Everything was wrong.
Not just because Nero tol Scaeva was at his desk, reading, instead of harrassing Cid nan Garlond with some form of silliness or another. And not just because the soft buzzing around him would normally distract the tall Garlean, even as midnight ticked past. Well, those were some reasons it was wrong. But, really, the reason it felt wrong was that Nero was sure he'd been in this situation before. Often, Nero was unsure of how days passed - sleep was for the weak. (He wasn't weak.) But this was his bedroom, in Castrum Meridianum - one of many places which had been destroyed by the hands of that hero.
Clearly, though, this place wasn't destroyed. The moonlight filtered though his all too small window, letting Nero feel it on his smooth skin. Usually, he'd be laying in bed - but, no. Even these books seemed to be the same as they'd been before he'd lost everything. Which was still a pity - quite a few of these books were classics, written about the Allagan Era - and ways to improve their technology. Hand-picked by Nero when he'd been tasked with restoring Ultima Weapon.
Ah, Ultima. Still a beautiful being, even if now Nero knew of the flaws which caused it to fall. That being the heroes and their Blessing. Who'd be able to counter that, hm? Damned gods - why couldn't it just be a Primal? Now that'd be a lot easier for Nero and his allies both. But gods existing was simply a fact of life. One Nero hated. But these books reminded him of why he cared so much for Ultima, even before seeking Omega and the Void. (Not in that order, of course.) There was a beauty to its' design, and beauty to the Bits he had been in the middle of making.
Still... had Nero simply dreamed all of that? It felt far too real to be just a dream. And that was why everything was wrong, to the Garlean. Letting out a soft growl, Nero turned a page in his book. If it had been a dream, then perhaps it was... the time he worked with that traitor of a black-cloaked man. How he hated that man. Sure, Nero held no loyalty to Gaius. (Only a little, if he was forced to admit it.) But a death trapped within such a wonderful device was horrific. And abusing his aid to try and kill everything? Damnit. He'd need to see him again, wouldn't he?
Lahabrea, was it?
It bothered Nero that Lahabrea looked familiar. Whenever he took off that hood of his, he looked just like Deitrich. His other rival - the one he'd only made recently, unlike Cid.
How, then, had Deitrich become Neros' rival? It had begun quite simply, inside the Alchemists' Guild. Though Nero worked with Garlemald, there were some things that could not be gotten with force - and Nero tinkered with Alchemy, at times. Garlean Alchemy had begun from a similar place as Eorzean Alchemy - seeking the ability to transmute materials to create stronger and more amazing tools, seeking immortality and infinite cold, and the such. However, due to the differences in Garlemald and their natives, different skills had been taught and mastered by the Master Alchemist of Garlemald.
Nero, though he'd hide it, was no Master. There was much more to be found inside his mechanics and restorations, honestly, then creation. Even so, some tools could help in both. And, so, donning a mask and his heavy coat, Nero had made his way south to Ul'dah - expression unreadable as he stood in the Guild.
"You're truly saying," Nero spoke, leaning a little over Esmenet (the supplier), "this backwater Guild doesn't sell Black Firesand?"
Esmelet shook her head, as the tall Garlean sneered over her. "And here I thought you'd be fully stocked. Alas - do you have Shark Oil, at the very least?"
Before the supplier could be scared more, however, Deitrich cleared his throat. "Sir. What use do you have with these items?" He stood a little shorter then Nero, but held that same harshness the Garlean could recognize as a fighter. Hm.
"If you must know?" Nero asked, shrugging, and turning his attention to the other man. "It's to repair my weapon. To restore the levin charge, you see, it requires sanding down and a new coat of special oils - craftable with Shark Oil."
Raising an eyebrow, Deitrich looked over Nero - clearly assessing him as well. "What a charming way to try and scam us."
"Shark Oil can't be mixed with other oils. The remains of the sharks are far too thick - what are you trying here?" Deitrich said, moving from one side of the counter to the other. His hands had moved to his sides casually, as he gave a confident smirk. "I'll have you know, us of the Alchemy Guild are no slouches, even if the Guildmaster is far more occupied with his studies then others."
Nero snickered to himself, before looking straight down at the man - his eyes still masked. "And what, exactly, makes you say that? It can be combined with Black Firesand to create quite the magic-resistant coating - not that you'd know that, savage."
Savage. A word Nero maybe should have kept to himself - for, of course, the entire mood seemed to sour. Deitrich looked towards the guildmaster - who had no reaction, of course, for he was better then this riffraff - before crossing his arms. "We don't serve Garleans. It's my personal policy not to serve our enemies."
With a little frustration in his voice, Nero shook his head. "And here I was going to be kind," he said, moving a little backwards, "but I see you'll not work with me. Mark my words, Alchemist--"
"You can call me Deitrich, if you need to call me anything."
"Deitrich. And we shall meet again - I'll turn a believer into you."
It was lucky for both of them, really, that Nero left when he did. For not even a minute later, a small masked Linkpearl rang in Deitrichs' ear. With a wave of his hand, he moved away - to the other side of the area used for the Alchemists' Guild.
