There was no such thing as Cid's bed. He traveled overmuch, made do with whichever arrangements were available. A strange bed was to be expected. An occupied strange bed gave reason to wake with a start.
"If we are being invaded, tell them to take you and spare me." Nero garbled, heavy with sleep. He hid his head beneath a thin frayed pillow. Heat slid right off the walls. The sheets poorly weaved, their fingers stiff, painful. Cid blinked dark spots over the unlit fireplace in Nero's room.
Dark permeated Revenant's Toll but their internal clocks were set to go off before dawn, indifferent to how much they had actually slept. It was an hour before he could get Nero off his knees and another to fall asleep after Cid's awkward decision to stay made them both restless, lying back to back and ignoring the twin dip in the mattress. They slept soundly to the brassy refrain of their mutual snores for three and a half hours. A luxurious sleep by Cid's account. He could think of at least one reason they dawdled in bed when they would normally rise to wash, but Nero's back was still mercifully turned to him.
"Breakfast." He demanded, flipping the pillow to slap Cid in the face. He blocked it, Nero far slower with sleep nipping at his heels.
"I promised the Scions I would take meals with them."
Nero sat up, hair springing in every direction, and squinted hard. Fatigue sunk his eyes.
"No one's expecting you for breakfast, Garlond. They won't be up for hours." He yammered. Nero was the polar opposite of a morning person. Sharing a dorm with him had made his life miserable. He would still sign the application every semester. Except for that one time they were both angry on the due date. Ended up requesting transfers when they regretted it two weeks of normal roommates later. "Whatever! I will make breakfast and you can eat wallpaste with the Scions."
"Homecooking? I have always wanted to try those al Nero dishes." Cid crooned. He touched his lips to Nero's shoulder, in part to test if he could, and smiled when the freckled skin was not pulled away in a hurry.
"That's al nero, you animal. Because they're cooked with squid ink."
Cid rested his cheek on Nero's bony shoulder blade, one arm loosely wrapped around his waist. His chilled skin tasted like the air by sea. He pulled the man against his side, sighing, drawing upon his own warmth to bequeath. Only Nero had worn his sleepclothes to bed. Cid's weatherbeaten travel garments were claustrophobic by comparison and yet he felt at ease.
"Isn't this nice? Waking up to each other…"
"Good grief, can you not think these things quietly to yourself like a grown man?" Nero's face lit as though he were deathly allergic to tenderness. He forced Cid out of his room to wash.
Breakfast was dodo omelettes with orange juice. There was an absence of herbs, spices, and ketchup available to them in the kitchenette. Nero did not cook. He directed Cid around the room in search of ingredients and cutlery while perched on the counter. Cid liked his eggs soft in the middle with a sprinkle of La Noscean cheese. Nero liked them fluffy, with a bit of cream. They ate the same scrambled, underseasoned mess. It appeared a domestic scene for a few moments before both men hurriedly stuffed their mouths on the way to the workshop, arguing loudly about the ethics, or rather Nero's disregard for them, of cloning someone.
"You must admit that the prospect of immortality via cloning is an interesting one. Think of what I could do with a thousand extra years." Nero continued as they came into the workshop. As expected, it was nothing like his studio in Garlemald. He wondered who was set to replace him, the next tol Whatever. As Tribunus, he was discouraged from long-term research. He was needed on the field, free time occupied by his intelligence-recon responsibilities. His successor would likely relinquish the space to the Magitek Academy.
"We could just have kids and traumatize them into overachieving like everyone else."
"Hah! Keep that thing pointed away from me while you speak of reproducing, Master Garlond. I would sooner walk into the point of an Ixali spear."
"What?" Cid sputtered after Nero. He had entered the room and set to immediately clear a table. He drew a stark line across the stone flooring with his foot, and shot his finger to indicate Cid should take the significantly smaller half. "I didn't mean-- Not you and I have children…"
Cid suspected Alphinaud did not know what engineers did and was too afraid to ask. Cursory inspection of the facilities determined circumstances not dissimilar to when Cid offered his services on the move to the Warriors of Light, namely unindeal circumstances. The main attraction, the room Cid and Nero had chosen to serve as their workspace, was barren of anything remotely useful to their work. There were chairs, desks, chronometers, and chalkboards. Motivational posters at friendly angles on the walls. Well ventilated, well decorated, and utterly skeletal. Perhaps it just wasn't lived in enough, but Cid didn't feel like his needs had been anticipated as promised.
