Infinity II: Control - Part Nine
Flicker bit into the purple healing gem that he asked Wingen for. Within a few seconds, the pain coming from the burn on his hand began to dull, but he could still feel it sting. Of course, Wingen was sure to remind Flicker that the purple gem wasn't meant to be a substitute for actual medical attention and that he ought to be careful. Flicker had to reassure Wingen once again that he'd be fine, or else the poor Wocky might've been overwhelmed with fretfulness.
As he approached Gabbro, Flicker held out the hammer in his right, unscathed hand. He lost the hammer he had been previously using in the now-destroyed Dal, but managed to find another one in the rubble of one of the Firefly's houses. Before long, Gabbro wouldn't get the chance to destroy anything else and Flicker was going to make sure of it.
Flicker hastened the flapping of his wings to create a burst of speed. But before he could get very far with it, he was cut off by someone else zipping by as fast as they could. Flicker paused in mid-air to get a look and found that it was Lampyri that started to face Gabbro head on. He then saw her whip her chains at Gabbro's face in an incredibly ferocious manner, but also at a much closer range than what was usual for her.
Flying not too far behind Lampyri was Dimitri, who yelled out to her, "Hey! Whatever happened to keeping a distance?!"
"Dimitri, what's going on?!" Wingen asked, which was the same question that was on Flicker's mind.
Dimitri shook his head and replied, "I don't know! All of a sudden she started flipping out! And she's not listening to a word I'm saying!"
Flicker took a good look at Lampyri. She seemed so... angry. But it didn't look like that anger was at Gabbro. He wasn't sure who that rage was supposed to be directed at, but it was beginning to look like Gabbro was simply the first person that Lampyri could take it out on. And her wild, unrestrained attacks reflected those emotions.
Gabbro roared out in distress, but Lampyri still did not relent a bit. She didn't pay any attention to how enraged Gabbro was becoming; her only focus was on her own furious attacks. So much so, that when Gabbro rapidly turned around and kicked his back hooves at her, she had no chance to react.
His hooves smashed into the armored Buzz, immediately putting a stop to her attack. The force of the kick was so powerful that Lampyri was sent flying far off into the distance and at a greater speed than Flicker's eyes could follow.
"Lampyri!" Flicker, Wingen, and Dimitri all yelled at once. Their shouts alerted Gabbro to their presence, causing the infuriated Ixi to turn around and have them within his sights.
The three of them immediately realized that they were Gabbro's next target. Flicker grasped his hammer even tighter, but now with a hint of uncertainty. He didn't want to have to admit it, but if Gabbro could defeat Lampyri that easily, what could he do?
Gabbro then pawed the ground, digging into the rock in the process. He then lowered his head and aimed his powerful horns at Flicker, Wingen, and Dimitri, all of whom felt their hope in winning that battle plunge dramatically.
Flicker and Wingen were completely lost on what to do. Dimitri barely had any ideas either, but as Gabbro charged closer, he was forced to act on instinct. He breathed fire into his arm cannon and shot out a fireball, at the same time turning his head away as he expected Gabbro's horns to ram right into him.
As the fiery burst cleared out, all became quiet. Dimitri still looked away, only slowly realizing that he was still alive. Flicker had to shout out his name to get Dimitri to look forward.
Gabbro had stopped his charge and was now stumbling backwards. His breathing was at its most ragged and tired, yet with growls that hinted that he still wanted to continue attacking. Dimitri -terrified of that possibility- fired another few fireballs at him, forcing Gabbro to back up even further.
Eventually, Gabbro backed up far enough into a place that Flicker at to look twice at to confirm what he was really seeing. At first, it looked like Gabbro was levitating over the huge chasm that the Firefly district was near. But when Flicker scrutinized the scene further, he realized that Gabbro was actually standing on top of the metal cage covering the chasm. At the same time, Flicker noticed another presence standing near the cage, approaching Gabbro.
* * *
Granite had to admit that Flicker and his allies put up a good fight against the monster. But an entertaining waste of time was still a waste of time, regardless.
The relic Meerca stood right before the cage and stared at the monstrous Ixi. It didn't appear to know Granite was there, if it even had the capacity for thought at all. But Granite knew that within a few moments, the monster would be aware of his presence.
