Rearranging even a single chamber in the grand Leveilleur estate was a monumental task, yet Ameliance welcomed the challenge all the same.
Having volunteered to host an exchange student from Thavnair, she had seized the opportunity to repurpose the dusty old meeting room. Gone were the conference tables and stiff-backed chairs, replaced by a plush feather bed and a carefully curated handful of cheerful knickknacks. With each new furnishing the attendants delivered, the space had grown cozier, until the air of cold bureaucracy was quite dispelled.
Once everything was in place, Ameliance paused to survey her work, a satisfied smile beginning to form on her lips...until a jutting desk drawer caught her eye. A single discordant note spoiling the harmony. Well, that won't do. She gave the offending item a hearty shove, but the drawer remained stubbornly open.
That's the trouble with these old antiques. Always in need of attention...
Indeed, with its faded wood and old-fashioned decoration, the desk more than qualified. This must have been in the family for two─nay, three generations? Her husband's father had likely purchased it when he was but a young man, after which it would have been passed down to Fourchenault when he came of age, before he in turn entrusted it to Alphinaud. Little wonder it won't budge an ilm.
Subsequent attempts to close the drawer proved fruitless. With a sigh, she pulled it open instead, and the source of her troubles became clear. Towards the back, the cover of what appeared to be a concealed compartment had worked itself loose, obstructing the drawer's closure. Louisoix had been rather rebellious in his prime, and had doubtless acquired the desk to serve as a home for his secrets.
As Ameliance had raised two rebels of her own, she had stumbled upon more than a few contraband-filled nooks and crannies in her time. Naturally, she could not help but take a look, and inside found a leather-bound notebook. An old journal, perhaps? A moment later it was open in her hands, and a grin crept across her face as she recognized the confident curves of Alphinaud's letters on the faded parchment.
It was 1572─a year that would go down in history as the last of the Sixth Astral Era. The first sun of the Third Astral Moon had risen, and spring winds from the south had finally reached Old Sharlayan's shores. A crisp, refreshing morning like this held boundless possibilities...yet Alphinaud Leveilleur was insufferably bored.
Though he had been accepted into the Studium─at the remarkably early age of eleven, no less─it would be some time before he walked through its hallowed gates as a student. His day's schooling already concluded, he drifted about the manor, aimless and anxious. He had hoped to pass a few hours with his grandfather, but Alisaie had set off with the Archon at dawn to browse the markets—and while his sister had taken their dog Angelo with her, she had conveniently forgotten to invite her own brother. Hmph. Still, he did not blame Alisaie for wanting to spend as much time with their grandfather as she could. Louisoix would soon depart for the benighted realm of Eorzea across the sea, for it was not in his nature to ignore the plight of those in need.
Alphinaud eventually resigned himself to an afternoon of reading in the gardens and made for the estate's great hall. The chambers stood dark and empty when he entered, save for a figure standing tall in the doorway.
"Have you business to attend to, Father?"
Fourchenault addressed his own flesh and blood with the selfsame terseness he would a junior colleague. Not that Alphinaud was deterred. It had ever been thus.
"How very industrious. But was this not to be a day of rest?"
"I do this of my own accord, not at the Forum's behest."
"In that case...might I join you?"
The young prodigy attempted to hide his excitement, but his wide eyes betrayed him. Fourchenault regarded him thoughtfully. After what felt like an age, he answered with a nod. So it was that the boy escaped the stifling walls of the estate and followed his father unto destinations unknown.
Alphinaud breathed deep of the crisp air as he basked in the pale sunlight. Their path afforded them a view of the Agora—and unexpectedly of Alisaie. Curious yet cautious, he took care not to be spotted as they passed, his gaze flitting back and forth between the path ahead and the distant plaza. Alisaie was unattended, kneeling as she played with Angelo. Nearby, Louisoix was surrounded by a small crowd of academics. Scholarch Montichaigne stood tall in their midst, flanked by the rather more diminutive Professors Rurusha and Nenelymo Totolymo. An impassioned discussion, no doubt. Alphinaud suspected it would go on for quite a while.
As the bustle of the city grew distant and the path steeper, Alphinaud realized they were bound for the Rostra. The proud hill had once been an open forum, where all were welcome to take part in grand debates. Now, however, only the ninety-nine members of the Forum─his father included─were granted that privilege, and they conducted their deliberations behind closed doors. What manner of personal matter would necessitate a visit here, of all places?
They entered through a small doorway on the building's left, where a dimly lit stairwell awaited them, extending deeper and deeper until it finally gave way to a sizable chamber.
Alphinaud's eyes were drawn to a set of two metal gates under heavy surveillance. From somewhere below he could hear the quiet chatter of scholars, though he was more acutely aware of the sentries' questioning gazes. There were few in Sharlayan who did not know his father, however, and they visibly relaxed as Fourchenault identified himself. After fielding the relevant procedural inquiries and paperwork, the Leveilleurs stepped through the gates and entered a circular room. Moments later, the floor shuddered and sunk beneath them, a metallic hum accompanying its descent. They had, Alphinaud belatedly realized, boarded a lift. As his mind raced with possibilities, the cold marble walls of the Forum suddenly vanished, and a beautiful horizon stretched out beneath him.
"Father, what is all this?"
"You must surely have heard the rumors surrounding Labyrinthos?"
