A story told by Rachine Yascaret to a group of Lalafell who approached her in Limsa Lominsa on the 6th Sun of the 6th Umbral Moon
Imagine if you will, a little town by the sea. Not a big town like Limsa, a tiny little village, barely a few scraggly houses balanced precariously on a fraying cliff.
Now, the pride of this little town is its lighthouse. All the rest of the town is there to keep the fire in the lighthouse lit. Each day, the people of this village would go up to the lighthouse to present the best of the day’s catches, or the mussels plucked from the ocean floor, or the eggs of a seabird.
And each night, the glow in the lighthouse would go up. In the windows, you would see a figure moving too and fro, tending to the lanterns. Sometimes a wagon would come by with new lenses, or tools, or other elements of the lighthouse-keeper’s trade.
The lighthouse-keeper? Nobody knew what they looked like. Those catches I mentioned would be brought to a little hatch in the doorway, and the next day they would be gone. But no matter how the villagers would call and knock, there would never be an answer from the other side.
The villagers were content enough with this. Sometimes children would ask who the lighthouse-keeper was, and at this the older people of the village would shake their heads and go quiet, and say it’s best not to ask - better just to let them be.
And in time, the children would learn to stop asking, and grow into adults. None of them knew, but they were still proud of their lighthouse keeper - perhaps all the more so, for carrying out their duty faithfully every day without ever once coming out to speak to the village.
In time, a traveller came to the little town by the sea. She was an adventurer, I hear, and not an unsuccessful one. She would spend her days delving into caves and getting in fights. She would spend her nights drinking and getting in more fights. But she had a big heart, they say. She gave generously of the coins she pulled up from forgotten ruins, and would always rise to the occasion when the land was menaced by bandits, voidsent, or other such threats…
So it was that this adventurer came to the village, and learned about its mysterious lighthouse keeper. “Why!” she said, when she heard the story. “They must be so lonely in their lighthouse! A prisoner, held in solitary for a lifetime! How could this be allowed to happen?”
So the next morning, when the time came to deliver food to the lighthouse keeper, the adventurer said “let me take it. I would participate in your peoples’ customs.” And the villagers nodded, and passed her their gifts for the lighthouse keeper. The adventurer piled them onto her chocobo and made her way up the steep path to the lighthouse.
At the door, the adventurer placed the gifts as was the custom, and then, overcome by curiosity, she knocked at the door.
Once. Twice. Three times. Four.
The knocks rang out, there was no doubt that they would have been heard. But there came no answer. So the adventurer eventually relented, and made her way back down to the village to play dice with the old fishers.
That night there was a terrible storm, and the lighthouse shone brightly on its little cliff. The adventurer found herself staring out the window, trying to make out the figure of the lighthouse-keeper at their duties. Sure enough, there came a shape. But it was impossible to make out more: it could have been a lala or a roegadyn, a man or woman or neither. Just a tiny blurry shadow against the bright beam of the lighthouse.
Well, the adventurer was even more curious after this, of course. She was getting downright obsessed. So the next day, she offered to take the gifts to the lighthouse again. She piled them up on her chocobo and climbed back up. This time, the adventurer had spent the night penning a letter. A simple message saying she was a traveller who was struck by the dutiful lighthouse keeper, and that she feared the lighthouse keeper might be lonely up there, and she wondered if they might want company.
She placed this letter in the pile of belongings, and wound her way back down to the village. The sea breeze was very cool that day, and the adventurer shivered. She could hardly sleep a wink that night, hoping in the dark that when she went back up to that lighthouse, she’d find an answer waiting for her.
The next day, the adventurer set out once more with her parcel of food. She added a little packet of tea from a faraway land that she carried in her pocket, just for good measure. And when she arrived at the gates of the lighthouse…
She found her letter, sure enough. And on that letter was written: “Go away. I can see you are kind, but there is nothing for you here but pain.”
The adventurer, well, she was crestfallen. She left the gifts as was now her habit, and went back down the hill, staring at the letter she had been given. That night she had no heart for dice games, and sat outside, staring out over the sea as the lighthouse flickered on. What could the lighthouse keeper mean?
The next morning, she came to a resolution. The lighthouse keeper might be trying to protect her, but she didn’t need protecting. Clearly this person was suffering. It was her duty to help. With a new spring in her step, the adventurer marched back up to the lighthouse…
She placed the food in its hatch, but this time, rather than climb back down to the village, the adventurer settled on the path and waited to see what would happen to the food. The adventurer was not, I suspect, quite sure what she planned to do once the occupant made herself known. To come forward, perhaps, and speak.
