Cor brought Noct up to speed, though the prince furrowed his brows after a point, not looking at anyone in particular as he listened. In his hands was the small carbuncle, which Gladio still couldn’t believe actually worked. Ignis filled the gaps Cor left. Gladio found Noct was taking things by stride, and a lot better than Gladio had initially. Or was this just Noct trying to put up a front because of all the people? In the past, seeing the way Noct had certain mood swings and how he had grown up, Gladio half expected the kid to break down about it all. Ignis seemed to have prepared for that as well, though he chalked up to Ignis just being prepared for just about anything. Prompto, on the other hand, seemed to fidget. First, it was wringing his hands, picking at a sweatband on his wrist, swinging his legs a little on the seat, and then not sitting still in his chair at all. Gladio was starting to get thoroughly distracted, but Noct beat him to pointing it out.
“Dude, relax,” Noct said, yawning.
“Y-yeah, sorry.” Prompto froze in mid-fidget, not looking Noct in the eyes. He stiffened for a moment opening his mouth to stutter out the words, “y-your maj-esty.”
“Uh...Thanks. For watching over me and stuff,” Noct said with a shrug, not really looking at anyone in particular. He continued when Prompto looked at him confused and cocked his head to the side. “Ignis said you stayed when he couldn’t. So yeah, thanks and Noct is fine.”
That brought a smile to Prompto’s face, much more relaxed as he nodded. “No problem! Been watching over you and the big guy for a few weeks. I gotta admit though, you were a lot less scary than him.”
“Hey!” Gladio huffed as he crossed his arms.
Noct laughed a little as he looked up, finally. An actual reaction aside from the disinterest. The relief Gladio had felt on seeing Noct awake though faded at seeing Noct bite his lip. The kid wasn’t as well composed as some might have thought, but then a lot had happened in his short life that the others didn’t know about. The only other person who knew him maybe better than Gladio was Cor, who had taken to leaning back against the wall.
“You okay?” Gladio asked as he leaned back in his chair.
“Noct.” Gladio watched Noct flinch a little before the kid sighed.
“What about you? Are you okay?” Noct asked. The underlying question was there and Gladio knew. Too bad the kid wasn’t getting out of this.
“Fair enough. I had my moment, I’m good.” Gladio glanced at Ignis who gave nothing away. “Not sure if Cor had his though.”
“Don’t need one,” Cor grunted. “Seen enough shit as it is.”
Noct seemed to relax at the familiarity. Good. Maybe they shouldn’t have had Nyx, Prompto, and Ignis around for this. Gladio was glad to have Ignis there to explain things when he first woke up, but that was all before he knew that Cor was still alive. He would have much rather had someone he knew tell him shit than a total stranger. Gladio hid the discomfort the thought brought; Ignis had just done what he thought was best.
“I’m good, too….I guess.” Noct shrugged again.
“Do you want to talk alone?” Gladio offered, hoping the others would understand.
“Maybe? Look, I-I don’t know Gladio.” Noct stared at him, his usual blue disinterested eyes full of emotions Gladio couldn’t even distinguish one from another.. “I….I don’t….know.”
Gladio nodded. “Hey, Iggy, Prompto, Nyx. Can you give Cor and me a minute with his highness?”
The three nodded promptly leaving the room. Prompto left last, but not before offering Noct a glass of water muttering that he looked like he needed it. Noct had taken it, but instead of drinking, he only held onto it, grip tight. The room suddenly quiet, Gladio could hear the buzzing sound of the unnatural lights above them. None of them spoke for what seemed to be minutes until Cor shifted.
“Cor, I’ve known you my whole life, just please….call my Noct.”
“Noctis,” Cor said a nod of his head. His way of bowing, Gladio had come to find out. “From what I’ve gathered Insomnia is actually below a city called Tandem. It’s just about as big as Insomnia, and they didn’t know there was something underneath them until the last few months. And there were others who were put into cryovats, like yourself and Gladio. They’re in different locations, but I’ll be heading out soon to go and check on them.”
“You too?” Noct asked, before smirking. “Or is that just your immortality?”
“Don’t be an ass,” Cor grunted. Noct stuck his tongue out making Gladio shake his head with a chuckle. Things almost seemed normal, if it wasn’t for what Cor was actually talking about. “As I was saying, I’ve been awake longer than you two. There are hunters, and skilled people to defend the cities, but Noctis…..there’s no sun.”
