[10.26.00] » by Barbara Benchpress
"Owww ! Hey, whadya do that for ?"
The young boy picked himself up out of the dust and threw a resentful stare at his captor, an older looking
fellow with an exasperated look cowling his face.
"I thought you needed a good kick in the behind, that's all.Now look....."
The teenaged shopkeeper had enough trouble as it was selling his wares of Materia without this little urchin
trying to get at the stuff every single day, even if he did sympathize with the boy. "I told ya man, I can't have ya
swipin' my goods every day. Now get home and for Pete's sake, DON'T STEAL ANYTHING !"
He sent the lad on his way with a slap on the back and an affectionate shake of the head. He had grown
up in the Sector 5 Slums too, and knew how rough it was. When he thought back on all the hell he'd
given the shopkeepers back then.....
"Must be Karma" he sighed, and went back into his shop, waiting for customers who never came.
The boy he had sent off had no such qualms about Karma, however. The youth, one
aptly named Loki, was racking every corner of his small mind, trying to figure out how to get at the coveted Materia in
the shop. When he thought of all the cool things Materia-users could do, all the places
they went.......no living in tiny little shacks for them, no way !! World travellers, that's what people with Materia were.
"Hey Loki, wait up !!"
Loki didn't even bother lifting his head as the shrill voiced boy ran to catch up with him. Kenny was runty for his age, but
his attitude would've dwarfed Shinra Towers, and Loki didn't like him. He cried at the drop of a hat, bragged incessantly
when he wasn't snuffling, and wanted to be something different every week. One day he was going to be
a Chocobo jockey, the next a shopkeeper, just like his fat father.
Loki liked Kenny's dad even less. He'd had several run-ins with the weapons store clerk, usually botched thievery
attempts, and the man was less understanding than Billy, the Materia dealer. Instead of giving him the boot and sending
him on his way, Kenny's dad would drag him home to his big brother, Tom. If Tom was sober, nothing really would
happen. If Tom had been drinking.....
"Hey Loki, didja get any Materia ?"
Kenny hadn't been there 5 minutes and he was already annoying the hell out of Loki.
"If I had, you think I'd still be hangin' around this dump ?" he muttered morosely. "Now help me think
of a way to get some or shut up already."
Kenny might be an annoying little shrimp, but he had a positive genius for coming up with plans, which was why Loki allowed
him to always tag along. Between Kenny's ability to get into trouble and Loki's ability to get
out of it, they made quite a team.
Kenny's pale little face wrinkled with concentration. Then revelation came, and a grin split his features
like a ripe Tantal Green bursting. "I got it ! Man Kenny, you are a GENIUS ! " he congratulated himself.
Tiring quickly of this back-patting, Loki swiftly slapped Kenny in the back of
the head. "Quit kissin' your own ass and tell me what it is, will ya ?"
Rubbing the back of his stinging scalp, Kenny gave Loki a superior look. "If YOU were as smart as me, you would've
thought of this by now. You know that crazy guy that lives in the pipe down by the entrance ?"
Loki knew that guy ; EVERYONE knew him. He had shown up a few months back, unable to speak or do much more
than blink and drool. A few people had given him supplies, like blankets and food and stuff, but the guy still wasn't
much better. He sat in his makeshift home in the pipe, wrapped in a blanket acned with cigarette burns,staring at the
wall blankly and smoking. Smoking seemed to be the only habit the man had retained from his forgotten past, and
he did it in force.
"Why don't we steal that big gold trophy he's got ? It's gotta be at least worth 200 Gil. And
besides....." Kenny sniggered ".....It's not like he can fight back, right ?"
Loki shrugged. He didn't know why, but he felt a bit reluctant to go take a helpless invalid's sole
possession. Still.....200 Gil....
"Let's go already ! Just think of all the Materia you could buy with 200 Gil ! Maybe even....." and here
Kenny's voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper "......a Summon Materia."
That did it. Loki would've stolen the stained glass windows out of the abandoned church for a Summon Materia. He nodded.
The two boys scampered off through the decaying buildings, raising a cloud of dust as they
went. Weaving through the other slum dwellers, they soon reached the pipe.
Overhead, static buzzed on the giant television screen, which had been broken for several months. Loki wished
that someone would fix it ; he never got to watch the Chocobo Races anymore. There was a
television mounted on the wall at home, but Tom was always watching the news on it, and Loki wasn't about
to ask him to switch channels.
Peering into the dim entrance of the pipe, Loki felt his apprehension rise again, but a quick thought about what
he could do with a Bahamut Materia quickly silenced the doubt. Still.....
"You go first Kenny. You're smaller and quicker, after all." Kenny gave him a withering glance *he hated to be reminded
of his size* and ventured into the pipe, Loki trailing close behind.
