An Unpromised Tomorrow
When one looks upon the chronicles of history, those immovable tomes of ages past, one is certain to find the mark of a great many notable figures. Conquerors, pioneers, heroes─men and women whose lives serve to punctuate the endless passage of time.
I am not one of them. No builder of nations, me, nor less a savior of the oppressed. I am but a humble engineer who had the good fortune to become the eighteenth president of Garlond Ironworks. For two hundred years now, we have kept alive the dream of “Freedom through Technology,” passing on the legacy of our predecessors to the next incumbent upon our retirement─save for one poor fellow, who died after three days in the role.
In the end, however, the only name history will remember is that of Cid Garlond, our own appearing as mere footnotes to his legend.
A legend we are only too happy to preserve.
Garlond Ironworks’ first home was a workshop in Revenant’s Toll, and I am told there was a time when people would flock from every corner of the realm to gaze upon its wonders. A stark contrast to our present operation. Our base now sits nestled in what remains of the Keeper of the Lake, a monument which both time and necessity have done much to diminish, a legion of scavengers having taken their pick of what the elements saw fit to spare.
Indeed, the site is an utter shambles. And yet I can think of no better place for us to have set up shop. The surrounding lake serves as a natural obstacle to intruders, and the dragon whose sinuous frame still holds the whole hulking heap together is said to have shared a storied history with an old friend of the founder. In short, a site as apt as it is inaccessible.
It was there that our engineers and some few volunteers were enjoying a hard-earned rest. After several sleepless nights, work in the Crystal Tower was at last complete, and on the morrow it would be transported across time and space to another world─the First. Meager though our resources were, we had laid on a veritable feast to commemorate the occasion, and one and all had enjoyed the much-needed respite to the fullest. Indeed, many had reveled to exhaustion, choosing to sleep where they fell on the meeting hall floor.
Though I too should have been counting sheep, my mind was busy enumerating reasons to stay awake─which were, it assured me, many. And so I sat there, staring into the fire. Thankfully, I was not without company.
“I’ve always wondered,” I began, turning to regard my fellow insomniac.
His crimson eyes seemed to glow in the firelight. A gift from the blood of Allagan royalty, he called them. A gift by which the Crystal Tower had borne him to us. In the morning, he would make another journey, this time bearing all our hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow with him. And though he had assured us it was a mission he gladly accepted, I could scarcely imagine the weight of that burden.
There was so much I wished to tell him, but I put it aside to first ask a question that had long been burning in the back of my mind.
“Why did you do it? Why did you stay behind in the Crystal Tower?”
He blinked at me in disbelief before letting out a curt sigh.
“You would ask me this now?”
“Would you rather I asked you on the morrow?” I replied with a rather forced grin. “I understand you were the only one who could have done it, and hindsight has shown it to be the right choice. Were it not for you, our dreams would be just that. But you couldn’t have known that at the time. Not for sure. What if we had never opened the tower?”
What a relief it was to finally speak the words aloud. I feared he would take them as little more than idle banter, but the thoughtful swishing of his tail suggested otherwise, as he returned his gaze to the fire.
An age seemed to pass as we sat there in silence, but I knew my wait for an answer was over when a faint smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. It occurred to me then that he hadn’t been gazing into the fire, but through it, at something far brighter.
“I would have slept for all eternity,” he laughed. “Which would, if nothing else, have been ironic. For it was only as the gates of the tower were closing behind me that I realized what it meant to awaken to one’s true purpose.”
“In those days, I could but dream of being counted with the likes of Cid, Nero, Biggs, and Wedge─indeed, I would still give my right arm to achieve half of what they achieved...”
He proceeded to paint a picture of our forebears as paragons of invention, able to race from concept to product in the time it would take him to put on his boots. And then he spoke of his mentor Rammbroes, head of the Sons of Saint Coinach, and of his pride at having been chosen to take part in the expedition to the Crystal Tower.
