Life 42: Omen Mortis
"Cid, consider the Imperials dealt with." Ignis said softly as we reached the garage, Prompto being surprisingly quiet as we walked back to the station in the dark, cutting down any daemon that crossed our path with ease.
Cid merely sat in a chair outside the garage, a troubled look on his face as he nodded to us, a radio at his side as he reached down to it.
"You'll want to hear this." Cid said in return as he turned the radio on, only for a series of beeps to play out and an announcer begin to speak.
"Attention to all citizens of Duscae and its neighboring region, criminals walk among you. Noctis Lucis Caelum and his allies, have escaped Imperial Justice after they disrupted the Peace Treaty between Lucis and Nielfheim in an attempt to kill the Chancellor and causing the death of King Regis of Lucis.
They are traitors, not just to the Empire, but to their own Kingdom. If you encounter them, alert the Empire immediately."
Silence fell over us then, as we took in the news.
We were wanted by the Empire, even more than we had been before, but now they aimed to turn my own Kingdom against us… Blaming me not only for their disruption of the ceremony, but also for my father's death.
Gladio looked downright murderous then as he looked away, even Ignis having to take several breathes to maintain his calm.
"There's more boys. Your faces are plastered across Duscae, you four are the Empire's most wanted." Cid said with a chuckle then, tossing a stack of wanted posters at our feet.
There we were, our names, our ages, and even the speculation that we were traveling through Duscae.
However, I saw all of this differently.
"You know, it says a lot about how much they fear us, that they're trying to get the people to help them find us." I said with a rare smile, bringing a bit of levity back to the group after such dark days.
"That's the spirit Noct!" Prompto exclaimed as Cid drew our attention once more, us falling silent as he did.
"Now then, I done what I can for the Regalia, but we need those parts. Cindy had a guy bringing them to Duscae, but he got caught in an Imp ambush." Cid said as he pulled free a folded map from his chair, the map of the land clear to see from it.
"On that map, you'll see where I marked the last place we heard from the courier. I need you boys to head that way and track him down, kill some Imps, and get those parts."
However, looking at the map, there was no way we were getting there on foot, but Cid seemed to expect that as he held out a pair of keys to Ignis, who gladly accepted.
"There's my old truck out back, should take you boys there and back." Cid said as we got a look at the rusted up truck, the cab of it only fitting two, the others would have to ride in the back…
"Dibs on passenger." I said as soon as I saw it, Prompto and Gladio gave me looks of hate and horror as I just smiled.
Ignis tried to keep his smile to himself as he just led the way to the truck, though it fell a little as he realized the time.
It was night, when the daemons ran free over the land.
"Noct, I know this is important, but I want to remind you that the roads will be perilous at night." Ignis said in warning as he caught my shoulder, my only response being a nod in return.
"If you're worried Iggie, I'll take the wheel." I offered in turn, which had Ignis worried by the look on his face, but he merely shrugged as he climbed in beside me, the open road before me.
"Drive carefully, alright Noct?" Prompto said from the back, his palms sternly against the back as the two of them fought to hold on, my eyes adjusting to the dark around us.
We were making good time overall, even though Ignis eventually took the wheel when my eyes started to droop, my head leaning against the window as we flew past the mountains.
I hadn't asked Cid how far out it really was, but Ignis insisted he was following the map, but I swore it had looked closer on paper.
Despite my exhaustion, Gladio stayed wide awake, constantly scanning the night for enemies.
Thankfully, we had barely found any daemons, most of them scattering away from the loud rumble of the truck.
However, something was definitely off when we reached an Imperial checkpoint, and found it empty.
We had seen and cleared out a few on our time in Duscae, having nothing better to do than fight back, but there had always been Magitek troopers manning the posts, even in the dead of night they would defend their outposts.
Yet, not a single soul in sight as we drew further past the checkpoint and ever closer to the last location the courier had checked in from.
"Ignis, something isn't right." Gladio growled from the back as I could only agree, now as alert as my companions as Ignis slowed the truck down.
"Agreed, but we have arrived at the spot Cid mentioned. Perhaps it will be better to proceed on foot?" Ignis suggested, which to a part of me sounded like a terrible idea, but I did consider that we can't really fight inside a pick up truck…
And it was then, that we climbed out of the truck and set off into the dark, our tactical flashlights providing the only light in the empty Imperial base.
It was odd, as you'd assume they'd have at least some lights on, even emergency lights if something had gone wrong, and yet… it was completely silent, and the base was drowned in darkness.
I knew not what had happened here, but I could see the spirits of the fallen Imperials rising from the ground, many of them disbelieving of their fates, or wishing they'd had more time.
We simply walked past them, our footsteps echoing like gunshots in the silence as we passed barrack after barrack, all devoid of their Imperial residents.
And yet, despite all the appearance that we were alone, I knew that we weren't.
