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Fragments of Time

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The blanket swallowed G’raha as he wrapped it around his shoulders, corners dragging the floor even when he doubled up the fabric.  It was soft, and the weight comforting as he settled down into a much abused, overstuffed chair behind Biggs’ desk. Times being what they were the office wasn’t much, but it reminded him of the shabby, absent-minded style of some of the professors in Sharlayan.  He wondered briefly how they’d fared, if they’d finally been a target after…

It didn’t seem real yet, what they’d told him on waking.  He pulled the blanket a little tighter against the chill he couldn’t seem to get out of his bones, like the cold crystal of the Tower had seeped into him while he slept.  One of the Ironworks members--he didn’t know their names yet--came in with a roegadyn-sized mug of something hot, which he took gratefully, using both hands to hold it. For the moment he huddled over it, just basking in the warmth.  He had a hundred people to ask after, a thousand things to ask about, but none of them wanted to slot into place in his mind. When he closed his eyes he remembered what scraps of the dream remained to him: the strong, clean lines of the inlay on the desk; the dual sensations of fearful anticipation and loving peace; the soft thrum of power through his hands as he assembled the night-dark mask from its broken shards, each piece welding together in lines of gold with no metalworking tools or materials in sight.  Try as he might he couldn’t recall the words, only that they’d been spoken in a language he understood without knowing, that one of them had been a name he must remember, and that it was desperately important he carry out the task he’d been given.

The workers began hauling in boxes and lining them up near the door.  G’raha watched, eyes following their movement keenly while tip of his tail twitched like a cat watching a bird, but his mind remained fixed on the dream.  He knew that he should not have dreamed while in stasis within the Tower, but it could have been anything .  A malfunction, an imprint of the previous occupants, interference perhaps from the calamity--

Biggs himself brought in the last box, setting it down with a huff, and straightened, putting a hand to his back.  “That’s the last of ‘em. Old Cid went a bit off his rocker collecting these--tried to get hands on everything he could, it seems.  Not everything survived the moves… but the important things are still there. The private things. Did you need anything else?”

You will be the part of me honed to a blade's edge on the whetstone of his wit and folly.  But I cannot write his name on you,... that I must do to another.

“Yes, actually.”  He cleared his throat, voice still weak and rough from two centuries of disuse.  “Did I… say anything when I woke?” Now he remembered dimly the sensation of his lips moving, and the feeling of the name in his mind.

“Yeah.”  Biggs paused in the doorway, voice softening.  “His name.” 

“That’s… that’s all, thank you.”  Biggs shrugged and closed the door behind him.

G’raha sat alone, curled over the warm mug and mind spiraling around this mystery.  He strained to remember anything else.  If the dream had been caused by the calamity, something from a soul from distant shores--had it been a memory of that unfortunate individual?  If he could remember any of the words it might offer something to start with, to unravel this secret.  If so how had he received this message, why and what did it mean?

And why did the unknowable name come out as the name of the last man he’d seen before sealing the Tower?  He had… regrets regarding their time together, and their parting, but not so severe as to justify… that. Those days weren’t even distant enough in his memory for melancholic nostalgia to set in  He’d scarcely been awake three days, and as such it seemed only four since he’d seen the rest of NOAH.

He eyed the boxes warily from across the desk.  Cold truth resided within, the most important parts of Cid’s notes to what the Ironworks had asked of him, and all the information the Ironworks possessed about the Scions of the Seventh Dawn.  They’d begun work on the necessary devices to outfit the Tower the moment they’d obtained his cooperation, and while he’d need to do a small amount of experimentation to assist them in connecting the systems, the far more difficult task lay twofold before him: determine when to summon the Warrior of Light from, and how to do it.  He was the best suited person alive for the former, and would be the only one capable of the latter.

It was a truly outlandish plan, and he’d told them so, but all the same he’d agreed.  Biggs seemed supremely confident of Cid’s research, that it was not merely possible to traverse both the rift and time, but that the Ironworks had discovered how to do so and meant to implement it.  Cid was--...had been… the most brilliant mind of their time.

He finally sipped from his mug, finding the liquid pleasantly warm and both creamy and spiced.  A variant on chai, perhaps? The flavor and the heat soothed his aching throat and poured a little warmth into his bones, and he decided he’d stalled enough.  G’raha carefully wrapped the blanket over his arms and lifted his tail to keep the back of it off the ground, then stood and stepped around the desk, still holding the mug in both hands.  He settled on the floor next to the boxes, putting his mug aside, and began inspecting their labels. On finding the right one he thumbed through the files, looking for specific words or a certain date.  He’d known everyone would be long gone by the time he woke, but it still seemed so unbelievable. He’d seen all of them four days ago .