They abandoned their bowls by the door. Cid's tools and Nero's armor were in stout trunks left below their workbenches. Nero trekked to the other man's station and picked from it his expensive polish and sandpaper like a vulture.
"He doth protest too much " He teased. Nero rolled the blackboard to the center of the room and, giving it a spin, sent chalk flying forcefully. "Worry not, nan Garlond, the only insemination I intend to conduct today is of my knowledge into the deep, wet cavern of your--"
"I get it!" Cid covered his flushed ears. He looked around his workbench for something to throw at the blonde, found it blank. Everything out of his belongings was either precious or fragile and he could not risk the expense in these uncertain times, even to shut him up.
"Of course." Nero held his hands together solemnly. He bowed his head. "I mustn't agitate you… Think of the baby."
"Am I already withchild?" He asked, feigning incredulity.
"If Garlean abstinence pep rallies have taught me anything is that if we slept in the same bed premaritally you are most certainly already pregnant."
Cid snorted uncontrollably, hiding as much of it as he could by turning into his shoulder. Nero's smile grew to show his actual teeth. Exasperating creature. He could make Cid laugh at the bawdiest things. It was a huge problem at the Academy. Nero insisted on whispering witty remarks about their present elders at morning assembly, from their balding hair to their fashion sense, and he could not resist. It landed them both in detention, cleaning communal bathrooms and alphabetizing files for the department head. He feared the chaos he could stir up if he kept Cid laughing as an adult.
"I missed you." Cid sighed, pulling a stool to sit at the bench.
Nero organized his stolen wrenches. His weight in gil had been spent on forging the mythril beauties aligned straight like Garlean soldiers. By Cid himself. Nero could recognize his work. Dark metals and glowing engravings, he crafted things of everyday use beautifully to show how effortless his trade was to him. Cid didn't have doubles. Eventually, they would have to share. It would be best to forgo this territorial dispute and fit their tables together, but faux resistance was more on brand.
"Just don't expect any back-pay alimony." Nero responded weakly.
"Come on. I mean it. After last night, you're really turned off from getting sentimental?"
Waking up together was nice. Breakfast was nice. Bickering, bantering. Nero flattened the curl at his temple with a hand.
"I said I loved you last night. What did you say?" Nero countered.
Cid's mouth opened. He looked away. He fiddled with the large pendant at the low neck of his shirt.
"I thought so."
He watched as Cid held the silence. From the lowest cabinet on the workbench came a notebook. For a solid minute he scavenged the rest of the drawers for a pencil. His notes on the Crystal Tower needed to be transcribed somewhere more orderly, with colorful tabs. Nero's preference. After a long, unsuccessful attempt at distracting from the conversation, he snapped the drawer closed hard.
"You ask too much of me."
"I ask nothing of you." Nero said irritably.
"You tried to kill my friends--"
"Oh, please. I didn't try very hard."
"You tried , Nero! And you want me to say… What?"
"Nothing. Loving you is my business." Nero shrugged, because it had thus far wounded Cid more than bolstered his ego. Knowing such a confession could be sharpened to a point, Nero would have parted with it sooner. It was more useful as a weapon than it had ever been hanging between them. He had lived with this useless feeling and resignation for so long he didn't understand why Cid was disquieted, as though handling a deadly catalyst. "Make that what you will. I intend to ignore it. If you do not feel the same way, I would not force you to reciprocate. If you do and still cannot say, more of the same. Hearing it won't make me a better person, nor would saying it make you a worse one."
Cid's face strained and shifted. Nero knew he had joined the correct wires. Loving him was out of the question. Anyone could see they had history. It was the reason the Warriors tolerated Nero, if kept leashed. Cid could passively receive his attention, but to reciprocate would make him complicit. Then his little friends might not look to him with pity, but suspicion. How likely was a Garlean defector to defect again, this time from his adopted homeland?
"... I'm going to outfit the Warriors for Syrcus Tower. Full set of gear. I could use some help." Cid offered, opening the way past the renewed, stifling tension between them with a hasty retreat. They had something. Whatever it was, undefined. They could accept its nebulous existence or continue to be thrown off kilter by tempestuous questions.
