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"Tales from the Dawn": Final Story Released

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The final entry in the collection "Tales From the Dawn" has been published. This time, it follows Jullus, a Garlean prominent in Endwalker's Garlemald arc, as he struggles to rebuild his nation in the aftermath of the Final Days. 

With the conclusion of Endwalker, we are thrown into another narrative in Sharlayan, without any news of how our enemy-turned-friend from Garlemald is faring alongside our favorite Leveilleur twins. Jullus began as a close-minded Garlean soldier tempered by their extremely discriminating view of outsiders such as the Warrior of Light's alliance, but shows a significant amount of character development over the span of the Garlemald arc. Personally, he's become one of my favorite NPCs after the Scions; that's saying something in a game with a massive cast spanning four whole expansions!

We are brought along with him on his difficult journey to recover his homeland — his heartbreak, his sorrow, his history are laid bare in bittersweet detail. We explore the echoes of Garlemald's erstwhile glory, beneath the layers of their antagonistic front. I may have choked up a bit reading some of the passages, as the descriptions of Jullus' loss are so vivid it felt like I was physically there myself. What do you think of the Endwalker side stories, and which one is your favorite? 

Square Enix LogoA Question of Death (Source)


Jullus awoke to near darkness.

He was but one of many soldiers, young and old, lying in Tertium. Every ilm of the carriage floor was covered in bedrolls, leaving no room for careless movement.

Taking care not to disturb the others, he sat up, straining to make out the hands of the old clock salvaged by who-knows-who that was hidden somewhere in the gloom. The near edge of dawn... Further down, beyond his sleeping fellows, was the wavering blue glow of the ceruleum stove.

It was not the cold that had roused him from his slumber. We're old friends now. Before accepting the Ilsabard contingent's proffered aid, his people had little materiel─and certainly no magic─to warm frozen fingers and toes. The exhaustion that often carried him to sleep still failed to prevent him from regularly stirring in the night.

Thinking he might pass the time with fresh air at least, he reached down to drag his boots and bag towards him. Conscious of every noise, he dressed stealthily, holding his breath when Publius rolled over next to him. Fortunately, there came no word of complaint, and Jullus was free to slip out and mull over the events of the previous night in peace.

 

They'd been huddled around a lamp in an out-of-the-way corner, the familiar scent of honey and spices wafting from their cradled mugs─one small comfort afforded by a surplus in rations. The conversation had again settled into a lull when Publius broke the silence.

"I may just leave for Sharlayan."

The grimacing youth─of an age with Jullus, though low in rank─had barely spoken a word all evening. Now that he had, none knew how to respond.

It wasn't surprising. Inevitable, really. Survive the Telophoroi and Final Days they had, but Garlemald was still in a sorry state. The Emperor was gone, the senate disbanded, and nations were hesitant to commit to any policy concerning the erstwhile empire.

There had been some hesitant steps toward forming an interim government, but neither Garlemald nor its neighbors had the means to establish one immediately. The provincial leaders were waiting to see which way the winds would blow, welcoming their countrymen home while making no moves to resurrect the Empire themselves. Rumors that this or that province was poised to formally declare independence, or had as good as seceded already, ran rampant.

It was only natural to give Garlemald up as a lost cause. Even as some returned to rebuild, others who had been tempered and taken to other nations for treatment petitioned to remain there, and these nations─Sharlayan among them─welcomed the refugees with open arms. Though Publius might be the first among present company, he would not be the last to make a new home far from the old.

Publius stared into his cup as the moment dragged on. In this nation of the fallen, what was left to say?

"...You should speak with Alphinaud or Alisaie on the morrow. They'll put you in contact with someone you can trust," Jullus ventured. The ever-helpful pair was staying at Camp Broken Glass, and like as not had plenty to be doing already, but he would be remiss not to mention it.

"I'll do that."

With that small gesture, the atmosphere changed. Publius exhaled in relief, and the others were soon offering their own words of encouragement and vows to meet again. Though their drinks had long gone cold, their cheers gave them warmth enough.

"To our brothers and our homeland!"


The brisk winds carried away sleep's warm haze as Jullus climbed the slope that led out of the station. Beyond the shaft's angular portal, the weak morning light revealed the stark outline of his reality.