The narrow interior, which reeked of cigarettes and unwashed bedding, was lit only by a small television set affixed to
the other end of the tube. At the moment, the only thing being broadcast was a test pattern, so it was
especially hard to see clearly what was inside the pipe.
It took a moment for Loki's eyes to adjust to the darkness, but when they did they were drawn like magnets to one point.
It sat on a small shelf just above the bedding-strewn floor, gleaming like a
sun in miniature. It spoke of richer surroundings, a better life, and made its surroundings
in the small tunnel seem that much more shabby. Loki didn't care about how opulent the
thing looked, however ; visions of Shiva were too busy dancing in his head.
"There it is !" Kenny breathed. Loki nearly leapt out of his skin ; he had almost forgotten Kenny was
even there. "What are you waiting for ? Go get it and let's amscray."
Obviously Kenny wasn't going to grab the thing himself. As usual, it'd be up to Loki to do the dirty work.
Sighing heavily, he reached out and lifted the trophy from its perch.
And at that same moment, all hell broke loose.
A sound somewhere between a moan and a cry of despair came from the pile of blankets on the floor. At the
same time, the bedding parted and the distressed face of the pipe's occupant stared out at Loki.
His face was creased with dirt and worry lines. Most of his hair seemed to be gone, from what malady Loki didn't want
to know. Ragged clothes hung off his emaciated frame. But worse than all of this were his eyes. They were
so full of despair and pain that it nearly made the small boy choke.
And they were locked on the trophy. "Come on, let's GO !!" Kenny shrieked into his ear.
But Loki was frozen to the ground, caught in a staring match with the pipe man.
The invalid's eyes flashed from the trophy to Loki's face. Finally realizing what the boys meant to do, the sick
man let out an anguished cry and stretched his enfeebled arms towards the trophy like it held the last vestiges of
his happiness in it's golden cup. A word that sounded almost like "Please..." escaped his lips, and his eyes
begged Loki not to take it, the last remnant of a forgotten, happy past.
Taking the incentive himself, Kenny suddenly snatched the luminous trophy from Loki's hands and sprinted
out of the pipe like a Bandersnatch. No qualms about morality for him.
Seeing his last material link with the past spirited away, the man's face fell completely. A bubbling sob burst from
his throat, and with a last despairing glance at Loki, he buried his face in his hands and wept.
Loki looked at the man, weeping on the floor, and a wave of pity and guilt washed over him. If he had knew it was going
to be this way.......
"I'm sorry mister" he said softly. With a final parting look, Loki slunk out of the pipe, leaving the bereft man
alone with his grief.
Kenny was waiting for him outside.
"Just look at it, will ya ?" he said admiringly. "I'll bet it fetches 300 Gil at the Item Shop !! Just think of all
the things we'll be able to bu-- hey, there's something written on it - Loki, what does it say ?"
Loki, the older of the two, had taught himself to read, an ability for which Kenny grudgingly admired him. Squinting
at the shining base of the thing, he painstakingly made out the few lines inscribed.
So that's how the guy had gotten it. He must've come a long way ; Loki had never even heard of Nibelheim. But where
was "Kellie" now ? And how had the man gotten to be in such a state ?
"Huh. Oh well. Let's take it to the shop !!"
As usual, Kenny had no such thoughts about the man's past. Loki was sure that if he looked closely, he'd see Gil signs
flash in the other boy's eyes. With a sigh, he let Kenny drag him through the dusty streets to the Item Shop, a
shoddy little room on the same duplex as the Materia Store.
The woman who ran the Item Shop Loki disliked even more than Kenny's dad, if that were possible. She looked down
her nose at everyone who passed through, as if their wares weren't good enough for her store. When she saw the
two slum boys enter, she made a little "harrumph" sound in the back of her throat and watched
them suspiciously. Her and Loki had had several run-ins before, and she was taking no chances this time.
Kenny was the first to break the awkward silence that developed. "We'd like to trade this for Gil, please" he
said, thumping the trophy down on the counter proudly. " How much it is worth ? 50 Gil ? 100 ? 200 ?"
The woman examined the trophy closely, then let out a caustic laugh. Looking at them
derisively, she said "This is made of scrap metal painted gold. It's worth about One Gil, and
that's from a generous salesperson. Which I am not" she added, glaring daggers at them
both. "Now get out of my store, and take this paperweight with you."
Loki couldn't believe it. After all that......after dealing with the man in the pipe......sighing dejectedly, Loki
followed Kenny out the door and into the alleyway.
Now that his plan had failed in ignoble shame, Kenny made himself scare. Mumbling some excuse about
getting home before dinner, he scuttled off into the shadows, leaving Loki to his own black thoughts.
