Ardyn Lucis Caelum stood, looking out over Insomnia. Even now, at twenty years old, he could hardly believe what he was seeing. Lucis stood strong, even 2000 years after its founding; it stood strong. Niflheim was, of course, trying to conquer all of Eos but every time they rose up, the combined might of the other three countries managed to push them back.
He let loose a soft, contented sigh. Peacetime; what a welcome sight. His heart squeezed tight with emotion. This was his kingdom; these were his people.
Ardyn turned, seeing his father approaching. “Hey dad.” The word felt strange on his lips, yet twisted with a sense of rightness. He supposed it had to do with the overlapping memories.
Regis clapped a hand on Ardyn’s shoulder. “Well, son, you’re going to leave tomorrow to collect your Royal Arms. Feeling ready?”
More than ready, Ardyn had privately laughed in his head. Reincarnation had been a tricky, funny thing. He remembered living and dying. He remember founding Lucis 2000 years ago, remembered marrying Aera, remembered welcoming their first child into the world, remembered dying peacefully in his bed. Never in all of his years and infinite wisdom had he expected something like reincarnation. His memories had returned when he was five, a dizzying sensation, overlapping. He’d laughed long and hard about the irony of his name.
Heh. Somewhere out there, there was a tomb with his original sword too. He walked past old statues and aged paintings of himself. It was terribly odd and yet so funny.
Still, he appreciated this second chance. It was nice to see how far Lucis had come; it had flourished. Even though he still bore the mark of royalty, it was different. There was no fighting with a brother who’d rather see him dead, there was no hellfire blaze in the distance as countless people were murdered. This was a lazy peace that Ardyn almost scorned, the people being so content, but as he spent his days playing King’s Knight with Prompto, watching movies with Ignis and discussing books with Gladio, Ardyn was fine with letting that all go.
For now, he would enjoy the chance to be the child he hadn’t been allowed to be all those years ago.
“Looking forward to it,” Ardyn said. He wanted to see what else had changed. Where those old ruins still standing? Did Galahd, that fledgling tribe settle down? He had seen Tenebrae already. His mother, Aulea Lucis Caelum née Nox Fleuret, had descended along the Oracle Line, the younger sister to their current queen, Sylva. They had taken a few family trips to Tenebrae when Ardyn had been younger.
(It had been funny to see how their family line had split and reunited these past 2000 years. So strange to find his healing ability had returned, but with the touch of Oracle Magic that he had come to associate with Aera. Lucis Caelum magic continued to hum strong, an old familiar tune.)
“Try not to drive poor Ignis up the wall,” Regis lightly joked.
Ardyn smirked. “No promises,” he said. Winding up Ignis was the best part because his reactions were so fun. And if Ignis hated it, he wouldn’t leave openings like that. Verbal sparring with Ignis was so much fun and Ardyn knew Ignis loved the challenge too. (The joke was on Regis. Ignis was just as much of a troublemaker as Ardyn.)
“Walk tall and come back home safely,” Regis said, ever so fond.
Ardyn stretched, soaking up the sun. They had arrived in Galdin Quay only twenty minutes ago. There wasn’t a Royal Tomb around here to their knowledge, but Regis had highly encouraged them to just go out and see the kingdom.
Prompto had wanted to take a picture of the famed Angelgard and Ignis wanted to taste the food here, so at Galdin Quay they had arrived. The others had dispersed, seeking out their own interests, and Ardyn had found himself near the small fishing shack and pier on the beach.
Sitting there at the end of the dock was a young man with black hair, quietly fishing.
“Anything biting?” Ardyn asked, wandering closer. He didn’t particularly enjoy fishing, but it was one of the few pastimes that he shared with his father, so he tolerated it more than not.
The fisherman blinked, looking up at Ardyn with crystal blue eyes.
Ardyn felt his breath stolen away.
Ardyn hissed, the betrayal striking so terribly deep. Somnus, smug as he tried to cut down Ardyn. Where had his gentle younger brother gone? How had he let power warp him into this monster of absolute “justice” or whatever Somnus was claiming was justice these days?
He parried Somnus’ attack, eyes wide as Somnus rushed forward, intent on stabbing. In the same fraction of the second, Aera had darted between them and Ardyn feared the worst, scrambling to protect her because he wouldn’t allow Somnus to take her from him too.
The ring of metal clashing echoed, but it was not Ardyn’s sword that Somnus’ sword hit. A fourth person had joined the fray.
Ardyn had no chance to look, not before Somnus’ face twisted into a snarl, not before a bright white light filled the hallway.
When his vision finally stopped dancing, the crowd had been pushed to edges of the room, looking stunned. Somnus was nowhere in sight, leaving the stranger standing there.
Ardyn stared at him, shoving Aera behind him to protect her. Who was this person? Where did he come from? And –Ardyn realized with a jolt- why did he look like Somnus?
The stranger with the same black hair as Somnus and bright blue eyes as their father, like their grandmothers’, stared back at Ardyn with a tired, relieved smile.
“Ardyn Lucis Caelum,” the stranger said. He bowed, just low enough to be polite, treating himself as an equal to Ardyn’s station.
“Who are you?” Ardyn asked.
“A man of no consequence,” the man said loftily. He held out his hand to Ardyn. “If you would, please.”
Warily, Ardyn stared at his hand. Was this man infected with the Starscourge, seeking healing? But he had a strange way of going about it.
Still, thanks to this man’s interference, Aera had survived.
