The muggy air of Lestallum hung heavy even with the overhead fans turning steadily, an almost unbearable weight on the shoulders of Noctis and his royal retinue. The teen seemed just as affected, stealing quizzical glances Ardyn's way every time the man moved, even if it was minute and did not draw the suspicions of the other guest at the table. True to his word Ardyn provided dinner a five-round feast at one of the rare indoor restaurants of the city. It was a grand place with high teal walls boarded by dark wood and vaulted ceiling with large chandeliers filled with thousands of twinkling lights with a vase full of white and yellow lilies on each table.
As dinner was delivered even Ardyn found the food lackadaisical with meager portions that would not fill the belly of a termite. Before the waiter could dash off Ardyn met his eye. "My good man, I don't know what you take us all for, but my friends and I are not men of small stature." The waiter glanced to Gladiolus then Gladio's plate. Prompto already had his hand reaching towards the small fork ready to cut into the small portion of baked chicken, the sharp glare Ardyn sent him had the blond lurching his hand back and into his lap.
"Um," the man winced, "what would you like then sir?" Another disgruntled patron, perfect, no tip.
"Let's start with bouillabaisse," the man nodded fervently.
"Yes, sir. Right away. For everyone?" A cocked brow was all he got from Ardyn, it was enough that he took haste in placing their new order. Left with the child-sized portions the table fell silent.
"Please, eat. It's still tasty food."
"Thank you, Chancellor, it's our honor that we get to dine with you." Ignis lifted his glass of wine nodding towards Ardyn while he sent a swift kick to Noctis leg under the table. The young King sent a glare a crossed the table, pushing a lump of chicken to the opposite side of his mouth before picking up his glass and nodding his head. The others in the table followed suit, except the teen who lifted an empty glass.
"Does your friend not talk, Noct?"
Noctis's eye twitched as he set his fork down beside his bowl. The sudden hunch in his shoulders and tightness of his face as he looked towards Ardyn manifested his irritation, "Don't call me that. And he talks, we can't understand him."
"A pity, he must have many things to say." Ardyn smiled as he leaned back in his chair, fingers curling around his wine glass. "Do you know his name at least? I'm sure one of you must know sign language, some other form of non-verbal communication."
Ignis slumped slightly as Prompto and Gladio began paying more attention to the Chancellor. Seated beside Gladio the boy glanced up eyes scanning a crossed the group. From Ardyn whose eyes bore into him, then around at the younger men he had been traveling with each seeming tenser as Ardyn questioned them about the young man. Sitting tall he followed Noctis's lead and placed his fork down beside his bowl.
Prompto and Gladio both stopped eating, shrimp and muscles floating in the soup that filled their bowls. With a deep breath, Ardyn brought his glass to his lips finishing off the small amount of wine left. As the glass left his lips he shifted forward slightly. "I'm sure he will be talking soon enough." The chair slides soundlessly over the well-buffed wood as the Chancellor stands. The waiter is rushing over a black book in hand.
"Finished gentleman?" The others in the party stay silent, none meeting Ardyn's eye nor giving the waiter attention.
With a soft chuckle, Ardyn shakes his head, "No. I must take my leave early." The waiter nods even as Ardyn takes the cheque book from him, barely flinching at the ostentatious price. With a snap he returns it, a small stack of gil stuck between the covers. "Take loving care of these gentlemen for me" a glance at the young waiter's badge and Ardyn looks back to his face, "Andrew." Eyes wide, Andrew murmurs his agreement in awe at the think mass of bills in his hands. With the stunned waiter gone, Ardyn plucks his fedora from the table.
"Gentlemen, it has been a pleasure." He offers a smile that Noctis finds creepy, only made eerier as he takes one of the white lilies from the vase at the center of the table. As Ardyn walks around the table the four Lucian's watching him with deep interest, Noctis's hand curling subconsciously around an invisible handgrip only dissipating at the Chancellor stops beside the teen and pats his shoulder placing the lily into the spikes of black hair. "When the war of the beasts brings about the world's end, the goddess descends from the sky."
