Uncertainty: Part Two
If there was any lesson that stuck with Dimitri over his lifetime, it was that failure should not be seen as the end of a project, but a chance to improve it.
But the spotted Draik had some difficulty holding onto that philosophy every now and then. That was one of those times, as he sat on top of the ruins of the giant invention he had been working on ever since he arrived in Moltara three years ago.
The Dal was meant to be the catalyst for a revolution in machinery, to begin the transition from clockwork to steam-power. Dimitri was well aware that his ideas were a work-in-progress in several areas, but the Dal's destruction was still a crushing blow to him.
Maybe the world just isn't ready for steam-power... Dimitri mused. He shook his head in a attempt to rid himself of that thought. He returned to his earlier mantra, that he simply had to go back, analyze the Dal's flaws, and work harder to rid itself of them. Besides, it wasn't like the primary reason that the Dal was destroyed was because of any internal failings. Dimitri could have perfected the machine in its entirety, but that would not have stopped an out-of-control monster from going berserk on it.
That wasn't to say that the Dal did not have numerous weaknesses, though. Its size made it an enormous target and caused it to consume an equally massive amount of energy. Had the Dal been autonomous and not required someone to actively run it, the lives of Dimitri and his friends would not have been in so much danger. He had to laugh internally at the last thought - as if there was any way he could possibly make the Dal function like a living being.
Dimitri stood up and turned to the other Neopet sitting with him. The blue Buzz idly tapped her fingers on the metal while she rested her head on her other hand and stared off into the distance. When she caught sight of Dimitri looking at her, she raised an eyebrow and gave him a slightly impatient look that said, "Are you finally done?"
"Look, this is hard for me, alright?" Dimitri growled a little under his breath as he watched Lampyri's expression towards him.
"I wasn't rushing you," Lampyri replied with a shrug of her shoulders. "But you still haven't told me exactly what you want help with."
Dimitri knew the reason why he asked Lampyri for assistance, but saying it in his head and actually voicing it out loud were on two completely different levels of emotional difficultly. He sighed and finally said, "All I can do with the Dal now is to take it apart and sell the metal for scrap. There's no way I can fix it in this state; I need to start the project over from scratch."
Lampyri understood what to do from there. For quite some time, Dimitri worked on dismantling the Dal little by little, removing the parts that held the machine together gradually. While he did that, Lampyri was perfectly content to attach her chains to certain sections and pull them off that way. The sight of chunks of the Dal being ripped out was quite inelegant to someone that had put in so much time and effort towards its construction. But Lampyri's strength made the whole process go a lot quicker than it would've otherwise.
When he thought about physical strength, Dimitri was reminded of something that had slipped his mind. "Where's Flicker? He said that he wanted to help out too."
"No idea. I haven't seen him all day," Lampyri answered, grunting as she tore off a section of one of the Dal's arms.
Dimitri groaned, a little perplexed, but also figuring that it wasn't a big deal either way. He was about to let the subject go, but was then he heard Lampyri speak again, "Ah, disregard that."
Dimitri didn't even need to lift his head to tell that Flicker was approaching. The green light in his peripheral vision was hard to ignore, but his ears caught Flicker's loud voice coming from several yards away.
"You don't have to come if you don't want to," Flicker remarked to someone, as if it was something he said earlier.
Another voice answered Flicker, "No, I'm okay. I think things will be fine."
Dimitri got up to look in Flicker's direction. The glowing Buzz flew to the top of the Dal and landed in front of him. But to the Draik's surprise, Flicker had brought Wingen along. Flicker often expressed his curiosity over Dimitri's work, but he had never known Wingen to be terribly interested in machinery.
"I'm not too late, am I?" Flicker asked, already exhibiting an eager look on his face.
"Nah, not at all. Thanks again, this really does help me out a lot," Dimitri responded with a grin. Glancing at Wingen, he then added, "But I didn't know that you were coming. I'm a little surprised, actually!"
