Keep Smiling: Part Five
If Lampyri had to sum up the collective emotion of every Neopet that was in the presence of The Engineer with just one word, it would be, "hopeless."
That was a feeling that Lampyri had seen many, many times in the faces of the Fireflies. But that appeared apply to other Moltarans as well. The villagers stopped whatever it was that they were doing and watched The Engineer with complete resignation. None of them dared to step forward in the Korbat's defense; they all knew that there was nothing they could do for him now. Even the Korbat had accepted his fate and ceased struggling as The Engineer grabbed him by the neck and held him in the air.
The Engineer eyed the Korbat for a while. As her right hand gripped the Korbat, she took her left one and lifted the membrane of his wing with her fingers. "You must be proud of those wings," the red Acara said in a voice that sounded so sweet, but yet so rancid. "I wonder what you would do if you were a Neopet that didn't have them?"
The Korbat whimpered and shivered as he saw The Engineer let go of his wing and begin to extend her palm to his head. The villagers either closed their eyes or turned away; some took a step further and covered their ears.
No. She couldn't do it. She couldn't stand by and do nothing.
There was too much anger burning in her at the sight of The Engineer. She could never set aside her hatred for that monster and ignore her. But most of all, Lampyri couldn't bear to listen to another Neopet scream because of The Engineer.
Lampyri noticed that she stood next to a store. Her eyes drifted to the alleyway that was just a step away from her and spotted a few measurement weights waiting to be taken into the building. Lampyri quickly searched for the heaviest one she could find and hooked one end of her string of chains onto it.
The Engineer's focus was on the Korbat. Lampyri took that chance to swing the makeshift flail beside her a few times to accustom herself to the added weight. She carefully adjusted her position and aim so that she had the perfect shot. Then, before The Engineer could touch the Korbat with her palm, Lampyri threw the flail at her.
The Engineer moved her eyes at the flail just in time. The weight could not have been more than a hair's length away from The Engineer's head before she quickly disappeared.
The flail kept going, smashing into the cave wall. It flew in a straight line; Lampyri made sure that it would go in the direction of The Engineer but completely miss the Korbat. As such, the Korbat fell back to the ground, unharmed. Not wasting a moment, the Korbat scrambled away from the scene as fast as he could.
The Engineer reappeared in the spot that she previously stood in. She stared at the deep crater that the flail had made in the rock wall. Her ability to teleport was the primary reason that Lampyri had never heard of anyone being able to successfully attack her. If it hadn't been for that, Lampyri would have seen to her removal a long time ago. Most attacks were futile against The Engineer, and the red Acara knew it. That was why such attempts failed to impress her much.
The Engineer turned her head towards her assailant with an expression that such an attempt wasn't going to go without retaliation. But once she saw that the person on the other side of the village was Lampyri, she blinked in a slight twinge of surprise. And then she smiled in amusement.
Lampyri ground her teeth. She would have loved nothing more than to wipe that smile off of The Engineer's face. Lampyri dashed to the end of her chain and yanked it, pulling the weight out of the wall and back towards The Engineer. The Engineer's guard was up and reacted quickly and accordingly. Lampyri's reflexes were sharp as well, making sure to move out of the flail's way as it shot in her direction.
Once the chain fell to the floor, Lampyri took the weight off of it. Flails were useful in many situations, but Lampyri often preferred maneuverability to sheer power. She ran out into the middle of the cave, keeping an eye out for The Engineer with a tight grip on the chains.
Lampyri was alerted to The Engineer's presence just a few yards to her right when she heard her giggle. The Engineer was a very cheery person; cheery in all the wrong ways. "Where have you been? It's been, oh, about a few weeks now?"
Lampyri answered her question with a snap of her chains. The swift jabbing motion made a small indent in the stone that was behind The Engineer, but it once again failed to do anything to the red Acara herself. The Engineer taunted Lampyri by teleporting in random places around the village. Lampyri made narrow, precise attacks as well as wide sweeps of her chains. But all it accomplished was causing the villagers to flee into their buildings after the rocks on the walls and ceiling began to loosen due to Lampyri missing her target.
