It was not yet ten in the morning and Vorsaile Heuloix was already beginning to wonder if it had been a mistake to get out of bed today. He stared at the report on his desk and, for the third time in as many minutes, read over the cover page. Then he closed his eyes and put his face in his hands.
Across his desk, Tahla Molkot gulped audibly.
“Explain the situation to me again,” he said at last, voice muffled by his hands, and then added, “Slowly. In small words.”
“I’m afraid, Sir, that there is little to the situation that can be simplified further. Alpha, the chocobo who works for the Ironworks, went to Castellum Velodyna some few months ago and passed on a request for the Gatekeepers to keep an eye out for a missing member of the Ironworks staff. At first, Sir, they were unsure it was a serious request, as the missing person poster was a mug, painted red, with macaroni glued to the top of it and a label that proclaimed it was named ‘Nerd’ but it turned out, Sir, that the nametag was misspelled because Alpha is a chocobo and has a difficult time holding a pen, and it said Nero—“
“As in tol Scaeva, the missing Tribunus Laticlavius of the XIVth legion.”
“Well, Sir, we found him. Or, well. He found us? I’m not really sure how to describe it.” He peeked through his fingers as she waved her hands frantically. “That part hardly matters, really, if you get down to it.”
“Suffice it to say,” Vorsaile said, his voice as dead as his entire soul at that precise moment, “Nero tol Scaeva is loose in the badlands of the Fringes in a live suit of reaper-class Magitek Armor which the Gatekeepers of Castrum Velodyna wrote no less than six pages on the relative merits of the color coordination of and has not yet caused any harm aside from bombing one M’zhet Tia, upon his own request, apparently. But it does have multiple live, fully-armed cannons.”
“Yes,” she said, at last. “That is the situation as it currently stands, Sir.”
“Has anybody attempted to ascertain how he found this Magitek Armor? Or stop him from using it?”
“While he was bombing Zhet I took the opportunity to ask him if he had a Grand Company license and he said no, but that’s as far as we got before Zhet got stuck in a wall and I had to go get him out.”
“Is M’zhet injured?”
Tahla made a face.
Vorsaile, for the sake of his remaining (limited) sanity, elected to choose to not question that statement. He rubbed his temples and wondered why this had to be his morning. “I can see,” he said after a moment, “That as a records officer, you are certainly not equipped to address this situation. I will pass this on to the next meeting of the Alliance Commanders and see what may be the best solution to this situation is. Should the Tribunus cause any further problem, or injure someone…permanently, I suppose, please do not hesitate to let us know.”
Tahla saluted. “Yes, Sir! I will make sure we don’t keep you in the dark!”
As soon as she left the room Vorsaile put his head all the way down to his desk and started to gently thump bang his forehead thump against the wood thump as if he could thump somehow stop this thump from happening thump.
Sanson was a lot of things, but a fool was not one. Which was why he was trying, very hard, to take seriously the present situation and not just fall into a spiral of fucking for real though?
“You,” he said, eventually, carefully keeping his voice from cracking and hoping that maybe he had just blacked out temporarily, “Want us to what?”
“I do not like any of this any more than any of you do,” Commander Heuloix responded, with the tired and put-upon intonation of a man who, given his druthers, would rather eat freshly-peeled paint than have to sit through having to speak the words that had just come out of his mouth again, “But the Alliance needs the six of you to go to the Fringes and arrest Nero tol Scaeva, Tribunus Laticlavius of the XIVth Garlean Imperial Legion, for operating a vehicle illegally without a license.”
The “six” of them sat there, very quietly. The long moment of silence hit the point of growing thin and wrapped back around to the point of being the consistency of oatmeal, and then the consistency of old, cold, tacky, sticky oatmeal. Into the silence, one of the three Flames Summoners raised his hand. “Yes?” Commander Heuloix asked.
“What the fuck?”
“I second the motion,” Guydelot added. “All those in favor vote yay.”
“Yay,” said all seven of them. Commander Heuloix included.
Commander Heuloix pinched the bridge of his nose. “That said, I must seriously request that you all go do this because we’ve found ourselves at an impasse as to how to stop him.”
“Can it fly?” Asked the Limsan Marauder. “Because we can’t fly.”
