"Someone will learn the truth eventually. They'll find me." The voice was not as unwavering as it once had been. The year spent in this prison slowly destroying that once steadfast belief. The man really said it aloud to try and convince himself that it would surely happen.
"It would be very difficult. I have you hidden away far too well. No one but I has access to this place... And who would know to look for you?" A dark haired man responded like he had said something like this many times before. And he had. He sat outside the man's prison, albeit one furnished rather comfortably for a prisoner. It was more akin to an apartment that any cell.
There was a bathroom, kitchen, living room, bedroom, a study overflowing with books and even a room containing an assortment of exercise equipment. The kitchen had no stove, but most other electronic gadgets were there. The living room was missing one wall and instead had bars installed to keep the imprisoned inside. There were no windows to be seen, all light coming from artificial lights. The walls of the apartment and outside room were made of a cold, shiny metal that was impossible to break through.
Three MTs stood at attention outside the cell, along the far wall. Their gazes were continuously focused on the prison at all hours of the day. Two cameras situated on either corner also monitored the imprisoned as well. The soft humming of several machines blocking access to the Armiger and innate magics was audible, though the confined man was ignorant of that purpose.
"Even well laid plans will one day fall apart. You can't keep that act up forever." The imprisoned man insisted, moving forward to grip the bars of his prison that separated the two men. His red-violet hair fell over his eyes. The mechanical collar, that subdued even the powers of the Starscourge in its host and kept track of its owner, around his neck glinted in the artificial light of the room. It could even shock and incapacitate the wearer if needed.
"Hmm? I do believe I can. And I will." The dark haired man responded, unconcerned. He smirked at the one locked up. The sight of that confidant expression made the prisoner furious.
"Ardyn, you son of a bitch! Let me out of here!" Noctis Lucis Caelum, in a body not his own, finally snapped and demanded. He hated this body, it was too big, too unfamiliar, too tainted. He could feel the Starscourge underneath his skin. He felt sick all the time. It was much worse than what he felt as a child after he had been infected by the daemon Marilith. How had this man survived like this? How was Noctis surviving?
"It is always strange to see such vulgar words come out of my own mouth." Ardyn, in Noctis's body, chuckled.
"Fix this!" Noctis demanded, even knowing his demands were useless. "Switch us back!"
"I don't believe I will. And you have no means to make me." Ardyn responded lightly. "I am greatly enjoying what should have been mine from the beginning."
Noctis scoffed. He opened his mouth to speak when Ardyn cut him off.
"Ah, I am not done there, dear boy. It really isn't just because of my own desires that I refuse. I wholeheartedly wish to make sure this world thrives, with me as King."
Noctis remained silent, knowing where the conversation was heading. Where it had gone many times. It always made him feel such anger. Such despair.
"I've mentioned before, but your father has been quite proud as of late. Seeing his son grow and mature enough that he has finally taken up his responsibilities as Crown Prince. He's even gifted me this." Ardyn chuckled, slipping something out of his pocket to show the imprisoned man.
Noctis gasped, his unfamiliar hands tightening on the bars in his shock. He quickly realized what he was doing and relaxed his grip, not wanting to set off the anti-escape system again. It had taken many painful and humiliating experiences to learn he could not force or break the bars. They would react to his attempt with just a severe shock if he was lucky. If not, the MTs outside would join in afterwards and shoot him with whatever they hand in hand. Tasers, stun guns and even tranquilizers, those metal abominations had everything they needed to subdue him. The collar around his neck could even do the job if needed. Even the room itself could release a gas that could knock him out in less than a minute. Noctis had already experienced this many times, from trying to escape or from not listening to Ardyn.
Noctis looked at the item in Ardyn's hand again. It was the crown. His father had given that man the symbol of the King of Lucis. After little more than a year of this impostor taking over his body?
"He refuses to take off the Ring, allowing himself to continue that burden. But I do not mind. It will one day be mine, with a little patience. Until then, Regis has shown me that he trusts me to take his place should anything befall him." Ardyn smiled at Noctis. The former Prince flinched at his last words, eyes widening. Seeing this, Ardyn added. "Oh, you do think the worst of me. I will not harm him."
"I wonder why I'd think that." Noctis spat, anger, jealousy and the beginning of despair raging within him. "It's not like you haven't done anything wrong like lock me up for over a year, right?"
Ardyn rolled his eyes and continued talking as if he hadn't heard that response.
"Even the Council that once thought you so useless has been on my side. They've been all but singing my praises. As you've likely seen, I've single handedly stopped the war with Niflheim, freeing both Accordo and Tenebrae from their grasp and saving the Oracle from the enemy. The young woman has been rather distraught with the loss of her canine companions, her guardian and even the Gods she held in such high regard. I just couldn't stop Niflheim before they murdered the physical forms of every Astral save Bahamut. I've also-"
"Shut up." Noctis growled. He didn't want to hear this. He already knew this from watching the news on the television in the living room. It stung worse to hear it from that man's mouth. From his own mouth. With his own voice.
