"You have a letter, Raha."
It had been some time since the turmoil of the Final Days, and G'raha Tia was making the most of a rare moment of quiet with a leisurely lunch out in the midday sun. Duty would eventually call him back to the Baldesion Annex, however, and he had barely arrived when Krile emerged from the office to greet him. In her hand was an envelope marked for his personal attention─a rare occurrence, as nearly all missives the Students received were addressed to the collective. He examined the envelope and the elegant Eorzean script in which his name had been written, noting that the sender’s name was curiously absent. Availing himself of a letter opener from Ojika's desk, he quickly extracted the missive, and had barely begun to pore over its contents when a sudden, sharp gasp escaped his lips, drawing quizzical glances from Krile and Ojika. In disbelief, he read the message again to confirm his eyes were not deceiving him, before turning to his companions in bewilderment.
"I've been invited to Doma...for a private audience with Lord Hien."
"Lord Hien?" Krile repeated, doubtfully. "What business does he have with you?"
"I should very much like to know that myself. Had he bade me bring our adventuring friend, I could understand it, but I haven't the faintest idea what he could possibly want with me..."
G'raha flipped the letter over and held it up to the light, searching for a clue─some hidden cipher or sign that might explain this unusual correspondence. Yet none was to be found. Conceding that there was no secret subtext, he began to contemplate how best to proceed when the Warrior of Light's stories of Doma sprang to mind.
"Well, I can hardly reject an invitation from the great Lord Hien," he pondered aloud, hoping the words might convince his colleagues that duty and obligation were foremost in his thoughts. But the smiles playing on their lips quickly gave the lie to that. Donning what he hoped was a neutral expression, he ignored their knowing looks, and the burning of his cheeks, and set about making preparations to depart forthwith.
Passing through Kugane, G'raha made for the small fishing village of Isari in the Ruby Sea, where a chartered skiff awaited him. From there, a gentle tide bore him along the One River, all the way to the Doman Enclave. No sooner had he disembarked than a towering Lupin welcomed him with a graceful bow, introducing himself as Hakuro, a retainer of Lord Hien. In keeping pace with the wolfman's giant strides, G'raha scarcely had time to take in the distinctive architecture of the enclave. Ornate stone walls with round gates and fan-shaped windows lined either side of the street. He caught glimpses of craftsmen hard at work within, but quickly averted his gaze, lest he be distracted from the purpose of his visit. Duty first!
At the end of the road stood a manor nigh as grand as the mountains behind it. According to Hakuro, the structure had once been the residence of the enclave's magistrate, but had since been renamed the Kienkan─roughly translated as "the Swallow's Homecoming"─and had served as Lord Hien's domicile since the end of the imperial occupation. Hakuro ushered him inside and swiftly guided him through a labyrinthine series of halls. There was a uniquely floral fragrance in the air, though it was unclear if the aroma was inherent to the aged wood or if the halls were purposefully scented. In any case, the serene surroundings did little to settle his nerves. As G'raha struggled to recall what he knew of Far Eastern customs, he made a point to be mindful of his posture. He was no envoy, nor less an emissary come on stately business. But even so, his time as the Exarch had taught him the importance of appearances. I remember that much, at least.
At last, he reached the center of the maze, and there, sitting cross-legged in a massive chamber, was the man he had come to see.
"Well met, friend. Pray accept my apologies for bringing you all this way," Hien said with a warm smile.
They had met once before, when the leaders of the Eorzean Alliance held council on the matter of the Telophoroi. G'raha had been thrilled to meet the man he'd only read about. A hero from an altogether different book of history. It was a tale that would thankfully never come to pass, and he knew all too well it served no purpose to entertain stories from its tattered pages. Thus he endeavored to separate the man from the myth, electing simply to introduce himself as the newest member of the Scions.
