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Amor Non Exurat Flamma Ch.9Memories. So many memories.A much younger Noctis, smiling without a single care in Eos, calling for her to join him in a game of hide and seek. Regis, still standing tall and proud without the silver frost of age, beaming at whatever colorful scribble she had bestowed upon him like it was a great work of art. A young Ignis, his thick tawny fringe of hair drooping in his bespectacled eyes, nervously chasing after his charge alongside her lest the young prince fall and injure himself. A younger Gladio, playfully challenging her burning arms to another round of push-ups when she swore couldn't move a muscle with the reward of an ice cream for her efforts. A younger Prompto, helping her study for a math exam when they were really binging on the latest episodes of Li'l Malbuddy.Scenes from her life flickered in front of her eyes, moving faster and faster like an old roll of film till the edges started to heat and burn. Flecks of greyish ash floating into the air as one by one, her memories slid through her fingers and burned to cinders."Beware Gentle One," A soft but distinctly feminine voice whispered with a winter's chill that raised a sheen of goosebumps across her skin. "The darkness of legends lingers closer than one knows, trying to cease the light's shining power. Beware those who wear false smiles when hearts know otherwise.""Gentiana!" Vassa screamed as she lurched up in her bed. Sweat soaked and panting, her chest heaved like she had just run a marathon while her hands vainly clutching at the blankets pooled around her waist. By itself, her right hand rose into the air, pale fingers extended in a search for the raven haired messenger of the Astrals who was no longer there, or perhaps had never been there at all. Despite the warmth of the morning, a lingering chill still wound tight across her skin, making her shiver and tremble as if it was the coldest morning of winter.But most importantly, she was alone. Entirely alone.Vassa blinked slowly, letting her unaided blurry vision sweep across the room as she slowly collected herself, but the messenger's warning that she left ringing in Vassa's thoughts echoed eerily. "Beware those who wear false smiles? What does that mean?" She muttered to herself as she flung the damp blankets aside, rising up to fetch her clothes, boots, and items still placed exactly as she left them prior to her sleep. The faintest rays of the early rising sun starting to breach the horizon beyond the frame of her window, slanting across the floor in small specks of orange light. It was nearly dawn and much too early to try and figure out a mysterious message from the Astrals without caffeine.Shuffling straight into the bathroom with an Flan-like creeping shuffle, Vassa struggled to mold herself into something resembling a human with the single hope that perhaps Ignis was already awake and had seen fit to brew a fresh pot of Ebony. If not, than a can would make do. In whatever form it appeared in, the promise of Ebony is what thought she kept firmly in mind as she nearly choked herself while brushing her teeth, stumbled and painfully fell on her rear while trying to pull on her pants, and almost gave herself a concussion when she hit her head on the bed while trying to retrieve her lost glasses. The final straw came when she was trying to lock her room door and somehow managed to misplace her keys in the pockets of her jacket. "Screw mysterious predictions, I'm gonna need the Astral's divine blessing just to make it through the day! " Vassa muttered to herself, rummaging through her pockets in search of the shiny metal key."What's up with you, pipsqueak? Sounds like somebody got up on the wrong side of the bed."Looking up at the large dark shadow that had suddenly decided to drape itself over her. She found a broadly smiling Gladio looming over her shoulder like some kind of giant conjured up straight from a fairy tail, complete with the human he intended to eat slung over his shoulder like a doll and a disturbingly happy grin creasing up his scarred and unscarred cheeks. The third member of the conversation wasn't quite up to participating just yet. With his dark pants slightly sliding down to reveal a hint of yellow Chocobo printed boxers, Prompto gave a pathetic little whine/snort and a wriggle before falling still, arms and legs draped limply across Gladio's broad shoulder. "Do I want to know why you've got Prompto slung over your shoulder, or are you using him in place of your weights right now. And is he seriously still asleep?" Suppressing an eye roll, she finally found the key, jammed it in the lock and twisted, being rewarded with a click of the lock sliding home before turning to fully face her friends.Gladio adjusted his hold on Prompto, shaking the blonde a little bit and earning a fresh snort. "Don't worry about Prompto, he's going wake up real soon when we start running, but we're all a little tired right now. Noctis had a bad night with some nightmares. I figured that his screaming probably woke up half the hotel by now, but he finally settled down when Ig dosed him with a spoonful of Benadryl. He's sleeping like a princess now, but I'll probably have to carry his ass over to the Disc though.""Why didn't you guys wake me up? I would have been more than happy to sit with Noct for awhile while you guys slept!" Vassa's hands flew up to her hips, her voice a higher pitched screech sliding between her clenched teeth. These idiots!"Because Ignis would have kicked my ass and fed it to me if we so much as breathed on you and woke you up. " Slicking his free hand through the rumbled strands of his mullet, Gladio gave her a little curious side eye. "What I wanna know is just what you and Ignis were chatting about last night? What time he wasn't taken care of Noct, he spent writing in that little notebook of his. I don't think the guy got more than two hours of sleep last night, and any time that I tried to sneak a peek over his shoulder, he summoned one of those daggers of his and started flipping it with one hand. Did either of you share a little something something?" When those two thick eyebrows started waggling above dark eyes positively full of mischief and curiosity, a thick scarlet blush bloomed so quick across her face that she actually got a little dizzy."It's none of your business, nosy butt. Ignis and I had a private conversation. No ifs, ands, or buts about it." Brushing straight past him, Vassa didn't resist the temptation to give him a quick elbow jab in the ribs, but Gladio didn't even flinch. Probably didn't even feel it really. Instead, he started trampling along behind her like a big puppy, Prompto still limply flapping around on his shoulder and giving a soft snort every now and then."Come on! You can't just leave it at that! I've had so many thoughts about what happened. Did he confess? Did you? Did you guys kiss? I could see you guys doing the Ron and Hermione thing, kissing in the middle of battle. Come on, you gotta give us something! It's agony trying to watch the two of you together. We just want to smash you two together and said kiss already!" With a face as red and burning as hot as Ifrit's flames, she kept on walking with her head lowered down and her bangs shielding her face, completely ignoring Gladio as he started to recite some of the most passionate kiss scenes in any of the books he'd recently read, and more than half of them she had read too. So it was very safe to say that by the time she reached the door to the guys room, she was praying to the Astrals that the floor would open up and swallow her whole."Gladio, if you shut up, I'll tell you one single detail." Reaching out to open the door, She spun around on her heel and slowly backed into the room, keeping one hand on the door the entire time while crooking her finger for him to lean in a little closer.If a person could be happy, Gladio's face lit up like she had just offered him a new limited edition Coleman tent. "Really? What?" He stooped down nearly double to meet her shorter height.Vassa's eyes darted from side to side, a rapid blur of stormy grey as she made sure that there was no surprise witnesses before moving closer to the shield's ear. "Stop reading romance novels and get some bleach for your mind!" She hissed, stepping back and slamming the door shut as quickly as she could right in his face. Her back met the wood with a solid thump as she leaned against it, but instead of the outraged curse she was expecting to fall from Gladio's mouth, she was greeted with his growling laugher echoing down the hall in sync with his fading steps. Her head tilted back, eyes fluttering shut as the coolness of the wood flooded a slight relief to her heated skin even through the blanket of her thick hair. Wonderful, just a wonderful start to the day. Death by embarrassment again."Gladio, if I have to tell you one more time to stop slamming the door- Oh, Vassa! My apologies. I assumed that you were Gladio based on the clatter that was shaking the whole room." With quick clicking steps coming from the small kitchenette, the tall frame of Ignis appeared around the corner from the depths of the kitchenette. Once again, his dark jacket was missing, leaving him in only his dark pants and purple Coeurl print shirt. The long sleeves were half rolled up, exposing the rare sight of his leanly muscled forearms, and his glasses had slightly slipped down his nose. A mildly curious expression quickly replaced the deep scowl that had nearly caused his eyes to vanish into green slits, his head tilting up just slightly as he glanced down through his frames. "Is something wrong?"She let out a loud breath, pushing herself away from the door, and casually twisting a finger through the ends of hair. "No, everything's fine. Gladio is just being annoying today.""Indeed, he has possessed that quality today." Tossing a quick glance over his shoulder to check on something in the kitchen, Ignis walked over to the first bed that held a worm like lump beneath the covers. Based on previous experience, Vassa highly suspected that the lump was most likely formed by her slumbering cousin, and she couldn't suppress a giggle when Ignis peeked under a corner of the blanket to see if there was any life underneath. "Noct, are you feel any improvement?"The king himself quickly jerked the soft material right out of his adviser's hand as as soon as the first ray of light invaded the dark domain. A thick mumbled sound of something that could have been a growl or a curse came from the lump contained within the cocoon."I see somebody's in hibernation this morning." Vassa crossed over and poked her finger against the top part of what she thought was a head, getting a slightly louder growl as a reward for her effort. "Why didn't you let me know so I could help?""There was simply no need to wake you once you were resting. You needed your rest and his highness's nightmares were subdued easily enough."Following behind Ignis as he returned to the kitchen, Vassa arched one eyebrow as she spoke. "Gladio told me you drugged him with Benadryl." She murmured idly while watching him lift a spoon and slowly stir one of two metal pans simmering on top of the small stove.To his credit, Ignis never broke from his well crafted façade. The rhythmic screech of the spoon scratching against the base of the pan obstructed whatever reply Ignis murmured oh so softly. In response to his motions, the smooth scent of freshly simmering spiced soy sauce and the sharper tang of cooking meat curled around Vassa like a warm blanket. She couldn't help but take in a deep breath, letting her eyes flutter closed just for a moment to fully enjoy the delicious aroma. That is, till her stomach decided to remind her rather loudly that she had never fully finished my dinner last night."I take it someone is feeling rather hungry this morning." Ignis's deep chuckle was almost as rich as the sauce he was stirring, but her cheeks still burned with embarrassment as she ducked her head slightly, the tips of her teeth dragging over her lip as visible evidence of her fragile nerves. It was going to be okay. Ignis kept secrets. And maybe, just maybe, he did actually dismiss my blurb as nothing more than tired brain ramblings last night. The Astrals know any one of us has said all kinds of weird ass crap while sleeping, him included. "If you wouldn't mind, could I ask for you to hand me the bottle of oyster sauce? I can't quite reach it at the moment."Snapping back to attention with a little jolt, Vassa noticed for the first time that Ignis was stirring the pan of simmering sauce with his left hand, while also stirring an yellow eggish looking mixture with his right. The King of Insomnia may have been sleeping, but the King of the Kitchen was in full motion. A stray tendril of hair had started to droop from his carefully cultivated style, the single strand dangling artfully over the slightly lowered rim of his frames, accompanying the glance of his eyes to the side as he gazed to the table just to her left where the little amber bottle sat beside his notebook, fully open and spread out across the table with it's creamy white pages exposed to the air. Before she could even step one foot in that direction, Ignis let go of both spoons and rushed over, snatching up both items and placing the notebook into the security of his back pants pocket. "My apologies, Vassa. I was able to fetch