"Why? Don't you wish to know how well I've been doing in your body?" Ardyn smirked once again. Noctis clenched his teeth at the sight, wanting nothing more than to be able to smack that look off of that face. Ardyn continued to speak as Noctis seethed in his anger. "Ignis has been very pleased with you. He's declared that I will make a fine King, one to be remembered for the ages. Gladio has been boasting about you to both his father and Cor, informing them of how much you've improved and how far you've come from the spoiled Prince you had once been. He's delighted to be your Shield. All three of those men are very impressed with you. Even your dear friend Prompto has been very ecstatic. He's very happy you've been encouraging him in his dream of becoming a photographer. He was so very grateful when he proclaimed me the 'very best friend anyone could have asked for'."
Noctis shut his eyes as Ardyn spoke. That wasn't Noctis they were all proud of. Why couldn't they see that?
"Would you really spoil all of that?" Ardyn asked when he received no response. "You could have never brought them the same joy I have. The boy returning where there was once a man would just be a disappointment."
Noctis opened his eyes but just them to the floor, still unable to speak. The news showed how well 'Noctis' had done. For everyone. And no one had questioned any of it. Or saw that something strange was going on. Everyone one loved him.
"And I believe you should know, even the almighty Bahamut has agreed not to interfere in this. As long as the Darkness is cleansed, he will play along even if he abhors me so. It's rather amusing." Ardyn chuckled.
Noctis started. Bahamut had spoken to Ardyn? And… Even he would leave him here? What about the Prophecy? Wasn't Noctis the Chosen King who would banish the Darkness?
As if reading his thoughts, Ardyn said. "You are still unaware of the role you were once set to play. I shall reveal that to you... In time. Do not worry over it any longer as it is now mine."
"... So they don't need me?" Noctis asked, his voice sounding pathetic even to his own ears.
"No, you poor child. You are no longer needed. I am the Chosen now. I am a better heir, a better son, and will soon be a better King, than you could have ever been. You father loves me. Your friends love me. Your people love me. The Gods will even stand at my side as they have no other option. I will be King, one revered by the world over. You could have never accomplished this." Ardyn announced. "Wouldn't you agree?"
Ardyn could see the telltale glistening of Noctis's eyes. What had once been his own eyes. Both men were silent for some time, the humming of machinery the only sound in the room.
Noctis spent the silence thinking of how things came to be this way. He should have realized something was off. He had noticed strange incidents before he came to be imprisoned.
First, an entire wing of the Citadel had been destroyed by a fire. The buildings had been rebuilt quickly but all the workers had been killed in various accidents not very long afterwards. It had been strange. The citizens had begun rumors that it was retribution from the Gods because the builders had offended them in some way.
After that, the Noctis had been getting the feeling he was being watched, something he felt often as the heir of Lucis, but nothing had felt as consistent or as sinister as this. He kept an eye out and noticed how certain people would look at him, far more than was comfortable and far more often than normal.
From a boy sitting at the arcade, staring not at the game Noctis and Prompto were playing but at the former Prince himself for their entire stay. To a random glaive that would just happen to be around wherever Noctis wandered in the Citadel. Not always the same person but it was odd that he was being watched so closely in his own home. Even the housekeeper, who seemed to take far too long while in his room and asked him far too many questions. The elderly man had been too eager, putting Noctis ill at ease whenever he dropped by his room.
Many people in his life had acted odd that year, not remembering conversations or not remembering places Noctis was sure he saw them at. The former Prince remembered seeing one of his father's glaives at a party at the Citadel. The next time he saw him, Noctis asked how he enjoyed it. The man had been puzzled, responding that Noctis must be confusing him for someone else as he had not been on duty that day. But Noctis was certain that it was the same man.
Things like that didn't happen often enough for Noctis to become concerned. The young man really did believe stress was getting to him at the time. He had moved back into the Citadel after finishing school, trying his best to be the Prince everyone wanted him to be.
Now looking back on his experiences, Noctis wondered how many of these people had been Ardyn? Watching him, speaking with him, learning more about him. Just so he could become him. It was terrifying to realize the extent of what Ardyn was capable of, of what he had planned, of what he had executed so successfully.
The young man hadn't thought anything wrong in his life, not until he ate dinner alone in his room one night. It didn't take long for whatever drugs laced in his meal to kick in. There wasn't even a chance to call for help and Noctis only had time to glimpse someone else in his room before everything went dark. When the young man next awoke, it was in this prison with his own body standing outside.
Ardyn had some strange power to take on the forms of others, something it seemed like he no longer could do in Noctis's body. Noctis could never call upon any sort of magic in Ardyn's body so it must have been some sort of technology from Niflheim, he surmised. It seemed like Ardyn's former body was just a regular human, albeit one heavily infected by the Starscourge. Sometimes, on really bad days or when Noctis was fairly upset or angry, a black sludge would begin to seep out of him. It trickled out from his eyes, ears, mouth and nose. Noctis had been horrified when he realized it was the Scourge.
