The Daily Tribulations of One Nyx Ulric
The alarm rang at six, but he'd been up since five. The droning peal was a leftover reminder that mornings had once been the most difficult part of his day. Now, it was a reminder to stop the sit-ups and start the jog. Libertus had once teased that if Nyx woke up any earlier, it would still be the previous day.
"Sleep is for the weak," Nyx had argued, and wound his alarm back another hour.
Pre-dawn light from an unseen sun tinted the city pale blue. Traffic was a scarce hiss, sighing faraway between buildings. Fellow glaives, perhaps, headed to the same place he was. Nyx stretched, zipped his hoodie, and challenged himself to beat the distant cars to the palace gates. He took off, sneakers barely making a sound on the silent street. Insomnia dreamed on around him.
The usual faces wished him a "good morning": unsmiling mannequins in dark department store windows, the clock face watching over the central square, a small flock of mangy birds swarming around restaurant dumpsters, and the prince's plucky blond friend that had no idea who Nyx was.
"Morning!" Prompto greeted, waving. Nyx raised his arm in acknowledgement as they passed, jogging in opposite directions.
The sun was slowly starting to brighten the 6AM gloom when he approached the bridge. It made Crowe's silhouette as dark as her namesake, perched atop the parapet. She leapt to her feet when she spotted him coming up over the curve of the bridge, and fell into step with his steady pace.
"Got a little spunk to your step this morning, Ulric," Crowe observed, smiling wryly. "Lookin' forward to today?"
"Just another day at the office," he said around his breaths, leveling with the rhythm of the jog.
"I'd say 'nice try,' but that was pitiful."
Nyx smiled and kept his eyes on the road ahead. A few more miles brought the sun over the city skyline and the two runners towards the royal palace. There was a café along the avenue ahead of the estate, favored among the Caelum staff for its convenient proximity to their work place. Crowe raced him in the last leg of their run, breaking from the brisk lope to sprint ahead. Nyx stumbled to catch up. He never did figure out how to anticipate her sudden bolts of speed. She beat him to the outdoor counter. Again. Coffee was on him. Double espresso for her; mocha for him.
The locker room was quiet aside from a couple earlier birds than them pecking about – senior officers that had seen enough shit in their careers to keep them from ever falling asleep. Crowe and Nyx changed into uniform between scalding gulps of caffeine. The rest of the kingsglaive slowly trickled into work as the morning continued to rouse the city. Tredd and Sonitus arrived shortly thereafter, Tredd dumping one already empty coffee cup in the garbage and starting in on the second, casting an envious glare at Sonitus. The man must have had caffeine pumping through his bloodstream to be that alert and awake without a single drop of coffee to sustain him.
Libertus shuffled in a while after them, weakly pawing at Nyx's palm when he offered it in greeting. Axis and Pelna piled in with the late crowd, the former wearing dark sunglasses and hunching away from the light with vampire resentment. Pelna smiled brightly at his fellows as he expertly steered his friend around the locker room, but the wash of cologne on the man couldn't hide the smell of the bar that woke up with the two of them.
By the time Titus marched through the common room to issue the day's instructions, every member of the glaive made a miraculously straight line for him to assess. Tredd had to elbow Axis a few times to keep him from slumping over, but otherwise, the commander was none the wiser. At least, not that he let on.
"We've got a full docket today," Titus informed them, booming voice making the hung-over members of the group flinch. "His Majesty, the King has ordered us to ensure that the day's activities go by without a hitch. The same request has been passed on from Her Highness, Princess Lunafreya. If one doesn't scare you into doing your jobs right today, two damn well better."
Nyx stubbornly ignored the wicked glance Crowe sent him at the mention of the princess. Titus went on to confirm said lady's security detail during her stay within the city. Two glaives were to stay with her at all times. If one was called away, another took their place. Standard procedure. The royal guard would have the palace on lock-down. The glaive was to coordinate and cooperate with them throughout the day. And any issue, no matter how beneath their skill-set, was to be resolved if it was demanded of them.
"It has to be perfect," Titus emphasized. "Whatever it takes to make that happen, do it. I don't want to hear any bitching. Smile, nod, and do your jobs right. Understood?"
"Yes, sir!" the line shouted.
"Get to it."