it myself. There was no need to concern yourself" He chattered just a tad too quickly, a slight change in tone that would have been overlooked if it were not something that she had learned to detect from years past.She blinked, still slightly unsure that her eyes had actually just shown her that a nervous Ignis Scientia had just hidden something from her, and that he may or may not have been lying about something in his notebook.Her eyes darted from the disappearance of his personal leatherbound notebook to his face that was now slightly colored the palest tinge of pink. His eyes were firmly trained on the pans simmering on the stove, not meeting her eyes in the slightest way, and stirring the bubbling sauce with a normally steady hand now just the slightest bit too fluttery. Vassa raised an eyebrow, still not quite sure that she had just watched the most composed man she know nearly lose it over because she had barely glanced at his notebook. It wasn't like it was some big secret, she knew he kept his recipes ideas, little random thoughts, and notes of stuff that he wanted to remember in it. Ignis had even shown it to her a couple times on occasion. So, what was the big deal now? Had everyone went a little insane while she was was sleeping? That was the only explanation that she could come up with anyway.Shuffle Thump, Shuffle ThumpLike a girl straight from a horror movie, Vassa's eyes went wide and her hands came up into tight fists, spinning on her heel to face whatever kind of monster was creeping up on behind her and prepared to kick it into next week.Totally swaddled in a cocoon of gold and white striped blankets from top to bottom, two slightly hazy blue eyes peered out from a dark split that formed a viewing hole for the person inside. A total blanket burrito with the ends trailing the floor like a long tail, Noctis or what she assumed was Noctis and not a Tonberry in disguise or something, shuffled across the floor to stand between her and Ignis, looming menacingly over the pan of eggs and giving a suspicious sniff. "Mmm... I'm hungry... What's cooking?""Creamy Crustacean Omelette, if that suits his highness. Or might you prefer something else a tad more gentle on the stomach?" With a quick flick of his wrist, Ignis flipped off one of the controls from the stove and removed the creamy yellow eggs from the heat. Placing the pan off to the side, he opened the oven and removed a square pan covered in foil, the scent of the lusciously seasoned crab meat escaping through a small peaked vent."Sounds fine... Tell me when your done." With small shuffled steps, the cocoon of Noctis retreated into the bedroom, taking two more steps before pausing and face planting straight on the bed with a loud whumph and a squeak of protest from the springs of the bed."Poor thing, He hasn't been this bad in a long time." Vassa muttered softly under her breath. Completely full of concern, she idly wondered if she should go in there and try to unwrap him or just leave him be however he was comfortable."Indeed, Noct didn't care to elaborate on what sort of matter his nightmares contained, although I do have my suspicions that they contained a battle of some sort against the empire, and at times, he mentioned Lunafreya's dog Pryna by name." Ignis started to mix in some of the seasoned crab meat into his seasoned sauce. "Vassa, would you mind terribly if I asked for you to finish prepareing the rice mixture I cooked earlier?""Sure thing, Iggy. No problem at all." It was almost second nature that had Vassa shedding her jacket and washing her hands at the small sink, falling into sync with Ignis's motions as they combined the remaining ingredients into four flavorful dishes. Cooking with Ignis was an elegant motion, almost like a dance so to speak, and one that she hated to see end, but end it did once she placed the last strip of seasoned crab meat on top of the four plates of carefully crafted Creamy Crustacean Omelette. Gladio and Prompto were due back any moment from their morning run, and Noctis was still asleep in his blanket burrito, so for the moment, a rare peace reigned along with a fresh can of Ebony.At least it was a little peace for her. Now that Ignis had finished his cleaning efforts to the very highest standards of a sparkling kitchen worthy of a magazine cover, he had elected to rest his hip against the side of the counter, a can of Ebony in his hands that was slowly being sipped with the upmost grace. It was the way that his knuckles strained against the sides of the can that caught Vassa's eye, an unintentional power resulting in his composed features to take on a certain stiffness that had grown since she had first noticed the subtle hints of a migraine playing across his features last night.Slowly taking an experimental sip of her own Ebony, the thought of a massage popped right back into her head. She was sure it would help, but Ignis agreeing to it was another thing. For one, he did not want anyone to make a fuss over him if he had an ailment of any sort. Even going so far as to work straight through a seven day case of the flu that had sent many of the staff at the Citadel home on the very first day. Regardless, if they had any hope of actually driving to the Disc alive, they needed Iggy at his best because no one else could pilot the Regalia in a halfway driveable condition. Gladio drove like a daemon and would cuss out anyone else driving on the highway, Prompto had some kind of weird aura that made any automobile malfunction as soon as he put his hands on the wheel, and Noctis could have tried out for a car race at the speed he preferred to drive. Vassa could drive, but the boys swore that she drove too slow. Like 45 was too slow. "Hey Iggy, can I ask you something?" She said softly, placing her can down with a neat little click on the counter.His eyes slanted across the rim of his Ebony, half suspicious and half something else that almost looked like hope glistening from behind his glasses. "Proceed, Vassa. What is it you wish to know?" Placing his own can aside, Ignis crossed his arms across his chest while granting her the full realm of his attention.No matter how much she tried to ignore it, Vassa couldn't help but see the way the rolled up sleeves of his dress shirt deliciously strained across his biceps with the movement. Thank you Iggy. Thank you for that fantasy now when I was trying to be serious. Forcing her eyes over to the chair, she nervously bit at the edge of her lower lip, a subtle wave of self doubt that she could actually pull this off causing her finger to shake as she pointed over to a nearby chair. "You wanna sit a minute before they get back?"Ignis blinked twice, obviously expecting her to ask something else, but whatever thought had flashed through his mind was now gone as he returned to his normal self and flashed a small if slightly pained smile. "Sorry, but I must decline. There are still a few items on my agenda to attend to before we leave this morning.""Iggy, just sit down for like thirty seconds, please? I won't ask for another thing." Vassa flashed her fingers in a come here motion, slowly walking backwards towards the chairs and smiling her most winning smile. So far so good, she prayed to the Astrals that she wouldn't trip over anything and kill herself while walking. She tried to imitate Prompto's pleading puppy dog eyes, but her glasses nearly fell off her face while trying to make sure that her eyes achieved that certain level of tear glistened pleading. Whatever the case, it worked as Ignis let out a long winded sigh that sounded like it came from the very depths of his core before following her into the nearest chair."Are you quite satisfied now?" Ignis asked as he sank down with a soft sigh, long legs folding artfully beneath him as he took a moment to rub a single long finger against the aching portion of his right temple."Hmm... Not quite." Vassa took advantage of his momentary lapse of concentration to reach out and pluck his glasses straight from their perch on the slope of his nose. She couldn't lie, the undignified squawk that emerged from his lips was totally not like him, but it was still so funny that she wished that she had videoed the proof on her phone."Vassa, what exactly has possessed you to do any such? Please do return my spectacles to me at once!" The tight lines around Ignis's eyes formed by the migraine quickly etched into deep groves as his eyes squinted into small emerald slits, his attempt to try and see her face as he swiped at her hands for custody of his glasses. For a brilliant strategist, that was one battle he certainly would not win. After a lifetime of playing keep away with Noct, Vassa was pretty much a master at evading his attacks and parried each one of Ignis's searching fingers with only her elbows. Cautiously laying aside his glasses on the smooth surface of the nearby table, she danced away to fetch the small bottle of oil Ignis had used on her hands last night from the inventory sachel and nearly tripping over her own two feet while she did. Ignis sighed sharply at her thumping movements, the sound one of the more irritated noises she had ever heard him make as his hands fluttered across the table in search of his frames. "Vassa, I'm sure that this activity has been very amusing to you, but the time for foolery is over now. Please return my spectacles to me!""Iggy, I wasn't doing this because I thought it was funny. You've got a migraine and I want to help you." Vassa replied, her fingertips quickly finding the smooth surface of the bottle. Returning to his side, she reached up a hand and pulled off her gloves by the palms with her teeth, idly noticing that Ignis had stopped to watch her through squinted eyes as she placed her gloves aside on the table next to his frames and tipped the bottle over to pour a few droplets of the oil out onto her fingers. "Are you ready for a little relaxation?""You could have asked." The muscle in his jaw was ticking sharply, squinted eyes flashing as he seemed to battle with himself over the desire to give in to my demand or not."And you would have said no. Now we're wasting time." She spread her oil coated fingers wide, ready for massaging and tipped her head to the side where her bangs and free strands of hair curled about her face cutely, pearly white teeth flashing in her most persuasive smile. "Please?"Ignis sighed again, pinching the bridge of his nose between two fingers before he finally relented and leaned forward, his arms and elbows resting on his knees and head bowed forward to allow her to do as she wished. A deep scarlet blush spread across his cheeks as her fingers met the skin around his temples, his neck and shoulders so stiff with tension that it was painful for Vassa just to look at him. "Relax," She cooed, rubbing small circles into his skin that was hopefully helping to soothe away the pain.Ever so slowly, the reddish blush on his cheeks faded as he finally gave in to her touch. His eyelids grew heavy, shielding his brilliant eyes from her sight, and the carved tension lines around his eyes softened. Her fingers kept up the small, tight circles and his stress filled scowl slowly unknotted, becoming a shy smile that curled the edges of his plump lips. For a moment, everything seemed to become hyper focused on the contact between her skin and his. The feel of his warm breath against the inside of her wrists, becoming slower and deeper as the migraine finally released it's painful hold but ticklish all the same."Thank you, Vassa. You have my most sincere gratitude." Ignis said, his beautiful voice almost husky with relief as he fluttered open emerald eyes now gone slightly hazy with relief now that the painful throbbing had faded. She swallowed heavily, her hands now dropping to the sides like dead weights as more than a few familar bubbles of feelings burst to the surface. This time it was Vassa's turn to blush bright red as she fumbling for his glasses. He was so close, too close for her own safety if her now speeding heart was anything to judge by.Wham!"Hey, Ig, V! What have you two got cooking? It smells great!" The door to the room went flying against the opposite wall with one hearty shove of Gladio's thick shoulder, nearly ripping her out of her own skin from fright as she visibly jolted by the shield sudden appearance. Mentally praising and cursing Gladio for his abruptness, and for the suspicious look that he threw their way, she ruffled a hand through her hair as she turned to see greet him. "Well, well. What do we have here?" He drawled lowly, dark eyes flashing as they slid between two darkly blushing faces."Who cares. Let's eat!" Prompto came to the rescue. The smaller blond ducked under Gladio's arm, easily sliding into the room to ruffle a hand through Vassa's hair before heading over to the bundle that was Noctis, sinking down on the bed with a large bounce that earned a grumbled growl from the slumbering king. "Hey, buddy! Wake up! It's time to chow down!""Yes, precisely the idea." Ignis hands fluttered over the creases in his pants as he rose from his chair, a painfully scarlet blush staining his pale skin almost to the point that it looked like a painful sunburn. He immediately vanished into the kitchen, but when Vassa started to offer her help, a different hand restrained her arm."Gladio, don't you start." She warned low under her voice.The shield's scarred face was the pure picture of innocence. "Who? Me? Tease you about you