Dimitri laughed, to which Wingen responded with one of his own, but with a much more nervous tone. "Well... We kinda wanted to talk to you."
From the way Wingen said it, Dimitri got the feeling that it was something that he was afraid to speak of. "Alright... What about?"
Wingen moved restlessly a little, suddenly stricken silent. Dimitri heard the fire Wocky moan anxiously as he darted his eyes around. Eventually, he stammered, "Flicker... Did you want to tell him, or do you want me to?"
Flicker –however- didn't have an ounce of anxiety in him, as he was completely absorbed in the machine he stood on top of. He peered downwards to Lampyri working before he asked giddily, "So all I have to do is tear the thing apart like she's doing, right?"
When he did not receive an answer, he turned his head back to the two Neopets behind him. Noticing Wingen's troubled face, Flicker was reminded of why that was and snapped his attention back to that subject. "Oh! Sorry, I forgot." Flicker sat down, ready to speak, but still with an odd air of casualness that was odd considering the apparently serious matter that needed addressing. "It's about how old we are."
"How old you are?" Dimitri echoed. He took a look at each of the Neopets in his company. Flicker showed no change in his usual carefree expression, but Wingen was starting to divert eye-contact, perhaps subconsciously. He looked at Lampyri out of the corner of his eye; she clearly heard what Flicker said, as she made a glance in his direction, but chose to remain silent.
"Yeah. We don't look our ages," Flicker further stated, yet did little to elaborate.
Dimitri scratched his head. "I guess I don't understand where you're going with this," he said quizzically. He studied Flicker's appearance and asked, "I mean, how old are you, anyways? Twenty?"
"Five," Flicker answered.
"Nope. Just five."
Dimitri stared at Flicker. And then he laughed, "No, you're not!"
"I am. Really."
The next laugh to come out of Dimitri's mouth had a touch of impatience to it. "Alright Flicker, stop joking around. What is it that you wanted to tell me?"
"I just told you. I'm five years old," Flicker repeated nonchalantly.
Once again, Dimitri said nothing. He just looked at Flicker from head to tail. He did so several times, and as he did, his eyes became progressively wider.
"There is no way..." Dimitri muttered. Inspecting Flicker again, he repeated in a much stronger tone, "This is no way! You are not five years old!"
Flicker didn't reply, but he continued to hold onto his relaxed, steadfast expression. Dimitri's skepticism wasn't rattling him at all, but Flicker didn't need to say or do much to tell him that he stood by his assertion.
"You are not! You... I mean... You don't look anything like..." Dimitri sputtered in agitation, and Flicker's unwavering insistence wasn't helping. "I've never heard of a five-year-old that has facial hair!"
"Well... I do," Flicker finally spoke up, scratching his goatee.
Flicker then stood up just long enough to turn himself around. He pointed to the mark on his back: An infinity symbol that was located just below the base of his wings. "See that? Papa said that I got it when I was cursed by The Engineer. I was still in my egg, so I don't remember it. But apparently she caused me to age faster than normal."
Dimitri's hand made its way to his forehead. Oh, not this again... Dimitri thought. He had been told plenty about The Engineer, but he still found those horror stories hard to believe. The four Neopets he lived with were totally convinced of her extraordinary abilities, which was why he kept his opinions to himself for the most part.
"Um..." Dimitri heard Wingen mutter, breaking him out of his thoughts. After a moment of hesitation, Wingen spoke again in a much clearer voice, "The thing is, I have a curse too. It's the opposite of the one that Flicker has." Wingen showed Dimitri the infinity symbol on his arm and added, "I'm forty-three."
That time, Dimitri nearly lost his balance at what he heard. There was even less of a resemblance between Wingen's appearance and chronological age than there was with Flicker. It was just so outlandish that Dimitri truly began to wonder if this was all one big prank that was being pulled on him.