Ardyn grasped his hand, summoning his healing magic and instead felt a wash of powerful magic, stronger than his own overwhelm him. The pain of the Starscourge faded, the tired weariness he carried was gone. Dimly, Ardyn realized it wasn’t vanishing so much as moving, flowing directly into the man instead. Ardyn struggled, trying to cut the flow. He never wanted to push that disease onto someone else.
The man’s grip never wavered and the magical link between them held true until Starscourge faded away from Ardyn’s body completely.
“Why-?” Ardyn asked, when the man finally let go.
“Why not?” the man challenged. “I don’t recommend you repeating it though.”
But there were people suffering.
“Oracle magic can banish the Starscourge too.”
No, it couldn’t. Aera would have stopped him.
“I don’t have such an ability,” Aera said, over Ardyn’s shoulder.
“Ask Bahamut then,” the man said.
Ask the Gods for a boon? But at what price? Ardyn had faith in the gods, but he had known their favor was never given freely nor was it a kind gift. Look at what their judgement did to Somnus, to his once gentle brother.
"He will give it if you ask, no strings attached."
The man bowed again. "Rule well, Chosen King."
Then he vanished, leaving nothing but a crystal blue afterimage, shattering and fading.
"It's been a little slow," the man said, breaking Ardyn's thoughts. "There's supposedly an angler's nightmare out here, the Devil of Cygillan. A giant Murk Grouper."
"No luck then?" Ardyn asked.
Reincarnation. Of course. If he had been reborn, it would stand to reason that there were others. Ardyn had spend the rest of his rule searching for this man, half fearful that Starscourge had consumed him, wondering if the daemons he put down, the ones Aera couldn’t heal, were secretly that man who had saved him.
His people called him their Savior, the Healer King, the Founder King, the Chosen King. But Ardyn, who had never really desired the throne, felt inadequate. The one who had saved him, who deserved the title of Savior, was this man.
And now, 2000 years later, Ardyn had finally met him again. Still the midnight dark hair, crystal blue eyes, the scuff of a beard, and gray coat, almost as if he had stepped straight out of Ardyn's memories.
“Not really,” the man said.
“I’m Ardyn,” Ardyn introduced himself. It didn’t look like the man recognized him, be it from memories or in his current position as Crown Prince.
Or, given the way the man hesitated ever so slightly, perhaps he did. “Noct,” he said. “I'm Noct.”
Ardyn smiled. He finally had a name.
“There you are, Ardyn.” Gladio’s firm grip clapped Ardyn on the shoulder. “Ignis is looking for you.”
Ardyn huffed, but there, out of the corner of his eye, he watched as a look of absolute grief flashed over Noct’s face. He wiped it away, blinking that sleepy look in place instead.
Why…? Gladio? What was about Gladio that caused that look on Noct's face?
Gladio was subtly pulling Ardyn away. “See you around, Noct,” Ardyn called over his shoulder.
Noct gave him a lazy wave and returned to fishing.
When they were finally far enough away, Ardyn turned to Gladio. “What was that for?”
“Didn’t know you swung that way,” Gladio said.
“And I didn’t take you to be so terribly closed minded,” Ardyn snapped.
Gladio scoffed. “As if. Don’t care if you like guys or not, Dyn. But not that one.”
Ardyn blinked, surprised. “Why?” he asked.
Gladio shrugged. “Can’t put my finger on it. But something about him rubs the wrong way. You wanna flirt with guys, go. But not that one. Though Iggy might have something to say about you flirting at all.”
Ardyn scowled, huffing. Wait. Gladio didn't recognize Noct, but Noct clearly recognized him. Why was that?
Why did Noct look at Gladio with the deepest of grief?
Duscae was damp and wet. If Ardyn saw one more frog, he was going to let loose a thunder spell. Why did he let Gladio talk him into helping Sania?
Ardyn may have never lost his desire to help people, but frogs.... He sighed heavily, creeping quietly over a rock, keeping his ears perked for the croaking of frogs. But in the light drizzle of rain, the sound was getting lost. Hopefully one of the others found the last frog they needed. They were all searching different parts of the lake.
Out of the corner of his eye, Ardyn spotted a small dock and a figure standing there fishing. Was that Noct? Why was he here? He turned fully, heading over, wondering what sort of coincidence it must be.
Noct turned around, surprised to see him. “Ardyn? What are you doing here?”
“Hunting frogs,” Ardyn replied with a dramatic huff.
“Ah, for Sania?” Noct asked. A wistful look crossed his face as he looked off into the direction of the rest stop where Ardyn had met Sania.
“Do you know her?” Ardyn asked, curious.
Noct shrugged. “I once found a bunch of frogs for her research, but it was so long ago that she probably doesn't even remember me. She'd had several scientific breakthroughs since then.”
Ardyn quietly groaned. “I see she doesn't get over the frog thing, then.”
Noct smiled. “They hold the secrets of the world in them. Count yourself lucky that she hasn't asked you for a griffon feather or rainbow frogs.”
That didn't sound promising at all. Ardyn irritably twitched. He hoped she didn't ask for either of those items in the future.
“Standing out here in the rain...are you just some sort wandering fisherman?” Ardyn asked, changing the subject away from frogs.
“Rain or shine,” Noct said, amused. “Still have to eat, and fish is one of the few dishes I can cook without burning.”
Interesting. Ardyn remembered wandering the land, going village to village to help people, before they called for his crowning. That had been nice, walking among his people, seeing his kingdom. This road trip was settling some of that wanderlust that Ardyn had been feeling. It was heartening to know that others still traveled, felt safe enough to travel, despite the few daemons that still survived to this day.