I felt the eyes on our backs as we moved forward, only to notice one of our lights dimming. Turning, I saw Prompto tapping his flashlight in confusion.
"I could have sworn I put fresh batteries in this morning…" He said with a furrow of his brows, only for the light to completely turn off to his confusion.
"That's weird, it was-" Prompto began to say, likely trying to justify his broken flashlight, and yet… before our very eyes, Prompto was gone, and all that remained was his guns resting on the ground.
"Prompto!" Gladio called out into the night as I drew my blade, the three of us falling back to back as we surveyed the darkened base around us, our breathing heavy as we looked for whatever had taken him, or for any trace of where he had gone.
"Face us, whatever you are! No more hiding!" I called out into the night, my nerves getting to me as I swore I felt a breath on the back of my neck, my free hand flying to rub it.
And yet, nothing came forward, and Ignis looked down in resignation.
His own light had begun to falter, the light waning as he locked eyes with me then.
"I will find Prompto, be careful Noct." He said to me with a comforting look as his flashlight gave out, and he was gone as surely as an illusion, his daggers falling to the ground.
Gladio growled then, his sword slicing through the air around us, almost as if there were spirits to be purged, only for his rage to distract him from what only I noticed.
Gladio's light faded as well, and as soon as I noticed, he was gone.
I was alone in the dark.
"Lumos Maxima." I called out then with no fear of my companions noticing, only for my spell to do nothing at all. I felt the spell work, felt the rush of magic through my veins and my spell materialized into the air, and yet… the dark persisted.
Where there should have been a blazing sun, was utter emptiness.
"You want me then? It's obvious you do, otherwise I wouldn't be here, you would have taken me too." I said aloud then, my eyes shifting around as I saw… something moving through what little light the moon provided.
I had never seen something like it before, slender yet amorphous. Chiseled, yet transparent.
It was like a spirit, but with some form of being latched onto it. A parasite feeding off a ghost, one could call it.
However, I could feel the Darkness radiating off of it, the Starscourge they called it in this world.
I felt… rage, and a lust for revenge that I could never even imagine, overriding all logic in my mind and driving me forward, a desire to destroy everything and everyone around me.
I saw within my mind, my bloodied form striding forward in the night, my blade sinking through Prompto's skull, a large axe cleaving Ignis in two, and finally a katana being used to chop Gladio to pieces until nothing remained but a crimson mist.
Then, I stood before a tide of shadows, my eyes glowing an unsettling amber, as it all went dark once more, a flame burning in the gloom.
I felt Prompto's blood dripping from my body, the remains of Gladio's flesh on my fingers as it sank under my nails, the lenses of Ignis' glasses shattered under my shoe.
My hair was unruly and long as it shrouded my view of the world, a jet black cloud obscuring my vision, and then… it was gone.
I was alone once more in the dark, my hands clean but my mind aware of the sins I had seen, but I saw another being then.
Before me stood that same girl from the treaty ceremony, Stella, her form glowing golden in the night, the only light I could see, almost… blinding.
"Why're you doing this..?" I asked aloud, my voice coming out raspy and weak as my mind flashed through images of carnage and debauchery, of a Noctis that burned the world from one end to the other.
And yet, she merely smiled at me, that same grin she had worn at the observation deck, just before the Empire had broken in.
"Because you deserve it."
"Noct, you awake buddy?" Prompto's voice said aloud, waking me in a fit as I jumped in place, the morning light streaming through the windshield as Ignis spared a glance at me from behind the wheel.
"A heavy sleeper as always Noct." Ignis said with a grin as he focused on the road once more, Prompto leaning through the cab window as he looked at me in worry.
"You look kinda freaked out Noct. Bad dream?" He asked me, of which I could only nod and try to forget the image of his face with my blade impaled through it.
I doubt I ever would.
"Yeah, something like that Prompto…" I muttered as Gladio knocked against the top of the cab, and we turned to see him looking impatient.
"We almost there Iggie? Seems like we've been driving for ages." He said with no small amount of frustration, as the roads weren't exactly made for travel. We were hitting more bumps in the road than there should possibly be.
"The map said that we're closing in, be on your guard, the base will no doubt be crawling with Imperials." Ignis said as I shook off the remains of my dream, or more… vision, and tried not to think about what had come before.
Thankfully, it seemed not to be a repeat of before, as rather than a site of some unforeseen disaster, the morning light shined on a busy Imperial base, Magitek soldiers running back and forth from checkpoint to checkpoint.
Even something similar to a Metal Gear running around…
We had stopped the loud truck some distance away and found a cliff face overlooking the base, an almost eagle eye view before us.
"What's the plan Ignis?" I asked the man as he looked towards the barracks, where we had gone before, only for us to catch sight of a young man chained to a post outside it.
From his elegant uniform that looked more fitting on a noble than on a courier, we had found our missing delivery.