Gladio watched Noct’s expression smooth out from the playful banter. He had been this way ever since the accident with the Marilith, before Gladio had even known him. He was only told that Noct had been different by people like Cor and King Regis before the attack. Apparently a sweet kid, who was a lot more open than he was being now about how the hell he was doing.
“No sun…..Right, how do I….fix that?” Noct asked, biting his lip again.
“How do we fix that,” Gladio corrected, giving his charge a grin. It was returned if only a little. Gladio was his shield and he wasn’t going anywhere unless it was by Noct’s side.
“I’m not sure. Regis never told me specifics on that part, but I don’t even know if he knew. All we know is that the crystal choose you as it’s king.” Cor sighed. “A fine mess this all is.”
“Yeah… Those guys, they helped?” Noct asked, nodding in the direction of the door the three had left from.
“Who? Iggy and Prompto? Yeah. They made sure you and I were safe when we came out of the freeze.” Gladio glanced at Cor, who shrugged but kept his mouth shut. So much for learning about his experiences. “Nyx is someone I just met.”
“He’s part of the hunters, almost a leader among them even if he hates it. They gave him the nickname ‘Hero’ if that means anything to you, Noctis. If your father was here, he’d probably try and get him to join the Glaives. Certainly would have the aptitude for it.” Cor shrugged again. If there was anyone else noteworthy of praise, Cor kept silent about it.
Noct scooted a bit in his blankets as if moving to sit at the edge. Gladio half-stood to stop him, but Noct kept moving, setting the glass on a small table, untouched.
“I’m fine. Really. Nothing hurts and stuff. I think….the messengers helped with that.” Noct picked up the little carbuncle he had set aside when Prompto gave him the glass. “I saw him in my dreams.”
“Yeah?” Gladio asked, looking at the carving.
“Sorta. I was dreaming a lot, or maybe not so much. I don’t know. Umbra was there though. He kinda led me around and we met up with Pryna. They showed me what Insomnia looked like….after the fall.” Noct brought a knee to chest, hiding. “We got separated though and that’s when he showed up.”
“You know your dreams--”
“Yeah, I know, Gladio” Noct said. “I don’t get them like everyone else does. He said someone was trying to keep me from waking up. There were daemons, low leveled ones, but just like before. Guess that means the guy behind the attack is still around.”
“Ardyn Izunia,” Cor supplied. Noct shivered and Gladio had to fight the urge to pull the kid into an embrace.
Gladio ran a hand down is face with a sigh, scratching at his beard. If Ardyn was still around and kept Noct from waking, this guy was something beyond just a guy wanting power or the fall of Insomnia. A thousand years was a long time to wait and plan, not to mention how the hell had he lived that long? He had the crystal now, maybe that had something to do with it, though that reminded him of the ring he still had. If Ardyn didn’t have the ring that meant he couldn’t access the crystal’s power, or? Gladio hated how little he understood of the magic. He never really had the aptitude for it. Still, maybe the ring would be the difference they needed to maybe change the tides. He stuffed his hands into his pocket, feeling the ring. Better late than never. He pulled it out, glancing at it before looking to Noct.
“Hey…” Gladio held out the ring. “Dad….he gave it to me before he put me in the cryovat. It’s yours now.”
Despite the object being small, and seemly so unimportant if it wasn’t in the hands of royalty, Gladio knew the weight it held. Noct almost dropped the thing before fumbling with his hands and held it close. Blue eyes grew wide until the sheen over his eyes spilled the tears Gladio was sure Noct had kept in till now. The reality of their situation finally settling onto those small shoulders. He could hear the sad attempt to hold back a sob as Noct’s shoulders shook. They had time. Another few hours without light was fine.
Neither Cor nor Gladio moved to hold him. Noct either wanted contact or didn’t. He was more like a prickly cat that way. If he did want contact, he had grown to reach out for it, at least with Gladio. The last time Gladio tried to hold him before Noct had a full-on panic attack, Noct had nearly broken his nose because he just didn’t want to be touched. So Gladio didn’t move even if he wanted to.
The voice was small, broken.
“.....I can’t…. wear it.”