and Ig being so close that you were breathing each other's air? Not me. I would never do that to my favorite pipsqueak." The smirk that stretched across his face was one that she wanted to slap right off... if she could actually reach up that far. "Actually I wanted to give you a little something I picked up while we were training.""What is it?" Vassa said, half of her afraid at what the shield was reaching behind his back for.With a smooth sweep. He pulled out a long single handed sword, the blade an elegant upswept curve from the hilt to the tip of shining silver that sparkled in the light like it had been carved from pure crystal itself. Small dark blue gems the color of a night sky and shaped like stars were embedded in the elegantly carved hilt, ominously glistening with the light at a darker future use. "The weapons dealer said it was named Storm Surge and one of his best blades for combat. A one handed blade with electricity forged in it's core, he said that foes weak to electricity best beware of their fate. I though it was a lot of hype at the time, but I saw it and thought of you. It beats the heck out of that little blade you've got, plus it wouldn't do you any harm to have an extra weapon to summon."Vassa frowned slightly, taking the sword from Gladio and testing it's limits with a quick slice through the air. No longer than the brief moment that she had handled it, it already felt like an extension of herself already, hissing through the air without even the slightest bit of resistance as she twirled and spun, ending with the sword tip point directly under Gladio's throat and crackling softly with just the barest hint of blue tinged electricity dancing across the silver steel. "Thanks so much, Gladio. I'll keep it handy, but I'm still going to keep my other sword handy too. It never hurts to have a non-magical weapon on hand. You'll see that someday." She winked.Sliding her hands down the length of the blade, a shimmering blue light spread across the weapons' surface like water submerging the entire length before it vanished into a shower of blue sparkles. Vassa felt a new mental command to summon the weapon fall into place as the weapon equipped, thanks in part to Noctis's magic, and she knew that it was ready to be used in battle whenever it was needed. With the excitement of a brand new weapon in her possession sending a surge of happiness rolling through her veins, she promptly pounced on her taller friend with an excited squeal, actually managing to make Gladio stagger back a step under the sudden assault before she slipped off to help Ignis serve the remains of breakfast, leaving the ordeal of waking Noctis to her newly returned friends.Some time later, after several of Ignis's pans had been clapped together over the top of the slumbering king's head. Noctis finally emerged from his cocoon and even more momentously, actually got himself ready while they all prepared for the journey to the Disc. Their breakfast was quickly devoured before walking down to the normally empty parking space and overlook.Except that the overlook wasn't quite so empty this morning. A man, tall with shaggy reddish tinted hair that shone violet in the bright morning sun, and strong features bordered with a slight hint of stubble gazed out into the beyond through one of the silver standing binoculars . His amber eyes glowed almost inhumanly bright beneath the shield of his dark fedora as he turned to watch their approach, the hat a similar shade of dark grey that complemented the heavy dark trench coat and red scarf he wore despite the morning's warmth, all fluttering slightly in the morning breeze. "Good morning! It's a beautiful day for a drive, isn't it?" The stranger turned and greeted them with a smile."What the-" Prompto muttered, ducking behind Ignis's taller figure as the adviser leaned back on his heel, emerald eyes flashing as sharp as razors as he thoroughly inspected the newly arrived suspicious stranger."You." Noctis grumbled, his face composed into a stoic mask as he crossed his arms over his chest. His blue eyes turning to frosted chips of the most suspicious blue ice as his chin jutted out slightly.A thorn sharp prick of dread began to painfully tug at Vassa's heart once again, the feeling entirely too familiar to what she had experienced while sleeping, and it was with that same sense of danger she felt after waking this morning that she watched the suspicious stranger walk closer.
Amor Non Exurat Flamma Ch.8"Prompto!"The scream ripped free from Vassa's throat as she rushed towards where her blonde friend laid sprawled across the blood stained ice. His back was propped up partially by a protruding jagged rock, one leg stretched out partially in front of him while the other was bent up at an awkward right angle that surely wasn't natural based on the slowly spreading dark stain on his pants. He was up and alert for that much, a slight crease of fear playing over his features while his left hand held the flashing light previously attached to his jacket. The pale light danced over the ice, glancing around the jagged interior of the large cavern and two large doors installed directly into the ice, before finally illuminating the three tall figures hovering phantom like around his body before they darted back into the safety of the shadows. Despite the minor miracle that her glasses had not gone missing or broken during the fall, she still couldn't fully tell what kind of daemon that they were fighting. Every time they darted so far forward to the light, they withdrew before she could fully see the human shaped figure, but she could tell that whatever type it was, it appeared to be floating in the air."Get away from me! I'm not dinner!" With a quick motion, Prompto pulled his handgun into play, firing off a series of shots that earned him the hiss of his would-be predator's. She saw his expression change as he noticed their arrival, quickly morphing from one of fear to one of hope. "V! Noct! Oh, man. Am I glad to see the two of you!""Looks like you need a little help." Noctis summoned his sword in a flash of blue tinged light, half turning to glance her way. "Can you protect Prompto for awhile?"Vassa sucked in a breath, the painful ache still lingering in her chest like a brace preventing her from breathing fully, but tugged on the mental summon of her blades. They appeared on target, the cool metal easily sliding between her fingers as she quickly drew back her wrist, aimed, and flung the three blades in her left hand. The daemons lingering in the shadows gurgled in sudden shock, the hissing sound of their breath was too much like the whisper of death as they tried to advance despite the blinding influence of Prompto's light. "Does that answer your question?" She raised an eyebrow, expecting a snaky response from her cousin, but he simply smiled and nodded. The flickering action of his arm slinging out his sword and warping behind it so sudden that she was left breathing in the sparkles of his disappearance."Eyes peeled, mouth closed. That's the best tip I've got for battling with a warping Noct. The sparkles sometimes make me cough." Prompto chuckled weakly through a groan, trying to sit up a little bit more but hissing through his teeth as his wounded leg dragged against the ice. Vassa's brain snapped into action, swiveling her attention from the battle to crouch down beside Prompto and inspect his wound. A thick surge of bile swirled deep in her stomach when she saw the tattered edges of ragged flesh and red tissue exposed along his calf, the deep garnet and burgundy color of his inner muscles was one that should have never been exposed to the air, much less the thick shaft of pale bone sticking up through his skin. As much as she loved Prompto like a brother, there was some things about him that she had never wanted to see and this was one of them."The Astrals..." She trailed off, not quite sure how to approach it first. Thanks to the bone chilling cold of the Grotto, his bleeding had slowed significantly to an almost jam-like consistency puddled around his wound and down on the ice below. So hopefully he wasn't bleeding to death somewhere inside. Her teeth nervously sank down into her lower lip as she pulled it through her teeth, the brief pain attempting to jump start any thoughts she might have swirling about. "Is this.. You're not hurt anywhere else are you?""If you don't count scratches and bruises, and I'm so cold that I think my fingers are freezing off along with a few other body parts. But otherwise, I'm good." The sickly pale cast to his smiling face told her otherwise, but she reached down into her pocket and pulled out one of the slightly crushed and partially bald Phoenix Downs out from her pocket."Here, take this. Ignis has got all the Hi-Potions in the inventory satchel, but go ahead and try this just to make sure you're healed up."Prompto had reached up, his icy fingers brushing against hers before a sweet smelling fog clouded her senses, her vision turning into a slightly dazed mass of fuzzy blobs as she felt the precious feather slip between her fingers. She staggered back on the ice, the ring of Prompto's gun and the frantic calls of her name was slightly muffled. Almost like she was living underwater, her movements were sluggish, her vision murky, and her hearing muted to the point that she could no longer tell friend from foe. She fell, the cold ice completely unforgiving to her knees as something tall and dark loomed straight in front of her.For a moment, Vassa refused to believe that the tall man with the mass of grey tentacle-like beard, long blue robe with a red skirt slightly writhing with a life of it's own, and ornate arrow shaped hat was a figment of her own addled mind. But a faint thought from her Crownguards training tickled the very edges of her thoughts with a single name.Mindflayer."Noctis, watch it!" She heard the rough grumble of Gladio's voice call out into the air as two more dark shapes arrived and immediately threw themselves into the melee. She saw a figure go down, the shadowy outline of a sword in hand and her heart clenched tight with the realization that the shape had to be Noctis. I'm supposed to protect him. I WILL protect him.Lurching forward on unsteady legs, she stumbled towards the combat. Only to have one of the dark bearded figures to appear directly before her. Even in her current confused state, she could see the beady golden eyes maliciously gleaming deep in the mass of the head. "Get out of my way!" She growled, jabbing her blades directly towards the center mass of the head. The blow never made contact, her feet slipping on the ice as she lunged forward, only to receive an answering slap from the tentacles directly to her head. Her murky vision spun, her glasses flying off her face to land somewhere in the distance as she came crashing down on her knees.Knife sharp pain slashed through the bones of her knees and up through the palms of her hands where she had caught herself, but even with her head spinning so much that she couldn't tell if up was down or down was up, the pain helped with one thing.Her mind cleared enough that she could see the three Mindflayers still fighting her friends.Mindflayers... Mindflayers are weak against lightening. Some previously forgotten portion of her Crownsguard training suddenly appeared in her thoughts. The one standing before her gurgled happily, it's beard of tentacles and writhing fingers slowly caressing her back and shoulders as it lowered down, intending to take a bite of her flesh. Slowly as not to alarm the creature, she reached one hand to her belt where a small palm sized round metal orb was clipped. With a quick flick of her fingers, she unsnapped the flask, hiding the slight glow from the magic filled item by keeping it turned towards her hip.The Mindflayer kept lowering, almost ready to devour her, when she opened the magic flask and let the power of the lightening magic spill forth towards her weapons. The specially inlaid blue gems around the hilts of her blades glowed bright, filling with the magic as the crackling energy took hold. Shafts of jagged blue lightening danced over the surface of her blades, mimicking a powerful storm. The Mindflayer shrieked in sudden surprise, lifting itself away to try and escape from the hated element but it was too slow.With a quick lunge, she drove up in a long arching swipe, splitting the daemon's body open from the base of the skirt-like formation of tentacles at the base of it's body, to the joint of the tentacle wrapped beard and the sharp stubby beak contained underneath. A wave of thick black liquid spilled forth, soaking her jacket and shirt with the dark blood like liquid before it began to evaporate into misty clouds of miasma as well as the fallen body. With the threat now eliminated, the unbridled surge of electrical magic bucked against the control of her blades, seeking an opponent to release it's storm of fury on. Finding none, it settled on recoiling against her control, sending wave after wave of shocking electricity sizzling up the nerves of her arm. Stumbling backwards, she vaguely felt her back hit the ice frosted ground before her vision blackened completely.Sometime later, Vassa vaguely heard a faint call of her name before a fizzy liquid was abruptly forced between her lips. Extremely sweet in taste and so filled with energy that she could feel a renewed sense of life flooding her limbs, her eyes snapped