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those who cast no shadow

Chapter Text

The group skirted past the malbodooms and onslaught of daemons to catch their breaths in front of yet another ruin, which were not uncommon sights in Lucis.  Noctis and co had their fair share of treasure hunting in ancient things, so this wasn’t some groundbreaking discovery.

“ Hey.” Noct picked up the magitek gizmo and presented it before the others, still catching his breath between the motions. “ Think this is what they were talking about?”

“ Looks like,” Ignis commented. He was the quickest to recover, second to Gladiolus.

The night was still young and Prince Noctis leaned his entire body against one of the metal discs attached to the stone walls. It glowed behind him and with a cry, he fell back.

“ Guys?” He called out in the pitch black, the world slamming shut before he even had a chance to register it. Noctis stumbled forward and blindly felt for the walls that separated him from outside. Then, he slammed his fist against the wall. “ Guys?!”

No response.

“ Shit,” Noct muttered under his breath.

The ground started to tremble underneath him and blue wisps of light glowed all around him as the floor lowered, revealing its deeper recesses.

“ Some kind of...ancient elevator?” he said dryly to no one in particular.

 

--

Noctis cautiously descended down the staircase that lead into an odd hallway with three large metallic doors. He kicked a pebble over the edge and waited for some indication of a bottom.

And waited.

Nothing.

Well whatever, he just needed to get onto one of those glowy plate things and touch them. No biggie, he’d be out of here in no time. His lucian magic flickered out when the torches of the dungeon ignited in unison. Noctis couldn’t even warp, not that he wanted to. Though, strangely, he was still able to summon his weapons. On the bright side, there was no daemon in sight, a staple in every other dungeon he explored. Noct inhaled sharply, he bounded backwards and sent off a prayer to whatever Gods were around before making a leap of faith to the platform that had his objective. All his nerves jumbled up when he nearly skidded off into the black abyss and with a triumphant grin he smacked the plate so it could glow.

The door opened with a mechanical jitter to it, screaming of rust as it folded upwards. Noctis hopped back to the main pathway, glad he wasn’t on such a little piece of slab anymore.

 

--

 

It was another stone head. The first time he saw one of those constructs, with the underglow of red light filtering beneath it, Noctis wanted to turn back and try another go at the whole ‘calling for help’ thing. He twisted his blade into the head, watching the rocks shatter to dust. While traversing the ruins, Noctis discovered that each head was a check-point to a new area with different set of rules he had to follow to proceed onwards.

When he stepped pass the glowing tiles, the world shifted unexpectedly. The prince was back in the pristine halls of the Citadel. Beams of light shined so bright that Noct had to shield his face. And no matter how lightly he treaded, his footsteps created an echo. He looked away from the window, before his attention was stolen to another thing. Noctis gently placed a hand on one of the extravagant paintings that lined the walls. It was profile of his father, layered in oils, before the ring grayed his hair and set his lines.

There was a banging noise that snapped Noctis out of his reverie. The boy at the end of the hallway picked up the ball and slammed it against the polished floors, though this time he let the ball roll towards the prince’s feet. Noct picked up the ball unsure what to do.

They shared the same mess of black hair and blue eyes but its smile was all wrong. Crooked but teeth straight at the edges. He warily approached the boy, the ball in his hands. He gripped it tightly with his fingers, hoping this was the objective of this 'level'. Tentatively, he said,“ You want this back, right?”

With a tilt of his head, this tinier reflection of him raised up one foot in an exaggerated manner and stomped down. Noctis watched the display with no comments to spare, and the boy, seemingly pleased by this, repeated the gesture--the sound echoing through the corridors in dizzying waves.

A small giggle escaped the child. Noctis dropped the ball when he raised a finger to point at him. The boy’s cheeks puffed up into a toothy grin and continued to stomp his feet.

“ Hey,” Noctis reached out. “ Stop that!”

