It was late afternoon by the time the merchant’s wagon pulled onto the edge of the Sapphire Exchange in Ul’dah. The couple at the front were elderly Midlanders and each took their time getting down from their seats. The woman, in particular. Her bones even squeaked as she moved. The man walked around to the back and unlatched the wooden door of the wagon. He was chuckling as the glow of pale eyes were staring brightly at him from the cracks of the wooden planks. He opened the door to the piles of crates and the one ginger haired Miqo’te kneeling at the entrance way. “ Well, son. Your master there asked me to get you to Ul’dah, and we are here. I hope you know where you’re going. It’s easy to get lost around here.”
The Miqo’te looked to the man and blinked. His expression was filled with curiosity and an innocence that was almost painful to the man. He sighed and pat the younger man on his head, “ Listen, son. A word of advice? Keep your head down, mind your own business, and you’ll be fine.”
The Miqo’te nodded slowly as he peered around the man, “ ...there are…. So many people here! And colors… and SMELLS! Do you smell that, Sir? It’s like dung and cinnamon and grease and thyme all together. It’s so horrible and wonderful!! What is it!?”
The elder man shooed the miqo’te off the wagon and shook his head. “ Don’t know and don’t care, son. Now scoot. Your master didn’t pay me to help you. He paid me to get you here.”
“ Oh… ok, but, sir? What’s a master?” The miqo’te asked as he dusted himself off. When he didn’t get a response, he looked up to ask again, but he couldn’t find the man in the crowds. Sure, he saw the wagon, or at least he was sure that he could see it, but there was so much movement all over that the exact details failed him. The world failed him in that moment as sounds rolled over sounds and scents over scents. It made his head spin. He was… spinning with the world and the two spun around again and again and again. He couldn’t remember spinning so much, except in summer when the chocobo molted. The sky was so blue then and the yellow down floating into the air above him were like stars. Stars in the daytime. He loved the stars in the daytime and the spinning, but he didn’t love this. He spun and spun and the world got louder and louder and more and more confusing and when he didn’t think it could get more confusing, it did.
Until he finally couldn’t stay standing anymore. He fell to his hands and knees and threw up upon the floor. His stomach knotted and rolled as he felt the last of the food he had, meager bread and soup splatter upon stone. And even as he coughed and sputtered the last of his insides out, the very scent and sound of it was drowned in the voices and scents of the world around him. He felt cold and sore and empty within. He closed his eyes and focused on the only thing he could think to remember, the memory of yellow down floating in the air.
It took him a good while to gather his bearings and stand. He was pushed or stepped over a few times in the process. Once he did get up, he spent the rest of that day walking the city, getting himself lost in the process. He’d talk to people, but most he spoke to would give him little to no reply. As the sun began to set, this lack of response grew more and more. It made for a lonely night huddled up against the corner of a shaded building. At some point in the night, it even rained, giving him a bit of respite for the lingering scent of vomit upon him. Now, at least he smelled of rain and mud. Rain and mud were good smells. They meant that life was returning to the earth. Life was always a good thing.
The next day was much of the same, wandering and being ignored. Some people did scoff him or speak words very loud or very fast at him as he got in their way. He largely didn’t worry. He wanted to see it all, experience it all. Every new sight he got up close to, poke and petting it. This got him a few dozen pushes and slaps when he got too close to what he shouldn’t, but it never stopped him. How would he experience the new if he wasn’t there to touch it?
As the sun began to set again, he found himself in a less travelled part of town. Though darker and filled with dust, people still remained huddled in the shadows, grunting and whispering harshly to each other. They were hiding as he did when he stole fresh rolls from the sill of the main house. His stomach growled. He missed those fresh rolls. He missed the chocobos, but most of all, he missed home.
In those nearby shadows someone cried out in pain and another grunted and hissed something to the cries as they fell into whimpers. He moved to the sounds, his brow furrowing with worry. Three tall figures huddled around a smaller form, smaller than he had ever seen. People got that small?! He cleared his throat, craning his neck as he tried to see over or around the three to the huddled fourth. “ ...um…. I think she’s sick….”