open immediately to find herself staring at four pairs of slightly blurry eyes glittering with concern. Blinking twice, her tongue still felt slightly numb as she tried to speak. "Um... Did I miss something? Why are you guys staring at me?"The group chuckled with relief. "She's alright." Noctis straightened up, brushing a hand through the tips of his ice frosted hair."That was a damn big explosion you set off there, V. Scared the hell out of those other Mindflayers, and sent them running for whatever crack that came out of." Gladio's deep voice grumbled above her head as Vassa started trying to pick herself up off the ground. He slid his large hands underneath her shoulders, helping to support her as she rolled her legs underneath her body and stood up. Still slightly unsteady, her hips and knees swayed forward, being quickly caught by Prompto's and Ignis's hands around her shoulders before she pitched forward to face plant in the ice again. Noctis still remained in front, hands out and ready to catch if she should so much as even think about falling forward again."Perhaps it would be wise if you were to finish drinking this." Taking the opportunity of her hand being open and slightly flexed, Ignis slipped a cool blue can in between her fingers. Blinking slightly in surprise, the writing printed on the metal was blurred, but Vassa was still able to see that the letters formed the word HI-POTION. She eagerly raised the can to her lips, tipping her head back, and slugged the last remains of the drink down.And immediately regretted it.A sudden dizzy sensation sent her head spinning as Vassa tried to straighten up, causing her to lean forward and brace her hands against her thighs, sucking in the frost chilled air to flood her still healing lungs and clear her spinning head. The empty can landed somewhere about her feet, clattering loudly against the ice. A section of her dark bangs spilled across her eyes, but she saw someone approaching her from the left through the fringe. She flinched slightly as a hand laid tentatively on her back, pressing something slim and folded into her hands. Her glasses, smudged severely with dirt and grime, but still miraculously whole. A heavy sigh of relief slipped past her lips as she pushed her glasses into place, her world shifting into focus once more. "I'm fine. Was that it?""It looks like it." Gladio's comment caused her to scan around the completely empty cavern once more, her gaze landing on the imposing figure of the two large doors embedded directly into the ice. "Better go on and see what's waiting behind those doors, princess.""Yeah, Noct. Hurry up. The quicker you find your family relic, the quicker we can go back outside into the gloriously warm sunshine.." Prompto appeared almost fully healed from his gruesome injury earlier, but his walking gait was still a little stiff like the bones weren't connected just right."Right." Noctis fumbled in the pockets of his pants for a moment as he padded towards the two looming doors, his features twisting up in an intense scowl of concentration while he groped for something that had slid into the very depths of his pockets."You didn't lose it, did you?" Gladio grumbled, leaning over Noctis's shoulder with a curious glance before the king swatted him away with an annoyed swipe of his hand."Of course I didn't! It's right here." Vassa's own curiosity was perked as she saw Noctis produced a small metal key laid in the center of his bare palm. The silver metal almost seemed to glow in reference to his dirt and ice smeared palm as he inserted it into the ice crusted lock on the door and twisted. The door unlocked with a loud squealing click, ancient metal being forced into use after so many years of abandonment. For a moment, she thought that she had imagined the slight hesitation in Noct's hands as he reached forward and opened the doors, but he never hesitated while entering the eternal slumber of the fallen King of Lucis's tomb."Wow, this one is the Wanderer! That's a major score thanks to our little informant buddy." Prompto's murmured slightly in awe behind her shoulder as both her and Gladio filtered into the ornate cavern behind Noctis, Prompto and Ignis standing behind her as they all watched Noctis walk to the resting king and extend a single hand, summoning the shimmering Sword of the Wanderer from it's resting place to momentarily hover in the air. Her eyes, still raw from the dust of the shattered ice, started to weep as the blue light strengthened, showcasing the highly decorated ornate swords that could form together into one massive blade to it's fullest distinction before the shimmering weapon twisted in the air and speared Noctis right through his chest into the deepest parts of his heart."NOCT!" The unholy screech ripped free from Vassa's throat, her worst horror confirmed that he was in danger as she watched Noctis stagger back two steps with his hand cupped to his chest, the silver phantasmic images of the mighty double bladed Axe of the Conqueror and the long and lethally sharp Sword of the Wise pirouetted around his body in addition to the newly added Sword of the Wanderer, encircling his body in the silvery light of his armiger before the ghostly royal arms faded. The weapons faded with a sharp snap, disappearing with only the faintest traces of blue sparkles left hanging in the air. Her anxiety still wasn't totally reassured that Noctis was unharmed as he had yet to speak, so with a cautious step forward, she poked his shoulder with a single finger. "Noct? You okay?"Surprisingly he turned around, that slightly glazed look that had frosted his eyes ever since they had entered the Grotto now cleared, showing only his familiar Lucian blue eyes sparkling with a slight bit of hidden humor. "Why wouldn't I be? It's only a weapon using by my ancestors, not like it's really dangerous or anything.""Don't start being an ass, you ass." She narrowed her eyes against his teasing smirk."I'm not the ass, you are.""Noctis, Vassa. Language." Ignis scolded sharply while Gladio and Prompt snickered.A brief huff left the king's lips, waving his arm to gesturing the party onwards. "Whatever. Let's get out of here."Following Noctis's royal proclamation and Ignis's infallible map skills, the party of five managed to shortly find their way back to the waterfall covered entrance just as the sun had started to set into a blaze of slightly orange tinted clouds above in a blue sky. "Oh, thank you Astrals! Glorious sunshine again." Prompto tilted his head back and cried out to the heavens above as they climbed out of the Grotto to stand at the edge of the thundering waterfall. The overspray of fine mist was much warmer than what she remembered, or perhaps it was just the effects of being in such a chilled environment for so long. Something she couldn't excuse though was Prompto's hugging of a sun warmed rock and his promise to never leave the wonderful sunlight again."Just a wee bit dramatic, don't you think Gladio?" She started to ask the shield, but her attention was immediately snapped away as Noctis gave out a cry of pain and suddenly doubled over to his knees, his hands fisted tight against the sides of his head with just the slightest fringe of his dark hair poking out from between his fingers. His eyes clenched tight and his teeth bared against whatever invisible agony had suddenly struck him."Noct!" Vassa reached out, lightly laying her hand against his shoulder. He didn't seem to notice, but she could feel that his muscles were so rigid and tight with pain even through the thick leather of his shirt. He groaned, pressing his fists so tight against his skull that she was half afraid that he might cause himself some sort of bone fracture by pressing on his bones so firmly.Releasing his rock companion, Prompto scrambled across the ground and slid down beside her leg. Resting fully on his knees in front of Noctis's face to try and direct his attention away from the pain. "Hey, buddy? You okay? What's wrong?"Noctis's muscles tensed, his shoulders shifting under her hands as he slightly lowered his hands from pressing so tightly against his skull. Despite the sudden ease in the pain, he was still panting like he had finished running a race. "Where... What did I... Where was that?" He finally mumbled, still too confused to totally make sense.Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Gladio lingering just to her right, and she could feel Ignis peering over her left shoulder. "What was it?" The shield's rumbled question seemed to trigger another round of pain through Noctis's skull as he winched again and returned his right hand to his temple."It was a hole in the ground... But it was burning? Yeah, burning like... The Meteor?" Noctis finally mumbled after a moment, still seemingly not sure of his vision himself."You saw the Disc of Cauthess? Perhaps it would be wise for us to make our way back to Lestallum." Vassa glanced over my shoulder to see Ignis thoughtfully tapping his chin with a single long finger. "It is becoming rather late, and it wouldn't be wise to explore such premonitions without a resting a tad first.""Plus we can report back to Talcott and Iris and let them know what happened. Talcott will probably be thrilled to know that his info was great." Prompto provided a steadying hand to Noctis as he straightened up, the king gazing across the landscape with a somber, thoughtful glance before nodding.Thankfully that even though the sunlight was waning into dusk, the walk back and the accompanying ride to Lestallum was peaceful enough that Noctis dozed off, his head resting against Vassa's shoulder with his pointed chin digging deeply into her bones. Yay, that's gonna leave a bruise tomorrow. She thought as she tried to shift around, only to have Noct's arms firmly latch on to her left one, nearly squeezing the blood flow off from the strength of his grip. Gladio grumbled a laugh in her ear, firmly ignoring the annoyed look she tossed his way by returning to the book she had bought for him previously. Prompto was up front, fiddling with the radio controls while Ignis alternated between driving and glancing up in the mirror to check on Noctis. He didn't really have to worry, the king was firmly sound asleep so much that Vassa idly wondered if Gladio might have to carry him back to Leville.That wasn't totally true. As soon as Ignis steered the Regalia into the Lestallum overlook parking area, Noctis woke up and started demanding to visit one particular restaurant. The famed Tostwell Grill located at the back of the marketplace was rumored to have the tastiest Spicy Skewers in all of Lestallum, and it sounded like heaven to have a hot meal after spending so long in the frigid caverns that they made their way there at once. Once seated by the friendly waiter, she scanned through the menu, her gaze briefly lingering on the mouthwatering image of the Spicy Skewers that looked just as delicious as she had imagined, but Vassa found what she wanted down on the very bottom of the list. Her eyes glazed over, too in shock of how delicious it sounded to notice that her stomach was starting to rumble from merely reading the description.*Weekly Special* Cinnamon OverloadA large decadent layer of freshly baked pillowy soft dough swirled with fresh cinnamon, topped with whipped white chocolate cinnamon creme, warm cinnamon caramel sauce, and sprinkled with fresh grated cinnamon on top.She was all too eager to point out her desire to the waiter once he reappeared, much to the shock of the four guys who were in the middle of ordering their own Tostwell signature Spicy Skewers, but she wouldn't have traded one single bite of her lovely desert for all of the spiced meat in Eos for what she saw coming towards her."Woah! Can you really handle that much sweets, pipsqueak?" Gladio's dark eyes were stretched wide as he watched the waiter place the veritable mountain of cinnamon flavored goodness right before her. The description on the menu had greatly understated the Astral blessed item. A thick puffy layer of sweetened yeast dough nearly three inches thick, artfully arranged with thick swirls of darker brown cinnamon crafted through the dough, topped with a cloud of thick white creme beat into tall peaks, and drizzled with thick, buttery caramel sauce and sprinkles of cinnamon scattered about like faery dust. It was beautiful, gorgeous even, and she might possibly have been drooling from the side of her mouth from sheer delight.And there was five wriggling fingers slowly inching across the table towards her beloved dessert.Each of the boys had the opportunity to order whatever they wanted, all of them choosing the Spicy Skewers instead, and it was extremely bad manners to snitch a bite from someone else's plate without permission, considering the fingers belonged to her sweets loving royal cousin himself. So it was extremely justifiable in her mind when she picked up the knife provided with the utensils of her meal and stabbed it deep into the table, right in front of Noctis's advancing fingers and barely missing his flesh by mere inches."Geez, Shadow. A little violent, aren't we?" Noctis partially withdrew his hand. "I just wanted a little taste. It's your royal duty to share with your beloved king.""Or cut off his snack thieving little fingers if he doesn't keep them to himself." She snarled, ignoring a quick flash of protesting pain from her stiffening fingers while she scooped up a spoonful of the delicious