Since their first meeting, G'raha had known the Doman lord to be every bit as impressive as the heads of the other city-states. Yet seeing him there in the Kienkan, framed by the imposing ink painting of Yanxia, the man seemed somehow larger than life. Blinking, G'raha reminded himself that Hien had been born the year after the annexation of Doma, which would make them the same age. But his demeanor betrayed no hint of youth. G'raha could only imagine the hardships he must have endured in his childhood to foster such presence of mind.
"It was no trouble at all. I am most grateful for the invitation, though I am not sure what I could have done to deserve such an honor. Is it truly me you wished to see?"
"But of course! There is a matter upon which only your counsel will suffice."
The young lord gestured for G'raha to sit, and he gratefully obliged, curious to hear what his host had to say. As Hien explained it, the seeds of change had begun to quicken in Garlemald, and Radz-at-Han, having reopened trade with the ravaged nation, was now organizing a summit between the leaders of the resurgent Garlean community and the dignitaries of various surrounding countries. And, lest he further strain relations between Doma and Garlemald, Hien wished to gain insight into the Empire's present state. The acting viceroy of Locus Amoenus─or Corvos, as it had formerly been known─would be in attendance, and intelligence regarding the province was therefore of particular interest.
Recalling that Thancred had infiltrated Locus Amoenus during the Final Days, and trusting none more than the Scions to keep an accurate account of events in the midst of such chaos, Hien had reached out to the grizzled rogue for any information he might care to disclose.
"Imagine my surprise when he told me there was another Scion better suited to the task─one who not only joined him on the mission, but hailed from Corvos besides."
G'raha nodded slowly. "Be that as it may, I was brought to Sharlayan as a child, and have had little contact with Corvos since. I fear what knowledge I can provide may not prove as useful as you hope."
"'Tis not uncommon for those of us born in the provinces to become estranged from the land of our birth," Hien replied with a knowing smile. "But I am eager to hear whatever you are able to share."
To this, G'raha gave a self-deprecating shrug, and after a moment's thought, resolved to start with what he knew best─the province's history.
If one were to ask who the land belonged to in the very beginning, both Corvosi and Garlean would surely claim it was their own. Yet from the perspective of a scholar of Allagan history, the facts were clear to see: it was the site of a provincial city founded by the Allagan Empire more than five thousand years ago, when the Allagans sent scores of Miqo'te slaves to till the fertile lands south of the continent of Ilsabard. After numerous Umbral Calamities and centuries of war over territory and resources, however, only the Garleans and Corvosi had remained, and it was the latter who had subsequently driven the Garleans into the frigid northern wastes, where they would live in obscurity for eight hundred years.
This lengthy exile had lasted until roughly sixty years prior to the present day, when legatus and future emperor Solus zos Galvus harnessed the power of magitek to revolutionize the Garlean military. In the name of reclaiming their ancestral homeland, he marched Garlemald's great armies south to crush their former nemeses, who could find no answer to the might of the Empire's machina. After brutally subjugating the Corvosi, the Garleans wiped the name of Corvos from all records, retitling it Locus Amoenus. As the only province in the history of Garlemald to have its name entirely erased, it was clear the Garleans were not above holding a grudge.
"To think it has been more than fifty years since the name Corvos became all but a footnote in the annals of history..." Hien murmured, no doubt imagining what might have become of Doma had it met a similar fate.
G'raha nodded. "Thankfully, its legacy lives on in the city that remains, and the culture that survives there to this day. Yet it should not be forgotten that those who have taken the helm of governance were born during the period of imperial rule."
G'raha remembered vividly the Corvosi response when the Final Days had arrived. Even allowing for the fact that it was a calamity without precedent, they had been slow to act compared to neighboring Radz-at-Han. Not that this was entirely surprising. After Garlemald's destruction, a Corvosi youth─one notably not of Garlean descent─reported that the chain of command had quickly disintegrated once contact with the "homeland" had been lost.
Hien closed his and eyes and exhaled slowly as he considered G'raha's words. "When at last we won our liberty from the Garleans, Doma had been an imperial province for twenty-five summers, Ala Mhigo for twenty. But had either nation borne the Empire's yoke for another ten—or even one—who's to say we would have prevailed?"
