Keep Smiling: Part Six
The surface-dweller's city wasn't the only settlement in Central Cavern, not by a long shot. Before the surface-dwellers arrived, Central Cavern was mainly a place that nomadic groups of Neopets would settle in before eventually moving on. Anyone staying more than five years in Central Cavern used to be considered highly unusual.
It was for that reason that the building materials that the nomads used was light and collapsible, as opposed to the sturdier rock and metal buildings found elsewhere in Moltara. There was one exception: An enormous water pump that was located approximately in the middle of Central Cavern. The surface-dweller's city had yet to expand to that area, so the pump still towered over the smaller village houses. It was built over one of the few springs in Central Cavern and belonged to everyone; no single group of Neopets claimed ownership over it.
Lumin and Lampyri arrived in the village closest to the water pump. They didn't need to ask around for very long to get the information from the villagers that they needed. "A spotted Draik? The leaders of our tribe and a few others are paying a small group of surface-dwellers to do work on the water pump. I think I saw someone like that with them," a shadow Poogle told Lumin and Lampyri.
The Poogle pointed them in the direction of the surface-dweller's camp. Lampyri scanned each Neopet on the ground and up on top of the pump, but Dimitri was nowhere to be found. Lumin seemed to know just where to find him, though, as he led Lampyri to a tent set up a short distance away.
Sure enough, Dimitri was in there. He didn't notice Lumin and Lampyri at first, he appeared to be concentrating on the papers all over the table in front of him. From what Lampyri could tell from the glimpses she got of them, they were notes and drawings of the water pump's layout and lots of them.
Eventually, Dimitri caught sight of the two Buzzes and was given a short jolt at their appearance. "What are you guys doing here?" His astonishment started to turn into worry. "Did something happen?"
"No, no. Nothing's wrong. There's just a favor that we'd like to ask of you," Lumin said. "Do you know how much longer this job will take?"
"We're just finishing up, actually. Why?"
"Well, Lampyri and I will be taking a trip to our home city and we will need your help when we come back," Lumin began to explain.
"You're coming back with other refugees, aren't you?" Dimitri guessed, not taking long to realize the reason for the trip.
"Yes. I've talked with Professor Frazer, and the two of us have prepared living arrangements for whom we bring to Central Cavern. I very much doubt that any of them have travelled past our city, let alone to Central Cavern. Therefore, someone that knows their way around Central Cavern will need to guide them to their new homes and show them the places that'll be useful for starting a new life. Myself and the Professor will be taking part in that, but I wanted to ask if you could help us as well. If someone is going to be helping these citizens to get on their feet, I want it to be someone that I know we can trust."
Dimitri was surprised at what Lumin told him. But he didn't hesitate to give a confident grin in response and say, "You got it! I know the city like the back of my hand, so don't need to worry about a thing!"
"Ah, thank you so much, Dimitri. This truly does mean a lot," Lumin said gratefully with a small smile.
"Anytime," Dimitri replied. "So when are you guys leaving?"
"Right now," Lampyri quickly answered as she adjusted the position of the backpack on her shoulders. "It will take at least two days for a round trip, and that's without any delays."
Lumin took a folded-up piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to Dimitri. "That map has the locations of the empty houses they'll be moving into. Professor Frazer can answer any questions you may have about it." Lumin noticed Lampyri's eagerness to get going and added, "Like Lampyri said –if things go well- we should be back in about two days. Don't worry if it takes a little longer than that."
"Alright, I'll be waiting. Be careful, okay?" Dimitri said as Lumin and Lampyri headed out the exit.
The agreement had been that Lumin and Professor Frazer would work out what to do with the Fireflies once they got to Central Cavern while Lampyri planned on getting them there. Now that Dimitri had agreed to help, Lumin had completed his end of the deal. Lampyri had finished her preparations by that point and now the time had come to put the plan into action.
Before they left Central Cavern, Lampyri unfurled a map that she had drawn and showed it to Lumin. "This is the path we'll be taking. It's not the shortest path, but it is the safest. I've packed enough food and supplies to sustain us and the Fireflies we'll be picking up for several days, just in the case that we run into trouble." Lampyri then pointed to a spot about halfway into the path. "We'll take a short rest here both to and from the City of Lights. For right now, let's focus on getting there. I'll explain the next part of the plan once we do."
* * *
The spot that Lampyri had designated as a temporary rest stop was a small, uninhabited cave. The path leading to it from the larger tunnel nearby was fairly well-concealed; it would take a very sharp eye to notice its presence.
Lampyri saw Lumin nearly drop himself onto the nearest rock once they entered the cave. The cave so was empty that Lampyri easily hear Lumin's heavy breathing.
"Are you alright, sire?" Lampyri asked as she walked to the other side of the cave.
