Somnus wasn't sure just why he'd found himself this place in particular. Fields of tall, green grasses and sylleblossoms, strangely very reminiscent of the place he and his brother used to play in as children, surrounded him. The sky was light blue yet there was no sun that he could see. A gentle breeze swayed the grasses and carried the scent of the flowers.
The Founder King felt light, free of the burden of his duty after so long. He found himself wearing the clothes he did the day he'd imprisoned Ardyn, even being the same age. He never understood why his Lucii form was younger than the age he died at. It may have had something to do with himself and his regrets on that awful day.
Somnus knew wherever he was now must be the 'Beyond', a place only those whose lives were extinguished could venture. Those still of the living, and even the Astrals, could not enter without first leaving their life on Eos behind. The Founder King hoped to see those he'd been parted from for over two millennia, having been denied rest until his duty was complete. His dearest wish now was to reunite with his loved ones. The man could faintly feel them; his friends, his family.
A strong comforting aura, obviously his shield. The man who'd protected him for his entire mortal life. A soft gentle presence, his wife. A woman who'd calmed when his mind raced with far too many thoughts and regrets. A calming sound, almost like the plucking of a harp. His daughter and the instrument she so dearly loved to play, especially for her parents. The faint remnant of mischievous laughter, his son's no doubt. He'd been a gentle young man who loved to make others laugh with little quips and pranks.
Those Somnus cherished waited for him and the man desired wholeheartedly to meet them. It had been far too long since he'd seen them last.
He'd not gone yet, however. He was waiting.
For there was one other the Founder King desired to see in this place. One person he'd prayed for years might find salvation from the disease that plagued him. He wished to meet him first, even if that encounter might not go favourably.
As if summoned, the Lucii felt a tug, something deep within him that seemed to call to him. He was startled at the feeling, one that overpowered all others. The man felt a sense of familiarity and the echo of despair, of anger, of loneliness. It came again and, almost unwilling, Somnus began to walk towards the source at a brisk pace.
Time passed as the man traveled across the lush grassy fields. The pull grew stronger until, after what felt like hours, Somnus glimpsed a familiar figure far ahead of him. The figure was alone with his back turned, making his way through the grass at a much slower pace.
"Ardyn!" Somnus cried out his brother's name. His brother was still wearing those layers of gaudy clothing he had during his battle with the Chosen King. The mismatched clothing he'd been fond of as the Chancellor of Niflheim. He was instantly recognizable.
The younger brother sprinted towards Ardyn, across the grasses and vibrant flowers. He could feel the green blades brushing across his sandaled feet. Everything about this felt familiar. Somnus had not been in this realm long but perhaps the surroundings changed according to the memories of those that would now reside in it. Had his and Ardyn's memories created these fields that resembled those of their youth?
Ardyn froze and then turned to face his brother. His, still golden, eyes widened slightly in shock when he saw him. It seemed as if he was rather startled by his younger brother's appearance and hasty approach. His face returned to a neutral expression after just a brief moment.
Somnus found himself stopping just short of throwing himself at his brother in an embrace. Was Ardyn angry, he wondered. Did he even wish to reconcile? The younger brother was unsure, but it did not stop him from doing what he did next.
When Ardyn did not make a move, Somnus took it upon himself. The Founder King took a few steps and leapt towards his brother, embracing him tightly. He almost knocked them both to the ground but the elder was able to right himself. Somnus used to do this often as they grew up. He used to find it so amusing whenever he did manage to knock Ardyn over by his show of brotherly affection.
The two of them had once been so close, so inseparable that they'd done everything together. Feeling a wave of emotions; sorrow, hope, guilt, joy, Somnus gave into it. He prayed that he might find a way to make amends to his brother. That Ardyn might find it in himself to forgive him. Somnus would do anything to make it so.
"Ardyn… I am sorry," Somnus immediately apologized, still holding onto his brother. Ardyn had not moved other than to prevent himself from being knocked over. He did not return the embrace but neither did he reject it.