He told me that the mission had taken a most unexpected turn when their party was joined by a pair of scholars named Doga and Unei─whom they later discovered to be clones born of Allagan technology which had lain dormant within the tower for millennia. Apparently, when the structure was unearthed in the chaos of the Seventh Umbral Calamity, the horrors within had awoken, prompting the pair to seek the aid of G'raha Tia and his companions in thwarting the dark designs of the tower's creator, one Emperor Xande. What began as a simple quest for knowledge thus became a grueling climb to the top of the tower, culminating in a battle with darkness itself. Yet far from laying claim to these feats, he was careful at every stage to recall the pivotal role played by the greatest hero of the age. One immortalized in song and script, and remembered to this very day.
“Before me stood the very embodiment of heroism, the fables of my childhood made flesh. And in the light of so shining an example, I saw at last the part I had to play. How could I do aught but remain in the tower?”
"Quite easily,” I chuckled, “were you and your exemplar not cut from the same cloth. Being of a rather less heroic disposition, however, I can tell you that my first act, having endured such an ordeal, would have been to go home to bed. But tell me...were you not scared?”
“Of course I was. But courage is not the absence of fear.” He leaned back then, to stare up at the ceiling. “It is the triumph over it.”
The roof, I should probably mention, was in the process of being repaired, and not without the odd gap. Clear nights offered small glimpses of the stars twinkling in the sky, and G’raha Tia seemed entranced by them as he continued to regale me with memories of days long past.
“So long as we were together, whatever foe stood against us, whatever twist of fate conspired to undermine us, I believed with all my heart that there was nothing we could not do.”
I went to speak, but when I glimpsed him gazing up at the heavens, his eyes full of steely resolve, I could only smile and wonder at what a fascinating life he had led. At how a single individual could affect the fates of so many. G’raha Tia, Cid, my grandfather, and the countless others who had given their all to see our plan come to fruition. Would the Warrior of Light have believed that so many lives could be changed? Or what inspiration others could take from so tragically foreshortened a tale? Whatever the answer, the hopes and dreams we had labored so long to keep alive would soon be realized. Even to think about it made my heart skip a beat. I cleared my throat.
“And we have to keep believing. For a brighter future.”
I proffered my hand in our customary manner, and G’raha Tia returned the gesture.
“That we do, my friend. That we do.”
The following morning, the hour of his departure came at last. We stood upon the precipice of an unknown future, contemplating the promise of a tomorrow we would never see. Yet still we prayed. That our sacrifices had indeed sown the seeds of a better tomorrow. That at journey’s end, our departing friend might reap that joyous harvest too. We prayed as the Crystal Tower stirred to life, and vanished in a blinding flash of light.
I can’t say for how long we stood there at the shore of Silvertear Lake. It wasn’t until the sun broke the horizon that I noted the passing of time─and the deafening silence.
We could only assume G’raha Tia’s mission would carry on across the rift, and that we had played our part to its completion. Yet with our duty done, I couldn’t help but feel a part of me was missing, much like the Crystal Tower from the skyline of Mor Dhona. I told myself that the void would soon be filled by a sense of accomplishment...but I wasn’t sure I believed it. For two hundred years we had toiled and struggled, and our efforts had been met not with thunderous applause, but the languid lapping of the lake.
In the end, it was one of my companions who gave voice to the question on all of our minds.
“Will we be disappearing too, then?”
I would be lying if I said we understood the ramifications of altering history. In the selfsame instant the tower had disappeared, it was quite possible we could have been erased from existence. Yet there we remained. And while that came as something of a relief, it brought with it the unwelcome suspicion that G’raha Tia had failed in his mission...
Conscious that others were watching, I shook my head. Causality be damned. I refused to believe our friend would allow our travails to be for naught. The Eighth Umbral Calamity had been averted, if not for us then in a divergent timeline.
Unbeknown to me, the others were busy reaching the same conclusion, and a laugh escaped the lips of someone in the crowd. Though the world yet remained in ruin, it was ours. A comforting─even comical─thought, considering what very well could have come to pass.
Expunction from the pages of history no longer seeming to be in prospect, we enjoyed a moment of solace. Our forebears had overcome a great many trials that we might live to see that day, gaining control of the Crystal Tower, taming the wings of time, even harnessing the forces of the rift, and we were not about to let the event pass unmarked.