It had been disappointing to learn that the daemon problem persisted. But Aera and her family, no matter how blessed, were only a small group. They couldn't be everywhere, couldn't heal everyone. It wasn't surprising to learn that the Starscourge had persisted, but Ardyn had hoped over the years and the progression of technology that someone had managed to stop it.
That wasn't the case.
Perhaps that was the reason why he had been reincarnated, to finally stop that disease that he had spent his first life fighting.
Ardyn once dreamed of a Starscourge-free world. He was no longer so naive. There would always be war, always be famine, always be sickness. Peace was fleeting and wouldn't last forever. But the Starscourge was a disease Ardyn fervently wanted eradicated from Eos. No one should watch their loved ones transform into monsters, no one should feel as if they were being ripped apart, their skin the only thing keeping them together, no one should choke on the black liquid, hiss at sunlight, or live in the terror of others turning on them and slaying them where they stood.
“Dyn!” Prompto came bouncing out of the bushes, grinning like a madman. “Guess who just bagged the last frog we need?”
In his hands, the red frog croaked.
And, like with Gladio, Ardyn caught the absolute look of grief flash across Noct's face.
“Who is this?” Prompto asked.
“Noct Gar, a fisherman,” Noct introduced himself.
“With a last name like that, I can see why you're a fisherman,” Prompto said with a snicker. “Come from a family of fishermen?”
Noct’s lips quirked up, a twitch of a smile. “Oddly, no. But it was a pastime my dad and I used to share.”
Like Ardyn and his father. He warned at the thought of sharing a similarity with Noct.
He opened his mouth to ask Noct more about his family when Prompto let loose a sneeze.
“You better get out of the rain,” Noct said kindly. “You don't want to get sick.”
“You should as well,” Ardyn said.
“I don’t get sick easily,” Noct said.
Ardyn scowled. The healer in him demanded that Noct get out of the rain right now.
Prompto sneezed again, the frog slipping from his hand. “No! The frog!” Prompto jumped after it.
Noct let out a small huff of laughter. “You better go help him, Ardyn.”
Ardyn sighed. Yes. Better get that frog before they're stuck out here even longer and truly do become sick.
“May you stay healthy as well,” Ardyn said.
Noct gave him a lazy wave.
Vesperpool was not as rainy as Duscae, but just as wet and muddy. The sun was low on the horizon, just peeking over the edge of the mountains surrounding it. Sunlight bounced off the water, soft warm reds and yellows painting the sky. It was a quiet sunrise morning.
Ardyn found himself wandering, foraging for ingredients for breakfast. The haven was just a stone’s-throw away, but it was a miracle that Ignis had let Ardyn wander this far, to be honest.
He blinked, catching the familiar silhouette of a man at the docks.
A grin broke across his face. Noct was here too.
“Noct!” he called out.
“Ardyn,” Noct said, reeling in his line. “If I didn’t know any better, I would say you were following me.”
“How do I know you’re not following me?” Ardyn challenged.
Noct huffed. “Doubt it,” he said.
There was something about Noct was downright fascinating. Ardyn couldn’t quite explain it, but he felt like a moth to flame. Would he get burned like Gladio feared if he fluttered too closely?
The strange thing was, there was nothing about Noct was read as dangerous like Gladio feared. He would never be able to explain it to Gladio, but there was a deep instinct in Ardyn that told him he was safe in Noct’s presence. And he meant that beyond the fact that Noct had saved him all those years ago.
“Do you believe in reincarnation?” Ardyn asked.
Noct recast his line, the lure bouncing across the surface over the water before bobbing up and down. “I suppose anything is possible,” he said.
Evading the question. Ardyn rolled his eyes. “Are you one? Do you remember a past life?”
The subtle reactions to Gladio and Prompto, even the way Noct looked at him sometimes--there was something there, Ardyn knew it.
“Can’t say I remember any other life beyond the one I’m currently living,” Noct said.
Was that couldn’t or wouldn’t? Ardyn frowned. Was Noct just afraid to admit that he had past memories?
“I remember my past life,” Ardyn said.
Noct’s eyes widened. “Do you now,” Noct asked, voice tight.
Ardyn mentally smirked. There it was. “Yes-”
Ardyn silently cursed. Of all the time for Ignis to interrupt.
“You didn’t return,” Ignis said, stepping onto the dock. He gave a suspicious look at Noct. “Who are you?”
Ardyn watched as the same deep grief flashed on Noct’s face for a sliver of a second before it was pushed aside. “I’m Noct Gar, a fisherman,” he said.
Ignis looked between the two of them. “Ardyn,” he said, voice laced with disappointment.
Ardyn huffed. Gladio had probably told Ignis about Noct and Gladio’s warning. “It’s fine, Ignis,” Ardyn said.
Noct reeled in his line, clearly done fishing. “I’m not here to cause trouble,” he said, looking warily at Ignis. “I’m just a man-”
“Of no consequence,” Ardyn finished.
Noct drew in a sharp breath.
“You do remember,” Ardyn said with glee.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Noct retorted.
Ignis inched forward, ready to grab Ardyn out of the way. “What is going on here?” he asked, eyes narrowed.
“Nothing,” Noct said. “I’ll be on my way.”
“Wait,” Ardyn said, reaching out to grab Noct’s arm.
Noct hissed, reeling away. “ Don’t touch me ,” he shouted, voice ringing with power.