Kicking at the rubbish that littered the paths, Loki made his way back towards his brother's small dwelling.So busy was
he shoegazing that he didn't notice the two blue suited figures until he had run smack-dab into one, losing his balance
from the impact and falling into the grit of the road at their feet.
"Whoa there ! Better watch where you're going, else you'll wear your head as smooth as my friend here."
The man who had spoken, a tall red-headed fellow, lifted Loki by the collar of his shirt and set him on
his feet. Looking up, Loki realized just whom he had headbutted.
Cold terror gripped at his senses. The stories told in the slums of Reno and Rude's exploits were enough to chill
anyone's blood, let alone a very small boy. Seeing how scared the young boy was, the other guy, a bald headed man who
wore sunglasses even in the dimness of the alleyway, allowed himself a small smile.
"Awwwww, leave 'em alone, Reno. He's just a kid, after all."
The red-haired man chuckled."Guess you're right. We can't be dilly-dallying with a street urchin
anyway, we've got that job to do." Turning back to Loki, he grinned and threw something
at his feet. "Here kid, go keep yourself out of trouble. And watch where you're going next time !" Reno yelled
over his shoulder as the two men continued their purposeful walk up the alley. Soon they were out of sight, the
nly indication that they'd been there the tracks in the dust and the shining thing that Reno had thrown at his shoes.
Carefully, Loki picked it up, and went numb from the elbow when he saw what it was.
He couldn't believe it.Reno, the famed Turk, the guy who went through people with his Electro-Rod like a hot knife
through butter -- Reno had just given him 25 Gil. More than enough to buy a Materia.Whooping like a banshee, Loki sprinted
off through the alleyways towards home.He didn't know about Kenny, but he knew what wanted to be when he grew up.
Loki was gonna be a Turk.
Panting, Loki burst through the door of the tiny shack he shared with his brother and trotted purposefully up the
stairs to his room. Tom was nowhere to be seen ; the house was dark and silent.
When he got to his room, Loki sat on the bed and thought of a plan of action. He'd hide the money in the secret drawer
in between the bottom shelf and top shelf in his dresser. When morning came and the Materia Shop opened, he'd be
waiting. He'd buy a Materia, learn how to use it, and then, soon, he'd leave this dump, for good. He'd be a world
traveller, get a lot of money, and then they'd HAVE to hire him as a Turk. He'd be famous, people would admire
him......his brother would never beat him again. He'd show him. He'd show them all. Loki's imagination went
He could go to that pub advertised on the flyer he'd ripped down and pinned to his wall, the pub in Wutai. Just
saying the name made him think of faraway lands and endless adventure. With all of these
thoughts buzzing in his head, he drifted off into a blissful slumber.
Morning rolled around, and Loki woke up with the feeling he always had when he awakened to something
good, like Christmas or a birthday. Although there hadn't been many happy holidays since his parents died ; his brother
usually thought a good kick in the ass was the best present the boy could get. "He won't kick me around anymore" was Loki's
grim thought. "Not when I fry his ass with a Fire Materia he won't."
Loki scurried to his dresser and buried his hand in the secret compartment, expecting to feel the cool metal of
the Gil piece press against his palm. Instead, all he felt was wood paneling and dust.
Trying not to panic, Loki felt around some more.
No Gil piece.
Okay, NOW was the time to panic. Scurrying downstairs, he found Tom sprawled out on their shabby couch. Beer
cans littered the floor, and as usual, the news was blaring away on the television set.
Seeing that his big brother looked more or less sober, he asked him if he'd borrowed any money from the dresser.
"You think that if I had I'd I'd tell you ?" Tom sneered "But there WAS a guy who came up to your room earlier. I didn't
feel like stoppin' him ; he looked pretty tough. Weird lookin' as hell, that guy. Spiky blond hair, and the biggest
freaking sword I've ever seen.Maybe you should ask him if he took it, eh ? Although I'm sure he's
halfway to Sector Seven by now." With another scornful laugh, Tom directed his attention back to the television set.
Loki felt like one of the Plates had crashed down on his spirit. Now he'd never get his Materia. Obviously that big guy
had thought nothing of taking a little kid's stash, although how he found the hiding place was beyond Loki's reasoning. He
remembered how bereft the man in the pipe had looked when Kenny took his trophy ; Loki was sure he must look that
way now. He felt like it, of that he was sure.
Dejectedly, he wandered out of the house and towards the entrance to Sector 5. He'd heard something about
little kids getting paid for stuff in Wall Market, at some guy's club....maybe he'd find a job there. Whatever they
did, it couldn't be that tough, right ?