The three highlanders turned to glare down at the Miqo’te sneering and growling at him, “Beat it, child. She owes us.”
“B-but… she’s sick. You should let her get better first and then she can help you. That’s the right thing to do, you know.”
One of the three laughed. He couldn’t tell which. Another shortly followed. The laughter was low, yet the emotion in it stung at him. The sounds of scorn and ridicule. He didn’t know the words yet he understood the intent. His ears lowered as did his chin. The laughter only rose, “...look, you hurt the catboy’s feelings! Ain’t that somet’ing?” The one that spoke stepped up, his grizzled features and stench of rot floating about them. A large hand reached out to shove at the Miqo’te’s shoulder. “You going to stand there and cry, kid, or you going to cry?”
He looked up and huffed softly, “ You don’t have to be mean about it. It’s ok if you couldn’t see she was sick. I helped you!”
The three broke up into laughter. It roared and bounced off the narrowed space between them all. The laughter rang in his ears and yanked at his already empty stomach. It was almost as bad as the spinning the night before, or would have been, had they not stepped back.
One of them called out, “ HEY! GIT BACK HERE!” Footsteps echoed as the one on the ground became a fleeting shadow in the distance. The one shouting took off after her, but the other two turned to close in on the Miqo’te. “ You dirty whore of a fleabag!” One of the two said. “ You cost us our money and we don’t like being out of money.”
“What’s money?” The Miqo’te asked. The two around him didn’t seem like they were up for education. The looked too angry for it.
There were no words after that or if there were, he didn’t hear it. It was mostly feeling. He could feel the heaviness of fists pounding against his throbbing flesh. He could feel the pangs of pain as the body spasmed to the shock of it all. He could feel the heat of his own sweat and blood as it dripped down his exposed flesh. He could feel the cool gusts of air against the sting of open wounds and torn pieces of fabric and he felt the hard grit of the ground as his body collapsed to the ground. In the barrage of pain and feeling, he had struck back, well enough to make them angrier and in that anger, they too hit harder. He lay there panting and shivering from the pain as he heard the first things he could hear after the ring of alarm. The sound of wet air passing lips as spit fell on his stinging cheek, and the sound of heavy footsteps trudging away into the darkness.
He listened to those footsteps until all he was left with was the sound of his own breathing and the rush of his own heart beating. He waited in the heated beats for an indication of more sound. His eyes were sore that they couldn’t open, and he didn’t want to open them anyway. Somewhere in that silence came sobs, but the pain was too great that he couldn’t even feel his tears. He couldn’t even feel the moment he lost consciousness.
It was the sound of a scream that woke him up. His muscles were screaming with the pleas of ‘no’ and stop. He grunted, struggling to get himself to his feet. The sounds he heard, he knew. Sounds of the chocobo in heat only, more vicious than they. The female voice was also saying no. No meant no. That was bad to not obey the no. He found himself staggering over towards the sound until he could mostly walk on his own. He squinted as he walked and neared the huddled muffled cries and pile of flesh and grunts.
“She said no.”
The sounds didn’t stop, nor did her pleads. He felt the despair in that moment, a feeling that was becoming normal for this place. He groaned as he reached down, pushing at the top of the huddle form, speaking as loud as he could, “ SHE SAID NO.”
He couldn’t make out the details of the figure that looked up to him, but he could see the glow of rage in it’s eyes. “Get the fuck out of my way.” The voice rasped lowly. He felt the weight of something warm and solid force him back to a wall. And arm or a leg, if he had to guess. The wall hurt. He was still hurt from before, but the woman was still crying and begging for help. You didn’t ignore those that needed help. That wasn’t the good thing to do.
He sucked in a breath, holding onto his pain as he pushed off the wall and turned to the huddled mass. He wasn’t sure what he was hitting, his his hand was in a fist and that fist was meeting something just as warm and hard as what pushed him back. And it was wet. Wet from his own blood of the others, he couldn’t tell. He didn’t care. He was going to make the other move. And when it did, it looked at him, seething with anger as the mass that was presumably the woman crawled and whimpered back into the shadows.
