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Accursed's Mark

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Noctis watched the shrine warily, as though it might do something more than just sit there, innocent lacquered wood in its corner of the ruined building, wax melted on every surface around it, trinkets still strewn across it.

He'd never seen one outside of pictures, as a member of the royal family he'd never been allowed near one and no one would risk sneaking him to see one for fear of retaliation. It was the modern era, technically anyone could worship any gods, it didn't have to be the Six, but this...this remained forbidden. Heretical.

He stepped forward, glancing around to confirm there was no one else there. Not that it was likely, the others were still searching the ruins for more survivors and he should be doing the same. Would have been if something hadn't called to his magic and pulled him towards this spot.

It was almost certainly a trap, but set by someone who wasn't the Nifs, so he was curious enough to spring it.

The Six hadn't protected them, not his father or their kingdom. They expected him to die for them, his line to end and his people to be left in even more disarray without central leadership to help them protect themselves or rebuild.

So far, he'd done what he could to defy the Six, and part of that was returning to Insomnia instead of continuing his hunt for weapons and covenants. Refusing the title of King for the moment, even if it was technically his (had always been in a way, he supposed, since the prophecy was set upon him).

The altar showed signs of care, use, and had somehow missed the worst of the debris as the building fell. Noctis studied it, remembering the lectures of his youth on the danger of the Accursed, of how it was the Lucis Caelum's sacred duty to stand against him.

Standing against a god had always felt more like something another god should do. He'd been scolded by his tutor when he'd stated that and given a stern lecture by his father to keep such thoughts to himself.

He knelt, remembering in the pictures it always had heretics kneeling and praying before these things. But the Accursed was already getting a treat out of Noctis kneeling at all, he didn't know if he could manage to beg him for anything.

"We need not be enemies," he mumbled, shifting on his knees, eyes unfocused. "The Nifs worship no gods, they won't allow people to pray to you anymore than my forebears did. If--" he cut himself off, sighing. "This is ridiculous. Talking to some chitzy table."

Noctis stood, brushing off his pants where the white of shattered concrete left a mark against the black. He hadn't expected any sign and he wouldn't be getting any. The Accursed was probably celebrating his kingdom's fall and eager for Noctis' death to end his line.

***

It took a moment for Noctis to remember he was sleeping. This wasn't his normal type of dream and he almost called out for Carbuncle when he realized it was something magical.

The void pressed in around him, darkness slithering against his own magic. It didn't feel as unnatural as it should, which made it worse. He resisted, but with no context could only do so much. Eventually, it had him, the dark around him complete and endless, his magic a suppressed spark, like a distant star in the night's sky.

"Your Highness," the voice was smooth, amused, and after a moment a figure appeared to go along with it.

"Who goes there?"

Tall, probably well-built under the layers of eccentric clothing, red hair that was almost purple. Nothing too weird, until Noctis met the glowing golden eyes.

There weren't many people left in the world with magic, most people saw Noctis' eyes glow and treated him like someone not really human. Seeing these, which made his instincts cry out 'danger!', Noctis could understand why.

"Oh, dear Noct, are introductions really necessary?" A charmingly crooked smile that didn't reach those cold eyes accompanied the words.

Noctis remembered what he'd done earlier that day and the stories he'd been told, face carefully blank as he regarded the god. "Accursed. I didn't expect an answer."

"You did call, how could I not? You were so lovely kneeling to me, even if your prayers need some work." He smirked and this time--for a wicked, dangerous expression--it seemed honest. "Don't worry, you'll have plenty of practice. I'll teach you how to be the most devout of heretics."

The implications made Noctis' skin crawl, but when his thoughts caught up to the others parts, he pushed his feelings aside. "You're going to help me? Against the Nifs?"

The Accursed chuckled, moving closer. "Against the Nifs...against the Six themselves. That is who you're truly fighting, isn't it? Niflheim would have been a minor annoyance if they'd answered your people's fervent prayers. If they'd protected your father as they should have."

It wasn't really something Noctis spoke of to anyone, unsure how they'd react to the blasphemy from the prince's mouth, but it was exactly how he felt.

"In exchange for?"