"Thancred, are you doing well?"
For the man known as Deitrich was also the man known as Thancred Waters, an undercover job he'd grown a little too good at - and remained at, in Ul'dah, waiting for those with the Echo. Those he could see working with the Scions of the Seventh Dawn. And, to be honest? He hadn't taken the threats of that masked Garlean far too seriously. After all, who'd really become a rival over that kind of situation?
That was more then a year before the Warriors of Light awoke, mind you - and though that time, Thancred hadn't seen Nero around. (Who'd mistake anybody else for a sulking Garlean?) But Nero had recalled that face and voice both, and had worked more on his Alchemy. He'd restored and improved his dear hammer, but something had still bothered him. When he'd returned to his quarters, he'd once again gone out - to see one of his main engineers, Velas'a Faegyln.
"Velas. I have a simple request for you," he said, looking down to the dark-skinned Miqo'te. For a Miqo'te, Velas'a was curious - for his ears were long and his tail was short. But his long claws were quite handy. "I even brought you the ingredients."
Velas looked up from his tinkering, given a soft little nod.
It didn't need to be explained - Velas'a was a smart man, and he was well-trained by Nero and his ways. Scrambling to his feet, it only took a moment or two for him to take the two materials - trying not to raise an eyebrow. Black Firesand and Shark Oil...? But still, he sat and began to try and craft...
...but the sand melted into the oil, not combining in the way Nero expected. Velas'a flinched, but Nero simply looked him over. "Interesting."
And with that, Nero left Velas'a. For the time being, mind you. That boy was skilled with machinery, and was one of his favorite to get to assist him. (Not a friend, though. There's no such thing as a friend in Garlemald.) But for the next while, Nero had tried to focus on why. The whys bothered him. He could combine it perfectly, but Velas'a couldn't? How disgusting. (Disgusting in a minor way. Yes, minor. That's why Nero spent at least two moons unable to think of many things other then it. Livias' cruel taunts hadn't helped, either. Well, she tended to act like that, anyway, and it was a little comforting alongside the strange memories.
The mental image of Livia dying was also a comfort to Nero, but then again, nobody said Nero was healthy.)
That was the past, and this is the now. With Nero sitting by his window, reading softly. However, he gave a little soft grunt as he turned another page. If he was going to meet Lahabrea again, he'd need a plan. For one, he doesn't need help restoring Ultima. Not this time. At the same time, he was almost afraid of the power that man showed. Somehow, when he battled the Warriors of Light, Nero could tell he was holding back his power. Even in a situation like that - was he doing it to taunt them? How very interesting, Nero thought - a shell giving up their body. (He'd learned that this shell was possessed, from some of his casual linkpearl hacking and eavesdropping. Why, those who thought they were hack-proof were quite foolish - as were those who spoke their secret plans.)
But how could one plan around somebody like that? He couldn't fight him, nor tell Gaius why he mistrusted him. Because, to be honest, he didn't trust Gaius either. It was mostly due to these damn feelings of deja vu, Nero supposed - and, of course, the fact Gaius had never gotten over Cid. Not like him. Slowly, he closed his book - though he could continue reading, the moonlight alone wasn't bright enough. Plus, with lights out having been hours ago, that was all he could use.
Perhaps he could rest. Though it was a waste of time, Nero felt. Honestly, if Nero had the time to rest, he had the time to work. Everybody else was simply lazy, sometimes not moving for hours. Their loss, really.
The day to day life, as Nero tol Scaeva worked on Ultima, was quite expected. The machine was resting deep below the ground, shelted inside Praetorum. Only those hand-picked by Gaius or him were allowed down here, to where the device remained silently dreaming. (Did machines dream? Clearly, Nero thought that it was a little romantic.) Today, however, his work was on perfecting the Magitek Bits. For if people were to come too close to the beast before it was activated, Nero needed them to be ready to fire.
Nero gave a little grunt to himself. No more thinking about what happened. He loved his dear Bits as much as Ultima, even if they were more disposable. They purred and whirred just perfectly, hovering just the right distance from the ground - and, of course, their lazers could cut though a lesser Lalafell so very easily!
The people who’d make Ultima fall were not lesser, though. No, he had even grown to respect one or two of that group of eight. Hadn’t he? Quite a few of them he wanted to prove wrong. Or simply shut them up - that strange Miqo’te with strong fire and ice magic, for example. And not shut up with a kiss - now that’s something Nero’d hate. And the Lalafell child with them, the one with the spear. She’d likely jump on top of a bit if he set it to fire at her… hm. Perhaps he could modify their venting so that it vented vertically after firing. It would take a bit of time, but it’d be far harder to dodge. Nero would need to carry out some tests, perhaps get a lowly grunt soldier to assist him with something worthwhile. (Was it worthwhile— damnit, Nero’d promised himself! No more worrying about a future which most likely didn’t exist! It was likely a dream… except, of course, Nero’d never dreamed. That, too, was a waste of time - thinking back for a moment, Nero couldn’t think of a time he remembered resting long enough to lose himself in anything. Except for his vast collection of fictional stories - but that was different then what he’d experienced.)
