Infinity II: Control - Part Seven
The place that Dimitri brought Flicker and Wingen didn't look like anything special. It was the average general store one would expect to see in any town. More specifically, he led them to its back door. Flicker saw the front entrance on their way there and it wasn't terribly far from where they were in the first place, so he began to wonder why Dimitri took the long way.
Dimitri took one more quick look around him before he knocked on the door. "It's me. I found them."
The door opened, but just enough so that no one watching could see who was on the other side. Dimitri entered and gestured for Flicker and Wingen to follow. The moment they were inside, the door shut.
Not a single syllable had the chance to escape Flicker's mouth before he saw Lumin searching him over and bombarding him with questions. "Are you hurt? Where did Granite hit you? Is anything bruised or broken?"
The panic emanating not just from Lumin's voice, but his frantic mannerisms told Flicker that it would be best for him to try to put him at ease before it got worse. "I'm fine! Really!"
Lumin appeared relieved to hear that, but that sense of calm didn't last long. Just a second after Flicker confirmed that he was alright, Lumin's concern turned to frustration. He lifted himself up in air high enough to look Flicker directly in the eyes and scolded him, "What are you thinking?! I told you not to get involved in this! Do you have any idea how scared I was?!"
That made it twice in less than thirty minutes that Flicker had been chewed out for the same thing. This time –however- he was going to defend himself. "Why are you guys getting involved?! Granite's my problem! He's after me, so I should have to deal with him!"
"We've been through this already, Flicker! I told you that we can handle this problem! By not listening to me, you're putting yourself in danger for no reason!" Lumin retorted.
"I have a reason!" Flicker snapped. "I want to move on with my life and prove to Granite that I'm in control of it! I can't do that if I'm sitting around hiding!"
Lumin shook his head and gave a slight growl under his breath. "You need to swallow your pride. You can't do everything by yourself. There's nothing wrong with letting people help you!"
"But you're not letting me do anything! You're not letting me be a part in my own battle!" Flicker countered. "I can fight! I can solve my own problems!"
Lumin had nothing to say to that. He lowered himself back to the ground. Yet, he was still unrelenting. He was still scowling at Flicker, showing that his opinion over the matter had not changed.
Wingen –never willing to get involved in those sorts of things- stayed quiet throughout the argument. But then Flicker heard him take a breath and saw him lift up his previously flattened ears. He stepped forward and gave his thoughts, "Mr. Lumin, Flicker isn't doing this by himself. I'm here with him. I don't like fighting, but if Flicker's involved, then I'll do everything I can to help. And to tell you the truth, I feel like I'm in the same situation as him; I want to move past that part of my life too."
Lumin's tightened facial expression began to relax after hearing what Wingen had to say. But even then, it was obvious by the way he stared at the ground in ire that he was still opposed to the idea.
But when Lumin happened to lift his head a little, something caught his eye. All of a sudden, Lumin started to stare at Flicker's right hand and began to crane his head slightly to get a better look. "What... What are you holding?" he asked.
Flicker looked at the hammer that was still in his hand and then back at Lumin. He lifted up both the hammer and an eyebrow, the former to show Lumin and the latter to question why it was a big deal. "Just this hammer I found. Why?"
There was a mixture of emotions that Flicker could see in Lumin's face that were quite perplexing to the glowing Buzz: surprise, reminisce, sorrow, and happiness; all in that order. The happiness was quick to become the dominant emotion as the usually glum-looking Lumin began to grow a small smile. "I see."
Flicker was left in confusion, as Lumin didn't elaborate any further than that. Instead, he cleared his throat and said to everyone in the room, "There's something I must ask all of you, since you've all had experiences with Granite. How does Granite treat his subordinates?"
Wingen didn't hesitate to answer. "Awful. Most of Obsidian Quarry lives in terrible conditions because he takes advantage of his workers."
"To Granite, anyone that isn't a foreman is just trash," Flicker stated harshly.