Gladio sighed. Cor finally pushed off the wall and stepped closer to Noct. Gladio could see the hesitancy, but the Marshal laid a hand on Noct’s shoulders, who flinched, but didn’t uncurl from himself.
“You have to.”
Gladio almost didn’t catch the words. Those three words were heavy in the air. If Noct didn’t wear the ring, they would never gain access to the armiger or the Lucian magic they needed to protect Noct. But it hit Gladio like a ton of bricks suddenly. He knew what he was fighting for, or rather who he now needed to serve and actually live for. Noct….he didn’t have the same type of duty as Gladio or Cor did. Noct lived for the people, or at least that’s what his title was supposed to be.
“Indeed, Noctis,” Cor said. He moved to get by Gladio so that he was in front of Noct. He knelt down, putting a hand on Noct’s knee. “You need to wear it. Gladio and I will continue to serve you as we have always done. There are still Lucians, Noctis. You have a duty just as we all do.”
Noct looked up then, blue eyes rimmed with purple for a brief moment of anger before it vanished and there was nothing but sadness. Gladio almost had to look away. Cor didn’t want to soften the blow and he certainly seemed just fine with saying exactly how things were. Not that Gladio envied that position in the least bit. Cor would have to take the brunt end of the blow up that was bound to happen now.
“A duty….To what Cor? A ring that failed to save my father? A crystal that couldn’t even hold the wall against the daemons and Niflheim? Why the hell would I have to do anything?” Noct held the ring close to him, but made no move to put it on. “ This is all I have left of my dad, Cor. A stupid ring, a fallen city, and a prophecy that essentially left the three of us alone in the fucking world.”
Cor didn’t flinch at the words. He just crouched there. Gladio might have imagined the way Cor’s breathing seemed slightly different, but he hadn’t been around the Marshal that well to know. Noct, on the other hand, didn’t seem to care. He held out the ring to Cor.
“Take it. I don’t want it.” Noct glared at the floor.
Before Cor spoke, Gladio stood. Grieving was one thing, but to ignore his duty, Gladio wasn’t going to stand for that. No. Noct had to learn that he could mourn, but he wasn’t going to turn his back on everything that happened. Instead of facing problems head-on, as he should, Noct always pushed everyone away into isolation or avoided the problem altogether. They didn’t have that luxury. Gladio grabbed Noct by the collar of his shirt and forced the kid to look at him.
“Noct, you know we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about this, or giving you a ring that didn’t belong to you if we could help it. You better man up because let me tell you, the world’s changed. You’re gonna have to deal with the pain and with the grief just like we have, just not like this.”
“Let me go.”
Gladio didn’t. He knew his charge. If he let go now, Noct would only retreat more into himself. He could see it into those blue hard eyes. The self-pity would engulf Noct just as it had almost taken him before Ignis set him straight. He wondered if he had given Ignis a similar expression. Seemed Ignis was on the right track about some things though and how to deal with Gladio. He only hoped the same method would work on Noct. When the boy set his mind to something it was hard to get him to change it.
“No. You need to hear this just like I did.” Gladio brought Noct closer.
Gladio loosened his grasp a little but didn’t completely let go.
“Yeah, bud. Me too. I got yelled at just like I’m yelling at you know. Insomnia is through those doors. We’ll be walking through what’s left of our home. Everyone risked their lives to get us into those damned things and the three guys outside, they risked everything to get us awake.”
He let Noct fully go, who seemed a little too intent on straightening his crumpled shirt than to listen further, but Gladio knew the kid could get moody even at the best of times.
“Look, before things went to shit we had a plan right? Stopping the Starscourge so that Luna wouldn’t have to keep trying to fix shit. We had the peace talks to end the war and hopefully sent people back where they wanted. Well, you still have people who need you Noct.”
“....I…. I can’t,” Noct said. Hands in his lap as he sat there with the carbuncle and ring.
“There is no ‘can’t’, your majesty,” Cor said, patting Gladio on the shoulder. “You are the only one who can bring about the dawn. You need to do your duty, otherwise, this was all for nothing. Do you want their deaths to be all in vain?”
“ Stand up , your majesty.”
Gladio couldn’t help but stand a little straighter at the commanding voice. Noct glared at Cor, but when the marshal glared back, the kid finally stood up. Shoulders tense, and the glare still there, Gladio could see the dried tear tracks. There was so much riding on Noct, it wasn’t fair, but there was no turning back now. They had to keep moving forward.
