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the delirium of hope

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Noctis is getting pretty tired of snakes.

The marilith. The naga. And now a freakin’ lamia. This one isn’t even as daemonic looking as the other two—a pink and orange glittering snake bottom half and a human top half with scale shining the female form up to its neck. It makes it so much creepier that way. At least it doesn’t speak like the naga. Small mercies, really.

He thinks that’s a relief, until he warps and then comes back into existence to high-pitched laughter. It makes him think of bad voice acting in those video game he and Prompto use to play back in Insomnia. Chilling, nerve wracking, similar to nails on a chalkboard.

“Regroup!” Ignis calls.

Noctis dodges and rolls back to back with his advisor, engine blade held up in front of him as gremlins chitter and chatter around them. Prompto groans about something being gross, Gladio quips at him to stop playing around.

“Does it have a weakness?” Noct asks, breathing hard. “Fire? It’s the only one I haven’t tried yet.”

“It would be worth the try,” Ignis says. He’s got a cut on his cheek and his hair’s disheveled. “I’m out of flasks.”

Noct rolls his eyes. The niggle of awareness in the back of his mind gives him inventory of the armory whenever he has the ability to concentrate. During battle, he normally focuses on his flasks and weapon stock, in case someone already pulled out something he wanted to use. Iggy is fully aware of this, jerk.

“I know. I am too.” He flexes his fingers experimentally, feeling the tell-tale signs of magic tingling in his nerves. “I’m gonna have to use spells. Not sure about my aim, though.”

Gladio grunts as he cleaves a gremlin in half. “What do you mean by that?” he demands. “What’s wrong with your aim?”

He grits his teeth as he fends off another gremlin without dignifying that with an answer. (His aim’s always off when he’s flirting on the edge of stasis. You know this, Gladio, give me a freakin’ break!)

The lamia is the one giving them a break, slinking on the edges of the battle. Its scales glint in the moonlight, eyes shining dark with daemonic power. Miasma curls from its shoulders and the ends of its hair, coiling like smaller snakes in the moonlight. There’s something about its expression that’s throwing him off. He hates the humanoid ones, always something in the back of his mind when he faces them that whispers that something is wrong. This isn’t right.

Gunshots sound and Gladio shouts something harshly. Ignis puts himself in front of Noctis, knocking back gremlins as Noct finally charges up a fire spell. Fire itself should be good enough, but he’s sort of leaning towards a fira. He doesn’t want to risk stasis with a firaga, having already warped and used magic for a tier two lightning spell after he realized he had no elemancy to make a flask for that element either, and ran out of those flasks themselves earlier. Gods, he should do a better inventory check before they go on hunts like this.

The daemon meets his gaze, a smirk curling on its lips. The fira dies on his fingertips, his next breath catches in his chest. Ignis gets knocked aside by a gremlin, shouting for Noct. But he doesn’t listen. The lamia is tantalizingly close now, illuminated by their torches and the smoldering grass from the lightning flask Prompto missed with earlier. The dark shine to its eyes glow black, power swirling and that miasma curling from the corners. His heart beats loudly, his lips parting as he takes a step towards the daemon, blood roaring in his ears.

There’s something alluring about the lamia, pulling him into its grasp. He can’t...He can’t bring himself to pull away. There’s just—

A whispering. In his ear. A croon that sounds like a lullaby, something that his mom maybe would’ve sung to him when he was a baby. It’s not a memory he has, not really. But he use to like to imagine what she would sound like, using old sound bites from when his parents ruled side-by-side early during his dad’s reign.

Maybe it would have sounded like this. Beautiful. Soft. And so full of promise. A promise that he will be safe, that his days will be bright.

He doesn’t notice his engine blade falling to his side from where it had once been out in defense. His grip loosens on it, but he doesn’t let go. He sways to the music only he hears, eyes going half-lidded. Noct takes another step towards the daemon, another step closer to the dark.

You can have that future, the lamia promises with a cruel smile he doesn’t see. Do you not want it? The burdens you carry on your crown, lifted and gone forever. Does that not sound nice, my dear? Najmay?

It’s the word he doesn’t recognize that drags him to the edge, stumbling and wanting for a taste of something he’s never known.

Laughter sounds again, high-pitched and triumphant.

Come now, najmay. Turn around. Fight for your bright, fight for your dawn and dusk and the moon and sun that sits between. Those are your enemies, these men who you have called friend. Brother. Love. They bring only darkness to cloak your shoulders and shadow your head. Fight them. Give yourself your future.