"Why, Noct, has your education on this heretical god been so lacking?" The Accursed didn't seem offended, just amused. "In exchange for you. I will mark you as my own and you will belong to me and no other."

If he hadn't known the other gods wanted him dead, the idea would have been more intimidating. Noctis had technically been Bahamut's already, as all his family had been, but until he put on the Ring of the Lucii and ascended to kingship, it wasn't set. The Accursed could only claim him now, while he clung to the title of prince.

"And what does that entail?"

"I suppose you have had enough surprises, recently." The Accursed leaned back and suddenly the void around them melted into a room. It looked like something that might have been in the Citadel, ages ago, when they'd still been clinging on to Solheim. The floors and walls similar to what Noctis was used to, but the furniture ancient styles, as were the decorations, the murals and tapestries depicting scenes that, upon closer look, were too blasphemous for any space in the Citadel.

Where he'd been leaning, the Accursed was now lounging on a type of couch. He patted the open cushion beside him as though calling to a pet and Noctis reluctantly went, sitting. He'd had plenty of practice socializing with unsavory people and he couldn't afford to piss off a god in their own domain.

"My mark will tie you to me, body and soul. You will gain more control over your own power, new powers, and immunity to my children's gifts...although, of course, they wouldn't go out of their way to attack one of my dear marked."

Noctis had always wondered about that, if the demons really were connected to the void, if the heretics really did get to avoid the demons like they claimed. Having lived outside the wall for a few weeks, he could understand why the Accursed was one of the more popular gods in the fringes of Lucis, if that was the case.

"And you will, perhaps most beneficially, be obscured from the view of the Six."

That was definitely what caught his interest. Power he had, demons he could deal with, but the Six were still too much of a threat. He'd thought of asking Luna more about them, but knew she'd never help him defy them. When this father had told him the truth of the prophecy, just before he'd sent him away, he'd come to realize Luna's devotion to it meant she wanted him to die.

"Completely? They won't be able to see me or speak to me?"

The Accursed looked thoroughly amused, now. "Unless you are physically in their presence, a risk when considering the Glacian, but unlikely for the others." He held a hand out, palm up, and waited as Noctis stared at it, adding in a mocking tone, "Oh? Do you need more time? Are you doubting going against them? Perhaps you'll want to ask your beloved Oracle for more of their propaganda?"

He flinched, wondering if the Accursed had read his mind or if mentioning Luna was pure coincidence.

But he wasn't wrong. What reason did Noctis have to hesitate? And the Accursed hadn't actually said he'd wait, this was certainly a one-time offer.

Bracing himself, he set his hand in the Accursed's, grimacing at the sudden flare of pain and completely missing the Accursed moving until lips were pressed against his, taking advantage of his gasp to push something inside his mouth. It slithered down his throat as he gagged and struggled, a thick, freezing cold liquid that threatened to drown him.

Golden eyes glowed brightly with satisfaction as it went on and on.

And then Noctis woke up choking, leaning over the side of the bed he'd been on and coughing up a splatter of pure black liquid, like the blood of a demon, like the dark of the Void.

No questioning whether that had been a vision or dream, especially not as he saw the mark on his hand, declaring him one of the Accursed's favored.

He fumbled through cleaning up and dressing, relieved the mark was on the hand he kept covered and no one would think anything of it. The sun was only starting to come up over the ruins of Insomnia, the view from the window of the house they'd found mostly intact made longer by how many of the taller buildings have survived, but he couldn't bring himself to go back to sleep.

He thought he might avoid it, for awhile.

***

Ignis watched him closely in the days that followed, as if suspecting something but having too little information to confirm it. Gladio and Prompto hadn't seemed to notice anything.

It started getting harder to hide that something had changed in him after their first few fights--imperial forces, hunts, the demons never randomly attacked them again. And Noctis hadn't gone into stasis since being marked. There was so much energy at his fingertips, so much strength bubbling inside of him. He thought Ignis was filing that fact away with all the others, working on his hypothesis.

Other changes were smaller and he could hide those. His senses were better, he healed faster (he had to hide that regardless, hide any wounds, because he bled as black as any demon, even if the sun didn't bother him much).

