The sun was shining down brightly across the green landscape. Flowers bloomed, birds soared in the sky and Noctis lay in the lush grass underneath the shade of a tree as he lazed about on such a beautiful day. The dark-haired man glanced off to his side and saw Prompto taking pictures of their chocobos. He ran around their four yellow mounts attempting to get the perfect shot of them.
Off on Noctis's other side, Gladio and Ignis were reading underneath the shade of another tree. The former held in his hands some romance novel he picked up from a rest stop and the latter, a cookbook.
All was right in the world.
… Yet, despite the peace of his situation, Noctis found that he could not make himself relax. A nagging sensation at the back of his mind and a feeling of aching despair prevented that. His chest felt tight. The man attempted to bury the feelings so that he could allow himself a chance to enjoy the day.
Noctis closed his eyes tight, thinking only of this moment, and inhaled a deep breath. It stuttered however and the illusion shattered. The man could feel the world he so desperately wanted to cling to slip away.
What Noctis wanted most of all was to believe everything was alright. That this scenario here, where his friends were alive and the sun still shined, was reality. But his mind would not heed his desire. It would not allow him this fantasy.
The dark-haired man opened his eyes to the harsh reality of the world. There was no sun. There was no greenery. There were no friends. There was no hope.
And all of it was Noctis's fault.
The so-called Chosen had failed. He'd let everyone and everything down. He'd been nothing but a disappointment to all those that held faith in him. His father, his friends, Luna, everyone.
Noctis was Chosen of nothing, the world doomed thanks to his own pride and gullibility. He was heir to nothing, Insomnia was now just a ruin infested with Daemons. He was nothing, nothing but a complete and utter failure.
Noctis was unfit for the role of Chosen King. He'd allowed himself to be manipulated and fallen prey to every trick and illusion the Accursed used against him. Because of him, humanity, the Gods and the entirety of Eos were doomed to disaster. The world would stay in darkness forevermore. Only Daemons and those under Ardyn's thrall via the Starscourge would live on.
Ardyn, the Accursed, stood victorious. He was now King of this corrupted world of endless night and monsters.
Noctis's constant companions in this new Eos were his own guilt and despair. He understood well that this situation was entirely his fault. He allowed this. He even murdered his three dearest friends. The blood of Ignis, Prompto and Gladio was on his hands.
No, the man thought to himself. Not just them. The blood and life of every creature killed or turned into a Daemon was on his hands.
These thoughts remained on Noctis's mind constantly.
Noctis wandered the darkened world. He prayed to find something, anything, anyone... But he believed it was far too late for that.
Were there even any humans free of the Starscourge left?
Noctis was unsure. Everyone in Lestallum who had not been killed outright fled after Noctis was infected. Ardyn used his army of Daemons to overrun the final stronghold of humanity. The failed savior remembered the screams of Lestallum's citizens as he was forced to bear witness to the massacre. The memories of that time were hazy, Noctis's mind having given in to his despair, but he vividly recalled the screaming of the humans, the growls and roars of the Daemons and Ardyn's triumphant laughter.
Since that day, the failed Chosen had not glimpsed hide nor hair of anyone else. It had been a long time, years probably. The man was unsure as he did not have any means to tell the passage of time. He had also not been in the right state to really care. Slowly though, his mind once again recovered enough that he was able to find the strength to leave Ardyn.
The Accursed allowed it, maybe wanting Noctis to witness for himself that there was nothing left to save.
During his travels, all Noctis met with were Daemons and his own hallucinations. When he encountered the Daemons, the man could only wonder if he had known the person this monster used to be. Was that Iris? Cor? Talcott? Was it one of the many other souls he'd known in Lestallum? The woman that treated his wounds after battling Daemons on the outskirts of the city? The weapons vendor that went on and on about his two little children? The sweet kid who once told Noctis she wanted to grow up and be a brave hero like him?
Noctis could no longer bring himself to raise a hand against the Daemons. It did not matter anyway. Who was he trying to save by eradicating them? Humanity was likely extinct. This was a world of monsters now. There was no one left to save, just like Ardyn stated.
The hallucinations happened frequently and Noctis usually knew them for what they were. Sometimes his friends visited him. Other times, his father or Luna. Sometimes it was one of the countless others he knew in his former life. On occasion, Noctis even saw the sun or the world vibrant and full of life once more.
The encounters were not always pleasant. Frequently, Noctis's hallucinations blamed him. Everyone he knew screamed at how much of a failure and disappointment he was. How their fates and the state of Eos was his fault. The man knew this to be true but it always hurt regardless.
But other times, the encounters were not so unpleasant. Noctis would be walking along and hear Prompto's voice telling him about a recent picture he took. He would be resting on the ground and hear Gladio reading aloud the most racy parts of his romance novel just to watch him blush. He'd be lost in his thought and hear Ignis reprimanding him about losing focus.