"None of this should have happened. You were not meant to suffer like this," Somnus continued, feeling his eyes begin to mist. He'd had a lifetime of guilt eating at him. In his time as a Lucii, he'd prayed that the day his brother would be released from the Scourge might come soon. But it had not. Over two thousand years passed before it was finally time for the Crystal to be readied and the Chosen to arise. "If only I could turn back time, I would have done things differently. I should have never allowed things to end up as they did. I should have realized something was amiss... I should have never left you to such a fate."
Somnus felt so many regrets.
Finally, Somnus felt Ardyn move. He felt arms circle around him and his brother returned the embrace, but tentatively.
"You came to apologize… Why?" Ardyn asked, a guarded tone in his voice. "Even after all I have done, the people I have made suffer?"
"I hold you at no fault for what has occurred. Had I found another way, perhaps all of this could have been prevented," Somnus murmured, ashamedly. His brother asking such a question of him caused a pain in his heart.
"So what do you desire of me?" Ardyn asked, his tone now turning a little demanding, a little angry. "Forgiveness so you may be free of your guilt? So you may run off unburdened, leaving me in the shadows once more?"
"No!" Somnus shook his head, denying the accusation. All these years, he'd only wanted his brother again. "No, I refuse to abandon you this time. If you will allow it, I wish to make amends. I wish for us to be brothers once more."
"... You would accept me as I am now? The Starscourge no longer influences me but I am not the man you once knew. I never will be again."
"Yes," Somnus stated, sure of himself. Ardyn may be different, even free of that cursed plague, but he was still family. Even if they could never truly be as close as they once were, if perhaps they could merely be acquaintances rather than brothers, Somnus would accept that. As long as Ardyn was back in his life, even if only a little.
The Founder King felt his brother fully embrace him then, tightening his hold on him to almost painful levels. But then he relaxed.
There was silence for a time.
Then, the former Accursed laughed. It was a sound Somnus wished to hear once more free of the effects of the Starscourge. No falsity, no anger, no arrogance was present in it. His brother spoke, "I find myself… Overjoyed to be accepted."
Ardyn was the one to break the embrace, gently nudging Somnus back. The younger brother carefully did so.
"The blame does not lay solely at your feet, Somnus. My own arrogance was a factor. I thought I could shoulder the burden of all of Eos. I believed so strongly I was meant to be it's savior that I cared not what my self-appointed duty did to me. Not until it was far too late." Ardyn reflected. "However, being rejected by the world for attempting to offer it's people salvation was not the most pleasant experience to undergo. Thousands of years of solitude with only the Starscourge as company, even less so. The anger and resentment linger on… But I wish to move past it, to move on from the bitterness."
Somnus nodded, grateful that his brother would even give him the opportunity if he was still angry with him.
"I make this promise to you, Ardyn. I will do whatever it takes to aid you," Somnus vowed.
Ardyn smiled, just the way Somnus remembered before the circumstances of their lives tore them apart. Somnus felt his heart ache at such a familiar expression.
"I…" Somnus began but then hesitated. He did still wish to see the rest of his family. He wished for Ardyn to meet them. His wife, his children. Strangely, he could not feel them anymore but he had not grown used to this realm as of yet. There was likely a way, he just had to figure it out.
"Something the matter?" Ardyn asked as he turned his gaze toward his brother.
"I would like for you to see my family… If you do not mind of course," Somnus responded, feeling a little sheepish. "I am unsure how to locate them as of yet but I would like to introduce you to one another."
If Ardyn did refuse, his brother would not have blamed him.
"It is almost a surprise that you were able to find a woman willing to put up with you. And even bear your children," Ardyn chuckled, "but it must have happened for the Chosen to be born."
Somnus rolled his eyes, "I will admit it I did not find my wife. Our marriage was arranged by my advisors. However, we grew close over the years. She was a fine friend and mother to our two children."
"Well then, after you," Ardyn offered with a smile, "I would very much like to meet this family of yours."
Somnus led them across the fields for some time. They passed by a pond that looked similar to one in which Somnus once pushed Ardyn into. They'd been children and he'd grown angry with his older brother's teasing. The younger wanted to quiet him. It had, for a short time. Until Ardyn then pulled Somnus in shortly after and could not stop laughing at his indignant expression.
The two brothers also glimpsed a tree, an exact copy of one that Ardyn used to climb to pick apples. He always shared them with Somnus when he was too scared to climb the tree himself.
