Infinity: Part Nine
145 Years B.N.
There were two rules among the citizens of Obsidian Quarry. One: Never anger Granite. Two: If one does anger him, one needs to be prepared to constantly look over one's shoulder for the rest of one's life.
The Shadow Lupe sneaking around the alleys learned that the hard way. Most miners at that time were at work, but he decided against going that day. He knew that the instant he set foot in the mines, the foremen would be there to confront him. The Lupe realized that living in Obsidian Quarry was no longer an option for him, so he made the decision to pack up what he could and find his way out.
The congested mass of houses circling Mine Headquarters created a maze that would confuse any foreigner. The locals knew how to get through well enough, though. The Lupe memorized exactly which twists and turns he had to take to reach the closet exit.
He then caught a flash of light out of the corner of his eye. His fur started to stand on end when his ears picked up a low droning behind him, giving him a sense of dread. The Lupe turned his head just enough to see a bit of the green light coming right at him before he dropped his things and broke out into a run. Terror rushed through his mind and he no longer cared where exactly he was heading just so long as he got away.
The sound got louder and louder and the green light got brighter. The chances of the Lupe getting to safety dwindled as light came closer. That chance disappeared completely when a giant claw reached out and slammed the Lupe up against the wall.
The Lupe was immobilized, unable to do anything but to stare in fear at the enormous Glowing Buzz looking down at him. He was as tall as he was muscular, dwarfing the Lupe in size. The Buzz didn't wear much clothing, only a pair of black pants that looked like it was stitched together from all sorts of different cloths and a brass belt. Along with the scowl that the Buzz wore, his short and spiky black hair and the goatee growing between the spikes on his chin only accentuated his thuggish appearance.
Even though the Lupe expended most of his energy just struggling to get free, the Buzz put next to no effort into holding him in place. The Lupe pleaded for the Buzz to let him go, but the Buzz didn't utter a word in response. Instead, his grip on the Lupe only tightened as he took him off the wall and carried him back to Mine Headquarters.
The Lupe soon found himself in a fighting ring in the basement of Mine Headquarters. The Buzz dropped him in the middle of it before he crossed his arms and legs and sat down against the wall. Granite and a few other foremen were also in the room, all of them looking less than impressed at the Lupe.
"You must not be very bright to think that you'd be able to outrun Flicker," Granite chuckled, pointing his thumb at the Buzz. Flicker didn't give much acknowledgement to Granite and just sat there silently. "Then again, my first clue that you don't have much in the way of intelligence was when you thought that you'd be able to worm your way out of paying me back."
The Lupe dropped to his knees and lowered his head to Granite. He shivered as he desperately tried to appeal to Granite. "Please forgive me, Boss! I can't afford to pay you back right now! I don't have any food and my house is falling apart! I promise I'll give you your money, but please give me more time!"
He was close to breaking out in tears, hoping that what he had to say for himself would sway Granite just a little bit. But Granite's face was just as hard and cold as before. "That does sound unfortunate," Granite said flatly without an ounce of sympathy. "But you see, that's just the way life is. The fortunate make the rules and run things, while the unfortunate follow their commands. This isn't a matter of life being hard on you. It's just a matter of you not knowing your place."
Granite paced for a moment, facing away from the Lupe as he sighed, "But... I'll be generous. Just this once." The Lupe's loud heartbeat calmed and his posture became less tense. But that relief was quickly shot down when he saw Granite turn back to him and give him a wicked smile. "I'll put you in a fighting match. If you win against an opponent of my choosing, I'll forget about this whole situation."
Granite and the foremen took their seats outside the ring. Once he sat down, he looked past the Lupe and nodded his head up slightly. The Lupe then heard heavy footsteps behind him, only stopping when Flicker was standing just a few feet away from him. He stood up and spun around, and was met with the sight of Flicker's fist hitting the opposite palm, all while wearing an eager grin.
The Brown Meerca reclined in his seat as he laughed under his breath, "Too bad that your opponent just loves to fight."
* * *
Flicker had been working for Granite for three years. That short amount of time seemed to be all it took for him to turn into a full-grown adult. But three years had barely done anything to change Wingen.
He still looked about the same as he did when he first met Flicker. If one looked hard enough, they would see that he had grown slightly taller. But when it took four years to age the equivalent of one year, it became difficult for anyone that saw Wingen on a regular basis to notice such a thing.
