Infinity II: Control - Part Twelve
"I see them! I see them!"
After some time had passed, neither Dimitri nor Lumin could stand waiting around for much longer. The two of them decided that they would try to find Flicker and Wingen, if only to assuage their fears that something had gone wrong.
It wasn't long before Dimitri found them, but it was hardly comforting to see Flicker slumped against Wingen's shoulders, the little Wocky trying pointlessly to pull the much larger Buzz along. Lumin ran over to the two of them the instant he saw the state that Flicker was in, with Dimitri following right behind him.
Wingen could hardly take more than a few steps at a time while he tried to support Flicker's weight. When he saw Dimitri and Lumin running towards him, he seemed to be more than eager for their help. "Oh... I'm glad you're here!"
Lumin and Dimitri tried to assist Wingen, although they quickly found that it was quite the feat, even for all three of them. "Did you guys win?" Dimitri grunted as he put one of Flicker's arms around his shoulder.
"Yeah. We did," Wingen said with a weak smile. "But it took a lot out of Flicker. He fainted not too long after it was all done with..."
Lumin reiterated Wingen's point by saying, "We can't waste any time; we need to get him back home and treated as soon as possible."
The three Neopets all understood that and therefore were quick to try to take Flicker back to the carriage waiting for them. But they still struggled with carrying Flicker, resulting in little progress after a minute or two. "That would be a lot easier to do if he wasn't so heavy..." Dimitri commented.
Suddenly, they felt Flicker's weight taken off of them. They were so concentrated on getting Flicker to the carriage that Lampyri had evaded their notice as she approached them. It was only when she lifted Flicker up and started to carry him herself that she had grabbed their attention.
"Hey, should you be doing that? You're not in good shape either," Dimitri questioned, shocked that Lampyri had left the carriage in her condition. He looked to Lumin to back up his point, but he didn't appear to be surprised at all at Lampyri's decision.
"I told you not to worry about me. I'll be fine," said Lampyri, her voice still shuddering despite her attempts to brush off her injuries. Regardless of that, Lampyri took Flicker back to the carriage with the others following right behind her.
There wasn't a second wasted before the carriage took off to Central Cavern. After all that happened that day, everyone just wanted to go home.
* * *
The citizens of Obsidian Quarry slowly started to flock back to their city. The first thing they did upon doing so was to start hunting for their now former boss.
It was a good thing that Granite woke up when he did, otherwise he would have been caught by the miners patrolling the streets. But even if he was captured while still unconscious, would it have mattered? Whether he escaped from his angry employees or faced their wrath, his future still looked just as bleak.
Granite staggered along the empty street, figuring that the voices he heard were far enough away that he could move again without being spotted. He didn't get very far before his body gave out on him again and caused him to trip to the floor. He wanted so deeply to be able to say that it wasn't the end. But as much as he told himself that and that he'd rise up to glory again, he knew that those were just hollow thoughts.
Granite lifted his head when he felt the presence of someone standing in front of him. The Engineer stared at the Meerca lying on the ground, lacking her usual smile. Instead, her expression was of someone that was witnessing something that they found absolutely pathetic.
Granite narrowed his eyes at The Engineer. "You lied to me," he hissed. "I couldn't transform the Fireflies when you told me that I could!"
The Engineer was silent for a long time as she watched Granite. Eventually, her smile returned, paired with a short, quiet laugh. "I said no such thing," The Engineer replied smugly. "I said that if you could transform them, then I would allow you as much power as you wanted. I never said anything about whether that action was achievable or not. A generous reward for an impossible task. Fitting, don't you think?" She then shrugged her shoulders and added, "There's no reason to be ashamed of yourself over that, though. I never expected you to capture the glowing Buzz in the first place."
Granite's already short breath became even shallower after hearing The Engineer's explanation. "Then what was the point?! Why did you even waste your time with this?!" Granite shouted, not caring anymore if the miners heard him or not.
