Way One Moves Time
Pregame, spoilers. Cid, Venat, and his son.
Cidolfus dreams himself awake in the middle of one prolonged lecture in the height of summer.
The Moebian Dynamic, one of the older scientists is droning in reminder to a newer apprentice, is named after the Moogle engineer who was famous for developing a cyclical system for glossair ring energy loss reduction. It is a principle easily demonstrated by taking a strip of paper and performing a twist with one end. Both sides of the paper feed into one another and become the same side, despite their unique natures.
It's a principle that Cid has always been fond of. He enjoys the interchangeability of energies, the secrets that are revealed when matter is stripped down to its most composite elements and similarities are found. Energy is the root of all existence. With proper control, all forces can be guided; energy is how the universe makes sense.
The difficulty is figuring out how to manipulate it so that ships do not fall out of the sky, generators do not explode, and couriers deliver mail on time, but Cid is a scientist. Solving problems is the purpose of his life.
Cid's wife dies in childbirth. Her health had begun to wane as she grew older, exponentially -- as if her body were rushing towards an inevitable conclusion, and became impatient to reach it. They'd almost given up on children entirely, both of them past thirty. When they discovered she was pregnant, it had been with mixed rejoicing.
He finds that he has less tears at her death than he'd expected -- as if without him being there to witness it directly, her death never occurred. Instead, his house feels partially abandoned. His wife might have been absent on some prolonged errand. Perhaps she was vexed that he has taken so long in the field, getting dust in his hair from energy compression tests gone explosive. Perhaps she remembered a book that she wished to pick up herself. Perhaps -- even better -- he has simply gone to the wrong estate, and the whole thing has been a giant mistake.
"Well," he says to the servants who have come to greet him at the door, feeling a little helpless in the silence. "Let me see my boy."
The child's face is red and wrinkled as an overripe tomato from the kitchens. He scrunches up his mouth as he is lifted out of the warm basket that a nurse has been carrying him in, giving a lusty wail of protest.
Cid loves him.
The other scientists do not.
He takes a month off for the purpose of focusing on his child, though of course work is shuttled to his estate for review. The other scientists stationed at Draklor correspond with him to varying degrees, mostly to let Cid know just how far he is falling behind, now that he has a child to take care of. Several of them are smug; others, disappointed. Cid has been well in the lead of airship theory for weeks now, and rivalry in the labs has only increased with each passing advancement.
When he returns, wheeling Ffamran in on the same cart as some of his Pawns, his coworkers all pause in their labors to stare at Cid as if he has gone mad.
It's a relatively simple matter to rig one of the suspension devices to also contain his son. "I hope you know," he explains to the small crowd that has followed him into his main office, all wearing the same befuddled look, "in this enlightened day and age, single fathers do very well. I've been reading books," he adds pointedly, as Ffamran's cries bounce along the corridors of Draklor, leaving the scientists in attendance all wincing.
"You dote on the babe," accuses the Chief Glossair Technician eventually, his nose wrinkled up in furry indignation.
Being chastised by a winged rabbit no higher than his knee is something that Cid is, thankfully, accustomed to. "And why not?" Passing over the list of blueprints, he reaches for a pair of calipers and checks to make certain they are aligned properly. "The boy is remarkably astute for his age. Why, he'll be a scientist in no time, Popo."
"He is three months aged, Dr. Cid."
"And what a fine three months they are!"
Chief Popo sniffs, waddling over to adjust the magicite flow in their latest durability experiments. "Just watch. He'll rebel against you and become an athlete. That's what my children did, let me tell you. I can only imagine what bringing your whelp into a weapons research facility will do to its brains."
Moogle sports are not a realm which Cid is familiar with; for this reason, he stifles a grin at the thought of a sea of pom-poms jiggling as their owners struggle with a game ball the size of their own bodies.
But then Ffamran stirs in his cradle, and begins to gurgle the preliminary beggings to be fed, and Cid has to find a place to set down the smoking test tube in his hand -- or at least not mix it up with his son's bottle.
Three of his scientists threaten to quit before Ffamran sees his first year. Cid convinces his majordomo eventually -- reluctantly -- to change diapers during the day and reinforces the soundproofing of his laboratory office whenever he brings his son into work. The padding helps whenever Ffamran bunches up his tiny fists and begins to bawl, but makes him some enemies among the Aural R&D, who hunt Cid down to try and explain in small words why unauthorized requisition of experimental materials is intentionally discouraged.
The Head of Spectrum Analysis makes her opinion known with a cold glare as she tries to share her project status over Ffamran's best efforts to vocalize the words, emergency evacuation: "Draklor is not a nursery, Dr. Cid."
"My boy," Cid retorts proudly, "has no need of a nurse."
But he has to agree with the necessity of protecting Ffamran from the more delicate instruments, or they from him; this begins the first of the separations between Cid and his son, and the beginning of the million new ways that Cid can find to drive his servants to the end of their wits. He contacts them half a dozen times each day to check on the status of his boy. As the last few minutes of each work day click by, Cid has to train himself not to rush home; as if, should he take too long returning, Ffamran will disappear as surely as his mother.
One of the first things Cid does when Ffamran is old enough to read is to lock up all the books on parenting. It will not do to allow the boy to peruse the same instruction manuals that his father relies on -- and then, once Ffamran begins to start inquiring discreetly about mechanical clasps and tumblers, Cid is forced to get rid of the books entirely. He wishes repeatedly in the years to come that he hadn't. Somewhere in the guides, there must have been a section that involved What To Do when a child is exhibiting an unnatural reluctance in biochemistry.