Most people in Obsidian Quarry knew who Wingen was and that he wasn't normal. Some wouldn't allow him near their neighborhoods, but others were cautiously tolerant of him at best. Wingen spent his free time doing odd jobs for those sort of people. Sure, he did a lot of work for Granite, but he didn't get paid for it. But a few Neopets living in Obsidian Quarry agreed to pay Wingen a small sum of Neopoints if he did things like stock shelves or clean their houses. They still kept their distance and would make a thinly-veiled taunt at him every now and then, but Wingen forced himself to bear with it. As long as he got paid for the day, he was willing to take any name hurled at him.
Wingen cracked a smile as he put a handful of Neopoints in his pocket and walked back to Mine Headquarters. It was late in the day, so Wingen went straight to Granite's office to get permission to go back to his room. He knocked on the door, but there was no answer. After a few more knocks, Wingen opened up the door and found that the office was empty. His ears flattened when he realized why that was. I bet he's at the fighting ring...
Granite and the foremen thought the fights they had others perform were entertaining, but Wingen didn't think so. Most of the participants were Neopets that were coerced to fight, which left a bad taste in Wingen's mouth. He didn't watch the fights if he didn't have to, but it seemed that he didn't have much of a choice that time.
Wingen arrived at the fighting ring just in time to see a Lupe tumbling across the room. The Lupe's fur was ragged and dirty, and the Lupe himself could hardly stand back up. Wingen looked at the other side of the room, confirming his suspicions about who the Lupe was facing. Flicker. Wingen groaned. Flicker had grown to find fighting fun as the years went by. It used to really scare Wingen when he would see Flicker jump into the ring with so much gusto. He wasn't as frightened of it anymore, but it still made him uneasy and made sure Flicker knew that.
But this time, Flicker didn't look like he was having that much fun at all. He stood still, barely even looking at the Lupe. His eyes were dull, bored, and uninterested. There wasn't an iota of enthusiasm in his demeanor. When the Lupe ran at Flicker and threw punches and clawed at him, Flicker still didn't budge. The Lupe wasn't hurting Flicker in the slightest, and Wingen thought that both Neopets in the ring knew that.
Wingen could hear the jeers and complaints coming from the foremen. They seemed just as bored over the fight as Flicker was.
"Come on! What kind of fight is this?!"
"Don't just stand there! Do something!"
Eventually, Granite's booming voice shouted out, "Flicker! You're not even trying, you stubborn idiot!"
Flicker didn't act immediately. Instead, he gave a hard glance at Granite before doing anything. Wingen saw Flicker grit his teeth and exhale deeply before reluctantly approaching the Lupe. Wingen quickly turned his back and pulled the rim of his hat over his eyes just as Flicker was about to strike. He heard the Lupe cry out, and Wingen didn't dare to look at him for another few seconds. When Wingen worked up the courage to take a peek back at the ring, he saw the Lupe on the ground again, quivering. It didn't take much to see that the Lupe had given up after that.
Even if the Lupe was still willing to fight, it wouldn't have mattered anyways. "Bah. Well that was a waste of time. Fight's over," Granite growled dully. He then turned to the foremen. "You know where his house is, right? Go and take anything of value."
The foremen gave mischievous laughs and filed out of the basement. They all walked in front of Wingen as they left, obscuring his view of the rest of the room. Right as the last one exited the fighting ring, Flicker happened to look in Wingen's direction. The instant Flicker caught sight of him, his previously sullen expression lit up. "Big Brother!"
Wingen matched Flicker's happy face with a smile and ran over to him. Flicker always acted like he hadn't seen Wingen in weeks whenever he'd come back from working for others. That time was no exception; Flicker was just as thrilled to see Wingen as he always was. In that regard, Flicker hadn't changed a bit.
But amongst his excitement, Flicker held a little bit of discontent in his face as well. "Where do you go all day, Big Brother? It gets really boring when you're not here..."
"I'd like to know that as well," Granite cut in, crossing his arms. Granite often looked at Wingen suspiciously, but it seemed like he was doing that more often as of late.
"Well... I just go out and earn a few spending points for myself, really," Wingen told him.
"...Whatever. You two are dismissed," Granite said before leaving the fighting ring.
Once the door closed behind Granite, Flicker crouched down. Even then Flicker was vastly taller than Wingen, but it was the only way he come close to whispering in his ears. Wingen listened to Flicker's question, then nervously glanced back at the door. He was afraid that Granite would come back in, but he still decided to pull out his key and open up his Inventory anyways. "Make it quick, okay?" Wingen warned, his own voice dropping to a low murmur.
Flicker nodded and didn't waste any time reaching into Wingen's Inventory. He pulled out the bag full of magic gems and ran over to the Lupe. The Lupe trembled as he expected Flicker to strike him again. But instead, Flicker set down a pile of purple healing gems next to the Lupe and ran out of the fighting ring without a word.