The first time he really used any new powers was in an Imperial base. Things had been going well, until they hadn't, and he knew that there was nothing he could do to get to Prompto in time, though he desperately wished he could.

And then time seemed to slow to a stop, everyone, everything, freezing but Noctis. He saved Prompto, saved the mission, and managed to hide how shaky he was until that night, when he slipped from the camper they were staying in and headed out into the dark.

Maybe he'd subconsciously known what he'd find out there, a shrine hidden in a cave, showing signs of recent use. The locals kept it up, understandably.

He knelt, bowing his head to the shrine. If there were ritual words he was supposed to use, he still hadn't stumbled upon them, and instead he simply gave his thanks. It was, he supposed, the least he could do.

The world melted into true blackness around him, the Void unfolding like he was back in the dream.

"Some improvement already!" The Accursed grinned down at him, eyes dark and hungry as they roved over Noctis' kneeling form. "Perhaps you should build me a temple once you have conquered the Empire, dear Noct, so that all can see how lovely their prince is when he prays."

He kept his face blank, but was sure the Accursed knew he wanted to grimace at the idea. "I think we can keep things private between us."

"Ah, of course, you're so shy at heart, you wouldn't welcome any voyeurs."

Noctis thought of the Accursed's lips against his, that he owned Noctis' body as much as his soul, and wondered if that meant carnal worship. There was a flash of heat as he imagined it before pushing it away.

"Oh such thoughts, dearest, how flattering." The Accursed set fingers under his chin and pushed, Noctis having to stand and tilt his head back to follow the movement.

He braces himself for a kiss, for some other touch, but they weren't forthcoming. Instead the Void began to slip away, the cave coming back into view.

"Keep practicing, dear Noct. Impress me."

For a moment, that felt like it's all he ever wanted to do.

***

The nights grow longer, as the Astrals warned, but the sun still rises. Niflheim is beset by an uncommon amount of demon attacks, enough that the fact reaches Gladio through the networks he's been building. No one but Noctis knows the reason.

He dreams of the Accursed, even though the Accursed doesn't visit them. There's never been anyone he's dreamt of like that before, waking up wanting and unfulfilled. During the day, be pushes those feelings aside.

Ignis continues to watch him, eyes wondering sometimes to his gloved hand. Suspicion isn't confirmation and Noctis loves Ignis, but he's not sure he can trust him in this.

Prompto is the first Noctis tells and only because he sees him stabbed through by a blade under bright lights, black splashing across the control booth they'd been in the process of sabotaging.

He'd been more worried for Noctis than judgmental and Noctis had found the story falling from his lips before he could think better of it--the shrine, the Accursed, the powers he was still learning and improving.

"Wow," was Prompto's first response, and then, "But you're...alright, right? This isn't like with the ring where it was sucking out the king's life?"

"It's nothing like that. It's like...it's like being tapped into Accordo's power plant. There's so much power sometimes I worry I won't be able to stop using it, but it's not taking from me." It didn't have to, his life was already forfeit to the Accursed, even if the god spoke like he didn't want it any time soon.

Prompto had helped clean him up and patch the wound, exclaiming over how quickly it was already healing. "When are you going to tell the guys? I bet they could work some of the stuff you do into our tactics."

"I don't know. Both of them were raised to hate heretics, to see the Accursed as the source of all evil in the world or whatever."

"Dude, they won't hate you. We've all been freaking out about the prophecy, about you dying, if you tell them this is a way for you to save Lucis and not die? They'd forgive you anything!"

He reluctantly agreed and sat down with them the next time they stopped, insisting they could camp in the wild instead of searching around for a "safe" place. Those runes didn't keep Noctis out, but they did make him itchy and uncomfortable.

"I suppose that's why the demons have been avoiding us," Ignis stated, pushing his glasses up, "I had wondered."

Noctis rolled his eyes, pulling off his glove and revealing the back of his hand, the black mark that seemed to suck in the light around it. "Come on, Iggy, I know you were probably going to confront me any day now."