But Ffamran does wonderfully in classes, so the tutors say. He is developing above average hand-eye coordination -- or so the reports claim -- even if he has a tendency to ease around the rules. This trait will either make him an excellent politician, a thief, or both. Either way, the future is bright.
Cid reviews his son's folder at the end of every week with parental satisfaction. Everything he needs to know about Ffamran is there.
What he remembers of the guidebooks is that they advised never to let the child feel as if it is at fault for its mother's demise, so Cid very carefully follows this guideline to the strictest degree. He never speaks of the cause of his wife's death, and indeed, speaks little of her at all. To Ffamran, he shares only that she is no longer with them, and leaves the matter there.
He mourns privately, once he has reached the point where he has allowed himself to: when he is finally accepting that his bed will be cold when he finally slides between the sheets at night, when he is aware that there will be no one who sounds like her again, to rest her fingers carefully on his shoulder whenever he is weary.
One of the first things Cid does when he finally goes to visit her funeral marker is to apologize for his long absence. The groundskeeper of the Ivory Parlor keeps a respectful distance, mindlessly sweeping nonexistent dust off the stones. It is a peaceful enclosure, designed to give the illusion of privacy to all its visitors; the lawn is carefully trimmed to uniform evenness, the sidewalks are long and curving, and the background hum of Archades has almost entirely been filtered out to a muted ripple that vibrates just behind Cid's ears.
He spends a good half-hour there, talking to the grave. He does not know if his wife would approve of Ffamran's tendency to bring food up to his room, and then leave the dirty dishes shoved under his bed; he thinks she would like the way that Ffamran is already reading at twice his graded level. Then, at last, there is nothing more to say, and he ends simply with, I love you.
As Cid turns away, there is a ripple on the air, just out of the corner of his vision.
Distracted, he squeezes his eyes shut and squints, uncertain if the prescription of his lenses needs to be increased. The anomaly does not repeat.
Cid chalks it up to a lack of iron in his diet, and returns to the main building of the Ivory Parlor. The groundskeeper is already there, having finished his busywork with the broom. As Cid steps into the antechamber, he automatically scurries to hold open the door to the street. "Will you bring the young master with you next time, sir?"
Cid only shakes his head. "A boy of his age has no need to be forced to bear such things. He will visit when he is ready."
His research falters when Ffamran turns eight. Cid spends less time in the field than he previously did; Ffamran is sabotaging the piano, Ffamran is terrorizing one of the math tutors, Ffamran is taking over his father's life. Cid does not mind this. He is glad, in a way, because his son is all that will remain of himself and his wife, and his son will inherit what remains of Cid's science as well, and so this is suitable in the end. Cid is raising his heir. This is important.
Other scientists can take up the duty of advancement. Other scientists are not responsible for his son.
The ghost of his wife follows Cid home sometimes from her funeral marker, trailing behind him like the strings of a kite, but always dissipating before he crosses the threshold of his home. No one else seems to notice the apparition. Cid is confident that he is not insane, but asking other people if they can see his dead wife walking about is grounds to get his career an early retirement, so Cid retains a comfortable silence on the issue.
After one particularly harrowing evening -- Ffamran has caught a nasty strain of chocopox, resisting traditional white magicks and leaving the boy crusted and teary -- Cid sees the ghost lingering in the back of his study. It waits until he is looking at it before drifting towards the shelves, watching him sorrowfully as it rests one hand on the books, and extends the other towards him. There is a clear communication of intent; the ghost wishes for Cid to follow, to listen, to look at what it is touching.
Eventually, he gets up from his chair and slides out one of the books it is indicating. It's a book on fractured magicite. He reads a little about Moogle advancements, but does nothing with the knowledge, and eventually puts the book away.
Of the offerings at his wife's tomb, there are only ever his; Ffamran never comes.
Mealtimes, at least, are a welcome consistency as Ffamran grows older. They conduct each as a meeting of sorts, with papers, classwork, and occasional synergis wiring boards. For the boy's tenth birthday, Cid gets Ffamran an all-purpose combination wrench and screwdriver tool that clips easily onto a belt or pocket. He places it discreetly beside Ffamran's breakfast plate, resting inside an easily-overlooked five lock puzzle box the size of a small dog.
His son -- naturally -- loves it.
"You should make your acquaintance with Lord Vayne," Cid suggests during the main course, splitting the salted pod of a legume between his fingers, and popping out the tender innards. "You two are of an age to be companions."
Ffamran looks carefully scandalized; Cid is confident that his boy has practiced that exact expression for hours in the mirror, just for these sort of moments. "Father, please! Grant me some taste! Besides," he adds, reaching out to steal the pepper shaker. "Lord Vayne is much older than me. We'd have nothing to speak of."
"Five years does not a chasm make."
"It does not bridge strangers either." Having coated his carrots in a fine layer of pepper, Ffamran sets aside the shaker with a clunk. "Don't say you have plans for me to debut in grand social affairs."
"Such things are vital for a smooth transition to adulthood in Archades, Ffamran." Another peapod destroyed. Cid furrows his brow. "Particularly as you are my son. You must build connections!"
"I'd rather build a means of getting out of Introductions to Rozarrian Literature instead."
"Rogue." Despite all his efforts to remain stern, Cid's mouth betrays him; one corner tugs up, and then the rest of it follows, blooming into a grin. "Scamp! Go. Go on," he adds, waving his fork in dismissal. "
The ghost of his wife shimmers back into view as Ffamran disappears through the door. As he watches, it turns and smiles at him.