Occasionally, Noctis could have conversations with his hallucinations. He was able to tell his dad how much he loved him. Something he should have done long before when he was still alive. Luna spoke of her gardens, something she had always been proud of as she alone tended to them. Noctis enjoyed hearing her voice as she explained what kinds of flowers she grew and how to care for them. Rarely, the hallucination would encompass all of the man's senses and he could pretend the world was alright, with his friends and family by his side.
But every time he tried to accept the fantasy in entirety, wishing to lose his mind to it, Noctis was forced to recall the memories of what he'd done.
The coppery taste of blood. Prompto. The crack of splitting bone. Gladio. The stench of burning flesh. Ignis.
And then finally the breaking of his own will he realized the extent of his ineptitude. Then re-emerged the crushing weight of guilt. The inability to breathe with ease.
And so Noctis would continue to wander.
Occasionally Ardyn visited the failed King, letting him know what he'd been up to in the meantime.
Shiva had fallen, her Messenger form now corrupted. Ardyn claimed he was generous in that he'd allowed Shiva and Ifrit to reunite. He explained they'd once been lovers.
Ramuh was next, having been caught as he tried to end the Accursed by himself. Titan too, just a short time later as he tried to free his brethren from Ardyn's grasp. Even Leviathan in her vast ocean had not been safe, having eventually been corrupted as well.
All of these Gods had fallen victim to the Starscourge. Ardyn came to show them off to Noctis whenever he acquired another. The man enjoyed ordering them to attack their Chosen.
Noctis always felt he could see the anger and disappointment of the Astrals directed at him. He felt even though they were being controlled that they must feel satisfaction in delivering punishment to the one that failed them. The dark-haired man rarely fought back. He felt he deserved their ire.
Only Bahamut remained free from Ardyn and the Starscourge. The Draconian fled the embrace of the Crystal as it still lay in Ardyn's clutches. The Astral now hid himself somewhere on Eos.
Ardyn hunted the Bladekeeper, the rest of the enslaved Hexathon in tow. It was only a matter of time until he was found.
In the meantime, Noctis still continued his wandering. He met no humans no matter where he went. He only stumbled across the remains of their long abandoned presence... Or just their remains.
More time- more years?- passed as Ardyn searched for Bahamut with no success. The Accursed did not seem to mind and told Noctis as much. There was nothing the Draconian could do. He'd be found eventually.
One day. A man approached.
The failed Chosen thought it a hallucination at first. He did not pay much heed to the figure, believing it to be another of Lestallum's specters coming to yell at him. It did not take long to realize the truth however. The strange man had an aura, one that Noctis was familiar with but could not place.
Noctis stared at the stranger and the man stared back. He looked ragged and exhausted, the clothing he wore ripped in places. There seemed to be the remains of some sort of armor on his chest, maybe having been torn apart by Daemons.
The failed Chosen found that he did not recognize him. He was no one from his jumbled mess of memories.
… Someone was alive? Noctis thought to himself but made no move. He found himself at a loss at what he should do. Should he greet the stranger? Apologize from the get go? Noctis turned to look over to his side, expecting to see one of his friends so he could ask their opinion.
But of course, there was no one. For a moment, Noctis was confused but then recalled why he was alone.
Noctis turned towards the newcomer once more and noticed he held something in his hands. A soft, blue light emanated from a shard of something. Was that… A piece of the Crystal?
The ragged man then summoned two weapons, a sword and trident. They floated in front of Noctis. Both weapons were familiar and brought about memories of his dad and Luna. The dark-haired man reached out a hand and both weapons instantly came to him. They disappeared as they shot into his body. He felt a wave of pain but it passed quickly.
One final chance. The words were only heard in Noctis's mind as the stranger did not open his mouth to speak. The ragged man then offered the blue shard. Noctis hesitantly approached the figure and took it reverently.
The stranger then collapsed and began to fade before Noctis's eyes. In seconds all that remained of him was a golden light. Noctis felt power surge through his body as the light surrounded him. The man recalled a similar feeling when Ardyn forced Shiva to attack. After grabbing him by the throat, Noctis saw a glimpse of gold around the Astral's form before she threw him onto the ground. Briefly, the failed Chosen felt the same thing he did now.
Noctis realized what this was. It was an Astral's blessing as they added their power to his own. It was... Comforting.
The shard in Noctis's hands then began to shine. The man only had a moment before a searing pain erupted in his being. He screamed as his body felt as if it were burning from the inside. He fell to his knees from the agony.
Visions of people raced across the man's mind. His friends, Luna, Dad, even Ravus. The many he knew. Many more he didn't. They were speaking to him. Urging him not to give up. Not yet. That it was not over.
Noctis screamed for what felt like ages, his body in agonizing pain as the Starscourge was burned away.
And then the pain stopped. The man gasped a few shuddering breaths, feeling lighter. His mind too, felt clearer.
For the first time in quite some time, the Chosen King felt like he could breathe.
Decided to do one final installment for this series.
Thanks for reading!