Infinity: Part Seven
Flicker ran down the unfamiliar road without the foggiest clue as to where he was going. He didn't understand much of anything that was going on at that moment. He didn't know why they had to leave the city, why those Fireflies were trying to hurt him, or why he couldn't go with his Papa.
All Flicker knew was that just a short time ago, he and Uncle Infrared fell to the ground after the latter was hit by a big rock. When Flicker got up, he saw that Uncle Infrared had fallen asleep, so he tried to wake him. But nothing worked. He panicked. So he ran.
He had been running for a while and it was starting to wear down on him. Flicker had the hope that if he ran far enough, he'd be able to find Papa and that maybe he could go with him after all. But after traveling all alone for some time, Flicker just wanted to find somebody.
Flicker was close to collapsing in exhaustion when he heard voices coming from in front of him. He looked up to find two pets running in his direction. They weren't Buzzes, but rather a Red Ogrin and Quiggle. Flicker had been told of other species of Neopets besides Buzzes and saw drawings of them in picture books, but up until that point he had never actually met any.
The Ogrin and Quiggle approached them, yelling words that Flicker was too disoriented to understand. They bent down in front of Flicker, still trying to talk to him. Flicker snapped out of his daze just long enough to listen to the Ogrin and make out what he was saying, "Little boy! What happened to you?!"
Flicker became dizzy again as he struggled to stay standing. Eventually, his body couldn't take any more and he fell to the ground. But before he did, managed to mutter just a few words to the Ogrin, "I want my Papa..."
* * *
Flicker woke up in a strange room. It wasn't colorful like his room, but rather the stone walls were dull and drab. There was very little in there barring the bed he was laying in, as opposed to the almost innumerable amount of toys he had back home.
The door to the room was mostly shut, but open just enough for a sliver of light to peer in. Flicker heard two voices outside, one male and one female. He recognized the male voice as the Ogrin's and assumed the female one belonged to the Quiggle. Flicker wasn't scared of the two Neopets, but he was curious. Flicker got out of bed and peeked through the opening. He couldn't see much through only one eye, but he did see the Quiggle sitting at a table talking to the Ogrin.
"There was a coup d'état in the City of Lights. I would imagine that he's a refugee from that," the Ogrin said.
The Quiggle sighed in response, "I heard about that. I also heard that the place is in complete anarchy now. If his parents come looking for him, then we'll have to give him back. But... I just don't feel comfortable sending him back to his city when it's so dangerous there."
The Quiggle happened to glance at the door and spotted Flicker looking at her. "Oh! You're awake!" She got up from her chair, shortly followed by the Ogrin on the other side of the table. They opened the door and went inside, greeting Flicker with warm smiles.
"Are you feeling better?" The Ogrin asked. Flicker nodded. "Good. All you had was a few minor scrapes, but I just wanted to make sure. They seem to be healing fast enough."
As the Ogrin put fresh bandages on the wounds that Flicker still had, the Quiggle put her webbed hands on his shoulders and spoke softly to him, "Do you know where your Mama and Papa are?"
The word, "Mama" was unfamiliar to Flicker. But when they mentioned his Papa, Flicker looked away and stammered, "I-I don't know where my Papa is..."
The Quiggle glanced at the Ogrin. She looked at him questioningly for a moment. He spent a minute silent, deep in thought, before he finally smiled at her. She returned the smile, still wearing it when she faced Flicker again. "Well... Why don't you stay with us, then?"
* * *
Flicker found out that he was in a small village not terribly far from where he collapsed in the tunnel. He didn't get to see much of the City of Lights aside from his room and the halls outside, but even then he could notice the stark differences. There were a lot less Neopets living there, and yet there was a greater variety in species. Their colors weren't all the same like back home, either. He saw pets that were Red, Brown, and even a few that had fiery patterns on their black coats.
It certainly wasn't as colorful and bright, either. Each house had a lantern hanging on the wall, but it was nothing like the sparkling display he saw from the hall window back in the City of Lights. The villager's clothes seemed to blend in with the surroundings: Earthy and dull. All the Fireflies had vibrant patterns on their silken robes, but no such thing could be found on the leather that everybody in the village wore. Their brass buttons and belts might have shone if the light from the lamps hit them just right, but that was just about it.
The Quiggle was trying to put one such leather shirt on him and was growing frustrated in doing so. Flicker had spent three months with the Ogrin and Quiggle. The clothes he wore when he first arrived at the village had long since grew too small for him. The Quiggle had just found out that he was outgrowing his latest set of clothes as well.
