Everything was eerily quiet as Noctis traveled through the brightly lit ruins of Insomnia. His footsteps were the only source of sound, the rest of the world silent.
It was unsettling.
In the light, the city of Insomnia looked worse than in the darkness. The sun illuminated the destruction. Almost no building had been left untouched. But even if this was the case, there was hope now. The people could return now that the Daemons were gone. And they were. Noctis made sure to check. He spent hours running to and from the many dark corners of the city and found no trace of the afflicted. The only place he avoided was the Citadel itself. The King could not bring himself to step foot at the location where he'd chosen to abandoned everything he fought for. But then man could no longer feel any trace of Daemons or corruption and knew they must be gone.
Noctis was free of his duty, the burden placed on him and one he'd rejected. And the people of Eos were free of the Daemons and the Darkness. They could rebuild their homes to be as they once were. Perhaps their cities might turn out even better the second time around.
The world would heal now. Life would return. Things would get better. And no Kings would rule this Insomnia, or even Lucis, anymore.
Noctis was never meant to be King. He knew this. He'd known it for a long time. And now, everyone knew this now thanks to his cowardice. A King was meant to protect his people, to offer up their own life if needed. They were not to shy from their duty when the world and its people were at stake. Noctis had failed his role as Chosen and King. He was not fit to rule.
… But the man found himself okay with that, as much as it made him feel inadequate.
As the unwilling Chosen traveled, he found he no longer had the full power of the Crystal. He could feel it still but it seemed... Dimmer. Like only the dregs of its power remained. He could still use his magic so he hoped that was a good sign. That possibly, the Astrals might not be too angry with him. He'd neither heard nor felt them as of yet.
None of the Hexathon had appeared to Noctis and the man dreaded such a confrontation were it to occur. The Hexathon had placed their hopes in him, a mere human. No doubt they were upset. But the man found himself not caring as much as he should have. It looked like there had been another option the Gods had been unwilling to follow. It took Noctis's refusal for them to act upon it so that he would not have to sacrifice himself.
Perhaps the Six wished to have nothing to do with him anymore. Maybe they wished to never see him again. Noctis was fine with that. He didn't want to face their disappointment or ire.
Putting the Astrals out of his mind, Noctis focused his thoughts on what he wanted most. His friends. The King ventured out into the world, on his way to Lestallum.
In the two days it took to reach his destination, Noctis's unease grew.
Everything was far too quiet. Yes, the ten years of darkness had devastated the world but should the world still be feeling so… Empty? All the man felt was a profound sense of loneliness as he continued his travels. He saw not even a hint of life, not even insects.
When night fell, the darkness brought forth no Daemons. Noctis slept out in the open, no Haven needed. He was happy the camping supplies were still in the Armiger. It wasn't comfortable but at least he didn't have to sleep on the bare ground. The man also found that he still did not need to eat or drink. He felt no hunger or thirst even after more than a day after the light returned.
The next evening, the King sheltered in a cave as it began to rain. As he waited, he explored his surroundings. When he glimpsed moss on the wall, Noctis felt a hint of excitement. Finally, some signs of life. It was when the man neared the wall that he realized something was not quite right. The moss looked as if it was dying or was already dead. There were no hints of green, all of what he could see was brown and withered. The man poked at it, finding it dry. His touch caused pieces to break off and fall to the ground below.
Confused, Noctis ventured deeper into the cave and found that every bit of moss or fungi inside his rocky shelter looked the same. The man felt a pit of dread in his stomach as he returned to the cave's entrance to await the storm's end.
As soon as the rain stopped, Noctis fled his shelter and continued to make his way to Lestallum. Hours passed and then the exhausted man finally glimpsed the city in the distance.
The sight invigorated Noctis and he began to hurry. His friends were likely waiting within. He hoped at least. They could be somewhere else, maybe even on their way to see him.