“As far as we are aware no, it is not able to fly, and if it can, we will just have to accept that the Mothercrystal does not want us to arrest him, and we will burn that bridge when we get to it. You have all been recommended as possibly the best equipped of your respective City-States to solve this problem, and therefore, I humbly ask you rescind your unwilling suspension of disbelief and go arrest the man and, failing that, at least take away the walking bomb.”
“Can we make the Warrior of Light do it?” The woman Summoner asked. She looked around. “Isn’t this technically their problem?” Nobody spoke.
Heuloix sighed. “I wish.”
It took them the better part of two days, once they reached the Fringes, to sort out the actual details of the sightings of Nero and his Magitek Menace. The Ananta of the Gatekeepers had in fact only seen the color of the Magitek from a distance, and had spent the entirety of the interview arguing amongst themselves about what precise shade of red it was and how it was made. Tahla Molkot had rambled unhelpfully about fringe (literally) conspiracy theories. M’zhet Tia had explained how the cannonade had been of a reliably powerful burst but not the worst he’d ever survived.
Alpha, when Alka Zolka had apparently tracked the bird down to a fishing post in Costa del Sol, had given a very animated interpretive dance that Alka Zolka had translated as “Nero is very tall and very stupid” so that was unhelpful because they’d all figured that much.
In the end, they’d had to come up with a third plan, which basically boiled down to “get lucky and carry a really big speaking trumpet” and called it a day. It wasn’t too hard to track down Nero’s (literal) stomping grounds, because footprints left in sand and dirt by a ten foot tall steel bipedal disaster contraption were a little hard to miss, and then they just waited. It took two days and a whole lot of complaining, but on the third morning a distant chunk chunk chunk started to approach, and it was at that precise point that Sanson belatedly realized a small problem. A fairly minor snafu. An insignificant hitch in their brilliant plan. A potential issue. A mite of difficulty.
A, as the colloquial would put it, bitch.
The whole point of Grand Company license officials stopping illegal vehicle operation was that they were also, you know, mounted.
Which none of their number were.
So Sanson, in the midst of panicking, did what he did best. As the Summoners et al took off racing after Nero and his Red Robot, he grabbed Guydelot by the shoulders, looked him in the eyes. “Guy,” he said. “Guydelot. I love you, but you are very loud.”
“Yes?” Guydelot replied. “I’m a bard.”
Sanson shoved the speaking trumpet into his hands.
“I,” he said, “Am going to pick you up.”
“No,” Guydelot replied, “You are not.”
“I,” Sanson said, more emphatically, “Am going to put you on my shoulders, and you need to yell at him.”
“No,” Guy continued, “You aren’t, you are not doing this. I am not.” It was too late. Sanson was already bending down. “Sanson—“
“I need you to yell at him,” Sanson said, with the firmness that only someone who has reached the absolute end of their tether can have, “I need you to ask him if he has a mount license.”
“Well, well, well. What have we here?” Nero tol Scaeva asked, leaning over the side of the Red Baron, chin on his fist as he stared down at the motley six-man-band that had accosted him with a poorly articulated, somewhat strangled demand of, “CAN YOU DRIVE?” when he was clearly capable of driving, as he had, in fact, been driving when they asked him that. “Three purple people with attendant Egis; a very…small pile of chainmail, a man who thinks banana-yellow is flattering, and a particularly loud tree. What on Hydaelyn do the lot of you want with me?”
“Can you drive?” Asked Small Purple #1.
“I am not sure,” Nero’s voice was so dry that if it had been a desert, you would die instantly from lack of water due to simply evaporating completely on the spot. “Can I?”
“We are not here to debate the relative merits of if you are or are not capable of operating a vehicle,” said Poor Taste Banana. “And yellow is, in fact, the color of the Order of the Twin Adder—“
“Pity,” Nero put in, without the hint of any in his voice.
“—So I did not pick it, but I happen to think it works on this top. Returning to the problem at hand, the Eorzean Grand Companies have heard that you are operating that Magitek Reaper without a license, and dispatched us to stop you so you can get a license because operating a vehicle large enough to count as mount-class without a license is illegal.”
“Well!” Nero replied, “Then, my fine fellows and created aspects of primal denizens of the Aetherial Plane, allow me to assuage and alleviate any alternative fears there may be about my ability to perform effective vehicle operation!” He clambered out of the pilot’s chair and lowered the Red Baron so he could hop safely to the ground, joining the motley crew that the Grand Companies had decided to provide with the unenviable task of attempting to arrest him for operating potentially-stolen Garlean warmachina without a permit. “Just a moment, let me find my wallet.”