She stood back and looked at the clothes she had to force onto Flicker, unsatisfied. His shirt didn't even reach his pants, leaving his stomach exposed. The shoes he wore pinched his toes and he could barely fit his wings out of the small hole cut out from the back of his shirt. He groaned and fidgeted in discomfort, his clothes feeling tight and constricting.
"What am I going to do with you, Flicker?" the Quiggle moaned as she held her hand between her eyes. "You're constantly outgrowing your clothes!"
"Kids have a habit of doing that," the Ogrin gave a dry remark from across the room.
The Quiggle shot him a glare. "Well I know that. But this just doesn't seem normal." She looked back at Flicker and grumbled, "And I don't have anything bigger for you to wear..."
"He's probably just going through a growth spurt. It's not a big deal," the Ogrin tried to assure the Quiggle, in spite of her complaints.
"That means I'm growing really big, right?" Flicker asked cheerfully. The Quiggle might have been put off by his growth, but Flicker was excited by the prospect of getting bigger. He ran over to the threshold to his room and stood himself straight against the door-frame. There was a small, straight line marked on the door-frame to represent Flicker's height when he first came to live with the Ogrin and Quiggle. He grinned at the Quiggle and pointed just above his head, eager to know just how much he had grown.
The Quiggle seemed to be curious as well and easily obliged. She took a pencil and ruler off of the table and told Flicker to stay still. Once she marked his height, Flicker moved out from underneath the ruler to see how tall he was. But when the Quiggle saw the amount, the pencil and ruler fell to the floor. She stared at the door-frame, wide-eyed with her jaw hanging. In between the mark made three months ago and the one she just made was three inches.
Flicker's smile widened when he saw that he had grown taller since the last time he was measured. But when he looked to the Quiggle and Ogrin, they didn't share his enthusiasm. The Ogrin dropped his initial dismissal of the Quiggle's agitation and wore the same confused look when he saw how much Flicker had grew in such a short amount of time. "How... How is that possible?"
Their eyes shifted from the door-frame to Flicker. Flicker's smile faded once he saw how they were looking at him. There was a sense of abhorrence in their faces, staring at Flicker with revulsion. Flicker didn't understand what those feelings were or why he was on the receiving end of them. Confused, he took a few steps towards the Ogrin and Quiggle only for them to back away. They acted like they were scared of him; scared in the way that one would be when facing something simply unnatural.
"Something's wrong... Something's wrong with him..."
"This was a mistake. We shouldn't have taken him in..."
Flicker wanted to ask why they were acting the way they were, but he didn't get that opportunity. The Ogrin took Flicker by the collar of his shirt, dragged him to the front door, and pushed him outside. The door slammed and locked behind him.
Once Flicker was able to get on his feet, he just stood there in shock. It happened so quickly and suddenly. He thought that they were nice people and that they were happy to have him around. He thought that growing so big so quickly would be a good thing and nothing to be mad about. The only word running through his head at that moment was, "Why?"
Flicker ran back to the door and banged his fist on it. "Wait! Let me back in!" His pleas were met with no response. He tried hitting the door harder and yanking on the knob, but still nothing. His eyes started to water as the door refused to open for him. "What did I do?!"
After a while, the realization hit him that he wasn't welcome there anymore. He still didn't understand why, but it soon became inconsequential. Flicker ran away crying, first just away from the house, but soon from the entire village. He went through a tunnel, not the same one that he arrived at the village in, but one leading to a different city. Once again, he was left on his own, hoping that he could find someone that would help him.
It wouldn't the last time that he was rejected by other Neopets.
* * *
148 Years B.N.
Flicker was two years old. But he didn't tell anybody that anymore.
Every time he did, he'd get one of two reactions. If he was lucky, whoever he told his age to would just laugh at him and tell him that he made great jokes. But more frequently, he'd be called names like, "freak," "monster," and the one he heard the most often, "abomination." After that, they would kick him out of their home and either ignore him from that point on or chase him out of the settlement with weapons pointed at him.
That had been the story of his life for the past year. He'd get thrown out of one home, find another, wait a few weeks or months, get thrown out of that home, then repeat over and over. One of his many caretakers was nice enough to tell him before driving him out of their house that growing as fast as he did wasn't normal. He was still a child, although a much bigger one than he was a year ago. But he was told that a two-year-old should still be a toddler, not having the appearance of someone that was eight. He finally did get an answer as to why so many Neopets found him monstrous. There was still so much he didn't understand, though.
Flicker had wound up in a city called Obsidian Quarry. He may not have been a very attentive type, but he was at least able to figure out on his own why it was called that. The entire city revolved around the obsidian mines. Every single family had at least one member that was a miner.