A part of the King still did not want to meet them, fearing their rejection. But this time Noctis would not let that deter him. Whatever happened, he would face the consequences of his decisions.
When Noctis finally made it to Lestallum, he froze in shock at the state it was in. It looked like a war had been fought. The walls were destroyed in places, lights were shattered and rubble was scattered about. There was not a soul in sight.
"Hello?" Noctis called out as he ventured closer to the walls. When there was no response, he tried again. But there was only silence.
The dread returning as the man found himself afraid for what he might find within, Noctis entered Lestallum.
A few steps in, the King had stumbled onto the first body. It was a woman clad in a Glaive uniform. She was lying face down, dried and congealed blood pooled around her in the street. The skin visible to Noctis was extremely pale.
"What the…" Noctis murmured, unable to finish. He forced himself to kneel down and touch her skin. She was cold of course, probably having been dead for a while. The man got up and stepped back, feeling ill.
"I'm sorry," Noctis found himself whispering in apology. If he hadn't refused his duty, she likely would have made it. Guilt and regret began to suffuse his being and the man quickly shook himself from his thoughts.
What's done is done. Noctis could not take back his decision nor did not want to take it back even now. He could only move forward.
"Hey!" The King called out again, stepping away from the body to glance around. Had no one attempted to bury this woman after her death? "Is there anyone here?"
Again, there was no answer from anywhere around him.
Noctis cautiously ventured further inside the stronghold.
Noctis was horrified to find nothing but death. The body of the female Glaive was not the only one he stumbled upon. No, there was more. Far more.
The smell of decay permeated one of the final strongholds of humanity. The corpses of humans and animals littered the place. Men, women, children, dogs, cats… Nothing had been spared. Noctis had to resist the urge to cry or vomit with every small child he came across. Bodies were everywhere, some savaged by Daemons, others looking as if they had just fallen asleep as their forms held no injuries that Noctis could see.
Not even the plants in the greenhouses were spared from whatever had caused this. The vegetation the people so painstakingly nurtured to feed themselves was withered in every building.
It seemed as if there was nothing and no one left alive in the entirety of Lestallum.
Noctis frantically searched building after building, finding no signs of life. He grew more desperate with every body he found. There had to be someone left alive, the man thought to himself. He began to pray that his friend's weren't here, afraid of what it would mean.
But his prayers went unanswered.
It was passing by a splintered door, half torn apart from its hinges and looking as if it had been clawed at by some massive creature, that the man caught sight of something that caused him to freeze. He might have missed it had the door been intact, but there was a familiar blonde head of hair visible through the gap.
Noctis swallowed, afraid to continue. He already knew he would not like what he found. Even so, and with mounting horror, the man slowly made his way towards the building. He desperately prayed he would find his friends safe and alive with every step he took. Keeping his eyes on the head of hair, he prayed for it to move. Show some sign of life before he made it there. But there was nothing. The King took a deep breath before he pulled the broken door open to see what lay within the building.
… Gladio, Ignis and Prompto had not been spared.
The three lay together, side by side, and here was where they'd met their end. Their eyes were closed and the friends held each other's hands as if they knew their demise was coming. All three had bandages on various parts of their bodies. Scars covered other exposed parts of their skin. They looked worn and beaten down. They were obviously dead, just like every other person in the city.
Noctis just stood there, unbelieving of what he was seeing. He refused to accept it. This could not happen, not after all this. But deep inside, the man knew this was real.
The King began to hyperventilate, the sight of his friends like this finally causing him to break like nothing else here had. He let out a cry of anguish dropped to his knees. These were the three men he'd defied his fate for. The very people he'd wished to live for.
Add they were dead.
"Why?" Noctis whispered to himself as he stared at the bodies of his friends. And then louder, he cried out to the very heavens. "Why?"
What on Eos had happened to this place? Had this been Noctis's punishment for forsaking his duty? Had the Astrals done this? They must have, for what else could cause this? The man felt a wave of anger, overtaking his sorrow for a few brief moments.
