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Quarry Life


by blueys45

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145 Years B.N.

      Monazite might have said that the living room was totally silent, but the reality was that it was full of sound: the clock on the wall ticking, the fire in the hearth crackling, the tapping of both her feet against the brick floor and the envelope in her fins against the stone table. It only felt quiet because she was alone in the house, occupying her time by holding her breath while staring at the front door.

      She glanced at the clock. The door would open at any second. Her heart rate was steady for the moment, but it was bound to jump as soon as the doorknob so much as twitched.

      Just as she thought, Agate walked in right on time. The Bori hadn't taken half a step inside before Monazite burst out of her seat and ran to her. “Aggie, Aggie, Aggie!”

      “Good grief, Mona. Deep breaths,” Agate said as she was startled by the Jetsam's sudden presence mere inches away from her. “What's going on?”

      Monazite said nothing, and instead showed Agate the envelope. It was addressed to Monazite and sent from the Central Cavern Town Hall.

      The anxiety in Monazite's face promptly transferred to Agate. “Did you get it?!”

      “I don't know yet; I haven't opened it,” Monazite said.

      “So it must've just got here?”

      “No, no. I've had it for hours. I just couldn't open it alone.”

      “Well let me get inside first!”

      Monazite moved out of the way, allowing Agate to come in. Another sound entered the house: the periodic clacking of the tip of Agate's cane.

      The doctors they met when they arrived in Central Cavern a year ago gave Agate's leg the best treatment possible, but lasting problems were unavoidable. She'd always need a cane to walk, and strenuous physical activity – especially mining – was out of the question. To the latter, Agate responded with an especially dry, “Oh no.”

      Monazite dashed back into her chair and waited for Agate to reach hers. Once the two were seated, they both gazed at the envelope eagerly. Unable to wait any longer, Monazite tore it open and pulled out the document inside. She read aloud, “'We are pleased to inform you that your application for a jewellers' apprenticeship has been accepted-'”

      The last syllable saw Monazite produce a squeal so high-pitched that every Lupe and Gelert in the neighbourhood was bound to complain. She nearly tipped herself over in her clumsy attempt to jump out of her chair, and the letter was tossed above her head.

      “You got it!” Agate exclaimed, a grin spreading across her muzzle.

      “I got it!” Monazite repeated, her excitement causing her voice to rise to such a pitch that she became afraid of straining it if she didn't calm herself soon.

      The letter floated back down to the table; Monazite grabbed it and continued to read, “'Be aware that this apprenticeship supplements – but does not replace – the required courses you are enrolled in for the next term. It is recommended that any necessary schedule changes be requested as soon as possible, so that your responsibilities are optimally balanced.'”

      “Oof. Sounds like busy days are ahead,” Agate remarked.

      “Sure does,” Monazite said with an anxious sigh. She got over it quickly though and fidgeted about as her smile grew. “Ooh, but I'm so excited! It's what I've always dreamed of!”

      Indeed, the past year served as quite the shock to Monazite, going from gruelling physical labour to such long hours in the library that the vast contents of the textbooks would be seared into her eyeballs. Frazer was certainly right that it wasn't going to be easy. But all her effort finally allowed her to climb that step she thought was insurmountable for so long. The apprenticeship wasn't the final objective, of course. But it did mean that her dream of becoming a jeweller came much closer to being reality.

      “We ought to celebrate! How about we check out that Shenkuuvian place around the corner? I've been dying to try some purplum buns!” Monazite declared. It was funny that not so long ago her world was confined to one little cave. But once they moved to Central Cavern and met many surface-dwellers, it became infinitely bigger.

      “I really hope you don't have your heart set on today. I've got an exam coming up and a ton of studying to do,” Agate told her.

      “After your exam then. That way we'll both have something to celebrate!” Monazite replied with unwavering cheeriness.

      Agate chuckled, “Sometimes I think you have more confidence in me than I have confidence in me.”

      “Oh, there's no need to be like that. I'm sure you'll do great!” Monazite responded.

