Infinity: Part Eight
Flicker later learned that the Neopets he saw in Granite's office were the foremen of the mines. They were the ones that took orders directly from Granite and used them to keep the business running just the way he wanted it to. Gabbro was the highest-ranked of all the foremen, just one step down from Granite himself.
Gabbro told Flicker what exactly he was training him for. He wanted to build up Flicker's strength so that he'd be able to lift the heavy boxes full of supplies and obsidian that needed transporting around the city. But in addition to that, Gabbro told Flicker that fights between two pets was popular among the higher-ups of the company. They didn't actually take part in the fights, rather they watched them and made bets on who they thought would win. Gabbro said that Flicker would be a participant once he was older and big enough to not get completely destroyed in the ring.
The training regimen he put Flicker on was harsh and unrelenting. Right from the first day he tried to get Flicker to hold heavy weights for long periods of time. Gabbro made it look easy, but for Flicker it was anything but. He failed miserably at every attempt he made, earning him an earful from Gabbro. By the time he went to bed, every inch of his body ached.
Wingen acted fairly distant to Flicker. He didn't train with him nor did he ever give any indication that he was on a training program at all. Flicker would only see him before he went to sleep and in that short time Wingen didn't say a word to him. Instead, Wingen usually read silently to himself before turning in.
About a week passed since he came to live at Mine Headquarters. Gabbro left him to bring ten boxes of mining equipment from one of the storage rooms to the outside of the building for the miners to use the next day. He always complained to Flicker about how slow he was at those sort of jobs. So that time, Flicker hoped that he could avoid being lectured if he carried more than one box at once. But even just one box was heavy enough. Coupled with the exhaustion from the past few days building on him, Flicker struggled to keep moving as he tried to carry such weight.
Eventually, Flicker's body gave in and he collapsed on the ground. The boxes crashed to the ground, sending tools scattering across the floor and down the stairs, breaking a few. Flicker tried to get up, but he didn't have an ounce of strength left in him.
Flicker was left in a daze for a while, only snapped out of it when he heard Gabbro yelling, "Hey! What are you doing?! Get up!" Gabbro ran over to him and snarled when he saw the boxes and broken tools everywhere, "How many boxes were you trying to carry in one trip?! Are you stupid?! These tools aren't cheap, kid!"
Gabbro then grabbed Flicker by the back of his shirt and forced him on his feet. Flicker could hardly keep his feet moving fast enough to keep up with Gabbro as he was dragged along. He brought Flicker to Granite's office where he told him what happened. It was one thing to be yelled at by Gabbro, but it was even worse hearing the same thing from Granite. Flicker cowered in place as he watched the incensed Meerca chew him out and go on about how little worth he was proving to be.
Granite only stopped his tirade once another voice –a much softer one- spoke out, "Sir?"
It was Wingen's voice, but Flicker couldn't find him anywhere in the room. But he flinched at what he did see: A small stack of papers floating in mid-air. Flicker thought for a moment that his exhaustion was making him delirious and that he was starting to hallucinate.
But he realized that wasn't the case when he saw Granite and Gabbro react to the voice as well. Aside from a small expression of surprise, neither of them looked very anxious at all. Instead, Granite crossed his short arms and growled, "Do you have any idea how creepy that is, Wingen? I told you to let it wear off first before seeing me!"
"Sorry," Wingen muttered. Just a few seconds later, he faded into visibility, causing Flicker to jump in place. Wingen, however, just carried on his conversation, "I got the documents you wanted, sir."
"Just set them there," Granite said, pointing to the edge of his desk. As Wingen did as he was told, Granite turned back to Gabbro. "Take him to his room without any food today," He then shot a glare at Flicker. "Don't you dare pull any stunts like that again, you hear?"