The commander stalked off to do some more commanding someplace else, leaving the glaive to dispense the daily duties amongst themselves. They were all too eager to volunteer for the lovely Lady Lunafreya's security. Crowe expertly waded through the swamp of protests to appoint herself onto the first watch over the princess, and selected the only man in the group that wasn't bowling over his brothers like a slobbering dog to accompany her.
"It would be my honor," Luche said with a decorous salute.
Nyx hadn't even seen the guy come into work that morning. He'd had no idea Luche was even in attendance before he spoke. Nyx sent his sister-in-arms a betrayed look as Luche passed him by to take up position beside her. Crowe merely smiled.
Did you really think I'd make it easy for you? that smile said.
Challenge accepted, his said back.
His crush on the princess aside, Nyx didn't fail to remember what this day was really about. He volunteered to do a sweep of the estate. It would be good to squeeze a little more cardio into his regimen, anyway. There was a lot of ground to cover and even more people to check in on so, he quietly excused himself to the task.
The palace awakening was in full roar. The kitchens were clattering, the cleaners were scuttling, the gardeners were grooming the grass, and security guards were barking at every doorway, window, or crack in the wall. Business as usual amongst the esteemed Caelum staff. Nyx wasn't anticipating much in the ways of suspicious activity within the palace gates. The only guests invited within the castle that day were the princess and her lady-in-waiting, and the only other people that were appraised of the day's proceedings were the paparazzi. Despite their damndest efforts to the contrary, the cameramen always caught the scent that something was going on behind the palace gates. That's where Nyx was issued his first trial of the day.
"Hey, glaive! Do me a favor while you're out on the prowl?"
Gladiolus's voice demanded obedience without even forcing it. The man had a presence that was difficult to ignore, let alone refuse. There weren't many swords that Nyx feared being on the pointy end of but for Amicitia's blade. When Gladiolus asked you a favor, you damn well did that favor.
Nyx broke his circuit around the grounds to meet him. The big, built man was over-seeing a crowded gate, barking orders at some other guardsmen and rebuking remarks coming from the interlopers trying to push their way into the palace.
"Didn't know you were so popular in the tabloids," Nyx teased. "Are all those cameras just for you?"
"Better that they're not. Snap the leash on my ego if they were."
"There's a leash, sir?"
"Ha. Ha. Didn't know the glaive was full of comedians."
"That honor's mine alone, sir."
Gladiolus chuckled, and in the same breath issued a vicious barb at one of the photographers reaching through the gate. "Anyway," he said once the intruder had yelped and cringed into the throng – and Nyx was a little paler from the guy's residual fear. "While I could use a good laugh, that's not what I need from you. I lost track of the guys from Malboro News."
"The usual places, then?"
"Please and thank you. And, hey…given it's practically a holiday, treat yourself when you find 'em."
Gladiolus's smirk was positively predatory, and a sadistic glee filled Nyx upon being granted the permission. He saluted and trotted off, leaving Gladiolus to his thunderous wrath on the paparazzi.
The men of Malboro News were creatures of habit. They adamantly believed that they could trick security into thinking they'd never be stupid enough to try the same spot more than once. Too many spy movies – although Nyx was sure that even the heroes on screen were smarter than this.
"Would you get your foot out of my mouth?"
"If my foot's in your mouth how is it you can complain so much? Shut up and boost me higher!"
Nyx dropped down to a crouch behind the bushes along the fence. Predictably, the boys were trying to climb the corner, where an ancient tree hung its boughs outside of the property to entice the foolish into climbing inside. Anybody on security had come to refer to the tree as "Sunshine," as – like Icarus – the paparazzi flew too close to it. Nyx observed the pair from the shadow of the leaves for a moment. It was always entertaining when they visited the tree. It was like watching a viral video, mockingly tagged as "#fail." And besides, the pause gave him a chance to think of how he wanted to fulfill Gladiolus's order to "treat himself."
Nyx spun his dagger between his fingers while he thought. He sized up ol' Sunshine and waited for one of the photographers to scramble onto one of her branches to lower himself to the lawn. While the man was distracted with dusting grass from his jeans, Nyx threw his blade to the branch and warped to it, no louder than a whisper. The other photographer was clambering up the fence, eyes on the placement of his feet. Nyx stretched out along the branch, folding his arms behind his head and making himself at home while he waited.
