Infinity II: Control - Part One
This story is the sequel to Infinity, which I strongly recommend reading first! Sorry for the wait!
145 Years B.N.
Granite considered himself a well-traveled Neopet. He had to be, he was a businessman, after all. Whenever he would take a trip to the other cities in Moltara in search of places he could make a profit off of, the brown Meerca would hear all sorts of folk stories. No two groups of Moltarans were the same and neither were the tales and legends that they told.
Except for one. There was always this one legend that Granite heard so often.
Tales about the Neopet that could transform any living thing had spread all over Moltara. The Engineer -as she was called- wasn't tied down to any particular area of Moltara, as stories of her had been told in nearly every city in the subterranean world. The sightings had no set pattern and she would just materialize out of thin air, making the feat of tracking her nigh-impossible.
Nobody knew much about The Engineer. They didn't know where she came from or how she gained her abilities. And yet, not too many people wanted to know.
Just talking about her was enough to send chills down the spines of even full-grown Neopets. She would choose her victims seemingly at random, smiling calmly, but still taking in a twisted sort of joy as she watched the other Neopet lose their sense of identity. When The Engineer transformed others, she would always leave her mark –the infinity symbol- as a permanent reminder of how their lives had been turned upside-down.
"Oh? So you know about me? Well, that simplifies things, then."
The Engineer stood before Granite, amused at his shocked expression. The foremen that worked for Granite shared his sentiments, staring at the red Acara that just suddenly appeared. Granite didn't know what to do or what else say to her after sputtering her title. He never dismissed the tales about The Engineer as mere myths, but he never thought that he'd encounter her in-person, either.
"So this Firefly... He embarrassed you, somehow? Is that correct?" The Engineer asked, not even bothering to mask the laughter mixed in with her question.
If it had been anyone else that said that, Granite would not have hesitated to lash out and teach them a lesson. But he knew that one wrong word or action could spur The Engineer into completely destroying everything that Granite knew about himself.
However, when The Engineer mentioned the Firefly, a former worker of Granite's, he became just as incensed as he was before she appeared. Flicker had been taught for the past three years that he was dirt in comparison to Granite, and the Boss of Obsidian Quarry would never let him forget that. That glowing Buzz, even as idiotic as he was, was smart enough to accept that fact of life and follow each of Granite's orders to the letter.
But when Flicker assaulted Granite and escaped from Obsidian Quarry, taking another Neopet that was in a similar situation with him, that was an act of unforgivable defiance. Granite ground his teeth at the thought, wanting nothing more than to get his hands on Flicker and show him that nobody humiliates him like that and gets away with it.
The Engineer saw Granite's rage and gave a smile in response: The kind of smile that suggested that she had an idea on her mind. "You and I are after the same person. How would you like to help me out? I'll make it worth your while."
* * *
The bizarre never bothered Flicker much. In fact, all peculiarities that life had to offer intrigued him much more than it frightened him. Flicker was used to the abnormal.
He was abnormal. Strangers saw him as a muscular, young-adult glowing Buzz that looked no different than the average thug picked off the streets. Flicker's laid-back temperament didn't match his physical appearance, but -then again- neither did his age. Hardly anybody could believe or accept that the Buzz with the body and soul of an adult was born only five years ago.
Still, even Flicker had to admit that the situation he was in was awfully strange. He was at a loss of words as he stood in the light shop and stared at the white Buzz that suddenly hugged him out of the blue. Flicker wanted to ask the stranger what he was doing, but he wasn't sure if he would be able to hear him over his sobs.
Flicker glanced at the fire Wocky standing next to him, hoping that he'd have some semblance of an idea over what was going on. Unfortunately for Flicker, Wingen was just as confused as he was.