After that, Gabbro brought Flicker upstairs and pushed him into his room before slamming the door. He just sat against the wall for a while, staring at the floor until Wingen came in a short time later. Even though the thoughts of being tired and hungry were prominent in Flicker's mind, he still retained his usual curiosity and promptly questioned Wingen, "How did you do that? Y'know... How did just appear out of nowhere?"
"Magic," Wingen said flatly. He didn't elaborate or go into any detail. He just left the subject at that one word and proceeded to go on with his usual silence. That silence lasted for several hours as the two children on opposite sides of the rooms fell asleep.
* * *
No matter how much Flicker tugged and pulled at the bottom of his shirt, he just could not get it to stretch any further. It had been feeling very tight and uncomfortable on him and it was starting to rip in several places. His shoes were falling apart too, as he could see his toes starting to stick out of them.
Flicker became winded after a few more attempts. He was still tired from the previous day, and being on an empty stomach wasn't helping either. Eventually, Flicker got sick of wasting his energy. Frustrated, he pulled his shirt off, kicked off his shoes, and tossed them both aside.
Flicker sat still for a while, starting to nod off. Wingen was getting ready for the day behind him, but Flicker didn't pay him much heed as he tried to get in a few extra minutes of sleep before he had to go downstairs.
But Flicker had no choice but to pay attention when Wingen suddenly started to shout, "...That mark on your back! Where did you get it?!"
Flicker turned around. Wingen was staring at him, his eyes just as wide as they were the day he first met him. His breath was short and Flicker could see that he was shaking nervously a little.
"I dunno. I've always had it," Flicker answered, although reluctantly. He didn't like mentioning the mark on his back much. Some pets would see the mark and immediately try to attack Flicker, if they weren't running away in fear. It was just another thing that Flicker didn't understand about himself and others.
Wingen didn't seem satisfied by Flicker's reply, but he still continued to eye the mark in shock. He started to lean closer to Flicker, showing anxiety in his face. "When you say that you're two years old, do you really mean it? You're not joking?"
"Uh-uh. That's really how old I am."
Wingen sat back up straight. His eyes darted around the room before settling on the floor. He looked down for a while, thinking to himself. Eventually, he took a deep breath and lifted his head back up. "If I tell you something... Do you promise not to hate me for it?"
Flicker was taken aback a bit at his question. He wasn't sure what he meant, but he still said, "Um, okay."
Wingen looked right into Flicker's eyes in a cautious sort of manner, as if he was trying to see if Flicker really meant what he said. But he still didn't seem entirely confident when he started to tell Flicker his secret, "I'm... I'm not really ten years old."
Flicker tilted his head, starting to become very interested. "Then how old are you?"
Wingen bit his lip. "...Forty."
Flicker's eyes widened when Wingen told him his real age. Seeing this, Wingen turned away and crossed his arms, a wave of anger coming over his face. "I know, I know! I don't look it! I age really, really slowly. I'm supposed to be a grown-up, but I still look like a little kid! I don't even feel like a grown-up! I mean, I don't know what that's supposed to feel like in the first place... But I would think that I would know it!"
After he calmed down, he walked up to Flicker as he started to roll up his sleeve. Wingen showed his forearm to Flicker, revealing the same mark that he had on his back. "I thought that since you age fast and have the same mark as I do, that I might get some answers. But I guess not..."
Wingen backed up from Flicker and sat down. Flicker didn't know what to say; he thought for the longest time that he was completely alone without anyone he could relate to. But Wingen wasn't at such a loss for words, as he begun to vent to Flicker, "I don't usually tell people what my problem is. Whenever I do, they call me a, 'monster' and tell me that I shouldn't exist. I spent a long time going from home to home, hoping that somebody would like me even though I'm a monster. But after a few years they would figure out that something's wrong with me and say the same exact things everyone else before them did."