Ardyn was right that no one would be looking for Noctis. Because no one knew that he was missing at this time. That was Ardyn. He had once been the Chancellor of Niflheim but was deemed MIA the day after Noctis found himself in this prison. But that news was nothing the people of Lucis cared about. What they cared about was 'Noctis', and the growth he slowly began to show after that. It seemed like Ardyn took to the public like Noctis never could.
Several months after the Chancellor's disappearance, both the Emperor Ledolas and Verstael Besithia of Niflheim were said to have gone insane. Both taking their army, the humans and Magitek, to defeat the slumbering Gods.
They succeeded in taking down Titan, Ramuh, and even Leviathan in the depths of the ocean. Shiva had already been defeated years ago, but they made sure to destroy her frozen corpse on their way to face the other Gods. In the end, the Gods had been defeated, even as they awoke and tried to fight back, but Niflheim's massive army had been reduced to almost nothing.
Afterwards, both Ledolas and Verstael had completely disappeared, leaving their nation in chaos. Niflheim had been far easier to handle after that. And 'Noctis' had been the one to deal with them in a blaze of glory. And from there, he had done so much more.
The world now loved the heir of Lucis.
… And it hurt to know that it wasn't really him. That Ardyn was right to say that Noctis would have never been capable of it. He was right to say his friends and family would be disappointed if they were to switch back.
"... I hate it here. I can't stand it." Noctis finally spoke, eyes closed and his head now pressing against the bars. He didn't ask for his body back. He had felt it for a while that maybe Ardyn was right. "I just want out. Can you just let me out of here?"
The former Prince wasn't exactly sure who Ardyn was. Or what technology he used to be able to switch bodies with another man. But it seemed like he wanted to do good... Even if the means to be able to do that had been to imprison someone else.
All Noctis could glean from what Ardyn sometimes revealed was that he had been infected by the Starscourge, something that Noctis now was. That he believed the throne of Lucis was owed to him, and that was one of the reasons why he had done this. That he seemed to know way more about the past and about the bloodline of Lucis than anyone should. That he held no love of the Gods. And that he knew about the Prophecy and even hinted about knowing something important Noctis didn't.
But it was beginning to feel as if none of that mattered. Ardyn had swore that he would leave Eos a better place. Everything he'd done of the news showed that. Maybe it was right for him to stay as the Prince. And one day the King.
But Noctis still wanted out. The year in this place had been dreadful, even if he lived far more comfortably than he felt he deserved for being a nobody.
"Nothing I can do for that, my boy. Even if I believed you wouldn't try to run back to your friends and family, your body is a walking disaster. You'd put my people at risk by being allowed to roam about." Ardyn denied him.
"And whose fault is that? I didn't ask for this!" Noctis tried to argue, even knowing it was futile.
"Neither did I. I just had the means to take myself out of that situation."
"At my expense."
"Do not worry. Your freedom will come one day." Ardyn promised as if it made everything better. "In the meantime, I will return later with some of our favorite dishes. I haven't dined with you in some time. I do have some rather interesting stories to tell of our friends."
Noctis sighed and slowly nodded his head in agreement. He hated him but… Even if it was Ardyn, someone to talk to was nicer than the silence. Ardyn didn't always try to hurt him emotionally like he had today, sometimes he really was okay to talk to. And the former Prince was desperate for any scrap of information he could get about his friends and family.
"Oh, and I shall endeavor to bring some more of those comics and video games you seemed to enjoy so much." The dark haired man stated. "You really should learn to appreciate your circumstances. You stay here is not nearly as miserable as you make it out to be."
"... Right." Noctis knew it could have been worse. He could have been killed, or just imprisoned in an actual cell for the rest of his life. Noctis was living rather comfortably, all things considered. And his father was alright. His friends were alright. His Kingdom was thriving. The world was safe.
But Noctis just couldn't take being in here. With no one but Ardyn to talk to when he decided to visit. Usually it was just the MTs he saw all day. The three outside his cell and a fourth that would bring him food or other amenities. There was no one else. It was maddening. He craved the company of others. He wanted his friends. He wanted his dad. Even Ardyn was better than the isolation!
"Know that what you do here is for the good of the people." Ardyn reminded, as he stood up to leave. "I will lead them to salvation, while you can stay here knowing you allowed them that future by resigning yourself to this."
The Prince of Lucis didn't wait for an answer, leaving the prisoner behind. He hummed a familiar victory tune to himself as he made his way above ground. He traveled through several recently built passages that only he knew of, as anyone else with that knowledge had unfortunately expired. As he stepped into the bright sunlight of the Citadel, 'Noctis' smiled.
Another idea I had. Maybe I'll write something that doesn't leave Noctis in a bad situation next time. ;p
Dialogue is probably a bit off but I did my best! Thanks for reading!