Wingen was Flicker's Big Brother. That was in spite of the fact that Wingen was neither bigger than Flicker nor had any blood relation to him. He was older, though. Thirty-eight years older, to be precise. Like Flicker, he didn't look nor act his age. Wingen may have been chronologically forty-three years old, but he was still physically and mentally a child. For reasons unknown to Flicker, he and Wingen had similar curses that affected the way they aged, and in turn tainted other Neopet's views of them. It was mainly for that reason that Flicker and Wingen decided to adopt each other, as they had no one else to relate to.
The white Buzz eventually broke his hold on Flicker. He wiped his eyes dry before looking at Flicker; he searched for something in Flicker's face, but failed to find it. "You don't recognize me, do you, Flicker?" the white Buzz asked, his voice shuddering as he struggled to fight back another wave of tears. Flicker shook his head in response, prompting the white Buzz to beg, "I know I look a little different now, but please try to remember!"
Flicker's memory was never the greatest. It barely took any time at all for his memories to become vague and hazy. Trying to remember something that happened a few months ago was difficult enough, let alone searching through his entire life just to find a particular face. The attempt was fruitless and not even the stranger sharing his species with him was enough to ring any bells.
But the white Buzz was still adamant that he knew Flicker and took it upon himself to remind him, "Your father, Flicker! I'm your father!"
Flicker gave a short gasp, "...Papa?"
The last time that Flicker had seen his father was four years ago. But four years was a significant chunk of Flicker's life and anything that he did remember from back then was a blur. No matter how hard he tried, he still couldn't bring up the face of his father.
But still, the white Buzz's declaration started to jog Flicker's memory. The more he looked at him, the more Flicker realized that the white Buzz did seem familiar, somehow.
The white Buzz nodded at Flicker and gave him a weak smile. "Yes... Yes, that's right. Do you remember now? Do you remember the last time we saw each other? I gave you to your uncle and told him to bring you to Central Cavern. I promised that I'd meet you here. Does that sound familiar to you, Flicker?"
It did. Even if in vague detail, Flicker remembered being separated from his father and uncle. In those days when Flicker was completely alone in the world with no one to rely on, he would often think of his father and the happy life he used to have. Eventually, he became convinced that was a thing of the past and gave up hope that he'd ever see his father again. But in spite of that, there he was, standing right in front of Flicker.
For the first time in many years, Flicker felt like crying. He didn't, though; Flicker had learned to suppress his tears while he worked for Granite, as that would only anger him. Instead, he reached his arms out to his father and pulled him in for another hug.
His father flinched when the much larger Buzz took a hold of him. But he soon calmed down and returned Flicker's hug. In stark contrast to his anxious demeanor when he first saw Flicker, the white Buzz was at ease, as if a great emotional burden had just been lifted. The relief was obvious in his voice as he said to Flicker, "I later found out that Infrared had lost you on the way here. And as the years passed without you turning up, I assumed that the worst had happened. But now... I'm so glad that you're alright, Flicker..."
After being absent from each other's lives for four years, neither Flicker or his father ever wanted to let go. Eventually, they did separate. Both of them were silent for a while, but that was especially true for Flicker. Freedom from Granite and reuniting with his father... The two things that Flicker had thought would never happen came into fruition all in the span of a day. As overjoyed as he was, he still didn't know what to make of it all.
The silence was broken when his father said, "Who might this be?" His father was looking at Wingen, who had watched the scene unfold in utter confusion.
Flicker gave a big grin, eager to introduce Wingen. "Oh! This is my Big Brother!"
"Your 'Big Brother?'" the white Buzz questioned, bewildered at Flicker's name for the Wocky. After some thought, the white Buzz's raised eyebrow lowered and his puzzled expression disappeared. "I think I understand," He then bent down enough to be at Wingen's eye level and held out his hand. "My name is Lumin. You are...?"
Wingen stared at Lumin's hand for a moment, holding his own close to his chest. Wingen was a reserved sort of Neopet, the kind that didn't open up easily to strangers. The fact that Lumin was Flicker's father seemed to calm him slightly, as he eventually shook his hand. But he still did so while mumbling shyly, "Wingen."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Wingen. Thank you for looking out after my son," Lumin said, showing a sincerely grateful smile to him.