"I have better things to do." Nero scoffed.
"I will give you money to look over my schematics." Cid negotiated, because someone had to pay for Nero's toys, and if he didn't contract him outright, he would resort to robbing him blind down the line.
Nero sniffed. He crossed his arms and turned. His armor had been damaged in the encounter with the Warriors of Light. Declared a traitor and hunted for sport by his own kind, the resources he had grown to take for granted were pried from his hands. In Eorzea almost anyone could find a job by walking into a Guild and declaring themselves a member, but Nero had not come this close to the office of Lord Provost to turn in rusty knives to the Immortal Male Adders or whatever the Grand Companies called themselves. He could, however, stand to leech from Garlond for a few weeks. Anything Cid had he could utilize about a hundred times better.
"I am to aid with the making of weapons that will be used to threaten me. You really are cruel, Master Garlond." Nero curled his lip.
"Act your age. I'll throw in my services, free of charge, and fix up your joints."
Nero proceeded to wave his arms in an offended fashion. Ignoring him, Cid rolled their heavy workbenches to lock together facing the blackboard. Nero would need his own sketchbook, ink, and references, to draw up a prototype for the Warriors. NOAH paid generously, but Cid doubted they would get through the expedition without auctioning off at least one precious Allagan relic, hopefully pointed out by the twins as inconsequential. Coin was science's greatest hurdle. Maybe one day Nero and Cid's ethical dilemma would be half as important. It would behoove them to look into vanity items appealing to a larger audience than the adventurers and rich lords that courted his work. The Warriors were frequently chased by various round-headed automata. That could work.
Alphinaud's facilities were severely lacking. He had gotten the framework down, but expected the occupants of the workshop to bring their own tools. At most, Nero and Cid could speculate. Without sample stock they could not make informed choices about materials based on density or visualize the finish, and without the Warriors present they could not test for accurate aetherial resonance of enchantments with each wielder.
Cid pencilled a long, thin staff like a swan's neck. The crystal, imbued with energy, would be placed upon a compartment that would only open in response to the weapon being drawn. He would have to track it down, but Cid had stashed a shipment of quicktongue materia at one of his warehouses.
Nero pushed his notebook out of the way, slapping a scrap of paper in front of him.
"Why must you bother with casters? They will tear a branch off the nearest tree and make do. Look here, an axe , a proper weapon."
Cid picked up the sketch to examine it where Nero could not snatch it back upon slightest criticism. He could chastise him for disrespecting magic users when their technology relied so heavily on their ability, but he was honestly shocked Nero thought of anything but Mjolnir as a proper weapon.
"You would have the blade unravel? Interesting. Safer to wear on your back."
"Safer, yes, but with flair." Nero's fingers fanned out and wiggled.
"Something this intricate would take blast cleaning. I don't know if Ryuzo could manage to clear all the gunk and blood on the field."
"So we shall provide the caveman with a handheld powerwasher. It is not beyond our abilities."
Nero wrote down pressurized, refillable canister after taking his axe back. Cid's nail scratched at the wood.
"Do you truly think so lowly of him? Of them?"
"I give them as much thought as I would a battering ram." The other engineer set his pencil down.
"They like you, you know. They wouldn't tease you if they didn't. Everyone likes you. The Warriors, NOAH, the twins-- and they know what you've done. It would be so easy to let them."
The blonde's index finger dragged beneath his own lower lip. Nero traced his thin, sparse brows from the center with the same hand. Engineers had coarse, calloused skin at their fingertips by the time they got to be any good. Nero's touch had not been soft in that fleeting moment he held Cid's cheek. Lotion, creams, and serum worked hopelessly to maintain the appearance of youth, but the most Nero could afford of his routine now was a hot splash of water on his face and the rough kiss of a hempen rag. Cid did not observe vanity in the man's face. He was contemplative. To the untrained eye, he was considering Cid's advice. He knew better. The laws of microbiological cultures, loaded centrifuge sample tubes, and watched pots never boiling held true with Nero.
"Have you ever done it on a workbench?" Nero deflected predictably.
He needed to introduce the substance and leave the room for this to work. Cid sighed.
