[63]

A printed stencil is recommended for beginners.

There was still tape stuck to Nihlus’s nose. Even then, the lines were unbalanced.

Disregarding all else, symmetry is the most important element for traditional insignia.

The light in the cockpit was too dim. It must be the light; Saren hoped it was the light, casting the shadow of a crooked smirk on Nihlus’s otherwise handsome features.

Do not apply more than two coats to the same area. Covering the designated area in a single stroke is optimal in practice.

The stripes over his cheekbones were too thin, but he dared not paint over them a third time. They would become thick and matte, like the ruined pattern over his left ear. A stifling coat that ill suited the texture of his youthful, scarless plates. 

Saren leaned back and crossed his arms, inspecting his handiwork. 

“It’s the best I could do,” he admitted after a pause.

Nihlus grinned. “Paint me surprised, Saren. Didn’t know you had the theory, if not the practice.”

Saren flicked a mandible. “The theory was taught. At least on Palaven.”

“Now I just have to hope you didn’t really paint arches on my brows,” Nihlus chattered, blissfully ignorant of the state of his colours. “Doesn’t matter if you did, though. At least it’d set me apart from the Councillor. You wouldn’t believe how often I get called by that title, walking around the Presidium under broad daylight. You’d think they would’ve learned by now, a millennium after first contact, but I still can’t wear a blue shirt without being accosted by at least three times more reporters than normal.”

“Only an alien would make that mistake.”

“Yes, but a turian could assume I –” he gestured around his face, as if to smear the pattern into an amorphous mass “– represent any of this. But they’d be wrong. These colours have always been my own. And today, mine with your help.”

Saren tucked his chin into his folded hands. The leftover paint was drying in the well. He should wash it. And the brush.

“I know you get different sorts of trouble,” Nihlus added pensively. “Maybe it’s worse.”

He lifted his eyes. “Hm?”

“They mention it often, how similar you look.”

He should wash the brush before they both forget, and it dries out overnight. A replacement would be several days away, and Nihlus would want touch-ups of his own in the interim. If not tonight, then certainly in the morning.

“A factual statement.”

“You don’t mind the comparison?”

He picked up the slender brush and dragged it over his fingertip, leaving an uneven trail across pale skin. It stung. It would sting less on the thick plates of his face, but he had never experimented, never worn such a disguise, never unsealed that bottle in the back of his box of keepsakes. There could be no comparison. Saren was only a Spectre. 

“I don’t mind,” he replied. “It means he is remembered.”

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