Wingen stammered a few tiny and incoherent sounds in response to Lumin. His eyes, previously making an effort to avoid eye contact, were wide with astonishment and looking straight at Lumin. After the initial surprise wore off, Wingen giggled to himself, giddily relishing the simple compliment.
Lumin stood up straight again. Despite being his father, Lumin was considerably smaller than Flicker. The much shorter Buzz had to lift his head up to look into Flicker's face. As he did so, his previously relieved face gradually dampened as he sighed, "You've certainly grown a lot..."
Flicker's unusually fast growth rate haunted him all throughout his life. The snide comments he would receive were the least of his problems. He spent so much time wandering around Moltara without a home, and any that he would find would only last as long as it took for his secret to come out. His curse was what landed him in the situation with Granite and robbed him of his free will.
But as he grew up, Flicker stopped letting it bother him. Wingen accepted Flicker for who he was, so it no longer mattered if anyone else did. Still, Flicker was curious. He could come to terms with his curse, but he still wanted to know why he had it in the first place. After hearing how Lumin just spoke, Flicker began to suspect that he had the answers that he wanted. "Wait, do you know why I'm so big?!"
Lumin exhaled deeply. "Yes... I do." There was a hint of anger in his voice. But it didn't seem to be directed at Flicker. Rather, it was aimed at something or someone that was unknown to Flicker, but for some reason very familiar to Lumin.
Flicker and Wingen exchanged glances. Flicker's heart began to pound once he knew that the questions that had plagued him for so long were finally going to be answered. But Wingen was in the same situation as Flicker; he too knew precious little of his curse. Wingen fidgeted in place anxiously, as if he was constantly going back and forth in his mind over what to do. Eventually, he nervously muttered, "Mr. Lumin? Does... Does it have anything to do with the mark on his back?"
Lumin gave Wingen a curious look before nodding. Wingen became even more agitated; he nervously tapped his fingertips together and diverted eye contact away from Lumin. Eventually, Wingen took a deep breath, trying to fill himself with confidence. Wingen walked over to Lumin and rolled up his sleeve, showing him the infinity symbol on his arm that was identical to the one on Flicker's back.
Lumin looked at Wingen's mark, instantly recognizing it. He seemed dismayed to see it, groaning, "You have it too... Do you know what change that mark brought along with it?"
Lumin's question caused Wingen to shrink back in fear. Revealing his curse to others almost never produced a good result, Flicker being the sole exception. Any confidence Wingen had over the matter now proved to be a fleeting occurrence.
Seeing Wingen's reaction, Lumin turned sideways to show him the right side of his neck. "Don't be ashamed, Wingen. I have the mark as well," Lumin said gently.
Flicker was surprised to see his father possess the same mark that he did. First Wingen and now Lumin... It seemed like Flicker was becoming less and less of an anomaly as time went on. But he had to wonder why it was that Lumin had the mark and what made him out of the ordinary.
Lumin's words appeared to soothe Wingen a little. But even so, he still stared at the floor as he whispered, "I'm forty-three years old; I age slowly..."
Lumin was taken aback by his answer. Flicker knew disgust and abhorrence in the faces of other Neopets when he saw it. He had seen them so many times after revealing his true age to others. But he didn't see them in Lumin. He seemed more... interested than anything.
"I see," Lumin mumbled under his breath. After a few seconds spent in silence, Lumin cleared his throat and said, "Well then. There's a lot that I want to hear from you, Flicker. And there's also a lot that I need to discuss with the both of you. But I think it better if we talk about it in a more appropriate place."
* * *
After Lumin closed the light shop for the day, he led Flicker and Wingen up a flight of stairs right outside the entrance. On the second floor of the building was an apartment where Lumin lived. Flicker was confused; he thought that Dimitri –the spotted Draik that brought him and Wingen to Central Cavern- lived in that apartment.