"No? Well. I thought since you were already late for lunch, another hour wouldn't make a difference."
His white head snapped to the nearest chronometer mounted on the wall. Nero spoke true, and Cid was late. Time spun so rapidly at his most productive. He fanned the sketches in front of him. Four to Nero's two. The count came to a White Mage's weapon, head, body, and legs on Cid's side. A Warrior's axe and Pugilist's bracers from Nero. Cid preferred to choose one subject and work down to ensure the stylistic and practical choices for each gear piece harmonized. In Nero's mind, alternatively, weapons and armor were oppositely aspected entities of offense and defense that met needs too different to work on all together. Cid wanted to make adjustments, but he had a promise to make good on and an example to set for the other man.
"I'm off!" Cid tapped his sketches together on the table to neaten the stack. He left them for Nero to judge in bright red ink.
"You've got something on your face."
Cid immediately touched his chin. Charcoal? Ink? Pieces of omelette disgustingly caught on his beard?
Nero grabbed his ears and licked a broad stripe from his bottom lip to the tip of his sharp nose. Left in its trail was the shine of spit and Cid's body so thoroughly frozen it was a wonder his tongue didn't stick. Last Cid saw the Scions he returned terribly combative. He loved to argue. Just not about philosophy or morality. Nero's own fault, for not giving him something to think about once he was with them. A kiss might have sufficed, but then there would be no conflicted amalgamation of desire and irritation to keep a mouse like Garlond stimulated in his enclosure.
"I'm going now!" Cid rubbed hard at his mouth. Nero took him for a fool because he let down his guard. He walked opposite the closest exit.
Nero pointed with the eraser end of his pencil. "This way lets you out into the street without going through the spiral stairs."
Cid logically recalculated his steps and then it was too late to leave through the front door out of principle. He flew on double steps into a grassy rooftop and flagstones cracked in green moss. The normally biting wind carried with it the distant warmth of Thanalan, stroking promises of sunbaked skin and water like ambrosia on his parched tongue.
The Seventh Heaven smelled thickly of roasted meat and the cloying sweetness of fermented fruit. There were less bodies, most people back at work on the market after a hearty meal. As he crossed into the Rising Stones vestibule, he had to carefully close the door so as to not wake the cook where he had fallen asleep at the bar.
The vestibule was empty. The Scions might have retired to their rooms, or met Minfillia in her office. Either way, Cid was late and they were nowhere to be found. As he moved deeper into the room, he heard a soft sound, like a feather duster moving across wood.
"Cid." Nori'sae greeted him, tail swishing over the table while he pulled a book from the shelf.
"Nori!" Cid brightened. "You're up early."
The Miqo'te astrologian was an incorrigible night owl, but none could fault him for preferring the hours in which it was easiest to conduct his research. Born and raised in Ishgard, he yearned for cold weather and dim days, and yet there were dark slices beneath his eyes, dark enough to blend with the long markings on his deceptively young face. It didn't matter when he slept so long as it was restful. It hadn't been. It was hard to discern his state of mind. He always looked kind of sad. Kind of distant.
"Yes. I was not very tired." He set the book down and tidied the stack on the floor, high as his hip. The spines were written in Sharlayan, bearing several astronomical symbols Cid was familiar with. He expected the man to consult his star globe, his charts, and provide Cid with a short and vague analysis of what his day would be like. It was always accurate, hard not to be when all his statements were as broad as You will crave something salty today. Obviously, if he got him thinking about it.
"Forgive me if I'm wrong, Nori, but you don't seem… Like yourself."
"I am in no state to provide an accurate horoscope, if that's your meaning."
Cid thought precognition was bullshit. It was one thing to draw aether from a constellation to perform healing magicks, and another to play guessing games with the future, but he understood it was all very harmless. Might even be useful at lifting the spirits of those who needed to hear good was coming their way. Cid hoisted his body up to sit on the table. His legs swung.
"An astrologian is a conduit. When I consult the stars, I must be as clear as the lense at the end of my telescope."
"And that's giving you trouble?"
"I have been struck with a terrible plague."
Knowing he was prone to theatrical speech and was likely speaking figuratively, Cid still subtly scoot a fair distance away. Nori'sae threatened him with a book, hanging limply in his hand but ready to fly at any moment. His face never moved.
