Mitzia wrinkled her nose as her mother talked to Tomas. Tomas was fat, ugly, and stank of seaweed. He must have been four times Mitzia’s height, as tall as the tents which covered their stands in the market, and even her mother or the humans in the market couldn’t reach to touch it. But Tomas with his stinky green hair, matted more like weeds than hair growing from his deep blue skin, like the color of the deepest part of the ocean at night, blue but nearly black.
“Mitzia!” Annika’s rebuke focused the young Parua’s thoughts back on the conversation happening before her.
“Your uncle Tomas has asked how old you are.”
“I’ve just passed one.” Mitzia shuffled her feet, stuffing her hands into one of the pockets on her belt.
“Ah, aha! Your kind grows fast, no Annika? When I was one I could not yet stand! Oh, what my mother would have given for me to talk and leap like your little one. At that age.”
“I am sure she felt blessed by Padaga regardless.”
“Ah, but my mother was not Sunned! I saw the light of Padaga myself and converted many years ago– I was in the Walled City then. But you must know, as it was last year, your fruit will surely be spoiled what does not sell while you are gone.”
“Of course, Tomas– sell as much as you can I do not expect anything but empty, safe stalls when I return.”
“But of course. My stands are always secure, and I trade in jewels and gold– no one in the City would challenge old Tomas! And if they did?” Mitzia shook her head as the Pitr pointed across to the giant, somewhat rusty falchion which stood beside his stall. She doubted he could use it, though it was the right size to stand in her grasp.
Then they were saying farewells, and her mother began leading the way off into the city. They passed through the rest f the market, the Bazaar she had heard it called. They passed the stands of other fruit vendors, of coffee merchants, of fortune tellers, humans, SIlla Jinn, Parua, and Pitr alike. They passed a group of three Dokkaeibi who danced and japed in the street, then off into the City proper.
Annika led her daughter on silently and fast, pushing the young yearling’s limits to get them outside the city limits before the Sun had set completely. Even here, in the City at the Center the night when Padaga hid his face could be dangerous.
They passed houses, packed close together, some with families pouring out the front. The Sun disappeared and Annika scooped her daughter up, slinging the girl onto her back so that she could move faster as she entered into the wilderness.
Unlike the Walled City, the City at the Center didn’t end abruptly with any wall or fortification, it simple petered out, houses spreading to a slightly larger, some of them with elaborate gardens fueled by water brought in from Padaga only knew where.
Then they were in the desert, and the Sun was gone. A moon and stars hung overhead and Annika shunted her daughter back to the ground, “You can walk dearest?”
“Good, we’ve a long way to go, and when the Burning Sun rises tomorrow. We cannot move during the day.”
“Why, momma? It would be easier?”
“Tradition, child. Tradition. Before Padaga made us giants we hid in the night, hunted by man and beast alike, nothing more than prey to be eaten up by anything that wanted to scoop us up and gobble away.”
“Momma! We aren’t that small!”
“Not now, but once we were. We were so small we could fit inside the palm of even your own hand!” Annika stopped then, pushing her finger to her daughter’s lips, “Shh! Not a word!”
Annika stood perfectly still, listening to the cool night air. She heard a handful of insects chirping off in the distance, then she heard the call, quiet, but distinct, “Ey, ey, ey. . .”