The Tree of Pillar Grove: Part Seven
It was not the first time that Flicker had slept on a hard, uncomfortable surface. But that didn't ease his ire at it, since he totally believed that he had rested on his last floor a month ago. There was a cot in the cell, but every single spring jabbed into his back. So –ironically– the ground was the best option.
He opened one eyelid when he heard a familiar voice from a short distance away. "Again, thank you so, so much for being so considerate and understanding and-"
"Just get your visit over with..." a guard broke in tiredly.
Without another word, Jacenty ran over to Flicker's cell. He knocked a container against the bars, beckoning him over. "My goodness, the soldiers here are very obstinate. They're keeping guard on us in the suite and they were quite difficult to reason with. That's why it's just me here this time. I hope you're not disappointed," Jacenty said breathlessly.
"Nah, not at all," Flicker responded with a smile, enjoying any company whatsoever. "So when can I leave?"
Jacenty opened his mouth, but was reluctant to say anything. He stammered, "W-Well... We're still working on it. I regret to ask this of you when you're in such a position, but can you be patient for a little longer?"
Flicker exhaled and put his head in his hands. He just wanted to go home. He didn't care if that was the last he would see of Pillar Grove for the rest of his life; all he wished for was to go back to Central Cavern. He wanted to be able to spend time with his father again, for Wingen to teach him all about the surface, to prove to Lampyri that he's a better fighter than she thinks, and to play with all the neat machines that Dimitri built. It had been a while since he had done such a thing, but Flicker began to yearn for a life that he once had.
Jacenty watched Flicker fall into such a miserable state, uncertain that he could say anything to make him feel better. But he gave a short exclamation once he reminded himself of something. He showed Flicker the container he brought with him and said, "I brought some tea with me. You know, the kind that you like so much? Perhaps that'll cheer you up a little?"
Flicker almost wasn't in the mood for it, but he relented and asked Jacenty for a cup. While he gave it to him, the Zafara mentioned with a laugh, "I had to clear it with the guards first, of course. They thought that I would try to smuggle in something that would allow you to escape. It's just plain-old twirly fruit tea; nothing special. Although it's probably a little cold by now."
The sweet taste of the tea brought a smile to Flicker's face as he drank the cup. "It's still good. Thanks."
Realizing that his remedy did the trick, Jacenty took the empty cup from Flicker. The guard told him that he needed to go back to the inn right afterwards. He was sure to obey the order, as he appeared to doubt that the guard had much tolerance left for him. "Don't you worry," Jacenty assured Flicker before he stood up and left.
Flicker decided to try to go back to sleep once Jacenty was gone. The day had tired him out and he figured that the hopeful note that Jacenty left him on would help him substantially.
* * *
"I couldn't bring myself to tell him about the amber. He still believes that he'll be cleared, and I didn't want to upset him..." Jacenty sighed.
Wingen understood. If it was him that went to go talk to Flicker, he didn't think he'd be able to say to his face that things were looking grim. Judging from the demeanors of Lumin and Lampyri, he doubted that they would've found the courage either.
"This isn't fair! Chrome has to be framing him!" Wingen shouted again. Despite his earlier outburst directly in front of the Uni, he still needed to vent. He hardly cared if any of the soldiers patrolling outside heard him. "Flicker would never..."
Wingen had his head down, but lifted it up once he caught a whiff of tea right near his nose. Jacenty held the cup to him and softly said, "It's frustrating, I know. But yelling about it won't do any good. Will this help calm you down?"
"I guess..." Wingen responded. The cup was emptied gradually, as he had little motivation to do much of anything other than think about Flicker.
Lumin silently accepted his cup, but Lampyri was more vocal about her desire for her own portion. "I need one too. I'll never be able to get to sleep like this," she stated, the stress clear in her voice. However, once Jacenty obliged, Lampyri found out the before her lips even touched the liquid that she was perhaps too eager to drink it. She set the cup on the table in front of her and explained, "Aah, too hot. I'll wait for it to cool down."
"So... What do we do now?" Wingen asked quietly. He still wanted to help Flicker, but their chances were rapidly running dry.
"I don't know," Lumin was forced to admit. "All we can do now is wait for any further developments. If we're lucky, something will come up tomorrow. If we're not..."
Lumin couldn't bear to finish that statement. If anyone in the suite had lost hope over the situation, it was him. The fact that there was just about nothing he could do to help Flicker had been eating him all day, but it wasn't until then that the bleakness of it hit him in full force.
They all went to their bedrooms a short while later. Wingen thought that it was pointless to even try to go to sleep, though. With the thought of Flicker in that cell still plaguing his mind, he didn't have the slightest expectation of getting rest anytime soon.
* * *
The fire Xweetok's eyelids were growing heavy. For such a supposedly dangerous Neopet, his prisoner had been awfully quiet lately. The glowing Buzz was well strong enough to at least make an attempt to break himself free, but thus far he hadn't caused any problems. However, the soldier had to remind himself that when it came to the dungeons, boring was much more preferable to exciting.