Ardyn stared in horror, seeing the yellow in Noct’s eyes that replaced that crystal blue. The inky black lines, dripping and spilling. “Starscourge, you have Starscourge.” He surged forward, slipping out of Ignis’ protective grip. “I can heal you,” he said, half-horrified.
Again, Noct had Starscourge, but this time Ardyn was determined to save him.
Ardyn had the blood of Oracles flowing through his veins. While it wasn’t the same as his original ability, he was still a healer.
Noct slapped away Ardyn’s hand, snarling. “I didn’t save you all those years ago in order for you to take it back,” he snapped.
Ardyn let out his own frustrated growl. “I wouldn’t- Let me help you-”
“Ardyn,” Ignis said. “Don’t-!”
The ground trembled and to their horror, a Treant came barreling through the trees, drawn by their shouting. It let out a guttural howl, swiping at them.
Noct swirled around and a barrier just like the ones Ardyn could form, just like the ones his dad favored, shooting up between them and the Treant. The Treant pounded against it, throwing its weight, slamming into it.
“How-?” Ardyn asked. Ignis was already pulling him away.
“Questions later!” Noct roared, struggling to maintain the barrier.
He hissed as the Treant broke through it. A gunshot rang, nicking it in the eye.
“Ardyn! Ignis!” Prompto shouted as Gladio charged forward, swinging his broadsword.
The Treant howled in pain.
“Watch out for the tail!” Noct snapped, warping to Gladio’s blindside with a shield, blocking the Treant’s tail that had swung around.
“Hey wasn’t that-” Prompto started.
Noct leveled a glare at the Treant. “Fuck off,” he said. Then he dropped a Firaga on it.
The Treant reared back, burning. It screamed and fled, disappearing in the trees, leaving behind ashes and smoke.
Silence fell over their group, everyone staring at Noct who was huffing and puffing.
“How?” Ardyn asked. “That was Lucis Caelum magic.”
That was impossible. No one outside of their family had the ability to make barriers, warp and use elemancy. Noct wasn’t… Noct wasn’t family. Ardyn would know. His father had no brothers that could have explained Noct’s appearance and Ardyn knew they kept track of their family line and potential bastards fervently because of the potential of magic.
His breath hitched. No, Noct had used warping 2000 years ago too. Ardyn hadn’t recognized it because it was different than his and Somnus’ first appeared. It looked like Ardyn’s warping now .
He took a step forward.
“Ardyn! Dude!” Prompto hissed.
“Get back here,” Gladio said.
“He’s dangerous,” Ignis said.
His friends were so focused on him, no one but Ardyn caught the look of hurt that flashed on Noct’s face.
“Noct,” Ardyn said, reaching out. “Let me help.”
“No,” Noct said, stepping back. His eyes flashed a dangerous yellow. “No. Leave me alone.”
He disappeared, warping, leaving an afterimage of crystal blue.
No. Not again. Ardyn wasn’t going to let Noct slipped through his fingers again. He failed to save him once; he wasn’t going to let history repeat itself, not after all that Noct had done.
There wouldn’t have been a Lucis without Noct. Aera wouldn’t have survived. Who knew what Somnus would have done? Ardyn himself would have turned into a daemon under the weight of Starscourge.
Ardyn owned Noct a debt of gratitude he couldn’t even begin to pay back.
“We’re going to Tenebrae,” Ardyn announced.
“Dyn,” Ignis started, tone frustrated.
“Ignis, he’s suffering under the weight of Starscourge,” Ardyn said. “You don’t know what it’s like, that feeling like you’re being ripped apart. If he won’t let me heal him, then maybe he would let Aunt Sylva or Luna heal him.”
Ignis opened his mouth to argue back. He then snapped it shut, looking resigned.
“Why go so far for this guy?” Gladio asked.
“I remember him saving my life,” Ardyn said. He knew they wouldn’t understand. Ardyn never fully explained to them about his reincarnation, his memories. It always seemed so unimportant. Noct aside, Ardyn hadn't encountered anyone else from his past life.
“I thought you just met him?” Prompto asked.
Ardyn let out a hiss of frustration. “It’s important to me. Please.”
His friends shared a look.
“Very well,” Ignis said. “But we’re going to at least call your father and aunt instead of unexpectedly dropping in on them.”
Ardyn would take it.
Luna flew down the steps, throwing her arms around Ardyn. “It’s good to see you, cousin,” she said. “It was surprising when you said you were suddenly coming over for a visit. I’m afraid Ravus isn’t here. He left last week for a tour. There had been reports of bandits in the countryside and Ravus intends to capture them.”
Ardyn gave her a wry smile. “A shame,” he said. Then quieter, gentler. “It is good to see you, cousin.”
Luna smiled at him.
Ardyn felt his heart squeeze. Luna looked so much like Aera, it hurt sometimes to look at her.
(He remembered meeting her for the first time, when he was six, clinging to his mother’s dress. The weight of his memories was still fresh. Coming face to face with Luna, the splitting image of Aera, had been too much. He had cried long and hard after meeting her and refused to let her go.)
(Aera went before him, peacefully, but still too soon for for Ardyn. And that grief stayed with him for another ten years before he too had passed.)
It was in Luna that Ardyn had confided his reincarnation, in the wake of his mother’s passing when he was twelve and feeling terribly isolated. Too old, too young--he had had trouble coping with it all until Luna had reached out.
He couldn’t thank her profoundly enough.
“It’s a long story,” Ardyn confessed.
Luna hummed, linking her arm through his. “We have time.”
