it’s not going to happen again.)

Ignis was frowning over the gas prices, and Prompto was inviting them to check out the store, when a ringing filled the air. Nyx glanced around in time to see Noctis pull his phone out of his pocket with a sigh.

“Hello… Hey Iris… We’ll do that.” With that blindingly informative short conversation, Noctis slid his phone away again.

“Was that Iris? Can’t even call her own brother,” Gladio complained.

“In all fairness, yours wasn’t the obituary broadcast all over Lucis,” rejoined Ignis.

“What about me? She say anything about me,” asked Prompto with a mischievous elbow in Gladio’s gut.

Nyx had taken a moment to make connections in his head, but now he snorted. “Iris? Gladiolus? Someone had ideas when they named the two of you, didn’t they?”

Prompto tried to cover up a snort and Ignis paused in refueling the car to adjust his glasses. A gentle smile tugged at Noctis’ lips as he glanced over his shoulder at Gladio.

“Oi,” Gladio said with a mock frown, “that’s my mother you’re talking about.” He advanced a step on Nyx, expression attempting to look threatening.

“Come on, big guy,” Prompto said, darting in to pull Gladio away towards the store.

With a smile of his own, Nyx leaned back against the car and closed his eyes to enjoy the warm breeze. After a few minutes, Ignis finished gassing the car and put the pump back on its stand. Rather than following the others into the store though, he came to stand by him and coughed lightly for his attention.

Nyx opened his eyes and turned to give him an attentive look.

Ignis hesitated a moment before speaking. “One of the things the Empire did immediately after the Fall, was to declare that the King, Princess Lunafreya, and Noctis had died. It works to our advantage to perpetuate that lie as long as possible.

“In Leide, we were among Hunters and Crownsguard, all of whom have a deep-seated mistrust of Imperials and would make it a point not to gossip around or speculate near them. From this point on however…” Ignis trailed off, but Nyx could see the direction he was going and hummed thoughtfully.

“But now we’re in Duscae, and vaguely planning on heading to the biggest city around. Which would be why the Prince has made a point of avoiding his more formal clothes.”

Ignis nodded in agreement. “We also have more casual clothes, and I really will insist we change into them if we get any closer to civilization. Crownsguard fatigues are sturdier and have magical protections woven into them, but anonymity will protect us more at this point than armor.” Ignis paused, and Nyx sighed, able to guess why he had brought this up.

“And then there’s me,” he stated blandly. “With a ruined Kingsglaive uniform.”

“Yes. Unfortunately.” Both of them were silent for a moment. “It’s a wonderful resource for combat, but is designed to be memorable. Combined with the obvious damage and your scars, it will attract a great amount of attention and questions.”

At the mention of his scars, Nyx felt his brows lower and his left hand tighten without conscious thought. He dropped his chin to his chest and stared down at the white scars crisscrossing his knuckles, the color subtly changing as the pressure built in his hand. With a grimace, he forced his hand to slacken and determinedly ignored its ache as he looked up again.

“I can take the jacket off, easy,” he offered, before giving a shrug. “But my shirt is also ruined. And I don’t exactly have anything else available.”

He could see Ignis think it over for a minute before sighing. “A ruined shirt might attract some attention, but it can be chalked up to many things. A lone Kingsglaive in a larger group, though, will invite questions and scrutiny we want to avoid as long as possible. We can buy something else when we get to a town.”

Nyx himself agreed with the statement, so he reached up and began undoing the many  on his jacket. It took a minute, but he was soon sliding the fabric down his arms and carefully folding it up. Hearing a small snort from beside him, Nyx glanced up at Ignis before following his gaze across the pavement to where Noctis stood in the doorway of the service station, staring at them.

Nyx studied Noctis’ form. The Prince was standing tall, and—he squinted—slightly unbalanced? And he was blocking the doorway. Another few moments of staring still couldn’t enlighten him to what Ignis had found funny. Nyx shrugged to himself before he pushed away from his perch leaning against the car and headed for the trunk to stow his jacket out of sight.