He tilted his head in acknowledgement. "Our ether stores have been nearly untouched, despite your greater use of magic in our fights. You also have seemingly crossed large buildings in seconds as well as other events which I now realize were...signs of time manipulation."

Gladio had been the most disturbed, perhaps Ignis had already talked himself around to accepting that Noctis was Marked by the Accursed, but Gladio hadn't had a clue. And the Shields of the past would never suffer a heretic to live if they came anywhere near one of their charges.

Accepting that his prince was one of those heretics, that he'd let Noctis slip away long enough to fall into the Accursed's claws, seemed to trouble him.

They fought over it, harsh words exchanged, Gladio ripping into him for not accepting yet that he was King, accusing him of cowardice.

Noctis wasn't half as angry, even when what Gladio said should infuriate him. The Mark had dulled that in some way, he thought, and emotional pain meant less than it once had, just the same as physical pain did.

He let Gladio go off on his own, knowing that he would be safe, and they avoided directly interacting for a few days before Ignis, disgusted, forced them both into the back of the Regalia and told them they couldn't leave until they'd "gotten over themselves."

"It's not hurting you?" Gladio broke their silence and Noctis nodded. "And you're not going to die?"

"He's talked about me doing stuff after, rebuilding and shit. I don't know if he'd care if I died, but he's not going to go out of his way for it."

Gladio grunted in acknowledgement, seemed to collect his thoughts, and then dragged Noctis out into the wilds beyond the car and forced him to show off every single thing he could do until he thought he might actually find his limits and collapse.

Everyday they trained, they searched for new powers and pushed old ones further. Sometimes Noctis imagined claws on his fingers, imagined sharp teeth to rip through Gladio's neck and the warm taste of red blood in his mouth. That he didn't have them felt more unnatural than if he had.

He never told the others that and they did not comment on the black blood that seeped from his wounds and curled into smoke before it even hit the ground.

***

He 'awoke' to the Void in a garden of some sort. It felt, again, like something half-familiar, like he'd seen the shape of it before even if the contents were different. The Accursed wasn't there or, at least, Noctis couldn't sense him, and so he walked around the garden, studying the flowers and fountains. The Void was supposed to take and take and leave nothing behind, was supposed to be pure destruction, but these scenes were a sign of something like creation, even if they were temporary.

He sat on a stone bench, it felt real. Cold and hard. If he concentrated, he thought he could smell the flowers. It was kind of nice, more peaceful than the dreams he'd been having, that were alternating between destruction and death and increasingly disturbing fantasies about the Accursed. If those were dreams and not visions, not the Accursed in his mind less obviously than now.

He was wearing his normal clothes, but his hands were both uncovered, and he stared at the back of them. In the Void, the mark glowed, a sort of magenta color that Noctis didn't think he'd be able to see well with his physical eyes.

"It's so lovely on you." The Accursed was beside him without warning, bringing Noctis' hand to his lips, kissing the mark with gentle caresses of his mouth, making Noctis think of the dreams, think of how the Accursed seemed to know his thoughts. "But you know it's not the source of your powers. It's a brand of my favor, a show of your exalted position."

Noctis looked away, only for the Accursed to drop his hand and grab his face, forcing him to look back. He kissed him, then, and the low burn of arousal his other touch caused ignited like a fire given fuel, Noctis kissing back and thinking finally, finally even though they'd only met a few times.

When the Accursed pulled away, he kept his arms locked around Noctis, holding him close. "You know what you are, don't you, dear heart? You know what you will ever be."

His thoughts felt heavy and it was hard to concentrate, but Noctis nodded. "I'm a daemon, somehow. A daemon that can still look human."

"And I hope you don't let your form deceive you. It's convenient, and necessary if you wish to regain what you lost, but it is only because I will it to be so." The Accursed's hands roved over him, touching, teasing, edges of claws catching against his skin, bare as his clothes melted away. "Oh, Noct, I would craft you the most delightful form, humans would weep at your horrible beauty."

The beast inside of Noctis which he'd been struggling to contain, the daemonic part of himself, wanted what Ardyn offered, wanted to be whatever Ardyn desired. But he still had his mind, he hadn't traded that away with his body and soul, and he resisted the urge to beg for it.