The boy freezes, shrimp speared on his fork as his head tilts upwards and his eyes met Ardyn's, mouth falling open. "Wings of light and dark spread afar, she guides us to bliss, her gift everlasting." The way Ardyn's smile grows as he pulls away leaves Noctis with a foreboding sense of unease. Something is off, something is wrong with this and he wants to get rid of the extra baggage as soon as possible. But not with Iris and Jarred especially with young Talcott, not with anyone really. The sound of Ardyn's fading whistled tune draws his attention, unlike their meeting in Galdin or the first time they come to Lestallum, he does not want to leave quickly. He does not have some physical ailment that afflicts him thanks to an Astral or a storm to sooth only his hunger which returns when Ardyn strolls past the line of windows behind them without a care in the world.
Andrew returns with their main dish, a rack of lamb spread to each of them, soda bread and a dark dipping sauce. "Here you are sirs, enjoy." For now, they forget about Ardyn, more than welcoming the delicious braised ribs with the eagerness of starving men of a certain stature.
"Is something a matter?" Gladio looks down at the teen, he has not touched his lamb only twirling the lily Ardyn gave him in his hand touching the petals with great reverence. It is obvious he understands them, he has always understood them as he shakes his head no laying the lily down on the table where it is to remain even once they had left.
As they leave the restaurant, Septième du Ciel, the city is filled with factory workers, the heat still unbearable left the women in a state of being half dressed. Gladio comments on their appearance, Noctis jabs Ignis in the side as he catches the advisor letting his eyes roam over the firm body of one of the women Gladio has shown an interest in. Prompto is out to pasture, none of the women pay attention to him, Noctis has more interest in getting to bed than seeing the sights. Forced nuptials and all.
It is not all these women sculpted from the hard labor of the power plant that draws Noctis's attention. Iris waves at them from the bottom steps of the Leville's portico, Talcott beside her waving with more enthusiasm than anyone expected a child his size to manifest. Noctis is the first to make it to her, his lethargy evaporating in the light of her smile.
"You guys are here! We were so worried when you didn't show up!" Iris's smile is a welcoming comfort to her oldest friend. "What took so long?"
Noctis works the inside of his bottom lip, teeth pulling at the tender skin, "we got sidetracked, but its nothing to worry about."
"Oh," but she rocks on the heels of her boots, arms folding behind her. "Well, I made dinner." As Noctis's face softens, Iris sighs shaking her head, "you guys already ate." She waves it off with a shake of her head and a shrug. The moment is short as Gladio joins them sweeping Iris off her feet, twirling her in the air. Her free laugh is loud and effervescent ricocheting off the walls that surround the Leville Plaza. That heavenly sound does fade as Gladio sets her on her feet only to ruffle her hair. Instead, it only grows as he hugs Ignis who greets her with the same adoration Gladio offers without lifting her off the ground. Iris offers a smile to Prompto, arms wide beckoning him closure with the promise of a hug only to give him a sharp jab to his shoulder. The blond plays it off good-naturedly till Iris' looks away from him, her attention is drawn to the newest member of the group. Its enough of a window for Prompto to hold his arm massaging the pain away.
"She hits hard," Gladio chuckles at Prompto's whispered complaint or praise. It could go both ways with his tone.
"So, he's the guy you were talking about?"
"Yeah, but if you don't want him around, we can take him with us." Noctis steps up beside her watching the young man in the distance as a pair of power plant workers talk to him.
"Wow, his eyes are like sapphires. I've never seen eyes that blue." One of the women hums.
"They seem to glow." The boy is soaking it up, smiling like he just won a jackpot. It was fascinating, the kid had not said one word but a smile the women swooned and lavished him with compliments. Prompto groaned.
"He doesn't even talk, and women are throwing themselves at him. Life is so unfair!" Prompto's despair, Noctis feels for him really, he does. So he shouts crossed the plaza drawing the boy's attention to his fawning fanbase. The guy smiles and waves to the women. They do not pout in disappointment, or even call out they just stare after him, "can't wait till he's older."
The kid is fast Iris nudges Gladio as he sits beside her on the bed in the room, she has secured for them, "I think he could beat you in a race."