"We must rescue the courier, but I do not see where they could be keeping the parts for the Regalia. We may have to search for them." Ignis said with a critical tone, but I could already see the smile on Gladio's face growing.
"And we can kill some Imps while we're at it!"
"Yes, killing Imperials does fit in the schedule." Ignis said with a scoff as he looked back towards me, only to be surprised to find thin air.
Looking back at the camp, I waved at them from above the barracks, my form highlighted against the morning sun as I activated my Lucian earpiece.
"What're you guys waiting for?"
With no further delay, Gladio gave out a war cry as he jumped from the cliff and into the base, his sword finding a landing in a poor Magitek trooper's back.
Ignis only sighed as he was quick to follow, Prompto at his heels.
I had already begun to tear through the troopers, ignoring the feeling growing in my chest with each defeat.
I enjoyed this, killing and tearing my enemies apart.
It felt… good as I separated a trooper from his head, his body falling to the ground as I stared at it.
Flashes of my vision flew through my mind, along with memories of all I had done in my lives thus far.
The atrocities I had committed, the wrongs I had wrought. And yet, as I was at my most bleak, I remembered why I did this all.
The good I had done, the redemption I had fought for, the people that I fought for.
Ignis with his love of cooking and his disdain for anything that would soil his fine clothing, Gladio with his love of cheesy romance novels and anything to do with a cup of noodles, and even Prompto's naivety and love for photography and the happiness he felt for us all to be together.
No matter what had happened, I knew it wouldn't define me, or us.
And as I cut another trooper down, and Ignis freed the courier, I knew that I wouldn't fall to the dark again.
That corruption would no longer flow through my veins.
I had more to fight for than I had to kill for.
"Julien, there you are! We been waiting for ya!" Cindy said in greeting as we pulled up to the station, the courier Julien having rode in between Gladio and I, Prompto taking passenger for the trip back.
I had to give the man credit, he really tried not to stare at Cindy's chest, and actually managed to maintain his composure.
"Well, things were going well enough, until I tried to pass an Imperial checkpoint. I was flagged for 'interest' and they kept me prisoner!" Julien near ranted as I gestured the man over to the diner, a suggestion he took with ease as he walked off, likely to find a drink.
Prompto eagerly and proudly presented Cindy with the packages then, all parts and replacements for the Regalia, and she took it so excitedly you'd think it were drugs.
"About time! I can't wait!" She cried out in joy then, almost running back into the garage with the parts in hand, no doubt eager to finish work on the Regalia.
I didn't really share her excitement, as I hadn't gotten any sleep since before the assault, and my senses were waning, as were our funds.
Sadly, we had exhausted the last of our resources on paying for the repairs and food, so we couldn't afford another night in the trailer, but Gladio held an answer to our issue.
"We should go camping! I found some supplies in the trunk of the Regalia, we got plenty to hold us over!" He called like a child, and I really felt bad to reject him. I remembered that Gladio was a huge fan of the outdoors and an even bigger fan of living among nature.
Provided he could take his phone with him.
"A night under the stars, not a bad suggestion." Ignis said with a calculating look as Prompto looked a bit sad. Evidently he didn't share Gladio's love of the outdoors.
"I remember seeing a campsite on our way to the station, shouldn't be too far out." I offered as Gladio took that as the proof that we should go camping, and I just helped him and Prompto carry some of what we had scavenged from the trunk before Cindy's flurry of repairs, and set off for the campsite.
I couldn't remember the last time I had been camping, let alone under such a stunning sky of that of Eos', and for once I couldn't wait.
This trip of ours may have begun with horror and injustice, and it continued further along that road, but I was starting to enjoy my time in their company.
I was even enjoying myself, when we weren't confronted with horrific beings that would rather steal our lives than our hearts.
And yet, as I lay below the stars, my friends all wrapped up in their tents, I felt an ache in my chest.
It wasn't painful, more… lingering.
Something was missing, and it wasn't my lack of a soul. Which should concern me a lot more than it actually does…
It felt like- like someone wanted to talk to me.
Before I could even react, before me now sat a small dog, it's fur black and grey, a book carried in its mouth firmly.
Umbra, I recalled, was it's name. One of Lunafreya's two dogs, and I found myself remembering the memories Noctis held of her, of a young girl lonely and afraid, and a boy sad and lost, but willing to aid another in their grief.
When Tenebrae had been invaded, Regis had taken Noctis back into the protection of Insomnia, but Luna had made Noctis promise to keep in contact through a journal shared between them, a bond having formed between them.
"Hello Umbra." I muttered aloud then, but the dog merely gave me a confused look, like… it didn't recognize me.
However before I could figure it out, the dog walked closer and relinquished the book to me with some hesitation.
With it in hand, I took notice of a marked page, and flipped to it with ease, a finely scripted message clear to see.
"Big Brother, hope you're well. I've been getting into gardening lately, but I regret to inform you, I've been kidnapped."