He starts to smile back before he can catch himself; the scientist in him cannot tolerate the visitations anymore, not when this energy phenomenon might present a risk to his son.
"We have danced about this subject enough," he announces, setting down his fork. "You are not my wife. I have not even for a moment believed that you are." Confidence is enough to keep him going, tapping one finger on the wood of the table with the imperiousness of a Senate Chairman. "So, creature. Interest me, before I have further reason to remove you."
The affection fades from the specter's face. Once more, it attempts to beckon him closer, to rise from his chair and follow it back to whichever of his libraries it has decided to plague this time. Cid does not move. This refusal seems to disturb the creature, and its outline starts to blur around the edges, arms and shoulders wavering like a smoke cloud in the rain.
When it finally speaks, its voice is a mechanical harmony of sound:
With me shall come the end of Man's bindings.
The Occurian -- for that is what Cid finally coaxes the creature to admit, unsatisfied with vague classifications and claims -- is named Venat.
It has another face than that of his wife, which instantly puts to rest any of Cid's more sentimental worries. He never once thought that the phenomenon was her in the slightest, but there may have been some sort of parasite freed upon her death, some connection between the two. Or, even worse: Venat might have been the cause of her failing in the first place, some form of magickal leech that slowly drained away his wife's ability to endure.
But the Occurian appears eager to work with him, as far as he can interpret its behaviors. His lack of partnership seems to disappoint it. Cid is, despite the scientific opportunity, uninterested in capturing this Occuria and separating its essence into component parts; Ffamran has a piano recital at the end of the month, and Cid is not yet certain if he can get away from Draklor's latest glossair experiment for a side project.
Venat catches word of this, though how, he is not sure. Flight through the skies brings forth your whim, Cidolfus?
Its sudden appearance startles him; Cid nearly drops his tea all over his notes. "Flight represents a unique consideration," he informs it, trying not to feel foolish for whispering under his breath to thin air. "For one thing, gravity can be rather unforgiving when applied in generous amounts."
Grav'ty keeps its shackles light. My words may lend an insight which your race has not found.
"I am certain we can find the way on our own," he retorts smoothly, and adds another lump of sugar to his cup.
When none of Venat's attempts to lure him succeed, the creature resorts to more base hypnosis. Cid is confronted by the image of his wife waiting for him in his office, sitting on his desk; in her hands, she has cupped what looks like an eternal combustion wrapped into a sphere no larger than a child's skull.
Brightest fires come born of stones known as Nethicite, it informs him. Greatest power known to ones of your kind. With it, slave turns to king, and king to slave. This jewel, so small, can raze the dreams of any land.
"And how is it of any more use than a new form of weapon?" Cid walks around his desk stiff-legged, trying not to look directly at the image. The display of energies is fascinating. He dares not show interest. "Perhaps you may have gathered the wrong impression from my line of work, Venat, but Draklor's sole practice is not exclusively limited to mass genocide." He drops his notecase on his chair. "I foresee quite enough difficulties in keeping my boy out of Archadian wars. For one thing, we never seem to accomplish much by pursuing them."
Because we have not meant for Archades to win.
Despite himself, Cid finds his pulse skipping. "Pardon?"
But Venat has already taken advantage of the sudden spark of interest; it smiles, or rather, turns the corners of its mouth up in an uneven line. Join me, and I shall make free your answers.
"Your offers are as poisonous as the creatures you warn against, Venat." It is hard for Cid to say such things while faced with his wife's mien; still, he forces himself to find a bitter humor in the whole affair. "You're not very good at interacting with humes, are you?"
A Hume in a mask is still not a Garif. It relents after that, though, dissipating into invisibility once more, and he is given peace for the rest of the afternoon.
When the evening hour chimes, however, Venat returns. Its voice comes without breath, like the clearest of radios playing in Cid's ear. For generation to generation, mine have controlled the fate of your people. As a master keeps its dog tame, we've trained nations to yield to our wills kept unseen. When dogs behave, we find for them reward. Thus is balance of Ivalice maintained.
Attempting to ignore the urge to bat at thin air, Cid focuses his attention on the book in his lap. Earlier that week, he'd dug up a Moogle publication about the formation of skystone, referencing several modern perspectives on more classical texts. One of his bookmarks is sticking out halfway through. He'd always meant to return to reading it, having purchased it shortly before Ffamran's birth. Now, of course, the information is already sorely out of date.
Is there nothing, Venat asks him as he pages through the manual, you have wished to change?
Cid stifles the sudden leap of memory in his chest: the day that he received word of his wife's death, and how he'd regretted all the letters he'd never been able to send. "It is too late to undo the past," he replies steadily.
Then you are left with one recourse, Cidolfus. Alter future, lest his'try repeat its coils, play'd in puppet's strings that will find no ending.
Again, the Occurian reveals itself to him, this time in the form of his wife's hands reaching down to cover his fingers on the book. They hover, but do not touch; he can see the lines on his knuckles through her ghostly flesh. Nethicite. Means of our vengeance. Power given to those whom we select. But what has not been shared is that this tool can be birthed by your will. His wife's fingers start to pull away; Cid cannot help it, cannot help the tremble as he forces his hands to remain still and not reach back. All of Ivalice dances to the whim of my kind. Dare I reveal the chance? E'en the death of your wife may come from Occurian fancy, meant to sever the scope of your ambition, constrain a vision they have right to fear?