The remaining spire of the once-shining Palatium Novum stood alone in the city center, amongst homes reduced to steel skeletons and grey rubble. Beyond these unnatural hills loomed the Tower of Babil, grasping for the heavens.

Tertium's surrounds had been spared out-and-out obliteration, but were dead all the same. None remained to hurry to work or school, or stagger home after a night on the town. None remained to clear snow from a neighbor's path, or rove helplessly in their dog's wake. The people who had given this place life a few short months ago were gone. How many even had the chance to say good-bye?

Jullus breathed deep of the frozen air, but though its icy pinpricks grounded him in the present, it was powerless to dispel the long nightmare. The vision endured, implacable, without regard for the dreamers. To the shrewdest of minds and the purest of hearts, fate offered no justice nor justification.

"Yet you would ask me why."

That injury should have healed. Yet it itched at him now─a scab that bled and bled, threatening to hollow him out from within. Even as he picked at it, his feet carried him forward─better to survey the surrounds for threats─and into the silent city.

 

Unforgiving grey. Destruction and loss. All silent as the grave, as if even beasts preferred not to pick through these bones of an empire so early in the morn.

A flash of movement caught his eye─a scrap of old newsprint trapped in the tumbledown debris of a roadside ruin. The last will and testament of someone's breakfast table. He drew closer, mindful of the potential for further collapse.

"I remember this..."

A special edition, distributed on Unity Day several years past. The celebration commemorating Garlemald's founding and the heroes who had labored for the Empire was always a tremendous affair for residents of the capital, most of whom spent the day reveling. The eldest told stories of meager harvests and desperate clashes as choirs sang old marching songs. Hawkers along the avenues sold food, drinks, traditional adornments from the campi, and the latest magitek baubles.

Naught was more highly anticipated than the military parade─a show of strength and patriotism that never failed to inspire both awe and pride. Countless soldiers and magitek units moved in time through the city, beating a steady rhythm towards the imperial palace, where the Emperor's family stood assembled to receive them.

They led us to greatness. We who formed the vanguard of history's grand march forward. His city was the heart of the world, through which flowed blood stronger than steel─a bond between countrymen that would remain unbroken even should their every enemy join together to oppose them. Glory be to Garlemald.

The Unity Day described in this print had taken place while Jullus was in the academy, and marked the last year that the ailing Solus had been in attendance. Though the lead article detailing the events and speeches of the day was in tatters, the accompanying portrait of the imperial family remained.

At its center, naturally, was the stern visage of Solus zos Galvus. Though still dignified in his old age, the gaze which he fixed upon the reader was more melancholic than proud. Never saw the man smile once. To the Emperor's right stood Titus, second of Solus's sons, along with his wife Arrecina and son Nerva. Both Titus and his son had a strained look about them, not dissimilar to the younger Solus found in the history books.

On His Radiance's left was his grandson Varis, the only legacy of the deceased crown prince Lucius. A proud one, too─Varis was tall and broad of shoulder, and his comportment marked him a prime candidate for high legatus even then. His wife and right-hand, Carosa, had passed away in her prime, and so he was flanked instead by his mother, Hypatia. Though she departed to join Carosa a mere year after this portrait was taken, she supported Varis's claim to the throne until the very end. And then there was the young man with a faraway look in his eyes and an air of detachment...

"Would you be 'happier' had I a 'good reason'?"

Zenos yae Galvus. Though his anger had cooled since their encounter on the Eblan Rime, Jullus nevertheless found himself wrenched back to the present with no little displeasure.

His homeland was gone. That much was plain, even as he clung to the ragged scrap of remembrance. He hadn't known then whence the fervor of that day would lead, but knew well now that it would never be reborn. Even should Garlemald rise from the ashes, its age had ended.

And what of us? A new day had dawned, and Jullus would not suffer his people to remain in the dark. Yet what star were they to follow?

Jullus shook out the paper, folded it neatly, and tucked it in his pocket before leaving the ruin behind.

 

The streets were still and silent, his crunching footsteps the only sound. Playing his role of watchman, he investigated the semi-intact structures he came across, but found little of note. No food or supplies remained, only the detritus of peaceful lives─naught worth saving then or now. A fine layer of ash covered splintered furniture and forgotten trinkets, forming cairns in the gloom.