"Just give up already," The Engineer groaned at one point, exasperated. The joke of Lampyri's failed attacks was probably starting to wear thin, even though she still wore her amused expression. "You know there's nothing you can do against me."
"Silence!" Lampyri hissed. "I don't take orders from you!"
Lampyri whipped at The Engineer again, producing the same result as always. But her strikes became more furious, as Lampyri tried to ignore that what The Engineer was saying was –thus far- true. But no matter what, Lampyri would not give up.
When The Engineer reappeared, her face wasn't quite as cheerful as before; it was actually slightly annoyed. She lifted her head up slightly while still having her eyes directly on Lampyri. "What a shame," she said quietly.
Lampyri's eyes shot to the ceiling above The Engineer and the stalactites looming overhead. They gave her an idea. She threw her chains at the one directly over The Engineer. Once they had wrapped around the stalactite, Lampyri swiftly pulled the chains downward and sent the rock plummeting towards the Acara.
The Engineer dodged it, but Lampyri wasn't done there. Grabbing the chains with both hands, Lampyri hoisted the stalactite up, swung it in the air and brought it back down at The Engineer as if it was a giant hammer. Even when that didn't work, Lampyri hurled what was left of the crushed rock up at the ceiling.
The stalactite was smashed into small enough pieces at the impact that they were easily avoidable, especially for The Engineer. But the whole cave began to rumble as the chain reaction started. At first, it was just a few moderate-sized chunks of rock that fell down and did not warrant The Engineer's concern. But when The Engineer –who had been putting little effort into evading Lampyri's attacks- noticed an entire section of the ceiling collapsing, her eyes widened a little as the playfulness disappeared from her face.
Dirt and rock cascaded from the roof. Lampyri was forced to back away from it incase even more of the ceiling fell apart. As the debris crashed to the ground, dust was thrust into the air, obscuring Lampyri's vision. Her heart pounded as she waited for the dust to subside. Had she succeeded at last?
When the air cleared and the cave became calm again, Lampyri saw a pile of rocks sitting in the middle of the ground. Aside from a few pebbles rolling off of the pile, there was no movement...
...Until The Engineer appeared yet again.
She had first reappeared and disappeared in a flash, giving her just enough time to get a glimpse of the scene. It was like a precaution, just in case the ceiling was still falling apart. Once The Engineer saw that it was not, she teleported to the top of the pile, staring at Lampyri from that point. Her frowning expression was a far cry from being truly angry, but it still told Lampyri that she was done toying with her.
The Engineer teleported again, this time choosing to start closing the distance between her and Lampyri. She would vanish just before Lampyri could strike her, but would gradually draw closer to the blue Buzz each time she would materialize.
Lampyri growled under her breath. Seeing The Engineer come out unscathed was no longer a surprise to her. But despite the tiny voice in Lampyri's mind begging her to stop before The Engineer ran out of patience, she forced herself to keep going. She wouldn't give up until she won.
Lampyri flew into the air and began to move backwards as The Engineer approached her. When her back was nearly touching the wall, Lampyri swung the chains around as fast and wildly as she could. She no longer targeted The Engineer specifically. The attack pattern she made was completely random, but vicious. The tips of the chain made gashes into the ground and the walls of any buildings in their way. With how erratic and swift they were moving, even somebody as quick-minded as The Engineer couldn't approach them without risking bodily harm.
The Engineer realized that and retreated out of the chain's range. When she next appeared, it was in mid-air. She did not remain there long enough to give gravity the chance to do its work; she had just enough time to get a glance of Lampyri. The Engineer did the same thing again, only in a different location. For a while, The Engineer would rapidly teleport around the cave, each time her vision locked onto Lampyri no matter what the angle.
Lampyri realized too late what The Engineer was doing. She was looking for a blind spot. And eventually, she found one.