Once he had his wallet open, Nero turned it upside down and shook it a few times. Out came his Seventh Heaven punchcard from when he lived in Mor Dhona, the raised lines of six of seven embossed punches brushing under the pad of his thumb; fifteen gil; two empty cough drop wrappers; his Ironworks ID; a gift card Jessie had given Cid to Cid’s favorite Gridanian coffeeshop that Nero had swiped and was holding as collateral; four Allagan Tomestones of Soldiery (“Who even keeps those things?” the Very Loud Tree asked); his XIVth Legion ID; one souvenir postcard Cid had sent to him via Postmoogle which just had a lovingly rendered tactile middle finger scrawled on the back of it; his expired Garlean Transit Card; several crumpled receipts; a sticker; one condom wrapper (empty) one condom (out of the wrapper) one condom (still in the wrapper); and his Garlean vehicle license.
“Aha!” Nero said, holding it up triumphantly and proceeding to shove all of the rest of the things that had fallen out of his wallet back into his wallet, “I knew it was in there somewhere!” He proffered it, with a mocking bow, to the Banana. “My license, good Sir Banana.”
Banana took it.
Banana stared at it.
“This,” Banana said, “Is a Garlean mount license.”
“Yes,” Nero agreed, despite his fundamental loathing of agreeing with people, on the principle of the point that what had just been stated was a fact.
“It’s in Garlean.”
“Yes, “Nero agreed. Again, because this was a fact. It was a Garlean mount license. From Garlemald. Where the language was Garlean. The language spoken by Garleans.
“I have more of a clue as to how to finger a frog’s arsehole than how to read Garlean.”
“Well, I can tell you that it’s my mount license and it does not expire for three more years. I’m not sure what the problem with that is, officer.”
“These aren’t Eorzean dates.”
“Of course not; Garlemald counts AIC—ab imperio condita, a far more self-aggrandizing calendar. But three years of life remains on that license, you may take my word for it.”
Banana made a questioning noise. “All right,” he said, tapping the hard plastic of the license against the palm of his hand, “Then read it to me.”
“Ah,” Nero said. In the way that you say ah when you recognize that you might probably have a small problem. The sort of problem you can’t solve. The way that you say ah when you have fucked up enough to think to yourself: ah. I have fucked up. “I am afraid that I am not a man particularly adroitly given to reading.”
The six Grand Company members stared at him. The three Egis hovered menacingly.
Nero smiled. “May I have that back now?”
“Rather than simply take my word for it and believe me as to the date system, they confiscated my license, impounded the Red Baron, and arrested me for disturbing the peace, as if such a thing was even possible. I tell you, the Fringes is practically lawless territory, whose peace am I disturbing by minding my own business and wandering about in the Magitek Reaper I own? What’s made it worse is there’s hardly anything to do and I tired of breaking the lock the fourth time the little one in the horrible purple dress yelled at me for it and tried to offer me trite, nonsense reading material. And, to make matters worse, I have had humiliation upon humiliation piled over me, insult to injury—they could not leave well enough alone and called you! And you have the gall to look disappointed at me!”
Nero pointed through the bars of the gaol cell he was sitting in and waggled his finger at Cid’s face.
Cid Garlond stared back at him, and sighed, in the put-upon way of someone questioning the incomprehensible affairs of the heart. He crossed his arms and frowned. “Leave him there,” he said, not looking back at Sanson as Nero half-melted down to the floor of the cell, moaning in agony like he’d been shot. “I could watch this all day. It’s better than any mummer’s farce I’ve ever yet seen. Can I pay you a finder’s fee and in return you just keep him locked in here and bored out of hits wits and sit across the courtyard and watch him go out of his mind?”
“I,” said one of the Summoners, “Would literally rather die than ever have to hear his voice again.”
“Pity,” Cid put in, without the hint of any in his voice. “This galoot is what passes for my best friend, if you can believe that. I had just started to miss the sound of his voice. You would be astounded by what absence makes the heart grow fond of.”
(“Garlond!” said the particularly indignant jail cell. Cid rolled his eyes.)