Wingen pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. He lowered his head again, but kept it up just enough so that Flicker could see his eyes, filled with bitterness and anger. "Eventually, I just gave up. I met Granite and he told me that if I spied and stole from his competition so that they would go under and everyone would have to buy obsidian from him, he'd give me a place to live. He and the foremen know about my problem. They call me names a lot, but I don't pay much attention to them anymore. They're all awful people and they're miserable to work for. But no one else would let me stay around for so long, so it's not like I have a whole lot of options."
Flicker listened to Wingen intently, his entire attention on what he was saying. Wingen's words were so... familiar. They were familiar in the sense that Flicker almost felt like he was listening to his own story rather than Wingen's. But he also saw something else that was familiar. Looking closer into his eyes, Flicker recognized the loneliness mixed in with all the other emotions. It was the same loneliness that Flicker felt immersed in every time he was kicked out and left to fend for himself.
Wingen hadn't paid much attention to him ever since they met and Flicker hadn't made any serious attempts to rectify that. But an idea was starting to form in his head. They were so much alike. Flicker began to think about befriending him. If he did that, not only would Flicker not feel so alone, but perhaps Wingen won't either.
But that notion was dispelled quickly. The thought about being friends with Wingen was eliminated once he got the idea to go higher than that. "Hey! Let's be brothers!"
Wingen lifted his head and looked at Flicker like he suddenly sprouted another head. "'Brothers?' We're not related."
"No. But we're a lot like each other!" Flicker countered.
"We're the opposite of each other..." Wingen gave a humorless laugh.
Flicker shook his head. "I got kicked out of all my homes. Everyone thinks I'm a monster, and Granite and the foremen are mean to me too. See? We really have a lot in common!" For the first time in a while, Flicker became excited in his manner of speech.
But it didn't seem to do much to convince Wingen. He stood up, frowning at Flicker like what he was suggesting was absolutely impossible. "We can't be brothers! You say all this now, but in a few years you're gonna be like everyone else and want nothing to do with me! That's why I don't get close to anybody anymore! Because when I do, it hurts a lot more when they end up rejecting me!"
While Wingen was becoming adamant that they shouldn't have anything to do with one another, Flicker was becoming adamant that they should. "I won't do that! I promise!"
Wingen's eyes widened, his doubts starting to falter. But he shook his head, and as if he was trying to dig in his head for reasons that he wasn't deserving of Flicker's offer, he stammered, "I-I'm thirty-eight years older than you! And I'm still a kid! I'm a freak! Doesn't... Doesn't that bother you?"
"Nope. 'Cause I'm a freak too," Flicker said simply. He then smiled, not relenting in his insistence in the slightest. "C'mon! Let's be brothers so that neither of us have to be lonely!"
That seemed to silence Wingen. He just stared at Flicker as if he truly couldn't believe what was being said to him. His mouth was hanging slightly open for a while before he closed it. Once he did close his mouth, his lips began to quiver.
Then out of the blue, Wingen burst into tears and leapt at Flicker, throwing his arms around him.
Flicker was stunned at the sudden embrace. It took him a few moments to realize that Wingen was crying into his shoulder. "What... What's wrong?"
"Nothing! It's just that..." Wingen choked up in between sobs, "...No one's ever been this nice to me before!"
Wingen held onto Flicker for a long time. It had been so long since Flicker had been hugged that it felt almost foreign to him now. But after while, he started to realize that the same could probably be said for Wingen.
Eventually, Wingen broke off his hold on Flicker. He wiped away his tears, but still sniffled as he did so. He then looked back at Flicker, showing the first smile that Flicker had ever seen on him. "Okay... Okay! I'll be your brother!"
Flicker grinned in response, joy rushing through him. "You will?! You'll be my Big Brother?!"
"'Big Brother?'" Wingen laughed nervously. "Uh, you do know that I'm not gonna be bigger than you for very long..."
"Yeah, but you're older than me, so you have to be the Big Brother!"
Wingen sighed, "Okay... If you really want to call me that..."
Flicker couldn't stop smiling. He felt relieved knowing that he no longer needed to be alone in the world. Looking at Wingen and seeing how giddy he appeared, it was as if he shared those feelings with Flicker.