"I doubt that." Iris on rolls her eyes looking over to the young boy. She guesses he's not much older than her and she knows he's not bad to look at but its hard to check out the newest member of the group with Gladio talking about things she normally cares about, like camping or how many fish Noctis caught in the marshes, but right now she finds herself lacking any desire to shower her brother with attention. Stealing a glance at the boy she manages to catch his eye and he beams, and it is the best thing she is seen which hurts because Iris loves no one more than Noctis and she knows she cannot have him. Her heart does not stop her from returning the smile, the boy looking away for a moment as he watches Prompto decimate him and Noctis in another round of poker to claim the bed for the night. She can tell he does not care, not to be caught giving a lady of high nobility a smile and a steamy glance that is really him just looking over at her in curiosity. Iris is going to take what she can get, and she likes those eyes with the strange glow looking at her shyly.
"What's his name?"
Gladio stops midsentence, "Vyv, he asked us to take some pictures."
"No, not his. I know Vyv, I'm talking about the guy with you." Gladio frowns looking over at the teenager with unrestrained disdain. She has even drawn the attention of Prompto and Noctis, Ignis stands in the doorway of the kitchenette eyeing Gladio waiting for Big Brother Mode to kick in. It is a slow process at times. With Noctis it is quick, and he is even quicker to shut Iris down on any notions she has for their King, there is not much of a need with Prompto and for Ignis the need is nonexistent. This new kid sets them all on edge, Noctis stands as regal as he can muster in his pajamas an attempt to daunt Iris from the newcomer.
"We don't know his name."
Iris stands on her own, shoulders back in obvious defiance she has manifested over years due to Gladiolus's overbearing nature. Head high she steps forward leaving Gladio to clamber to his feet, stopping as she submits her hand to the boy. From the look on his face as he looks at the other for men waiting for someone to react to the hesitation, he gives in offering his own hand to the youngest of the Amicitia's he waits for someone to maim him.
Relief engulfs him and he stands properly taking her hand in his with a firm shake. The room is silent, the retinue watching the exchange some with finely concealed protectiveness (Noctis) and others ready to stop anything that may form be it by amputation or turning someone into a eunuch (Gladiolus) whichever is most painful. Eunuch it shall be, Gladio takes a step forward as the boy attempts to pull his hand away but Iris's grasp is tight, growing tighter, and she stares at him, through him as if frozen.
The boy looks to Noctis, brows joined in worry and the King and his friend move to try and separate them. "Iris, let him go!" Noctis tugs on the boys' arm, the boy pulling along as Prompto works on undoing her fingers which only wrap tighter.
"Iris" Gladio bellows, Noctis and the boy falling to the floor as Iris crumples silently into Prompto's arms, unaware of what she has done.
"It's been a while, hasn't it?" Iris groans, blinking slowly darkness ebbing as consciousness grabs hold of her.
"Where am I?"
"A place we can talk, without those boys." Sudden happiness washed over Iris, an odd feeling as she has not been given any answer to what is going on, whether she is dreaming, or she is been taken.
"Where's Gladdy?" Iris rolls onto her side a field of yellow and white lilies coming into view as she pushes off the soft earth below her. The field goes on forever it seems a beautiful sight that sends her heart racing with a strange mix of joy and painful longing.
"He's fine. I just, I wanted to talk to you."
"And who are you?" Iris looks to her sides before turning where a woman with long black hair sits, deep honeyed eyes looking up at her. The woman smiles and she is so familiar, Iris knows she has seen it before. In the pictures of her mother, father, and Gladiolus, in the wedding album that is covered in fine dust. In the mirror as she readies herself every morning as she whispers how she much she loves herself, a ritual to face the other students in school. "My mother?"
"What" the woman laughs, it is soft, airy and Iris can only describe it to being as beautiful as she is. "No, I'm…a friend."
Iris lifts a skeptical brow, "a friend?"
"Yes, odd isn't it. Like a spirit guide." She pushes off the ground dusting her hands on her shorts.
"How?" Iris shifts from one leg to the other, "how are you here?"
"An awakening. I felt him, a piece of my past life."
"Um, the only new person I've met, I don't know his name."
"Zack," the woman stepped closure, Iris took measured steps back. "I'm not going to hurt you." The woman stops, hands held up, "I will be here, waiting. Just do not rush looking for answers to all those questions, all right?"
"Questions?" Iris shakes her head, "I don't…hey. Where'd you go? What's your name?"