Lumin's head hung as he sat there, but lifted it up when Lampyri spoke to him. His expression had a bit of annoyance at Lampyri's insistence on calling him, "sire." But he quickly discarded it and appeared to give up on convincing her otherwise. Instead, he replied, "I'm fine, I'm just tired. I don't have anywhere near as much stamina as you do."
Lampyri set down the backpack full of supplies. Her legs were a little tired, but she still had plenty of energy left. The extra weight of the backpack didn't bother her much; compared to the incredibly uncomfortable armor she wore as a Royal Guard, the backpack felt like nothing at all.
She did notice that Lumin was having a hard time keeping up, though. He looked like his legs were starting to feel heavy after walking for several hours straight. For the last stretch, Lumin tried flying instead. But his wings probably would not have carried him much farther, as they appeared flimsy while they were drooped down his back. Lampyri never knew Lumin to possess any significant amount of physical strength and the fact that he was over a decade older than she was could not have been helping.
"Do you think that you'll be able to travel the same distance tomorrow and the next day?" Lampyri questioned.
Lumin nodded. "I've made the trip from the City of Lights to Central Cavern before, and that was without any direction whatsoever. I'll be alright."
After receiving Lumin's reassurance, Lampyri picked up the backpack again and carried it with her as she walked to him. She opened the compartment that was stuffed with the food that Lampyri stored and held it out to Lumin. "I'm going to be leaving this backpack here while we're in the City of Lights, since it would be best to travel as lightly as possible. So be sure to eat your fill before we leave."
Lumin browsed through the root vegetables that Lampyri had gathered and took a few that appealed to his tastes. He handed the backpack to Lampyri, who proceeded to rummage through it herself. While she bit into a turnip, Lampyri took out two folded up, dusty-colored robes and explained, "When we get close to the city, we'll need to put these on; they'll conceal our identity. It would be better for everyone if we kept a low profile. Our mere presence there would cause a commotion and finding out that we're leading a mission to bring Fireflies to Central Cavern would just amplify it. That alone would impede our progress, but it would also increase the chances of The Engineer finding out through word of mouth."
Lumin began to unfold part of the robe he held to get a better look at it. He then suddenly jumped up as he uncovered what appeared to be a large Spyder with its four red eyes glaring at him. It was just a mask, but it gave Lumin quite the scare nevertheless.
"Ah, that one's mine, actually," Lampyri apologized with a nervous laugh as she took that robe away and handed Lumin the one that came with a Moltenore mask.
Lumin tried to catch his breath as he commented, "L-Lampyri, if you're going to try to convince people to come with us, wouldn't it help if you wore a mask that was less... off-putting?"
"I hate to drop this on your shoulders, sire, but you'll be doing most of the talking, not me. Even though we'll have our physical appearances concealed, there's still a chance that they would recognize our voices. And if that happens, the Fireflies would be far more likely to listen to you than they would me," Lampyri said.
Lumin looked at Lampyri somewhat suspiciously. He had every reason to, as Lampyri still had not answered the question he asked her after she got back to Central Cavern. She wasn't sure if she could. Regardless, such a thing was going to have to wait until after the mission was completed, if at all.
Continuing her explanation of the plan, Lampyri took out a rough map that she drew from memory of the City of Lights. She placed her finger on the tunnel leading into the city and told Lumin, "A couple years ago, a few Neopets from another city arrived in the City of Lights, demanding to know why there was a lag in our shipments of lanterns. The Engineer happened to be there at that time and transformed them. Ever since that incident, we've shut ourselves off from the rest of Moltara to prevent that from happening again. The point is, there's a large stone door that blocks the entrance to the city now. There's no way we'll be able to get through by force. But every six hours, the door opens just long enough to let out a couple soldiers assigned to conduct a brief patrol of our borders. That's when we'll sneak inside."
Lampyri then slid her finger up to the city itself. "Once we're inside, we'll go to the residences and offer the Fireflies living there a chance to escape. We'll want stick to houses close to the exit, just in case we need to leave in a hurry."
Lumin gave a sigh. "I hate the idea of picking and choosing who gets saved."
"I know. But someday, we'll be able to save everyone," Lampyri promised him.
Lampyri told Lumin that they would need to get some rest right away since they needed to time the mission just right. But it took a little while before Lampyri was able to fall asleep. She always tried to think of and aim for the best possible outcomes in regards to things such as the mission. Yet, there was still a twinge of uncertainty that was bothering her.
* * *
When they awoke, Lampyri and Lumin wasted little time in setting off. Once Lampyri hid the backpack in a small cranny near the top of the wall so that wild Petpets couldn't reach it, she led the way to the City of Lights.
A few hours later, they came to the base of a large cliff. Lampyri recognized it and knew that they were getting close. Once they flew up the side of it, she told Lumin to put on his disguise and she did the same. The hooded robes blended into the rocky walls and covered up so much that it was practically impossible to tell what species the wearer was.