They even saw a herd of black Chocobo. The brothers each had a mount of their own, both as dark as a moonless night. There had been such a herd during their time as well, kept under the protection of their family as they were so rare.
Somehow this realm was recreating things from the memories of its inhabitants. If there was perhaps a way to control this, could they create anything they wished? Somnus wondered and thought to himself that he would like to try it out another time. But first, he needed to find the others he cared about.
Somnus thought about his friends and family, tried to visualize their faces and former home in his mind. Yet for whatever reason, no tug or feeling emerged to lead him.
Ardyn had been of little help as well, saying he felt no connections as Somnus did.
"Ardyn," Somnus began, "perhaps-"
The Founder King stumbled then, feeling a moment of disorientation. He shook his head to clear the sensation and looked over at his brother. The man's eyes widened at something he glimpsed behind Ardyn. His elder brother looked puzzled and turned around to see what had startled his Somnus so.
"This cannot be," Somnus gasped at what he saw. A rolling wave of darkness was enveloping the fields, shrouding the sky and ground in darkness. They could see the grass and flowers wilt under the presence of the fog.
Was this the Starscourge? Here of all places? Had they somehow brought it here? Strangely, Somnus could not sense it's presence as he could on Eos. Perhaps it wasn't. But whatever it was needed to be dealt with.
"Somnus," Ardyn ordered, "we must stop it."
"Yes," the younger brother nodded in agreement. Somnus hoped his magic would work against such a thing, he'd never seen anything like it after all.
Together, the two brothers attacked, sending their magic against the darkness.
"Somnus!" Ardyn's cry echoed across the realm but it went unheeded. His brother seemed incapable of seeing or hearing him. And neither could Ardyn reach him. A red hued barrier, one he found impenetrable, surrounded the two figures inside it. Somnus glanced in Ardyn's direction more than once but it seemed he did not see the strange barrier or the lone figure behind it.
The man's brother was further in and fighting. There was a dark fog, but what it was, Ardyn was unsure. It was not the Starscourge, that was easy to tell. That had already been purged from existence.
There was also the problem of that thing. It was beside his younger brother. Pretending to be Ardyn. Somnus did not know that was not his sibling.
Was the impostor the cause of the fog? It must have been, conjuring it up for some reason or other. This realm allowed it's inhabitants to create whatever they desired if they were powerful enough. Perhaps this was some sort of way to trick Somnus into lowering his guard or trusting him.
Well, Ardyn would not allow it.
"That is not me!" Ardyn, clad in the simple clothes of the healer he'd once been, cried out as he attempted to shatter the barrier, "you mustn't trust him!"
But once again, Ardyn's warning was not heard. He could only watch as the two ahead of him fought, sending wave after wave of magic against the fog. The fields were collateral, being burned, frozen and even shocked by the magic used against the darkness. Cinders, petals, ash and wisps of darkness scattered into the sky.
Eventually, the fog dissipated. Unlike the barrier preventing Ardyn from reaching his brother, it had been destroyed in its entirety.
Ardyn saw Somnus fall to the ground in exhaustion. He saw the impostor make his way towards his brother and say something. Even from a distance, Ardyn saw Somnus smile at the creature and take whatever praise the thing gave. It helped his brother up and the two brushed off whatever filth accumulated on their clothing from the battle.
Ardyn found himself angry at the display. At the creature interacting with Somnus, masquerading as his older brother.
It was then the man noticed something forming underneath the grass near them. The ground split apart and a small stone structure emerged. It was old and decrepit, nearly falling apart. It had a single entrance, facing Ardyn. Even from a distance he could see the stairs it contained, leading below.
Somnus and the creature had been gazing at the structure as it emerged. Ardyn watched as the impostor and his brother cautiously neared. They circled the structure before returning to its entrance. The two spoke for a time.
Ardyn wished he could hear them. He sent a powerful bolt of thunder magic at the magical wall before him in frustration. His magic had no effect.
Eventually, the Founder King made his way towards the stairs, the creature following closely behind. Somnus conjured a light as the impostor and he conversed again. Ardyn frowned as he saw his brother shake his head and then seem to argue.
What were they saying?
The impostor then visibly sighed and nodded at Somnus.