You'd think the guy was climbing Mt. Evermore with how long it took him to reach the tree-branch. Nyx almost dozed off with how comfortable he'd gotten. The intruder hugged the branch, huffing in relief, before he noticed that he was groping Nyx's boot and not, in fact, a limb of the deciduous variety.
"Biggs, I didn't know you had a foot fetish!" Nyx said, bright as a toothpaste commercial.
The man screamed and lost his grip, tumbling through the leaves to crash into the back of his partner below. As much as he was enjoying the view of them scrambling apart like ants, Nyx leapt down to join them on the ground, stepping around them as delicately as a cat.
"Did you guys come all this way again just because you missed me?"
"Doesn't anyone else work here?" one of them grumbled around a mouthful of grass.
"Oh, I wouldn't trade this job with anyone."
He swept up one of the cameras that had rolled off during the collision to the utter panic of its owners. "Give that back!"
"Finder's keepers," Nyx sang, wiggling the expensive machine over their heads. One of them swiped for it, but Nyx casually spun out of reach to fiddle with the buttons.
"Damn, invasion of privacy really is a lucrative business, huh?" he observed, probing the intricate design of the camera.
"Come on, man, that cost me, like, ten paychecks!"
"Maybe this selfie can reimburse you."
Nyx turned the lens to face him, the paparazzi crawling on top of each other over his shoulder. He stuck out his tongue, put up his middle finger, and snapped a picture.
"There's the money shot!" he purred, admiring the image on the little digital screen. "What was I thinking, going into the glaive? This is obviously my true calling. That's A+ photography, right there."
He let one of them snatch back the hostage camera, satisfied that he'd appropriately rewarded himself for the job.
"Who's gonna be at the party, glaive?" one man hurried to ask.
"Family and friends only," he answered, taking the collars of their shirts in each hand.
"We got a tip that the Princess of Tenebrae will be in attendance," the other man said, stumbling behind Nyx as he dragged them along. "Is that true?"
"Sovereignty's been re-allowed in Tenebrae? Wow, you really do actual reporting? Because that was news to me."
"Come on, glaive, give us something! Who's bringing who? Who's wearing what?"
"Clothes, I certainly hope. Be a much different party if they weren't."
Nyx shoved them out the nearest gate, locking it shut behind them. "Try sneaking in here again and you're going to wish I was the only one working here. And I want a copy of that picture."
He stood at the gate until he couldn't see them beyond it anymore. No sooner had the pair vanished into the city than Nyx's next disaster howled past him.
"Somebody grab that dog!"
A fuzzy, dark blur sprinted across the yard, with a familiar brunette staggering after its tail. Iris Amicitia planted her palms against her knees, red-faced and gasping for breath while the prince's favorite four-legged companion fled into the yard.
"Umbra!" Iris called after the dog, voice wheezing with exhaustion. "Come on!"
"Tap out, kiddo. I can take it from here." Nyx gave her a consoling pat on the back.
Iris drew her face up from between her knees to rake a critical glance over the glaive. "Ulric, right? You're more than welcome to have a turn. Do not let him reach the kitchen, though, got it? Ignis is gonna kill me if he gets in there…"
"I got you covered. Take a breather."
She gave him a weary thumbs up and collapsed right there in the middle of the grass. Nyx trotted off in the direction where Umbra had vanished. The big, bushy dog was an avatar for his master – a little bit cocky, a bit more rebellious, and a secret smoosh-ball. The only difference between them was that Umbra never seemed to sleep. Today was not the first that Nyx wished the prince could impart some of his love for slumber onto the animal.
He found Umbra sniffing along the west wall, his leash slithering in the dirt beneath his paws. For a heartbeat, the dog was oblivious to his presence and Nyx thought that he could use that to his advantage. No matter how quiet he forced his next step to be though, somehow, Umbra heard him. The dog's head snapped up to look at Nyx, ears pointed straight at him. Nyx froze and met Umbra's yellow stare.
"Hey," he greeted.
Umbra grinned and wagged his tail. Slowly, Nyx raised his hands and patted the air. "Sit," he tried. Umbra crouched down on his forelegs, the opposite reaction than Nyx had hoped for. He knew that his next command wasn't going to work before he even said it, but maybe he'd at least earn points for trying. He braced himself for the inevitability of failure, and said, "Stay."