The Engineer's smile turned into a grin. "I was bored. I thought that your connection to the glowing Buzz would make for an interesting scenario if I tugged at a few strings. I wanted entertainment, and you delivered."
Granite's eyes widened as everything finally became clear to him. He was a tool. No, he was a toy. A mere plaything in The Engineer's hands, who never thought anything of causing him so much humiliation. And after just a few seconds spent seething in an internal rage, Granite finally snapped, stood up, and let his furious words erupt out of his mouth, "Listen to me! I've had it up to here with your games! You're going to give me the powers you promised me RIGHT NOW! Or else I'll-"
The Engineer vanished in the middle of Granite's tirade. She reappeared just a moment later with barely any distance between her and Granite. There was no smile on her face, no haughty, satisfied expression over how much fun the chaos she caused turned out to be. Instead, Granite found himself staring at The Engineer's bared teeth and bright red eyes.
"Or else you'll do what?" The Engineer snarled as her paw was swiftly placed on Granite's chest. "You listen to me, insect! Don't you dare think you can order me around! I am the one in control! No one is my superior!"
The instant The Engineer moved away, Granite was sent back to the ground yet again. He screamed out, feeling every inch of him burning up. The pain was far worse than his transformation from brown to relic; he at least kept his species –and therefore general body shape- back then. But now his rock skin was cracking as his entire body began to change.
Shards of stone exploded off his limbs as a mass of yellow fur burst from it. His arms and legs quickly thickened to the point that Granite could no longer stand up any way other than on all-fours.
As the rock crumbled off of him, more of the fur started to take its place. The bits of rock that remained on his body crunched up and congregated onto his back where it rolled itself into a spiral-shaped shell. The long tail that Granite had once been so proud off turned thin and short, ending up as a barely visible stub.
The boundary between a Meerca's head and body was practically indistinguishable. But that distinction suddenly became more noticeable as Granite's neck stretched, bringing his head upwards. All the while, Granite felt his skull being reshaped until there wasn't a single Meerca facial feature left.
Granite tried to yell at The Engineer for everything that she had wrought. Yet, all the came out of his mouth were deep, unintelligible sounds. As the rest of his body completed its transformation, so did his vocal chords, rendering Granite permanently incapable of speech. Panic started to set in as he desperately tried to regain his voice, furiously denying that it had been lost forever.
The Engineer watched the Marlock bellow out and thrash around. While not as intense in color anymore, her eyes were still red as she said to Granite, "Like I said, I approached you with the purpose of obtaining entertainment from your actions. And while you may have succeeded with that, you became boring very quickly." Granite could do nothing but roar hysterically, to which The Engineer simply commented, "How unfortunate."
The Engineer turned her back to Granite, making it even more clear that she had lost interest in him. "I doubt we'll meet again. Good luck with the rest of your life," she said her final words to Granite before disappearing, leaving the Marlock alone without the slightest bit of hope for his future.
* * *
The last thing that Flicker could remember was kneeling down in the middle of Obsidian Quarry after using up every last drop of his energy. When Flicker next opened his eyes, that certainly was not the place he found himself in.
He was quick to notice that he was in a bed, making that moment the first time he had been in one for at least three years. It was nice, but he still had to wonder how he got there in the first place. For that matter, he had no idea where he was in general; the bedroom he was in was entirely unfamiliar. The windows were shut and covered and the door was closed too, prevent him from looking outside and getting some idea of his location.
A slight snore from beside him caused Flicker to sit up and look in its direction. Wingen was slumped in a chair that was brought up next to Flicker's bed, his hat pulled over his eyes to block Flicker's glow as he slept. Flicker was about to say something to stir him, but Wingen woke up and reacted first.
"FLICKER!" Wingen shouted, leaping out of his chair and throwing his arms around Flicker in an instant. "I-I-I'm so glad you're okay! I was scared that... that..." Wingen attempted to say, but he was crying so hard that he started to hiccup, preventing him from uttering much.
Flicker flinched and was forced to grit his teeth at the sudden impact from Wingen. Because of that, he finally took notice of all the bandages he was wearing. He ached all over because of his fight with Granite, and having Wingen jump at him like that wasn't helping at all.