They ran through a rudimentary path that cut through the boulders that littered the tunnel floor. Eventually, the stone door was within eyesight. It was still closed. Lampyri instructed Lumin to hide behind a rock for the time being. Lampyri took out a small clockwork watch; according to the two discs that the Moltaran watch had, there was still fifteen minutes left until the next patrol was sent out.
Lampyri told Lumin to stay there while she approached the door. Lampyri climbed up the tunnel wall as far as she could and waited.
Right on time, the stone doors creaked open. Out came two Firefly soldiers: a striped Xweetok and a sponge Blumaroo. Lampyri silently took out some rope that she bought from the surface-dwellers. She wasn't as fond of rope as she was chains, but they were a lot quieter.
Sure enough, the soldiers didn't hear Lampyri leap at them until it was too late. Lampyri threw the rope at the startled soldiers, squeezing them together. She tied the soldiers up as tightly and quickly as she could. Lampyri made a mad dash to the door the instant she heard two other soldiers yell from inside, "Close the door! Close the door!"
Lampyri slipped through the rapidly closing doors just in time. She skidded along the ground to halt her sprint and swiftly turned to face the soldiers. A gold Gelert and a pineapple Chia pointed their swords at Lampyri. She whipped out two more ropes that she had hidden on her and swiftly wrapped them around the hilts of the soldier's weapons and yanked them away. Once the swords were thrown aside, Lampyri dashed at the soldiers and wrapped them up as well.
Lampyri pulled a few strips of cloth out of one of her pockets and blindfolded and gagged all four soldiers after she opened the door back up. She ran over to where Lumin was hiding and urged him to follow. Lumin glanced at the immobilized soldiers and –once he and Lampyri were out of their hearing range- he asked, "Did you need to be that rough with them?"
"It'll take a lot more than that to hurt a Firefly soldier. They're fine. But we need to be quick before someone notices them and catches onto us," Lampyri replied, keeping her voice down.
It wasn't long before they stood at the entrance to the City of Lights. The cave it was located in was round and all the buildings were built into the walls, leaving the center wide and open. In the past, the glowing Buzzes could always be seen fluttering around in that space, whether it was to get from one place to another or just for the fun of it.
But now, there was no such thing. The air was vacant, and the cave so much darker. The colorful lanterns decorating the walls provided some light, but there was a significant absence of effort put into the art. It made the cave dimmer than it ever used to be; there were now shadows covering significant chunks of the city. And to a Firefly that had spent nearly all of their life bathed in light, large stretches of darkness was the most incomprehensible and terrifying thing in the world.
Lampyri led Lumin beneath a staircase for cover. The fact that what they were hiding under even existed in the City of Lights began to cause Lumin to shiver. If all the Fireflies were Buzzes and therefore had wings, what did they need stairs for? But a good amount of the population didn't have wings anymore, so they had no choice but to build a structure that had never been constructed in the city's history. Even the Fireflies that were species that still had wings used the stairs; it was like they had no will to fly anymore.
Lampyri noticed it and she assumed that Lumin did as well, but she was quite sure that a green Flotsam had spotted the two of them just a moment earlier. But he didn't react; he just ignored them and continued on his way, pulling himself over the stairs that Lampyri and Lumin hid under. Lampyri saw the look on his face when he saw her, and it told her that he just didn't care that two suspicious figures were in the city. The Flotsam was very much alive, but he still looked so emotionally dead. The same was true of many Fireflies.
Lampyri took a glimpse at Lumin as they hid. The Moltenore mask covered his face, but she didn't need to see it to tell just how horrified he was at everything that he saw.
After a minute or two spent in silence, Lampyri whispered to Lumin, "I know this is selfish of me, but there's somewhere I want to go in particular."
Lampyri told Lumin where that was. He nodded and said, "I understand. Lead the way."
She looked back and forth to make sure they were clear and then quickly ran out and snuck up the staircases. Lampyri knew exactly where to go from there: Three levels up and five houses across. They paused and hid behind the walls of the balcony in front of the house's entrance and once they were certain that no one saw them, Lampyri opened the door and went inside.
They were immediately noticed by the residents the instant they entered. A female Bruce whose color was split between orange and purple and a grayish-blue male Peophin with teal patterns all over his body grabbed their weapons that were mounted on the wall. They were both retired soldiers and had served in the army for many, many years. That made it rather awkward when Lampyri ended up outranking them.
Lampyri quickly pulled off her mask and exclaimed, "Mom! Dad! It's me!"
Lampyri's parents lowered their weapons and stared at her in shock. Her mother was stricken silent while her father was only able to utter, "Lampyri?!"
Before long, Lampyri's mother dropped her sword and ran at Lampyri, pulling her into her arms with tears in her eyes. "Lampyri! Thank goodness you're alright!" she cried.