      Agate didn't hesitate much over the idea of enrolling in the Journalism program. But she admitted to Monazite recently that the Jetsam, “had a more academic mind” than she did. Agate's progress toward her ultimate goal was steady and gradual, and not accelerated like Monazite's. She was still determined, though, and wasn't about to squander the opportunity, as she once put it herself.

      But although Agate found the process more difficult, she never seemed unhappy about it. And Monazite knew for sure that she wasn't putting up a facade for her sake. She could tell because although the bags under Agate's eyes hadn't fully disappeared, they were nowhere near as bad as they used to be.

      “Well, not if I keep putting it off,” Agate stated. She gathered up her books and notes and turned towards the desk in the corner. “I better get started.”

      Monazite nodded in understanding. She felt like she still had a million words to say – none of them particularly coherent – but made herself remain silent so that Agate could concentrate. She did so with ease, as she was content to bask in the warm feeling that merely holding the letter gave her.

      “Oh, that's just wonderful.”

      There was a tiny click that proceeded Agate's irate comment. Curious, Monazite turned around and asked, “What's the matter?”

      “This lamp is busted,” Agate moaned, gesturing to the gas lamp on the desk. It was only a cheap one they bought when they first moved in, so Agate hardly mourned it. “Well, whatever. I think we still have plenty of candles.”

      “I heard there's a light shop nearby that's run by Fireflies. How about I run over there and pick one up? There's no lamp better than a Firefly-made one, after all,” Monazite offered.

      “There's also none more expensive,” Agate laughed shortly. The Neopoints they got from the red beryl was a substantial amount, but it wouldn't last forever. It would likely keep them comfortable until their careers were solidified, but until then they decided to remain mostly frugal.

      But after a bit of thought, Agate conceded and said, “Aah, I think we could use something nice for once. You've got an eye for that sort of thing, so pick out a real good one.”

      With a big grin, Monazite eagerly left the house and headed on her way. She heard plenty of good talk about the light shop, but had never checked it out for herself. She had to stop and think to remember the directions. If she recalled correctly, it was straight across from Town Hall and up a long flight of stairs over a large vault.

     

* * *

      Monazite expected to be met with a blinding burst of light upon entering the shop. But to her surprise, it was mostly dark. What lights were on were dimmed low, so that they appeared as glittering points against a shadowy backdrop. It was mesmerizing; Monazite might not have moved at all if she didn't remember how rude it'd be for her to block the threshold.

      The shopkeeper – Monazite believed she heard once that his name was Lumin – sat at the front counter, working some documents. The small, white Buzz glanced up once he noticed Monazite, and said in a soft-spoken tone, “Welcome. Can I help you with anything?”

      Monazite nodded politely and said, “Hi. I'm looking for gas lamps?”

      “They're down in the back. Let me know if you need anything else.”

      “Okay, thank you.”

      Monazite took her time walking down the aisle. When she reached the end, she continued to examine the fine details on the lamps. On many, the glass was blown into beautiful, intricate shapes and stained in a spectrum of colours. They reminded her of gemstones, some of which were even modelled after them.

      The front door abruptly opened to let in heavy footsteps. It jumped Monazite for a moment, but she was too absorbed in the lamps to turn around. However, when a loud, deep voice added to the noise and caused the glass to shudder, it was hard to not pay attention.

      “Hey Papa, what's this box over here for?”

      Lumin spoke up, “Oh, that's some scrap metal that one of the light-makers wanted someone to take off their hands, and I was wondering if it's anything Dimitri could use. It's a bit heavy for me; could you take it upstairs with you, please?”

      “Sure, no problem. I'm gonna go look around the city afterwards.”

      “Thank you, Flicker; I appreciate it. And have fun.”

      Monazite spun around. “Flicker?”

      There at the front of the store was the gigantic glowing Buzz. He wasn't quite what Monazite remembered; he looked older – like an adult now – and was somehow even bigger than before. There was no longer a sense of resignation in his face, nor any sort of surliness. Instead, there was ease and contentedness. Perhaps not totally and completely, but there was a noticeable improvement, nonetheless. All in all, it was undoubtedly Flicker.