When it notices that he has turned his face away, silently refusing each of its claims, it prods. Do you not wish power now, Cidolfus? Do you not wish for might that conquers nations?
"Ffamran will not forgive me if I am late to yet another of his recitals," he replies wearily. One of his hands is beginning to hurt; he notes vaguely that his fingers have clenched into fists over the course of Venat's lecture, and the barrel of his pen is pinned between his knuckles. "The course of my vision may remain with him."
This answer does not satisfy Venat; it shimmers into full being, the skin of his wife's body melting away into turquoise folds, a frozen ocean with two eyes for pearls. Break the chain that they have placed upon you, Cidolfus. Break it, lest you perish.
"My boy will carry on my dream for me," he parries back with a confidence that grows through rebellion. "He has the intelligence, the wit, and a capacity for mechanical engineering -- which, although subpar from what I would prefer, is still advanced beyond his class. And how," he challenges at last, bitter enough to taste grief, the bones in his arms aching from not touching his wife, "can I be so certain that these Occurians have such a tight leash? How do I know you are not lying about any of this?"
Venat holds itself in place for all of two seconds before vanishing, leaving only a single question drifting behind: Have you not thought, Cidolfus, of what might be if your work goes undone, and the rest of my kind espy the fodder of your son?
The air freezes inside Cid's lungs.
He finds Ffamran sprawled among a pile of glossair schematics, puzzling them out on the floor of his room. Cid wastes no time. He grabs at them all, rolling the schematics back up into messy scrolls, bundling them into his arms with a crackle of onion paper.
"These are mine," he orders sternly, seeing the disappointment in his son's eyes and trying to steel his heart against it. He tries, and fails. "I will build you something else to play with, Ffamran. Allow me a few days."
Later that week, Cid assembles an entire fleet of toy windup ships, of planes that soar through the air for hours when given the right charge. He lines them up on his son's bed. Flying cannot get the boy into trouble, he reasons. He will have to make certain to hire piloting tutors right away.
Ffamran is just entering his teenage years, as technicalities go; twelve is hardly cause for concern, though his grades have begun to waver. Their dinners are becoming more sparse together, as they have been since Ffamran's last birthday -- since Venat has come, invisibly stealing into Cid's life and dividing his hours neatly between the concrete and the theoretical. Cid tries to make time anyway. Ffamran is getting older, and Cid knows that he will miss these years later if he does not pause to take note of them now.
"My tutors said we would be studying the case of House Folles tomorrow."
"Did they?" Lowering the salt shaker, Cid blinks. "I am surprised that it has not been addressed before. Quite a traditional warning, for young students."
Ffamran mulls this over for only a moment before making the next logical step, connecting Cid's reaction with his words in perspective. "Do you believe there to be a reason why they would not, father?"
Ah, sharp Ffamran, good Ffamran. Cid is pleased at the alertness of his son. "Do you remember the worth of preplanning, Ffamran?" Scraping his spoon along the bottom of his plate, Cid gathers the tomato sauce into a line against the pasta. "Several generations ago, an attempt was made by the legal courts to impose a statute of limitations upon offenses; some sort of problem of inheritance, as always is here in Archadia. Wealth powers all."
With that, Cid takes in a deep breath for the story. "Well, one young serving lad in House Folles decided to take advantage of this. He reasoned that if he began early to break the law, by the time he was fully an adult, he would be exonerated by default. Thus began the Folles Murders. The very next day after the time was up, the servant became a public braggart of his crimes, assuming that he would rake in fortune by telling the story of his own infamy."
The tale of misdeeds has engaged Ffamran's attention; the boy sits up straighter in his chair, rapt for each word. When he finally notices that Cid has paused, he clears his throat obediently. "What happened to him after that, father?"
"The Judges found a loophole in the laws, of course, and the serving lad disappeared shortly after his announcement." Scooping up a hasty bite of his dinner, Cid checks the level of tea in his cup and finds it disturbingly low. "And that is why there is no longer a time limit on offenders in Archadia. However, it cannot be denied that the scope of his ambitions at such a young age," he continues, hunting avidly for where he put his teaspoon and then discovering it in his own hand, coated in tomato sauce. "His last victim fell when he was only sixteen. That gives you four years left to plan a murder -- please, Ffamran, you must at least beat him by two. Now, recite to me your schoolwork."
Ffamran sighs, but picks up the top sheet from the folder at his elbow. "Resonance. A state in which one orbiting object is subject to periodic gravitational perturbations by another."
"Very good. Now, define synchronous rotation." When nothing comes, Cid pauses in refilling his cup, and lets the teapot settle against the curve of his palm, warming the skin to a level almost painful. "Ffamran, are you neglecting your studies on purpose?"
"Why would I do something like that, father?"
The teapot settles back on its tray with a hot click. "Well, some manuals state that negative attention is, upon occasion, desired because it is, by nature, attention, and therefore -- "
Ffamran sighs dramatically, loud enough to be grossly impolite.
"Listen," Cid says, trying not to be unkind, he never tries to be unkind to his boy. "The purpose of this all is for you to prepare for the future. Is the example of House Folles not sufficient?" he adds, baffled by the variety of amused expressions crawling over his son's face.
Ffamran is grinning. "My father is telling me -- no," the boy corrects himself, rolling the sounds of his own voice in exaggerated display, "insisting that I emulate a criminal. My path leads inevitably into shadow. Hark, I am doomed."