The person he was living with at that time was a miner too. He was a Skunk Scorchio, although he might as well have been Shadow as he'd come home covered in black dust. The Scorchio spent almost twelve hours each day in the mines, leaving Flicker to do the chores around the house. He never brought home very many Neopoints from work, and most of what he did earn went to paying back some kind of a debt. So they had to be careful about how much they spent on food and how much of it they ate each day.
Obsidian Quarry was a big city, but much of it looked very run-down. Many of the houses –like the one Flicker lived in- were made out of extremely cheap material and looked as if they were one minor earthquake away from collapsing. But there was one building that stood out among all the rest, especially considering that it was directly in the center of the city. It was wide enough to cover a large amount of ground and several times taller than the other buildings. It was not only surrounded by the shacks that served as housing for most of the population, but also by several mine tracks and equipment. Flicker would often see many different Neopets hanging around the outside of the building. Those Neopets weren't miners, but they did seem to frequently hassle and intimidate the ones that were.
Flicker asked the Scorchio what the exactly the building was. The Scorchio seemed to grow nervous at the question. He told him that the building was the headquarters of the only mining company in the city. It was also where the Boss of Obsidian Quarry worked and lived. That was all the Scorchio told him at first. Flicker voiced his desire to go to Mine Headquarters to satisfy his lingering curiosity, but the Scorchio abruptly shot that down. He warned Flicker that the Boss would be angry if he found out that someone was trespassing on his property. And the last thing anyone wanted to do was anger the Boss.
With Mine Headquarters officially declared off-limits, Flicker was sent to bed to prepare for another day of tending to the house while the Scorchio was at work. Flicker sat on the edge of his bed for a while before tucking himself in. He had a place to sleep. He was fed, even if sparingly. The Scorchio didn't talk to him much, but he had tolerated his presence for the past couple of weeks. But still, Flicker wasn't... happy.
* * *
Flicker was a light sleeper. The noise in his room easily woke him up, but by the time it did it was still too late for him to do anything about it.
All of a sudden, Flicker felt a blindfold wrap around his eyes. His mouth was gagged, preventing him from screaming for help. He felt someone tie up his hands and feet as well as bind his wings to his back. He wiggled around in a futile effort to escape, even as he was stuffed into a bag and carried off.
He had no idea what was going on or where he was going, but he refused to stay still throughout the whole ordeal. During the entire trip he continued to fight back. Flicker had a lot more stamina than he did a year ago, and was intent on using every last drop of it until he could get away.
Eventually, he heard his captor go through a door and run up a flight of stairs. Flicker heard his voice, and immediately recognized it as the Scorchio's. "I want to speak with Granite." Flicker wanted to be shocked, but the feeling of betrayal had grown so familiar to him that he almost expected it by now.
"Make it quick," another voice answered before opening up a door.
The Scorchio took a few steps inside the room before setting the bag down. Flicker still tried to get out, but he slowed down his frantic movements enough to hear what was going on outside.
He heard a deep, gruff voice in front of him scoff, "This is how you're going to pay back your debt?"
"Y-Yes, Boss," the Scorchio stammered, possessing the same nervousness he had when he told Flicker about the Boss of Obsidian Quarry.
Flicker was then dumped out of the bag. He still squirmed around, but he was finally starting to grow tired. After a few more fruitless attempts, he stopped moving and just listened to what was being said around him.
Granite shouted at the Scorchio, indicating a severe lack of patience, "A Firefly?! What makes you think I want one of those pompous idiots working for me?!"
"Please, sir! This kid grows extremely fast. I don't know what his problem is, but surely he could be useful to you!" the Scorchio begged in desperation. "His name's Flicker. He's been working around my house for the past couple of weeks. He'll do whatever you want!"
Flicker heard Granite let out a heavy sigh. There was silence in the room for a moment, broken when Granite finally groaned, "Fine. Your debt is forgiven. Now get lost!"
"Th-Thank you, sir!" the Scorchio exclaimed before promptly running out of the room.
After the Scorchio left, Flicker's blindfold and gag was taken off. He got the opportunity to look at his surroundings. It was a large, dark-colored office. There were several expensive chairs and sofas, almost all of which were filled by the same Neopets Flicker saw hanging around Mine Headquarters.
One of them stood out to Flicker. Among all the adult Neopets staring at Flicker, there was one child mixed in with them. A small Fire Wocky, he was dressed in a black suit and a top hat that just barely covered all of his curly red-orange hair. Everyone in the room wore a suit, but his looked like it was made out of something other than leather, silk, or fur. It might have looked very fancy and signifying great wealth had it not looked so worn down and old. His clothes had spots with dirt caked on them and several rips and tears all over. He had his head down, but Flicker could tell he was watching him. But once the Wocky noticed that Flicker was looking back at him, he diverted his eyes.