After a time, he arrived at a house he had never explored in his prior wanderings. With the roof torn off and the walls half-crumbled, it seemed unlikely to hold anything of value, but he nevertheless picked his way through the frosted rubble that would have once formed the lintel. Once inside, he dusted himself off and took in his surroundings─and drew a startled breath.

XWo705q8WWJpecrGoO5UPBhjI4.jpg

Jullus had seen enough death by now to recognize it at a glance. He approached the soldier and knelt to examine his corpse. Though the cold had prevented significant decay, it was clear he had died some time ago. Had it been during the war, the body would have been removed, so he could only be one of the tempered or their victims. The bite and scratch marks suggested the latter. Like the scars my family gave me.

He removed the helmet carefully─not a face he recognized, so probably not a member of the Ist Legion. Just another poor soul who had escaped the tempering, exhausted the last of his strength, and died anyway.

Jullus would offer no gods-bound prayers as an Eorzean might, but nevertheless set the helmet aside to pay his respects. Though the sentiment rang hollow, he silently encouraged the deceased to find peace with his ancestors and watch over his kin.

Alphinaud and Alisaie claimed that the Scions had visited the aetherial sea, where all souls returned. There, they were healed of their traumas and washed clean of memories─even should not a single prayer be offered on their behalf. Their deeds in life had no bearing on their place within the relentless machinery of death and rebirth─made no more difference than Garlemald's vaunted unity had to its ultimate fate.

If the twins spoke true, then what meaning was there in any of it? What was life, if not another pointless parade?

 

It occurred to him that this was probably not the most respectful place to ruminate on life's worth. My new friend here would certainly have an opinion. He had no tools for a proper burial, but if he could at least make note of the man's name...

Alas, there was no identification to be found. Understandably not a priority for you at the time. His armaments were standard-issue, and provided no hint either. Although...

"What have we here?"

Gently prising open the corpse's fist revealed the empty case for a magitek armor identification key. Had it been stolen after his death? That didn't make sense─a thief wouldn't have repositioned the dead man's hand, which had been clutching the thing so desperately. As if in prayer. But if he had reason to hope that a comrade might escape, or that rescue was on the way, then maybe...

"You gave it away," Jullus muttered, as another memory surfaced in his mind.

It was summer─of the same year as the newsprint he'd found earlier. A friend had insisted he read some poetry collection, and in the spirit of camaraderie Jullus obliged. He had little interest in elegies, often finding them difficult to parse, but one inscrutable passage had stayed with him:

"Let this be my final gift to you. In death, my love."

 

In death we have the power to bequeath the life we might have had─the possibilities and potential─to others. To grant them what they need to go on...or so the poet said.

Was your key one such gift?

Would my mother, my brother, my sister─would they tell me to accept theirs?

Lord Quintus, with his suicide? My comrades, whom I failed? My countrymen, gone without a word?

Did you leave your lives, and your love, to me?

 

The dead do not answer, yet the wound within ceases its bleeding for a time.

If that is our truth...

"Then let it be our meaning. Let it be the chain which binds us through generations. Live on in me, as I would have in you."

And perhaps...

"Perhaps we may yet live on in others."

The dead do not answer, but light shines through the broken ceiling, and Jullus follows it to behold a brightened sky. His comrades at Tertium will be waking soon. In apology and gratitude, he offers one last silent prayer to his kinsman ere departing.

Be at peace─and know that you are with me.

Jullus stands, and forges ahead into the dawn.

TcqaK33ZJ6qCdz9YzN1YwdL-8U.jpg

 

