The enclosing darkness, the hum of the engine, the driver and bodyguard talking softly to each other. Warmth emanating from Aurelia, the gentle air conditioner blowing a cool breeze into his face. It all makes Noctis sleepy.
He leans back into the seat, taking a shuddering breath as it gets harder and harder to keep his eyes open. The world is easy and quiet and he is going home. Maybe it means more schooling, maybe it means more empty hours of his father not listening to him. There will be no worth to putting effort into simply telling him what had happened to him today.
About how the countryside was beautiful and he took gaping breaths of open air and summer sunshine. How the trees swayed in the wind and the sky was big and brilliant blue. And when night came, it was even more beautiful than in the daytime with the sunset glowing pink and orange, stars peeking out in the navy atmosphere, the fireflies shooting up to become like them.
No. Dad...he wouldn't want to hear about silly things like that.
The silence was lulling him, but he suddenly broke it, just a tendril of small sound piercing the dark.
"The fireflies were so pretty. Shoulda brought a bottle."
Aurelia inhales as if she was disturbed from the quiet as well. Her voice is carefully optimistic, words chosen so delicately. "Your father would be happy just to hear about your day, Prince Noctis."
A few thoughts run after another in Noctis's mind, something about how did you know I was thinking about my father, how did you know that I would be worried about that? How did you know that I thought that if I brought something for Dad to see, he would hear me talk about it?
It's called tangible evidence, Noctis knows. They are big words and Dad listens to big words.
He doesn't worry about it. If he tells himself that a few times over, he won't worry about it. At least he thinks so. But he knows that people talk about him when they think he's asleep or when they think he isn't anywhere close by. Gladio talks mean things, calls him names, Aurelia wishes his father would talk to him. It's not fair, it's not fair, but he never says so. It doesn't matter. It's not worth the effort.
He's too tired inside to be loud.
"It's such a pity he couldn't make it today," Aurelia adds quietly.
Noctis closes his eyes, willing the silence and the darkness to rock him to sleep.
"He doesn't care."
It slips out of his mouth before he could stop it.
Aurelia doesn't say anything.
His hands close into fists and it's okay to go to sleep now.
Until a deafening roar and shattering glass rips through the silence and a burst of flashing light fills the dark. He jumps to a start, pulling in a sudden gasp and looks ahead at the beacon of flames and expanding puffs of smoke. The car ahead...it's on fire, the sickening smell of gasoline and the guards – skin afire - burning invades the air conditioner.
Noctis stares, the driver cries, "What was that?"
The wheels skid off the road and into the wide empty field the burning car veered into. The blanketed world is stark against the brilliance of the flames. A thunderous explosion from the car rips into the quiet night.
The licking tongues of flame mesmerize Noctis; he stares into them, thinking about the impossibility for the guards he knew to be alive now. He knew their faces, if not their names-
"Oh, no," Aurelia gasps.
"I'll have a look," the driver says but the guard stops him, reaching out to grip his arm and hisses, "Wait!"
There's something, beyond the flames in that dark void. A slithering mass, striped and glowing almost iridescent in the firelight, sparks leaping off the vehicle and onto the rippling muscles. They look like fireflies.
It's so much bigger than the cars, bigger than all of them if they were stacked on top of each other, Noctis guesses. A big snake. And rising from atop the glowing smoke rising to the stars, Noctis can see a face, a hideous sickening green face. Yellow eyes shine out to them and the human-like body attached to the massive form of a snake shudders to life. Six arms tremble with strength, six hands grip gigantic swords.
Bigger than Dad's.
There's a lump in Noctis's throat, a heavy feeling in his stomach. He feels like throwing up.
"A daemon?!" the guard cries, staring out the window in shock. "What is it doing here?!"
Noctis looks between them both, the shadows playing sharply on their faces. What does it mean? What does it mean?
The creature, hunched over and menacing, slithers over to their car and Noctis presses his back hard against the seat, closing his eyes and willing himself to wake up, it's a bad dream, all he has to do is call Dad and he will come –
"Have they broken the wall?!"
"Protect the prince!" the driver shouts, and then glass splinters into the car, Noctis's eyes open and gleaming blades are shearing through the car, stabbing over and over again. Blood splatters onto the leather seats, Aurelia shoves him to the floor and opens the opposite door.
Her hands are hard and they pinch his shoulders as she pushes him out and they begin to run. Noctis can hear… ugly noises, something like people screaming and flames crackling with fury. It's an overpowering, mad cacophony.
A cacophony. Roots are kakos and phone, which mean "bad" and "sound" respectively. Kakophonia. Cacophony. A discordant mixture of sound.
Noctis grabs hold of the thought, because it's something true, something real. This is a bad dream. A nightmare.
Nightmare. A frightening or unpleasant dream.