She led him to her private sitting room where a pot of hot tea was already waiting for them.
“I met the man who saved me in my last lifetime,” Ardyn said, as Luna poured the tea. He took the cup from her, staring at the crystal brown liquid. “His name is Noct and he is a fisherman we have been running into all across of Lucis; a surprising, but not unwelcome, coincidence.”
He told her of his first meeting with Noct in Galdin, traveling through Duscae and the Vesperpool. He told her of the fight against the Treant, the fact that Noct had somehow used Lucis Caelum magic. He told her that Noct had been infected with the Starscourge and had refused to let Ardyn heal him.
“You want to see if mother or I can convince him to let us heal him,” Luna concluded at the end of his story.
Ardyn nodded. “I do not understand why he took the Starscourge away from me 2000 years ago, but I do know that I do not want to fail him this time. If he is sick, I wish to help. But if he won’t let me, specifically, help-”
“Then you will ask your family to take up the task,” Luna said with a smile.
“I won’t say no to helping him,” Luna said. “Mother’s magic is, of course, stronger, given her experience. I believe the first hurdle will be finding him. Gentiana?”
Ardyn watched as the seat next them suddenly held a woman.
“Yes, my lady?” Gentiana asked.
“I wondering if you could provide us with some assistance. We’re looking for a young man, probably in his late twenties, early thirties, with midnight black hair and crystal blue eyes, by the name of Noct,” Luna described him. “Have you encountered anyone matching that description in your walks?”
As a messenger, Gentiana existed everywhere and nowhere all at once. No distance could stop her. She was the best method they had to finding Noct.
To Ardyn’s surprise, Gentiana’s eyes opened ever so slightly. “Why do you wish to find him?”
“You know him,” Ardyn stated.
Gentiana tilted her head. “I do.”
“He carries the Starscourge,” Luna said. “We wish to help heal him. Finding him is the first step.”
Gentiana pursed her lips. “It will not be so simple. His Starscourge cannot be healed by simple Oracle magic.”
“What do you mean?” Luna asked.
“It is ordained in the prophecy,” Gentiana said. The temperature in the room dropped, a shivering cold.
“The fate of this world falls to The Chosen King. His Providence is consecrated in the divine Light of the Crystal; so it is ordained by the revelation of Bahamut. The Providence is the sole means to ending the immortal Accursed. A power greater than even that of the Six, purifying all by the Light of the Crystal and the glaives of rulers past.”
Ardyn blinked slowly. Aera had had something similar happen to her once upon a time. She didn’t remember speaking, like she was in a trance as the words had slipped from her.
“When darkness veils the world, the King of Light shall come,” Luna recited. “That was a passage in Lady Aera’s journal.”
“You’re saying Noct is the immortal Accursed,” Ardyn said, the quiet horror dawning on him.
“He’s been alive for the last two thousand years?” Ardyn asked.
Did…did Noct become an immortal because Ardyn had failed banish the Starscourge all those years ago? Had he been suffering since then? Ardyn had carried the Starscourge for five years, healing people. Near the end, it pressed down on him so far, he almost willingly let Somnus kill him just so he could rest.
His stomach blanched, twisting into knots. He should have tried harder.
How had Noct not gone insane since then?
“So the Chosen King would need the power of the Crystal and glaives of rulers of past in order to heal him,” Luna said thoughtfully. “You already have that, don’t you, Dyn?”
Ardyn blinked. Yes…yes. He did. Ardyn was the Chosen King, the Healer King, the Founder King. He had collected the known 12 Royal Arms and the Crystal was back home. All he had to do was drag Noct to Insomnia, then.
There was still a way to save him.
“You wish to help him?” Gentiana asked. Her eyes open now, staring at Ardyn with a cool gaze.
“Yes,” Ardyn said unflinchingly. It was Ardyn that Noct had saved; it was now time for Ardyn to rescue Noct.
Gentiana rose. “Then come, follow.”
She glided down the hallway, Ardyn and Luna trailing after her and out of the manor, to the field of sylleblossoms.
Standing there, with his back to them, was Noct.
“I don’t want to hear it, Gentiana,” Noct said, never looking back.
Gentiana came to stop, just a few feet away. “This foolishness has gone long enough,” she said.
“I said I didn’t want to hear it,” Noct snapped, turning to face her and catching sight of Ardyn and Luna standing next to her.
Ardyn stepped forward. “Noct.”
Noct scowled. “I crossed the ocean to avoid you. What are you doing here in Tenebrae- nevermind. I’ll be leaving now.” He pivoted, turning to leave before Gentiana’s words stopped him cold.
“Are you to continue running away?” she asked, words frigid.
Noct turned around, snarling at her. “Running away? You think this is running away? I’m doing what I can to protect-”
He hissed in pain, eyes flashing yellow, skin bubbling.
“Noct,” Ardyn said, unashamed to admit that he was pleading. “Please, let us help. Gentiana told us the prophecy-”
Noct let loose a bitter laugh. “Did she? Did she mention the blood price you have to pay? Did she mention that it’s nothing more than a glorified murder/suicide gambit? Did you even ask who plays what role?”
Ardyn reeled back as if struck. No. He hadn’t. He drew in a sharp breath, heart pounding.
He had forgotten that the gods never gave their favor freely nor was it ever a kind gift.
Once upon a time he had known that. Where had his wariness toward the gods gone?
(They took Somnus from him, turned his gentle brother in a greedy, ambitious monster. Somnus’ unknown fate was still a regret he carried with him.)