"Run all you like Master Garlond. If Slafborn is to be believed, you too have been struck by this painfully mortal illness."
If they started speaking in riddles, Cid would get a wicked migraine. Better not to question it altogether. Nori just needed a little pick me up to get him out of the rut, and he would be back at his favorite thing in no time at all. "Oh yeah? Why don't you pull some cards for me? See if I can be cured."
"You want a spread?' Nori set his book down, lips gently parted.
"Readings conducted muddled by thine own emotion spell catastrophe."
Beyond Tataru's desk and next to the high shelves Nori'sae perused there was a door, and from the door emerged an Elezen of great stature, about two heads from Cid's hairline. His face, cloaked in the shade of his robe's hood, betrayed hints of greying sideburns. The Elezen carried with him a proportionately small travel satchel.
"Urianger." Nori'sae looked over his shoulder, blank face phasing quickly through displeasure. "I thought you were gone already."
"Nearly. I delayed upon hearing Master Garlond." Urianger bowed.
Cid held his hand out before remembering the man's aversion to touch and scrambling to return the bow inelegantly.
"Here I am! Flattered you'd wait for me, but sorry you had to."
"No apologies necessary." Urianger adjusted his cowl to get a clearer look at the engineer. "Thou appears well. My curiosity is satisfied."
"You look good too! Thanalan weather must suit you."
"Master Garlond, I would advise thou against having thine cards drawn by Nori'sae." Urianger blitzed through his pleasantries faster than a machinist's rook on high. "An Astrologian is as good as his clarity of mind. Nori'sae hath none. He can only predict death. Readings of such inflexible specificity are akin to curses."
"I did not intend to carry out the reading." Nori'sae's ear flicked.
"Aw, c'mon. I'm a meathead about these things, Nori just needs to read from someone without too many crazy expectations."
Nori'sae opened his mouth but Urianger spoke first. "Nori was his mother's name. It irks him to be called such."
Cid blinked. He bit his lip. It wasn't the first time he brandished the nickname at him, and yet the older man had never said a word to correct him. Keepers were matriarchal, Cid really ought to have known that. "I'm sorry, Nori'sae."
Nori'sae said nothing. He crossed his arms and looked at Urianger. The man seemed not to notice, and as the silence stretched, he returned the Miqo'te's look quizzically. Nori'sae harrumphed, and on his lips it didn't seem as childish as it was.
"Apologies. I was under the impression I could no longer speak for myself." His expressive ears stood upright proudly.
"Thou assigns malice to mine intentions, but thou wouldst not correct Master Garlond on thine own." Urianger shrugged, pursing his lips helplessly.
"Since you are concerned for my meekness, I will endeavor to be bolder by conducting a private reading." Nori'sae reached into his pocket for a pair of rose gold spectacles. He climbed over his books, slid over the table, and found a chair to crouch down. He dropped to sit with his feet on the ground, as if he had just barely remembered he should. His small mouth appeared to have sucked on something sour. "Safe travels to you."
"You mean it?" Cid asked, missing the mark for excited and landing on nervous. Curses were as real as healing magic, after all. He had seen a man turned into a toad once. Cute as they were, Cid didn't want to be one. He would rather not die either.
Urianger stood behind the astrologian's chair. If he were a different man, he would have placed an affectionate hand on the man's shoulder. If Nori'sae were a different man, he might have let him.
"I cannot stop you. I will be joining the Warriors at Camp Dragonhead." Cid did not miss the way Nori'sae's tell-all ears drooped, eyes lowering to a hand that loosely curled into a fist. "Have thee a message I should carry to those hallowed halls?"
Nori'sae shuffled the deck. The long sheath he wore at his hip was a muted blue color, gilded ornately as his planisphere. He handled the large cards with expertise, moving like a practiced dealer. Magic coiled between his palms, floating the cards for a final furl, and reminded Cid he was watching a caster and not a bunny-eared professional at the Gold Saucer. He placed the deck in front of Cid.
"Cut." He ordered.
"I shall inform House Fortemps of thy warm regard." Urianger muttered, sarcasm sounding near unreal on the normally stern man.
