The Dark Lilies (Volume 3) (10/17/2007)

The unchanging breezes of the river port brought with them the distinctive smells of machine oil and brine, and the deep violet shade of the sky seemed to swallow the last rays of daylight as the sun dipped below the horizon. Looking up from the docks, one could see the pale flicker of the street lamps struggle feebly against the growing darkness of twilight.

Port Bastok is now one of the more prominent ports in the continent. It was not until recently, however, that the bridge spanning the Dalha River, let alone the event of airship travel, even existed as a visible symbol of the town's prosperity.
At least, so my companion Roger had told me, drawing on the memories of a youth spent living on the outskirts of Bastok. His words played through my mind as I walked along the wharf, the weathered boards creaking with every step.

Roger had lost his father in the Great War.
I, on the other hand, had been fortunate enough to be born across the seas and far from the flames of war, where the details of such momentous events were nothing more than another tedious history lesson to be endured.
And so it was that sleep was a long time coming on the evening he imparted the tale I shall now share with you.
It was twenty years ago, the year I was born...
Not long after the war had begun, a conscription notice was delivered to Roger's home. His father, who had labored in the shipyards, had been drafted to work as an engineer on a Bastokan warship. He left his son with the simple words "Take care of your mother."

In the days that followed, Roger busied himself with helping his oft-sick mother while waiting for his father's return.
And then one day, there came a knock at the door of their riverside home.
It was not the face of his father that greeted him on the doorstep, however, but the dour visage of a Galkan army captain. His father's ship had fallen victim to a nighttime Sahagin assault. The vessel had been sunk out at sea, and the bodies of the crew lost to the relentless tides.

After relating this tragic story, Roger had merely shrugged and said, "That's all in the past now." But the tale explained much.
Roger left his hometown behind and took up the mantle of the exorcist in the hope that he might discover his father's drifting soul and finally lay him to rest. Until that day, the war would never be over for Roger.

As these musings occupied my thoughts, I was suddenly struck with an image of the Dark Lilies. Perhaps Roger had seen an echo of his father's plight in the aimless wanderings of those lost spirits.

* * *

"Trick or Treat!"

I stepped off Rye Bridge into Bastok Markets, and was greeted by the high-pitched voices of children as a group of youngsters ran out from an alley beside the Metalworks.

They must be excited for the coming Harvest Festival, I thought. The children already wore the hollowed ogre pumpkin and witch hats.
A boy in the lead shouted a command, and the entire group raced off towards the fountain, laughing and giggling as their running footfalls echoed off the cobblestones.

I stopped in my tracks as silence once again claimed the streets. I would never forget this place--it was where I had sent the souls of two witches to rest at the side of the Goddess.

"Brian. Gertrude. How do you fare?"

A familiar voice spoke through the linkpearl I kept at my left ear.
It was Roger, contacting us from the distant nation of Windurst.

"This is Brian. I've just arrived in the city of Bastok."
"Gertrude, here. I arrived in San d'Oria two hours ago."

Gertrude was a year younger than I, and I considered her a little sister.
Although, with maturity born from her impressive talents in the field of exorcism, it probably seemed to her that it was I who was the younger sibling.

"I trust you are not too exhausted from your journeys? We shall begin the Wake of the Lilies tomorrow, as planned.
Two of the townspeople will be chosen to walk the streets in the guise of witches. And I think it fitting that the adventurers who aided in our duties should also have the chance to participate. The Dark Lilies will not have forgotten them, I am certain."

With the help of adventurers, the tales of those six tragic figures had spread across Vana'diel in what seemed the blink of an eye. Youthful mages enamored with the idea of wielding such colossal magicks, as well as others who remembered that troubled time, shed tears at the songs sung of the true story behind the witches' fall into darkness.
In a strange twist of fate, the Dark Lilies had found more acceptance after death than they ever had in life.

It was this outpouring of emotion that led us to visit these cities once again.
Using the Harvest Festival as a turning point in events, we decided to hold a ceremony in honor of the redeemed coven--the Wake of the Lilies.

"The Dark Lilies are no longer outcast..."
"Yes, and this surge of empathy from the people should not be wasted. Let us guide it to where it belongs."

It was then that Roger whispered just loud enough to be heard:
"And perhaps other painful memories may also be allowed to fade..."

* * *

When at last I looked up from speaking into my linkpearl, night had well and truly fallen. The moon shone brightly in the eastern sky, its illumination sharply outlining the low-hanging clouds.

I continued on towards my lodgings, and marveled at the view afforded from the top of a bridge as points of cozy light began to appear one by one in the buildings below. Perhaps some of those lights were jack-o'-lanterns carved in preparation for the coming festivities? As the thought crossed my mind, I felt a familiar presence brush the farthest edge of my consciousness.

I lifted my face to the night sky and spoke thus:
Tomorrow, this town will begin the Harvest Festival in earnest.
May the warmth and joy of these people reach and comfort you..."

Illustration by Mitsuhiro Arita