But the boy swept away from his grip like sand, holding his sides like this was some big joke. Noctis took this time to observe him more closely, examining his juvenile features. The laughing stopped when Noctis leaned forward. The prince didn’t know what was worse, the incessant stomps or the expectant silence. He went with the latter, his gaze finally trailing down to the  child’s feet: there was no reflection.

He watched as the boy sucked in some air, puffing up his chest. “ You’re it!

And then the boy ran off.

“ Wait!” Noctis shouted, but stopped short when he realized that the sounds of his footsteps disappeared along with the boy.

"Shit."




Chapter Text

Noctis rubbed his face against the soft blankets of his bedsheets, the only warmth provided to him against the chilly morning air. He opened one eye lazily at the sunlight streaming in and then sat up, shoulders propped asymmetrically as he leaned forward on his legs. The prince took stock of his surroundings, everything seemed to be in order. Though, something was not quite adding up. With a yawn he rose to his feet and got dressed into civilian clothes--which weren’t that ordinary as black was an exclusive color for Lucian Royalty.

He dragged his feet into the bathroom, still not awake, and made for the sink to brush his teeth. After he did so, he spat and wiped his face. It didn’t even occur to him that the mirror was missing until he glanced up to inspect himself during his morning routine. Oh, his father must have been renovating or something. No big deal. 

Now that he freshened up, he walked into the halls. Noct greeted everyone who passed by and their smiles were wide and dimpled in return. It must have been a wonderful day because even Clarus beamed at him, his mouth nearly swallowing up his eyes in the gesture. Noct smiled back.

“ Noctis,” Clarus said, slapping the prince on the back. “ Do you know what day it is---don’t look at your phone.”

Prince Noctis’ cheeks flushed as he shoved the device back into his pocket. He searched his surroundings for anything--Clarus’ smile unwavering as he waited. Noct patted himself down, pouting before rolling a bashful shrug off his shoulders. With a laugh Clarus shook his head, which served to embarrass Noctis even more.

“ Your new living arrangements , Your Majesty?” Clarus supplied after a long period of silence ensued.

Noctis blinked. “ Ah, yeah.”

“ Mr. Scientia is waiting for you in the front, but.” Then he leaned in close for a whisper. “ I suggest you say farewells to your dear father first.”

“Right,” Noctis said.

When Clarus and Noctis separated into their different paths, the Crownsguard Captain’s footsteps were heavy and overpowering that Noct couldn’t even hear his own.

His mind must have been left at the bed, on several occasions he found himself lost. The maids giggled at him, advising him gently on where to find the audience chamber. Turn left, go all the way down, and then a sharp turn to the right before returning left. He did exactly that and found himself at the end of a long stretch of hallway. As he passed through the corridor he realized the walls were lined with mirrors. And he turned to look at himself when something in his peripheral wasn’t adding up.

“ Luna?” Her name escaped his breath in a dying whisper as he stumbled forward. He waved at himself, watching his fiance mimic the same gesture with the same puzzled expression.

He stood frozen, watching his reflection like if would jump out and grab him. When he approached the mirror the door slammed open from the entrance.

“ You were supposed to see your father ,” Clarus said. “ But I guess it’s true what they say--you are incompetent, even with such a menial task.”

Noct whirled around to find Clarus grinding his teeth as he closed in on the prince. Behind the man dozens of servants poured out, falling clumsily on the floor. There were more, it seemed, because the bodies got stuck between the tiny gap of the door like a clogged pipe. Prince Noctis summoned his sword out of reflex but the hilt hung loosely in his grasp. Never in his life would he ever raise a sword to someone he saw as a second father--but then Clarus was bearing down on him and then he had to. The man’s scowl deepened into a heinous, monstrous expression and there was nothing porous to his skin, like if he were a wax doll.

Noctis was outnumbered. Clarus’ face broken into a twisted smile as the prince was pinned to the ground. Teeth, there was so much teeth, and then bony hands with paper-thin skin gripped at his throat. The limbs writhed like worms--like they didn’t belong to the bodies they were attached to. Noct screamed when one of the maids from earlier crawled up to him, watching in abject horror as her eyes sunk back and smoothed over like silly puddy--leaving only that plastic smile.