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      ・There will be times where North American Data Center server status cannot be viewed on The Lodestone.
      ・There will be times where characters from North American Data Center Worlds will not be able to register new accounts or edit character information on the FINAL FANTASY XIV Forums.
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    • By ara
      The new short story in the series "Tales from the Dawn" has been released, and this time it follows our tragic yet well-meaning anti hero Hermes, and a reflection on his journey in creating his beloved familiar Meteion.
      The story takes place during the Warrior of Light's foray into Ktisis Hyperboreia to confront Hermes, as told by the latter's perspective. As we can recall, Hermes was already poised ready to do battle with us when we arrived to the highest floor, with little to no insight on his struggle and thoughts. We've had several glimpses into Hermes' relationship with Meteion in the game, but this side story goes into more detail in scratching that particular itch. Some may also relate with Hermes more after reading, as there are passages that describe his woes and depression very well. 
      You can read the story below! The next and last story will be released on September 16th.  
      Tales from the Dawn
      The next installment of Tales from the Dawn is now available for your reading pleasure. We invite you to pore over a tale from a bygone age: A Question of Life.
      Read the third story.
      * Please note that Tales from the Dawn may contain spoilers from the main scenario.
      * Four stories are scheduled to be released.
      A Question of Life
      Few things in the world can be crueler than kind words. Than the presumption of understanding.
      All will be well. Fret not. 'Tis passing weariness. I'm always willing to listen.
      The empty platitudes echoed in his mind─polite dismissals wielded to render feelings insignificant. Smoothing over jagged grief, paring away thorns of anger, until what remained could be molded into a socially acceptable shape.
      Sometimes he would resist, bristling at sympathetic colleagues. Claw at their consoling hands as they urged him to bury his demons. But they would only look down at him, pity plain in their eyes.
      Tell them what they want to hear.
      And every time, he was accepted once more, and the sacred pretense of harmony restored.
        But this time─this time, I am surely beyond acceptance.
      Hermes stood on the prime artifice, high in the skies of Ktisis Hyperboreia. From the lower levels, the emergency announcement echoed faintly. Dangerous creations may be on the loose, droned the pre-recorded voice, and the facility had been placed in a state of alert. A field of dampening magick hung over its dimensionally interconnected spaces, suppressing the abilities of all present save for authorized staff. All this chaos at my whim...
      With a hand greatly enlarged by his transformation, Hermes reached out to the facility's aethernet. He commanded more enclosures be thrown open, and images etched in light confirmed the result.
      The specimens thus released would fall upon his pursuers, whose priority was not their well-being. In their haste, they would slaughter rather than subdue, and the blood of those innocent creatures would be on his hands. The choice is mine and mine alone, and so too the blame. His heart wrenched with shame, but disadvantaged as he was in both strength and numbers, he had precious few options. Never before had he offered violent resistance to anyone─and merely "anyone" his pursuers were not.
      When man is likened to the lifeblood of the star, it is not for the role he plays in nurturing it. In this collective duty, all must flow in a single direction, and disagreements seldom depart the realm of civilized debate. Hermes was not given to asserting his beliefs, but he was about to do so with force, and the prospect filled him with an indescribable dread.
      The intruders were pressing ever nearer, leaving a trail of death in their wake. As he set free more hapless creations to bar their way, his thoughts drifted to one of them. Azem's familiar─or so it had been initially claimed. In truth, he was a traveler from the future, from a time long after civilization as Hermes knew it had ended. A person who, despite turning the Elpis flower a sorrowful hue, could continue to smile. What Hermes had glimpsed in his gentle countenance was neither kindness nor forbearance, but strength. And that strength had allowed him to overcome innumerable hardships.
      I must be strong too─I will be. He would confront and accept these feelings. Even should they break him. Even should they drive him to do the unthinkable.
      "No matter what, Meteion, I will not turn away from the answer."
      He looked to his beloved creation, whose gaze took in everything and nothing. Forever changed by the knowledge. He tried to take solace from the fact that she heeded his request to wait, which suggested that her shared consciousness had stabilized.
      According to Meteion's report, there was little joy to be found in the distant stars. Assuming there were beings out there who could share what gave their lives meaning, he feared the answer would be too bitter for his fellow man to swallow. That was why he needed time─the time to come to terms with the truth alone, his thoughts unclouded by well-meaning debate or pragmatic concerns for future implications.