"Inform him--" Nori'sae violently reached for his star globe and danced Cid's cut cards around the spherical field of the weapon. It was dirty gossip-mongering to listen so intently after a mysterious him was singled out within House Fortemps, but the engineer could not plug his ears this late in the action. "That he should avoid bolts of lightning and high altitudes."
"In Ishgard?" Cid thought out loud, thunderstorms and highlands being the country's signature characteristics.
Nori'sae glowered from the shadows cast by the deep blue hair over his brow. Cid bit his tongue, shifting to bid Urianger a less antagonistic goodbye.
"Be safe. Don't forget to call if you need anything at all."
Urianger touched his linkpearl. Cid followed to his own ear. Activated, the pearls scanned and registered each other's frequency. They would hold long distance thanks to the patented Ironworks linkshell, standard regulation for all the Scions. Urianger nodded, grateful to know the connection remained stable. He bid them a wordless farewell, shrugging the satchel strap more securely before he headed for the Seventh Dawn.
Nori'sae's eyes trailed the Elezen. When the door swung closed at the end of the hall far from the vestibule he sighed and dropped the pretense of holding the globe up with a cupped hand. The aether naturally generated by his body levitated and directed the weapon at will, any fancy hand movements were merely aesthetic.
"No reading is actually necessary. I only meant to get a rise out of him. I suspected he would leave."
"Both of you don't really do head-on conflict, huh?"
"A harsh but accurate analysis, Master Garlond."
Cid could see the aether dispersing from the planisphere, the cards followed a slow spiral downturn. He raised his hands.
"Hey, wait! I'll take a reading."
"Why?" Nori'sae's head tilted, choppy like a mammet. He focused the pink interiors of his fuzzy ears on Cid. "You heard Urianger. I can only predict death and devastation."
"You say that like it's not useful information."
"We'll do a small three card spread. No difficult questions. Just a general read."
"You… You have listened."
As he wanted, as he expected, Nori'sae's back straightened. He had been an instructor at the Astrologicum before pledging to the Scions. He was proud of his roots. While his work at Skysteel filled his coffers, Cid sought out speakers at the Forum, big or small, to impart upon him their knowledge. He had only been present for one Sharlayan astologian's poorly attended seminar, and while he understood very little, he absorbed what he could.
"It's no secret I can't wrap my head around what you do, but I want to." Cid grinned. "We can talk about how I can do better in life."
The astrologian stroked the bangs framing his face, and cast his eyes on the cards for their guidance. He heard something good, because the next moment they had clicked back to orbit.
"Are you so hard-pressed to improve upon perfection that the next step is supernatural assistance, Cid?"
Somehow, Cid ascertained that behind the dry inflection he was teasing him.
"Alright, wise guy. If you can crack jokes, you can pull a card."
Nori'sae pinched the seams at the tips of his fingers, loosening his gloves. He folded them on the table, one over the other, bright white and impeccably clean.
"You're so much like him." Nori'sae whispered.
"Like… him? " Cid craned an ear, tentatively, curiosity getting the better of his manners.
It was a name he recognized. Nori'sae gathered all his hair at the back of his head. He pulled a stretchy bit of leather from the bangle on his wrist and tied it out of the way. Cid had never seen the marking on his forehead before. Like a black petal.
"He thinks that all the evil in the world can be washed away with a smile."
Haurchefaunt had made Cid's stay in Coerthas possible. Clothing, food, and a finger pointed in the direction of those rare souls willing to listen to a few foreigners in isolationist Ishgard. He would not describe him as a man eager to please, but one who got such a rush from helping others stay on their own two feet that it would be impossible to stop him from lending a hand.
(Also, maybe, sort of a huge flirt. Layered in all his flowery speeches and hot chocolate deliveries at precisely the coldest possible hour, he was speaking another language between the lines. Cid had no hard evidence on that. Just vibes. Nice guy overall, though. Not bad to be compared to.)
"Are you sure he's wrong about that? Have you tried?"