Noctis turns on a pin, sword bracing up.

He sees them through a haze in his vision and the roar in his ears. Prompto. Ignis. Gladio. He knows them intrinsically. He should put down his sword and drop to his knees, bow his head, for them. They have been by his side since day one. With his moods and he temper, his sleeping and his fishing. With this destiny that is full of darkness and their homes burned down for one man. He has known for so long that he doesn’t deserve them.

najmay!

He shouldn’t be doing this. He shouldn’t. But he can’t find a reason not to, no matter how hard he tries to snatch up a reasonable thought, it flickers away like a candle being blown out. A phantom hand rests on his shoulder, lips that aren’t there press against his ear. The lamia coos and croons, continues whispers charmingly enticing promises.

Noctis shakes his head. No. No…

But—

My dear najam...

It seems like hours upon hours, listening to the lamia whisper in his ear of peace and a patch of sun on the grass, urging him to move and work for it. Between one moment and the next, though, it had only taken a minute.

najmay! najmay!

Noctis digs his feet into the dirt, grip tightening on his sword. With a shout—a scream. A war cry. A sob—he throws himself forward, sword swinging up to slice down against Gladio.

He’s blocked instantly. Unsurprisingly. Gladio’s face is right there, expression slack in shock, eyes wide with concern. His lips form Noctis. All Noct can hear the loud whisper of najmay! najmay!

He pulls back and strikes again and again and again. Sparks fly between their blades, blue crystals popping and shattering like phantom glass. Gladio steps back with every hit he blocks, shouting something that has no sound. He doesn’t know where Ignis and Prompto are now. He doesn’t look.

Noctis just focuses on Gladio’s amber colored eyes, the way they hold confusion and fear. He watches his tattoo, his sign of service and devotion, ripple over his muscles as he blocks another blow then parries it. Noctis goes stumbling back, twitching into a backflip when he loses balance on his feet, then rights himself up about a yard away, face-to-face with his Shield.

Gladio could use this moment to fight back. To stop Noctis once and for all. Free him to that place the lamia keeps whispering about, because he knows that’s not his real future. There’s no other way to get to it. He wants it. He wants to so bad.

But Gladio doesn’t take a swing at him. He steps back when Noctis goes for him, blocks, parries, blocks, steps back again. His mouth is still moving, lips forming words that Noctis can’t even begin to understand through the haze over his mind. There’s only one thing that’s clear—

And Noctis falters when he sees it, thrown by the wide-open fear on the Shield’s face. If Gladio has any weaknesses, it’s that he lashes out when he’s scared or feeling vulnerable. His temper gets away from him, his stress levels sky rocket, and he will always have a sharp barb on his tongue that he doesn’t hold back, violence shimmering under the surface.

He doesn’t show fear like this. Not with tears. Not with such open vulnerability. Not at all like this. Something’s wrong—.

najmay.

Noctis shakes his head, staggering. No….No. He—Something—

Movement appears in the corner of his eye. He jerks sharply, whirling around. Turning his back towards Gladio. Prompto stands there staring at him with wide eyes, his gun at his side in a loose grip. Ignis is braced at his back, twin daggers out with flames licking the blades as he faces down the lamia.

najmay! the lamia shouts. najmay! the lamia laughs when Ignis launches himself at it, daggers striking with deadly precision.

The first cut has it screaming. Noctis stumbles, screaming with it, chest on fire and his head feeling like it’s splitting open.

Hands grapple at his shoulders, but he shakes them off, kicking back until he hits something solid. He elbows Gladio in the stomach, making him double over with a grunt. Noctis throws himself away from his Shield, facing him once more. Prompto won’t shoot him, hadn’t shot him when he had the opportunity earlier. Whether that was because of the gremlins, or because he’s facing Noctis, he doesn’t know. He can’t be sure.

I cannot help you if you do not fight for me! the lamia hisses. Ignis’s blades sizzle flesh, nearly taking off one of its arms. That doesn’t seem to bother it too much. Fight for me. Fight for me!

Gladio’s shouting at him, screaming, his face taking on a red hue and his eyes suspiciously shiny. Noctis blinks in surprise. He...He’s pretty sure he’s never seen Gladio cry before. Not after Insomnia. Not after they receive the official (or as official as it could get) casualty report from those brave, or morbid, enough to record it. Not after his mom died in the badlands of Cavaugh during one of the worst skirmishes the Kingsglaive ever saw.