He switched to a dagger and dug himself out of the mass of writhing flesh melting on him and nearly lost his head in the process as Clarus swung his sword. Noctis was between catching his breath and not throwing up, shaking himself of slough that stained his clothes. Clarus showed no mercy, Noctis barely had time to recover--dodging his blows by a hair’s breadth. But then Noctis slipped on a puddle that used to be one of the servants and fell straight into the mirror.

Noctis woke up wearing his highschool uniform, and by the turn of his classmate’s silence, he must have screamed. Noct looked around frantically, but he wasn’t in a dungeon, he wasn’t even twenty one. He wasn’t fighting with Gods…

He was just a teenaged boy.

When everything calmed down, the teacher cleared his throat and returned to his lecture. Noctis eased back into reality--this was reality, he told himself, half-listening to the history of Galahd as he regained his bearings.

Everything was okay.

It was the last period of the school day and as the bell rang, he shot out of the room like a bullet.  Noctis was already half-way back home, taking to the scenic side streets of the city to reaffirm his mantra. He nearly screamed when a hand clapped onto his shoulder.

“ You don’t look so good, dude.”

Noctis sighed in relief, it was just Prompto. “ It was a wicked nightmare.”

They fell into step with each other, Prompto’s footsteps clapping loudly on the cement. Noctis was distracted by his thoughts, working up the courage to tell his best friend about everything. That he went on a roadtrip to get married to Luna, and…

There was a stone head sitting on a building’s rooftop. Prompto grabbed his wrist, and Noctis twisted around. He kicked back the thing wearing his friend’s face and sprinted towards the construct. And as he did so, everything around him crumbled away into blackness. When Noctis slashed his blade into the stone, the world shattered into pieces and he was back in the dungeon.

 

He looked up at the little boy peering down from an unreachable ledge and screamed.

Chapter Text

The boy hopped to his feet, but before he turned to leave Noctis called out to him, his voice hoarse. “ Who are you!?”

His tiny fingers cupped his chin thoughtfully, as if contemplating a well-seasoned response. Noctis waited for a name, or a title--anything to identify him. Instead, the child just puffed up his chest and yelled. Noct flinched back holding his ears to blunt the shrill noise. Then the child jumped down. He slapped his feet against the stone tile, one finger pointed up in the air in some indiscernible march. Noctis hesitated as the boy passed him, watching him walk all the way to the edge.

“ What are you doing?” Noctis asked. The boy turned around, his back facing the unknown. With a shrug the child fell back into the black abyss, and to Noct’s eyes what was supposed to be seconds felt much slower.

“...The fuck.”

Unsure what to do Noctis turned back to where the child was. The ledge hovered over another one of those strange doors. It opened right on cue before him and he stepped forth, with no where else to go but forward. A sigh of relief escaped him when the world didn’t shift into some bizarre, twisted caricature of the outside. Unfortunately, the world did move upside down the minute Noctis placed one foot into the entrance.

As he moved, the laws of gravity were inconsistent. What was originally a wall had become the floor, like if he were running in a wheel. Noct absentmindedly summoned his dagger and knicked it across the stone to keep his mind occupied as he passed through. And it wasn’t until he saw that marking the second time did he realize that perhaps this was a wheel.

“ I got to get out of here,” Noctis said, voice cracking as he frantically looked for another route.

There was a small ledge that he didn’t notice before, but again the floor turned into a steep wall. Noctis slid and screamed as he fell off. Red, glowing spikes came into view and Noctis desperately wished that he could warp again. But just as he was about to get impaled, the prince suddenly was in front of the door--a reverberating noise scraping into his ears.

He pursed his lips and wiped  the sweat off his face. “ Are we really going to do this all over again?”

And then he waited, half-expecting a response.