"Show yourselves!" The Chosen demanded of the Gods. "Show yourselves you bastards!"
… But none of the Six made an appearance. Noctis was left alone with the bodies of his friends.
Noctis grieved for his fallen companions, his tears feeling endless as they fell from his eyes. He rushed out of the building and retched even though he'd eaten or drank nothing since he'd been released from the Crystal. The man lay there, gasping for breath until the urge retreated.
Afterwards, the King felt too weak to even stand and so he crawled to sit outside the building his friend's sheltered in. He stayed outside, tears running down his face as he gazed at nothing in particular.
Noctis… Didn't know what to do. He wanted to live, live with them. But his friends were gone. And Noctis was left in a world without them. He hadn't wanted this. He hadn't wanted any of this.
It took a long time for the man to calm down enough and bring himself to move from his spot. But only because he wanted to do one last thing for his friends. They deserved a burial at least. He could not leave them like this.
Noctis once again began to look through the buildings until he found a shovel. Then he began to dig in a spot he found suitable. He felt numb as he dug for hours.
Once done, the King returned to his friends. One by one, he moved them towards their final resting place. Noctis found himself talking to them, apologizing that he hadn't gone to see them sooner, for not being what they wanted, for failing his duty, for everything.
After that was done, Noctis found three pieces of rubble. He left a piece at the head of each of his friend's graves and painstakingly carved out their names. He wanted their names to be remembered. They had lived, once upon a time. And they had been the greatest of friends.
In his despair, Noctis began to search even harder for someone left alive. He could not stand the emptiness and silence. He ran through Lestallum and called out for anyone until his voice grew hoarse. When at last he realized with full certainty that there was no one alive, did he move on. He needed to find someone, anyone. He just needed to see someone else.
In his wanderings across Lucis, Noctis found nothing but death just like he had in Lestallum. It was then the man also came to the horrifying realization that nothing was growing either. Noctis glimpsed not a shred of life. No grass, no moss, no bugs, nothing that was not already dead. Not a shred of life. Even after weeks, and then months, of the sun returning, nothing in the landscape had changed.
The Starscourge was gone, yes... But in return life had left Eos.
The only creature left alive was Noctis. And the man refused to accept that. It could not be so.
Such a fate was too cruel for anyone... even a cowardly failure like himself, the man thought to himself. He was barely able to keep himself together at this point.
Knowing there was nothing else he could do, the King made his way back to Insomnia and towards the Citadel. There he found the Ring gone from where he dropped it and the Crystal dim, almost completely black. It gave off no aura, seemingly dead like the rest of Eos. Around it and the Throne were objects strewn about. A large piece of the meteor sticking out of a rock. A shimmering, scaled fin. A sheer, glittering, blue piece of fabric. A broken horn. The hilt of a sword. A wooden staff.
Remnants of the Six's presence.
Noctis grew angry upon seeing them here. He screamed out in anger, demanding the Gods show themselves. When they did not, the man turned to the Crystal in his rage. He yelled at it, threatened it, even attacked it. His blade bounced off with no damage being done to the heart of Eos.
And still nothing happened. No voices spoke and nothing tried to stop him.
It seemed as if even the Gods were absent. Perhaps Noctis was well and truly left alone in an empty world.
Noctis then attempted to call out to the Kings, his father most of all. But none heeded his call.
The man collapsed again, his despair now overwhelming as the last of his hopes died. He wished so much that all of what he endured after the dawn was just a nightmare. He had no answers as to what had occurred and it did not seem as if he would be receiving any. The emptiness he'd felt these long months was ever present and painful. Knowing that his friends were dead made every second of this life agony.
Perhaps he was dead, Noctis thought to himself. And this was his punishment from the Gods. If so, it was a cruel one.
This chapter was getting too long and I was taking too long so I am splitting it up. Thanks for reading!