Lampyri had always favored long-range attacks over close-range. To her, being able to strike from a distance was advantageous in the sense that it would prevent an opponent from getting close when that was the only way they could attack. It had worked for many years, but perhaps too well. Now that The Engineer was hovering just a few inches in front of her, Lampyri realized that leaving the area close to her undefended was impractical when someone could move in the blink of an eye.
When she saw The Engineer so close to her, Lampyri froze up. The Engineer didn't stay there long, but the damage had been done to Lampyri. She ceased her attacks and let go of her chains. Her wings stopped beating, bringing her crashing to the ground. As Lampyri laid on her back, The Engineer materialized on top of her stomach, holding her chest down with her right hand. They remained like that for a few minutes without any change or movement; The Engineer had held Lampyri down for so long that she got the chance to notice for the first time just how cold her paws were.
Lampyri was physically stronger than The Engineer. She could easily throw The Engineer off of her and stand up. But she didn't. She couldn't move, her mind wouldn't allow her. Her entire body was paralyzed at the sight of The Engineer looking down at her. As The Engineer began to lift her left paw, Lampyri could do nothing but stare at the infinity symbol on the Acara's palm and brace herself for whatever she would be transformed into.
The Engineer's left paw paused. She stared at Lampyri, just as unmoving as she was. The Engineer gazed at Lampyri's frightened face, taking in the sheer terror that was emanating from her. The stillness was eventually broken when The Engineer's smile reappeared as she laughed, "You're hilarious."
The Engineer took her feet off of Lampyri and placed them onto solid ground. She reached her left paw out to Lampyri, but instead of placing it on her body and initiating a transformation, she grabbed the fabric of her dress, pulled the Buzz up and forced her to stand.
Lampyri was still shaking, even when she realized that was wasn't laying on the ground anymore. She managed to stay standing, but her legs were still locked up and her wings couldn't do anything more than vibrate in fear.
The Engineer stepped closer to Lampyri, knowing full well that she was too scared to do anything. She looked Lampyri directly in the eyes and gave a sly, knowing smile. "They all know, by the way."
Lampyri's body could not have shuddered any more.
The Engineer disappeared. This time, she didn't return in the cave. It was a while before that fact hit Lampyri, as she continued to stand in place, staring straight ahead. When she forced herself to move again, Lampyri held her gloved hands in front of her. She was still a blue Buzz. The Engineer didn't do anything to her.
"...Why now?" Lampyri murmured. Lampyri slowly balled her hands into fists. But even then, she continued to tighten them until the nails on her claws were jabbing into her palm. All the while, her terrified face had shifted into a scowl that intensified with each passing second. When she couldn't keep the emotions pent up any longer, Lampyri bellowed into the air, "Why are you showing mercy to me NOW?!"
Lampyri grabbed the string of chains that were sitting outstretched along the ground. She whipped them one last time, with more force than before, but aimed at nothing in particular. Lampyri kept her head down as she did so, listening to the sound of the metal shattering part of the rocky ground.
When the noise had subsided, all was quiet. Lampyri lifted her head up. The villagers watched her from what they perceived to be the safety of their stone buildings. But they didn't seem so sure of that anymore, as Lampyri was surrounded by crumbling walls, debris, and destruction.
Lampyri looked into their faces. As her eyes met theirs, the villagers were about ready to retreat further into the buildings. She wasn't sure if they were more horrified watching The Engineer or herself. Even the red Korbat that she had saved earlier looked at Lampyri as if she was a monster. Lampyri looked away and frowned. Perhaps he wasn't entirely wrong.
Lampyri took the nearest exit out of the village. She knew when she wasn't welcome.
* * *
The boulder flew up into the air, only to shattered into a thousand pieces by the string of chains breaking through it. When they all fell to the floor, Lampyri wrapped the chains around the largest piece and did the same thing. She felt herself covered in dust as she stood in an open area of Central Cavern breaking rock after rock, over and over.
Lampyri paused to take a breath as she hung her tired arms at her side. It was then that Lampyri heard a voice finally get the chance to be heard over the crashing. "Lampyri... What are you doing?"