“Can’t and won’t are two different things, your majesty. You choose not to wear the ring and deny your rightful claim of the throne. You are putting not only yourself at risk but those around you who care like Gladio and the three standing outside. They’ve waited a thousand years for you. Now, straighten your back, and walk tall, as your father would have wanted you to.”
Noct stared at Cor, hands dropping to his side. Only King Regis had ever said those words ‘walk tall’. It was a running joke of sorts, but a lesson all the same. Never look back at the decisions made and always move forward. Noct didn’t want to move. Everything was too soon and too fast, but Gladio didn’t know how much time they had before the world would know of Noct’s return. Not when it had already been a thousand years of no sun, people would cling to any hope. Chin dipping, Gladio watched Noct wrestle with his emotions. They were subtle, with the tightening grip on the carbuncle, to the way his shoulders tensed and relaxed. Gladio felt for him, really he did, but they had to keep moving forward.
“.....I’m not ready to wear the ring. Not yet,” Noct finally said. “Just give me--”
A loud siren sounded as the lights flickered and then shut off. On instinct, Gladio stood in front of Noct, watching the door. He reached for his usual broadsword, feeling the armiger for the first time in what seemed forever. The blue light flashed and there it was in his hands, broken ice blue shards danced around him until they faded along with the light they provided. Grinning widely, Gladio turned to Cor. He could hear shouting on the other side of the door, no doubt Ignis ordering people around.
“Guess we have our arsenal, Marshal.”
“Only when we’re near his majesty until he puts on that damn ring.”
Ignis opened the door, his phone used as a flashlight. Gladio could hardly make out his features thanks to the harsh light, but Ignis’s voice gave way to the small panic. Something was terribly wrong.
“You three had better come along. I’m afraid we no longer have a minute to spare.” Ignis held the door open for them as Cor and Gladio formed a bit of a protective perimeter around Noct, who had summoned his own one-handed sword from the armiger.
“What’s going on, Iggy?” Gladio asked, putting the broadsword back into armiger. It was too big to brandish around inside the building.
The medical team were rushing about, files under their arms and medical devices being hauled by several at a time. Prompto held the door open for them, seeming a little more at ease than he had a few minutes ago. He barked a few orders at some who were trying to move a machine that was clearly going to need more than the two people there.
“I thought you said--”
“Yes, I know what I said Gladio. But that alarm we just heard and the lights going off means Tandem is in trouble. We haven’t had a lights out like this since we first had the power lines connected.” Ignis ushered the group through the door, Prompto following. “Now, please, I would like to get a move on. If there are daemons around, then I’d rather be up in Tandem instead of down here in Insomnia. We have a better chance of getting the lights back on there.”
“Where’s Nyx?” Cor asked, picking up a paper that fell from one of the hands of the medical team, handing it to the poor woman who was frantic.
“Out there. He’s making sure no one gets hurt. He is our residential hero after all,” Ignis mused. “We’ll get you three out of here--”
“No offense, Iggy, but you might want to let the Marshal lead on this one,” Gladio said as they came to the steps. “Careful going up, Noct.”
“I’m fine, big guy,” Noct said, trying to give Cor more room, who was having a bit of trouble moving around with his katana in the tight space.
“Whatever you say, Princess.” Gladio kept one eye on Noct as they climbed the stairs.
“Yes, alright. Marshal, I’ll let you lead. You are the more experienced fighter,” Ignis seemed to find that hard to swallow.
Gladio just patted the man on the shoulder as they continued to go up the stairs and then out of the building. Noct tensed as they stepped through the door. The lights leading out of Insomnia that Gladio remembered from earlier were dark. The city itself now no longer illuminated felt dark and isolated. He couldn’t even see the dome overhead anymore. What he did see were a few spots of glowing orange and shades of red.
“Yeah, I see it. Shit,” Cor said, frustration clear on his face. “ Listen up, Ignis, Prompto, those daemons coming--”
“Red giants, yes. We know Marshal. Though we honestly have not been able to take one down before.” Ignis directed a few of the medical staff, clearly taking note where the red giants were. “As much as we wish, we don’t have the power to actually kill one.”