“ I guess so,” Noct answered for himself. He stepped through the door once more, this time angling himself right and landing on the ledge. The prince gripped onto the little hooks in the wall, and slid himself to a large platform.

Noct sighed, the immediate threat  of falling to one’s death was replaced by utter confusion as to where he was. There was really no value in reassessing the environment, with his light barely cutting into the darkness and the fact that this place didn’t make sense. It looked as if he was participating in a surrealist painting the more he progressed, except now everything was lined with spikes. Noct recoiled back from an experimental poke on one and sucked on his burned fingers, his theory testing to be true.

“ You gotta be kidding me,” Noctis whispered, seeing that one of the glowing discs was in the middle of suggestive impalement. He steeled himself, and jumped over, rolling directly onto his objective. Though, it was not without sliding into the side of fiery spikes. Noctis squeezed his eyes shut as his skin burned--but then the sensation suddenly disappeared. When he opened his eyes he found himself in front of a revolving door. Noct examined himself, seeing that nothing was burned off and then returned his attention to the task at hand. He made quick work of it and crossed over to another solid landing with ease.

“ Whoa.” And no wonder it was so easy because now he was facing some sort of moving obstacle that greeted him with a carved horned skull that breathed fire his way. He heard giggling to his side, and when he glanced over he saw an opening where this death-trap did not cover. Bingo, there was another of those glowy heads. With a deep sigh he jumped off and climbed his way back up to the statue and did what he had to do.

This time, he rolled his eyes at the change in scenery, the darkness spread over his feet like crashing waves and stone blocks floated to the surface.  In the far back, dappled by an unknown source of light was a giant statue of a goddess, chained up and looking heavensward. But below her sat a throne befitting a king.

“...Dad?” Noctis called out.

Chapter Text

Noctis looked around--a black sea pooled behind him with its horizon indistinct. King Regis was seated at the throne in front. But he remembered now--his father was dead. He sucked in a breath of air, trying to push down the rage rising up inside him. He had enough with whatever this was.

Noctis brandished his sword and then opened his eyes. The King’s features appeared sunken in by the harsh light overhead. The prince levelled his gaze at the creature who wore his father’s skin, set on his task.

He felt a strange wetness in eyes and something dripping over his chin. When Noctis wiped his face and inspected his hand, it smeared with blood. But Noctis didn’t feel the pain--so this must have been another of those twisted hallucinations this forsaken dungeon pressed on him. The ground was turning in vertigo, and Noctis’ laugh bubbled up more like a hiccup as he stumbled forth. And King Regis, why, he  trembled at his approach. Noctis just smiled and said,“ You got one thing wrong, my father was never one to fear .”

His father’s face looked up to him, horror dawning on his features.Noct raised his blade slowly, drinking in his expression. But he was slammed to the ground just as he was about to strike. A heavy weight restricted his movements and when he blinked the stars out of his vision he realized who they were .

Noctis laughed. “ More illusions?”

“ Looks like we got to them in time,” Ignis said before he leaned forward to inspect him. “ He’s not looking too good.”

“ Prompto, are you alright?” His chamberlain called after, Noct heard him step over to where his father originally was and untied his bindings that Noctis didn’t notice until now.

“ Noct! You need to calm down.” But Noctis struggled more against Gladiolus’ grip. They weren’t his friends.  They were their doppelgangers. He glanced over to the shadows moving in his peripheral and graced a small smile at the boy. That fucker.

The Prince’s gaze searched around the area.It didn’t make sense to him, several times during his dungeon trek he called out for them and each time he was met with silence. An exit or entrance simply wasn’t viable. Noctis squeezed his eyes shut to steel his resolve, he’d get out of this .

Noctis slacked against Gladiolus and whispered, “ Let me go--I’m okay now.”

And Gladiolus, noticing the change to Noctis’ demeanor slowly released his hold. The glamour over Prompto shattered and Ignis helped him to his feet. The blonde rubbed the soreness in his wrists and smiled sheepishly at Noctis, who reluctantly returned the gesture.