Wingen realized that fact and quickly pulled away. "Sorry..." he muttered, turning his head away in shame.
"Nah, I'll be fine," said Flicker, giving a smile at Wingen to prove it. Flicker might have been hurting right at that moment, but it was nothing that he wouldn't be able to get over with a little bit of time.
It wasn't long before Flicker heard movement right outside the bedroom. The door opened, letting in Lumin and Dimitri. Dimitri gave a cheerful laugh when he saw that Flicker was awake and ran right in to talk to him. While Lumin was considerably calmer than Dimitri, his relieved smile still indicated that he was just as delighted.
"That's a load off my mind!" Dimitri exclaimed as he stood next to Flicker's bed. "When did you wake up?"
"Not too long ago," Flicker replied. He scratched his head as he asked, "Where am I? How long was I sleeping?"
"We're back in my apartment in Central Cavern. Once we returned to the city, Dimitri contacted a few doctors he knew in the area. You've been asleep for about a day and a half, but considering the shape we found you in back in Obsidian Quarry, I was afraid that you'd be out for longer. The fact that you're waking up now is a good sign," Lumin explained.
Flicker wasn't worried too much to begin with, but he was still pleased to hear that. Even more, he was glad to see that it caused Wingen to be a little more tranquil too.
"Also, the doctors took a look at your left hand," Lumin continued, reminding Flicker of the burn he inflicted on it. Flicker saw that his hand was bandaged up thickly and looked at it while he listened to Lumin say, "They said that it could have been a lot worse than it was. Your hand should heal just fine within a couple weeks."
Even though Lumin still had a smile out of relief, it was the fact that he even needed to be relieved at all that made Flicker's stomach tie into knots a little. Lumin's gaze at all the bandages on Flicker told the glowing Buzz all he needed to know, prompting him to say, "I didn't mean to worry you."
"Hm? Ah, well..." Lumin started, but paused to give a deep sigh. "In the end, things turned out fine. And I'm thankful for that more than anything else, although you did give me plenty of scares in the process."
Once Lumin had finished talking, there was something that Wingen appeared eager to tell Flicker. "We heard back from some of the people in Obsidian Quarry a little while ago. They told us that the miners are going to turn the city around. All of the old foremen have been captured, so the mines are going to be run by entirely different people now."
Flicker had to admit that the reformation of Obsidian Quarry was great to hear, especially after seeing so much of the corruption first-hand. But there was one thing about it that made him wonder. "What about Granite?"
The other three Neopets looked at each other, all with uncertainty in their eyes. Wingen replied, "They started looking for Granite in Obsidian Quarry, but nobody couldn't find him. They're starting to think that he fled elsewhere."
Flicker gave an unsatisfied, slightly distressed groan. After all he went through the other day, he quite disliked the idea of Granite still being at large. But Dimitri was quick to alleviate those feelings by pointing out, "But without his company to back him up, Granite doesn't have a whole lot of power anymore. I'd imagine that he disappeared from Obsidian Quarry because he knows that there's nothing left for him."
"That, or he was... taken care of," Lumin said grimly. "Regardless of what became of Granite, I doubt that he'll show his face again, especially now that information about the revolt is spreading."
Flicker fell backwards onto his bed. It worried the others in the room after they saw him drop himself like that, but their worries dissipated once they saw Flicker's smile return. Wingen confirmed it for him back in Obsidian Quarry, but now Flicker felt relaxed now that the whole thing was truly over.
Although there was something about it that was still nagging him. Something –no, someone was missing.
Flicker swiftly catapulted himself upwards once the realization struck him. "Wait! What about Lampyri? What happened to her?"
"She's fine. Lampyri's been treated and her recovery is doing quite well. Well enough that she's already up and about," Lumin told Flicker, calming him down. "Honestly, I think that she still should take it easy, but she's far too stubborn to let injuries get in her way."