"Ah, so you met Dimitri?" Lumin chuckled as he brought out three cups of ginger tea and set it on the coffee table. Lumin sat on one sofa while Flicker and Wingen sat on the one opposite to it. "Yes, Dimitri lives here, too. Let's see... I think it was three years ago that I met him. He had just arrived from the surface and needed a place to live, so I offered him a room here. He's usually quite busy, whether it's with the jobs he finds or his own hobbies, but he does help me out in the store and around the house when he can."
Flicker took a look at the apartment. It wasn't terribly big and was fairly simple. The three Neopets were currently in the living room that was right in the center of the apartment. All of the other rooms –the kitchen, a bathroom, and three bedrooms- had to be accessed through the living room.
But Flicker didn't have the time to get much of a view of his surroundings, as Lumin soon asked him, "Anyways, what happened to you since we last saw each other, Flicker?"
Flicker jittered in his seat a little. He could remember enough about the time frame that Lumin gave him to provide an answer, but he didn't know if he really wanted to give it to him. Flicker saw earlier how happy Lumin was to see him. But Flicker had a feeling that if he gave the full details of everything he had went though in the past four years, he'd just ruin his father's spirits. Instead, he muttered out an abridged version that he came up with on the spot, "Uh... Well, I wandered all over Moltara for a while. Then I met Big Brother. And I used to work for this guy named Granite. He was a jerk. So we quit and ran away."
Lumin just blinked in response. He stared at Flicker, as if expecting him to continue. When he didn't, Lumin said, "That's it? There's... There's got to be more than that."
Flicker directed his line of sight away from Lumin and his wings began to vibrate. He replied quickly, "No. Not really."
Lumin furrowed his eyebrows, not convinced in the slightest. Wingen sipped his tea, not saying anything but still feeling the awkwardness of the situation. Flicker had finished his in a few big gulps, and was left to tap his fingers on the empty cup to fill the silence.
To Flicker's surprise, Lumin decided against pressing the matter further. At least for the time being. "Perhaps I should I begin with my explanations. Flicker, how much do you remember from back when you were one year old?"
Flicker shook his head and laughed humorlessly, "Not much."
"Very well. Then I should probably explain to you where you come from and who you are," Lumin started, already intriguing Flicker. "You and I come from a place called the City of Lights. It's a city that's located far away from most others in Moltara and sits fairly close to the surface. I was its king. Which makes you the prince."
Wingen nearly spat out his tea. His eyes turned wide as he stared at Flicker and exclaimed, "Flicker, you're a prince?!"
"I am?" Flicker responded simply, his tone flat from the shock.
Lumin nodded. He then sighed, "To be honest, though, neither of us hold much of a title anymore," Lumin put down his cup and lowered his head. He took a few breaths, preparing himself for the story he was about to tell.
Lumin told Flicker everything, from the poison that the City of Lights that took the lives of so many Fireflies –including his mother- to the person known as The Engineer. He explained her powers and how she used them to orchestrate the chaos that the City of Lights would be enveloped in, which lead to Lumin and Flicker's departure from the kingdom.
He talked about what had become of the City of Lights since Flicker was away and the Fireflies that lived in it. Lumin said that -in the past- every Firefly was a glowing Buzz. But due to The Engineer's interference, that was no longer true. The City of Lights was now a hodgepodge of all sorts of species and colors because of her, leaving only six Fireflies that were still Buzzes. That included Flicker, whom also found out that he was the only one of that small group that kept his original color.
To get an explanation of how and why Flicker was so different from other Neopets was a strange feeling for him. The hollow feeling he had over having no knowledge about such a major part of himself had been filled after so many years. But even though it satisfied one of Flicker's lingering questions, what Lumin was telling him only caused more to form. What did being a prince mean for him? Who was his mother? How would being the last conventional Firefly left affect him?
And The Engineer... He wanted to know more about The Engineer as well.
To be continued...