“Please just read the license,” Sanson muttered, handing it to Cid. He held it up and turned it back and forth, grimaced.
“That’s certainly the authentic object; I’ve not seen one of these in a decade. I think I tossed mine in a furnace in a fit of pique. Nero tol Scaeva,” he muttered, under his breath, “78 ilms tall,”
(“I’ll chop his bloody legs off at the bloody knee,” Jajasamu muttered. “Nobody ought be that bloody tall.”
Cid agreed Extremely.)
“Hair: blond. Eyes: blue. DOB: 6th Sun, 3rd Umbral Moon, AIC 22. Expiration: 1st Sun, 1st Astral Moon, AIC 63.” He tapped the license on the gaol bars so that Nero could tell Cid was waving it at him. “It also says here that you’re a horrible person, so well done on that. They don’t usually put that sort of thing on a license. See? Says it right here. Nero tol Scaeva is a horrible person. I didn’t even know the license exam tested for that.”
“Bite me in the arse, Garlond,” Nero said. Still not looking up.
“Keep this up and I might,” Cid replied, handing the license back to Sanson. “The genuine article does, in fact, have three years left before it expires. So as far as Garlemald is concerned, aside from Nero being legally dead, he can still operate the Red Baron. Were he to actually be in Garlemald they would probably confiscate the damn thing, since he’s blind, but since Garlemald can neither confirm nor deny this, I suppose it's perfectly valid for your purposes.”
“He’s—“ Sanson began, blinking. The Marauder wrung his hands.
“Did you say he’s blind? He was driving blind?”
“Not completely,” Cid rubbed his forehead. “He has perfectly good light vision and some color, and proprioception better than any Eorzean thanks to his third eye, so you can be excused for not knowing it, but he can’t see a damn thing. Like as not, that’s why he refused to read it to you.” A long beat, before Cid added, “He can’t.”
“I’ll kill you,” the body that had in life once been Nero tol Scaeva said from where it was laying on the floor. “I can read perfectly well. With a magnifying glass.”
“We can’t let someone operate a mount blind,” Sanson muttered. “That’s—almost certainly illegal.”
“I can see well enough to drive, thank you. The finer details and grasps of reading may escape me, but I have been informed my spatial awareness is second to none.” Cid resisted the urge to shut his eyes and relive the numerous times he had seen Nero walk into hedges. And trees. And potted plants. And ditches. And doorframes. And walls. And, on more than one occasion, Cid. “Besides which, it’s my license, and it is not expired. You can’t have it.”
“Far be it from me to play idiot’s advocate here,” Guydelot said, into the ensuing silence, “But is he not currently the highest ranked Garlean on the continent of Aldenard?”
All seven of them stared at Nero.
“Yes,” Cid bit out, in much the same way he would bite into a raw lemon.
“Which makes him, de facto, the issuing authority,” Guydelot finished. “And if he issued it...we can’t rescind a sovereign power’s mount license. Can we?”
Vorsaile Heuloix did not have a table to bash his head against, but he very much wished he did. The tableaux laid out before him was one that, frankly, he was almost hopeful was a hallucination or, at the very least, a particularly vivid and intricate nightmare. But this ghastly experience was, unfortunately, one he was suffering while entirely in control of his faculties.
In Castrum Oriens he found: one (1) Nero tol Scaeva, currently sitting in a holding cell, apparently being held without bail for disturbing the peace, while his very large, very red Magitek Reaper armor was sitting directly outside the cell. Nero was currently deep in a heated argument with Cid Garlond, entirely in Garlean, to which Vorsaile could not possibly begin to attest the veracity of any translation to except given their body language and the presence of Cid holding up what appeared to be a uniform pattern and yelling with Rowena’s House of Splendors frequently mentioned by name in full, it was something to do with Nero, clothes, and breach of contract.1 Alka Zolka had been placed on what seemed to be guard duty, and was slowly edging away from the increasingly-animated and involved argument the two Garleans were having. Jajasamu, Denise, and Crispin of the Immortal Flames were standing around in various states of disgruntlement, while Jajasamu went over the Reaper with a fine-tooth comb and a clipboard, writing down damages it had come into their possession with.
Guydelot was in the Reaper. Vorsaile was not going to question and/or touch that.