The day grew into evening, and the sun settled on the distant sea, casting the sky into brilliant shades of red and purple. But still the hatch did not open. The food sat, untouched, by the door.
The adventurer started to grow anxious. Maybe the lighthouse keeper was afraid to be seen, and knew she was out here. Maybe she was denying them a meal by so obstinately sitting by their door? But just as she turned to make her way back down to the village, defeated…
She heard a squeak of metal. The adventurer turned, her reflexes honed by years of battle. She glimpsed just the briefest blur of something reaching out from the hatch. It looked like… not a hand, exactly. A rope, perhaps? Or the tentacle of an octopus.
But before she could react?
The hatch was closed tight.
The adventurer hurried to the door. “Please!” she called. “I only want to speak! Just to ensure that you are well! I mean no harm, may Halone strike me down if I speak false!”
But there came no answer.
Perhaps most would have given up at this point. But our adventurer? She was a stubborn sort.
She marched back down to the village and threw herself into bed and the very next day she was climbing up to that lighthouse with a basket full of fish. Once again, she planted herself by the hatch, in plain view, cross-legged. Expecting another long wait, she started to idly sketch shapes in the dirt.
This time, the sun had barely passed midday when the hatch creaked open. Once again, that ribbon of shadow came out and scooped up the contents; once again, the hatch snapped shut.
The adventurer repeated her entreaties, and once again got no answer. So she came back the next day, and the next. By now, she didn’t have to volunteer: the villagers came straight to her with their catches.
How many days passed in the end? I can’t say for sure. Perhaps seven, perhaps twelve, perhaps a score. Each day the adventurer marched up that slope; each day the adventurer waited to see the occupant of the lighthouse take their food.
But at last, there came a day…
It was a gloomy day. The sky was like slate, and in the difference, there was a haze of rain obscuring the horizon. In the morning, a sunbeam would pierce this firmament here or there, but as the day wore on, the clouds grew thicker, the waves more fierce.
It was for days like this that the lighthouse was built. In the dead of night, a ship could so easily founder on those sharp rocks, and release its crew to Leviathan’s hand. If not for the lighthouse and its keeper, many sailors would surely have met their end…
The adventurer stood by the hatch, a foot closer than the day before, where she’d approached a foot closer than the day before that. She tapped her foot and pushed sopping hair out of her eyes, her clothes hanging heavy from the thick spray in the air.
The hatch opened.
It did not close.
Something dropped out of it. The adventurer stepped forward, and picked it up curiously.
The hatch closed, but left just a crack open.
A short length of cloth… the implication was clear enough. The adventurer wrapped it around her eyes and tied it firmly. She heard the hatch scraping open once more…
So blindfolded, the adventurer pushed her way in through the hatch. Just barely wide enough for her shoulders. A whisper came in the dark - soft, almost a little raspy. The voice of someone who hadn’t spoken in a very, very long time.
“You won’t leave me be.” said the voice.
The adventurer replied: “Do you truly want me to leave?”
“Today, I need your help to perform my duty.” said the voice.
The adventurer grinned under her blindfold. “You asked the right person…” she said. “I live to help people. What needs doing?”
The dry chuckle came again. “Do you trust me?” the voice said.
The adventurer shrugged. “Your reputation precedes you.” she said. “I know you have kept this lighthouse for as long as anyone can remember. So sure. Ask away.”
The voice hesitated for a moment…
“Then I ask for aether.” it said at last. “You carry so much of it. I swear to you - I will not take more than I need… but if I lack it, then the lighthouse will be too dim on this night. If the lighthouse is too dim… I have failed in my duty. So please…”
“…let me have some aether. Let me do my duty.”
The adventurer gave this strange request little thought. She stretched out her arm, and felt the mysterious no-substance of aether drawn from her body. True to their word, the voice did not drain her dry. She barely felt it, in fact. But she heard the quiet shiver of relief in the voice, and when they spoke again, it was with a firmer voice. “Thank you…”
The adventurer felt a nudge, bidding them to leave the lighthouse. She made her way to the hatch (was the door no longer functional?) and clambered out.
But before the hatch closed…
The adventurer could not resist the urge to hook a thumb under her blindfold and peer into the gloomy interior of the lighthouse.