"No, that is not what I said at all," Cid starts to protest, but Ffamran is already laughing, and by then the dinner hour has nearly exchanged itself for bed.
When Ffamran is thirteen, the balance of Cid's research shifts again. His son is doggedly aloof, and it seems natural to fill in the empty space again with research -- at least until Ffamran grows out of his independent streak.
There are things Cid realizes as he pulls himself sleepily awake each morning, things that he does not allow himself to think about in terms of his son: Ffamran wed, Ffamran with heirs, himself as a doting grandfather. He thinks quite often about the completion of normal projects, but his boy -- his boy is different.
Sometimes Cid wishes that he could bottle up the years of Ffamran's youth. If time could be recycled the same way energy could, recycled and processed, repeated and contained -- if time could be like glossair rings and hydroplane cycles, then Cid would fashion his victory there. History would repeat. Nothing would be lost.
But in the repetition of history comes a lack of change; in lack of change there is a slow death, and Cid wants immortality less than he wants his son to rule the world, forever brilliant, forever alive.
He is compelled enough by this that one evening he interrupts Ffamran's badminton practice, calling him into the foyer.
"History is built by our own hands, Ffamran," he informs his boy solemnly. "It will be your hands someday."
Ffamran snorts and pulls away -- embarrassed by his father's sentimentalism, most likely, and Cid lets him run back outside to the yard, where he can be the gardener's problem and not his father's.
Since the house is quiet, Cid uses the time to resume his studies once more. His office is comfortable. In the silence of Ffamran's absence, Venat fills in the gaps; the Occurian is a living slice of history, explaining conspiracies throughout the ages that Cid has never begun to imagine.
"You are destroying your own people by doing this," he reminds it as he takes down a shelf of books to search for one he swears is in his laboratory office somewhere.
Venat is a patient, coral-shaped wave drifting back and forth around his desk. And you are saving yours. Is that glory not enough?
"Glory." Cid shapes his laughter with disdain. "You could speak to me of such things, but I can recognize a toady's base conjurings in hopes of finding favor. You cannot woo me so easily, Venat."
The Occurian's motion slows. I have done wrong to underestimate you so.
"No." Discarding the top book from the stack, Cid browses through the second. "You have done one thing right. The Occuria are indeed manipulators -- for you are such a one. Thus, I find the proof of the nature of your kin. I believe you now," he acknowledges at last, turning through the chapters and finding the bookmark right where he'd left it, wedged between a commentary on aerodynamics and metallurgy. "Your own behaviors give testimony to the workings of your race."
Venat does not seem to know how to react. It sways closer, its body glimmering like moonfire on snow. My words did not mean to foster... deceit, is its response, distorted voice sounding almost hesitant, almost startled.
He chuckles at the awkwardness implicit, and then the sound of Ffamran's voice down the hall jerks him back to the present moment.
"Father? Are you there?"
Glancing over his shoulder hastily just in case Venat has decided to remain visible -- just in case, he can never be too careful with a boy of Ffamran's wit -- Cid composes himself just barely before Ffamran enters. At first he wonders why his son has come to the laboratories; then a glance at the clock proves that the hour is much later than he thought. He flaps one hand irritably at his son before he can stop himself, and gentles out the gesture with words. "I am working on a delicate project right now, Ffamran. I will come home soon. Notify the cooks to prepare supper without me -- "
"You missed the glider presentations today, father."
A sick roil goes through Cid's stomach. He had forgotten entirely about the performance. It was supposed to be Ffamran's crowning achievement for his class; the topic had occupied mealtime conversation for weeks. "I am sorry," he manages, wondering desperately how long he can keep the experiment compressed without it doing something awkward, like exploding. "I... I will attend the next one. You have my word."
The cloud on Ffamran's face does not lift, and he brings the expression with him all the way back to the door, and the lockpad is slapped open with unnecessary force. "A word I would trust, were you not so busy playing with your toys, old man," the boy spits back as he stalks away down the hall, and then he is gone.
When the emptiness has settled back over the office, Venat finally speaks. Your son would be of great valor in these efforts, Cidolfus. Only if you gave him introduction to these goals.
"Your Occurian roots are showing, sweet Venat," Cid retorts. "My boy is very important to me. You will not involve him in your plans yet -- nor in this work that I do."
Has he not desire for his freedom as well?
"I will not have him know what I meddle in yet. He is not prepared." The door has slid closed by now automatically, blocking out all unwanted visitors and all wanted ones as well. "Let him be safe for as long as I can manage it. There is time enough for him to inherit his destiny later."
With that, he glances back down to his book; the heart of his enthusiasm is gone now, and the experiment that had been marked no longer seems worthwhile to pursue. He might try it later. Rather than force himself to pursue the setup directions, Cid simply rests the volume on the table.
I am... sorry, Venat says at last, and Cid glances up to see the face of his dead wife hovering there, mouth turned down in a sorrow that makes him want to reach up and touch her lips, to gently wipe the melancholy away.
He closes his eyes against the vision. "You are a manipulator, Venat, in your own way, to your own ends." The reminder feels more for his comfort than anything else. "You have no need to be anything other than yourself for me. I am too old for anything less than the truth. If we are to be conspirators, then let us at least be conspirators in fairness. I would," he tries, finding the words coming out hard, fighting against a twisting in his chest that has migrated up to his throat, "I would that you never wear such a face again."