The song starts up again, humming in his ear. It pushes him forward to raise his sword once more against his friend. He can’t not do this. The lamia can give him something he never thought he could have. And if he has it, then his friends...then his friends, they wouldn't have to deal with him, wouldn’t have to worry.

Sometimes. That’s all he wants. Peace for everyone who’s been hurt because of him.

There’s something about the desperation in Gladio’s expression that has him faltering still. He has his sword out in front of him to fight, yeah, but there’s something wrong that he just can’t pin down. Between Gladio mouthing words and the lamia whispering such enticing, lulling things in his ear, his head is swimming and his hands are shaking. Something coppery floods his mouth as he bites through his cheek, his vision darkening at the corners.

Something's wrong.

najmay….

“Noct!”

Noctis startles, flinching at the sudden noise. He blinks, meeting Gladio’s eyes. This time, though, there’s something different. Gladio’s expression cracks, hope bleeding through for a second.

“Noct.” Gladio’s mouth is moving again. But this time, Noctis can hear it. He’s saying his name. He’s—. “That’s right, kid,” he says in relief. “Noct, fight it.”

najmay the lamia croons again. The scent of flowers floods his nose and smothers his mind, a warm breeze brushes through his hair.

Noctis finally does the thing he should’ve done a long time ago.

He warp-strikes.

Taking aim with his sword, he pinpoints for the center of Gladio’s chest, feeling the magic start at the tip of his sword to shake and tremble down his arm. He throws his sword and follows it with such accuracy, when he appears behind Gladio instead of over him with his sword planted in his chest, he’s too shocked to do anything but let himself be tackled to the ground.

He screams and shouts, fighting against whoever’s holding him down. Noctis bucks his body, throwing off whoever it is, and tries to scramble away, reaching for his sword that had been thrown away to the side. Gladio, has to be Gladio, wraps a big hand around his ankle and yanks him towards him, flipping him over onto his back, bracing his knees on either side of Noctis’s stomach, gripping his wrists on the ground over his head.

Noctis bucks and writhes, trying to throw him off again—though, Prompto in the dirt near his head tells him that it’s not again, Prompto was the one who tackled him. Prom’s not so good at wrestling, Noct almost wants to laugh.

najmay the lamia mourns. najmay the lamia sneers. Show me you want that future. Show me you deserve it. Kill them! Kill—!

“Noc-tis,” Prompto shouts in his ear, voice thick with tears. “Noctis! Snap out of it buddy.” Rocks scrape together near his ear, Prompto digging his fingers into the ground to anchor himself. “Ignis! He’s getting worse!”

“Come help me then!”

Prompto disappears and the sound of gunshots replaces his presence.

Noctis calls for his sword to disappear into the armory for him to pull out right there, only for it to continue to lay there in the thick patch of grass, mocking him. Frustrated, he tries for a dagger that’s already in his inventory. That also doesn’t answer his call.

najmay...

He wrenches a wrist from Gladio’s hand, something creaking and cracking that he ignores. With a snarl, he lashes out at his face, raking fingernails down his Shield’s face. Blood wells up instantly, beading to drip down his face, over the curve of his chin, and plops down on Noctis’ cheek.

Gladio barely flinches. He grabs Noctis’ wrist again, his grip impossibly tight. Noctis shouts when fire burns through his nerves at the touch. Tears sting his eyes then slip down his temple, pooling in his ears. He can’t tell if it’s from the pain in his wrist or the weird burning sensation that’s starting to make it harder to breathe or the fact Gladio just. Won’t. Let. Go.

oh, najmay!

“Noctis.” Gladio’s face is hovering over his, close enough Noctis can see every bump and ridge in the old scar on his face—the one gained from protecting him as a teenager. He can see the minute jaggedness to the new scratches. He can see the spark in his eyes that Prompto and Ignis also carry, a sign that a fraction of the Crystal’s magic is at his disposal.

“Noctis,” he says again, firm and unrelenting. “You’re stronger than this. Don’t listen to it. Whatever it’s saying, it’s just lies to get you to fight us.”

He freezes, eyes wide as he stares at Gladio. Lies? All of it? Was he truly pulled in so deep so quickly?

