A Gracious Host

The Exarch seems to have a rather rehearsed itinerary laid out for their tour of the Crystarium. He takes Pfeil first to the aetheryte plaza sitting within the great dome (Pfeil is growing more and more unsure of calling it a greenhouse, although it greatly resembles one); from here, the Exarch gives him an idea of the city's lay, although it is hardly straightforward and he forgets most of what he is told nigh immediately. With this done, the Exarch takes him up a flight of stairs to speak to a woman who he gleans is something of a quartermaster for the city, a bright-eyed and dark-haired Elezen with an animated face named Katliss. The swimming whiteness of the Crystarium's stone architecture as it catches the Light from above is finally beginning to give him a migraine, and valiant though his efforts are, he misses so much of what she's said (something about refugees in the city's early days) he realizes only when the Exarch is halfway to showing him the markets that he has agreed to mend for her some twenty pairs of trousers from the city guard.

Luck, however, seems soon to be on Pfeil's side again, for the markets (down a shallow flight of stairs from the plaza) are far better shaded than Katliss' open-air workshop in the Crystalline Mean, enclosed as they are by aether-blue glass and ornamental flowering trees; it is no remedy for the stabbing pain behind his temple or the fog over his senses, but these things abate enough that he might passably function here. The Exarch explains to Pfeil how his currency may yet serve him, valued now on the weight of its metal, before taking him to meet market-master Bragi, a towering Hrothgar with icy-hued fur and a dark, tawny-blonde mane. Pfeil has until now never met a Hrothgar in his travels; he is surprised at the familiarity in Bragi's body language, the easy tell of interest in his ears' light swivel toward Pfeil.

He learns from Bragi that the markets carry much and more equipment fitted for Mystel "like himself;" Bragi is surprised at Pfeil's retort that he is in fact a half-Hyuran Miqo'te, and great pains are taken to explicate the "proper" names of the First's peoples: Humes and Mystel, Elves for Elezen, Galdjent for Roegadyn, Drahn for Au Ra, Viis for Viera, Ronso for Hrothgar; the Dwarves, who Pfeil supposes by process of elimination must be Lalafell to him, make their home in the mountains and do not oft venture thence to the wider world. Pfeil's lack of understanding is excused by the Exarch's insistence that the two are countrymen; Pfeil supposes, whatever the truth, that a fuller explanation would hardly go over well.

The information is much to absorb. Half-Hume Mystel sounds strange to Pfeil's ear; in body surely he resembles the Mystel of the First, and Thancred a Hume, but these are not in culture or history either of their people; it is a rootless sort of feeling. He does not have much time to ponder his status as a stranger, however — the Exarch is on his way to the stalls already, and Pfeil must follow him if he is to learn more of what the Exarch wishes him to.

"Would you like me to slow down, my friend?" The Exarch seems to have noticed not only Pfeil's lagging behind, but a bit of his general malaise; he wears a soft expression of concern, the slightest of frowns.

Pfeil shakes his head. "Only a headache," he replies.

Though the Exarch seems, for his part, unconvinced, he does not press. "Before we left the Musica Universalis, I thought it would perhaps be wise to outfit you with anything you may yet need in the days to come — after all, you are far from home." He clears his throat. "If you're game for such a task, I mean."

"I didn't bring much —"

"Don't worry about that," the Exarch interrupts. "You are my guest. Let me provide the things you need."

There is such an eager bent to the Crystal Exarch's tone that Pfeil cannot muster up the heart to argue, although he half-wishes he could. Ever gracious, the Exarch smiles, as though he is the one being granted a gift, and takes to showing Pfeil about the markets, radiating a certain sort of hearth-warm pride in its merchants and artisans. Pfeil is compelled by his newfound ally to test the feel of silken scarves and leather gloves and heavy bronze greatswords, to taste rich nutty safflower and sharp smoky pepper and aromatic cloves while listening to tales of the great feat in urban development that is the Hortorium and its many crops, climate-controlled with wondrous magics, and finally to "ooh" and "aah" at all manner of household sundries — gaily-patterned umbrellas, painted tea kettles, hand-stitched tablecloths, ornate candlesticks (Pfeil wonders at who might even use a candle in this clime, and why), stationery sets, salt and pepper shakers, cheerily scented soaps, warmly laquered wooden toolboxes. Certainly they are all impressively made and lovely goods, whether they come from handiwork in the Crystarium or from trade with a place called Eulmore; the way the Exarch treasures them, one might think they were all the work of his own sons and daughters.

Pfeil considers what he has been shown for a short time; the Exarch has not yet pressed him into making any choices. "I suppose I'll need nightclothes," he says, "and working clothes. I really hate to ask, but I can't wear armor and leathers all day. And —"

He feels he might be ill when he realizes what he's missing. Anything else on the star is easy to replace; his journal, however, is invaluable, and he struggles to remember anything in the long term without its contents. Starting another would certainly be feasible, but what of the rest? His pulse quickens near to hysteria at the thought of laboring on in the First, clawing to place the details of events from before his arrival, names and places fading into nothingness until he is barely sure they are real; his letters from Fray on the things he has done in Pfeil's absence gone entirely, yet further gaps. Just thinking on the desperate tenor of how it feels to forget has already made his brow prickle with freezing sweat.

"Are you quite sure you're well?" The Exarch tentatively reaches for Pfeil, trapped in the middle of his decision to touch or not to touch.

"My journal," Pfeil replies. "I left it at home. I — definitely I can't go back, but if I don't have it —"

"We can find you a journal —"

"I need mine, with all the things I've written in it, or I'll —" He cannot let the Exarch know the extent of the holes in his memory, but he is unsure of how else to express its dire import. "I just really need my journal."