Long ago Granite had met a small, nomadic tribe of Neopets, and they were unlike anything he had ever seen up until that point. They all possessed the relic color; they were Neopets made out of stone. Their brains must have been as well, since they were quite vehement on refusing Granite's attempts to have them settle permanently in Obsidian Quarry. It was quite the shame, as having workers with such durable bodies would be much more useful than the more fragile Neopets Granite was forced to employ.
But their brief stay left a lasting impression on Granite. In that short time, he took notice of the many advantages that their unique color gave them. They were like moving statues; resilient, sturdy, and powerful. Statues, however, required a sculptor to carve and manipulate the stone to achieve the most ideal shape.
Granite outstretched his tail. It took some effort with how little time Granite had spent with his new color, but still accomplished the task he had in mind: His stone tail had shortened, but also thickened so that it was molded into a massive, rounded bludgeon ready to strike its target.
The thing about relic Neopets that had impressed Granite the most was that they were their own sculptor.
Granite slammed his tail onto the metal cage. Although the metal did not break, the bars still bent at the force of the impact. Granite didn't need to completely destroy the cage, or even split a single bar. All that he needed to do was weaken it just enough and then the monster's weight would do the rest.
And that it did. The cage eventually gave way and plummeted down the chasm, the Ixi not far behind. The Ixi proved to be capable of basic instinct, as it reached its front hooves towards the edge. With the way its hooves were dragging on the cliff and with how little energy the Ixi as a whole had left, any attempt to pull itself out would be more than futile.
It was still taking too long though. The monster's eyes widened at Granite as it managed to realize what he planned to do as he swung his tail back. Granite's tail hit the monster's hooves, knocking it far enough back that the Ixi lost its grip and fell deep into the abyss.
* * *
Flicker, Wingen, and Dimitri all watched what Granite had done. At first, Flicker was speechless at the way Granite's tail changed; if he could shape his own body like that, then it was no wonder he could make a few minor cracks disappear altogether. But Flicker was soon stricken silent for another reason, that being that Granite was the one to defeat Gabbro. Flicker glanced over his shoulder and asked Wingen, "Did he know?"
Wingen shook his head in uncertainty, but added, "Even if he did, I don't think it would have mattered."
They then saw Granite turn around. Even with as far away as he was, Flicker could tell that Granite's hardened scowl was directed right at him. Flicker returned the glare, having long been ready to fight.
But Flicker stopped himself, giving a very brief look behind him. He remembered that Lampyri had been thrown far in that direction, the opposite one that Granite was standing in.
Wingen –always adept at reading Flicker- noticed his internal conflict and questioned him, "What do you want to do?"
Now was the perfect time to fight Granite. Gabbro was out of the picture and the foremen were nowhere to be seen. Flicker had taken a fair amount of damage since the whole situation erupted, but he still had plenty of energy left in him, which was well enough to take Granite on.
But for the entirety of the time that Flicker worked for Granite, he was forced to watch so many Neopets get hurt by Granite's and Gabbro's hands, whether it was through violence or manipulation. There was next to nothing that Flicker could do to help them in any significant way, even though he hated having a part in Granite's treatment of Obsidian Quarry. But now he could help. He could save people now. And to Flicker, he wasn't concerned if that someone had been criticizing him all day. Someone was in trouble and Flicker could do something about it; that was all that mattered.
Without another thought on the subject, Flicker turned around and flew away from Granite. Dimitri gave his wordless approval of Flicker's decision by shooting yet another fireball at Granite. Flicker assumed that Dimitri knew it wouldn't harm Granite one bit, but it would at least disorient him while they got away.
Flicker frantically searched the ground as he flew by. He only knew of the general direction that Lampyri flew to and -considering Central Cavern's size- that wasn't much to go on. Wingen and Dimitri kept their eyes out for Lampyri as well, but they weren't having any success either.
Dimitri hesitated for a moment, but eventually pointed out, "Y'know, things are going kind of slow with all three of us looking in the same exact places..."
"Would it be better if we split up?" Flicker asked in a simple tone, bluntly saying the words that Dimitri was intending to say.