      With a heavy heart, Hermes opened a higher-clearance enclosure and unleashed the fearsome Ladon Lord in Concept Review. The creation was his last chance─if it failed to hold off his pursuers, he would have no choice but to confront them himself. There could be no justifying the crime. No turning back.
      So be it. Better to be seen as an aberration than abide in the fiction for their sake.
      "I sent you unto the stars. I won't let your efforts be in vain."
      Hermes knelt low before Meteion, but in his transformed state, he towered over her still. With enormous hands made to tame unruly beasts, the gentlest touch could nevertheless do harm. And so he gazed into her eyes, the same striking blue as her wings, and recalled the days that had led them to this reckoning...
      Hermes blinked as the blurry images became the room at Anagnorisis. How long have I been asleep...? He sat himself up on the sofa and was still trying to shake off the haze when Euanthe walked in. With a pointed sigh, she explained how they had found Hermes collapsed in a corner of the garden and subsequently borne him here. He shrunk in embarrassment as the memories came flooding back.
      "Forgive me... I...may have been neglecting to take adequate rest. It's just...I'm so close now. I almost have the concept."
      Many years had passed since Hermes first conceived of a star-faring creation─an entelechy possessed of free will. Due to an utter lack of precedent, however, satisfying the design criteria was a challenge indeed. Drawing upon the power of dynamis, it needed to be able to traverse the vast emptiness swiftly, and thence locate and communicate with other intelligent life-forms. In pursuit of his vision, Hermes had experienced countless cycles of excitement and disappointment. But at long last, the solution had begun to take shape.
      Smiling wryly, Euanthe held out a basket of fruit─her not-so-subtle reminder of life's necessities.
      "Does this mean you've finally managed to settle on an appearance?"
      Hermes's hand halted halfway to the proffered basket. Unlike men, who were expected to conform to established fashions, it was believed that other living beings should look unique. Add color to the star. Alas, while some such as the incumbent Lahabrea, the foremost authority in the field of phantom creation, could produce beauteous concepts at will, Hermes was consistently at a loss. Aesthetics were never my forte.
      "Its form should be as simple as its nature is complex," he began. "Birds I know well, of course, and their attributes would suit the abilities it will have. But to facilitate communication with other sentient beings, it should also have the features of a man."
      "That's all well and good for a guiding principle, but what about the details? Its physical characteristics, personality, and so on and so forth?"
      Hermes hadn't considered such things, hoping in vain that his subconscious would fill in the blanks. Since there was no way of knowing what qualities other life-forms would favor, he could rely only on his own sensibilities. Furrowing his brow, he began rummaging through the cluttered chambers of his mind in search of potential inspiration. The invisible spark of dynamis. The universe and the stars. Birds soaring in the sky...
      "...Blue. I want it to be blue, like the sky of Elpis. Our portal to the cosmos beyond."
      The words tumbled out even as he thought them. Euanthe blinked a few times in consideration before favoring Hermes with an approving chuckle.
      "A fine idea."
        In the days that followed, Euanthe and other colleagues provided Hermes with design documents, and even held private lectures for his benefit, all of which helped him to form a clearer image of his creation. As was his wont, it took him more time to settle on its appearance than its more practical aspects, but at long last he succeeded in finalizing the concept.
      He would never forget the first time he brought her forth. The nervous anticipation as he channeled his magicks. The gathering motes of light that coalesced into a brilliant storm. The moment of manifestation.
      Hello.
      The songbird was barely larger than his open palm. Her blue feathers tinged black at the tips. The threshold to the universe as seen from the prime artifice. Already he could imagine her long tail tracing a line in the sky, like unto a meteor.
      "Meteion."
      No name could be more fitting, for to speak it made his heart soar. So terrified he had been he could not do her justice. But beholding the creature before him now, he knew there was nothing more beautiful in all the world.
      So began their exploration of the universe.
      Hermes created Meteion's sisters, the Meteia─though their shared consciousness made them more akin to a single entity─and sent them on brief forays beyond the bounds of the star. Early results were mixed. Though Meteion did not lack the abilities she needed to fulfill her purpose, she encountered one problem after another out in the great expanse. But we have come so far already─and we will go further still.
        Hermes was conducting further test flights in the Elpis twilight when Meteion, presently in the form of a girl in order to relay her sisters' messages, cried out. He turned to see her frozen in shock, eyes wide and mouth agape. Before he had the chance to speak, she reeled as if struck by a heavy blow, and it was all he could do to catch her.
