Keep Smiling: Part One
This is a spin-off story to Infinity, which I highly recommend reading first!
146 Years B.N.
There was never a quiet moment in Central Cavern. The roaring machinery and the bustle of the city would bombard one's sense of hearing at every instant. The idea of trying to find a perfectly silent place in that Moltaran cave was quite humorous to anyone that's spent any amount of time in it.
Yet, even among the plethora of sounds around him, Lumin heard something in particular that caught his attention.
He abruptly stopped in place and swiveled his head around. The white Buzz tried to find the source of the sound, but to no avail. The crowd in the center of the city was just too thick. He had gotten used to the mixture of different colors and species over the years and it wasn't so disorienting to him anymore. But the task of trying to pick out a certain Neopet from the crowd was still incredibly difficult.
For a moment, Lumin thought it might have just been his imagination. But he immediately rejected that notion. He knew what he heard. It reminded him of days long past and things he thought he would never have again.
Lumin heard the sound of a string of chains clattering together.
Desperately, Lumin tried to find where it came from. He pushed through the mass of Neopets, apologizing to each one as he went. Lumin was never a forceful person, but he had to locate the sound before it slipped away. The sound became clearer and clearer to Lumin until it was practically in his ear holes.
The source wasn't exactly what he hoped to find. He was looking for a glowing Buzz. He found a Buzz alright, but this one was blue. Lumin's intuition was still right, though. With her small stature, braided black hair, bronze armor, and the chains attached to her belt, it was unmistakable who she was. "Lampyri!"
Lumin thought that shouting her name, especially in his voice, would immediately get Lampyri to notice him. Yet, she kept walking, not even moving her eyes in his direction. No reaction, no reply, nothing. She just a stare directed in a straight line and an aimless movement through the city.
Lumin shot a curious look at her. Was I mistaken? But no, he couldn't have. Lumin used to be a king and Lampyri was one of his Royal Guards. He would never forget her face, whether she was glowing or not.
This time, Lumin ran directly in front of Lampyri. When faced with an obstacle right in her way, Lampyri had no choice but to stop. Lumin got the chance to look directly into her face. It was vacant, empty of expression. Her mind appeared to be elsewhere, deeply absorbed in something else as she was blind and deaf to her surroundings.
"Lampyri! Is that you?!" Lumin once again shouted, hoping that she would be able to hear him.
Even though Lampyri's line of sight was at Lumin, it took her a considerable amount of time to make a response. She blinked. And then the life seemed to return to her face as she snapped out of her daze and recognized who was in front of her. "...Sire?"
Lumin knew Lampyri as a firm and unrelenting optimist. No matter what, he never saw Lampyri face a situation and completely lose sight of hope. But when the former king nodded, confirming to Lampyri who he was, Lumin saw that something was clearly wrong. Lampyri smiled, but she had to force it. When she smiled, it gave whoever saw it a reassuring sense that everything would be alright in the end. Now it seemed like a hollow imitation of what it used to be.
"You're okay... I knew it... I knew you had to be alive! This... This is wonderful..." Lampyri muttered under her breath. Then for no rhyme or reason, a monotonous laugh began to make its way out of her mouth.
With each passing second, Lumin became even more disturbed by what he was seeing. But if he was going to do anything about it, he needed answers first. "What happened? What are you doing here? Where are the others?"
Lampyri stopped laughing and replied, "They're all back in the City of Lights. I..."
All of a sudden, she was completely silent. There was a long, almost unbearable pause. The longer the pause went on, the closer Lampyri's smile came to completely shattering.
"...I came to find help."
* * *
Lampyri had been feeling tired lately. And yet, no matter how much she slept, she never felt any better.
Lumin insisted to Lampyri that she get some rest before doing anything else. It sounded like a good idea to her; she had been traveling for days and was exhausted. Lumin told her that he lived in an apartment not too far away and that he would be glad to let her use one of the three bedrooms for as long as she needed.
He said that a day ago. Or was it two days? Lampyri couldn't quite tell. It didn't matter; it had been a long time and Lampyri hadn't left the room since she entered it.
Every few hours she would wake up. Sometimes she would take the time to eat some of the food she brought with her, but usually she would just fall back asleep.
Then she would be met with the same thing that greeted her whenever she closed her eyes. Lampyri would see The Engineer, standing in black void and silently mocking her over the fact that even her dreams couldn't provide an escape. Lampyri could try to run, but it was no use. The red Acara was always right there, not having to take a single step to remain within a few feet of Lampyri. The Engineer would approach Lampyri and extend her left hand towards her, resting it on the blue Buzz's forehead. The last thing Lampyri would see before the eruption of pain spread throughout her entire body was The Engineer's wide, savage grin.
A scream rang within Lampyri's room. As she forced her eyes open and swiftly sat up in bed, she quickly realized it was her own. Lampyri gasped for air, trying to pacify her shuddering body.
Lampyri kept the lanterns lit when she slept. She hadn't been a glowing Buzz for three years now and no longer possessed the luxury of having a natural light to keep her calm in the dark. The light coming from the lanterns also allowed her to quickly look herself over once she recovered from the shock.