It grants him mercy by vanishing completely, erasing his wife's features so completely that the sudden absence pains a second time. Its voice, disembodied, trickles through the air. If truth is what you wish, Cidolfus, then to Giruvegan's peaks must the seeker go.
"Not yet," he pleads. "Give me time, Venat. Not yet."
There is some reconciliation as Ffamran continues to grow older, as Cid had hoped; the boy has adjusted to schooling and flight lessons and the change in harpsichord tutors previously in the season. Fifteen is a good year for them both. Draklor has received additional funding from the Emperor, and even if Emperor Gramis has begun to slow in his eagerness to allocate monies for conquest, there are enough additional breakthroughs for Draklor to justify a healthy budget.
Too, things improve between Cid and Venat, for which the scientist is glad of. The Occurian has slowly, carefully begun to speak with Cid more plainly, sharing information and occasional doubts. It is not as confident as it would like to portray itself; it is alone from the rest of its race, and Cid has gathered that this rebellion may not have as high a chance of success as it would like. Cid does not know if he is the first that Venat has approached for its goals, but he can guess that the Occurian is not accustomed to being challenged as an equal.
"Tell me, Venat," Cid offers one day, while he is sorting through Ffamran's literature scores and ignoring the Occurian's attempts to coax him back to work. "Have you ever had children? You're being an awful mother," he continues briskly, before it can elaborate on the reproduction cycles that it may or may not have.
The Occurian's voice does not change, but Cid believes it is laughing anyway. Is that my role in this?
"You were not aware?" Pleased at the latest grades attached to Ffamran's essays, Cid finds his humor turning wry. "Perhaps we should look into taking one of those parental assistance sessions together."
Then after, should I join your son at teatime?
The image is ludicrous, that himself and Ffamran might sit about the dinner table together, Ffamran trying to keep his expression polite as Venat asked to pass the sugar. It's a ludicrous image, and a ludicrous truth, and Cid starts laughing aloud at the ridiculousness of it all, of the secrets unspoken that have brewed for years. He feels the tension break inside him, sliding out in a welcome rush. He laughs like a child. Like a young man again, something new, like a --
"Is everything all right, father?"
Cut short, Cid glances up sharply to see his son in the doorway, an eyebrow arched in concern.
"I," he pauses to gather breath. "I am fine, Ffamran. No, be silent," he adds in Venat's direction, just in case the creature feels the need to add its own commentary on the side. "I know, I know. Let me speak to Ffamran for but a moment. Then we may continue."
"Father?" inquires Ffamran again, delicately, and Cid forces himself to control his own amusement; he knows he is speaking to a creature that Ffamran cannot see, he knows he is being insane around his own son.
It almost sorrows him, that Ffamran cannot intuit the presence of the Occurian simply from the residual clues. But it is better this way, ah, better. Ffamran has enough to worry about. His grades are not optimal. He should work on picking them up. So many things to do. Too many.
"Father?" Still, Ffamran, still being effortlessly genteel, overlooking his parent's lapse. "Perhaps this is a bad time?"
Cid slides his spectacles off, setting them gently on the table as he presses knuckles against the bridge of his nose. "No. Yes," he adds, just as quickly, realizing that to fight against his own distraction would be futile, juggling his attention from his son to his work to the invisible being hanging over his own shoulder. "I apologize, Ffamran. Now is not appropriate."
Shoulders bowed, equally gracious in the dance of rejection, his son reaches for the latch. "I shall tell the steward to send up something hot to drink," comes the murmur, and then the door swings closed with a soft thump, followed by the sound of bootheels padding away.
Cid drops his head into his hands, bracing his thumbs against his temples. He will not allow himself to think about Ffamran's expression, about the growing distance between himself and his boy. Three years ago, and Cid would have abandoned everything to engage in conversation. Five years ago, and he would not even have had to choose.
"Yes," he says aloud, not caring if Ffamran is still listening, if the servants think him mad. "Yes, I know. The equations. I'll finish the equations."
The next year finds trouble. Ffamran is deep in the social forays of his peers; they argue more than they speak, Cid standing on the stairwell to his office while he orders his son not to bring home giggling socialites, Ffamran shouting back that he wouldn't want to shame himself by introducing any of his friends to his old man anyway. The words sting.
It is in the middle of one fiercely cold war between them that Cid finally agrees to go to Giruvegan.
Venat wastes no time. My words have spread, that you've received my assist. All the better to guide the Dynast-King's chosen heirs, it informs him within days of receiving his agreement. Their weapon you must see, so that you may make it your own. One chance, Cidolfus. Come the revelation that you are my hand in defiance, they will allow neither of us freedom to act.
"They will not strike you down directly?" Cid asks, envisioning an eternity of painful torment. "Or myself?"
No. If Venat is lying, it is doing so with amazing ease. Such is why our mortal tools do exist. You have nearly become completely entwined in the game, Cidolfus. Retreat dwindles by the moment.
A ripple of caution draws itself along the back of Cid's neck, prickling the hairs; then he hears the sounds of Ffamran returning home through the front door, kicking the heels of his boots on the metal coatrack despite the protests of their steward, laughing as he asks if there is anything hot in the kitchen to eat. That laughter will turn silent when Ffamran sees his father, replaced by a hostile glare.
"Turn back for what?" Cid answers, wishing he felt half as confident as his resignation was strong. "And never see these matters unanswered?"
He packs for the Jagd Difohr. Cid regards the prospect with less enthusiasm than he might, if he were younger; much of the trip must be on foot, and his knees have started to ache whenever he walks for too long. Even with Venat's guidance through the Feywood, it is not a safe journey.