"Less monologuing, more fucking," he muttered, pulling the Accursed in for another kiss, though he knew that his god was aware of all his thoughts and desires.

***

Once upon a time, Noctis had liked Luna. When they met as children they'd been isolated young royals with no one their age who were true peers, so it was probably more out of desperate loneliness than actual commonality.

Luna had already been obsessed with the Six and with being an Oracle. She had spoken of those subjects often and introduced Noctis to the Messengers she knew. Young and naive, unaware of the prophecy looming over him, he'd gone along with what she'd said, had not questioned any of her knowledge.

Meeting her as adults, in the clandestine meeting hastily setup when she apparently noticed he hadn't gone to Titan or Ramuh yet, he saw her beliefs for the fanaticism they were. Her words were the Gods' lies.

"You must continue," she protested, when he made it clear he had no intention of doing so. "I will awaken the gods, you will forge the covenants, and--"

"No." Noctis' voice was firm, unrelenting. "You can do whatever you want, but I will not go to your gods, I don't want nor need their favor."

Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Ravus shift, his expression changing from the glare it had been to curiosity. He'd been hostile since they'd met, since before that though they hadn't seen each other in years, and this was the first time he'd seemed anything else.

Luna shook her head and grabbed his arm, "Please, Noctis," she began, cutting off with a cry as their skin touched and power flared between them.

They both stumbled away, her hand clutched to her chest and Noctis holding the place where she'd touched, feeling a painful throb of wrongness. He squeezed his eyes shut and tucked himself over, worried what his face could show.

"You…Noctis, something's wrong."

Gladio was between them, now, and Ravus stepped forward as though to act as Shield for his sister in turn. Ignis was looking over his arm, studying the burn mark in the shape of Luna's fingers. The Oracle could purge small amounts of Void, it was told, and Noctis shuddered to think what would happen to him if she actually tried.

"Nothing is wrong, Lunafreya. I was given another option and I took it."

Silence descended and when he looked at her over Gladio's shoulder he could see horror clear on her face. "You're a heretic," she choked out, as though the very thought was anathema.

"The Six didn't answer my prayers, but someone else did." He stood up straight again, projecting surety. "The Accursed isn't what they claim him to be. Most people in Lucis knew that already."

Ravus spoke to Luna before she could say more, "If he does not want the covenants, all the better. You won't be throwing your life away awakening the gods. What becomes of him is his own problem, now."

He pulled his sister away, even as Luna yelled back at Noctis that she'd find a way to "free" him, that he'd follow his destiny once the Accursed wasn't controlling him.

Noctis laughed after her, all the way back to his hotel room and the comfortable bed that awaited him. He hoped the Accursed had enjoyed her folly, too.

***

Finding a shrine in Lestallum was basically impossible, but they lived demon-free inside the city (or, at least, demon-attack-free), so Noctis knew he should have guessed that. Right outside was a different story, in the little communities of people too poor to live in the city or who were hiding away for one reason or another, and the guys' looked the other way when Noctis sensed one and went off to pray.

It was well-maintained, the candles lit before Noctis even got there. He placed a scarf he'd picked up from the market, neatly folded, on top of it as an offering–he didn't know what actually happened to them, but the Accursed seemed to like scarves, and at worst someone out there would be able to keep the night's chill off a little better.

"I need to know more," he whispered, uncovering his hand and running his thumb along the patterns of the mark. "Why am I Chosen? Why were my family fighting you?"

The Accursed did not answer to him, but he seemed willing to divulge information. Sometimes Noctis thought he just liked the sound of his own voice. Sometimes Noctis wondered if he actually got to speak to that many people or if there were only a handful that he could visit. Marks were rare, after all.

His thoughts began to waver, the candles flickering, and then he was in the Void.

The place formed in the Void was one he knew well, it was the altar to Bahamut in the Citadel. The differences were minor, the large room mostly unchanged for millennia.

The Accursed laid on the altar propped up on one elbow, watching Noctis approach. "And here I thought you'd been hiding from me, dear Noctis."

He frowned, wondering if the lights had kept the Accursed from reaching him and that's why there hadn't been any dreams, not the lack of altars.