The ground is shaking, Noctis's hands are shaking. He moves like a robot and Aurelia looks back. She's panting, whimpering in fear.
An explosion, just like the one before, and flashes of light beam across the empty expanse before them. In the midst of that raging light, there's a hideous shadow, like a barren tree with branches reaching up into a shadowed sky. It's above Noctis, above Aurelia's head.
They keep running, running as fast as they can. There's a pain in Noctis's side, sweat going down his back, a panic swelling from his chest to his head and making his vision blur. He can't breathe. Smoke is lodged in his throat.
There's a piercing screeching noise and a sharp searing slice across his back and Aurelia screams like a bird in flight. They're both suddenly on the ground, the earth vibrating beneath them. Aurelia's hair is streaming across his red-streaked line of vision, her hat rolling away softly on the cool dirt. Noctis lies there, beside her as he has always has been, breathing in the smell of blood and smoke and sweat.
There's a too warm rush of liquid underneath him and when he can finally see just a little, it's so red. Everything is so red. Aurelia's dress is red like a Yuletide ribbon.
Noctis lifts his hand, sees the gleaming blood dripping from it, smooth and thick. It plops drops back to the dirt. It soaks Aurelia's long dark hair.
Beautiful hair, like silk. Noctis never knew it was that pretty; it was always done up in a little ball in the back of her head. But it's beautiful.
Bellus. Beaute. Beauty. Beautiful.
Noctis looks up and sees that monster looming over him, shining in the darkness and silhouetted by the ravaged flames behind it. Those yellow eyes stare at him, like every other eyes that ever focused on him, as if they expect him to do something. Do something. Do something.
Get up, Gladiolus says. Study, Ignis says. Act like a prince. That's what his father would say.
Noctis lies there, immobile, dying.
It's blood, it's blood reeking around him and slipping around his sides, coming from that cut across his back. It hurts now and without even trying to stop it, Noctis feels hot tears going down his face, mingling pale with the brilliant red. Tastes like salt. Tastes like copper.
The monster raises the blades even higher and Noctis watches it watch him. It's aiming, it knows he's still alive and it will now finish him off.
He guesses it's like going to sleep. He's always just wanted to sleep.
He's so tired.
Shooting stars seem to come from nowhere and they slap around the monster like a stabbing wind coming from the north. The monster, twisting and curling on itself, screeches an ear-piercing cry and turns around to see what these stars were – Noctis follows it's gaze and sees blurred figures, more gleaming cars skidding into the field.
Men come into the light, their strong hands gripping their sword hilts. It's Dad's men, they have all come, maybe twenty or so. Noctis doesn't move, his limbs loose but shaking and he knows it's from losing blood. There's one figure still shadowed but those stars shimmer around him in a turning circle like dancing swords.
The swords dart all around the monster and the loud clanging noise of blade against blade seems to never end, sparks flying everywhere (like fireflies) as the arms flail wildly in defense. The men rush towards it like the demon is mindless and foolish, like it's no problem at all. Noctis feels his eyelids are heavy again, the searing pain is moving up his back. His eyes are stinging with tears and smoke. Those men will die.
When he finally summons enough strength to open his eyes one more time – one more time? – he sees those men lying prone in the sparse grass, blood splattered against the green.
There's a voice, hazy and distant, but demanding like thunder and lightning on a stormy night. It sounds like his dad. But Noctis doesn't know anything anymore, he's falling asleep now.
It hurts too much to breathe. He could stop altogether and not notice the difference.
"Prince Noctis," a deep monotone voice and he feels hands on his shoulders, underneath him, lifting him up and turning him over. His head hits the ground too hard and it only adds to the pain. It's white-hot now, like burning icy tentacles crawling all over his back and wrapping around his neck, trying to choke him. He would scream, but there's not enough air.
There's not enough air.
It's dark. The men standing over him, a strand of Aurelia's hair tickling his ear as they take her away from him. There's only the blood, the incredible heat, the pain moving up his back and a numbing in his legs.
Between the men, a small view of that lone figure approaching the monster, unafraid. His father has always had a confident stride, a straight back. He looks like the king he is, not in the least frightened of the demon before him. His hands are loose and open, his cape flutters behind him like a shadow. The shooting stars, his swords, they fly above his head, striking the numerous blades and then Noctis can't see him anymore. He simply walked out of view.
The hands keep moving up his body, tearing open his clothing. "The blade went through- so much blood," one of the men say, and then another whispers, "Spinal damage. Can he feel anything?"
"Noctis?" someone breathes. "Noctis, can you hear me?"
He can't open his mouth, he can't even think. His hands are so cold.
Smoke curls and twists into the sky. And the shadow approaches, kneeling down next to him and his father nearly roars, "Noct? Noct?"
He is so tired.
And the stars above him twinkle like fireflies.
It's okay to go to sleep now.