Flicker managed to get a grip on the sudden flood of delight running through him just enough to try to satisfy his curiosity again. "Big Brother, what's... 'magic?'"
"Magic? It's... Well, it's kinda like..." Wingen stuttered, showing great difficulty in choosing his words. "Magic is magic, I really don't know how to explain it. Maybe it's better if I show you..."
Wingen's smile grew, showing a considerable amount of excitement and eagerness. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a shiny, silver key. "Watch this!" He then stood up and backed away from Flicker. Wingen held out the key and then all of sudden, a light shaped like a key-hole appeared in the air front of it. Wingen inserted the key and turned it, causing the light to spread and form the outline of a door. He motioned for Flicker to come closer. When he did, his jaw dropped in awe as Wingen opened the door and revealed what was like a miniature dimension. It was mostly a white void, save for a few items sitting just outside the entrance.
"This is an 'Inventory' spell. It lets me store all my stuff in it and I can take it wherever I want. All I need to access it is this key. So I can take a whole bunch of items with me and I never have to worry about them being too heavy to carry!" Wingen explained.
Wingen then reached into the Inventory and grabbed a small bag. He shut the door, causing it to disappear once it closed. He reached into the bag and showed Flicker what looked like gems. But on closer inspection, they looked edible. Flicker wasn't sure if that was actually the truth or if it was just his hunger trying to play tricks on him. But his stomach ended up winning out, prompting Flicker to grab one of the green gems and pop it into his mouth.
"Aah! Flicker, no!" Wingen shouted out, but it was too late by that point.
Flicker chomped down on the gem, easily breaking it into pieces. It was edible. It had a sweet taste to it, like candy. But as he swallowed, a strange feeling came over him. For some reason, Flicker felt the sudden urge to move. He stood up with the intention of just moving a few steps, but within a split second he found himself running straight into the wall. He peeled himself off the wall, teetering back and forth as the room spun around him.
He felt Wingen run up to him and push gently on his shoulders so that he would sit down. "Are you alright?" Wingen asked. Flicker dizzily nodded as he stared at the multiple copies of Wingen he was seeing.
Wingen scratched the back of his head, groaning, "The gem's effects will wear off in a minute. Just stay still 'til then, okay?" He sat back down and held the other gems out for Flicker to see. This time, Flicker was well discouraged from taking any of them, allowing Wingen to clarify, "These gems are how I use most of my magic. They're not really gems, though. They're actually candy. I used to use potions, but the glass bottles broke a lot and they took up a lot of room in my Inventory. But these gems are small and easy to use, and they work just as well as the potions did."
Once Flicker's vision was able to focus again, he noticed that the gems weren't all the same color. In addition to the green kind that he just ate, there were yellow, purple, black, and blue ones as well. Wingen pointed each individual color out and began to elaborate, "Obviously, the green one makes you move faster. The yellow ones make you invisible. That was what I used yesterday to get those documents from Granite's competition. Both the green and yellow gems only last for a few minutes, so I have to be careful how I use them."
"These purple gems heal you a little bit. I'm not that good at healing magic, but I'm good enough to heal minor wounds and tiredness. Here," Wingen tossed a few purple gems to Flicker. "Go ahead and eat those. It might take a bit of the soreness from running into that wall away."
As Flicker munched on the gems and immediately noticed that some of his weariness was being lifted away, Wingen continued, "I don't use the black one often, but it's handy to have. These create a smokescreen so that you can confuse anyone trying to attack you. 'Course, it confuses whoever uses it too. So I usually don't make many of these. But this one..." Wingen then picked up a blue gem, holding it up as he gave a wide smile. "This one is my favorite! When you eat it, a magic shield will form right out of your hand! It doesn't have a time limit, although it will break after it takes enough damage. But it can take a lot of stress before that happens! It's really useful and it's helped me out a ton of times!"