“Then we better get out of here. I have a truck loaded with shit to bring up, but not enough room for everyone.”
The truck Cor pointed to was parked on the streets. Sure enough, what Gladio could make out, it was filled with different weapons and gear no doubt for the hunters. They could fit Prompto in the back maybe, but otherwise what more could they do? Gladio glanced around, trying to find anything when he spotted it.
“Hey, Marshal? I see my bike I used to get here when we were first frozen. I can take Iggy with me. Noct would be better with you than with me.” Gladio jogged over to where he brushed off some dirt, rather shocked the bike was even still here. The key was still in the ignition, the last time not having time to actually take the keys with him thanks to his father. He just hoped to the Astrals that it would still work.
“Then get going.” Cor turned on the spot looking for Tandem’s hero. ”Nyx!”
“Sir?” Nyx called out, shoving a dagger into a small goblin who had appeared in front of some of the medical team. He came jogging over with a grin. “What can I do for you, Marshal?”
“Stand by for a sec.” Cor turned to Noct. “Can you warp?”
Noct stood there, rubbing his arm a little. His weight shifted to one leg. “I...I don’t know. I can try?”
“Your majesty….” Cor pinched the bridge of his nose. “ Now would be a good time to try, please.”
Noct nodded, concentrating. He tossed the blade in his hand to where the truck was. He could feel the magic, a familiar pull. The ring he had stuffed in his pocket vibrated with the magic too, but Noct ignored it. Instead, his eyes followed the dagger and found himself grabbing for the handle. He could feel the rush and slight nausea from warping, his body breaking down and resembling with the same shards as Gladio’s sword had appeared in. He had done it.
“Good. Your majesty….Noctis, I need you to warp with Nyx and get out. He can get the hunters organized and get the lights back on. Not to mention they can keep you safe until we get there or deal with the Red Giants.” Cor was not going to have Noct argue. Not when it involved his safety. “And if things go horribly awry, you’ll be outside and have places to run.”
“B-But, Cor…..I can’t throw the dagger that far.” Noct looked toward the road. “It would make more sense to drive.”
“Noctis! Use your head a little. The buildings, get to the roof and if you get tired of throwing, having Nyx do it for you. We can’t have you on the road with us, there’s no room.” Cor stepped up to the truck. “We’ll be your diversion. They’ll focus on us and you can get out of here.”
Noct looked around him. Gladio started up the bike, handing the helmet he had to Ignis as the two quietly spoke. Prompto moved a few of the things in the bed of the trunk before hoping up. Nyx threw another dagger towards a goblin that had gotten too close. Could Noct actually warp enough to get him and Nyx up there? He didn’t even know where he was going really.
“I get that you two are having a moment, but you know I did come here with my own ride, right?” Nyx pointed to a bike similar to Gladio’s, hidden from sight initially. “I might have….looked around down here once or twice and found the keys for it. I can take his majesty with me.”
He shrugged, twirling the keys in his hand.
“....Why the hell didn’t you say so?” Cor groaned.
“You two looked like you were having fun and I had some goblins to take care of,” Nyx said. He laughed a little heading over to his bike.
“Whatever, Noct, stick with Nyx. Gladio, you ready?” Cor watched Noct make his way over to Nyx.
“Sir!” Gladio revved the bike, Ignis holding on tight to him.
“Prompto, those bullets from earlier, think you can fire them while I’m driving?” Cor asked, striding over to the door of the truck as Nyx got the bike ready. He handed Noct the helmet just as Gladio had given Ignis his.
“Yeah, I’m a pretty good shot.” Prompto took off the safety of his gun and grinned. “Leave the distracting to me.”
“Nyx, get his majesty out of here. That’s your priority after that get the hunters dispersed.” Cor slammed the door shut as he turned on the truck. “Gladio, follow my lead. If you can distract one of the giants, fine, but safety comes first.”
“You got it, Marshal.” Gladio swiveled his bike a little to get the engine warmed up. “Iggy, hold on tight. Don’t want you to fall off.”
Ignis’s response was to hold onto Gladio just a bit tighter. Nyx waved before he took off with the bike, Noct holding on to him. Prompto loaded up his gun as he settled into the bed of the truck. Cor followed Nyx, Gladio riding behind for a moment until there was space to pass and he was upfront with Nyx.