“If you know what’s good for you,” Noct said, so, so, so tired. “You won’t pursue the prophecy. Now just leave me alone.”
“I can’t-” Ardyn started, for once at a lost for words.
Luna, who had been standing quietly all this time, reached out to grab Noct’s wrist. He took a step back, pulling away, but she didn’t let him go, following after him.
“I know you,” she said, searching his eyes. Luna cupped his cheek. “Noctis. You’re Noctis. Noctis Lucis Caelum CXIV. I know you.”
Noct, Noctis, choked. “How? You can’t possibly-”
“Lady Aera Nox Fleuret was Founder King Ardyn’s Oracle,” Gentiana said, voice unwavering. “No matter how you write yourself out of the timeline, O King of Kings, Lady Lunafreya has always been yours.”
“I renounced that title,” Noctis said, voice trembling. “Gave it to Ardyn.”
Gentiana opened her eyes entirely, clear annoyance reflected in them. “We know Ardyn Lucis Caelum, the Founder King, the Healer King. He has always been a Chosen King, but never The Chosen King. He is not The Chosen King the Astrals have bestowed their blessing upon, the one they call the King of Kings.
“That has always been you.”
Noctis drew in a broken hitch, looking moments from away from shattering into pieces.
“Please Noctis,” Luna pleaded, never letting go of him. “Let us help. We’ll find a way.”
Noctis closed his eyes, tears slipping down his cheek. “All right,” he said hoarsely.
They were back in Luna’s private sitting room. The door was barred to prevent an interruptions, no matter how well-meaning Ignis or Sylva were. The three of them, King, Oracle, and Accursed, gathered around the table, tea gone cold.
Luna had yet to relinquish her hold on Noctis’ wrist, as if afraid that he would vanish like smoke if she let go.
Noctis let her, looking so tired and weary. He ran his free hand over his face, rubbing his eyes.
Ardyn swallowed hard. He felt his world spin as he tried to wrap his mind around this all.
“I do not understand,” Ardyn said, finally breaking the silence. “Noctis, you… wrote yourself out the timeline? To what…? Save me, two thousand years ago?”
Noctis let loose a bitter laugh. “It’s not a pretty story.”
“Tell me,” Ardyn said, commanded.
Noctis gave him a hard look, before he closed his eyes. “I am Noctis Lucis Caelum CXIV, son of King Regis Lucis Caelum CXIII and Queen Aulea Lucis Caelum. When I was twenty, I left Insomnia for the first time. The war with Niflheim had reached the point where they had all but forced us to surrender under the paper-thin guise of a peace treaty. The cherry on top, though, to usher in this new era of ‘peace’, they demanded a marriage between the Crown Prince of Lucis, me, and Lady Lunafreya of Tenebrae, the Oracle.”
Luna made a soft wounded noise.
Noctis squeezed her hand. “It was fine. You were one of my best friends. I was okay with marrying you.”
“It wasn’t meant to be, though,” Noctis continued. “Shortly after I left, Insomnia fell, a trap that Niflheim had set off. Dad died, and so did thousands of others. They stole the Crystal and I became a prince on the run.
“It became apparent that things were far greater than just the war between Lucis and Niflheim. The wheel of fate had begun to turn and the prophecy was beginning to unfold. My Luna had begun to wake the Astrals and I followed after, earning their blessing.
“Along the way, for reasons I couldn’t comprehend, the Chancellor of Niflheim, a man by the name of Ardyn Izunia, insisted on helping me on my journey.”
Ardyn choked, feeling the vice grip clamp around his throat. Izunia. Izunia was their name before the Gods had delivered the decree that Ardyn and Somnus were candidates for the Chosen King. Lucis Caelum was the name, the title, to be inherited.
Him? He played a role in this story too?
“We could hardly deny his help,” Noctis said. “And help he did, until Altissia, until the Rite of Leviathan, until he murdered Luna on the altar.”
No. Gods, no. He did what?
“Dyn,” Luna murmured, reaching out. “It wasn’t you, cousin.”
But it was, wasn’t it?
“With Luna gone, the daemons grew stronger, darkness approached. The days grew shorter,” Noctis said. “We went to Gralea to see if regaining the Crystal would help.”
He chuckled darkly. “Instead I found the truth of the prophecy. The Crystal sucked me in and Bahamut awaited. He told me, then, how Ardyn Izunia was Ardyn Lucis Caelum, the Accursed One. The forgotten king, betrayed by his brother and locked away. When he was freed, he swore vengeance.
“The only way to stop him and bring back the dawn was the prophecy. The King of Kings shall be granted the power to banish the darkness, but the blood price must be paid. 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.”
Both Ardyn and Luna made horrified noises.
“That’s-,” Luna said, distressed. “Noctis.”
Noctis shook his head. “Don’t worry about it, Luna,” he said with a tired smile.
“Bahamut kept me for ten years, and when I finally emerged, the world had fallen to ruin. All there was left was to confront Ardyn. I marched to the ruins of Insomnia, met Ardyn on the battlefield and bested him.
“And when that was done, I ascended the throne and fulfilled the prophecy,” Noctis said. “Defeated the Starscourge, banished the darkness and ushered in a new dawn.”
“That’s not fair,” Ardyn said.
“It wasn’t,” Noctis agreed. “But I had made my peace with it. And the life of one, compared to many, was an easy choice to make, even easier because I was still a King and these were my people. If it meant they could go on, then I gladly stepped forward for them.”