Finally he found it and pulled out the file, a thick envelope.  Black Rose Release Incident, Alliance Intelligence Report.  It contained three loosely bound folios.  He flipped through the first, finding general details like medical reports, casualty numbers, lists of names, detailed descriptions of the safety equipment necessary to enter the ravaged areas and the threshold of low aether that signaled suit failure imminent….  The statistics were alarming, but they were just that, statistics. His mind processed numbers and facts with the impartiality of a scholar. The second folio, however, seemed to be a direct report from an individual team scouting the release site. The soldiers hadn’t attempted to remain professional, describing with plain but immense detail the horror of the scene.  It contained crystallographs, too, images projected by miniaturized glamour prisms embedded into the paper, and they depicted something far beyond a massacre. The number of bodies was simply overwhelming. He struggled to comprehend it; there were as many dead in this one location as one would expect to see live and going about their business in any of the major cities.  The report came to the section describing finding the Scions and their relative positions, speculating on what they’d been doing when the weapon struck, and it became clear the report had been compiled from several different observers. Some, it seemed, could not handle the sight of certain people, so another took over.

Their observations of the site of Aden’s death were curt, as obviously none of the scouts had the presence of mind by that point to commit to memory the details of the death of the Warrior of Light.  But they scarcely needed to: there he lay on the page, sprawled on his back with his spear an ilm from his grasping fingers. He’d dug furrows in the dirt with that hand, the other clutched at his chest.  G’raha expected his face to be locked into a defiant snarl, or perhaps a look of pain, but instead it was distressingly slack, dead eyes staring up at nothing. He didn’t look as if he’d died fighting, or struggling, he just… looked dead.  Several images depicted different angles of the scene as words had failed the scouts, and in some he saw the Leveilleur twins curled above Aden’s shoulders, as if they’d been trying to aid him after he fell and then simply laid down themselves, bodies betraying them under the insidious weapon.

For a long time G’raha stared numbly at the images, unable to process them.  He’d seen Aden not four days ago-- four days! --his heart screamed at him, but in his mind he began to grasp the passage of time.  Everyone who had known Aden was dead and gone. And everyone who had known those scant survivors who had known him were also dead and gone.  He touched the first image with trembling fingers.  He had known this would happen, that everyone would be lost to him, but it had seemed right at the time.  The Tower was a danger beyond reckoning, the power to transform the world, and they had neither the knowledge nor the manpower to protect it any other way.  But no matter how much he told himself that now he finally understood how impulsive what he’d done was, to go forward without consulting everyone, how foolish to leave them all behind.  Had they missed him? Had they felt what he was feeling now, the horrible knowledge in the very center of his heart that he would never see any of them again, or hear of their deeds?  Had they needed the Tower?  Could he have helped them? 

He didn’t think himself so important as to turn the tides of war, but his studies had taught him the smallest of things could change the course of history.  If he had stayed--stayed with all the knowledge of his forebears and the power of the Crystal Tower-- could he have saved them ?  Would any of this have happened ?  He caressed that horrible, dead image on the page because it was all he had left in the midst of his grief and overflowing regret.  G’raha had been prepared to wake up in a future made all the brighter by them, content to make their legacies flourish, but now all he had was a broken world and a heart full of all the things he hadn’t said .  That tender little spark he’d nursed during their adventure flared now, his admiration, camaraderie, and-- yes , if he was honest with himself-- love for the man who lay dead in those images.  They’d only known each other a few short moons, and Aden had never once mentioned matters of the heart, so G’raha didn’t dare risk their friendship or his respect for something he’d thought a passing fancy and hero worship at the time.  But Aden embodied everything G’raha had fervently desired since his childhood, and rather than dismissing his thirst for adventure as immature encouraged him. With the terrible gift of hindsight he knew now what he’d felt--what he still felt, it’d only been four days --had been more.  If only he’d said something, would--

Tears finally struck the page, one sending up sparks from the delicate, tiny glamour prisms and the image flickered.  G’raha yelled out his sorrow and frustration, throwing the folio back at the box before he could damage it further. Then he drew his legs up under the blanket, rested his arms on his knees, buried his head and sobbed brokenly.