For a while, Dimitri could hardly articulate a single word in response. When he finally managed to rid himself of his speechlessness, it was when he spun around to face Lampyri and shout to her, "And how old are you?! Five-hundred?!"
Lampyri gave Dimitri an unamused glare. "Twenty-eight," she replied matter-of-factly.
Dimitri rolled his eyes in response and turned back around. When he did, he noticed Wingen staring downwards. Dimitri could hardly see much of Wingen's face with how his head was lowered, but what he did see of his expression had a fair amount of dejection in it.
"You don't hate us... do you?" Wingen mumbled, his voice quivering slightly as if he was scared of Dimitri's answer.
Dimitri hadn't known Flicker and Wingen for very long and it was only until the past couple of days that he was starting to learn about their pasts more in depth. When he first met them, they were just a couple of workers employed by a corrupt and generally unpleasant businessman. He was always aware that the two of them were dealing with adversity, but the look on Wingen's face was making it even more obvious just how miserable they really were.
"No... Don't be silly," Dimitri sighed. He sat himself down, running his hand through his hair. He wasn't quite as frazzled anymore now that he got the chance to think things over a little. Giving a slight glance in Flicker's direction and thinking of all of his various quirks, Dimitri gave a small laugh. "Honestly, this does explain a lot."
Dimitri's remark flew straight over Flicker's head, who was more interested in the Dal. Lampyri caught the comment, though, to which she observed, "You seemed to accept that quickly enough. You won't believe anything else we tell you about The Engineer, but this you'll believe after a couple minutes?"
"I believe what they told me because it sounds like your typical curse. There are plenty of bad magicians with up on the surface, so it's not like I've never seen Neopets that have been affected by people like that before," Dimitri retorted. After a moment of thought, he then added, "By the way, did you know all this?"
Lampyri chose to keep her mouth shut on the first part of Dimitri's reply -as difficult as it seemed to be for her- and instead answered his question, "Lumin told me about Wingen the other day. And I've known Flicker since he was a baby."
"You have?" Dimitri said, a little surprised. A sly smile formed on his face as he asked jokingly, "Was he cute?"
That time, Flicker paid attention to the conversation. He directed an abashed scowl at Dimitri the moment he heard the last word spoken in reference to him.
But Flicker's embarrassed reaction had little effect on Dimitri and -evidently- did nothing to deter Lampyri. "He was adorable," she replied just as teasingly as Dimitri, all while wearing her own amused smile. "Although he did spit up on me once."
Had it been possible for Flicker's face to emit any other color than green, Dimitri would not have been surprised to see his cheeks turn bright red. Dimitri guessed that Flicker was beginning to think that revealing his true age wasn't such a great idea after all. When he was surrounded by three Neopets that could hardly contain their snickers, Dimitri couldn't blame him.
Flicker didn't let himself dwell on it too much, though, as he was more than eager to get working. While Dimitri continued to take his time, Flicker and Lampyri made progress at a much faster pace. Flicker in particular seemed to be having a good enough time tearing things apart. As Dimitri peered at the glowing Buzz peeling off a slab of metal like it was an onion, he had to admit that he was starting to feel a little unsettled by how much fun he found wrecking things to be.
Eventually, Flicker and Lampyri had each built up a well-sized pile of scrap metal. The job wasn't completely done, as there was still a lot of the Dal left to take apart. But they had been working for a good part of the day and Dimitri figured that with both of them still recovering from their battles it would be a good idea not to let them exert themselves too much.
"I told you guys where to drop that off, right?" Dimitri yelled down to the Buzzes as he and Wingen put away all the tools at the top of the Dal. Flicker responded with a loud affirmative, already beginning to push the cart that he put his scrap metal in.
Flicker didn't notice Lampyri eying the height of his pile before moving her head to gaze at her own for a few seconds. She did the same thing a few more times, silently comparing the amount of metal she collected to how much Flicker gathered. Then she narrowed her eyes. When Flicker had his back turned and began to head off, Lampyri ran over to the Dal and ripped off another chunk of metal just big enough to make her pile slightly bigger. She then caught up with the other Buzz, who was oblivious to the whole scene.