Our moment of solace lasted exactly as long as it took the earth to begin shaking. Plucked from our reverie, we frantically scanned our surroundings hoping to find the source of the tremors even as someone cried, “Over there!” We followed his gaze toward the Keeper of the Lake, and what we saw there left us speechless.
The wreckage we dared to call home was collapsing. Steel plating creaked and groaned in protest as it broke apart before disappearing beneath the water. Unbidden, the image of the rickety roof came guiltily to mind, and I wondered if we had been too lax in our renovations. Then the whole pile began to move. The serpentine frame wrapped around the ship was breathing, writhing, breaking free of its resting place.
“By the gods!” a voice shrieked from the crowd, “Midgardsormr lives!”
Our panic was soon drowned out by a deafening roar that all but shattered the heavens.
My ears still ringing, I looked up to see that Midgardsormr had taken to the sky. After circling the lake, he bent his course toward us.
No one dared move, nor even speak. We could only watch in horror as he made his approach. The engineer in me demanded to know why the great wyrm had chosen that moment to awaken, and I dully recalled the Crystal Tower-shaped gap on the horizon. Its departure had doubtless disturbed his rest... My blood ran cold at the thought of what might happen next. But my doom-laden musings were soon interrupted by a low, rumbling voice.
“The tower... Is this your doing, children of man?”
“A thousand apologies,” I croaked. ”We didn’t mean...to wake you.”
An agonizing silence followed. Before I knew it, my clenched fists were slippery with sweat. I tried telling myself I had nothing to fear, that the dragon had been a friend to Cid Garlond and the others once upon a time, but try as I might, I could not escape the feeling that I was about to be incinerated. The wyrm grunted.
“Long have I waited. Watched as the world was shaped by your hand. Through war and calamity have I seen you struggle, devoting your fleeting lives to a dream you will never see.”
For an instant, I contemplated pleading our case, but he spared me that embarrassment.
“Such constancy in creatures so inconstant is impressive.”
Midgardsormr loomed closer then, his eyes fixed on a young girl and the plaything in her hands. I felt my stomach drop as I recognized it as my grandfather’s Omega replica. Old as it was, my colleagues jokingly referred to it as a senior member of the Ironworks, and its age was certainly beginning to show. It randomly shut off however often we replaced its power core, and faulty sensors ensured it haphazardly bumped into everyone and everything, including Midgardsormr himself when his body still served as one of the walls of our workshop.
In all honesty, building a new replica would have been less troublesome than fixing it. Yet we had agreed that such niceties should wait until after work on the Crystal Tower was finished. I cursed myself for not having stripped the infernal thing for scrap.
Tilting his head down further to regard the faltering automaton, Midgardsormr made a most unusual sound. And though I knew nothing of dragons, I was almost certain it was a laugh.
Recognizing the wyrm’s amusement, the trepidation I had felt but moments before vanished in an instant. My blood was racing, and I could feel an unfamiliar heat welling up within me. Suddenly, I remembered G’raha Tia’s words from the previous night.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, it is the triumph over it.”
Gathering my wits, I began to realize that Midgardsormr’s presence was not frightening, but exciting; that his choice to appear before us at that of all moments was an omen of much-needed change. His eyes shifted to regard me, then, and I found the courage to return his unblinking gaze.
“Tell me, child of man. What dost thou see at dream’s end?”
In my mind’s eye, I glimpsed a world where the Eighth Umbral Calamity had never come to pass, where Eorzea’s champion bestrode the realm, unbroken. But just as suddenly, I saw that this was G’raha Tia’s future, and not ours. Yet the skills we had honed to make that dream a reality were still ours to employ... Another image flashed before me.
“I see a world pulled back from the brink.”
This time, Midgardsormr’s booming laughter was unmistakable.
“Very well. Under my protection shalt thou and thine rebuild, gaining newfound knowledge and the wisdom to wield it. Thus shall the children of man usher in a new Astral Era.”
And so our journey began anew. Would that G’raha Tia could see all that we will accomplish. Though we shall remain forever on different pages of history─and different books, besides─I take comfort in knowing we strive for a future of the selfsame brightness.