Dimitri stood by a window, occasionally moving aside the curtains to take a peek out. "You don't need to be around him for very long to see what kind of person he is," Dimitri commented as he kept looking outside. "He's impatient, foul-tempered, and –like Flicker and Wingen said- horrible and ungrateful to just about anyone that works for him."
Lumin nodded, thinking to himself. It didn't take much time at all for Lumin to make his decision and declare, "There's something I'm going to do, but I need to leave Central Cavern. Wingen, I saw you using something that increased your speed earlier. May I use one?" Wingen was a little surprised, but nonetheless obliged and gave Lumin a green gem. Lumin put the green gem in one of his pockets and said, "Thank you. I'll be back as soon as I can. In the meantime..."
Lumin began to give Flicker another stern look in the eyes. Flicker braced himself to be lectured once more. But instead, Lumin's expression softened as he took a pause. The silence was barely broken by the nearly inaudible plea, "Just be careful." Lumin cast glances at the other two Neopets in the room. "I was terrified of you trying to solve this by yourself, but I can see that you're being looked out for." He took another brief look at Flicker's hammer. "In more ways than one..."
Flicker grew a huge smile. "Really?! You mean it?!" Realizing that he did, Flicker immediately hugged Lumin, lifting the white Buzz off the ground in the process. Lumin wasn't quite as startled as the last time Flicker did that to him, but he still couldn't help but grunt in surprise.
"I'll stick right by Flicker, Mr. Lumin. Don't worry, okay?" Wingen promised.
"I will too. All of us will make sure that Granite doesn't win!" Dimitri told Lumin, giving out his support as well. He quickly peeked out the window again and when he turned around, he said uneasily, "But whatever you're going to do, I'd start heading out of Central Cavern right now, Lumin. There are foremen out there looking for us!"
Understanding, Lumin led the way as all four Neopets left the building. There wasn't time left for too many words, so Flicker had to suffice by leaving Lumin with, "I'll be okay, Papa." Flicker could tell Lumin was still nervous, so he hoped that would be able to pacify him, even if just by a little bit.
"'Papa?'" Dimitri blurted out as he tried to stifle a bit of laughter.
Flicker ignored Dimitri for the time being, though. He was more focused on Lumin, who appeared to believe Flicker, yet was still so restless. "Take care," Lumin said as he hovered above Flicker, getting ready to leave. Lumin flew off, but Flicker saw him slow down a few times, just long enough to give a couple hesitant, fleeting, and still-worried looks before he was out of sight.
* * *
It wasn't long after Flicker had slipped away from Lampyri that Dimitri arrived, saying that he had ran into Lumin and was told about what was going on. Lampyri in turn told Dimitri of the direction that Flicker headed in and to try to find him. If he did, she asked him to bring Flicker to either Lumin or Lampyri - whomever was closest. She would do the job herself, but she was a little busy at that moment.
Gabbro was not strong enough that Lampyri was particularly worried about him, but he had just enough experience in fighting to become an obstacle to her. That was what truly grated on her nerves, as she knew that she couldn't be wasting much time with the Ixi. She needed to deal with him as fast as possible before Flicker found Granite, who was a much bigger threat. Lampyri hoped that Dimitri would find Flicker and provide backup and extra time, but she couldn't rely entirely on that.
The moment Gabbro made his move, Lampyri made hers. Lampyri whipped her chains at him before he could get any closer. Gabbro recoiled from the strike and stopped in his tracks. He wasn't quite quick-minded enough to avoid the links hitting him and he couldn't strike Lampyri from a distance either. For a while, all he could do was try to block the attacks and swat the chains away whenever possible. But when he managed to defend himself from one string of chains, Lampyri took out a second one and began a two-pronged attack.
Gabbro backed up to be just out of Lampyri's range. Trying something different, he broke out into a run and circled around Lampyri, attempting to get her from an angle that she couldn't strike him from. He was fast, which made it more difficult for Lampyri to land her hits. She lashed out a few times, but Gabbro managed to evade them.