The flowers rustle a weather anomaly Iris deems odd in the fog-shrouded field. The answer never comes, and she is left alone in this astral plane of existence. Despondently Iris lowers herself to the ground, legs bent under here. Even in dreams, she is still a lady of House Amicitia.
"What the fuck happened?" Gladio stands at the foot of one of the beds, glaring at the teen who shrugs. No one knows and until Iris is awake the tension grows. "Whatever, my sister better not be dead." In the next bed over, Noctis has already dozed off, pillows covering his head as Prompto slouches beside his friend playing a final round of Kings Knight before calling it quits.
"Why don't we inform Jarred and move her to her own room? It's possible she merely fainted Gladio, the stress of everything that has happened possibly hit her at once."
"You could be right Ignis." Gladio runs a hand down his face," you get Jarred, then I'll take Iris to her room."
"Alright." Gladiolus frowns as he looks at the teen, Ignis passing behind them. Prompto for the first time in an hour looks up at the sound of the door closing.
"Hey, I don't think he really did anything."
"What do you know?"
Prompto shrugs rolling over and pulling the covers up over himself as he plugs his mobile in. "Night."
Noctis frowns looking down at the girl from Galdin Quay, she is been tending to the lilies in this field for however long he has been standing behind her, his watch is not working stuck at 19:56, a few minutes after he had laid down. So he is completely lost to what the real time is, and this girl has proven herself useless when it comes to offering information.
Finally, Noctis squats in front of her, taking his hand in hers, "look, Miss." She turns to look up at him, softly smiling like it is perfectly normal for Noctis to hold her hand. It is a bit disturbing how she just lets him. Most of the women he knows has interacted with, would retaliate. Even a King could be tried for unwanted advances. But this girl just smiles and sits back on the heels of her boots. "As nice as those flowers are, I really need to talk to you."
"Oh, well then, go on Noctis." She pulls her hand away and returns to the flowers. "I know you have many questions. You're horrible at hiding your curiosity." Noctis looks to the side, face blank. "And emotions. Anyways, you have a question that is most pressing. That young man, right?"
"Yeah. How'd you know?"
She laughs and pets his knees, rich brown dirt staining his knee, "I know everything. Like his name is Zack, and he is very adapted with buster type swords. Like those hulking blades, the Shield uses. I think he'll be of significant use to you soon."
"He's a kid."
"So are you. You know nothing of this world. I beg that you let him stay with you, don't leave him with the girl."
"Why shouldn't I?"
"The ocean ebbs with the changing of the moon." Noctis shakes his head as the woman stands over him, "one day you will understand, may you not know the bonds that wish to claim you. Now, in time the other questions will be answered." Her touch is soft as she steps past. For a moment Noctis believes he is alone left to his thoughts in the silent dreamscape as a strange breeze blows through the field. One that should not exist in such a place. "Here, I understand that communication is key." He jumps slightly looking upwards at the woman and her peace offering. A single pink lily. "It's a gift, for him. Please," Noctis takes the flower turning it between his fingers as he inspects it, "take care dear Noctis. May this Star grant you her guidance." As Noctis turns his head up, the woman is gone, the wind picking up as he stands, the flower fluttering in his grip.
"Noct! Oh my gosh, why are you here!" Iris, Noctis turns finding her sitting in the distance voice shocked that he too is in this strange field. Iris is an odd but more than welcomed sight in this place. She struggles to get up, but when he is on her feet, she runs towards him, the flowers dull as Iris stops before him. "I thought I was alone."
"I would never leave you alone." His smile is genuine, the first she has seen in months if not years since his father started the descent to ill health. In this field she feels the change, the pressures of life or the Empire and the loss of their families is not as strong. Everything intermixes till all that is left is the lost five-year-old girl who went exploring on her own and the chivalrous prince that came to save her. "Is that a promise?"
"Yeah, I promise."
FYI: Outside of writing I do have a life (family, school a job) I do this because I enjoy writing. If I am not posting regularily it is due to life outside of the fandom. I have not dropped my stories, some times thsoe plot bunnies decide to take a break. I hope you all understand this and are willing to wait for this story to be finished and many of the others that are still not done. Also, if you have already commented on a chapter and want to say somethign about one of the new ones, jsut send me a PM or go to AO3, I'm on there as well under RikkuShinra.