Flicker's attention turned back to who was in front of him. There was a large, unpleasant-looking Brown Meerca glaring at him. He might have been able to look Flicker directly in the eyes had he stood on his feet. But when the Meerca stood on his long, powerful tail, he towered over Flicker and everyone else in the room. The Meerca looked like an older Neopet; the hair on his head that was slightly lighter-colored than his fur was starting to fade and gray.
"How old are you?" Granite asked. Flicker was reluctant to answer and kept quiet, but all that did was annoy Granite. He bent down and roughly grabbed Flicker by the collar of his shirt and yelled, "Out with it, boy!"
"T-Two!" Flicker whimpered.
The entire room exclaimed at his answer. Just from a few glances, Flicker could see them looking at him with either astonishment or distaste. The Wocky looked especially shocked, his wide eyes now looking directly at Flicker.
Granite seemed to be a little repulsed as well, sneering at Flicker, "You really are a freak, aren't you?"
"Do we really want to keep something like that around, Boss?" a voice from behind Granite asked him. It belonged to a Grey Ixi, the only Neopet aside from Granite that wasn't sitting down. His demeanor was no more pleasant than Granite's. His unkempt black hair, his drooping ears, and the red circles around his eyes would have made any one else look downright depressing. But that wasn't the feeling he gave off. Rather, that look somehow seemed to accentuate his distaste for anything he found beneath him.
"I have to admit, I am having second thoughts..." Granite grumbled under his breath. Still grasping his shirt collar, Granite lifted Flicker up in the air even higher as he looked him over. "The brat does seem to have some muscle to him, at least. We could probably use him for heavy lifting and fighting. Do you think you could train him, Gabbro?"
The Ixi snorted, "I'll do what I can, but I can't make any promises."
"Make him strong, but don't waste your time on many fancy techniques," Granite instructed him, receiving a nod from Gabbro. He then brought Flicker back to his eye level. Flicker shivered as Granite glowered at him. "Listen up, kid. I had to forgive a pretty expensive debt just so you could be here. So you will be making yourself useful. You're going to do as your told and never ask questions. You're lower than dirt, so keep that in mind!"
Granite's words made Flicker want to cry in protest, but his harsh tone silenced him and kept him from uttering any sounds. Granite then dropped Flicker back on the ground before barking out, "Wingen!"
The Wocky flinched. "Y-Yes sir?"
"Untie him and take him upstairs. He'll be staying in your room," Granite ordered before turning around and heading back to his desk.
Wingen walked over to Flicker and removed his ropes. Flicker was able to stand on his feet again, but any notions of escaping had been dispelled. As Wingen lead him out of the room, Flicker could feel all the stares directed at him.
Before they left, however, Flicker heard Granite call out to him, "I bet you've been abandoned and betrayed before, haven't you?" Flicker looked behind him slightly to see the Meerca smirk. "Well, you got a permanent home now!"
Flicker grimaced as the room erupted into laughter. It was a hollow victory, if it could even be called that.
Wingen brought him up several flights of stairs. Flicker could have just flown to where Wingen wanted to him to go, since he did manage to teach himself how to fly over the past year through much trial-and-error. But the emotions building up inside him kept him grounded. Every single time he had been treated like a monster, he tried to harden himself so that it wouldn't affect him anymore. But deep down it did. After being compared to dirt, he didn't even try to pretend that it brought his spirits to rock-bottom. Thinking about how things had been lately, he was starting to believe what Granite said about him.
He was eventually brought to a room very much secluded and out of the way of the main hallways. Wingen opened the door, bringing a musty stench to Flicker's nostrils. The room he saw was what was probably a small storage room in the past. It looked awfully cramped, even though there wasn't much in it. There was a single lamp in the room that was dying out and a few blankets strewn on the floor.
"This is our room. We don't get beds, so you'll have to sleep on the floor," Wingen said in a very quiet voice, breaking the silence that he kept throughout the entire trip to the room. He didn't give Flicker eye contact at all as he spoke. The most he looked at Flicker was when he gave him a slight glance after a few more quiet moments. "Are... Are you really just two years old?"
Flicker sniffed and nodded. "How old are you?"
Wingen didn't say another word as he walked into the room and went to where his makeshift bed was. Flicker headed over to one of the corners and curled up in it. The memories were becoming very vague to him, but Flicker tried to comfort himself by thinking about how his life used to be before he left his home. It wasn't working much, as he began to desperately wish that someone would show kindness towards him once again.
To be continued...