Rob

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After Shiva falls asleep in the bed in the furthest corner, and Ifrit crisps the sheets of a bed in the dead center of our room, I sit up from the tight sheets of the bed nearest to the innkeeper's desk; I want to talk to the chocobo I've summoned before, but he isn't there. 

No one's there.

Seeing everyone's asleep, I slip a toe slyly onto the ground, and my spidery legs work with me to move lithe and supple from the inn to the multi-tiered world outside. 

The city is aglow with the same sconces, bioluminescent plants, and fiery cobblestones as before; how do they ever know when it's day?—when it's night?

I pass by a weaponsmith and armorsmith. A group of robed men playing cards. A double-wide staircase with steps falling out the center. Stacks of boxes. 

Then a library.

What kinds of books do they read in a place like this? 

None of the librarians pay me any attention as I weave from the entryway into long halls of glittering books. Many of the spines are covered with precious metals and gemstones. 

A baby Bomb, orange-skinned and green-mouthed, no larger than my hand, flips like a spaz through a book made out of sheets of glass. I'm mesmerized by how he doesn't break any of the pages. And shouldn't the glass inevitably crackle under his heat, even if he's being gentle?

That's when I realize the book is made of crystal.

Pure crystal, thin sheets that glow with halos.

I inch up on him, then reach into my well of courage, whispering, "Hello?"

He moves fast—ridiculously fast. He looks up, down, flips a page, and squeaks, "Hihowyadoin," all before I could cast the spell Blink.

"I'm Rydia," I try.

"HiRydiaI'mRobhowyadoin."

I flicker my eyelashes several times. They feel... longer? I rub the ache in my chin. "I'm doing good, Rob. What're you reading about?"

"Lightcrystalsanddarkcrystals," he says. "Crystalstuff."

Mom used to tell me stories about the Light Crystals and Dark Crystals; they help balance the magic in the world, just like the Eidolons. It doesn't surprise me that a place filled with Eidolons would also have books about crystals.

He looks at me, looks at the book, looks at me—it's dizzying. 

Then he asks, "Whatareyoureadingabout?"

"Nothing yet," I admit.

"Whatdoyouwanttoreadabout?"

I purse my lips. My cheeks feel weary. So do my shoulder blades and hips. It's strange to feel so many corners of my body all at once. It's like my body is coming to life. But wasn't my body alive before?

"Growing pains," I tell him. "I wanted to read about growing pains."

"OhIknowjustthebook," Rob says, and he bounces off a couple of bookshelves, jostling them about, before he knocks out a book with a simple, leathery black cover. 

As I crack it open, a pop-up of a dark, violet spiral greets me, and I exclaim, "Oh!" then laugh. "I haven't seen a pop-up book in a long time."

But it was only a couple years ago Mom read a pop-up book to me, wasn't it?

The one about how the White Chocobo healed the world?

Why does it feel so long ago?

I don't want my memories of Mom to slip away. This makes me cry even more than when I remembered the Bombs exploding through the windows, or the whirlpool of Leviathan, pulling me in. I collapse in a heap by a bookshelf, leaning my back against it. After I pull my knees to my chest, I fold my arms over them and cry into my crusty, slimed cloak.

"Youlooksad," Rob says, then pokes my elbow with the corner of his crystalline book. "Thisisveryinteresting, wanttoreadthisinstead?"

I feel energy crackling off the crystalline pages, same as the roar of magic that ripped through my body the day I summoned Titan. "No, that's okay," I reply. I sniffle a bit, wiping my face on my cloak. "Thanks for offering, though."

"That'sgross," he says.

I blink at him. "Huh?"

"Yourclothesaredirty, butyouwipedyoureyesonthem." He nods, which is rather comical looking, considering he's nothing but a giant, flaming head with tiny arms. "Berightbackokay?"

I watch him zip between the bookshelves, then out the door.

After I turn my back to the gnarled, wooden wall at the end of the aisle, I crack open more pages of the pop-up book. Trails of tears have come and gone so many times, my cheeks are crusted over, but I don't care. The pop-up book is just one spiral after another, with words written on the spirals in languages I don't understand. 

There's something comforting about the patterns each spiral makes, slightly different than the one before; even if I can't read what they say, I can tell something organic and enormous is happening between the pages. 

I suppose, in that sense, it is every much like the growing pains in my arms and legs. I don't understand it, yet my body is up to some pretty fantastic things. It's wondrous how a child can turn into an adult, a kitten into a cat, a hatchling into a grand dragon.

Rob returns just as I finish the pop-up book, holding a flowing, dark green dress in his tiny flaming arms. The fabric is bejeweled with tiny, star-cut emeralds, and the sleeves are long and flowing. "It'sfireresistant," he says, "becauseIhadtocarryit, y'know? Hereit'sforyou. There'sabathroomintheback, goputiton."

"I, I can't," I stammer. "I mustn't."

"Why not?"

I want to cry again. Not knowing how to respond, I try, "T-thank you," then I take the dress from him, my hands shaking. Baffled this tiny little Bomb would buy me clothes, I head to the back of the library, chewing on the inside of my cheek.

When I see the sign that says ALL GENDERS, with a silhouette of a man in a dress, next to a woman in pants, I laugh nervously. How progressive of them.

My old clothes tear, not wanting to come off. I've far outgrown them. After I put on the new dress, I wash my face in the sink, then turn to the full-length mirror at the bathroom entrance. I have boobs and hips and the whole nine yards. Holy hell.

I return to the little Bomb, who's quietly reading his crystalline book, then I say again, with more intention this time, "Thank you, Rob."

He doesn't know that my old clothes were one of my last physical tethers to Mom. He just saw a girl wiping her face on filth, and he wanted to fix it. It's nice to know there are good-natured Bombs in this world.

"You'reverywelcome," he says. "Nowyou'lllookprettytotheotherhumans."

I sit next to him. He hands me another pop-up book; he put the old one back while I was in the restroom. I flip it open and marvel at more spirals. I'm surprised the authors decided to make a sequel to the last one. That's fine, though; I like.

Silence passes between us for a long time.

"I don't think I'm sleeping tonight," I tell Rob. "But my friends want me to."

"Idontsleep," Rob says.

"Never?" I tilt my head. "Then when do you dream?"

"WhenImawake," Rob replies. "WhileImreading."

I chuckle. "That sounds useful."

"Itsveryeasy," he tells me. "ThisisaDarkWorldlibrary."

"A Dark World library?"

"Soyoureadinhere," he explains, "andyoufeellikeyougotsleep."

"Really?"

"Youdreamwhatyouread," he continues. "Youreadasyoudream."

"Will it work for me, too?"

"Whywouldntit?" he asks. "Giveitatry."

♥♥♥

First draft: June 18

Second draft: August 18

Word count: 1212

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