Summary | After bidding farewell to her twin brother, Reina Lucis Caelum is resigned to surviving ten long years of darkness awaiting his return, but with the rest of the royal line gone, all of Eos seems determined to dump Lucis in her lap: crown, ring, and all. It's a shame that no one thought to mention her estranged ancestor with an affinity for daemons who seems to know more about her than she does, herself.
A/N: This story is a complete tale in and of itself, but it's also a sequel to Fractured. While it should make sense on its own, there is some context in the previous installment. Also, note that this is draft 1.0. Once I finish writing the whole story, it will get a story-wide edit (on top of the chapter-by-chapter edits I do each week) for flow/continuity/tone etc, and some content will likely change. If you followed Fractured from the start, this is the same thing I did with that fic.
19 August, 756:
The first week was the worst.
That week when she was still lingering on denial, half teetering between recognition and despair, still expecting to see him and wanting it more than she had ever wanted anything in her life. That week when every second brought a heartbeat like a stab of pain, when she ached without wounds. That week when every minute she was reminded that her expectations would never be met—that he wasn't just around the corner, that he never would be again—and every time she remembered, it was experiencing his death all over again. That week when she felt him die, minute after minute, hour after hour, over and over, taking a tiny piece of her with him every time until there was nothing left.
It was the worst week because there was still something to hurt, the first week.
But with every death, it never returned. Everything that made her her was butchered and burned with Insomnia. With him. Her father. Her best friend. The one she had given everything for and would have given so much more, if she had just had the chance.
That first week she wanted so much to see him again, to hug him, to hear his voice, to breathe in his scent. After that, after she was dead, she didn't have any wants anymore.
After all the pain, it was a relief to feel nothing. A numbness surrounded her like a sort of shield, keeping all the pain and hurt on the outside. Without desires she couldn't have them thwarted. Without expectations she couldn't see them fail. But it kept everything else away, too.
She couldn't quite feel her brother's love, anymore. Logic told her it was still there, hovering outside the dirty glass jar that she was trapped inside—seeing the world through a lens of fog and filth. But it was like looking at the sun on a television screen; it was visible, but she couldn't feel any warmth. She carried on because she knew he loved her, because she knew it would crush him if she stopped and he had enough to worry about without that. She wrapped it away inside; she smiled, sometimes, but it was just a face. Inside there was nothing.
In Altissia the fragile shell, which was held together merely through knowledge of what would happen if it shattered, strengthened. Roots grew across it from her past, reminding her where she had come from, forming a web, holding the shell in place. Even if it cracked, now, it wouldn't crumble. With that support, the shell grew thicker, no longer a fragile, hollowed out egg, but a layer of stone and roots, hard and solid, uncrushable, unbreakable.
That was what she became, in the months that followed. But if anyone had taken a chisel and managed to break through—just some tiny hole, enough to shine light inside the stone—they would have found the same thing that was inside at the end of the first week.
So why did she still hurt?
If she was nothing she shouldn't have been able to feel a thing. She shouldn't have felt the stabbing pain as she watched Noctis disappear with the light of the crystal, knowing she wouldn't see him again for years. But she did.
Everything was so sharp, so clear, that it hurt.
In her hand, the weight of the Ring of the Lucii; the cut on her cheek that stung and bled sluggishly. Before her stood her twin's friends, the expressions on their faces, stark as they stared at her, so clear even in the dark. The light from the crystal had faded, leaving nothing behind to show that Noctis had ever been with them at all.
"For how long?" He had asked.
She hadn't told him the answer she had seen in her dreams.
A long time. Long enough that the population of Lucis would diminish to the thousands, despite taking on refugees from Accordo and beyond. Long enough that their people would lose hope. Long enough that children would grow up having never seen the sun.
And after that he would come buy the light with his own blood.
Reina didn't shed a tear. Inside she felt cold, not that terrible ache she had once felt at the loss of her best friend. That pain was a distant memory. This was resignation.
"Well, well, well…"
The steady click of boots against metal drew four pairs of eyes. And there strode Ardyn Izunia—no: Ardyn Lucis Caelum.
Reina had no idea how she knew his true name, but she didn't even feel distant surprise: not at the unexpected knowledge, nor at the revelation that this creature had once been her ancestor. It was just a fact in the back of her mind, as if it had always been there.
"The Chosen King begins his Ascension. His path to claiming the crystal's power, finally underway. I must admit, there were several times when I feared the four of you would fail to get him all the way here. That would have been so disappointing…" He had a languid sort of walk, like he wanted it known that he wasn't feeling threatened in the least by all of the drawn weapons the room was suddenly home to. "Killing him as a mortal will bring me no satisfaction, you see."
Ardyn made a slow circle around the crystal. Reina and the others turned to face toward him as he did so, not willing to have that snake at their backs.
"Now he shall have his power and his ever-faithful retainers will bring him straight to my doorstep when he does… but you, Princess…" He paused, having made the half-circle so that he stood in front of Reina while the other three stood behind her. His gaze made her skin crawl when it settled on her. She adjusted her grip on her naginata.