“ For whatever reason, the dungeon has stole his voice,” Ignis supplied. Noct nodded, scrutinizing Prompto with his own assessment.

“ How did you guys get in here?” Noct asked, still wary.

It was Gladiolus who answered next , “ Followed you in there after you got swallowed up. This place is freaky.”

“ More like we broke the ‘door’ down,” Ignis added, and the prince flinched at the veracity of that statement.“ And yes, now that we’re together, I’d like to find the exit as swiftly as possible.”

“ Have you seen the little boy?” Noctis croaked and all three of his retinue turned around curiously.

“ It doesn’t make sense to me with all of you.” Noctis gestured to the rest of the dungeon in a wide swoop of his arms. “ I was back in the citadel and then,” Noctis pointed over to Gladiolus, who stepped back. “ Your father--all he was doing was smiling.”

And then Noctis blinked. “ Actually why don’t you smile for me, Gladiolus?”

“ Um, calm down,” Gladiolus threw up his hands, approaching his prince with careful consideration. “ And no.”

Noctis laughed but no one else found it that funny. Ignis took off his detachable light and approached the prince. Noct eyed him with a warning glare and Ignis mimicked the same placating gesture Gladiolus used before. Noctis was incredulous to the gentle lilt to Ignis’ voice, whispering almost, “ I just need to make sure your injuries aren’t grave, Noct.”

“ Stare straight for me, I’m going to flash a light in your eyes okay?” Ignis said before proceeding to do so. Noctis followed his instructions but the shadows moved all around him. He could see the little boy’s chesire grin glowing dimly in the shadows.

“ What does this do?” Gladiolus asked, seemingly oblivious the shifting shadows.

“ It’s just a neurological assessment,” Ignis said. He sucked in his teeth, and Prompto pointed at Noctis.Gladiolus whistled, but the rest of his body seemed tense and uncertain. After enough ogling, Noct slapped away the light.

“ What was that,Iggy?” Gladiolus asked.

“ Yes, Specs , what’s going on?” Noctis said irritable.

“Indications of a head injury,” Ignis supplied. “ In a normal response both pupils should constrict when light flashes in one eye.”

“ But it didn’t here, what about a potion?” Gladiolus asked, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

Ignis shook his head. “ Potions would only heal superficial injuries.”

Gladiolus nodded, returning his gaze to the prince.“ Hey Noct, are you feeling dizzy?”

Noctis blinked owlishly at him. “ Dizzy?”

Gladiolus pressed his lips together into a firm line, gesturing outward to explain himself further. “ Like is the world spinning around you, or you feel like the world is, err, wobbly?”

“ That’s not a very good question,” Noctis answered, summoning his sword and holding it tightly to him. “ This place doesn’t even make sense , the last time I looked into my reflection I saw Luna .”

Ignis and Gladiolus exchanged concerned looks.

“ And that thing over there, it keeps mocking me,” he suddenly screamed. Noctis pointed his sword to a dark corner, reeling back to throw the blade at the unseen intruder. Prompto, Gladiolus and Ignis all watched, there strangled noise and then a dull thud.

Noctis wildly eyed all three of them before ripping his light off his jacket, storming off to reveal a discovery that should have been made obvious long ago. When he shone the light, they all gasped, a smaller version of their prince with Noctis’ sword pierced through him. The child slowly bleeding out, but very obviously marked dead from lucky-shot of the  kill. “ Do you guys believe me now?”

No one answered him but Noctis knew. Ignis draped an arm around him, gently pushing him away. “ I think it’s time we go.”

--

Long after they all left the chamber, shadows dispersed, breaking the illusion from the corpse. A tiny hand pulled out Noctis’ sword from the body, which was a tiny canine that resembled a fox with a small, red horn on the center of its forehead. 

“ Oh Carbuncle,” he whistled, “ I guess I won!”