And now, on top of everything else, Sanson had been forced—to quote the other man—to call their superior officers to arbitrate in a dispute that, far from being an annoying afternoon’s distraction, was now threatening to of all things evolve into an international jurisdictional dispute. Involving a mount license. So Vorsaile, Captain Wolf, and—well, he wasn’t quite sure how to address Surito Carito—had been forced to drag themselves all the way out here.
“If I may just restate this for myself,” Dancing Wolf said, rubbing his chin as he thought, “Nero tol Scaeva possesses an active mount license issued in Garlemald. Since this license is active, he would need to be deemed no longer fit to possess it in order for us to rescind it prior to its expiration without overwriting sovereign Garlean authority. Which could, should we ever stop being at war with the Empire, potentially evolve into a peace-talks breaking conflict, since the license would be suspended without cause, as the highest ranking Garlean official currently in Eorzea is Nero tol Scaeva, and he says he is capable of driving despite both attested and admitted visual impairment issues.”
“That would be the gist of it,” Sanson agreed. “And in all fairness to him, he has had no incidents of individual or property damage, aside from using grenades on M’zhet Tia. Which M’zhet asked for. In any actual inquiry, he would not be considered in any way at fault.”
“Then the situation seems fairly cut and dry to me,” Dancing Wolf shrugged. It was a shrug of mute, dead acceptance of a situation wherein he had given up hope for some sort of sensibility. It was the shrug of a man who has reached that point of this may as well happen. “It is not the place of the Grand Companies to override sovereign authority. I for one see no real purpose in bringing in anybody who would be more likely to have such kind of control in terms of public policy and international relations decisions; the most rational act here is to let him go with a slap on the metaphorical wrist and tell him to stop shooting grenades at people. Even if they ask.”
Sanson turned to Vorsaile.
“I,” Vorsaile began, as tenderly and gently as he possibly could, “Would rather not have to interact with, think about, hear, see, or deal with Nero tol Scaeva ever again.”
“Valid,” Sanson agreed, nodding with a pained grimace. “I take that to mean that you agree with Captain Wolf, then?”
“Just give him back his gods-damned license and get him out of here.”
Sanson turned to the final superior officer, and they all stared, not quite sure how to continue from here. “Well?” Sanson asked, after a long moment. “What are your thoughts on the situation?”
To put it lightly: Surito Carito was not what Vorsaile had been expecting. He had been expecting a Yellowjacket, maybe, or if nothing else, a Maelstrom member. A Lalafell was fairly likely, given Limsa Lominsa’s population, but this—
He had not been ready for a two fulm high green tonberry in a Scholar’s cap, whose interests lay, apparently, not in any direction predisposed to stabbing.
Surito Carito ran his hand(?) over his chin(?) as if deep in thought, and then gently took his knife and stuck it into a pocket(?) in his robe(?). “If I may,” he said, holding out his hand(?), “Can I see the offending article of international paraphernalia?” Sanson half-mumbled a “Certainly,” and passed the mount license over, albeit somewhat awkwardly and having to bend down to reach tonberry-height. Surito Carito took the mount license in his fingers(?) and lifted his lantern, ducking his head to read(?) more clearly.
“Hmm,” said the tonberry, deep in thought. “Curious indeed.”
“What’s curious?” Sanson asked, in a tone that said okay, fine, I’ll bite.
“I admit that I cannot read Garlean.”
Vorsaile shut his eyes, and wondered, not for the first time, why him.
Surito Carito sighed(?) and passed Sanson back the license. “It seemed worth an attempt. It is accurate the only person injured asked to be?” Sanson nodded. “And Nero insists he is capable of driving?”
“Regardless of whether or not that’s true, yes. He says he can drive.” Can and should were two very different words
“Well then,” Surito Carito crossed his arms(?) “As a medical professional, it is my prerogative to meet patients where they are. For many individuals with vision loss, the best practice in long-term care is to trust the patient and their own vision experiences. For that reason, we usually assume that the patient has a better idea of how well they see than we do. If Nero believes he can be trusted to remain safe when driving his mount, then it’s up to us to support his continued independence, up until the point where his mount license expires.”
They all stared at the tonberry. The tonberry stared(?) back. After a moment, he added, almost awkwardly, “In addition, Nym is not currently in hostilities with the Empire, so we have no vested interest in engaging in a complicated situation of rescinding a license. Which we never even had a process to issue in the first place.”