      For a painfully long while, she remained stiff as a corpse in his arms, and gave no indication that she heard his worried words. Then all of a sudden, she awoke with a gasp for air, her body relaxing as if time flowed again. By the way she trembled, feathers standing on end, it was clear that she felt an intense chill. He was rubbing her shoulders to offer comfort when she wailed in frustration.
      "We've failed again... Lost another one..."
      Though Hermes had expected as much, it didn't make the news any less bitter. As he struggled to console her, Meteion rose to her feet and dutifully delivered the report in her halting voice. Her sister had been caught in a raging torrent of dynamis, she explained, and subsequently unmade. Like so many others before...
      As a being of dynamis, Meteion could survive in most any environment by reducing her constituent aether to a bare minimum. A star may be wreathed in flame, frozen from pole to pole, or shrouded in toxic gas, but such hazards would not trouble her. Should life-forms be present who found their environment excessively harsh, she would share in their sensations, but this was purely academic, for life would not flourish in such conditions in the first place.
      Yet by the same token, being made of dynamis rendered Meteion vulnerable to its influence. Though its potential was suppressed on aether-rich Etheirys, it behaved in unexpected ways in the void beyond─ways that confused and confounded her. In one sector, there was a star that could manipulate dynamis. It was capable of harboring thoughts and feelings, if not in a manner man could comprehend. In another, dynamis raged as an endless tempest. At its heart lay a great pool of aether not unlike the aetherial sea, the intermingling of innumerable memories giving rise to the surrounding turbulence.
      In her search for intelligent life, Meteion relied on dynamis. And so, like a moth to a flame, she was liable to be drawn to that which could destroy her.
      "But don't worry! We learn more every time. What places are bad. We'll find stars with life, I'm sure of it!"
      Despite her recent trauma, Meteion retained her enthusiasm. But Hermes's own seemed to have deserted him. How many more of her sisters would be sacrificed for his cause? How many times would he have to see her collapse, the life driven from her body? Even if you suffer no lasting harm, I fear I do...
      "Perhaps we will. And yet..." he managed to say before falling silent and hanging his head in shame. He sighed and opened his eyes, only to see a pair of inquisitive blue ones peering up into his own. Scolding himself for failing to control his emotions, he took a deep breath to regain his composure...and felt a tiny hand on his head. Meteion was stroking his hair, the motions exaggerated and awkward.
      "Have faith, Hermes. We'll get answers. Then everyone will be happy. You, me, everyone!"
      The stroking continued for a good while before she withdrew her hand, leaving his dark hair an unkempt mess─and his soul somehow comforted. Hermes looked at her and smiled, and she returned the favor, giggling in her endearing way.
      "You're right, Meteion. We will find the answers in the distant stars. And then we will bring change to our own."
      He rose to his feet to behold the star-speckled sky once more, with hope in his heart for the future.
      That hope did not last. One day, Meteion's shared consciousness became unstable. She and her sisters could not sustain their existence, and all dissipated with a burst. The resultant shockwave accidentally triggered Kairos, which erased several days of memories from those in the vicinity, including visiting observers.
      He later learned that several enclosures had been opened in Ktisis Hyperboreia, and many creations perished fighting amongst themselves. After delivering this report, his underling suggested that, in his confusion, perhaps Hermes had sought to free them.
       
      "It seems like something you would do, Chief," the man said with a pitying smile.
      Does it? Knowing it was the likely outcome, would I have been so reckless? So cruel?
      But it would not have been the first time.
      Hermes cursed himself. For sending Meteion forth. For creating her. But most of all, for daring to have doubts. Had he simply thought like everyone else─had he made peace with their morality─he wouldn't have inflicted such pain upon himself and others.
      Tell yourself what you need to believe.
      And so they did not resent him, and instead gifted him their cruel acceptance.
      All will be well. Fret not. 'Tis but a few days of memories. The creatures can always be remade.
      The utilitarian logic assailed him. But this time, he offered no resistance. He internalized the lie and came to live as others did. When he was officially nominated to the Convocation of Fourteen, he rose to the occasion, and labored for the good of the star to the very end, to the moment reality itself was sundered.
      Of his desperate struggles, nary a mark remained...or so it seemed. Yet be it in the ancient past or the distant future, the yearning for which he sacrificed so much would endure. The fire would rise in those who looked up at the heavens in defiance of oblivion─the desire to confront the answers for which Meteion journeyed...no matter how terrible the truth may be.
       
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