He paused for a moment, staring at the polished hardwood floor.
"'Tis difficult, after all, to find the strength to fight for a way of life few still remember."
"Aye," he continued, "I can think of no force more formidable than time and its inexorable flow. Had it not been for my parents and the guidance of my mentor, Gosetsu, I cannot say with any certainty that my conviction would have held through the years. It may well have been washed away by the tides of time, my imperial education molding me into an altogether different man. I doubt there is a Doman in this world who has lived a life free of the wages of imperial rule."
Hien's face darkened as he recalled the suffering visited on him and the other children born during the imperial occupation. Without imperial citizenship, Domans and Ala Mhigans alike had become foreigners in their own land, branded "savages" by their subjugators. The only reprieve to be had from their mistreatment came from citizenship, which could only be obtained through distinguished service in the military. Yet to gain the favor of their oppressors was to invite the contempt of kith and kin, to be labeled a loyal hound of the Empire. And so, from their earliest years, they struggled amidst a maelstrom of anger and resentment to discover who they were─Doman, Ala Mhigan, or Garlean? Their elders might speak of halcyon days, but how were they to understand that which they had never known? There was only the Empire.
A dreary silence fell upon the room. G'raha breathed deep of the calming, floral aroma in the air, wondering how he might lighten the mood. After a moment of searching, an answer came to him.
"Historians and archaeologists like myself attempt to identify the turning points of civilizations. Where one era ends, and another begins. Yet the reality is not so black and white. Rulers come and go, as may a country's name─but the people remain. Life goes on. When the winds of change blow, they set their sails accordingly, becoming the pioneers of a new generation, their course leading them ever onward, be it unto joy or sorrow. And when, centuries later, we scholars look back upon their journey, we see the history not of a nation, but of a people."
Hien gave G'raha a look of faint surprise before bursting into laughter.
"Forgive me, my friend, 'twas not my intention to sour the mood─and yet I do not regret it, for I have been rewarded with some unexpected morsels of wisdom!"
G'raha shrank back, his face reddening. "Mayhap I spoke too freely."
"Not at all! You but spoke your mind. ‘Tis little wonder the Scions welcomed you with open arms. Though, for a moment, I could have sworn I was listening to the words of a wizened sage!"
G'raha's ears drooped in embarrassment as Hien erupted into laughter once more. At length, the young lord gestured apologetically, and fixed G'raha with a grin.
"'Tis as you say. We must not fear change, but accept it as a part of life. The Doma beloved by our ancestors, like our own, and that of our progeny, shall all become part of a single shared history."
His grin fading, Hien gazed past G'raha as if peering into the future. It was a look G'raha knew well. He had seen it on the faces of other brave souls who, no matter the hardship or danger, never strayed from their course. Brave souls who had saved the very star. Recalling them, G'raha pictured the Doma of tomorrow. Whatever lay in store for this liberated land in the era Hien and his people would help to shape, he looked forward to seeing it.
"Well," Hien said at last, "I suppose there's nothing for it but to make the most of this summit, and set our sails accordingly. Come, tell me more of Corvos. I would know of its delicacies─there is no better way to find common ground with another than through his belly."
Hien stood as he spoke, pausing when he saw the look of confusion on G'raha's face. He chuckled softly.
"Surely you do not think me so heartless as to make you speak of such delights on an empty stomach? You have traveled far to answer my questions, and as my honored guest, you shall taste the best Doma has to offer."
G'raha's stomach growled in response. His confusion quelled, and appetite duly whetted, he stood up and, together with Hien, exited the Kienkan. Across the One River, he could see the ruined remnants of what once stood as the very center and symbol of the land─Doma Castle. Yet the enclave was bustling with people determined to restore and rebuild.
Even after the storm of blood, the people remained to usher in the dawn of a new era. And life goes on.