Lampyri inspected every limb and all the extremities attached to them. Her hands then went up to her face, feeling all of the ordinary Buzz features. She flapped her wings a few times to reassure herself that she still had them.
But somehow, that wasn't enough proof for her. Lampyri had to stand up out of the bed and rush over the mirror on the wall just to confirm that she was still a Buzz. When she saw that she was, she calmed down a little. Not entirely, though. She couldn't remain at ease for any length of time knowing that what she saw in the mirror could change at any moment.
Sleeping never made her feel better. More often than not, it just made her feel worse.
Everything that had been going wrong in Lampyri's life could all be traced back to The Engineer. Lampyri and Lumin came from the City of Lights, a kingdom where every citizen –called the Fireflies- was a glowing Buzz and proud of it. The Engineer knew that, which was why she used her ability to transform any living thing to change the colors of all the Fireflies three years ago. And she did it in such a way that she was able to make it appear that Lumin shared part of the blame for what happened to them.
A rebellion ended up coming out of that. The last time Lampyri saw Lumin was when she helped him escape the City of Lights during an invasion of the palace. She remembered asking Lumin before he left to come back once things got better.
Lampyri heard a knock at her door, interrupting her thoughts. Someone said from behind it, "Are you alright?" Lampyri didn't recognize the voice. It wasn't Lumin, Lampyri could tell that much – the voice sounded far too young to be him.
Out of instinct, Lampyri grabbed the coil of chains sitting on her bed-stand. She faced the door defensively and barked, "Who's there?!"
The voice was taken aback by Lampyri's harsh response and faltered, "Err, I live in the room next to yours. I heard screaming, so I thought something was wrong..."
Lampyri's posture became less tense, but she was still on edge. She narrowed her eyes as she walked closer to the door; she didn't open it, instead electing to stay inside the room as she questioned the person on the other side, "How do you know Lumin?"
"...He lives here too," the voice replied, thinking that the answer should have been obvious to Lampyri.
"I mean before that. What's your connection to him?" Lampyri asked again with a touch of impatience.
"None, I guess. I needed a place to live and I heard there was a room open here with reasonable rent and... well, here I am."
Lampyri was silent for a moment. The voice sounded like he was telling the truth, but Lampyri still wasn't entirely willing to trust this total stranger without a little more convincing.
"So yeah... Obviously you're the friend that Lumin was talking about," the voice said with a laugh. When Lampyri didn't return it, he continued, "He told me to tell you that he's in his shop downstairs if you need to talk to him. And you are okay in there, right?"
"I'm fine," Lampyri answered shortly. She was a little puzzled; she didn't realize that Lumin's apartment was above any shop, let alone one that he owned. Throughout the second half of her life, Lumin was the king. During the first half, he was the prince. To Lampyri, hearing about him acting as an ordinary Neopet was... bizarre.
There was a lot Lampyri wanted to know from Lumin and it was likely to be the same vice-versa. Besides, she needed to leave the room at some point. Lampyri took another glance at herself in the mirror. She was far from presentable at that moment. Her gray dress was wrinkled after having slept in it for the past day or so and the spots of dirt on her white gloves were quite noticeable. But she knew that keeping everything she wanted to say pent up within her wasn't going to do her any good, so the sooner she spoke with Lumin, the better. After adjusting her unkempt bangs so that they covered the infinity symbol that was branded on her forehead, Lampyri opened the door.
Standing in front of her was a young-adult spotted Draik. His color was peculiar; most Moltarans other than the Fireflies had colors resembling either earth or fire. Black dots on a yellow body definitely did not fit either of those categories. "Where are you from?"
"Neopia Central. It's up on the surface," the Draik said. He then held out his hand and gave a friendly smile. "I'm Dimitri."
That explained it. He was a surface-dweller. This was a first for Lampyri; she had never met one before. She had heard about them, but most of her knowledge about the surface-dwellers was mostly comprised of rumors, some more obvious than others. Regardless of what she knew –or rather, didn't know- about them, Dimitri seemed pleasant enough. Lampyri extended her own hand towards his.
Right before her hand made contact with Dimitri's, her arm locked up on her. There was no further movement from her hand aside from a sudden tremor. Lampyri closed her eyes.
There she was yet again. All Lampyri could she was The Engineer and her infuriatingly condescending smile. This time, she reached for Lampyri's hand. Then came another painful jolt, spreading from her hand to the rest of her. As it went, it constantly struck at Lampyri's resolve to keep herself from crying out.
With a gasp, Lampyri was returned to reality. She didn't feel any pain and –most of all- The Engineer was gone. More accurately, they were never there in the first place. She looked at Dimitri's hand -which hadn't moved- then to his face -which was filled with bewilderment. It was irrational and she knew it, but Lampyri couldn't shake off the image of The Engineer when she saw someone reach out to her like that.
Lampyri withdrew her hand. "Lampyri. Nice to meet you."
Dimitri's eyes widened, surprised and confused. When he realized that Lampyri wasn't going to shake his hand after all, he moved his arm back to his side and adopted a rather irked expression. "Likewise," he said, a little irritated.
Lampyri saw she clearly got on the Draik's nerves. It wasn't her main concern, though. For right now, she needed to speak with Lumin. Without another word, Lampyri left the apartment, having a lot to say to her former king.
To be continued...