Flicker listened to all of what Wingen had to say with great interest. He spent the entire time before he had to go downstairs for training asking more questions and receiving answers from Wingen. Wingen seemed flattered to get the chance to go into detail about his knowledge over magic and was enthusiastic in his explanations. Flicker might not have really absorbed a lot of the information and much of it went over his head, but it was still fun in a way to hear about all these things he previously had no idea about.
* * *
After Flicker had finished training for the day and had almost no energy to make it back to his room, he found Wingen waiting for him. Wingen helped him up the stairs, taking great care to keep Flicker from collapsing again. When they got into their room, Flicker asked more questions, this time of general subjects. That was something that Flicker did a lot with Wingen, becoming something of a routine. And Wingen never hesitated to answer those questions to the best of his ability.
Over time, the training began to feel a lot less strenuous as Flicker gradually became better at it. He was soon able to lift heavy loads with ease and still have enough energy afterwards to stand on his own two feet. The lectures from Granite and Gabbro became less frequent until they disappeared almost entirely. But what felt the most odd to Flicker was that after reducing so many bricks to rubble with his fists alone, he began to... enjoy the sensation somewhat.
Following Granite's orders was still a miserable experience, though. Even as Granite became satisfied with the way Flicker's training was going, he still didn't like the lack of options he had. Because of that, he came so close to giving up hope in other Neopets.
But as the days went on, Flicker and Wingen only grew closer. Flicker still looked forward to walking back to their room together at the end of the day long after he didn't need help up the stairs anymore. He still loved to listen to Wingen's stories about all sorts of things he saw around Moltara and how the world worked. When Flicker felt like he was really having fun spending time with Wingen, he was still able to hold onto the hope that there were good Neopets out there. Even though he hated working for Granite, after a year of loneliness he finally found something to smile about.
* * *
Wingen made sure that Flicker was fast asleep before he got up and left the room. He went downstairs and stood by the door to Granite's office. But he didn't immediately walk inside. He took a moment to exhale deeply, gather his thoughts, and cement in his head exactly how he would word his question.
But before he opened the door, he stopped himself to listen to what was being said inside the room. Granite and Gabbro were inside, having a conversation that Wingen quickly grew interested in.
"Yeah, I noticed it a while ago. I assume it's just some kind of a tattoo," Gabbro said.
"Humph. If that was the case, he wouldn't be getting as big as he is," Granite grumbled.
"...Do you really believe someone like her actually exists? Honestly, I think all these horror stories about her are just that; something that people like to scare others with."
"Oh no, I'm sure she's real. I've heard too many things from other cities all over Moltara about her to have any doubts. And it would explain a lot about that brat and the rest of the Fireflies. Aside from him, no one has seen any Glowing Buzzes ever since the City of Lights locked itself away from outsiders. I'll bet you that they messed with her and are now paying the price for it. Serves them right."
Wingen didn't know what to make of what they were discussing. He knew at least that it had to do with Flicker, but he had eavesdropped too late to figure out who else they were talking about. The conversation was over anyways once Wingen knocked on the door and made his presence known.
"What? What do you want?" Granite roughly asked, already growing tired of having Wingen in the room.
"Um, I was just curious..." Wingen mumbled at first. But he forced himself to speak clearly before Granite lost his patience entirely and sent him out of the room, "How much was the debt you forgave to get Flicker?"
Granite raised his eyebrows. He and Gabbro both looked at each other in confusion. When Granite looked back at Wingen, he did so with a suspicious gleam in his beady eyes. "It was 20,000 Neopoints." He then clenched his teeth and flicked his hand at Wingen. "C'mon kid, don't waste my time with stupid questions like that! Beat it!"
Wingen hastily left the room before Granite got any angrier. But that didn't matter; he got the information he wanted, so he was satisfied. As Wingen ran back upstairs to his and Flicker's room, he made sure to burn the figure Granite gave him into his memory.
To be continued...