They trudge through the outskirts of the fallen city together -- or rather, he trudges, while Venat serenely glides, until they reach the borders and it come to a halt.
It would be best if I were to go no further. The risks grow too large for our plans. Venat pauses; Cid wonders what it has not revealed yet, having withheld so much information behind a demand for partnership. You must walk forth alone, as a pilgrim. Dwell on that which I have instructed you with.
"I will be safe," he insists, unpacking the small suitcases that he has brought with him in the hover. Three Bishops unfold their stubby pod-feet, squeaking to each other as they struggle for purchase on the rocky ground. In later models, he thinks, he should cut straight to hover-propulsion. And perhaps add some guns.
He wonders if Venat is lingering, but when he glances up, the Occurian is gone.
He presses on anyway, braving the murk and Mist, his feet squashing through puddles. Gates open to his touch. Distant shadows skitter away. Apart from the mechanical company, he realizes suddenly that -- for the first time in over a decade -- he is completely alone.
The solitude wraps around him like a pressure field as he walks, checking the stones around him periodically for the landmarks which Venat has alerted him to. There are dangerous paths to enter Giruvegan by. The safer routes have been warded against the monsters and traps which protect the Sun-Cryst, intended for the rare agent that the Occurians have selected -- and he is now such a creature.
Or at least, he is Venat's.
If the other Occurians are watching, they do not hinder his progress. The deception must hold for a little while longer, that much Cid knows; only once he is safe away will it be safe for Venat to play its hand. Should he agree to Venat's mad scheme, his destiny will become trapped in the same rebellion.
Giruvegan is beautiful in an aesthetic way -- all open air and terrace platforms, streaked with the faint rainbow glimmer of particularly dense Mist. He does not spend time in sightseeing, despite his urges to camp out and study; not enough supplies, and so instead he methodically climbs the tower that Venat had indicated, nodding absently to the fantastical guards on each floor who wait in drowsy malice.
The top level of the tower is suffused with the glow of light on crystal. The air is heavier, as if he is sharing it with an invisible monster, one whose mass brushes against him like giants in an ocean.
In the far corners of the chamber, he thinks he hears the scraping of horse hooves.
Blood not of the Dynast-King, a voice whispers. Light shimmers; a familiar visage takes shape slowly out of the air before him, and the only reason he does not find the manipulation vulgar is because Venat has already turned him jaded when it comes to his wife's face. Blood not to find welcome here.
"I am the agent of Venat," he announces, trying to conceal his urge to recoil. It is equally foul when these Occurians wear his wife's skin, he thinks. They don't know how to imitate emotions properly either. "I was bid to attend this place, that I might understand the power of the Sun-Cryst, and thereby assist in guidance of King Raithwall's heirs."
There is silence. He wonders if they are conferring together to discuss the exact temperature at which they will ignite him, but their verdict is a painless one. Then see, little hume. Witness the power sourced within our hands, the guardians of your race.
He steps forward, onto the marbled floor.
As he does, his Bishops click in warning.
He looks back in time to see them infested with light. Lines of fire curl over their hardened shells, gnawing away at the magicite-enforced layers -- as if the metal is no thicker than a pie crust crumbling, or a thousand years of rust performed in an instant. Warnings beep and scream before the wiring inside dissolves, all transformed into glimmering motes of flame.
The hunger of the crystal hunts for Cid next, and he cannot move, transfixed by the beauty of a scientific principle in action, of transmutation and energies so pure that he might have worshipped it.
In an instant, he sees power: he sees and knows and understands the thrust of Venat's ambitions, and how Venat is right to use this weapon, to take it away from Gerun and place it into mortal hands. Here are the absolutes of gods. Here is everything.
And here lies the unsuitability of the Occuria, as well. Only those who are mortal should be allowed this sort of control; only those who have loved and wed and watched the young of their own kind grow up can be aware of what goes into being mortal. This is Fate, he thinks dizzily. These lifeless voices cannot be allowed to rule the world where his son is preparing to earn his piloting licenses. These beings cannot own his destiny.
The light of the Sun-Cryst traces over Cid's body, and then vanishes harmlessly.
Afterwards, he stumbles out disoriented, half his brain already engaged in mapping out the crystalline structure of nethicite. He is bereft of the protections of his Bishops, but some miracle finds him safely back to the hover unharmed. He becomes dimly aware of Venat's presence already waiting as he flips open the hatch to his craft, sinking into the chair with gratitude after he activates the autopilot.
The Occurian wastes no time as they ride home. It speaks of rebellion and swords and necessary means to destroy the Sun-Cryst; it speaks of rebellion and bloodlines and what they can do to nudge the pieces together while soaring just underneath Gerun's radar. The Occurians are weak from their long indulgence, it tells him. They will assume that there is time enough to turn back the clock, to erase the insurgents, up until the very last minute when the world will be forever redefined.
When Venat finally winds down to a halt, just as the hover is settling back into its dock on the landing pad, its coral-wave body flickers into view.
Will you join me now, Cidolfus?
He makes no answer other than to reach for the engine keys, powering the hover down. The exit seals pop and hiss as they open. He feels groggy. Flying always does that to him, always makes him feel like he's exiting one form of himself and entering another.
"Yes," is his eventual response, as he draws in a deep breath of fresh air. The Archadian autumn meets his senses. The breeze tastes of an early winter. "This is the legacy I will leave. A new world, a new destiny -- and my boy will be there to champion it."