Lampyri stopped attacking briefly and watched. She watched his movements keenly, waiting for just the right opportunity. The ability to read the opponent and their actions was invaluable. Power meant nothing if the one launching the attacks can never land a hit. Lampyri would always hear that from Glowstick, a fellow Royal Guard and her best friend. He frequently bragged about how he excelled at accuracy, but years spent dueling and competing with him allowed Lampyri to pick up some of his techniques.
She needed to be patient. The right moment would eventually come. Lampyri kept her eyes on Gabbro and never took them off.
Gabbro made a dash straight towards Lampyri. That was her chance. She sent out a string of chains at him and wrapped them around one of his arms. Lampyri gave a swift tug and threw off Gabbro's balance, pulling him off his feet and on to the ground.
Before Gabbro could stand, Lampyri ran over and got him up herself. But that wasn't to give him another shot at beating her. Now that he was standing up, she could bind both of his arms much easier. Gabbro tried to break the chains off him, but it was no use.
The blue Buzz stepped back and tightened her grip on the chain rope. She rotated in place, starting by dragging Gabbro on the dirt at first, but quickly began swinging him around like a flail. She wasn't sure if he could hear her at that point, but she said to him, "If you can't attack, defend, or flee..."
Once she felt Gabbro was high enough in the air, she moved the chains in such a way that they let go of him and sent him flying across the settlement.
* * *
There was a lot on Flicker's mind at that moment. But there was one thing that stood out in his head that he just had to know.
"This thing is so cool! How did you make it?! How did shoot out fireballs like that?!" Flicker rapidly asked all in one breath. He excitedly inspected the miniature cannon attached to Dimitri's arm. The bronze cannon looked more like a replacement limb, as everything from Dimitri's hand to his elbow was hidden away inside. The upper part of it was quite a bit thicker than the rest and had tubes and pipes attached to it. "Oh! Oh! Let me use it! I wanna try it out!"
Dimitri pulled his arm away from Flicker, albeit with much effort as Flicker was holding on to it fairly tightly. "Not unless you're a Draik or a Scorchio," he said with a laugh. He then held his arm up to give both Flicker and Wingen a better view and grinned with pride. "Most Draiks can breathe fire, including myself. This right here is a cannon that takes advantage of that ability. If I squeeze my hand inside like so..." A long, thick tube suddenly popped up out of the top of the cannon. "...I can channel my breath inside the cannon and shoot it out as a fireball, which is what I did earlier. Or I can put projectiles inside of it for some extra punch. And yes, this is my own invention."
Flicker's grin widened in awe as Dimitri explained the cannon. He probably would have been jumping up and down in excitement had Wingen not broken in and said, "Guys... I know it's cool, but we kinda have other things to worry about."
That was a point that was quickly proved. "There you are!" Flicker heard a shout coming from behind. The moment he turned around, Lampyri was mere inches away from him. "What is wrong with you?! Are you just going to keep running headfirst into a fight that you were clearly told to stay out of?!" Lampyri growled behind clenched teeth.
Flicker groaned; after getting into an argument with Lumin, he had no desire to get into another one with Lampyri. "Aw, leave me alone! Papa said I could fight!"
"He said what?!" Lampyri yelled incredulously.
"He told you to be careful..." Wingen muttered to Flicker.
Lampyri calmed down, but only a little. She stared at Flicker for a while, appearing to feel conflicted on what to do with him. She closed her eyes tightly and took a deep breath before she said, "Even if you do have the approval of your father, I'm still not going to let you out of my sight this time. With as much of an amateur as you are, you'd just get yourself killed if I left you by yourself."
"Don't call me that! I'm not an amateur!" Flicker barked.
"You are," Lampyri replied, unthreatened. She counted with her fingers as she listed, "You can't block, you can't evade, and your only strategy is to just keep punching things over and over."
Flicker was a bit confused at why the last one was a bad thing. "Well... yeah." He crossed his arms, looked away, and mumbled, "You're a jerk."
Lampyri exhaled an irritated puff of air. "If you want your fighting to remain stagnant and predictable, then be my guest. Because whatever you've been trying with Granite is obviously working out quite well with you," Lampyri said facetiously.