The three Neopets landed on the ground to discuss the situation without having to yell over Flicker and Dimitri's wing beats or the moving air. Once Wingen jumped off Flicker's shoulders, he muttered nervously, "I was thinking that too, but... I promised your dad that we'd stay together..."
Flicker could tell by the pensive look on Wingen's face that he was still thinking it over, though. "But Gabbro kicked Lampyri pretty hard. She probably needs help quickly and we'd find her faster if we split up and covered more ground," Wingen considered.
Seeing that Wingen was troubled over his promise to Lumin, Dimitri said, "If you search on the ground, I'll go with Flicker and we'll keep looking from the air."
Flicker gave a small groan at the two Neopets conversing on how to supervise him. He didn't need to be watched over like someone else of his chronological age, and Dimitri being unaware of that fact didn't make Flicker's annoyance over it disappear. Still, Flicker wasn't enthusiastic about arguing at that moment and simply had to agree with the plan.
Before Wingen left, he faced Flicker. The Wocky had to stand on his tiptoes to try to get a more direct look at Flicker's face, and that still didn't bring Wingen anywhere close to it. Nevertheless, he looked Flicker right in the eyes and said, "Flicker, you've got to promise me that if you see Granite or the foremen, that you won't fight them! If you're gonna fight, then I'd rather be with you to help out!"
Flicker sighed; he didn't like the idea of not fighting if the opportunity was presented it to him, but he hated seeing Wingen worried even more. "Okay. I won't."
But Wingen still needed to do one more thing to calm himself down completely. "Here. If you run into trouble, use these." Wingen gave Flicker a few of his magic gems, one of each color.
Each of them nodded to one another, understanding the agreement. Flicker and Dimitri continued their aerial search while Wingen got a more detailed look by exploring the streets of Central Cavern.
* * *
The bits of rock crunched between Granite's teeth. Had he still been an average Meerca, he'd be causing his mouth a considerable amount of damage and his yells would've been thunderous enough to reflect that. But as a relic Neopet, the sharp, pointy pebbles felt no more painful than eating fried potatoes that had been burned to a crisp.
"What on Neopia is coming over me?" Granite growled to as he tried to convince himself that he really was eating rocks. "I know that the relic Neopets do this, but the fact that is feels so natural to me is just..."
"Obvious," the voice belonging to the Neopet sitting a few feet opposite of Granite finished for him. The Engineer's smile barely showed up in the dimly lit alleyway, but even then that striking feature was hard not to notice. "Where do you think the materials required for your body to heal and reshape itself come from? They don't come from nowhere. You forget that it's my powers alone that can defy the laws of matter like that. Of course, that makes the fact that you've barely used those powers of mine that I loaned you all the more intriguing."
Granite grunted at The Engineer as he bit into another rock. "The opportunity hasn't presented itself yet." With only four transformations that he could possibly make at that moment, he wasn't about to go using those powers at the drop of a hat like The Engineer. He needed to be careful about it. If things looked like they could possibly turn against him, then maybe he would consider the option. "How long have you been watching all of this, anyways?"
"The entire time," The Engineer answered as she reclined herself against the wall. "The glowing Buzz's appearance, your fights with him, you finishing off your own subordinate..."
Granite immediately stopped eating. "What?" His eyes began to grow wide as thought harder about the Ixi's appearance and put the pieces together. "That was Gabbro?!"
"Oh? Was that his name?" The Engineer said ever so nonchalantly.
Granite's breath became short in a hurry. "That monster was him? You did that?!" He didn't think it was possible, but the realization caused his already stone-cold body to chill even more. "That was my right-hand-man! He's worked for me for years!"
The Engineer stared at him, unaffected. "So?" When Granite couldn't find the words to reply to her, she continued, "You need a new subordinate? There are millions of Neopets on the planet. Take your pick."
Granite was silent. He just stared at The Engineer, partially in disbelief, partially in anger, but mostly in horror. All of the stories he had heard about her were suddenly returning to his memory. If there was any iota of doubt in Granite's head over the authenticity of every terrible word spoken of her, it was swiftly erased just listening to her talk.