      Flicker heard Monazite blurt out his name, and turned to face her. There was a flash of recognition in his widened eyes, but it quickly slipped away. He stared at Monazite, repeatedly looking her over for what felt like a long time. Eventually, he asked, “Do I know you?”

      Monazite tried to think of what to say but came up blank.

      “I don't have a very good memory, but you kinda look familiar,” Flicker continued.

      She still couldn't figure out how to respond. The first thing her mind focused on was how there was a – metaphorical – brightness in Flicker's face that was absent the last time she saw him. But when she remembered the circumstances behind their last meeting, she remembered everything that led up to it. Suddenly, memories full of nothing but misery bombarded her. It was as if Obsidian Quarry somehow materialized in that tiny shop.

      Monazite forced those awful thoughts away, and her mind pushed them back down any time they tried to resurface. Then, she gathered her words and gave her answer, “I'm sure we've run into each other in town.”

      Flicker furrowed his brows in confusion; that certainly was not the response he expected. “I guess...” He briefly scratched his head, then dropped the conversation. Without much effort, Flicker picked up the box he mentioned and left the store. Just before he closed the door behind him, Monazite heard him mutter, “I coulda sworn...”

      It took Monazite a few seconds to find the ability to move again. She was left with little desire to linger in the store. So she picked out a relatively simple lamp and headed to the front desk.

      She paid her Neopoints while Lumin marked down the lamp in his records. While he did so, Lumin – who listened to the short conversation curiously – watched Monazite keenly. When he was done, instead of wishing her a good day and hoping for her return, he simply said, “You've met my son.” A statement, not a question.

      Monazite sighed and admitted, “I used to live in Obsidian Quarry. I met him briefly about a year ago, just before me and my friend left. He seems a lot happier now, so I didn't want to remind him of... all that.”

      Lumin listened intently, then gave a small nod. “He talks very little about his time there. When he does, it's only in small pieces.”

      It sounded very familiar to Monazite, largely because that was how she and Agate treated the subject. But instead of saying as much, Monazite forced a smile and stated, “Well, I guess if things turned out alright in the end, it's better to focus on that instead of something that can't be changed.”

      “I suppose. But...” Lumin trailed off. After some thought, he continued, “Some memories are best kept by only their owner. But for others, a listening ear – if available – can do a lot of good.”

      Monazite absently nodded, contemplating what Lumin said. She had the feeling they weren't talking entirely about Flicker anymore.

      Monazite exchanged farewell pleasantries, then left. She was deep in thought and reflection on her way home, and was in the same state of mind when she arrived.

     

* * *

      The most Monazite heard about Obsidian Quarry since her and Agate left was an article published a few weeks ago concerning a miner's revolt that somehow spilt over into Central Cavern. Monazite didn't read it. Agate did, but only because her studies wouldn't allow her to ignore current events. Although from what Agate said to Monazite about it, it was filled with so many bizarre details that both of them seriously wondered if it was a factual article or somebody's work of fiction. But the basic gist of it all was that Granite and Gabbro had gone missing, while all of the foremen were driven out of Obsidian Quarry. And that there would be new management that would treat the workers far better than before.

      At some point between then and the present, Cinnabar either found their address or someone that would act as a proxy, and sent them a package that arrived a week ago. It was Monazite's old gemstone book, along with a note that read:

      After you guys left and people realized you weren't coming back, a bunch of foremen came and ransacked your house. I snuck in before that and managed to save this, at least. I'm pretty certain it's something important to Monazite. Or at least I think it is.

      Also, I never got the chance to thank Agate for saving me back then. So, thanks. And I get now why she was always bugging me about overworking myself in the quarries. I'm back in school now and it's super boring, but it sure beats the mines.