Now alarmed, Ardyn could only watch as his brother began to make his way into the building and down the stairs.
"Somnus!" Ardyn screamed his brother's name in a panic, knowing in his heart that what he was doing would not end well for him. The elder sibling redoubled his efforts in breaking the barrier, but to no avail. His weapons, his magic and even his will were not strong enough.
In moments, Somnus had descended into the depths of the structure and even the light he conjured was swallowed by darkness.
The impostor watched Somnus descend, waiting until he was out of sight before immediately turning towards Ardyn. He saw him, of course. The creature warped, appearing just on the opposite side of the barrier Ardyn so desperately tried to shatter.
"I felt you might arrive at some point," the creature spoke in Ardyn's own voice.
"What exactly do you think you are doing?" Ardyn snarled. The creature just grinned at the anger displayed, amused by it.
"I had meant to find you, make you pay for your rejection, but it seems fate had other plans," the impostor grinned, "our brother stumbled into my grasp."
"He is not your brother!" Ardyn snarled, immediately bristling. "Whatever you mean to do with him, know that I will stop you. I will not rest until Somnus is safe."
Ardyn meant his words. It had been too long since he'd been able to see his brother. All he wished was to reunite. He'd shed the anger, hate and resentment he felt while corrupted by the Starscourge. He was himself again with no shadow of that cursed disease to taint him. All he wished now was to have his family back.
"Whatever comes from this is no one's fault but your own," the creature said, still smiling at the futile actions of the man behind it's barrier. Ardyn's rejection of his darker half had weakened him considerably. All of the powers and abilities he'd gained under his influence of the Starscourge were gone. It was he that held power over his 'purer' self.
"You abandoned me," the creature continued, "you rejected me as the world did once before. Did their actions towards us not teach you how painful such a thing can be?"
"Enough!" Ardyn demanded, growing angry, "You are not the same as I. I would have never committed the atrocities you have."
Ardyn had been in shock at the things he'd done as that monster. He could not fathom his actions now that he was free of the Starscourge.
Ardyn was not one that took enjoyment in snuffing out the lives of others. Not one who caused untold pain and misery. Not one who took amusement in every vile act he'd committed during his quest for revenge on both the Gods and his brother's bloodline. Not one who'd killed millions, both indirectly and not.
It was the fault of the disease. The real Ardyn, the man he was now, could never be capable of such despicable acts.
On his arrival into this realm, Ardyn had refused the creature he became during his time corrupted by the Starscourge. He'd attempted to tear that part out of him. As the memories and emotions faded into faint recollections, he'd felt lighter.
He was not that monster, he never would be again. In relief, Ardyn thought himself finally free.
Yet, it was not to be.
Only moments later, the creature now pretending to be him came into being. Somehow Ardyn's denial had caused it to come into existence. The rejected part of him gathered into a physical form, mimicking Ardyn's, and the man's relief immediately dissipated upon sighting it.
The creature's first action was to turn its furious gaze at Ardyn and demand to be accepted. It wore the clothes he did as the Chancellor of Niflheim. It's eyes were still the corrupted, eerie gold they became after his infection. The creature had reached for him and Ardyn recoiled in horror.
The former Accursed refused, of course. He knew what that creature was. Not the Starscourge but the remnants of its influence and his darkest memories and desires of that time. It was not him, not even human.
The creature grew even more angry at Ardyn's refusal, accusing him of being cruel. It's voice almost seemed like it was pained, but Ardyn knew it was just a trick. Even it's accusation was absurd, coming from something that had taken such satisfaction in the deaths and misery of others. The real Ardyn had even said as much. Calling the creature out on all the suffering it caused, saying it could never be him.
In response to his words, the creature lunged at Ardyn.
Ardyn fought back, intending to destroy his opponent. Their battle ended in a draw however, when the wave of magic they sent at one another exploded. Ardyn had fallen unconscious and found himself somewhere else in this realm. He had been praying that had been the end of that creature, not finding it anywhere around him.
Instead, Ardyn then felt the presence of others. And most strongly of them all, his brother. The man had let his doubts consume him though, causing him to shy away from a reunion. He'd instead tried to learn of the realm around him, realizing quickly that his own memories and desires could cause his surroundings to change.