The Exarch, to Pfeil's considerable relief, smiles and nods in sympathetic understanding. "Not to worry. There is a solution to our predicament." He looks upward, though Pfeil knows not to where. In a language he does not know, but which the Echo renders intelligible to him nonetheless, the Exarch calls for someone — "Are you there, my friend?"

"Yes, I'm here!" The little voice is loud, and it emanates from a mote of twinkling pinkish light that streaks down from the glass ceiling of the markets in great energetic loops. "Of course I'm here! What amusements do you have for me today?!"

Pfeil is afraid the little light will crash to the ground, so swift is its descent, and he holds out lightly cupped hands to catch it. It leaves a rosy glow on his palms when it lands, although he feels nothing, and with a final prismatic flash resolves itself into a figure — a tiny little thing, no larger than a doll, with fluttering pink-purple-orange butterfly wings and large, curious eyes; they seem to be clad in fiery autumn leaves, and their hair, too, resembles such.

Faced as he is with the subject of his many flights of childhood fancy, his heart cannot help but soar; the dread of his missing journal is almost forgotten. "You're a fairy!" Pfeil cries, although it is a foolish thing to cry.

The fairy only laughs at him, with a voice light and bereft of any worry. "What a silly one he is! Oh, I like him already!"

"Full glad am I to hear it," says the Exarch; Pfeil hears the restrained hint of a smile in his words yet again. "My dear Feo Ul, paragon of pixie-kind, I am afraid my friend Pfeil is rather in need of your help."

Feo Ul flutters to the Exarch's side and eyes him thoughtfully. Pfeil is rather too taken with the sight of them to interject — he is so excited he feels a bit unlike himself, given to a sort of fizzy childish stupor, a feeling rather like drinking too many sparkling lemonades.

"I'm from — ah, the same place as the Exarch," Pfeil further explains, trying rather in vain to affect a staid and pragmatic air. "I left my journal at home, and I need to bring it here."

"You came from beyond, then, didn't you?!" Feo Ul wastes no time in flitting all around Pfeil in a dizzying glittery blur; when they finally stop, they look as delighted with him as he is with them. "From beyond the rift! How wonderfully exciting! What a brave and reckless and marvelous thing you did — you've the heart of a pixie, you do!"

"I do?"

Feo Ul simply laughs again in reply, like a little golden bell. "Very well! After careful consideration, I have decided to grant you my assistance. Make a pact with me, and the fun can begin!"

Pfeil is already much inclined to do whatever Feo Ul might ask out of simple fondness, but the promise of fun has him feeling yet still further removed from his adult faculties; he nods with a fervent strength and smiles automatically, though the actions do not feel entirely his own.

"From this moment forth, I will be your beautiful branch, and you my adorable sapling." The titles are uttered in that same unfamiliar language, sounding from Feo Ul's lips as fluid as the babble of a clear swift brook. "Like the branch which sprouts from the sapling, our bond will flow unbroken from one to the other! Raise your hand."

The reverence in Feo Ul's ceremonial tone finally grounds Pfeil in himself for good, and he raises his hand free of any confounding little boy giddiness. Feo Ul slips on a suddenly very portentous manner like a costume cloak, and with a little flourish sends the prismatic light of their magic toward Pfeil's outstretched hand. He watches it twist about his arm before dissolving into nothing with wide eyes, awed.

"'Tis done! We are bound now, dearest sapling!" With an airborne somersault, Feo Ul dissolves into shimmering light once more, and steals away, upward and upward, until Pfeil can see them no longer.

He spends what feels like an eternity with his neck achingly craned looking after them, and is only pulled from this position by the Exarch's quiet laughter. Though it is a fool's errand to try to look dignified now, Pfeil still makes the attempt, even with his hand massaging the back of his neck in awkward circles.

"I take it you're rather fond of Feo Ul," says the Exarch, with a rather botched attempt at hiding his amusement.

Pfeil clears his throat. "What's not to be fond of?" The words tumble out with a half-hearted accusatory bite; he does not really mean for them to, but he is suddenly a bit embarrassed at being the object of the Exarch's poking fun.

"Nothing, of course." The Exarch relents, although there is hardly much to relent from, gentle as his entertainment is. "Perhaps it would be best if you went on ahead of me to the Cabinet of Curiosity, after all — I should not like to waste any more of your time."

"You're not wasting my time." Pfeil leaves space for a response, but receives none; the Exarch only worries his sleeve between his fingers, suddenly shy and boyish again. "I'll do whatever you ask, though," Pfeil appends quickly. "You know best."

The Exarch places a hand on his shoulder, the touch so timid and restrained as to feel like only the barest graze, and points him back toward the aetheryte plaza. "Go — ahem — if you return as we've come, the Cabinet is a straight shot across the plaza and down the stairway. It is impossible to miss, I assure you. Meet with Moren and we shall reconvene at the plaza when you are finished."

"What do I do there?"

"Just inform him I sent you," says the Exarch.

Pfeil nods. "Don't get carried away at the markets. I don't need much. I don't want to be a bother."

"Far from it, my friend — it is I who has been the bother in summoning you here; ensuring your comfort is the least I can do."

"I'm really not picky," Pfeil says. He thinks better than to continue — belaboring the point will surely only disappoint the Exarch, and there is much yet to do. "I'll go to Moren."

The Exarch pats Pfeil's shoulder and waves him off with a wan smile. The touch lingers on Pfeil's shoulder like sun-warmth as he takes the path laid out for him.

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