Of course, as always, Nero was the first one down there. It’s almost as if his underlings didn’t understand working this early was great! With the moon gone, Nero knew he’d be feeling more and more tired thoughout the day - and, so, why not begin working at sunrise?
The day dragged on, not just for Nero, but for his underlings. Especially Velas’a - who remained silent most of the day, simply trying to increase the firepower of his Magitek Armour. It was a little queer that he brought it down here, but Nero allowed it. But why? Mostly because Velas’a was seeing if any of the Allagan technology from Ultima could be placed within the younger machine. Not that, honestly, the Garlean considered it a foolish attempt. Then again, he’d seen it before, and saw it wasn’t possible. The poor Miqo’te was repeating mistakes.
But, well, that’s how this went. Other engineers fluttered around, of course, working on smaller projects Nero commanded. Not just on Ultima, mind you. Ultima was just one of many weapons he needed to finish. If his memories were right, then he’d need to finish improvements on quite a few things before the heroes came for him. Them.
It was nearing the end of the day, as he was his most tired, that Nero strolled out of the protected work area of dear Ultima. Softly, a sigh parted his lips. Even if he’d wanted to forget everything, he couldn’t. Last time - if it was a last time - he had no clue that Cid was alive out there, still being respected. So many had thought he’d perished in the Calamity. Last time, he hadn’t battled for power and came to… what was it, exactly? What was it he felt for Cid? Whatever it was, it wasn’t the anger which motivated him to work on Ultima the first time. How dare the land of Eorzea lure Cid, how dare it end with Cid being admired by so many others! It was a different feeling Nero felt, however, as he began the log walk back to his quarters.
On the way, however, a small pile of a person caught his attention. Clearly, they weren’t looking for attention - somebody so very bundled up was the sort of weak person Nero’d expect to be a foot soldier or lower. Not the Ascian. Masking his frown and emotions the way any Garlean could, Nero grabbed for the back of the cloak - having to mask his own shock when the person stood so very quickly.
Nero hadn’t planned for this - no, he’d planned for a fight.
So when him and the other mans’ eyes met - yes, it was still that damned Alchemist - Nero snarled. “You’re coming with me. Now,” Nero stated, his free hand moving to assist him in picking up the oddly light Deitrich. He wasn’t eating properly? Of course not, Nero thought. Why, if he was possessing somebody, he’d be likely not to care for their health.
All the responce that came from the possessed man was a soft sob. Truly, if Nero was more curious, he’d question him now. But Nero wanted to get back to his quarters - perhaps lay this man in his bed, or take him to his non-work area. (Since Nero was highly ranked, he didn’t simply have a bedroom - no, he had more room. Oddly enough, not a kitchen.)
As he walked, Nero tried to shrug Deitrich off of clinging to him. Perhaps carrying him bridal-style was not the best idea - but, really, it was just what Nero thought of. Nobody seemed to come across them. Thankfully, nobody stared - else Nero would have somebody to either eliminate or be mocked by for having this kind of care.
Kicking his door open, after scanning his access key, Nero looked over Deitrich - before frowning. He was asleep. With those bags under his eyes, he wouldn’t have slept in at least… hm. He’d have to guess it was around 3 cycles of the sun. That would take a lot out of somebody who wasn’t as great as him. Perhaps it was because of his doubts, but… Nero moved swiftly to his bed, dumping the possessed man onto the mostly unused bed. Odd. As he was placed down, Deitrich seemed to groan a little - but not in pain.
Strange, Nero thought. He’d never really… seen others sleeping. Or had a moment to consider the sounds they made. There was much more important things to do. Even when he was in the Void, when he could have looked at Doga and Unei, but he was busy protecting them. And back in the Academy, well, he’d be working while Cid and Velas’a dozed their nights away.
Sitting at his desk again, Nero looked from the sleeping, uncomfortable cloaked man to another of his books, and couldn’t help but sigh to himself again. When had he gotten so soft? Nero swiftly stood, grabbing one of the many blankets he’d gotten as gifts, stolen from men who’d been long forgotten. Still soft with that new feeling, Nero threw it over his guest - one or two blankets, enough to bundle over.
Of course, Nero wasn’t going to just do nothing in his night. There was more reading to do, but there was also… Nero wasn’t going to let this chance go away. He had somebody to question, whenever he woke. And he wouldn’t let him flee, for if Nero could get answers? Oh, he’d like that. Perhaps, though, he shouldn’t show how powerful he was? If it was truly an Ascian he was nursing in his bed - well, he’d seen what they could do to Gaius, and their manipulations elsewhere. The doors would be locked, and… hm. Perhaps that thin man should have some food presented, so that he’d speak with a lot less violence needed from both of them.
What was Nero thinking? Truly… everything was wrong.