Sharlayan had been built over a dormant volcano, and some whispered of an artificial ecosystem hidden in the hollow caldera. A vault to house flora and fauna from every corner of the star. But never in my wildest dreams... Alphinaud gaped in awe at the artificial sky, brilliant blue in the light of a man-made sun. The lift screeched to a halt as they reached the ground, and he caught his father smirking as they strolled into a stone courtyard.
"A marvel, is it not? The wind generators were but recently completed. After initial testing, I was not convinced they would function as required...but it appears my concerns were unwarranted."
Artificial though it was, the breeze was no less pleasant than the one they had enjoyed on the surface. Strands of Alphinaud's hair danced in the wind while the false sun warmed his shoulders. He approached the parapet, admiring the rising and falling of the verdant hills.
"It's as if we've left Sharlayan entirely," he uttered in quiet wonder.
His father was but a few steps behind, ready with an answer.
"We sought to recreate the milder climes of Corvos in southern Ilsabard. The Garleans call that region Locus Amoenus─their utopia. Seeing this...one can understand why."
It was rare for his father to speak at such length. Or with such passion. The scenery was idyllic, but Alphinaud suspected this "utopia" had not been created without substantial difficulty.
Later, Fourchenault took him to Logistikon Alpha, where Alphinaud listened intently to lectures on the weather systems. It was a veritable feast of knowledge. To be surrounded by the latest in Sharlayan technology made his heart soar, and he wished for nothing more than to learn all he could about the inner workings of Labyrinthos.
They had joined a tour to see more, and once it had ended, Alphinaud motioned towards a wooded road to the north.
"Might we venture further in?"
His father shook his head. "Our business here is concluded. It's time I took you home."
Alphinaud's heart sank like a stone, as he felt the magic of this wonderful world begin to fade. But he knew from his father's tone that the matter was settled. I must be reasonable. Mature. The boy took a breath and nodded, his calm countenance befitting that of a Leveilleur.
And then he felt the spark of childish hope flicker once more.
"But Fourchenault, dearest, 'tis the perfect weather for a picnic!"
As if by divine providence, Alphinaud's mother had materialized behind them, bearing a hefty woven basket and the promise of delicious respite. Alisaie and Louisoix waited not far beyond, laughing as Angelo frolicked in their midst.
"You've all been having such lovely adventures without me. I think we're overdue a proper family outing, don't you?" Ameliance's voice was gentle as sunshine, but neither Alphinaud nor his father were so naive as to presume this was a suggestion. Not even the Forum united could deny her.
Thus did the Leveilleurs proceed to picnic on the grassy hills of the Medial Circuit. At the base of Pneuma they unfurled their blanket, and from Ameliance's basket withdrew sumptuous sweets from the Last Stand, all packed neatly in rows, that would be paired with equally fragrant teas. Naturally, the gathering garnered attention, and those who recognized the family could not resist stopping for a chat.
The wise old Galuf Baldesion spotted them first. He excused himself after brief pleasantries and returned with his adoptive granddaughter, whom he was eager to introduce to Alphinaud and Alisaie. Knowing that Krile would be their senior at the Studium, Ameliance was delighted to share a cup of tea with the young Lalafell. Krile accepted with a smile and assured the Leveilleur matriarch that she would keep a close eye on the twins.
Not long after the Baldesions had taken their first sips of tea, Alphinaud espied his grandfather's stalwart disciples. Moenbryda Wilfsunnwyn announced her arrival with a full-throated greeting, before dragging Urianger Augurelt in the direction of the picnic blanket. Urianger, for his part, expressed a reluctance to intrude upon the Leveilleurs' leisure, but Moenbryda simply stated, "the more, the merrier" and pressed down upon his shoulders until he was seated, whereupon a warm cup was thrust into his hand. To Moenbryda's delight, it was not long before her straitlaced companion was drawn into a vigorous discussion of prophecy with their mentor.
As the afternoon wore on, the Leveilleurs' impromptu picnic continued to grow. Archon Rammbroes arrived to captivate Urianger and Louisoix with his insight into the cultures of ancient Allag, while Dickon of the Last Stand answered Ameliance's summons with a fresh batch of confections to prove his hotly-debated theories on baking the perfect sweetmeats.
Conversation flowed as freely as the tea they shared─every back and forth, every peal of laughter warm and comforting─until azure skies blushed crimson, and the pale sun faded, making way for the shadowed moon.
Ameliance gingerly closed the journal, then shut her eyes to recall the journey home that fateful evening. In the fading twilight, Louisoix, Fourchenault, and Alphinaud had each made a solemn vow.
"The flames of hope yet burn bright, and I shall not see them smothered."
Louisoix knew only too well that his efforts to forestall the Seventh Umbral Calamity would place him in mortal danger. Yet on that day, surrounded by family and friends, he had been the picture of contentment. And our hope burns brighter still for your legacy.
"Mine is a difficult path, but I shall walk it gladly. For our children and their children."
Fourchenault's meaning was clearer in retrospect, with knowledge of the exodus. Though he had not seen eye to eye with his father on matters of politics, Louisoix had never pressed. He simply listened and nodded─aware perhaps of the secrets his son had sworn to keep. But you need keep them no longer, my darling. Our children live, and these burdens are not yours to bear alone.
"I shall study, learn, and grow, that I might become a man worthy to follow in my father and grandfather's footsteps."
Young Alphinaud's aspirations had been pure and selfless meanwhile. A child's promise. But not an empty one. He and Alisaie had done so much for so many. They had defied their father, and in so doing rekindled his hope. And together with countless allies they had met on their journeys, they had spread peace far and wide.
Against all odds, you each remained true to your word, and will each remain forever in my heart.