Martyr. Was this how Aera felt when Ardyn had pushed forward, insisting on healing the sick? He owed her a thousand apologies.
“When I thought I could finally rest, the gods offered me a boon. A chance to redo, to settle any regrets,” Noctis said.
He looked Ardyn in the eyes. “But at that point, the only regret I had was the pity for the uncle I never really got to know, the uncle that been betrayed and forgotten.
“So I had them send me back, to your original time, to 2000 years ago. And I took up your role as the Accursed One.”
And then he lived for two thousand years in pain. Good heavens.
Ardyn felt sick to his stomach. Noctis had written himself out of time. The CXIV… Ardyn was the current CXIV. Had Ardyn been reborn because of what Noctis had done? Fate or destiny still needed someone to be born, here and now in Noctis’ place; was it him?
Suddenly Noctis’ reactions to his friends took on a new light. He had stolen more from Noctis than he had ever could have imagined. Noctis should have been Regis’ son. Noctis should have been friends with Ignis, Gladio and Prompto. Noctis should have been Lucis’ Crown Prince.
Bile rose in this throat. Ardyn should have been a monster. In Noctis’ original timeline, he’d been the monster that had destroyed Lucis (the kingdom he built!), murdered Regis (his own father!) and nearly destroyed the world. He’d forced Noctis to murder him, murdered Luna (his cousin!) and for what? For vengeance?
The villain he should have been, the Founder King he was, the Crown Prince he currently is, they all swirled together in his head, trying to merge and click together.
This was a nightmare.
And, he thought with hysteria, he could see where it would have gone wrong. Without Noctis’ interference, Aera would have died at Somnus’ hands. Ardyn knew, knew without a doubt, that the grief would have broken him and the Starscourge would have consumed him. He would have become as angry and bitter as Noctis had described him to be. He would have become the monster that Somnus tried to make him.
He bowed his head. The debt he owned to Noctis was immeasurable.
“Why was I even reincarnated?” Ardyn asked. He deserved none of this. It wasn't fair to Noctis, to everyone in Ardyn's current life.
Noctis shrugged. “Two sides of the coin, I guess. With the prophecy in place, if there is an Accursed One, there is a Chosen King. If there is a Chosen King, there is an Accursed one. Since I fulfilled the role of Accursed One, not The Chosen King, no matter what Gentiana says, I assume you got pulled in.”
“Can we use the prophecy at all to help you?” Luna asked.
“No,” Noctis said. “Don’t you even dare, Luna. I didn’t get a chance to confirm it, but my Ravus implied far too many times that cost of waking the Gods was a heavy burden on you. And Ardyn, I don’t want you to even think about healing me. I didn’t save you in order for you to take the Starscourge back.”
Ardyn gaped. “You- What do you expect to do?” he half howled. “Spend the rest of eternity in pain?”
Noctis looked at him, eyes burning with determination. “Yes.”
No. No. Ardyn refused to accepted that.
They argued about that for hours, screaming at each other until Gladio had broken down the door under Sylva's order and she demanded to know to what was going on. There was a ripple of surprise when they saw Noctis, who tried to slink off into the shadows until Luna grabbed his hand and refused to let him go. Noctis looked at her, pained, but didn't try to break away from her grip. Ardyn loved her for that. He refused to let Noctis slip away again and they would find a way to heal him that didn't result in any of them dying.
"Let me see if I understand this correctly," Sylva said, hours later. She looked at Noctis. "You have the Starscourge."
Noctis fidgeted, looking distinctly uncomfortable. "Yes."
Sylva turned to Luna and Ardyn. "You two wish to heal him."
"Yes, mother," Luna said as Ardyn nodded alongside her.
"But the Starscourge he carries is particularly nasty, tied to a prophecy ordained and yet barely murmured to each Oracle by Bahamut," Sylva said. "A prophecy known but not acknowledged."
"Which is against the very nature of a prophecy," Ignis said stiffly.
"Well, given what the prophecy says, I'm not surprised it isn't widely discussed," Sylva said tiredly. "It's one thing for us Oracles to speak to the Astrals; it is another to wake them from their physical slumber."
"Can we do something that doesn't involve the prophecy?" Prompto asked. "Because no offense, I don't want Ardyn to die."
"That's what I keep saying," Noctis grumbled, not looking Prompto in the eye.
Ardyn gave him a flat look. That was unacceptable. In another time, it was Noctis that Prompto wouldn't have wanted to die.
(He refused to steal any more from Noctis. He refused. He couldn't give Noctis back his friends, couldn't force a friendship between the Ignis, Gladio and Prompto Ardyn knew and Noctis. But as long as he could, he would take no more from the life that Noctis should have had.)
"Very well," Sylva said. "Starting tomorrow, we begin research."
Noctis jolted. "You don't have to- I can just leave."
"Nonsense," Sylva said. "You're ill and we do not turn away the ill."
"The prophecy-" Noctis started.
"We'll break it," Gladio said. "No one said it had to come to pass."
Noctis looked at them all, looking so terribly broken.
"Let us try," Ardyn said.
"Please," Luna said.
Noctis simply sighed.
Ardyn waited. It was dark out, the soft glow of street lights illuminating the sylleblossoms. The moon was full, a white pearl in the sky. He kept his sword out, listening for any prowling daemons. They wouldn't dare to get so close to the Oracle, the one thing that could banish them, but it never hurt to be prepared.
There, a soft distinct sound of a warp, an afterimage of crystal blue trailing, and Noctis appeared at the edge of the field.
