Infinity II: Control - Part Four
Lumin would often receive compliments from both Moltarans and surface-dwellers over the quality of the lights he sold. And every time he would reply with a small laugh that he had no talent in light-making and that the credit should go elsewhere.
In the past, the lights in the shop were made by Lumin, but the ones he sold now were crafted by some of the Fireflies that lived in Central Cavern. The art of making the lights was cathartic to them and helped them cope with the lingering effects of The Engineer, and that was something that Lumin was glad to promote.
Most of the Fireflies that moved to Central Cavern lived in a settlement a short distance away from the main city. At first, Lumin organized it so that the Fireflies were spread out all over the city to reduce the chances of The Engineer catching onto them. But it didn't take long for them to move closer to each other, despite the risks. To Lumin, it seemed like they were afraid of losing what identity and pride they had left if they didn't maintain a community of Fireflies. Perhaps it was for that same reason that it was so difficult to convince Fireflies to leave the City of Lights in the first place, even when it was so dangerous there.
Usually Lumin would receive a visit from one of the best light-makers every week or so to deliver his new products. It was nearing that time and Lumin figured that he would be getting that visit at any moment. The shop had seen good business lately, so his stock was starting to run low.
As if his mind was being read, Lumin heard the bell attached to the front door ring. Lumin turned around and –sure enough- the Firefly was standing in the doorway. Lumin faced him with a small smile instead of his usually serious expression. He didn't think that he would see his son again after so long, but to be proved wrong in that regard made it possible for so much of the sorrow that he kept pent up inside him to be lifted away.
However, once he saw the Firefly, Lumin's expression quickly changed. The yellow Usul was distressed and exhausted, holding himself up against the threshold as he tried to catch his breath. Something wasn't right.
"Sire! We need your help!" the Usul panted once he was able to speak.
Lumin grew to dislike being referred to with royal honorifics, as he no longer held any title to justify such things. But that time he ignored it and instead asked, "Why? What's the matter?"
The Usul explained, "There's somebody harassing us down in the Firefly district. He says that he's looking for Flicker!"
Lumin needed no further convincing.
* * *
The Firefly claimed that he was a soldier, but Granite found that hard to believe.
Rather, the former Firefly made such a statement. An electric Nimmo, he could not have looked more unlike a glowing Buzz if he tried. The stories were true; the Fireflies had messed with The Engineer.
The Nimmo wasn't hearing any of it, though. He continued to make threats to Granite that he'd drive him out if he didn't leave the Fireflies alone. But Granite was never the type to ignore any business that needed attending to. And indeed, he was in the Firefly district on business.
After too many refusals from Granite, the Nimmo had enough. He drew a sword, the average sort of weapon one would expect from a lower ranked solider. The Nimmo ran at Granite and plunged his sword towards him.
Granite didn't move. He didn't need to.
The sword merely nicked the solid rock skin, hardly causing any sort of damage. The Nimmo could try to stab and slice Granite all he wanted, but he would never be able to anything to him.
"Is that all?" Granite sneered. The relic Meerca swatted his hand at the blade, knocking it out of the Nimmo's hands. The Nimmo didn't look so willing to pick a fight after that.
Gabbro and the other foremen that stood behind Granite gave short laughs in amusement. Gabbro then commented in regards to Granite's new form, "And to think that I thought this wouldn't be worth it."
"To be honest, I had the same thoughts at first," Granite admitted. The experience of his entire body turning into a stone form was definitely something that Granite never wanted to go through again. But the power it lent him appeared to pay off quite quickly. Granite was more than satisfied at how nigh-indestructible the transformation had left him.
The other Fireflies in the area backed away from Granite. The variety of species and colors were already watching Granite in fear, but they became even more frightened at how easily he had shrugged off the Nimmo's attack. But when Granite was so intent on interrogating them on Flicker's location, they knew better than to make a run for it.
"Now let's try this again. I'm quite certain that Flicker is in Central Cavern. And you're going to tell me where he is," Granite hissed, giving the Nimmo one last warning.
"I don't know where Flicker is! Nobody does!" the Nimmo snapped. He then stubbornly glared at Granite and yelled, "And even if I did, I wouldn't tell someone like you!"
Granite took a quick look at his surroundings. Aside from the colored lights hanging by every doorway, the brick buildings in the neighborhood weren't anything fancy. That surprised Granite, as he never knew Fireflies to be particularly humble Neopets. At the very least, the visual quality of the small district surpassed the vast majority of Obsidian Quarry. And yet there was still one glaring stain in an otherwise quaint neighborhood.