When he was done, Nyx glanced back idly at Noctis to see that Gladio had thrown an arm around Noctis’ shoulders in the doorway and was now dragging him somewhere. Nyx watched for a moment, noticing that Ignis and Prompto were following in Gladio’s wake. He shrugged to himself and headed towards them, curious.

Nyx caught up just in time to hear Gladio saying, “—able about wildlife, could teach us a thing or two. Go on and introduce yourself.”

Noctis chuckled softly as he ducked out from under Gladio’s arm. “I get it, I get it. You want me to meet people. She’s even pre-vetted. You don’t have to literally drag me into it.”

Noctis darted away before Gladio could get in a retaliatory swipe.

Standing next to Gladio, Nyx couldn’t quite make out whatever the woman said as she turned around, but her, “Oh, it’s you boys. Wait, who’re you again? And what do you need now?” was perfectly clear.

“Ah, my friend talked to you earlier and wanted me to talk to you. But you said you were busy?” Nyx noted the way Noctis had tilted his head and wondered what his expression was like.

“Quite busy. Too busy to go around talking to every random stranger in Duscae,” the woman replied with a frown.

“That’s too bad. My friend thinks I’m horribly rude and need to talk to interesting people more often.”

She tapped a finger on her chin before brightening. “Oh, I have just the perfect solution! Why don’t you boys help me out? I was just thinking I could use a few extra hands—for catching frogs, to be precise.”

“Sounds interesting, did you have a particular frog in mind?”

“Indeed I do! Only the red frog native to Alstor suits my needs. You’ll need to get knee and elbow deep down at the Slough to find them. Perhaps by the time you get back your friend will have stopped bugging you to bug me.” The woman swung an evaluating gaze up and down the Prince’s body, and then quickly at their group.

“You’re combat-trained, I’d wager. I can tell by your efficient musculature. Remember, it’s red frogs. And make sure they’re fresh!” With a last demanding wave of a hand in Noctis’ face, she turned back to the set-up she had on the picnic table.

Nyx couldn’t help his own chuckle as Noctis walked back to them, Prompto quickly falling in step with him. “That was… overwhelming,” he commented, usually smiling face pulling a befuddled expression.

“Well, Gladio,” Noctis asked, spreading his hands with a little grin, “I talked to her.”

“Is it a wise idea to be running errands, given the Empire’s interest in us?” wondered Ignis.

Nyx shifted his elbow to bump Gladio’s teasingly. “I think the question is, how did you talk to her before without being roped into being her gopher.”

“Ladies love to talk to me,” Gladio proclaimed, and pointedly ignored the exaggerated expressions of disbelief on his friends’ faces.

Another chuckle ran through the group as they headed away from the picnic tables and back towards the buildings. Suddenly Prompto lit up and turned to Noctis, eyes wide and shoulders trembling.

“Buddy. Buddy! …BUDDY!” he said, getting more and more excited. “You saw the sign, right? Chocobos! …CHOCOBOS! If we’re doing a favor for Gladio’s friend down in the Slough, surely it isn’t out of the way to visit the Chocobo Forest!!”

“I thought we were heading for Lestallum,” Gladio complained.

“That was before you pressed me to talk to a very busy lady who apparently likes to rope people into helping her.”

“They have a point,” Nyx chipped in, smile playing across his lips.

Ignis adjusted his glasses. “Iris is in no danger. If we put off traveling to Lestallum for a day or two, there will be no harm in it.”

“Think you’re overruled, Gladio. We’re going to the Chocobo Post.”

 


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Spiralgal

Mid-twenties female. I have been participating in small challenges for a couple years, often falling short of the goal. When the FFXV fandom consumed me, I soon got to the point of needing to write to fulfill my craving, and then this challenge came along. Combined with an abundance of writing time at my new job, I decided to go for it. This will be my first bonafide, 100% complete fic, even if the story will go on in sequels.

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