Umbra barked and made a break for it, charging around the corner before Nyx had a chance to blink. He rushed after him, boots pounding across the lawn. Miles and miles circuiting the city every morning and it amounted to little when it was two legs against four. While he was failing to gain any ground on the animal, Nyx kept throwing out verbal commands in the hope that one of them would stick.
"Heel! Halt! Freeze! Cease and desist!" He even went so far as to try different languages, but if there was a secret code word to make the dog stop, it wasn't in any language Nyx knew.
His futile orders quickly turned to a volley of curses. He smelled the kitchen before he saw it, but not before Umbra caught a whiff of it. The outer doors were wide open to release some of the heat from the ovens, and Umbra immediately accepted that as an invitation to welcome himself inside.
"Incoming!" Nyx called out in a warning, just before Umbra leapt over the threshold.
An orchestra of shouting conducted itself from within the kitchen. Pots clattered, utensils clashed, but, mercifully, no glass shattered by the time Nyx swung into the doorway. Sous-chefs and servers alike were balancing dishes overhead and dancing clear of the dog's unstoppable trajectory. Nyx raced down the path they made in pursuit, tossing out variations of "sorry" and "I got this" to those he passed. He got less than agreeable responses thrown back at him, especially when Ignis spotted him from the center of the tumultuous kitchen. The man's usually placid face was absolutely thunderous.
"Glaive! What is the meaning of this? I gave Iris one job…"
"My fault! I got this!" If he kept saying that, maybe it'd eventually come true.
Umbra started circling the big island at the center of the kitchen, where Ignis was meticulously crafting the night's star confection before being accosted. Umbra yapped excitedly, nails clicking on the tiled floor as he weaved around Ignis's legs. The tall man gripped the sides of the marble counter to restrain himself from reaching down and strangling the creature with its own leash.
Before he could be provided the opportunity, Nyx regained the dog's attention. While Ignis's presence in relation to Umbra translated to "please, feed me," Nyx's seemed to translate to, "oh, we're still playing!" Nyx skidded to one side of the island – opposite Ignis's volcanic glare – and watched the dog on the other side, waiting for him to make a move. Umbra danced left, then right, then back and forth again, and Nyx mirrored him, waiting to bar his way and catch him the second he tried to bolt again.
The dog was too damn smart for his own good, though. Just when Nyx thought he might know which way he was going to run, Umbra feinted one way, tricking the glaive into doing the same, then fled the other way while Nyx was off-balance. He swore and scrambled after him, ignoring the long-suffering sigh Ignis trailed after them.
Nyx finally saw his chance to catch the rambunctious beast when Umbra scurried beneath a long table. Nyx didn't stop to consider what Ignis would do to him when he jumped on top and slid down the table's length, disrupting all the myriad bowls of baking ingredients as he went. The slide brought him to the other end of the table just as Umbra was coming out from under it. Nyx landed on the dog's back, straddling him to the ground with a yelp of surprise.
There was a pause of blissful stillness as they both sat there, stunned. Nyx breathed heavy and barked out a laugh once his success finally registered. Umbra's bushy tail wagged. Not even defeat could dampen his spirits, it would seem. That, or he predicted that Nyx's pride would be short-lived. While the glaive was seizing his leash and patting himself on the back for a job well done, a stainless steel bowl teetered over the edge of the table above them. It fell and landed, neatly, on Nyx's head, up-turning its powder-white contents upon his uniform.
He heard a couple of serving girls giggle, sympathetically, from beyond the metal rim over his eyes. Umbra wriggled beneath him, trying to twist his head around to get a taste of the sugar and flower coating his playmate's jacket. The dog stilled immediately as Ignis lifted the bowl from Nyx's head. Neither man needed to meet the other's gaze in order to communicate their displeasure at the turn of events.
"Get out," Ignis said in an exasperated sigh.
Nyx shuffled along behind Umbra, letting the dog lead them through the palace halls. The dog had a bounce to his steps and held his head high, looking awfully smug about his day's adventure. Nyx, on the other hand, felt as though he'd just wrestled a behemoth and lost. The day wasn't even half over yet and he was worn to the bone. Pet-sitting took a lot out of a guy. Dealing with the paparazzi was a delight; dealing with Umbra was a nightmare.