Very close to where Granite and the Nimmo were standing was an enormous chasm. Such a sight wasn't unusual in Moltara; eruptions and earthquakes opened up parts of the ground all the time. That particular one looked fairly recent, as only part of it was caged off to prevent anyone from falling in.
Their current location was quite convenient. Granite was at just the right angle in relation to the chasm to send the Nimmo flying towards it. He swung his tail at the Nimmo, knocking him far enough away to send him over the edge.
Granite intended that to be a warning to any other Firefly that thought about talking back to him like that. But that threat was quickly thwarted when the Nimmo didn't plummet down the chasm like Granite planned.
Instead, Granite saw a white Buzz swoop in and grab the Nimmo before he fell. The two Neopets hung in the air for quite some time. Perhaps the action would have looked quite heroic to Granite if not for the fact that the white Buzz appeared to be small and weak. Holding onto the Nimmo seemed to be a great strain on him as his wings were beating as fast as they could just to keep them both from falling. The white Buzz wasn't even able to lift the Nimmo back to the ground; on the contrary, the two of them were starting to descend.
Before either of them could lower any deeper into the chasm, the Fireflies that still had wings jumped in to help them. With their assistance, the white Buzz was able to pull the Nimmo out of the chasm and place him back on solid ground. The Nimmo pressed his hands where Granite had struck him, prompting the white Buzz to call for more help. Once a few more Fireflies ran over to tend to the Nimmo's injuries, the white Buzz turned to Granite.
The white Buzz's first impression of Granite left him with a displeased and irritated look on his face. That hardly scared Granite after he saw just how little strength he had. But the feeling was mutual; the white Buzz didn't display an ounce of fear towards Granite as he approached him and asked, "What seems to be the problem here?" In spite of the fact that the white Buzz was clearly unhappy with Granite, he kept his composure when speaking to him.
"And who are you supposed to be? Are you in charge of these idiots, or something?" Granite questioned, unthreatened by the white Buzz. "Whatever. Maybe you'll give me an answer. My name is Granite. I'm the Boss of Obsidian Quarry and I'm looking for a glowing Buzz named Flicker."
The white Buzz's eyes widened slightly at the sound of Flicker's name, which told Granite all that he needed to know. "I knew it; he is in the cave! Now that we have that out of the way, Flicker got himself into quite a bit of trouble with me. Hand him over," Granite demanded, starting to lose patience with the interrogations.
The other Fireflies were shocked to see that the white Buzz was aware of Flicker's presence in Central Cavern. It appeared that the Nimmo wasn't lying after all and that they really didn't know of Flicker's location.
"You're the one that he used to work for, aren't you?" the white Buzz responded. "Flicker made the decision to leave your business. I cannot force him to return against his will."
The white Buzz attempting to stand up to him was amusing at first, but Granite quickly grew tired of it. "I don't think you quite get it," he growled. Granite then showed the white Buzz his left palm and the mark branded on it. There was one less black dot than there was the day before, but the mark seemed to elicit a strong reaction from the white Buzz. "You recognize this mark? I got it from The Engineer. I'm sure you're all familiar with her, aren't you?" he asked not only the white Buzz, but the rest of the Fireflies as well.
The Fireflies watching the confrontation shrunk back at the sound of The Engineer's name. Just those two words alone were enough to inject terror into the eyes of each and every Firefly in the area. Granite saw them shiver as what he said brought back memories that the Fireflies tried so hard to forget. Even the white Buzz became visibly nervous at the subject being brought up.
The white Buzz managed to pacify himself fairly quickly though. Once he did, his voice became stern as he tried to caution Granite, "That mark will bring nothing but misfortune to you. The Engineer is only interested in herself and has no intentions of benefitting anyone else. Your new powers may help you now, but nothing good of it will come in the long-term."
Granite didn't take any stock in what the white Buzz told him. "I think I'll decide that for myself, thank you very much," he retorted. But the what the white Buzz said did remind him of his abilities and gave him an idea. "You Fireflies were quite proud of being glowing Buzzes, weren't you? I bet you'd do anything to get your original forms back. Tell you what. If you give Flicker to me, I'll spend all of the uses I have now and any that I receive later to change all of you here right now back into glowing Buzzes."
A sly smile formed on Granite's face. He knew what the Fireflies were like: They were proud, vain, and arrogant Neopets that were utterly convinced that they were superior to all other Moltarans just because they were a walking light source. Granite knew that the promise of giving them a form to brag about again was too good for any Firefly to pass up.
And yet, nobody spoke up. Not a single Firefly accepted the offer.
Granite raised his eyebrows in astonishment and his smile faded. The foremen, also well aware of how the typical Firefly acted, couldn't believe that nobody jumped at Granite's proposal.
