R E C K O N I N G
Written on September 22, 2020 (♍)
Content Warning: There are obvious issues with power imbalance here that come from one's boss being an eldritch demon.
Cletienne was used to being thought clever.
It was because he was clever and because he had no compunctions about letting other people know the fact. He reckoned that it was never arrogance to let his talent be taken for what it was. He’d done in two years what most Gariland striplings did in seven. He’d done in seven what the old masters—Eildibus aside—had yet to do in their lifetimes. He’d found new ways to reckon the correspondences of the vital flame, married white magic to black, deciphered the Ievgian manuscript of old Palmecia, and written his thesis by candlelight without an amanuensis. When the Templars had extended an offer, he had considered it as natural as any other party in Ivalice taking an interest in him—more natural even, given that he had spent his youth having the sagacity to chase after piety instead of skirts.
It had been a great strangeness for him then to land on the rocky shores of Mullonde, where nobody cared a whit about any of it. He had been told that all the brethren had been apprised of his skills and that the High Confessor read his publications; it had mattered little when it came to the day-to-day affairs of the order. The first month or two, near to nobody talked to him save Izlude—and Cletienne was not much gratified by the boy’s attentions.
That was then, however. The fixity of the past only made the endless potentialities of the future all the more apparent. Everyone had—in time—recognized both his cleverness and his utility, and while the spartan cloisters of Mullonde were not quite the house to fame that Gariland had been, Cletienne figured himself as having a more select audience to play to. He was at the edge of the world but at the heart of things—of wars and conspiracies and the stuff of history. An approving glance from Father Tengille, as far as he was concerned, was worth the adulations of all the high elders at the academy.
An approving touch?
Rarer and more precious still.
He had thought that he’d kept that particular foible of his a matter of private fancy, of course. Cletienne had long delighted in the tension between what the Church forbade and what young priests permitted, but such boundaries must needs align differently in the Holy City. For a long while before their first truly private conference, he had mused as to what Vormav might do should he discover all the pretty pieces of piety he had once lain hands upon.
It surprised him greatly then, not only to be discovered, but to have hands so firmly laid upon himself. He recalled the meeting afterwards as a thousand images—all embossed and illuminated in the book of his brain. There was the softness of the overcast sky, the tessellating patterns of inlaid wood across the floor, the rough pad of a thumb tracing his jaw until it met the flashing soft skin of his throat. If a mind had finite space with which to fashion memories, Cletienne might have sacrificed a libraries worth of knowledge to better inscribe that afternoon in the detail he wished of it.
Vormav had not asked him anything then—least of all permission. He had barely spoken at all. At the very end of things, however, he had breathed deep as if to speak and then caressed Cletienne with the assurance a man might give a well-behaved bird. It was a gesture he would have taken as condescension were it not from a man who he had never seen to give another praise. In the reckoning of nature, Cletienne had thought it not so mean a thing to to be Vormav's animal.
That was then, however. With the passage of years, he came to crave deeper marks of favor. Vormav visited him little and spoke to him even less, leaving him more inflamed and less satisfied with each encounter. In the motley glow of the chapel light he would find himself trembling in the posture of each prayer, thinking as to how his reverie might be broken by an unbidden touch. He wondered sometimes—at lauds, at vespers, at meals, in fasting, even in the midst of their silent embraces—when it would be that Vormav would offer him some praise deeper than possession. The rest of the order only recognized his value to a point. They understood his worth in abstraction: the better part of them having no better grasp on spellcraft than a falconer has on flying. As much as he was willing to debase himself to one man, it shamed him to know he longed still to be lifted above others: to wait on the day when their shared master should tell them—show them—that Cletienne Duroi was in so many ways their better.
When he perfected his Ikoku and found those lost apocrypha giving their account of a lost gospel, he thought he might at last receive such vindication. Vormav had pressed his hand against his shoulder and turned to him then with a look that seemed set to call the twelve braves back from dust. When he'd spoken, however, Cletienne had felt lost in his voice. It beat against him—like the tide upon Mullonde's white cliffs, like the roar of so many wild beasts. By the time words took on their meanings, he was quite lost in another unasked for embrace, finding himself moved once again as Vormav would move him.
“You’re a cunning man, Duroi.” Vormav's fingertips burned as they worked their way beneath the undyed wool of Cletienne's tabard, his eyes flashing like polestars. “You would have done well to appreciate, perhaps, the pleasures of denial—to know the thrill of drawing close to greatness without drawing it upon yourself.”
Cletienne had offered no response, but he would recall later that he had laughed, tensing in that nervous mirth with which men cover over their fear.