The dog walked him around the palace for a while before he finally found a hall that seemed to be his destination. Umbra suddenly strained on the leash and Nyx made a sound caught between a whine and a sob as he was dragged behind him. Umbra brought them to the corner of an adjacent hall and gave Nyx half a second to look down it, panic, and flatten himself against the wall, almost choking poor Umbra with how quickly he jerked back.
"…like it'll be any better than the first two decades," Noctis was saying to his father.
"It might surprise you," Regis replied.
They hadn't noticed the brief glimpse of Nyx and Umbra before the glaive forced a retreat. He was still covered in splotches of flour, incriminating evidence of something going on in the kitchen. Umbra was not so suspiciously marked. Before he pulled his arm out of its socket or exposed him, Nyx unhooked the leash from Umbra's collar and let him trot down to his master. Nyx glanced around the corner just to make certain the dog wasn't making a run for it. He caught the prince's smile upon greeting Umbra before pressing himself back to the wall.
"Up to no good, Umbra?" he heard Noctis say, voice full of adoration. Nyx rolled his eyes. Don't enable the animal.
"There's one good thing about it," Regis said. "It marks the start of another decade spent with him."
"Don't use my weakness to prove your point. That's cheating."
Their voices were getting closer, Nyx realized, prompting an endless banner of "shitshitshitshitshit" to stream across his brain like an emergency news broadcast. He scrambled for escape options, eyes flipping from one end of the hall to the other. There was a utility closet far off to his left, and in lieu of finding any place to run, he resolved for hiding. Nyx warped to the door, leaving a cloud of Nyx-shaped flour to disappear in the air. He managed to close himself inside the closet just as the royal duo and dog turned the corner.
"Do try to enjoy your day, son." The king's voice was just outside the door. "It only comes along once a year."
"It's only a day, like all the rest."
With that, the prince's melancholy words and Umbra's clicking steps faded from the hall, and Nyx could breathe a sigh of relief. That counted one bullet dodged.
A knock rapped at his door, then. Nyx cracked it open, first checking that the prince had in fact vacated the hall with his big, fluffy monster, before presenting himself to the king. To his credit, Regis managed to keep a straight face to spare Nyx's dignity from a laugh.
"Can I trust that everything is going smoothly?" he asked.
"As butter, Your Majesty," Nyx assured, batting at a smudge on his jacket that may have been said ingredient.
"Glad to hear it. Keep up the good work."
Nyx bowed to the king, but before Regis left him, he dabbed at one of the darker substances decorating the kingsglaive uniform.
"Chocolate?" he asked, rubbing the brown powder between thumb and forefinger.
"Black forest, I believe, sir."
Regis nodded in approval. "As you were."
As he was happened to be miserably tired. His feet dragged his slouching body back to the barracks for a change of clothes. A couple people that he passed by chuckled at his state of dishevelment, and he didn't have the energy to snap at them for it. The only other people that had enough manners not to laugh at him were the last three ladies he'd ever wish to present himself to in such an embarrassing state.
"Nyx!" Crowe called from beneath an arch across the yard. "Come over here and cover me for a sec."
Why did the powers-at-be seek to mortify him in such a manner? Could they not spare him from just an ounce of humiliation today? Princess Lunafreya's smile was sympathetic to his haggard appearance as he approached, and somehow that was worse than having her mock him for it.
"What happened to Luche?" he asked Crowe, trying to dust off as much cake flour as he could.
"A disaster, as I'm sure you're familiar with. Now, I get a turn for one, too. Don't leave the princess."
"What happened to 'two's the rule?'" he asked, but Crowe was already halfway gone, rushing off to her designated disaster.
"She's as good as any glaive!" she shouted over her shoulder, gesturing.
Nyx had failed to notice the Lady Gentiana at first, standing concealed in Luna's shadow – or acting as her shadow.
"Milady," Nyx greeted. The woman nodded without a word, wearing a silent smile. "Your Highness." He bowed to the princess, feeling his back creak as he did so. Shouldn't have slammed down on that table slide so hard.
"It's good to see you again, Nyx. Having an eventful day?"
"'For hearth and home,'" he recited, more to remind himself than to answer her.
Nevertheless, the mantra seemed to suit Luna's agenda just fine. "I respect your commitment to the cause. If it's not too much of an imposition, I have one more job for you."
"Whatever you ask, Your Highness."
A glaive's work was never done.