The Engineer spotted an Aboogala scaling the wall next to her and plucked it off. She let the Petpetpet scramble around in her right hand as she said, "It's so interesting watching insects going about their lives. That applies in a literal sense in regards to what I hold in my hand –for example- but I've found that Neopets have more in common with insects than they would like to admit."
Granite saw The Engineer transfer the Aboogala to her left hand, which promptly emitted a small glow once it made contact. The Aboogala writhed around as its legs shortened and its body widened. "They lives their lives without ever grasping the vastness of the world around them. Their knowledge is limited; no matter how much they think they know about where they live, in the end they will lack a complete understanding of that world. A Petpetpet will know nothing outside of the holes they crawl through. A Neopet will remain ignorant of anything that their minds find too unfamiliar."
The newly formed Moffit tried to stand steady in its new body. The Engineer lifted her hand to eye level as she watched the Moffit struggle. "They are convinced that they are significant. That their individual actions will have a lasting effect on the whole. But they are unaware –perhaps blissfully so- that whatever they do will not matter in the slightest. When compared to the immeasurable universe they are lucky enough to exist in, they might as well have done nothing at all. Ultimately, they are small, unimportant, and..."
The Engineer clenched her fist.
The Engineer looked at Granite again, giving him that same smile. "Neopets are such amusing creatures, aren't they?"
Granite didn't know what to say to that. What could he say to that? How could he possibly reply to the pretty Acara with the pleasant voice that said all those horrible, vile things? As Granite tried –and failed- to imagine the kind of thoughts that were being created in that twisted mind of hers, he began to feel fear towards another Neopet for the first time in his life.
When Granite did not answer her, The Engineer raised her eyebrow. "What? You don't agree?" She gave a bored, tired sigh. "You don't have much of a sense of humor, do you?"
The Engineer stood up. Granite tensed up at the sudden movement and watched The Engineer closely. But she took no further steps towards Granite. Instead, she was eager to change the subject. "The last glowing Buzz is someone in this cavern. I could track him down and eliminate his species-color combination from this land, but honestly, I'm not in the mood for that right now." The Engineer looked away from Granite slightly, but her eyes and smile were still directed towards him. "It would save me the effort if you could do that for me. If you could transform him and the other two Fireflies, then I would give you as much of my power as you want."
Granite suddenly managed to break out of the fog of fear his mind was wrapped in. Just a small amount of The Engineer's abilities were incredibly handy to a businessman that wanted to expand their empire. But the mere opportunity to obtain for what was in all intents and purposes an unlimited amount of that power began to overwhelm Granite with eagerness. It appeared that dealing with someone as appalling as The Engineer would be more than worth it after all.
Granite nodded in agreement. The Engineer disappeared immediately after Granite accepted the terms, leaving the Meerca to put his plan into action.
* * *
There area that Granite and The Engineer conversed in was quiet for quite some time after both of them left. It appeared vacant too, but it was soon revealed that was not the case when the effects of Wingen's yellow invisibility gem ran out.
Wingen stood huddled in the corner of the alleyway, too terrified to move. Every last word that he heard shook him to the core and he dreaded what would end up coming of them. His first steps away from the corner were unsteady, as was his breathing that he was forced to quiet up until a few moments prior. His mouth was agape in shock with no sounds leaving it. But if he was to warn Flicker of what was about to happen, he needed to get moving and regain his voice quickly.
"This is bad! This is really, really bad!"
* * *
An idea went through Flicker's head. Since Wingen gave him both an invisibility and speed gem, he thought that it would be a good idea to use them both at the same time. That way, he could hasten his search for Lampyri and not have to worry about Granite or the foremen finding him.
What he had failed to anticipate was that it caused Dimitri to completely lose track of him, leaving Flicker by himself. Flicker hovered in the air and scratched his head as he tried to figure out where Dimitri was. Flicker finally realized that having a partner didn't do him a whole lot of good if said partner was suddenly much slower and had no way to find him.
Flicker knew that Wingen was probably going to get upset with him because of that, but Flicker decided that he just ought to keep going further into Central Cavern at that point. Lampyri could not have been too much farther away, so he continued to keep his eye on the ground.