You wished for him not to become involved.
Cid pauses, his foot poised to step down onto the landing pad. "Ffamran will understand one day," he vows, and hopes.
At seventeen, Ffamran is enrolled in the Imperial Archadian Ministry of Law. It is Cid's influence that causes the selection process -- normally a long, grueling procedure -- to be largely ceremonial, though it helps that he has an extensive collection of Ffamran's achievements on file. The thick packet that arrives via courier is not one that the boy must have expected; it bears no marks of flight companies, of musical troupes, of the arts or sciences either. The heavy steel link that dangles from one end of the massive envelope is unmistakable, however: it is a link of office.
Cid is home when the news is delivered. He is there to watch Ffamran pick up the package with a blink.
"This is what you wish of me, father?" he asks after a long moment, and Cid nods.
The new solemnity which descends upon Ffamran does not suit the boy. Cid cannot understand why there was such a shift from rebellion to stiff formality, but nothing he does seems to break through his son's veneer. At times, he traces the pattern of Ffamran's development over the years, and wonders what could have gone wrong.
With so much going on, Cid is unable to schedule his routine visits to his wife's grave. He puts it off, month after month, until finally the Ivory Parlor sends a message asking if he is ill.
"Tell them I have moved on," he says abruptly to the nub-chinned courier who is waiting at the door. "Tell them... she would have wanted it that way."
He does not know why the words are so hard to present, nor why the latch feels heavy in his hand as his fingers move restlessly upon it, torn between holding the door open and throwing it shut immediately. He settles with simply turning away. One of the servants scuttles forth as Cid abandons the foyer, offering politenesses to the messenger from the Ivory Parlor, and helping sweep the matter away.
All that which exists should eventually end, Venat offers from behind his shoulder as he climbs the stairs patiently to the third-floor libraries. E'en the undying.
He understands that this is Venat's way of offering comfort; still, it comes hard, and Cid smothers the feeling underneath scientific equations, burying his thoughts in formulas and cold logic until he can concentrate on what's important again.
As the days go on, Venat speaks to him more and Ffamran grows even more quiet. It's hard for Cid to keep his work segregated from home again -- but more than that, to keep Venat segregated, and he lacks sufficient energy for the task. He catches himself speaking to the Occurian all the time now, outside of his office, outside of the labs. Cid's not sure if this is a good thing, but he accepts it as a fair tradeoff; after all, if Ffamran does not know what he wants yet, the last thing the boy needs is to become introduced to a creature whose existence throws all of Ivalice into question.
But something that has to be done with Ffamran to keep him out of trouble while plans are being laid down, and Cid can only hope that employment as a Judge can keep the boy occupied.
Ffamran turns eighteen without fanfare. It is over two years since Cid's trip to Giruvegan, and still the memory burns like an electrical fire in his brain. The traditional suit of armor suits the boy. Lesser Judges are all clothed in standard uniforms, but Ffamran somehow manages to wear his as naturally as his flying leathers. Like many of the Judges, he picks up the habit of wearing his armor even inside the house; Cid becomes accustomed to the sound of Ffamran's heels striking the carpet with a dull ring rather than the familiar clump clump clump of his normal boots.
"Ah, Ffamran." Cid is almost too busy to look away from the lists and lists of materials for artificial nethicite sprawled across his desk, but he spares his son a quick glance. "How have your cases been?"
"My superiors tell me that they are pleased with my progress." The distant formality of the words would bother Cid if he let them, but instead he blocks them out with thoughts of nethicite and skystone. "I have wondered how long you wish me to retain service as a Judge, Father."
The question jostles Cid. Time is too fluid for him to grasp these days, and it seems as if their projects have already concluded and the Occurians overthrown. Ffamran cannot ask him these things; Cid cannot answer. "As long as is necessary," he responds weakly. "You will work your way up to Magister, and from there be able to do something about those dough-brained Senators who question the funding for my projects."
"Well, yes, Ffamran." After a moment, Cid slides his glasses down his nose and examines his son over the rims. "Governmental work is not an ill burden to bear," he ventures. "I know that you may have gathered that impression from hearing me vent my displeasure on more than one occasion, but --"
Ffamran sets his helmet down so that it can stare at his father with empty metal eyeslits, matching the boy's own emotionless regard. "I understand, old man," he states quietly, soft enough that it slices the throat of Cid's rambles and leaves only numbness behind. "I see how it will be."
With that, Ffamran turns and strides out the office, back straight and shoulders squared.
Cid waits for his son to return for the rest of the night.
He never does.
Cidolfus dreams himself awake in the middle of one prolonged experiment in the height of winter.
The Moebian Dynamic, his son is droning -- but Ffamran is not there. Instead, there is a cluster of sleepy researchers who are lifelessly debating the value of skystone strata variation. Cid is in charge of them all now; he should be ordering them back to work, but he is not a harsh taskmaster, and he knows they will go at the required pace.
The Chief Engineering Technician has been replaced with a sallow-faced hume. The majority of the moogles quit under pressures when it was discovered that Cid had finally developed alternatives in airship construction that did not have to be chartered by the United Engineer's Guild first.
A few dogged loyalists have stayed on, despite the disapproval of their peers. Chief Popo is not one of them.
Energy is not always interchangeable, though Cid may wish otherwise. His son is not Venat; Venat is not his wife. Ffamran is no longer a child. The Occurians cannot be undiscovered. Time, Cid knows, is a force that is alien to his needs: time only moves one way.