* * *
"Really?! Is that true?!"
"Yup. All those little ponds and lakes around Moltara are nothing compared to the oceans on the surface. They're huge! When you compare how much land there is on Neopia to how much area the oceans cover, land doesn't even come close! "
Wonder sparkled in Flicker's eyes when Wingen told him that. The Fire Wocky personally found the idea of bodies of water stretching many miles across and deep utterly terrifying, but Flicker was just amazed. It didn't take much to astonish or impress Flicker in the first place, so that reaction didn't come as a surprise to Wingen anymore. But seeing Flicker in awe over what Wingen knew about Neopia cheered him up on even the worst of days, so he continued to spill the contents of his education and experiences with the world.
Flicker had gotten so big in the past few years that being in their room was a tight fit for him. Granite refused to give him a bigger room and Flicker had stopped growing taller anyways, so there wasn't much they could do about it. Flicker just had to do with squeezing himself into the narrow room as best as he could. As he listened to Wingen's tales, his back was laying against one wall while his feet were touching the other wall.
"Have you ever been to the surface, Big Brother?" Flicker asked. His voice had turned rough and deep as he got older, but Wingen could hear a degree of innocence still present.
"Once. It was a long time ago and it was only for a few minutes, though. But even in that short amount of time I saw just how different the surface is from Moltara!" Wingen replied, starting to get a little excited himself. He saw Flicker stare at him expectantly, silently begging him to continue. By that time, though, Wingen was starting to get tired. "But it would take me a long time to explain it all. I'll start with that tomorrow, alright?"
Flicker moaned in disappointment. "Oh. Okay..." He got over it quickly, though, as he appeared to realize that it was something to look forward to for the next day.
But before Wingen settled himself, he suddenly remembered the fight earlier and that he had questions over it. "Hey Flicker, how come you were being so stubborn in that fight today? You know that just makes Granite get mad at you."
"Yeah, but... I don't like fighting anyone that can't fight back." Flicker sighed and shrugged his shoulders. " I dunno. It just doesn't feel right."
Flicker didn't see it as he shut his eyes to go to sleep, but Wingen gave a smile at what he was just told.
Flicker put himself in a more comfortable position and fell asleep a short time later. But Wingen waited for a long time to be certain that Flicker was sleeping. After a while, Wingen uncurled himself from the corner he usually slept in and opened his Inventory. With Flicker glowing as bright as he did, the light from the Inventory doors wasn't nearly enough to stir him from his slumber. Wingen grabbed the Neopoints that he earned that day from his pocket and added it to the much larger sum he had stored in a bag.
Just a little more...
* * *
Diorite kicked a pebble across the path. The sound of it bouncing along the ground echoed in the air. Obsidian Quarry was quiet at that hour. Not many Neopets had much of a reason to be out at that time. Once the Fire Kougra got back to his house, he didn't plan on setting foot outside of it until his next shift started.
"Some fight that was," Diorite spat facetiously. The foreman shook his head thinking about the sad excuse for a brawl. Flicker was probably the strongest fighter he had seen in a long time. He never expected a fight with him in it to be so boring.
"I find these competitions so amusing," a voice suddenly said. Diorite turned his head to find a Red Acara standing near the mesh fence surrounding Mine Headquarters with her back turned to him. Diorite flinched slightly as he caught sight of her; he could have sworn that he was alone. "I find them amusing because of how ultimately meaningless they are. But then again, the same could be said of many things that Neopets do."
"What on Neopia you talking about? Who are you, anyways?" Diorite asked, thoroughly confused. He had no idea how she knew of the fight earlier. Not many Neopets were allowed in the fighting ring, whether they were spectators or participants. And none of them were Red Acaras.
But the Acara ignored his question. She lifted her head up to the Mine Headquarters towering above them. "The Brown Meerca is the leader of this place, correct?" she spoke directly to Diorite, but still didn't bother to actually look at him.
"Uh... Yeah. That's Granite," he answered. Diorite began to back away from the Acara. She was so calm and her voice was so serene. But there was something about those very qualities that struck Diorite as extremely unnerving.
"Granite, hmm? Hee-hee. He sounds like could be very entertaining," she chuckled to herself.
The thought of leaving the strange Acara be promptly entered his head. He was about to quickly make his way back home before she said anything else to him, but she turned around just at that moment. A sudden, paralyzing fear came over Diorite when the first thing he saw on her face was a grin a mile wide with a sadistic sense of glee.
"But I can't have you spreading the word about that, now can I?"
To be continued...