But his eyes were briefly brought back to the air when he heard someone else flying in the area. It wasn't Dimitri, as the sound his leathery wings made was much different. What Flicker did hear was the familiar droning of another Buzz flying nearby. It wasn't Lampyri either, but Flicker had to make a relieved smile nonetheless. "Papa!"
Lumin suddenly stopped with a jolt. He swiveled his head around, knowing who the voice that shouted at him belonged to, but bewildered over where it came from. "Flicker?! Where are you?"
Flicker flew closer to Lumin. "Right here!"
Lumin turned his head in Flicker's direction. Had he been standing on the ground, Lumin probably would have jumped straight up when all he could see of Flicker was the hammer he held. "What happened to you?!"
Once again reminded that the yellow gem was prone to cause a lot of confusion, Flicker explained, "Oh, this? It's just some of Big Brother's magic. It'll wear off." Almost right on cue, the invisibility effect faded and the glowing Buzz was within Lumin's sight again. "See?"
Lumin's face became rather frightened for a moment, almost as if the sight of someone suddenly appearing right in front of his eyes had scared him in the past. That became even more evident when Lumin exhaled a deep breath as he said to Flicker, "Please don't do that." Once Lumin composed himself, he moved off that subject and asked, "What are you doing by yourself? Where's everyone else?"
It was a long story, but Flicker told it to Lumin as fast as he could. Lumin looked like he was deep in thought as Flicker ran by the events, indicating to the glowing Buzz that his storytelling skills were severely lacking in comprehensive detail. But Lumin seemed to get the gist of it, nevertheless. "That is troubling," he said in regards to Lampyri. "Very well. I'll help you look for her."
Flicker was thankful for the assistance, but he was also curious. "Did you do what you needed to leave for, Papa?"
Lumin nodded. "Yes, I think it went well. But we can discuss that later."
Buzzes were known for their extraordinary eyesight, so having two of them conducting a search made things much easier. As such, a lot of ground was covered in a short amount of time and it wasn't long before Flicker caught a glimpse of light shining off of armor. Taking a closer look, he finally found Lampyri lying down in a small pile of rubble.
Flicker alerted Lumin and the two of them floated down over to her. Flicker was quick to run over to Lampyri once he touched ground, but Lumin followed behind at a slower pace, his eyes searching their surroundings.
It relieved Flicker to see that Lampyri was breathing, but her dented armor and her unresponsiveness prevented him from rejoicing much at all. He was still optimistic about the situation though; he may not have known anything about medicine, but he was sure Lampyri would be just fine once he brought her to someone that did.
But before he could take any steps towards that goal, Flicker heard Lumin shout, "Fli-"
Lumin was abruptly cut off by something that sounded like it was muffling his voice. Flicker spun around to find the area completely surrounded by just about every foreman from Obsidian Quarry. They emerged from their hiding spots located behind and inside several buildings. Flicker was the first to admit that his analytical skills were fairly dull, but he was able to figure it out: The foremen saw that Lampyri was there and they knew that Flicker would come looking for her.
A few of the foremen had jumped forward to restrain Lumin. The instant his father's face was slammed into the ground, two emotions surged through Flicker. This first was guilt, both because he had no other choice but to leave Lampyri's side when she was hurt and because he had to break the promise he made to Wingen.
The second emotion: Complete and utter rage.
Flicker's face tightened into a furious snarl. Before he even knew it, Flicker had run over to Lumin, flung foremen away from him, and threw punches at any that still tried to fight. He didn't even think about it. It was like when Granite tried to hurt Wingen. He didn't think about throwing Granite through the doors of Mine Headquarters, he just did it. He saw someone he cared about in trouble, and he acted.
This time however, he was facing a lot more resistance. A few of the foremen he could defeat easily with no effort whatsoever. But then each and every one of them attacked Flicker and Lumin all at once. And with dozens of Neopets wrestling Flicker and holding him down, even he was overpowered.
Within seconds, Flicker's face was in the dirt and so was Lumin's yet again. Flicker couldn't see much when his head was prevented from moving just like the rest of his body, but he soon saw a pair of feet followed by a stone tail approaching him.
"Got a little full of yourself there, didn't you, Flicker?" said Granite.
To be continued...