Nori'sae froze like he had buried him beneath a thousand pounds of packed Coerthan snow. He was carried there forcefully, to Dragonhead, to face a man who's untimely end he had definitely foreseen if Cid was crossing all the right t s. The Elezen was a knight, for a country at war, in a world on the verge of destruction. Death was everywhere. What did it matter? He remembered clearly from the astrologian's seminar that no single path was completely set in stone. For every known path there were many branching unknowns. Realizing it felt like a grave intrusion, but to be struck so severely off center by the mere possibility of Haurchefaunt's distant death implied an enduring affection. He heard Nori's tail smack against the floor. Then, like Ramuh's very thunderbolt had shocked him out of petrification, he cleared his throat.
"Three cards. Past, present, future."
Nori'sae spun the globe. The cards moved too quickly for Cid to follow. Interior illustrations blurred together like a ship traipsing across the stars, like his Enterprise. He was drawn into the ornamental device despite his skepticism. The Miqo'te's eyes grew dark, his still hand twitched and the globe stopped and flipped a single card in Cid's direction.
"The Bole." Nori'sae spoke and from the core of his globe the constellation took shape like a burst of sparklers ringing in Heavensturn. Cid figured the card reflected off his goggles, or Nori'sae could calculate it by the order of its neighbors, or some trick of equal substance. All things, including magic, were based on science. He bore the man no ill will, but people were good at deceiving even themselves. The Bole teetered rapidly and finally landed upright.
"You were raised by men of robust principles. You were taught to utilise your gifts for their benefit. You were encouraged to be curious, determined in the pursuit of greater things." Nori'sae showed his pointed teeth. A small, untrained smile. "They forgot to teach you hypocrisy until the very end. Unwise."
He reversed the motion of his hands and the globe begun an opposite pattern of rotation, The Bole dissipating into stardust, dropping the card in front of the engineer. It was strange to hear his past summarized in so few words. He vaguely remembered reading about the loose meanings each card held in a spread. It was up to the cards, or in Cid's opinion the Astrologian, what they symbolized for every individual reading. The past, present, and future was a common spread. Insight to the past and present were necessary to survive the future.
Cid had never touched a spear in his life, but the card had naught to do with that. He cycled through a list of possible meanings in his head as blue light speckled the air in a beloved Ironworks hue. The Spear stabilized one's power, and the powerful could afford to be generous. Like the dragoons of Ishgard defending their ancient walls for the sake of high and lowborn alike, and the strongest among them, the valiant Azure Dragoon, working tirelessly to pursue a means to avoid catastrophic warfare, even if it meant parley with his life-long enemies. Forgiving. Compassionate. Cid fought down a smile.
"Look at you. One would think you could already hear the cards." Nori'sae took The Spear between his middle and forefinger. He gave it a once over before dealing it next to The Bole. They were beautifully illustrated pieces of fine art, resilient enough to survive the many battles testing them.
"Nothing like that. I'm sure if they tried it would just bounce off my ears. Magic is not an aptitude of mine." He poked his goggles where they hid his Eye. He wasn't just bad with magic, he was genetically unable to perform any.
He had said something stupid by the way Nori'sae looked at him. Each star on the spear stretched into a thin line and flew hard into the heart of the planisphere.
"Master Garlond, aren't most of your inventions a blend of magic and technology?"
"Theoretically speaking, but I probably couldn't turn you into a chicken. Magic is just what you call it when you can't get the math down."
"Your Eye, it allows you to see things, doesn't it? Aether. How it gathers for you. Interested, almost, to be molded." Nori'sae reached out like he could touch the intangible power on which most of Cid's inventions depended. He could see it, couldn't feel it, but he could use it. Borrow its strength. Was that very different from conjury? He would never know for sure.
"Last one, eh?" Cid crossed his legs on the table. He should have chosen one of the available chairs ages ago, but he was already there and he could see Nori's globe up close. So aether gathered around him in a unique way despite his Garlean shortcomings. One would not assign personality traits to aether, it was like oxygen, a compound, a unit of life, and yet Cid felt wanted. Special. It made his cheeks pink.
"Last one." Nori agreed.
The astrologian was more relaxed. Cid deemed his plan a success. He was the easiest read Nori could get. The most complicated things about him were his inventions, the rest was very straight forward. Whatever dents his father's death, defection, and a Calamity had forced upon his outer shell had been hammered out and painted over. The extra layers of lacker left everything feeling a little muted, but Cid coped.