“Wait,” Dancing Wolf said, “Nym?”
“Yes,” Surito Carito replied. “I am the current commanding officer of the Royal Nymian Marines; Alka Zolka is underneath my command.” The tonberry scratched(?) his head. “Is there some confusion?”
“As in the country that fell during the War of the Magi?” Surito Carito nodded. “I—you were not sent here by the Maelstrom?”
“My understanding is that the Admiral found the situation she was presented with as...not worth diverting manpower. Alka Zolka volunteered himself, as a chance to practice field maneuvers without the Warrior of Light watching over his shoulder.”
“Oh,” Dancing Wolf said, in a very small voice which said there isn’t a problem but I really don’t like this. Sanson, meanwhile, looked a little defeated.
“I suppose I had better go give him back the mount,” he mumbled, and went stomping off back to break the good and/or bad news to the rest of his companions.
Jajasamu folded up the sheaf of paper and passed it to Nero after he had signed it. “That there’s all your ownership paperwork. The Red Baron’s got the scratches and shit it came in with, so you can be sure that we didn’t do anything to it.” Nero looked at the paper, squinted and pressed his nose to it (only to be able to tell that there was probably some writing on it but he sure couldn’t read it), and promptly shoved it all into his bag to investigate more intently later. “Here’s your license,” Jajasamu continued, passing it back so Nero could cram it into his wallet. “And finally, the Grand Companies would like to apologize for any inconvenience caused you by your time in custody. On behalf of the Eorzean Alliance we thank you for your patience with us as we sorted out this issue. If you have any difficulty or complaints you can write a letter to Eorzean Alliance High Command via the Postmoogle service to the address on the back of the packet and your brief will be considered by High Command in the order in which it was received.”
Nero sniffed. “A colossal waste of time for all involved,” he said, imperiously, before he stomped back over to the Red Baron. Cid was standing beside the reaper, waiting patiently for him. “Well, Garlond? Here to drag me protesting all the way back to the daily drudgery of a dreary departmental design job?”
Nero could hear Cid rolling his eyes.
“No,” Cid grumbled. “It would be like trying to make the planet stop spinning. You’d go mad with boredom in less than an hour and start trying to convince me to let you, Twelve only know, create a perpetual motion machine or something equally asinine and impossible.” Nero immediately filed that away for later. “I have learned my lesson: you’ll be back the moment you find a particularly interesting rock, like some kind of oversized qiqirn but with poorer fashion sense.”
Nero glared. “My fashion sense is perfectly normal.”
“Just because you can only see two colors does not mean that everyone else can, and frankly, the red clashes with your hair. I just wanted to remind you to call sometimes? Mail a letter? Deposit some half-dead mole on my doorstep like a coeurl kitten? Resurrect an ancient Allagan superweapon, and then deposit that half dead on my doorstep? Whatever it is, just do please make sure Jessie does not see fit to mark you down as deceased on company paperwork.”
Nero snorted, and elbowed Cid gently, got a gentle shove back in return for it. “You shan’t find yourself getting rid of me so easily as all that, Garlond. I am merely out looking for inspiration.”
“Well, whatever inspires you, just be certain it’s not going to inspire Jessie to somehow decide I’m the one who hired you, because I cannot possibly come up with a good explanation for whatever madness could have possessed me to think that was a good idea.” Nero swung up into the Red Baron and grinned, leaning over the side to smile at Cid.
“I know what inspired you: you called me your best friend. Said so yourself.”
Cid spluttered as Nero started the reaper up. “I said what passes for! Because I’ve no-one better around!” Nero started laughing. “Nero!” Cid was running after him as he started leaving the Castrum. “I did not call you my best friend! Do not quote that, do you hear me! You cannot repeat those words, least of all to Jessie!” Cid was chasing him. It was very funny. “Get back here, Scaeva!”
“No!” Nero shouted back, cackling as he rode away. “Make me!”
“Oh, I’ll make you!” Cid kept chasing him, wheezing as he laughed so hard he could barely shout to be heard over Nero’s lead. “I’ll make you when I shove my foot up your arse!”
If this was how much fun disturbing the peace could be, maybe Nero should get arrested more often.
1If you haven’t yet talked to Jessie post-Alphascape, please talk to Jessie post-Alphascape.