"There really is no use for you, anymore, is there? You've performed your part admirably—brava—but now you're just one more Caelum in the world… and we simply cannot have that, can we? Your brother will be the last..." Ardyn stepped forward. At the same time, so did Ignis, pulling her back so she stood behind Gladio and Prompto as well.
"Tsk tsk tsk. So loyal, aren't they?" Ardyn lamented with a sneer. "So foolish. Perhaps they would like to watch."
He lifted one hand and purple fire flared. It split into three; each orb moved like a living thing, finding its mark without delay. His magic was Caelum magic, but black with corruption. Daemon magic. It engulfed each of Noct's friends: a body-tight cage that left each occupant wincing and struggling pointlessly for freedom.
"Now then. Where were we?" Ardyn considered the nails on his right hand. "Ah, yes. Killing the princess. I remember, now."
He extended his hand and a blade materialized there. Reina set her jaw. She was still holding her naginata, but it was going to be very little use. This creature had the power of centuries and the magic of the crystal, tainted and twisted to his own purposes, at his fingertips. She had nothing. Not even her brother's magic, now.
"Reina—the ring!" Gladio managed a few words, though each of them sounded a struggle.
The Ring of the Lucii. She was still holding it tight in the palm of her hand, half-forgotten. The other half of her had been hoping that everyone else had forgotten. She opened her hand and looked down at it. Hadn't it been larger? It had fit her father and his hands were twice the size of hers—now it looked small enough to fit comfortably on her finger.
Still, she hesitated.
Ardyn took a step forward. Then another. His blade was bare in his hand, lifting, preparing for the blow that would end her life.
What if I let it happen?
If she was dead… she would be with her family. If she lived now, what did that mean for her? A lifetime alone.
Reina cast her eyes over Noct's friends, taking a step back from Ardyn. He had already said he meant to let them live. It would only be her and they would be free.
Her eyes lingered on Ignis. Could she really leave him there, having lost not one, but two royal siblings in his care? After that kiss he had given her…? It seemed more than mere minutes ago, now. So much had happened since she and Noctis had torn themselves from the others to chase after the crystal's light. She had looked at Ignis' face and thought she would never see it again. He must have thought the same, or he never would have kissed her.
"Use— it—!" Gladio shouted.
Ardyn's blade swung. Reina's naginata clattered against the metal floor. Time stopped.
The ring did fit.
She wished it didn't.
Fire spread, like molten steel in her veins. With a cry she fell to her knees, not even feeling the pain of bone against metal when everything else was ablaze.
Thankfully, that initial burst was all she felt, as if the kings wanted her on her knees before them. And she was before them. When she found the strength to lift her head and look, they glowed around her—blue fire, just like Noct's magic.
:So you have come to bear the ring, Reina Lucis Caelum.:
The words rang out, a terrible booming sound more in her head than her ears, making her teeth ache.
:But our power is not for you. Though you are of royal blood, you were meant to bear your burden without our aid.:
Reina pressed her palms against the cold metal bridge beneath her—was it really still beneath her? Was she even in Niflheim, anymore? Was she even in Eos anymore?
She tried to make her mind work through the ringing. Not for her? She had known that much her whole life—if the Gods meant for her to weild the power of the crystal, they would have given her the same control of magic as her brother had. Instead they had given her a scant shadow of the same: the power to mix potions and the curse of seeing the future. But what did they mean, 'bear her burden without magic'?
"I have not taken the ring to make my load lighter," Reina said, gaze turned downward. It would have been so much easier, so much simpler, to have just… not… tried. "A choice of life or death was laid before me. I do not choose life lightly. I choose it knowing that it means lifting this weight on my own… not accepting the release of forever-sleep."
:You judge your life to be so valuable? Choosing life is not a selfless decision.:
Reina shut her eyes. "Then kill me."
All they had to do was let her go, send her back without the magic and watch Ardyn's blade slice through her collar bone. She would be finished. She could finally set down all the weight she had been carrying. She could finally be with her father again and rest easy in the knowledge that Noctis would join them when his time was through. It would have been so… easy...
Her eyes snapped open; her heartbeat ceased. She knew that voice. It was the voice she heard in her dreams, the voice she played in her head over and over again, for fear that one day she would forget it.
:She is of royal blood. Her life is too precious a thing to be taken lightly. She safeguards the future as any king would.:
"Father…" Reina breathed, hardly daring to believe her ears. It was precisely what she had hoped and feared—hoped that, somehow, his spirit was a part of the ring, that by wearing it she would be with him once more, and feared that all her hopes would fall apart in the face of the truth.
:She will not burn by our power, young king. But she will not wield it, either.:
:Returning her without is identical to killing her yourselves. He will kill her, with certainty, and her death would come of this decision.:
Reina still wasn't breathing. She couldn't believe it—she wouldn't allow herself to believe it.