creme and caramel to shove between her lips. Her eyes closed as a contented little smile curled the corners of her lips. Ahh! Sweet bliss."Dude, you better be careful." She slitted one eye open to see Prompto leaned across the table to whisper in Noctis's ear. Poor boy never had been able to whisper. "You guys remember what she did after her 16th birthday party, right? When you and Gladio got into that cake Iggy made for her?""Yeah, I remember." Gladio leaned back in his chair, briefly pinching a piece of the dark red colored seasoned meat off the skewer to pop into his mouth, chewing slowly to savor the spiced meaty flavor. "Two layers of Ignis's special Fluffy Chiffon Cake, stuffed and frosted with that sweet cinnamon vanilla buttercream, and thick dark chocolate fudge stripes on top. It was delicious, one of your best things Ig, but V's heel print on my ass didn't fade for about a week. The pipsqueak was raging mad too, nearly came close to beating the crap outta me. Well, almost. About as much as damage as a little goblin can do."Did he just... The spoon previously held between her fingers clattered against her plate, haven fallen from hands suddenly devoid of any control. She felt her face flush blood red, embarrassment worse than anything she had ever encountered by tripping and falling was easily surpassed by this. She wanted to crawl under the table and die. No, scratch that. She wanted to call out Iris on her older brother for a mega sibling beatdown. Yeah, that would be a better alternative than begging Noctis to try and warp with her back to her room at the Leville."Ah!" All the good humor that had enveloped the group suddenly vanished as Noctis leaned forward, his elbows banging sharply against the table on either side of his plate. His hands vainly clutched at the sides of his head, a pain filled grimace once again pulling his features up into a desperate snarl. "The hell? it's burning... burning so much.""Gladio, pick Noct up and carry him back to the Leville. Prompto, Vassa. Gather up the remains of our meal. I'll pay the charges. We'll accompany you shortly." In the briefest of moments, Ignis had assumed control with his signature calm, precise manner despite the slight flush to his own cheeks from Gladio's complement to his baking skills. It was instinct honed from years of experience of working together that had Vassa's shaking hands directing Prompto on retrieving the remainder of their meal, no matter how much her mind was conjuring every scenario imaginable that could cause such a severe reaction. It was with this same efficient grace that Ignis directed both her and Prompto in a mildly functioning manner in pursuit of Gladio, Noctis casually draped over his shoulders like a dark clothed scarf but held firmly so he didn't slide down from the Garulaback ride position he was in.The walk back to the Leville was rather slow, almost to the point of lazy as Noctis was still having stark pains shooting through his head every now and then, but he never spoke of any other visions that had appeared. Once inside the safety of their room, Noctis promptly crawled into one of the beds and pulled the blankets over his head, becoming a non-responsive burrito shaped lump till at least sometime tomorrow morning hopefully. Prompto and Gladio had both settled down in the two chairs surrounding the table, phones out and chirping as they played a quick round of King's Knight. Vassa had started to leave for her own room, but Ignis had requesting for her to wait on the balcony of their room while he fetched a nightcap of Ebony to top off the evening.Despite everything, Lestallum was very lovely at night. The warm lights, the slightly lower but still bustling sounds, and a few people slowly drifted by on the street below. She sat down on one of two simple iron chairs placed on the balcony along with a small cafe table, leaning her upper body over the railing and folding her arms underneath my chin. A gentle breeze playfully twisted in the strands of her hair, just enough that the shaggy ends tickled her neck like a bug was crawling across her skin."My apologies for the wait," Ignis's voice was softer as he stepped out of the room, two silvery mugs filled with steaming Ebony held in each gloved hand as he gently nudged the folding door shut with the toe of his shoe. During the time that he had ventured in search of the drink, his jacket had also mysteriously disappeared, leaving him in just his violet and black Coeurl patterned shirt with the long sleeves half rolled up to his elbows. "In addition to preparing our drinks and storing our leftovers from dinner. Someone had hidden my parcel of Ebony beneath a container of cup noodles. I can only pray to the Astrals that the taste was not compromised by such an mockery of food.""Relax, Iggy. They're not that bad or Gladio and Noctis couldn't live off them." Vassa tried not to winch as her fingers folded around the steaming mug that Ignis passed over to her as he settled in the chair opposite her. Shit, her fingers were really starting to sting. With that first sip of freshly brewed Ebony, she took the chance to savor every note of the sweet bitter flavor rolling across her tongue as the warmth of the drink soothed the last clinging threads of the Grotto's chilled hold. Vassa had nearly finished her Ebony when she noticed the prickling sensation of being intensely watched. Out of the corner of her eye, She saw that Ignis was no longer watching the people below, but was steadily studying her from head to toe like she was some exotic new object. Heated from the revitalizing Ebony surging through her veins, her face flushed bright red as she self-consciously ducked her head down behind the safety of her now empty mug. "Something wrong?"With a grace that shouldn't have been possible by such a simple movement as placing his mug on the table between us, Ignis shifted in his seat to grant her the full power of his stern gaze. "Please forgive my intrusion, but I have repeatedly noticed that your hands seem to be giving you a moderate amount of pain within the last few hours, most notably as you attempt to grip an item such as the mug in your hands or the spoon from your dinner earlier." He straightened one long finger to indicate where her hands were so awkwardly cupped around the mug. "Would you be willing to remove your gloves and allow me to tend to your hands?"Ignis expression was so sweet and concerned about her well being that it caused her heart to briefly flutter in her chest. Without a sound, Vassa placed her mug on the table and slowly tugged off first her left and then her right glove. The black leather creaked under the the forced movement, the well-fitted fabric much tighter and more difficult to remove than it would have been merely a few hours ago. She had suspected that her fingers and knuckles had swollen from combat earlier, an Imp's body is still hard no matter where you punch the daemon, not even mentioning the face of the kickback from stormbinding her blades, but her suspicion were confirmed as her skin was slowly revealed inch by inch. The skin across her knuckles was swollen and slightly puffy all the way down to the joint in the middle of her fingers, a deep red flush spreading across the joints where the leather had protected her skin from breaking open under the strain, but also hadn't prevented the bleeding from spreading underneath her skin. A slight blue flush had started to color the base of her knuckles, painting a mottled mixture of angry red and wounded blue against her pale skin that was almost mesmerizing. Wow, I didn't really think it was that bad. She idly thought as she laid her hands on the table in full view of Ignis's through inspection."Just a moment, please." Ignis murmured softly before rising to venture inside the room for a moment. When he returned, a small vial filled with a clear oil glinted softly in his hands. The heels of his shoes clicked against the flooring of the balcony, the muted thuds increasing the speed of her heart as she watched him return to his seat and remove his own gloves starting with the tip of each finger. Is he.... Oh, Astrals he is. Vassa struggled to swallow against the sudden desert that had burst to life in her throat as he reached across the table and lifted her own hands into his , delicately dabbing the sweet floral scented oil across her skin before massaging it gently to her abused muscles with soothing strokes of his long fingers. "You still appear to be having some difficulty maintaining control of your lightening elemancy." He commented idly, allowing his attention to remain on where his fingers gently smoothed the skin between the joints of her thumb and first finger on her right hand.Her eyes shifted upwards, focusing on his face as the humming buzz of nerves buzzed through her body. True, she had never been the greatest of elemental users like he was with fire, but she had been decent enough in battle with lightening magic that she had gained a particular affinity for the volatile magic. As a vassal of Noctis's Pure Lucian heritage, she was allowed a certain privilege to summon her weapons on command, a feat tied directly to Noctis's strength and crown. But despite the long hours of training undergone for years of her life, her control on the finer aspects of binding elemental magic to her weapons still left quite a bit to be desire. She had been knocked out more than once by a particularly violent kickback of elemental magic released before it's time, but she much rather experienced that effect rather than the violent upchucking of young Kingsglaives during their warping training."If you don't mind my suggestion, it might be of a benefit to you if we trained together regarding your handling of elemancy. It has greatly concerned me when the magic ripped itself from your control, and that is not the first time I, myself, have witness such an event. And I do know for certain that Gladio, Prompto, and Noctis all are concerned as well. Wielding elemancy is a difficult subject in itself and extremely dangerous, and I am greatly concerned that you may find yourself severely injured."She could barely meet his gaze, the hint of emerald peeking over the dark frame of his glasses. It's okay, Iggy. I'm just a spare part. I know that. I wish you wouldn't worry about me so much. Only too late did she really that she had actually whispered her thoughts out loud.Ignis straightened so suddenly that a small squeak of surprise slipped from her lips. The massaging movements of his fingers stopped, carefully cradling her hands in his larger ones like they were made of the most fragile glass. What took her breath away was the His eyes were glowing like fire, emerald flames shimmering and dancing behind the shield of his glasses that for a moment, she swore she was looking at his Sagefire when summoned in battle. "Vassa, I must ask of you what has given you an such idea that is most certainly false?" Compared to the fiery emotion in his eyes, the tone of his voice was steady and even. The ever calm Ignis Scientia, never flustered or broken no matter the situation at hand, had no idea just how much he had opened an old wound.Vassa pursed her lips and blew out a long breath, drawing her lower lip through her teeth in a quick bout of nerves. When did the idea first start taking root like an unwanted weed? For years now she had wondered about the same conclusion, but today's activities had shown her that despite her best attempts, her best just wasn't good enough. It was never good enough. "Just forget it, Iggy. I'm tired and rambling. Don't think anything about it." The accompanying glare that quickly followed her statement was one that had her squirming like an insect pinned under a microscope. The razor sharp close inspection of one that she might have sworn had mind reading powers before he sighed once again and returned to his work.Any hope that she had of Ignis forgetting what she said was most certainly sunk, the man had never forgotten a single thing that she could remember aside from his own well being and his birthday, but this impromptu care session had also granted her the rare opportunity to study his features at close range. His glasses had slipped down the slope of his nose slightly, exposing a slender slice more of his emerald eyes than what was normally visible to her sight. Entirely focused on the actions, it had allowed her to observe the small crinkled lines of concentration that framed the tender skin around his eyes. His brows had drawn down as well with the effects of his focus and her earlier statement, firming his lips into a thin line as the pressure extended down into a clenched jaw. She tilted her head slightly to the left, considering the almost painful look of tension spread across his features. I don't know why all the staff at the Citadel always said that Iggy was so stoic and frightened of him, he just has an intense level of concentration and maybe just a hint of an angry resting face. Poor guy really works himself to the bone. I wonder if he's even taken a breath for himself since this all started? He's probably got a killer migraine by now, I wonder if he would let me return the favor? Probably not."Thank you, Ignis. That feels wonderful now." Now fully healthy and limber once again, Vassa let her now boneless feeling fingers slip through his as he leaned up once again, reaching to close the bottle of lavender and rosewater oil with one hand and rubbing at his temples. She started to raise her hands with the intention of massaging his own aching temples, but her courage quickly failed her and she let them fall back into her lap. "It's late, I better go and let you get to bed. Dawn doesn't wait for anyone you know. So you sleep tight and don't let Gladio bite." At least her little retort disguised the pounding of her heart in her chest, also earning a light grin from Ignis in return that did not a single thing to slow her feelings at all."I wish you a peaceful rest as well, Vassa." He nodded, still sitting in the chair before turning around to glance her way. With the moonlight shining down from above, his tawny hair turned silver in the pale light as it danced and played about his features, illuminating every chiseled feature in sharp detail that not even the most talented artist could match. He was beautiful and fierce at the same time, looking like he was ready to journey into battle at just a moments notice should she say the word. "I do expect your prompt arrival for the preparation of breakfast in the morning. I will need your assistance to prepare a serving of Creamy Crustacean Omelette and no other will suffice." Ignis's brisk but kind tone left no room for arguments. Brisk but kind, she allowed the smallest of shy smiles to twist her lips as she nodded her head slightly before slinking to her own room, giving a small wave of her hand to Gladio as he peered over the edge of his book, and pulling a blanket over both a slumbering Prompto asleep in a chair as she passed by.