Every now and then, he would take a short patrol away from the Firefly's cell and survey a small section of the hallway leading up to it. There were more guards assigned the rest of the dungeons, so he only needed to go far enough until another soldier came within his sight.
But when the Xweetok reached that point, he immediately sensed that something was off. The red Scorchio up ahead was slumped against the wall, unresponsive. He ran over to him to investigate further.
Before he could reach him, the Xweetok felt a sharp prick in his neck. His hand instinctively reached over to the area, but upon doing so he felt something sticking out of his skin. He grabbed a hold of it and pulled it out.
The Xweetok's vision started to blur. Within seconds, he collapsed on the floor and faded out of consciousness.
* * *
The intruder checked the Xweetok's pulse. He was still alive, but the poison in his system would keep him knocked out for several hours. The guard waking up didn't worry the intruder, though; he was far more concerned about someone discovering the trail of unconscious soldiers. So he needed to be quick.
He approached the cell he was looking for. Key in hand, he unlocked the doors and looked at the prisoner inside. The glowing Buzz was sitting perfectly still. His eyes were wide, but not awake. They were dull, lifeless in the sense that there wasn't an iota of a conscious thought reflected in them.
"Flicker? Can you hear me?"
"Yes," Flicker answered. It was only one word, but even then the monotonous tone in his voice was clear.
"Good. Now, I think it's time that we finished yesterday's job."
"As you wish."
* * *
Luckily for his housemates, Dimitri hadn't been hired to do any big projects for a while. The freelance mechanic would be called in here and there for few quick repair jobs around the city, but otherwise he had plenty of free time as of late. Of course, that "free time" was now being spent building a new air filter for the apartment, a task he would have ordinarily been paid to do. But it was for people that he liked, so he didn't mind a bit.
Dimitri worked on the air filter in his workshop that was just a few minutes' walk away from the apartment. Anyone that knew the Draik was well aware that if he wasn't busy with a job, he could almost always be found there. So he wasn't surprised that Professor Frazer knew exactly where he was and knocked on his door.
The strawberry Grarrl entered the workshop and observed what Dimitri was doing for quite some time. When he inquired about it, Dimitri explained, "The old air filter in the apartment broke, so I'm making a new one. Should be done in another day or so."
"I'm surprised that you're not working on the Dal," Frazer commented. "Or at least building a new one."
The destruction of Dimitri's steam-powered invention popped back into his head once Frazer brought it up. The thought still stung him, so he had made an effort over the past month to try to think of it as little as possible. "Uh... I'm kind of taking a break on that, to tell you the truth."
But Frazer could tell that there was still a desire to complete the project lingering in Dimitri's demeanor. "Earlier today, I had remembered something that I think might be able to help you with the Dal. I came here to talk to you about it. That is, if you haven't given up."
When it came to his aspirations, Dimitri hated the words, "give up." He still wanted to see his dream come true, no matter how many hurdles he encountered along the way. Even if he wasn't ready emotionally to start up on the project again, what Frazer said piqued his interest nonetheless.
"Oh! But before I forget it, I noticed that there wasn't anybody at the light shop when I stopped by. Where did everyone go?" Frazer asked curiously.
"They're all on a trip with Jacenty. They'll be back any day now, I think," Dimitri answered. He didn't admit it, but he had been wishing that he taken the offer to go with them when it was presented to him. Everything that he heard about Pillar Grove did sound interesting. "So what did you want to tell me?"
Frazer didn't reply right away. He stared at Dimitri with widened eyes while his mouth was slightly agape. "Did... Did you just say 'Jacenty?'" he stammered quietly.
"Uh, yeah. Didn't he tell you about the tree that he found?" Dimitri said, adopting his own confusion once he saw the Professor's.
The bewilderment in Frazer's face faded; dread and shock took its place.
"Where did they go?" Frazer questioned, his voice starting to shake.
"A place called Pillar Grove. Why?"
Frazer turned around and burst out of the workshop. The speed at which he rushed out of the building startled Dimitri and momentarily prevented him from reacting to it. Once he recovered from his surprise, he ran after the Grarrl. He had no idea where someone Frazer's age could find the drive to tear across the city so quickly and so suddenly. It wasn't until they were nearly at steps of the Town Hall that Dimitri managed to catch up to him.
"Professor! What's going on?!" Dimitri shouted, desperately trying to get Frazer to stop for just a second.
He succeeded, as Frazer stumbled a few more steps before he was forced to catch his breath. "You don't understand, Dimitri..." he said wearily. His head turned to the Draik, allowing him another glimpse of the trepidation in his face. "Jacenty has been living on the surface all these years because he's been in hiding! He is an extremely dangerous criminal!"
To be continued...