Nori's voice built the great turreted tower out of the planisphere, voice shocked thin by the unexpected choice. Cid watched aether crowd the man around the ears, perhaps delivering the sacred whispers all astrologians so vaguely alluded to. It moved differently than on the previous draw, but Cid's raised awareness of the aetherdust around them likely had to do with it. He learned to tune out the extra static from a young age. He could have missed it. The Spire was a symbol of creation and expansion. It boded well for his expedition into Syrcus Tower.
While Cid watched, the card reversed. He barely got a good look at that needlepoint digging downward, towards destruction and devastation, before Nori'sae swung his hand across, hitting the card into the shelf and dispersing the aether keeping his planisphere afloat.
"I'm sorry." He hissed. "It's better not to know."
"... Ah." Cid said, blinking away the sparks still in his eyes. A reverse Spire was a bad omen. The worst of the lot.
"I am cursed after all." Nori'sae slammed his face into the table. His ears flattened into his dark hair. Cid yelped, hovering over his head, unsure if he would need to apply first aid. He crossed his arms at the wrist, a solid X.
"It's unfair to put that on you, Nori." He bit his tongue. He had unconsciously continued to call and think of him by the shortened nickname. "I am sure everyone you know leads a perilous life. Of course your readings would be grim."
Nori rolled his head on his elbow. It was difficult to make out his eyes, but Cid thought he saw them glisten.
"Can you change a man's nature, Cid?"
Nori was still lost, wandering among the acres of Coerthan soil for the sake of the blue hair of an Elezen knight. Cid overestimated his capacity to provide a lasting distraction. His own affliction, blonde and maybe a hundred fulms away, provoked a similar question.
"Can you know a man's nature?" Cid shrugged. "Real question is, do you wish he were a different person?"
"No." Nori'sae answered quickly. He caught himself unawares by its surety. He linked his fingers at the back of his head. Cid rolled his shoulders proudly. Like a difficult equation, to work through something that heavy it was best to surmise what you knew for certain and go from there. Sharp little cat eyes scrutinized Cid in response. "And you, Master Garlond?"
He had hoped they would continue to talk around it. Even if Nori wasn't up to date with his reports, he would have recognized Nero's name when repeated by Slafborn because he had been one of the twenty four souls storming the Praetorium. He heard Nero's speech firsthand, which made it all the more impressive to find him among four signatures that quietly granted Nero reprieve the Tribunus had not been made privy to. The leniency Cid discreetly requested upon his defection, citing relief provided at the Allagan grounds, had not been strongly contested. Colorful as his appeal made Nero's efforts out to be, an unspoken understanding between Cid and the Scions was responsible for its success. There was only one reason Cid would ask for something so ridiculous. Nero didn't need to know what he had done. He would never forgive Cid for using his credibility with these people to protect him.
"He could stand to be cuter." Cid smiled, holding his ankle and wobbling back and forth like an over-sugared toddler. "Would it kill him to ask for my help once in a while?"
Nori'sae's cheeks dimpled. He leveled his hand beneath his chin.
"It's nice to be needed."
Cid's shoulder popped as he raised his arms, double-jointed elbows overextending until he felt the satisfying stretch of his muscles. He was worn down when he let himself feel it. Theirs was a funny dilemma. Nero endeared himself to no one, he was often detestable and opportunistic. Making enemies easily, it was not a question if someone would try to kill him, but when. Haurchefaunt was selfless to a fault, and would place himself in the line of fire for the least of men. Cid held on with a violence, tying Nero down by less than admirable means. Nori pushed Haurchefaunt away, so he would not bear witness to his self destruction outside the confines of his globe. He understood why, perhaps better than anyone. Up close it was easy to watch him, take his pulse, make sure he's still breathing, but it made you ugly, overbearing. It was nice to be needed.
Cid stood. He bent down, rescuing The Spire from the carpet. It had slipped beneath the shelf. He gave the dust a hard shake. Even now, as he had blindly grabbed for it, it remained reversed. An upright Spire was not so different from this. Creation for the sake of expansion, of greed, was all-consuming, and bore the constant threat of losing it all on the next turn of the Great Wheel. The Spire's builder had something in it worth protecting zealously. Something precious. Scarier than the Primals, the trials of Allag, and the looming threat of the Empire, was becoming something so fearfully possessive you could no longer recognize love in it.