That had been a mistake to allow his insecurities to control him. He should have gone to Somnus immediately.
"You still won't accept me?" the impostor asked, breaking Ardyn from his recollections. It seemed this creature wanted acceptance, but Ardyn could not give it that. To do so would be to once again relive all his darkest memories. To remember in full the enjoyment of the horrors he'd committed while infected with the Scourge. To once again feel the anger, resentment and bitterness he so desperately wanted to leave behind.
"Never! You are nothing but a corruption. Now bring my brother back and begone from this place," Ardyn ordered. He felt a faint sense of guilt at his refusal. He did know what it felt like to be rejected. He stubbornly pushed that feeling away however, "If you desire to face me once again then here I am. Leave Somnus out of this."
"I think not," the creature responded, smirking now. He pressed a hand on the barrier, "I hold the power here. And I choose not to comply with your demands."
"Then what, pray tell, are your demands? To accept you, to accept the corruption that you are?"
"No," the creature shook his head, his eyes flashing golden. A gleeful, sinister expression formed on its face. "I no longer have any demands of you. I think… I would much rather you suffer for your rejection. And I have found the perfect way. Your dearest wish will never be fulfilled… While mine will be."
"What do you mean?" Ardyn asked, feeling dread creep up on him. Somnus, he thought to himself, he was talking about Somnus. What did he plan to do with him?
"Unlike you, our brother has accepted me," the creature chuckled. "Though… He will not be yours for long… I hope you enjoyed your last glimpse of him. It is to be your last."
The impostor did not wait for a response, choosing instead to warp back to the building. In blind panic, Ardyn screamed at the creature to stop and battered the barrier before him once more. But to no avail.
Unable to do a thing, Ardyn could only watch the figure turn back to tip his hat at him and then follow Somnus's path into the abyss. In moments, he too was gone into the darkness. And soon after, so was building as it began to sink into the ground.
It was only when it completely disappeared that the crimson barrier faded, likely having been dispersed by its owner.
Ardyn sprinted towards the place the structure once stood, where there was now nothing but torn apart earth. Frantically, the man tried to call upon his bond with Somnus. He could find him, perhaps if he focused.
Waking up after his battle with the part of himself he'd shed, Ardyn felt Somnus's presence for a time until it suddenly cut out. He feared something untoward had occurred, immediately thinking the creature might be the cause. No matter how much he'd tried, he could sense his brother any longer. He'd instead tried to sense the creature, eventually finding a faint trace of it. He'd tracked it, intent on stopping it before he could do anything to his sibling. Perhaps that faint trail had been intentional, so that Ardyn would be lured here.
Now, Ardyn could not sense his brother or the creature. Not even the faintest of traces. It was as if Somnus and he no longer existed in this place. Perhaps it was true what it said, that he would not see Somnus again. And what could that thing even be doing to his brother? Was it angry with him too? Would it hurt him? Ardyn might never know if the creature had it's way.
No. The man thought to himself in despair. He could not allow that. His only wish had been to see his family again. To see Somnus. The impostor said his younger brother had accepted him. That meant he wanted the real Ardyn back.
Realizing he'd been so close to having his family again, Ardyn dropped to his knees. His hands ripping into the earth in desperation. Handful by handful, he attempted to dig, past thinking logically at that point. He knew this was futile but… He did not know what else to do. He had no other leads at the moment.
Some time later, with his hands caked in filth, an exhausted Ardyn finally relented. But only for the moment. He vowed to find Somnus. someday.
But for now, with heart full of despair, he wondered why he could not attain happiness. Not even free of the Starscourge and not even in this realm after life, where anything was supposed to be possible.
I honestly don't quite like how this one came out but I'm posting it anyway. ^.^'
This was an idea I abandoned some time ago but I chipped away at it for the last little while as I tried to work on my others. I took some inspiration from Welzes' 'A Monster's Slumber' (on AO3) in regards to some elements in this story. This is also not Episode Ardyn compliant.
Apologies on the delay with everything else. I've found I'm quite stuck on everything else I was working on. I hope to find some inspiration for the rest of mine soon, but I don't quite know when that will be, sorry!
If you made it this far, thanks for reading! :)