Between the dim light outside and the lack of lanterns within, the lighthouse was dark indeed. But somehow, she could still make out the faintest outline. It resembled… a lalafell, oddly enough. But hunched over, their gate shuffling. And then, the outline flickered, and it was an au ra - now, a mi’qote like the adventurer herself.
The adventurer quietly closed the hatch. That night, the lighthouse shone brighter than ever. From the clifftops, the sails of passing ships could be seen reflecting back that brilliant light, safely making their way along the shore…
The next day, there was little fresh catch to be brought in, for the storm had prevented the fishers from going out. The adventurer gathered some salted fish, and made her way back up to the lighthouse.
She knew, of course. She had spent far too long in the adventuring trade not to recognise a voidsent when she saw one.
The adventurer placed the fish by the hatch and waited. This time, the hatch opened almost immediately. “You came back.” said that quiet voice. “You looked at me, and you came back. Why aren’t you afraid?”
The adventurer opened her mouth to speak, but the being in the lighthouse interrupted her. “If you’re here to kill me, don’t waste time talking.”
The adventurer took her sword belt and unfastened it. She held it at arm’s length, and dropped it on the ground. She stood there, her empty hands raised.
“I’m not here to kill you.”
There was a long pause.
Eventually, the voice said: “Fine. Enter.”
The adventurer did as she was bid. Inside the lighthouse, dust coated every surface. Only one surface was not completely coated with a thick layer of grey: the bookshelf.
It was a bright day after the storm, and the sun glowed behind the dirty windows, casting the whole room in red and orange. The shuffling figure of the voidsent waited on the other side of the room. “I would offer you some tea, madam.” they said. “Since you went to the trouble of bringing me some. But I don’t know how to brew it.”
The adventurer laughed. “I’ll show you.” she said. She busied herself with teamaking, glad to give her hands something to do. So many questions battled in her mind.
“You’re wondering why.” the voidsent said.
The adventurer nodded.
The lighthouse keeper did not answer, but moved across the room to the bookshelf.
They placed a slim book on the table. The adventurer approached, laying out two glasses of tea (the lighthouse was sorely lacking in proper cups). She pushed one across, and settled down. They sait in silence for a while.
“It will get cold.” the adventurer said. The voidsent took the tea and downed it in one gulp.
After a little longer, the voidsent pushed the book across the table. Their arm shifted as they did this, sometimes an arm, sometimes formless ribbons, sometimes a tentacle, or the wing of a bird.
The adventurer opened the book. It was a neatly ruled logbook, the left side a list of days, the right side… page after page of spidery scrawl. The adventurer saw initialisms, and descriptions. Who went out to fish. Who was at dice. Which travellers had come to the village, where they lodged. Here was a record of a marriage - there, a funeral.
The hand was unmistakably the same as the one that had replied to her letter.
Here and there was a drawing - somebody’s new outfit, or the view of the village from the top of the lighthouse as the sun rose from behind the land… other towns, seen distantly along the coast.
There was a picture of her, sitting outside the lighthouse.
There was a picture of her, kicking her heels impatiently.
There was a picture of her, taking care of her chocobo.
There was a picture of her, sitting in the village and staring out to sea.
“As long as I do my duty,” said the lighthouse keeper, “as long as I stay within these walls…”
“My nature will not get the better of me. I won’t be drawn to consume, to deceive, to spread fear. I keep the lighthouse, and I take the aether I am given, and I watch them.”
The lighthouse keeper paused for breath.
Rare to speak this long, clearly.
“You can’t stay here.” they said. “The hatch is enough temptation. I can’t have you here. Whatever you wanted from me… I’m not able to give it to you.”
The adventurer smiled.
“You’ve already given me everything I wanted.” she said.
“I’ll be back next year. Hmm…”
“Do you like sweet things?”
The rest of their conversation carried on long into the night. Slowly the creature in the lighthouse warmed up to the adventurer. They shared stories, the adventurer from her travels, the voidsent of what theu had seen from their vigil above the village.
Of course, the lighthouse needed tending. So they climbed up, and the adventurer sat in the cramped glass box, taking care not to block the lenses as the creature fussed.
The next morning, she went round the village, and said she would be departing.
The villagers asked her what had happened, and the adventurer said all was well, that they should be proud of their lighthouse keeper, and make sure to keep her well fed. And she got on her chocobo…
…and rode away. And a year later, when autumn came again, and the storms were in the air, she came back to the lighthouse.
And so again, every year, until the day she died.