"You're using her room right now as a matter of fact," Dimitri added. "Your dad and I offered to let you use one of our rooms while one of us sleeps in the living room in the meantime, but Lampyri ended up winning out on that argument. She was really adamant about it."
Hearing that from others was all well and fine, but Flicker was more interested in talking to her face-to-face. Unfortunately, Lumin told him that Lampyri wasn't there at that moment and that he'd have to wait until she came back. Flicker –however- wasn't about to let something like time or distance get in the way of that.
* * *
Flicker was told that Lampyri was likely to be hanging around the Firefly district. He remembered where that was and therefore knew what direction to fly in. Lumin wasn't terribly thrilled about Flicker getting out of bed when he still wasn't at full-health, but Flicker insisted that he'd be fine. Of course, he also had to promise that he wouldn't exert himself much in order to convince Lumin to even let him out of the apartment.
Wingen and Dimitri followed him, but only up until a certain point. Wingen said to him somewhat nervously, "You go on ahead. I'm going to stop by the Town Hall. There's... There's some things that I want to ask Professor Frazer about."
Dimitri also had business that needed attending too, although it was nothing that he was excited about. "I need to figure out what to do with the Dal, or what's left of it. People are bound to complain if I don't do something about it sitting out in the open and taking up space."
Therefore, Flicker was by himself when he arrived at the Firefly district. Without all the action going on around him, Flicker got a good look at how much damage had been done. It probably would have been worse if he and the others weren't there to stop Granite and Gabbro, although that hardly made him feel better about it.
Flicker saw the Fireflies cleaning up the rubble and removing their possessions from their houses. The latter was true even for the buildings that were unscathed. Regardless of what exactly they were doing, Flicker still walked towards the Fireflies. He knew that he told his father that he wouldn't push himself, but he imagined that there was still something he could do. "Can I help?"
All of the Fireflies turned their heads to Flicker. It hardly took a second for them to start swarming around Flicker, flooding him with so many questions that his head felt dizzy trying to keep track of them all.
"You beat Granite?! That's amazing! How did you do it?!"
"How did you manage to evade The Engineer for so long?!"
"You look so much like your uncle! What kind of training have you received?"
Both of Flicker's hands went up to his head, feeling a headache coming on from how disoriented he was becoming. He didn't have an answer for any of them, as all he could do was sputter and stammer in confusion.
Seeing that they were seriously crowding Flicker, the Fireflies backed up to give him some space. Now that he had a lot more room to himself, Flicker wasn't quite as restless anymore. The Fireflies had ceased their questions as well, allowing Flicker to ask one of his own, "So what's going on? What're you all doing?"
"Moving," a yellow Usul said with a sigh. "The Engineer knows where we live now, so we can't afford to stay in this area any longer. We're just going to another spot in Central Cavern, for now, though."
"We have things pretty much under control here. You said you wanted to help, but there's really not much left to do," a speckled Shoyru chimed in.
"Oh. Well, okay then..." Flicker muttered, a little disappointed. The other Fireflies dispersed and went back to what they were doing, leaving Flicker to wander around some more. Once he had walked a far enough distance away from the Fireflies, he mumbled to himself, "Geez, I hate being crowded..."
"They just haven't seen a glowing Buzz for a while," a voice said from nearby, jumping Flicker. It was Lampyri, busying herself with gathering up the pieces of rubble that were light enough for her to lift at that time.
"Are you alright? Papa said that you should take it easy," Flicker said as he noticed that Lampyri was starting to tire from the work.
"He said that? Doesn't surprise me; your father worries quite a bit about others. But he doesn't need to be concerned. This is nothing," Lampyri replied. "Of course, you're the one that should be taking it easy, not me. Although you seem to be doing a lot better than expected."
Lampyri set aside the piece of rubble she was carrying into the larger pile behind her. She then sat down, lowered her head slightly, and became silent. After a while, Lampyri finally sighed and said, "I'm sorry."
Flicker arched his eyebrow. "Huh? For what?"