Dimitri observed Lampyri's behavior with a bit of interest mixed with a dash of confusion. He never saw her act in such a competitive manner, especially in regards to something so minor. But the way she went about it, it looked like something that came as a habit to her.
He was so caught up in thinking about it that it took him a while to notice Wingen sitting down, lost in thought as well. But it didn't seem like it was over the same thing that Dimitri was wondering about. Whatever it was, though, it appeared to be something that was deeply troubling him.
Having an idea about what was on Wingen's mind, Dimitri asked softly, "Hey, you're not still worried, are you?" He gave no reply, causing Dimitri to say further, "I don't hate you; I wouldn't over something like that. You don't have to be so scared, alright?"
Wingen lifted his head to Dimitri slightly as he murmured, "It's not that. It's something else. Something that I've been thinking about ever since me and Flicker fought Granite."
Wingen stood up, spending the next few seconds trying to decide if he wanted to confide his thoughts in Dimitri or not. His decision was clear once he looked at Dimitri directly and asked, "Do you know what Flicker calls me?"
Dimitri shook his head. Wingen gave his answer, "'Big Brother.' When we first met, we decided to become brothers because we had no one else in the world at that time. And since I was the older one, Flicker decided that I had to be the Big Brother, no matter how big he got and how small I stayed," Wingen spoke fondly at first, but his tone became much more distressful as he moved on, "Little Brothers are supposed to depend on their Big Brothers for support and protection. But to tell you the truth, sometimes I feel like I rely on Flicker more than he relies on me."
Wingen couldn't stay standing for long, not with how much torment was running through him. He continued, "I know that all Flicker thinks about in battle is offense and that if I weren't there to act as his defense, that things could have ended up much worse. But when I watched Flicker exhausting himself like that, I still felt like I wasn't doing enough. He shouldn't have had to get hurt at all. I feel like I'm being a terrible Big Brother to him..."
Dimitri sat down next to Wingen. He spent his time choosing the right words carefully, knowing that the wrong sentence would make Wingen feel even worse. "Does he look up to you?" he asked.
Wingen nodded. "Not that I deserve it, though."
Dimitri was quick to dismiss that claim, however. "He obviously thinks a lot of you, and I don't think it's without merit. Do you really think he'd feel that way without reason?" A smile began to grow on Dimitri's face. "Being admired is all well and fine. But trust me when I say that having somebody to admire can bring just as much joy to a person. And from what I've seen, you make Flicker really happy when you're around him."
The emotions pooled up in Wingen's face started to shift as he listened to Dimitri. His smile was weak, but it was a smile, which was exactly what Dimitri wanted to see. "Yeah... I guess so," Wingen said as he reflected –and accepted- what Dimitri told him.
Dimitri and Wingen both stood up, figuring that it was about time to head back to the apartment before Flicker and Lampyri beat them to it. As Dimitri helped Wingen down from the Dal, he made one more comment on their discussion, "And you know that it's not all about fighting. Just being there for him when he needs the emotional support is far more important."
"I know, I know," Wingen replied with a bit of a groan directed at himself. "Still, sometimes I feel like I'm not even good at th-"
Wingen suddenly silenced himself and shook his head, as if he was having second thoughts about continuing the subject. Whether it was because of the look Dimitri was giving him in preparation to tell him that he was being far too down on himself or because of his own considerations, he dropped the matter and spoke no more of it that day.
Nevertheless, Wingen was clearly absorbed in his thoughts as he and Dimitri walked towards the city in Central Cavern. The same was true for Dimitri as well, although he highly doubted that his and Wingen's minds were focused on the same thing. Just before the remains of the Dal was out of sight, he took a glance over his shoulder at it.
He wasn't going to give up. He couldn't give up.
He had a promise to keep, after all.
To be continued...