      When Monazite first read it and showed it to Agate, they smiled brightly and were filled with happiness and relief. Then, Monazite stored it away, out of her usual sight. But after returning home, she pulled it out and looked it over again as she sat in her room on the edge of her bed.

      In the beginning, the idea of moving on and starting a new life to Monazite meant pursuing her dreams without being constrained by the past. But she had come to the realization that she was instead starting to treat the past as if it never existed. After the meeting in the light shop, she was no longer certain if that was the best approach.

      Agate found some time for a break from her studies and tapped her cane against the threshold as she stood in it. “At the risk of sounded spoiled, I'm surprised you didn't pick out a more extravagant lamp.”

      Monazite broke her focus on the note and her own thoughts, and said, “Yeah, my head was kind of in a different world.”

      Agate spent a couple of seconds reading Monazite before she asked quietly, “And what world would that be?”

      Monazite told her. Agate came in and sat next to her while she recalled what happened in the light shop.

      “Thinking about it now, I should've thanked Flicker instead of lying to him. I don't know what our lives would be like now if it wasn't for what he did for us,” Monazite sighed.

      “Both times,” Agate agreed as she gingerly adjusted her bad leg.

      Monazite lifted her head and stared at the ceiling, focusing on nothing in particular. “I think the shopkeeper's right. I don't think not talking about Obsidian Quarry is doing us much good.”

      There were still times when Monazite felt like she was dragging her feet, as if that shadowy creature she used to imagine returned to grasp at them. She could ignore it, and it would usually go away after a while. But her steps felt heavier with each successive time that it came back. Monazite truly began to wonder: How much longer could she pretend that there were no problems before she could no longer move at all?

      “I mean, I'm always here if you need to vent,” Agate offered. It was much appreciated, as Monazite smiled warmly in response. But before she could extend the same sentiment, Agate continued, “I don't know if I'm ready to do much talking of my own, though.”

      Monazite understood and knew that she couldn't force Agate to talk if she wasn't willing. Yet, an idea came to her, and she levelled her head as she mulled it over. It was at least worth putting on the table. “What if instead of a listening ear, it could be a reading eye?”

      Agate lifted an eyebrow. “Like a memoir?”

      “Right! I'm no good at writing, but I bet you could write something great. Besides, it's not like you have to publish it, if you don't want other people reading it.”

      But Agate still seemed unsure. “That's not a bad idea or anything, Mona. It's just that...” Agate groaned as she hesitated. “It's not the speaking part that bothers me. There's just a lot to unpack, and I'm not sure right now if I really want to be expressing my thoughts.”

      Monazite took another stretch of time to think, then came up with something else. “Would it be okay if I gave you my thoughts instead?”

      Agate said nothing, but her curiosity was piqued.

      “Like I said, you're a much better writer than I am. If I told you what I remember and how I felt, would you be alright with putting pen to parchment?” Monazite further asked.

      That time, Agate considered the proposal with less doubt. She leaned back, propped herself up with her arms. “In other words, you're asking me to be your ghostwriter.”

      “Sure. But... only if you're not uncomfortable with it. And if you think it could help you too,” Monazite said as she started to become a bit bashful.

      “It'd be a heck of an undertaking, though. With how busy both of us are about to be, I have no idea when I'd be able to get to it.”

      “It doesn't have to be done all at once. It could be little by little; however long it takes.”

      The two friends looked at one another, their smiles matching one another as they grew in size and warmth. Monazite suspected that Agate had made her decision, and confirmed it when she said, “Sounds good to me.”

     

* * *

      Many of the miners that worked in the old Obsidian Quarry carried deep scars from their experiences, be they physical or emotional. It is thought that the most extensive memoir written by an Obsidian Quarry miner – discovered several decades after it was written and published posthumously – was originally penned as a coping method for the author.

      Such memoirs provide another important purpose: They allow readers in the future a valuable look at how harmful practices were viewed by those that suffered from them. This ensures that not only are such actions prevented from being lost to history or corruption, but that those in the present can better see to it that Moltara's current miners are treated well, fair, and free of hardship.

      The End.

 
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