Her father soon embraced his daughter as well. After everything that had happened in the past several weeks, Lampyri felt at ease knowing that there was at least one place she could go where she would feel truly comforted.
"What are you doing back here? What's going on?" Lampyri's father asked, concerned.
Lampyri glanced over at Lumin and said to him, "It's alright, you can take off your mask here."
Lumin do so and explained to her parents, "We're here to help Fireflies escape to Central Cavern, where they'll hopefully be able to hide from The Engineer."
Both of her parent's jaws dropped at the sight of Lumin. "Sire?!" they shouted.
Lumin flinched, hoping that no one heard that. "'Lumin' is fine," he told them.
Lampyri broke her hold on her mother and held both of her flippers as she looked her in the eyes. "We have everything set up and ready. All we need to do now is lead the Fireflies there. We can only take a few with us this time, but we'll probably come back and get more." Lampyri looked and both of her parents and begged, "Please come with us!"
Lampyri's parents grew hesitant. "...You want us to leave?" her mother said in a small voice.
They appeared to think about it for a long time, giving looks at each other as they mulled it over. After a while, it became clear that her mother and father both shared the same opinion. The two of them shook their heads and her mother replied, "No... We can't. We can't leave."
"What?! Why?!" Lampyri asked, breathing nervously.
"Many generations of our family has lived in this city. Our roots are too firmly planted here. I... I just can't bring myself to leave all that history behind," Lampyri's father gave his reason.
"This is only temporary! It won't be permanent! I'll make sure of that! Just please come with me!" Lampyri pleaded, growing more desperate with each word.
But her parents were firm in their decision. Her mother cracked a weak smile and said, "There are other Fireflies that need the help more than we do. Go save them. We'll be fine."
Lampyri's muscles began to feel weak as the idea that she couldn't even save her own parents invaded her thoughts. With another tight, encouraging hug from her mother, those notions began to disappear. But they were far too persistent to be completely eliminated.
Lampyri's father turned to Lumin and spoke to him. "Sire, have you come back to rule?"
Lumin shook his head. "No. I have no right to sit on the throne after what The Engineer did to this place."
But the maractite Peophin also shook his head and commented, "I think Infrared is a good leader, but I and many others still consider you the true king. While there are still a few that think you and The Engineer conspired with each other, most of those that rebelled against you three years ago have come to realize that's not true. And there are still many more that never doubted you. Sire, this city really does want you back."
What Lampyri's father had to say struck a chord with Lumin. For the first time since she met up with him in Central Cavern, Lampyri started to see him doubt his decision to abandon his position.
Lampyri told her parents to stay safe one last time. She and Lumin put their masks back on and –reluctantly- headed to other houses in the area.
* * *
The reasoning that Lampyri's parents gave for staying behind in the City of Lights was soon proved not to be an isolated case. Lampyri and Lumin approached other Fireflies, and many of them gave the same answer. Their connection to the city was too strong and they didn't feel right in leaving. Lumin tried to convince them to swallow their pride, but it was to no avail.
Others were more willing to listen, though. They went to the house of a yellow Usul, who was well-known as one of the best light-makers in the city. He too held a lot of pride in living in the City of Lights. But when he looked over to his three children –a blue Kyrii, a sketch Kiko, and an orange Kacheek- he made the decision to let go of that pride for their sake.
There was a cloud Chomby that didn't hesitate a bit when Lumin gave her the chance. She frantically told him that she could hardly sleep knowing that The Engineer could come after her or her friends and family at any moment. Her sister, a camouflage Tuskaninny agreed, adding that the only reason that hadn't fled the city already was because they had nowhere else to go.
Then they went to three Fireflies that were unrelated, but all gave the same reason for accepting their offer. The white Moehog, yellow JubJub, and starry Tonu were completely apathetic about their future. Someone gave them the chance to leave? Why not? Cutting ties with their home couldn't possibly be worse than The Engineer. They agreed to go with Lumin and Lampyri without a single question about what was going to happen.
Lampyri and Lumin had convinced nine Fireflies to move to Central Cavern. Lampyri looked at her watch and saw that a lot of time had passed since they arrived. It was getting too risky to stay there for much longer. Lumin instructed the Fireflies to head out the entrance either individually or in small groups as to avoid too much attention.
They met Lampyri and Lumin by the stone doors that were still wide open and the soldiers stationed there were still tied up. Luck was on their side that day. But Lampyri knew when to quit so that luck wouldn't turn sour. She deeply wanted to stay in the City of Lights longer. She wished that she hadn't needed to leave at all. But with all those Fireflies counting on her and Lumin to lead them to safety, she had no choice.
Lampyri and Lumin left the City of Lights behind with nine Fireflies in tow. The mission was a success.
To be continued...