Life vs. DeathOf every thought that had ever drifted through his head once he was blinded, he had never wished that his hearing had been taken away instead.But now he had.With every rough bark of the doctor's voice to clear, with every crackling jolt of electricity that sounded from the machine just beyond the reaches of the walls, Ignis wished that he didn't have to hear the doctor's fighting for the life of his wife and unborn child.Six weeks Vassa had laid in that bed after the hard won victory of the light after the darkness. Six weeks of healing for her broken body with nothing more than the faint warmth of her skin, the soft sounds of her breathing, and the beeping of the heart monitor telling him that she was alive. His ears ached to hear her gentle laugh instead of the raspy breathing. His skin ached to feel the press of lips so soft against his own rather than the unresponsive ones. But most of all, his heart ached for ached for each and every little piece of Vassa that he couldn't name individually, but made up an entire beautiful being that had become his own personal gift from the Astrals. Then she was ripped from him in a harsh squeal of monitors ringing out with the nonresponsive beat of her heart, by skilled hands pushing him back while they went to battle for Vassa's own life. He hadn't even realized that Gladio and Prompto had arrived till the blonde gunman's hands had guided him to a seat to wait in the silence of tortured hell.Vaguely he was aware of a wetness leaking down his cheeks from his eyes, of Gladio's worry laced angry grumbles, and Prompto slight nonsensical soothing. The razor sharp blade of grief in his chest twisted every time the doctors tried to shock her back to life, feeling like he was being ripped in two every time someone called for a phoenix down but there was not a single one to be found. His fingers wound tight around the little purple Chocobo hanging next to his own skull pendant, a remainder of the promise she had extracted from him that he would come back alive and whole to her.Why couldn't she hold the same promise herself?Please, dear Astrals. If you have any mercy at all. Let them live. Let her live. I will gladly give you my own life if you will just spare theirs. He soundlessly whispered to any astral that was listening, and for a moment, he could have sworn he felt the softness of a familiar ghostly hand rest against his cheek, but then it was gone. Then it was quiet, too quiet.When the equipment ceased and the doctors went silent, he could have sworn his own heart stopped beating in that very moment. Gladio's furious demand to know why they had stopped interrupted the soft steps as the doctor exited her room and came to stand before him. He raised his head, a faint impression of a shadow against a watery light filling his weak vision as someone started to speak. "Mr. Scientia. We are so sorry. We tried everything we could, but your wife has passed on.""The hell you haven't tried everything you could or you would still be in their trying to get her back!" The floor squeaked under Gladio's heavy steps as he bore down on the doctor.He swallowed roughly, releasing his grip on the necklace and shifted to his feet. "May I see her?" His many years of training as Noctis's advisor kept his voice steady while his heart felt like it was breaking. The doctor most likely flinched at his word choice, a blind man 'seeing' his dead wife, but granted him permission to step inside. The room was quiet and dark, a tomb already in the moments that had passed where she had just been living but was gone, as fleeting as speck of dust in the wind being blown away into the eternity of nevermore. Still he made his way to her bedside, reaching for a bandaged hand that hid flame scarred skin."You fought valiantly, my dear Vassa. The bravest, kindest, most loving woman I have ever had the honor of knowing and I thank the Astrals for the chance to know you and to love you. I wish you an eternity of restful sleep with our departed ones until I can see you again." Here his steady voice broke, the overwhelming tide of pain and grief refusing to be held back any longer, letting the last words he spoke to painfully stick in his throat. "T-Thank you for standing by me, my love."Releasing her hand to lay on the bed once more, his fingers trailed upwards to curve along her cheek, his thumb rubbing softly against her skin before rising upwards to smooth away a section of the lustrous dark hair that was still so soft beneath the tips of his fingers, before he lowered his head to place a kiss directly onto her chilled forehead. With just that feeling of her cold flesh pressed against his, it was like the knife finally ripped right into the center of his heart, severing the final fragile thread holding his carefully bound walls together as a fresh round of silvery tears dripped from his eyes. It felt like he was in those chilled waters of Altissa once again, surrounding by a wave after wave of despair that beat his body against the sharp rocks of grief, but this time he had no light to guide him to the shore. His hope was gone, crushed out like a fragile candle flame for the future of what could have been. He barely felt his limbs collapse beneath him as he rested his face in the curve of her neck, his arms cupping her fragile frame while great heaving sobs ripped free from his chest. How was he going to live without her? His light? His gentle Sylleblossom? First Noctis, now Vassa. When would Gladio and Promto leave as well? Leaving him alone to live in the bright light of an Astral cursed dawn? If this was the blessed end, than he almost wished that they had never went to raise the dawn. Then at least they would be still alive, she would still be alive and damn the bloody consequences!But he mustn't think selfish thoughts like that. The dark cursed world was hell itself to so many that Noctis's and now Vassa's sacrifices were not in vain. Their names would be added to the list of glorious warriors of history who sacrificed for the greater good. He should be proud of her for what she did, but he felt so sick instead. So sick that he could die lying here beside her as his mind continued to taunt him with memory of her faint breathing, of her chest brushing against his as he continued to release his grief filled tears into her cool skin. Twice he felt a tentative pressure brush along his ribs, but of course it was only another trick.There it was again, a soft prod to his hip like someone was poking him, but there was no one else in the room. He could still hear Gladio and Prompto in the hall beyond, their voices mixed with that of one of the nurses while they spoke, but then the tapping came again, right about the space where Vassa's hand should have laid. His heart skipped slightly, a single ray of the thinnest strand of hope blooming to life with the movement. Could it really be...He twisted his head to the side with a slight shake, his cheek now laying flat against her neck as he tried to clear his mind of those types of thoughts that he had no right to think. His love was dead, even pronounced so by doctors far more experienced than he. It was the involuntary twitches of dying muscles and nerves, nothing more, but that thin hope wouldn't die as he removed his left hand from her body and followed the line of her right arm till he encountered the rough bump of her bandages and her fingers now caught in the belt loops of his pants rather than laying flat as they originally had. He couldn't repress a small sad smile as he untangled her fingers from their trappings, but surprisingly her fingers contracted around his, ripping an involuntary gasp from his throat with the strength of a such a gesture. This didn't seem right, it must have been his mind playing some sort of cruel trick on him. But... how could it replicate the feeling of her chest pushing against his with a simulated breath, or the slight bump of the memory of a heartbeat where none was? A silent wordless prayer mentally lifted to the Astrals above as he tilted his head to the side and rested his ear fully on her chest, ignoring the speeding beat of his own heart that was thundering in his ears, he held his breath and listened.She was alive.He felt her chest swell with a slight inhale, the air traveling to still breathing lungs while a still beating heart was pumping steadily beneath his ear, bringing life to a body still chilled from the brush with death. That single thread of hope bloomed double, his own heart soaring on those threads of hope as he lifted his head and focused what shallowly remained of his vision on the darkened shadows of her face. "Vassa... You're breathing." The words croaked from his throat too swelled with emotion for proper sentences, but when her hand twitched against his once again, he reached up with a shaking hand to brush his fingers along the base of her neck, feeling her pulse beat strongly against his probing fingertips before landing downwards to feel the powerful surge of her breathing growing stronger with each moment.He leaned up and swallowed roughly against the lump of hope and fear still clinging tight and threatening to choke him at any moment. She was still here. His Vassa was still here and still fighting to stand beside him. "Gladio, Prompto! Come in here and turn the monitors on!" He called out into the air, the shuffle of two distinctive sets of feet rushing across the floor was ignored as he returned his focus to her. "That's my girl. My beautiful little warrior. The battle isn't over yet." He crooned while trailing his right hand through her hair, the left cradling those twitching fingers that were squeezing his in response."Ignis, what in the hell are you doing? Have you lost your mind? She's dead!" He could feel Gladio's accusing gaze burning into his back like the fires of Ifrit."I'm bloody well blind, not deaf! I can hear her heart beating! Now turn on the damn monitors!" He snapped with the viciousness of an irate Saberclaw. The surprised hiss of Gladio's quick breath and the squeak of his shoes against the floor told him that his friend had taken a surprised step backwards from his sharpness, but apologies would be made later because his mind was firmly focused on his beautiful wife now.He heard the groping clicks and snaps as Gladio seemed to have tried and failed to connect the machines properly before Prompto took over with a few quick muttered words. Within seconds the rapid beeping of the monitor resumed it's activity, echoing the evidence under his hands that Vassa was well and truly indeed alive."Holy shit! She is still alive." Gladio exclaimed in wonder and what he imagined was a bewildered glance towards her body."I'm gonna go tell the doctors! Be right back!" Prompto chirped before the pounding of his feet faded into the distance of a few screeched yells to the medical personnel."That's it. Keep fighting just like that, love. You're so strong, I know you can do it!" The whispered words dripped from his lips like water, wanting to encourage her in any way he could. It wasn't long before the doctor's hands had pushed him aside in favor of attending to her, but her hand held tight to his with a weakened but still powerful strength.They weren't going to be parted just yet.