She turned around to see Lumin sitting down on a boulder that Lampyri had yet to yank out of the ground. Lampyri had immersed herself so much in her rage and frustration that she had no idea how long Lumin had been there. Lampyri had only stopped at the apartment long enough to drop off most of her supplies when she got back to Central Cavern. Had Lumin followed her and watched her that entire time since then?
Lampyri returned her attention to the rocks after she answered, "Training, sire. I can't let myself get rusty, can I?"
After yet another rock shattered after being thrown against the wall, Lumin pointed out, "You've been at this for hours."
"I haven't done this in a while."
"I've never known you to do this at all."
Lampyri stopped and gave a deep sigh. "I ran into The Engineer while I was out. I tried to attack her, but... it didn't work," Lampyri said, the last few words spoken in bitterness over having to say them so many times. She still had her back to Lumin as she continued, "The Engineer had the perfect opportunity to transform me. She could have turned me into something that would permanently put an end to my efforts. And she didn't! She didn't do a thing to me!"
Lumin was quiet for a moment before asking, "Did you want her to?"
"No!" Lampyri snapped and spun around. Lampyri flinched when she realized the tone of voice she just used towards her former king. Lumin did not appear to be fazed, though. Lampyri calmed down and said, "But I just don't understand. Why is she sparing me now? Why couldn't she had done that three years ago?! Or if not me, why couldn't she have just left all the other Fireflies alone in the first place?!"
Lampyri's voice began to break as she asked those questions. She fought so hard to keep herself from crying, no matter how much she wanted to. She knew that nobody important to her would think any less of her if she did. Yet she still tried to hold it back. She would restrain herself even if Lumin wasn't there watching her.
"Because she wants see this kind of reaction," Lumin answered. When he saw that Lampyri fell silent, he elaborated, "She wants to see you break down and give up. If she got rid of you, she wouldn't be able to see that."
Lumin stood up, his face pensive as his own memories of The Engineer were coming back. "The Engineer clearly enjoys what she does. But I think what she gets the most entertainment out of is the fear that she causes. I remember when she changed my color when I was escaping from the City of Lights. I was terrified and I had just about given up. And she seemed to be pleased with that. To me, witnessing those emotions in others is more motivation for her than anything else she could possibly gain by transforming Neopets."
Lampyri reflected on what Lumin said. She turned in the direction of the tunnel on the other side of Central Cavern, the one that would eventually lead to the City of Lights. Lumin was absolutely right about The Engineer. The fear and pain she instilled in the Fireflies encouraged her to return time and time again.
When Lampyri faced Lumin, her face banished all traces of negativity and gave a wide smile. "If it's fear that she wants, then I'll deny her that. I'll just have to keep smiling, no matter what she does."
Lampyri's cheerful tone appeared to do little to convince Lumin. "I'm not quite sure if simple optimism is the solution. I would imagine that it would just anger her and push her to do worse," Lumin countered.
That was the kind of reply that Lampyri was expecting from Lumin. An optimist tended not to sway the attitude of a pessimist very much. But the same was true vice-versa. The Engineer sought to bring her down, but Lampyri wasn't going to let her.
Lumin took a deep breath. Lampyri realized that he had taken keen notice to her behavior ever since she arrived in Central Cavern. She couldn't hide much of the turmoil that swirled in her and it was plain for Lumin to see. But she soon found that the things she did try to keep hidden wasn't as concealed as she hoped.
"Lampyri, did something else happen between you and the Fireflies?"
Lampyri said nothing. Her widened eyes couldn't bear to look at Lumin. Her tightened lips wouldn't allow her to speak, even if she wanted to.
When Lumin realized that he was not going to get an answer, he calmly said, "If and when you're ready to talk, I'll listen."
Lumin flew off towards the apartment and left Lampyri be. She thought about following him and catching up. But instead, Lampyri sat down, covered her eyes, and held her head in her hands.
To be continued...