The white Buzz stood steadfast, completely unwavering in his decision. "I will not hand Flicker over to you, and that is final. I'll have to ask you to leave."
Granite grit his teeth. It turned out that all Fireflies were like Flicker: too stupid to realize that they should lower their heads, do as their told, and not have the audacity to do otherwise. But as much as Granite wanted to teach the white Buzz a much-needed lesson, he decided against it for the time being. Instead, he walked up closer to the white Buzz, stood on his tail, and glowered down at him. He then lowered the pitch of his voice and snarled, "If I don't get Flicker back by tomorrow, then I'll take him by force. And don't think I won't hesitate to level this district to do so!"
It didn't matter to Granite whether the white Buzz and the other Fireflies heeded his warning or not. He left the district for the day, but within twenty-four hours he would get Flicker back, one way or another. If that meant that he had to personally see to the destruction of the Firefly's new home, then so be it.
* * *
Professor Frazer told Flicker and Wingen that they were free to look around the library any time they wished. Wingen immediately took him up on that and was eager to browse the shelves. He recommended that Flicker do so as well, as there was so much knowledge sitting there right in front of them.
Wingen had taught Flicker basic reading skills a few years ago, but books were never really his thing. He loved to hear Wingen verbally tell him about the world, but reading was something that bored him fairly quickly. Flicker still listened to Wingen's advice, though, hoping that things would be different if he gave books another chance. Perhaps they would give him some inspiration on what to do with his future as well.
Flicker wandered around the aisles, randomly pulling out books to see if they had anything interesting. Most of the time he would get one that was either far above his reading level or had too much text that took more time to get to the point than Flicker was able to retain his interest in it.
Flicker took out one more book, telling himself that if that one wasn't interesting, than he'd just give up on them altogether. But the moment he opened it up, he could tell that it was much different. Instead of rows and blocks of text, Flicker was greeted with a vibrant painting of a Petpet that Flicker had never seen before. The illustration was labeled, "Snorkle" and showed the Petpet digging in the ground. He turned the page and found another picture of a Petpet. Flicker quickly flipped through the book, finding creatures that he never thought existed. Warfs, Kadoaties, Weewoos, Babaas... In just a few minutes Flicker realized that the wildlife of Moltara was so tiny compared to what could be found on the surface.
Eventually, he came to a section detailing plants. Flicker was familiar with roots, but he had never seen the actual plants that grew from them. Most of the plants were green, reminding Flicker of the color of Frazer's tail. But he soon found out that -just like Petpets- there was such a wide variety of plants too. The flowers and leaves came in so many different shapes, sizes, and colors. He even found out that roots weren't always the only edible part of a plant. He saw pictures of fruits that looked delicious enough that Flicker's mouth was watering just reading about them. One of them, a "strawberry," even looked remarkably like the pattern on Frazer's body.
But it was when Flicker saw full paintings of landscapes that his breath was truly taken away. Vast stretches of fields and forest covering the ground, winding streams of clear water, and great masses of rock reaching several thousands of feet high into the air were just a few of the things that were laid out in front of Flicker. There was so much in those pictures that Flicker was unfamiliar with that he could hardly take all of it in.
One thing in particular about the paintings confused him. He tried to figure out what it was supposed to be on his own, but with no success. Flicker lifted his head up from the book, which was probably the first time he had done so in quite a few hours. He looked around for Wingen, and when he couldn't find him from where he was sitting, he got up to go search for him. Wingen had been to the surface before, so maybe he knew what Flicker saw in the book.
Flicker found Wingen standing up on a ladder to reach one of the shelves near the ceiling. There was a troubled look on his face as he scanned the titles of the books. When he noticed Flicker, he explained, "There used to be a lot of books here about magic and spells. But I can't find any of them now! Come to think of it, I haven't even seen any magicians since we got here! I thought it was weird when Dimitri didn't mention any of the magicians on the exploration team when he was telling us about them. I think something's wrong..." When Wingen saw the book in Flicker's hand, he decided to change the subject and asked, "What're you reading?"
Once Wingen stepped down from the ladder, Flicker turned to a particular page and showed it to him. He pointed to the large mass of light blue hovering over the mountains, rivers, and forests. "What's that?"
It took no time at all for Wingen to give him an answer. "That's the sky."
"Yup. You know how the surface is what's on top of Moltara? Well, the sky is what's on top of the surface. Except it goes on and on forever," Wingen told him.
"Whoa," Flicker uttered, amazed at such a concept. He then turned to another page, pointing at an inky blackness dotted with numerous specks of light. "How about this?"
"That's the sky too," Wingen laughed.