"I spoke with Luna a few days ago," he stated, glancing down at his arm, frown deepening when he saw that the burn had traveled with him and seemed worse in the low lighting of the Void. It ached now that he paid attention, as though the flesh was trying to pull away from it.

There was a hiss like a thousand serpents at once and then the Accursed was gripping his arm, scowling down at the wound. "She touched you." It wasn't a question, just a furious exclamation, so similar to Luna's own disgust right after touching him that Noctis almost laughed.

The Accursed's hand settled over the burn, dwarfing Luna's small print, and a flush of dark power flooded through Noctis, making him feel lightheaded in the best of ways. He hadn't realized how weak and sickly the burn had made him until that moment. It wasn't the lights keeping the Accursed away, he realized, it was the Oracle's power tainting Noctis.

When the Accursed kissed him, he immediately responded, starving for his touch, for more signs of his favor to wash away the light's corruption. Only vaguely aware of how odd those thoughts were.

"She said that I couldn't stop it, that she or the Six would find a way to 'cleanse' me," he muttered, aware now that the Accursed hadn't been witness to the meeting and unsure if he could even see it in Noctis' memories. "That...my soul belonged to the Six and they wouldn't let you steal it.

The Accursed held him even tighter, claws gouging into Noctis' flesh, shadows wrapping around him. "You were born to be mine, all of your line was. Bahamut was the one to stole Somnus from me, twisted his thoughts and feelings until he sold himself, and all of you. But I never stopped waiting for the day one of you would return to your rightful place."

"Somnus? The founder king?"

"My little brother. Back when I was human. Or, I suppose, close enough. Izunias are never entirely human, are we?"

There was too much to take in, Noctis wished this was a dream where Carbuncle could put things on hold, give him time to process.

At least it seemed like the Accursed was dangling this information because he wanted to tell Noctis. He just wanted a show of interest, maybe.

"Izunias?"

"Our family name, Lucis Caelum was what we adopted after Solheim's fall, when naming traditions were...in flux. We were both, you see, just as you should have been." He spread his arm out as if showcasing Noctis to an audience. "Noctis Izunia, proud scion of one of the highest of houses within Solheim."

That wasn't too weird, even if he was still reeling over their supposed relation. "You were human?"

Here, another dark emotion flashed across the Accursed's face. "I was, once," he acknowledged. "The Gods decided they wished to hobble the Void, to weaken or even destroy it, regardless of the consequences that might come from such actions. And to do so, they needed a vessel. And so they picked a pious King, Chosen for his obedience and kindhearted naivete."

The Void started to encroach on the illusion of a room, the shadows darkening, crawling across the space. Noctis watched them warily and when he glanced back at the Accursed, he saw his sclera were completely black, making his irises' glow brighter.

"They sacrificed me to create a God of the Void and thought they could then slay me, and the Void alongside me."

"And that didn't work out well, because you're still around."

"Oh, it may have worked, if they'd gone about it another way. If they hadn't tricked me, if they hadn't forced my dear little brother and my fiancee to betray me. I would have been their lamb to the slaughter, believing I was doing something good." The Accursed smiled, a flash of too-sharp teeth. "I was so heartbroken that I would not consider their supposed reasons and the Void was equally furious, in its own way. We became more than a power and its vessel and I became a god."

The Accursed could be lying, but Noctis didn't think he was. He could have come up with a more believable story, if he wanted to manipulate Noctis.

"All the more reason, I guess, not to care about them," he dismissed, digging his own hands into the Accursed.

After Niflheim, maybe it would be the Six he took on--they took on--because Noctis didn't doubt they would deserve it. And Luna had seemed so fragile, even with Ravus protecting her, he didn't think it would be difficult to take her out. Even his friends would help, they'd kill anyone who was a threat to Noctis, and by then he hoped the Accursed would give them a sign or two of favor.

But for now, time was frozen outside of this realm and Noctis was greedy, wanton, from the return of his health.

"Show me what you'll make me," he whispered against the Accursed's lips, "when I don't have to look like this anymore."

It was like any prayer from Noctis, one the Accursed gladly answered.