"Well, for a lot, really. First of all, I'm sorry for being so irritated with you the other day. You are such a reckless fool," she said with a bit of a laugh. "But you showed us all back there that you're also the kind of fool that can pull through when the going gets tough. I was so angry with you because I thought you wouldn't be able to do that. And to be honest, I'm glad that I was proven wrong.
"Secondly..." Lampyri began, but paused for moment in reluctance. "Five years ago, when you were still in your egg, myself and my best friend were ordered by your father to protect you from The Engineer. We failed. We did everything we could, and The Engineer still got to you. That was when you received your curse and started aging quicker. Had me and Glowstick fulfilled our orders, you would be a normal five-year-old boy right now. But we didn't, and that's why you're the way you are now."
Bringing those memories up caused a good amount of guilt that Lampyri held inside her to bubble up and show itself for Flicker to see. Even after she had finally got the opportunity to apologize to Flicker about it, she still didn't appear to be able to let it go.
"It's okay. You don't need to be sorry."
Lampyri swiftly lifted her eyes at Flicker. She stared at him as if he had just said something totally unfathomable. "Well aren't you carefree..." she grumbled, her bitter feelings leaking into her tone of voice as well.
Flicker was puzzled at Lampyri. He thought that his words would keep Lampyri from eating herself up about the situation. And it wasn't like he was just saying it to make her feel better -he truly did mean it. "What's the matter? Did I say something wrong?"
"Like I said, if I wasn't so useless against The Engineer, you wouldn't be cursed. And perhaps you wouldn't have had to spend a good portion of your life putting up with Granite. Aren't you even the least bit upset about that?" Lampyri asked, unable to understand what was going on in Flicker's head too.
"Not at you. You didn't curse me or anything. Besides, I don't have to worry about Granite anymore, so there's no point in getting mad about it," Flicker replied, starting to smile as he talked.
To Flicker, he didn't care much about what his past looked like. He had no interest in asking himself, "What did I do?" anymore. Instead, the questions foremost in his mind were, "What am I doing?" and "What will I do?" And dwelling on the past that he couldn't do anything to change was not going to answer those questions.
But Lampyri seemed to be much more entrenched in her past. She didn't appear to believe what Flicker was saying, as she still stared at him in confusion. However, her expression began to soften as the seconds ticked by. At the same time, her voice became quieter as she asked Flicker, "You're really willing to forgive me?"
"Don't you have to be mad at someone first before you forgive them? I told you, I'm not angry! It's fine! Really!" Flicker answered, adding in a joyful laugh.
No matter how hard Flicker thought about it, he couldn't understand why Lampyri looked so shocked at what he said. Nor did he have any idea why she started to tug at the rim of her glove in a nervous sort of way.
What Flicker saw Lampyri do next was just as mystifying, so much that he actually felt startled seeing it. She smiled. There was no artificial cheerfulness that was masking hidden negative emotions and no struggle just to put it up in the first place. Just a simple, genuine smile.
Flicker didn't get the chance to ask what that was about. Before he could even open his mouth, Lampyri stood up and started to walk past him. "Well, at any rate, we should probably start heading home."
Lampyri had gotten in a fair amount of distance ahead of Flicker, since his mind was still trying to process everything. He stood up unsteadily once he realized that she was leaving and quickly caught up to her.
There was still a heavy weight on Flicker's mind. And he still didn't know what to do in order to relieve that burden. Until he could figure out how to approach the issue, all he could do was allow his life to play forward and hope that something would come to him along the way.
"Hey, so you don't think I'm an amateur anymore, right?" Flicker asked Lampyri.
But if Flicker knew anything, it was that he didn't have to face his problems on his own. For the first time in his memory, Flicker was surrounded by people that could and would help him with any crossroads that he was to encounter in life. And of course, it was only fair that Flicker show the same to them.
Lampyri gave Flicker two more surprises. The first was when she gave a short, yet good-hearted laugh, encouraging Flicker to do the same.
The second was when she lightly slapped the back of his head. "I never said that."