Gladio bears down on him even more, pressing his chest against Noct’s. Noctis wheezes a bit, but he doesn’t struggle. His mind is a whirl of confusion and fear. He—I—?

“Yeah, that’s it,” Gladio says encouragingly. “Listen to me instead. You know I’m always right.” The forced lightness to his tone sends Noctis reeling back, thumping the back of his head against the ground so hard he swears he sees stars.

Noctis’ legs go limp, his heels no longer trying to gain leverage, and the weird sensation in his chest starts to hurt even more as he shakes his head through the fog that’s settled in his mind.

Something warm trickles from his nose. He licks his lips, tasting the sharp metallic sting of blood.

no! no! the lamia wails.

Noctis blinks rapidly as Gladio’s face doubles then triples. He squeezes his eyes shut as the lamia starts shouting again. najmay! najmay! The song somehow getting sweeter and softer no matter how angry it sounds. He tosses his head back and forth, as if he could shake it out of his mind, whining high-pitched and pathetic. The first sounds he’s made other than grunts and screams this whole time.

He barely notices the scrape of rocks against both sides of his face, the sting as he starts to bleed. Noctis just focuses on Gladio’s weight on him and the heavy grip around his wrists. He pushes past the song in his ears, listening to the sizzle of skin as Ignis continues to fight the lamia and the sound of gunshots as Prompto backs him up. It hurts. It hurts so much to fight through. He keens, crying thick, hot tears.

The lamia screams then, raw and broken. Noctis’ keen breaks into shrieks, writhing, back arching as the song reaches a painful pitch. He raises his head and slams it against the the ground over and over and over again until his ears are ringing and Gladio’s hand suddenly appears to cradle it in his palm.

Gladio’s thrown off Noctis when the lamia lurches towards them, missing the end of its tail and both its arms, and is covered in burning slices that drip boiling blood. Noct can’t find the strength to move, watching the lamia as it inches closer and closer, his eyes half-lidded and burning a dark violet that spreads through his veins all the way down to his neck

najmay the lamia murmurs, sounding oh-so sad.

Noctis moans. “No,” he finally says, long and drawn out. He places shaky hands over his face. “No.”

“Gladio!”

“On it!”

najmay.

“Please,” Noctis whines. He drags his nails over his face, the burning in his chest spreading to the base of his throat and moving up to his hairline. “Please, don’t make me.” He scratches at his face again. “Stop.”

The lamia screams one last time, starting in anger, bleeding into fear, ending in pain before it gurgles and collapses, falling to land with a ground-shaking thud next to Noctis. Its tail is severed in half now, spine and back broken beyond repair. It stares at Noctis with blank, empty eyes, the black miasma of the starscourge billowing from there first.

Before long, the entire daemon is gone, leaving nothing but the smoldering grass, the wind in the trees, and Noctis’ breaths whistling through his lips.

Prompto drops his gun instead of dismissing it into the armory, scrambling to Noct’s side to fall to his knees. His hands are warm on his skin as he cups Noctis’ cheeks, pressing his thumbs on his cheekbones. There’s tears in his wide, fear filled, eyes.

“Noct, can you hear me?” Prompto asks frantically. “Gods, Noct.”

Ignis appears next, kneeling on his other side. Gladio stands behind him, broadsword in hand and the scratches on his face scabbed over. He winces at the sight, lifting a trembling hand in his direction. Ignis catches it, shaking his head.

“Don’t try to move, your Highness,” Ignis says, his voice thick with something. “You’re quite injured.”

He hisses when Prompto moves his other hand to rest on his chest. Noct glances down to see his wrist bent unnaturally in half, distantly remembering the crack he felt when he fought against Gladio.

Noct presses his lips together, shame curdling in his stomach. “‘m sorry,” he mumbles, the tears that had slowed then stopped come back in full force, ripping to a sob. “‘m sorry.”

“Shh,” Ingis shushes gently. Prompto starts to card his fingers through Noctis’ sweat soaked hair. “Anyone would have been caught up in the lamia’s spell. Don’t worry about it, Noct.”

“Yeah! Remember when Gladio got turned into a frog three times against one monster?” Prompto says with forced levity.

Gladio grunts and snaps, “hey!” but there’s no heat to it.

Noctis blinks up at them slowly, his lips curving in half-smile that pulls on the scratches. He opens his mouth to say something else, but he doesn’t have the strength to make another sound. Shadows dance at the edges of his vision, dragging him down into the darkness.

And he lets it take him.