"Huh? Really?" Flicker asked, confused. It looked nothing like the sky from before.
"Mm-hm. The surface gets its light from something called the sun. Think of it like one of the lights that your dad sells, except really big and far away. But it only stays there for half the day. For the other half, it disappears to go light up another part of Neopia. When the sun isn't there, it gets dark out and that's what they call night."
Flicker remembered Dimitri using that word earlier. It started to make a lot more sense to him now. The way the world worked was so complex, but so incredible.
Flicker was already growing excited learning about it all, but he suddenly became even more so once an idea popped into his head. "Hey, Big Brother?" Flicker then grew a big, eager smile. "Can you take me up to the surface? I want to see it for myself!"
Wingen was quiet for a moment, not sharing the excitement that Flicker had. When Flicker saw that, his expression dampened. "You don't want to?"
"It's not that I don't want to..." Wingen replied. "When I went up to the surface, it was during a short mission to retrieve resources. The surface-dwellers usually don't open up the entrance to the surface unless there's a good reason to. I know there are other tunnels that lead up there, but I don't know where any of them are."
"Oh," Flicker muttered, disappointed. The adventurous feeling he had after looking over all those paintings was rapidly starting to disappear once the chances of him getting to experience the surface first-hand were lowered.
But when Wingen saw Flicker's reaction, he was quick to try to cheer him up. "I'll see what I can do, alright? I'll try to find out if there's an expedition coming up and if you and me can go with them."
Wingen's promise heightened Flicker's spirits back up a little. Still, just the thought of seeing the surface made Flicker feel anxious, even if there were questions over whether he'd be able to in the near future or not.
* * *
"I'm gonna run down to Dimitri's workshop to put the map back, okay?" Wingen told Flicker as they left Town Hall.
While Wingen ran down the street leading to the workshops, Flicker headed straight home. The library let him borrow the art book for a few days and he was eager to comb through it thoroughly. Wingen said that he would catch up with him shortly.
Flicker noticed as he flew up to the apartment that the light shop had a closed sign on it. Flicker thought that the shop stayed open for much longer, but he didn't think much of it at the time.
Once Flicker walked inside the apartment, he happened to see a bookshelf in the living room, although it was much smaller than the ones in the library. Still, he began to wonder if Lumin and Dimitri had any art books too. Setting down the one he had on the coffee table by the sofas, Flicker began to rummage through the shelf.
In his eagerness to look through the books, he ended up spilling many of them all over the floor. "Aw, darn it!" Flicker spat out as the books dropped to the ground. He then realized that Dimitri was probably asleep in his room at that moment and hoped that he didn't wake him up.
Flicker bent down to pick the books up, skimming through their pages while he was at it. At one point, he picked up the sound of movement from behind him. Flicker looked over his shoulder and saw nothing. Shrugging it off, he resumed cleaning up the mess.
Then with no warning, Flicker was lifted off his feet and slammed into the wall. He had no time to react. It happened so quickly that his mind couldn't even process what was going on fast enough.
Flicker felt a hand pushing into his back, holding him up against the wall. That wasn't enough to keep him down, though. He was strong enough to throw off his attacker and get himself free. Falling back on instincts, Flicker spun around and swung his fist at his enemy.
But his attack was easily evaded. Within seconds Flicker felt something wrap around his mid-section. It felt cold, like metal. Then he heard the light sound of chain links moving, letting him know what he was being wrapped with. Once his arms were bound against his body, his attacker pushed Flicker onto the ground and held him down with their foot.
Flicker tried to break free, but this time it was no use. The chains were too tough and his attacker knew better than to lower their guard again and put more strength into keeping Flicker down. Even as strong as he was, Flicker couldn't lift himself up; he was completely immobilized.
When there was nothing else he could do, Flicker got the chance to actually look at who attacked him. She was a blue Buzz that was much smaller than Flicker, but clearly possessed enough power to overwhelm him. Her appearance was almost dainty-looking with her silken gray dress, elegant white gloves, and carefully braided black hair. But all notions of delicateness was thrown out the window with the aggressive look she wore on her face as she prevented Flicker from moving a muscle.
The blue Buzz held the harsh stare she directed at Flicker for a long time. But eventually, it disappeared once she took the chance to look her adversary over as well. That abrasive expression was soon replaced with one of complete disbelief. "How... How are you still glowing?"
She then gave a short gasp once a thought seemed to hit her. There was a look in her eyes that was very familiar to Flicker. Flicker knew it as the look on Lumin's face when he saw him after so many years. Even though he changed in appearance over time, the blue Buzz still had a good idea who he was. "Flicker?!"
To be continued...