"I knew you were going to try and run," Ardyn said.
Noctis let loose a frustrated growl. "How-"
"Gentiana tipped me off and this is the only way you can go without people seeing you warp," Ardyn said. "How much longer are you going to run away?" Noctis fled from him in Vesperpool, tried to leave Tenebrae. Gentiana accused him of running. How was Noctis even living?
"I appreciate the offer to help, but the prophecy is pretty absolute," Noctis said. He bit his lip, looking back at the manor. "Besides, this is fine."
"How?" Ardyn demanded, blood beginning to boil. "How is any of this is fine?"
"Because I wanted this," Noctis snapped. "It was never only just for you. It was for my father, my Ignis, my Prompto, my Gladio, my Luna. It was for the people I loved too, for them to be happier, to never face a world falling to darkness, to never die to protect me. This is fine."
"But what about you?" Ardyn howled back.
Because it wasn't fair, not to Noctis. Ardyn was, is, a healer and here was Noctis, a descendant, a brother that he should have had, the real Chosen King, suffering in pain because of the burden he took from Ardyn. The madness of Starscourge that should have Ardyn's to bear.
He snarled, grabbing Noctis' hand and poured magic into Noct. He was Ardyn Lucis Caelum. He was the Healer King. He had the might of the Lucis Caelum line, the power of the Crystal. He carried the blood of the Oracle and their miracle. He would right this wrong.
And a bright white light filled the field.
Ardyn woke in a soft bed. He blinked, realizing he was wrapped around Noctis, who continued to slumber. He stared, mesmerized. Now that he was finally this close, he could see the family resemblance that Noctis carried. He reached out, threading a hand through Noctis' bangs, sensing with his magic.
The Starscourge that Noctis had been carrying was gone.
"That was foolish, Healer King."
Ardyn sat up, untangling himself from Noctis to see Gentiana at his bedside. She frowned at him, looking displeased.
Then like thawing snow, she softened, smiling gently at him. "But well done. You have figured out the truth to the prophecy."
Ardyn stared at her, throat dry. What did that mean?
"The power of the Crystal birthed both the magic of the Lucis Caelum line and the magic of the Nox Fleuret line, King and Oracle," Gentiana said. "In your blood flows both. With your blood alone, the price is paid. You carried the arms of your ancestors, and you did your mother's bloodline proud."
"If it was that simple, then why-"
"It was not possible in my King's original timeline," Gentiana said. "Somnus the Betrayer slew the Oracle, Lady Aera, so her bloodline continued through a weaker cousin. It never reached the height of its current power, as a result, and never did the Lucis Caelum and Nox Fleuret lines marry. To King Noctis, his mother was a simple commoner of no special ability. Your own original healing ability and Lady Aera's bloodline also passed down through the Lucis Caelum line, strengthening it until it reached the current you, who simply only needed to believe that it could be done in order to banish the Starscourge."
Which lead back to the fact that all of this happened because Noctis had decided to save Aera, to save Ardyn.
The fate of this world fell to The Chosen King.
Such a simple, selfless decision. Noctis had been presented with a choice and chose not for himself, but for others, for Ardyn. Ardyn would spend the rest of his life repaying Noctis and it wouldn't be enough.
"Thank you, Gentiana," Ardyn said.
She bowed her head and vanished.
"Gentiana is Shiva, you know."
Ardyn looked back to see Noctis had opened his eyes. His crystal blue eyes were clear; the exhaustion gone. "How long have you been awake?" Noctis' words hit him. "She's Shiva?!" Why was Shiva pretending to be a Messenger?
"It is her way of walking among us without drawing too much attention," Noctis said. "And not that long. I've been drifting in and out for the last day. They put us together because you're the idiot who tied our magic together. Couldn't physically separate us. If I heard Ignis right, we've been out for at least four days."
Ah. Ardyn had been wondering how long they had been asleep.
Noctis shifted to lay on his back, hands folded over his stomach as he stared up at the ceiling. He took a deep breath. "The pain is gone," he said quietly.
"Nice, isn't it?" Ardyn asked. The first month after Noctis had taken the Starscourge from him, Ardyn spent a lot of time marveling at how easy it was to breath again.
"Hmm, I had forgotten what this felt like," Noctis said, closing his eyes.
"What do you intend to do now?" Ardyn asked.
"Go back to fishing, I suppose," Noctis said. "I still haven't caught the Devil of Cygillan. Not in this timeline, at least."
"You could come back with me to Insomnia," Ardyn offered. "Meet dad. Even if things are different, he's still your father."
"Not really," Noctis said quietly.
"You're still family," Ardyn insisted. "If you want to stay here, I'm sure Luna and Aunt Sylva will be happy to have you. You don't...have to keep wandering, if you don't want to. It's fine to settle down, put down roots. But you should come to Insomnia. At least once."
A flash of grief passed over Noctis' face. "It would be nice to see Insomnia again. I haven't stepped into the city limits in over two hundred years," he said.
Noctis scoffed. "Even when you aren't a madman, you're still doggedly persistent. Couldn't leave me alone then. Couldn't leave me alone now."
Which was exactly the reason why Ardyn refused to let him go. Noctis went this far to ensure that the other version of him wasn't forgotten, wasn't lost to the passages of time. It was only fair to return the favor, to ensure that Noctis didn't fade away into history, unknown for the deeds he had done. He had done so much for Eos and no one knew.
"Come home with me?" Ardyn asked.
Noctis softly sighed, smiling. "Okay."