:This power is not meant for her.:
:Then she will bear my own—as she should have done in the first place.:
Reina watched, tongue-tied and completely frozen. From the darkness a form materialized, as if from fog or tiny pinpricks of color. Her eyes fixed on his shoes and, though she tried, she couldn't bring herself to lift her gaze. It hardly helped that the shoes were as familiar as the face: rough-textured with a regular pattern, like the skin of a snake, and covered at the top by a precisely fitted pant leg— black with a narrow pinstripe. But something was missing. No gold metal braced beneath the right shoe. No black leather straps across the shin. And when he took a step forward, there was no clank of metal, no regular click of a cane.
He held out his hand to her. She followed the line of his arm, unwilling, but swept along all the same. A flow of cape covered that arm—a steel pauldron with inlaid gold sat on the shoulder—and just above, past a high collar…
In the months since Altissia, Reina thought she had run out of tears to shed. Now she proved herself wrong. They fell in hot, steady streams down her cheeks and she couldn't have stopped them if she tried.
"Father…" Her voice cracked, though it was just a whisper.
That smile! Gods—it was the only thing she had wanted to see for three months!
Reina gave a wet sob and buried her face in her hands and shook her head, not even trying to stem the flow of tears so much as she tried to hide her face.
"Reina, my dearest daughter. You have grown so strong… and I am immeasurably proud of you. But I must send you back."
Of course. She couldn't stay—the world out there was waiting for her. Ignis and Prompto and Gladio and all the people she had left behind in Lucis. However much she wanted to, she couldn't remain here with her father.
She ran her hands over her face, wiping away tears, and rubbing her nose before looking up at him again. He was still smiling—melancholy, but smiling anyway—and holding his hand out to her. It took all the strength she had to not start crying again.
"Take my hand, my dear. This time, I shall lend you my strength."
She couldn't find her voice anymore, but she lifted her hand and put it in his, half expecting to find nothing there—just another dream—but instead she felt his palm beneath her fingertips, smooth and warm. His hand close around hers and, with a hearty pull, he hauled her to her feet.
The world materialized around her once more. She stood in a place frozen in time: at her feet was the naginata she had just dropped; two feet above her head was Ardyn's blade, bearing down. Behind the snake himself were Noct's friends… her friends—Ignis, Prompto, Gladio, all frozen as they stared at her, willing her to just do something.
And beside her stood the one hundred thirteenth king of Lucis.
In this world, his form was fog—transparent and intangible. He lifted his hand and wove a shield around them: a hemisphere, thin like glass but more sturdy than stone. Then he stepped behind her, still holding the shield in place, and spoke in her ear.
"Take hold of my magic. It is yours, now."
She lifted her hand and grasped the strands of magic that held the shield in place. His fingers brushed hers, but she felt nothing—like touching dust in a sunbeam. On her hand, the Ring of the Lucii burned bright.
Her father lowered his own hand, moving it past her arm as if to touch her, then closed it into a fist and dropped it to his side.
"You are ready, Reina…" his voice sounded in her ear, but she could feel him slipping away.
Panic rose in her chest.
She couldn't do this. She couldn't hold her own against Ardyn with magic she had never used. She couldn't put Lucis back together on her own. And she absolutely couldn't go on alone after having had one more taste of his presence.
"I am with you, always."
His voice was like a whisper of the wind, this time. When she turned to look he was gone.
Ardyn's blade crashed against her shield. A look of surprise flashed across his face, only briefly before it turned to anger. Prompto whooped. But still Reina hesitated.
What was she supposed to do? She could hold onto the shield that her father had built, but could she really do anything else? Could she do enough to get the four of them out safely?
You are ready, Reina…
Her father's voice sounded in her mind, so close that she couldn't tell if it was her thought or his. She shut her eyes and ground her teeth together as Ardyn swung against the shield again. There was little choice. She had to do enough.
Reina dropped the shield. Ardyn toppled forward, momentarily off balance, and she took advantage. Lightning leaped from her palm. She shouldn't have known how to call it—she had never held magic like that, not even on loan from Noctis—but somehow it came, anyway, without being known, without being learned. His body flew, propelled backward, and struck the railing on the far side of the crystal.
"Ah, the power of kings. I should have known..." he sounded more exasperated than anything else. "No matter, I will—"
Did he ever shut up?
She decided not to wait and find out. She called ice up from his feet through his legs until the whole man—shadow—daemon—whatever he truly was—was frozen solid. It wasn't the end of him. Not even if all the kings of old had granted her their power would she have been able to accomplish that. But perhaps it would buy them enough time.
The purple fire remained. Reina spread her hands and consumed it with blue flames until each captive was freed.
"That. Was. Awesome." Prompto said.
"Knew you could do it," Gladio grinned.
"So you wield the ring's magic, now?" Ignis inquired, stooping for his fallen cane.
"I suppose I do," she said. She didn't tell him that the kings had argued over whether to give it to her, that in the end it had been her father's power she used. She didn't tell them she had seen him at all. Somehow she didn't want to. That was just for her. "But we must leave this place. Come quickly. We return to Lucis."
"But the Crystal—" Gladio began.
Reina shook her head. "No time. He won't be frozen forever."
And besides, the Crystal was massive. They had no way of returning to Lucis with it. Something told her it would find its own way back, someday.