Chapter Text

Just because the group reunited didn’t mean that they could just stroll out the dungeon. They were all catching their breaths after a certain blonde member of their group stepped on a trap that triggered a whole line of misfortune. Noctis suffered the most out of all of them, feeling the full brunt of his injuries now that the adrenaline was wearing off and his body was screaming to rest.

Their prince leaned onto Gladio for support. Both his assigned protectors and best friend shared a grimace as Noctis struggled to keep his eyes open. Gladiolus pushed his palm on the stone wall to balance the weight of another person ,and unknowingly triggered another trap.

“ Ah, shit.” Gladiolus cursed. He hurriedly tried to push Noctis back to his feet. “ As much as I’d like to take our time, I think this dungeon wants to really kill us.”

And if Prompto could talk he’d probably say something like, ‘ Like everything else?’

But Prompto couldn’t talk, so he just flailed wildly as spikes shot up from the far end of the corridor they were travelling through.

Ignis spotted a small crawlspace and called the others to bring Noctis over. They pushed him through first, Ignis’ heart speeding up as the spikes started to close in on them.

“ I’d like to avoid impalement, please,” Ignis hurriedly said as Gladiolus squeezed himself in after Prompto. When there was enough room Ignis pushed himself in, narrowly escaping undue death.

“ Close call,” Gladiolus commented as he pulled Ignis to his feet on the other side of the crawlspace.

Now that they were in a supposed-safe zone ( please, no one move) Ignis examined the glowing stonehead apparatus and snapped his fingers after much contemplated thought.

Ignis searched through their current supplies and pulled out a holy water, pouring all its contents over the construct. It seemed like Ignis tested his theory to be true as the originally rigid substance melted into a puddle before their feet. Gladiolus stepped back making a face of disgust as some of the goo splashed onto the soles of his boots.

“ Okay,” Gladiolus said, leaning down to inspect the filmy substance. “How did you figure this out and what does this mean?”

“ Didn’t you find it strange we’ve seen no daemons at all?” Ignis commented. “ And daemons are known to take on different shapes.”

Gladiolus whistled, “ Fuckin’ freaky.”

 

--

 x

--

 

“ I’m so glad we’re out of that creepy place!”

Everyone turned around to stare at Prompto in shock. The gunner looked down at himself with his mouth agape, curling his fingers around his neck. He sputtered out some incomprehensible noises and then hollered, “ I can finally talk again!”

“ I guess all good things do come to an end,” Ignis said which made Prompto throw his strongest puppy eyes at him.

“ That’s harsh Iggy,” Prompto said.

Sunlight cracked over the horizon, the mountains looking hazily blue in the distance. The mist rose from the ground, leaving behind small pearls of dew on the blades of grass. Those wet droplets caught onto the sun and shined like gems. Gladiolus, Ignis, and Prompto cast long shadows, creating an amorphous shape on the ground where Noctis stood in.They all would have enjoyed such a view, if it weren’t for Noct’s health.

“ Let’s go find you help,” Gladiolus said. He gently rubbed Noct’s shoulder, something uncharacteristic for Gladio, but Noct was being concerning himself.

Noctis pushed Gladio off him, sucking his teeth at him. “ I’m fine.”

“ Right, and I’m wearing a tutu,” Gladiolus said, this time his grip firm so Noctis couldn’t wriggle himself out of care. “ And that’s not a nosebleed.”

“ You’re not limping, your bones are just choosing to be broken,” Prompto added cheerily.

Ignis handed over a Mega-Potion, which Noctis took gingerly. Then Ignis said, “ This should do until we find you real help, so drink up.”

“ Right…” And Noctis followed his instructions, his face scrunching up as the foul-tasting remedy slid down his throat. Noctis’ condition considerably improved after that, and Gladio and Prompto hollered in merriment. “ Glad it’s all over…”

Noctis smiled as all three of them started off to the Regalia, all three of them unaware that Noctis’ shadow was gone.