As much as Flicker didn't want to admit it out loud, she did have a point. Using a hammer as a weapon gave him a little bit of an advantage against Granite, but he still needed to do more if he was going to turn things completely in his favor. He just didn't know what. Simple, powerful attacks always used to work for him in the past, but now they were hindering him more than anything.
Whether Flicker liked it or not, Lampyri went with him, Wingen, and Dimitri as they ran out of hiding and resumed searching for Granite. When they emerged from the alleyways and entered the more openly-spaced area of the Firefly district, they saw that the foremen were right there waiting for him. Flicker thought there were less foremen there than there were earlier. Lampyri confirmed that by commenting that some Firefly soldiers were busy fighting as many foremen as they could, despite being outnumbered.
The foremen were unwilling to attack Flicker to begin with, but that was the case to an even larger extent this time. Flicker having a magician, a cannon-sporting mechanic, and a former Royal Guard on his side could not have been making the foremen feel relaxed.
Instead, the foremen merely stopped Flicker and the others in their tracks as they called for someone that could pose a threat to them. Granite wasn't far behind the foremen, since his subordinates moved aside as he approached Flicker.
Flicker thought he was imagining it earlier, but now he was certain of what he saw. When he looked at Granite, he appeared as though he had never fought Flicker at all. His rock body completely lacked any cracks or broken-off pieces. Flicker didn't know why or how that was, but he pushed those questions aside and prepared himself to fight Granite as many times as it took.
Granite scanned each of Flicker's companions and stated, "Four on one is a little unfair, don't you think?"
Wingen grimaced and murmured, "When have you ever been fair?"
Granite paid Wingen's comment no heed. Instead his focus was on Flicker as he laughed, "All this proves is that you're too dense to do anything by yourself. You know that you can't defeat me, so you go and get others to do it for you."
The foremen –now that they were in the company of their boss- started to move towards Flicker's group. Granite held his hand to them, gesturing them to stay back. "It doesn't matter whether there's one of you, four, or a hundred. You're still no match for me."
All four Neopets on Flicker's side got ready. Flicker recalled what Lumin told him about there being no shame in letting others help him. While it was true that he wanted to defeat Granite and eliminate the possibility of going back to the way his life used to be, he didn't mind having Wingen fight by his side. That was not only because he was his Big Brother, but also because Wingen had a lot of history with Granite too. But Flicker was beginning to understand what Lumin meant as Dimitri and Lampyri agreed to help him –even if the latter was doing it out of obligation.
Flicker was still set on beating Granite. But knowing that there were people ready to help him in any way possible was a warm, heartening thought.
* * *
Gabbro struggled to lift himself off of the ground and onto his feet. He stumbled along the dark, narrow alley, every step forward being the product of a great effort.
He underestimated the blue Buzz. He had gotten too full of himself. That wouldn't happen again, that was for sure. Gabbro needed to find his way back to the brawl and take her down. If he didn't, Granite would surely be angry with him. The fact that he was Granite's right-hand man didn't lessen his anxiety. Rather, he dreaded the scenario even more because of that.
"My, my. Things are getting quite eventful, are they not?"
Gabbro snapped his head around at the voice. He recognized it. It was The Engineer's voice. The sound came from behind, but there was nothing there when he looked in that direction. He turned in circles as much as he could with his injuries, frantically trying to find The Engineer. But with how little light was present in the alley, there wasn't much that he could see.
"Eventful, yet strangely dull. I feel as if more could be done to make things a little more... exciting," The Engineer said, yet again from a spot that was vacant when Gabbro looked.
The grey Ixi began to breathe heavily. He tried to convince himself that all the stories about The Engineer were exaggerated myths; legends and rumors, nothing more. It was all in an attempt to stop the intense shivering he made as he stood petrified, despite every instinct telling him to run.
The next time Gabbro heard The Engineer, it was when she whispered in his ear, "By the way, I recall you doubting my abilities."
Gabbro felt a hand press against his back.
A shrill, piercing scream erupted in the alleyway.
To be continued...