“She said… no.”
The glowering figure didn’t waste time to move, it looked fast. It probably was. He braced himself for the pain that he knew would come, but he also readied himself to fight back. Fight with all he had. His body tightened as did his eyes. He was ready for the blow.
But it never came.
In that moment, all he felt was a rush of wind and the sudden flash of heat. He could FEEL it and the light of the heat. There was a new scream before him, that of the glowering figure. As he opened his eyes, he watched the smoke and ash dancing in the air around him as the figure ran down further into the darkness. He panted, staring at it all in disbelief. He couldn’t have done that. He couldn’t have.
“Well that is troublesome.”
The voice behind the Miqo’te caused him to jump. The jump reminded him just how weak he was and he teetered into the nearest wall.
“Woah! Careful there.”
He felt a heavy hand gently hold his shoulder, to keep him upright. It was the first gentle touch he had felt in weeks. It was followed by a second to his other shoulder.
“You look like you need a healer.”
He blinked, looking up to the figure that spoke to him. He had to look up. He was much taller than he was and large! The flesh looked hardened and even in the darkness, there was a tint of violet like the buds of lavender in the spring. Or a plum. He was an overly large and hardened plum. “What’s a healer?”
The plum man sighed and steadied his wobbliness. “Nevermind. Let’s get you someplace safe. Do you live around here?” the miqo’te nodded and pointed off into the darkness. “ I slept there since i got here. I used to live on a farm… outside of Gridania…”
The plum man nodded and carefully gathered the Miqo’te in his hand. “ I have a room at the Quicksand. I’ll take you there tonight and call for a healer….um… name. Twelves forgive me! I forgot to say my name. I’m Amused Mookaite.”
The Miqo’te whimpered as he was held, but soon relaxed. The hold was warm and comforting. Still, his mind swam with questions. It always did. “...why are you amused, Mookie?”
“No, that’s my name. Amused Mookaite.”
“ No, Mookaite… oh… nevermind. What is your name?”
There was a moment’s pause. A name. He hadn’t really thought on his name since getting here. He needed a name. Name’s were good. Name’s meant a person was someone. “ … on the farm they called me boy or miqo’te…”
“Well, that is what you are. You’re a Miqo’te. Do you not have a name?”
He sighed, his chest shuddering as he did so. “I… well… “ His mind went back to the last image of the farm. It was in ruins. It had been for years, since the sky exploded. It had never really recovered. “... Papaw told me that I was called Malachi when I was given to them. So, I guess that is my name.”
“Ah.” Mookie said. They were moving. Malachi could feel the wind on his form as they moved, not fast, but even. “That is an interesting name. You know malachite is a type of stone. Not that expensive in terms of market value, but its said its properties are for transformations and purification. People collect malachite when they need the strength to go on. Considering anyone else in your condition would be close to death, that name is a very good one for you.”
Malachi smiled and nuzzled his bruised cheek into Mookie’s shoulder. “ that is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. It sounds so smart too. I have never been told smart things. Thank you!” His eyes filled with tears. Happier tears.
Mookie looked a bit bewildered, but he didn’t seem to let that stop him. “Where I come from strength and hardness is everything. I’m not as big as my siblings and not a strong, yet I came here to train in the magical arts. I have to study twice as long as everyone else to keep up. Smart…. Isn’t something one would assign to me.”
“Well… it suits you, Mookie. You’re very smart and kind to me.”
Mookie blushed, “ Now that… is the nicest thing said to me. I guess we are even then.”
It was weak, but Malachi giggled. Mookie turned a corner and stepped into the lighted part of the streets. In the distance as Malachi would come to learn was the building of the Quicksand. But in that moment, all he could see was the dust particles in the light. They sparkled a faint yellow and for just a moment reminded him of chocobo down floating in the air.