Amor Non Exurat Flamma Ch.6"Vassa, are you entirely sure you are comfortable sitting there?"She saw the emerald flash of Ignis's eyes worriedly flash up into the rear-view mirror of the Regalia for a split second before they returned their focus to the lightly curved road that laid ahead. Sitting wedged between Gladio's muscled bulk and Noctis scrawny self was almost an mirror image of the landscape they were driving across, the bulky mountainside to the right and the spacious cliffs to her left. "I'm fine, Iggy." She laughed softly, earning a slight sigh from him as she wiggled her hand in a wave.The weight of Gladio's arm descended around her shoulders while he leaned over and pressed his forehead alongside hers, a roguish smirk creasing his face as he couldn't resist needling Ignis just a little bit. "What? Are you thinking that we're squishing the pipsqueak because she's so small?" He playfully squished her against his side, earning Prompto's attention as he turned around from the passenger seat and raised his camera up to his eye."That's cool, you guys. Give me a big smile!" He said as he raised up on his knees and propped his elbows on the seat to steady himself for the shot. They did, earning a giggle from their photographer before she turned around to see Noct, his elbow propped against the door of the Regalia and his hand supporting his head, fast asleep."Really? You just woke up a little while ago." She muttered to herself. Reaching over, she poked his side with her finger, earning a slight snort for her efforts but it didn't truly wake him. She frowned, wriggling her fingers up and down his arm in an imitation of a spider but the slumbering king slept on. Now she arched an eyebrow, her mind whirling with the possibilities of how best to wake him when she heard the seat creak as Prompto shifted around."Hey guys, how about we pull over for a minute. I gotta use the bathroom." Prompto raised his hand up, pointing to the looming building of the Burbost Souvenir Emporium. They weren't that far outside of Lestallum, a short drive away and she was absolutely sure that she had seen Prompto go before they left, but nature was calling apparently.Squat and square with the business's name staggered across the front in large block letters, Noctis shifted in his seat and stretched his arms above his head, his jaws parting wide in a yawn. "I could use a drink, my throat is bone dry." He mumbled through sleep heavy lips, his eyes slowly blinking into wakefulness as he glanced at the building laying just ahead.She chuckled while Gladio groaned "I guess that's as good as a reason as any for a pit stop.""Sounds like both a waste of time and money." Ignis's commented as he steered the Regalia to a stop alongside the fuel pumps. A light drizzling rain had started to fall from the grey clouded sky above, the thick clouds looking a ominous dark grey and almost ready to burst at any moment with a powerful downpour that would soak everything in sight. With a quick flick of his silver gloved fingers, the grinding motor of the Regalia's roof rose and clicked into place while the majority of the party got out."Woohoo! Shopping time!" Prompto's raucous cheer was only echoed by his footsteps as he pounded across the pavement in a direct aim towards the Emporium. "Come on, Noct!""Right behind you." She watched her cousin chase after the blond in pursuit, not even directing a single glance backwards to see if any of the others were following him."Hey, V." Gladio's gruff grumble caught my attention and she turned to see him lifting the lip of Regalia's fuel tank with one hand and digging in his pocket for a small amount of gil with his other. She heard the jangle of the coins as he rummaged through his pocket until his hand reappeared with the money in his fist, one finger curled up and motioning her to come closer. "Will you do me a favor and buy me a new book? I've read the one I've got like fifteen times already.""Sure." He dribbled the Gil in my hand and she quickly tucked it away into pocket of her jacket. "Any special requests?"He shrugged. "Just something good. You know what I like.""Alrighty then," Leaning down to peck on the door of the Regalia with her knuckle, Ignis was still sitting in the driver's seat with a large paper map now spread across the dash and his phone in his hand with his thumb casually scrolling across the screen. His brows were furrowed sharp into an intense v of concentration, the line of his jaw pulled taut as his eyes intensely flicked over both contents of the map and his phone, radiating slightly with the intense light of his full attention. He blinked twice when she tapped again, his body jolting almost imperceptibly as he emerged from whatever realm of thoughts that he had been held captive by. "Anything for you, Iggy?""Just a moment and I will join you." She stepped back from the Regalia as Ignis smoothly tucked his phone away into his jacket and refolded the map precisely along the fold lines before stashing it away in the glovebox of the Regalia. He stepped out with a single motion, providing her with an very appreciative glance of his long legs so nicely fitted by his dark pants. Whoa! Backup! Mayday! Don't start thinking about Iggy like that. The holy Astrals does he have to smooth out the wrinkles of his shirt like that? Well, crap on a cracker. Now the water is beading up in his hair. This man is going to kill me. I'm going to die as a victim from sheer handsomeness. "Vassa?""Huh?" She snapped out of her thoughts and met his curiously questioning gaze, one eyebrow once again arched as he stared at her with the slightest quirk of his lips tilting upwards in amusement."Are you ready to venture inside and see what damage Noctis and Prompto had caused on the innocent people running this establishment?" Tucking his right elbow out to the side, he offered her his arm for the short walk to the building inside. A gesture that she gladly accepted just so that maybe the embarrassed flush at being caught with her mind wandering down a few secretive paths would try and subside from her cheeks."They're two 20 year old guys. They can't possibly cause that much trouble." Her disbelief gave way to a few memories of the past when Noctis and Prompto were left alone in a store. Very, very frightful memories. "We should hurry. The building's not on fire yet.""Indeed." Ignis nodded in agreement.Between both Ignis and herself, they were able to restrict Noctis and Prompto from buying the majority of things that caught their wandering eyes to just the necessities. Except that Prompto did wind up with a pair of toy water guns shaped like the real thing, that may have partially been her fault because she just couldn't say no to his puppy dog face. Ignis had given her a little side eye for that one, but she had found a little something hidden in the small revolving rack of books that would certainly make up for it. Finding a book that met Gladio's approval wasn't hard since she shared similar tastes in reading with him, basically being romance novels, beautiful fantasy, or anything that either of them could get their fingers on. However, she had been pleasantly surprised to see that behind a bodice ripper romance that featured an classically dressed man and woman embracing on the cover was a pocket sized copy of the Iron Shelf Recipes, Vol. 3. It was needlessly to say that she had snatched it off the shelf and rushed to the register while Ignis was busy trying to keep a massive spool of Dragon's Beard fishing line out of their shopping cart that somehow kept mysteriously appearing on their way to the checkout counter.Then came the task of sorting the items and packing away what could be used for battle and for other uses."8-pack of Hi-Potions." Vassa held up the package of silver and blue energy restoring drinks with one hand."In the inventory satchel." Ignis cast a quick glance her way before returning to the items he had spread across the trunk of the Regalia. Feathers the color of the blazing dawn, the energy restorer known as a Phoenix Down was one of the most precious items of their party as it could instantly revive someone from unconsciousness in the heat of battle. Some legends said that it could even bring a person back from death itself. With Ignis sorting the valuable feathers into five neat little rows to be divided among themselves, it was when he was finally finished did he look up and meet her watching eyes. "Was that the final item?""Hmm, not quite." She smiled widely, her arms tucked behind her back and firmly hiding the cookbook from his sight before she presented it to him with a slight flourish. "Tah-dah! I found something I think you'll like, Iggy.""The Iron Shelf Recipes, Vol. 3." He read from across the cover as he gratefully accept the book from her hands with as much grace as if it had been a unique award. "Thank you very much, Vassa. Did you know that was one of the volumes I was missing?""I did." Ignis had been collecting volumes of the Iron Shelf series for almost as long as she could remember him cooking for Noctis, so it had become a bit of a running joke between the five of them that whoever found a volume for Ignis was his official taste tester for the first recipe he cooked from it, good or bad."What's that, Ig?" Gladio ambled over from the overlook with his new fantasy novel she had picked out for him tucked under his arm, Noctis and Prompto following shortly behind as they had been waiting before venturing down to the grounds around the supposed location of the Greyshire Grotto, an ice cavern hidden behind the massive waterfall named Callatein's Plunge and was rumored to contain a hidden tomb. "Looks like you've got a new cookbook.""Great. Maybe Specs can start cooking something without beans in it." Noctis smirked and crossed his arms over his chest."Ya know, some of us actually like beans so get over it, Prince Picky." Vassa crinkled her nose and squished her face into a teasing pout."That's King Picky to you." Noct volleyed back, stepping forward to stand face to face with Vassa."Really? That suits you. The King of the vegetable haters.""Oh, yeah? What about-" Whatever Noct had started to say was quickly cut off as Ignis's snapped his fingers in the air and closed the book with a firm snap."That's it! I've come up with a new recipe!" Ignis proudly proclaimed to the air as he tucked his cookbook under the shelter of his arm and pulled out his black leather bound notebook from the interior of his jacket, quickly taking note of whatever idea had suddenly possessed him. Both her and Noctis physically jumped backwards a few inches after Ignis had shouted, earning themselves the rib shaking laughter of Prompto and Gladio who were both bent double in the effort to contain their amusement. Two sets of sullen glares, one lucian blue and one stormy grey, was thrown their way before they too started to chuckle at the ridiculousness of it all, Vassa being the main one to laugh while Noctis gave a light chuckle and a brief twerk of his lips before starting to gather up his portion of the healing supplies that Ignis had sorted."Well, that's that. It's time to go." The king said while stuffing his pockets full of items. Gladio and Prompto both agreeing as they shook off the remains of their laughter and retrieved their portion as well, the latter still chuckling slightly. She had started to walk over and join them when she felt a hand reach down and snag hers. Vassa glanced over her shoulder in surprise, her eyes widening slightly to see that it was Ignis who had stopped her, whose fingers were now gently holding her's captive."Please forgive me for the unwarranted interruption, but I did desire to fully express my gratitude for the gift. It was extremely thoughtful of you given the current circumstances and I do appreciate it very much indeed."As poetic as ever, Ignis's sincere praise never failed to bring a scarlet blush to her face and this time was no different. It felt like her entire face was aflame with Ifrit's own flames. Her own eyes dropped to the ground, unable to maintain contact with his own as her free hand came up to nervously fiddle with the circled rim of her scarf. "It's nothing that special Iggy, I just wanted you to have it in case your other collection got... you know. And you do have to feed this pack of starving beasts and I figured that you could use the inspiration."Ignis chuckled warmly, a deep warm sound that was as comforting as the delicious food he crafted. "That image is oddly correct, Vassa. However, there is another reason that I did wish to speak with you." Here his voice dipped lower along with his gaze to her cheek where the violet remnants of the bruise still stained her skin like an unwanted swipe of paint. For a moment, her breath caught in her chest as he seemed about to raise his hand and gently touch the afflicted area, but Ignis merely released her hand with a small sigh and lifted his gaze back to meet her eyes. "I do apologize for neglecting your condition last evening and again this morning. You were injured and I failed to even provide you with a potion to heal your bruises. If something were to happen to you due to my negligence-""Ignis, it's okay. Please don't apologize for something that is not your fault." The words stuck in her throat like glue as she softly cut him off from any further blame that he was placing on himself. She knew that he would guilt himself to death if she didn't put a stop to it. Making sure to look him directly in the eye, she wanted him to take note of what she said next. "You asked me if I wanted a potion last night, I said no. As ugly as they are, they are just bruises and a few scrapes. Nothing serious or anything that would inhibit my duties to protect Noctis. So it's okay. I'm fine, I promise. Now why don't we go help Noct go find his family treasure?"His well practiced mask of agreement came into play over his features, one that Vassa had seen many times during their work in Insomnia. "As you wish, Vassa." She could tell that he wasn't convinced of his innocence in her actions, but it wasn't his fault. Not a single moment of it. She scrubbed hand over her face and sighed, starting to trail after the others. Ignis's selflessness was something that she loved about her friend, but was also troubling at times. Perhaps she could try to persuade him to change his thoughts later. But now was on to more adventurous things."If my calculations are correct, the entrance to the valley preceding the waterfall should be just ahead." Ignis pointed slightly up the empty highway to a section of the security fencing running alongside the highway. They walked just beyond the large metal lightpole that signaled the ending of the rest area, about fifty steps before a rickety metal staircase descended from the side of the roadway into the forest down below. Each step shook under their combined weight, the metal squeaking in protest at the sudden unexpected burden of five bodies but held firm till they reached the bottom. Beyond the stair was a small hard stamped dirt path that wove through the thick shrubbery and sharp jutting rocks leading around the mountainside. The roadway continued on above their heads, the occasional roar of a car passing by the only sound besides their footfalls against the ground and their own breathing. At least it had stopped raining for now, the clouds were still thick with the promised burden of water but no more had fell from the sky yet."Hey, guys. Don't you think it's a little creepy that it's so quiet?" Prompto tried to whisper, but his voice was still much too loud even in such a quiet setting."Why? You scared?" Noctis called back as he kept the lead while walking down the brush."W-What? No way! Not me!" The small tremble in Prompto's betrayed his true feelings as the grass and leaves close to his feet rustled with the movement of a small brownish lizard darting around his feet. He lets out a squeak of surprise as jumped back to avoid stepping on the little creature before it scurried across the path into the opposite bushes.The path stretched in a long curve ahead before it started to descend downward into a valley bordered by a glistening blue river flowing steadily. A distinct thunder of a waterfall tugged at the edges of Vassa's hearing as they reached the flat land at the base of the hill along with a steady rasping sound like smooth but also rough skin sliding through the grass.Then she saw it.The long monstrous mass of plum colored scales slowly slithered through the grass, soulless yellow eyes darting around for the first sign of prey while the thick forked tongue darted out between the reptilian lips to taste the air with a brief flickering motion before retreating. It was huge, taller than the Burbost Souvenir Emporium if she had to guess and it's hood was fully spread from the top of it's spade shaped head to the base of the neck that flowed into the squirming body, signalling that it was a fully grown adult along with the thick spikes that lined the end of the pointed tail."You have got to be kidding me." Noctis grumbled."No way we're taking that thing on." Prompto muttered in slight wonder. "Look at the size of that thing! It's massive!"Ignis leaned across one of the boulders, adjusting his glasses with one hand while intensely studying the beast's hourglasses shaped pattern of movement through the brush. "It appears to be about the typical size for an adult Midgardsormr and based on it's movement, it has most likely stationed a nest nearby.""Well, we've come this far and we're not turning back." Gladio's eyes were firmly fixed on the Midgardsormr. "All kidding aside, this could be really bad really quick.""So we'll just stay out of it?" Prompto questioned hopefully and Vassa could feel her spirits rise in anticipation."Nah, It'll still be cool. Come on, let's go!" Gladio summonsed his greatsword with a single flex of his hand. The shining blade shimmered in the sun, reflecting Gladio's cocky grin."Hell no!" Vassa stamped her foot in the grass, a tiny puff of dust raising around her heel."What's the matter, V? You afraid of a giant worm?" Gladio smirked and arched one thick eyebrow. Oh, did he smirk. He knew that she was afraid of snakes and had been for a very long time."It looks like a cobra and terrified is more like it. I'll just stay with the Regalia." She crossed her arms over her chest, lightly tapping her right foot against the ground as she waited a few precious seconds until the boys realized that she was indeed dead serious. Four sets of eyes blankly stared at her, the puzzle pieces visibly clicking in their brains until the whole picture formed completely.Ignis was the first to recover, a small jolt rippling through his lean body like he was a computer physically rebooting. "Come now, Vassa. Don't be absurd. You will most certainly be safer with us than by walking alone to the station even if you decide not to participate in battle if events do come to that." He leveled a stern glare in her direction that she had only seen him use when Noctis was being particularly stubborn. It wasn't often that such an expression was directed her way, but she refused to be intimidated and returned his gaze with a particularly stern one of her own."V, don't be stupid. I've seen you kick ass on things twice the size of that. And in heels too!" Twisting his arm to rest the weighty sword on his shoulder, Gladio pointed a single finger towards her shoes. "You're a pipsqueak, but a fearsome pipsqueak who out-trained all the Crownsguard cadets in your class.""Give it up, Gladio. Shadow hasn't gone near a snake since I tried to get her to pet one." Noctis voiced his own opinion. His teasing smirk had changed slightly, becoming just a little bit more smug to match the hardened glint showing in his eyes.Oh, that did it. Vassa raised one finger, jabbing it in the direction of Noct's chest like it was a mini sword. "I was five years old and you threw it down the back of my shirt! I nearly had a heart attack! And then you had the nerve to laugh at me when I started crying and ran through the Citadel to Uncle Regis in the middle of his meeting and begged him to save me!""You also gave Specs a black eye too when he tried to pull if off of your shirt. Don't forget about that." Noctis added.Prompto's gaze bounced between Noctis and Vassa before landing on Ignis. His eyebrows were stretched nearly to the top of the blond fringe of his bangs with disbelief. "Did she really? How have I never heard this before?"Not quite recovered from the earlier rounds of Ignis's induced blushing, a renewed surge of fiery feeling spread across her cheeks as the advisor then proceeded to explain. "First, Vassa has a particular aversion to this story due to the traumatic affects that it played on her mind that has since left her with an intense fear of snakes in any form. Second, as revenge for that incident. Vassa proceed to terrorize Noctis by placing a palm sized garden spider in the young prince's bed while he was sleeping until it crawled on his forehead. If my memory serves correctly, half of the citadel was woken with the sound of Noct's scream and his following chase of Vassa throughout five floors of the Citadel. The final result was that King Regis forbade either one of the children from speaking of this incident again."Prompto turned his gaze to Vassa. blue eyes sparkling with a mild sense of amazement and wonder and a joking smile creasing up his freckled cheeks. "I thought you were a quiet kid? Looks like it's the quiet ones you have to watch out for. You really put a spider in Noct's bed?"Her cheeks burned even hotter as she shuffled her feet against the dust, keeping her gaze trained on the ground at her feet. "...It's not my proudest moment.""As funny as this stroll down memory lane was, we need to hurry up and get going." Gladio grumbled, impatiently shifting his sword from hand to hand."Just wait a minute because I'm not going to face a snake without that." She raised her hand and pointed to a small cluster of tall green stalks growing alongside the river, the tubular stems were a bright green and topped with a small fuzzy ball of fluffy white blooms. Almost delicate in appearance, she scampered across the ground and plucked a few of the stems before returning. A pungent, heady smell started to fill the air, emanating from the little while bulb at the base of the green stem."Seriously?" Noctis arched an eyebrow as Vassa started to pass around the aromatic stems. Prompto accepted his with an enthusiasm that didn't quite warrant the small flower, arranging it so that the blossom poked through the top buttonhole of his vest, boutonniere style. Gladio accepted his with a mild amount of skepticism before shrugging and wrapping the flexible stem around his left wrist like a bracelet. Ignis opted for the same style as Prompto, threading it through the buttonhole of his jacket, but it somehow look twice as elegant on him. "You're giving us garlic flowers? What is that supposed to do?""Garlic has been rumored to mildly offend snakes with it's strong aroma and more than a few use it as a natural repellent of sorts for any undesirable guests. As for myself, I think it has a rather scent-sational claim." Ignis quipped.A collective groan rose from the remaining boys while Vassa laughed softly at Ignis's well timed pun. Her hands were busy arranging the flower around her waist in a belt like fashion until the only scent she could smell was the heady scent of garlic. She didn't have a true claim that it worked as a repellent for the reptilian ones, but she also hadn't had an encounter with any snakes while she had garlic around her, so that was good enough evidence for her. Now it was time to see if it worked on the Midgardsormr as well.It did. They had kept to the edge of the river, following it towards the head of the waterfall when the giant snake had perked up to notice the movement on the fringes of it's territory. Her heart had started beating double time in her chest as the muscular serpentine coals started traveling their way, flooding her system with the adrenaline needed in case of combat. With a single mental tug, her blades had came to her hands and were ready to fly at a moment's notice."Easy." Gladio had hissed while stationing himself in front of Noctis in case of an attack.The Midgardsormr drew closer, the forked tongue slapping in and out with desperate flickers as it read the air. Then something changed. An expression almost like revulsion crossed the serpentine features as it turned and retreated back towards it's nest, leaving the entire party with nothing more than a parting glimpse of it's spiked tail as it disappeared into the brush. With a great relieved sigh that she hadn't realized she had been holding in, she breathed out in a long rush and allowed the blades to fade from her grasp. "So it really works.""It seems so." Ignis confirmed her suspicion with a brief nod of his head before he glanced away down the river to the pool of the waterfall and pointed. "I suspect that we won't be that lucky twice."They all followed the direction of Ignis's outstretched finger to where a fence of large greyish lumpy boulders framed the base of the waterfall. Shrouded in the pale mist, Vassa had to blink her own eyes to wipe away the thought that the boulders were moving. Wait a minute. They were actually moving! Shifting slowly on smaller legs, the massive pinching claws shifted into view as her brain slowly put a name with the beast she was seeing. ShieldShears, a boulder sized variety of crab with pincers nearly as big as their own body. Their delicious meat was highly praised by chefs, but when they were scuttling around. One had to be careful as one strike of their massive claws in the right spot could kill a person. There had to be at least 8 of the hulking crustaceans, forming an impenetrable barrier along the base of the waterfall and whatever treasure was contained inside.Crab guard dogs. That's different. She idly thought to herself as the flash of weapons being summoned graced each one of the party's fingertips. Noctis's engine blade, Prompto's pistols, Ignis's daggers, and her blades all shifted in reality as Gladio raised his sword that he had kept in place since the Midgardsormr approached. Noctis had started to charge forward when Gladio had slung his arm around Noct's slim shoulders, nearly knocking the king over as the shield flashed a reckless grin."I got this, you all just sit back and watch how it's done." Noctis slung off Gladio's arm with a swipe of his own, earning a playful shove that sent the king staggering backward a step."Oh, yeah? I bet I could show you a thing or two!" Noctis shot back, lurching to steadying himself before running into a headlong charge towards the massive crabs."Well, then. By all means, please do!" Gladio wasn't far behind, his broadsword up and ready for a blow."Come back here! Now is not the time to approach without a plan!" Ignis's sigh was drowned out by the smack of steel against armored flesh, the magical zing of Noctis's blue tinged battle warping as his figure flashed here and there in a trail followed by his flung weapon."Hey, guys! Wait up!" Bouncing across the ground with long strides, Prompto fired off a shot from each hand. The resulting thunder of gunfire adding to the mix of combat as the blonde joined the fray."Looks like the plan has to wait, Iggy." Vassa started to walk towards melee, half turning to glance over her shoulder to see if the advisor was coming. "Come on, let's go!"
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