Chet Flash wuz here Circulation: 195,635,439 Issue: 869 | 14th day of Relaxing, Y21
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The Sisters of Pillar Grove:Part Three


by blueys45

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     It was not in Jacenty’s style to be flashy; he couldn’t afford to be. In the past, his assignments required some manner of inconspicuousness. He needed to reach his objectives without being noticed. If someone did notice… Well, then he needed to ensure that they would never tell anyone.

      That was why working with Halloy did not put him at ease. The Jubjub knew nothing of subtlety. Halloy desired his inventions to garner attention; he was a show-off, plain and simple. And it didn’t seem to bother him that his habit to draw interest could work against them. But luckily for Jacenty, Halloy was sure to stress their need to be quick for the first phase of the plan.

      The two of them sat inside the control room of Halloy’s massive robot. It was built in the image of a Lyins, a long, multi-legged petpet well-known for its adept burrowing abilities. Eventually, the robot would gain that ability. But for that to happen, it needed energy. Energy to move, and energy to power its weapons.

      As it just so happened, there was an excellent power source waiting for them in the canopy of Pillar Grove. According to legend, an air faerie was sealed in a mass of branches above the leaves that she enchanted.

      “You are absolutely certain of her location?” Jacenty asked Halloy one last time.

      “I may have spent a good portion of it in a dungeon cell, but I have lived in Pillar Grove most of my life. You were in diapers when I first started my research! Of course I’m certain!” Halloy retorted while he warmed up the robot. Once it started up, he fastened himself in his chair, giving Jacenty the signal to do the same. “Alright, before we get started, let’s go over some rules: Stay seated, don’t ask me stupid questions, all snacks you find in the storage compartments are mine, and don’t touch anything!

      Jacenty didn’t plan on touching anything – at least not before watching Halloy operate the controls first.

      The robot suddenly shot forward, causing Jacenty to lurch in his seat. The legs would move a few steps, then stop. Start, stop, start, stop. Jacenty growled at Halloy while he held his hat in place. At first he thought that Halloy was being careful to not move any closer to the knot of branches than what was necessary, but he soon got the impression that he mostly sought to be annoying.

      After lumbering closer to the target, the robot halted. Less like a Lyins and more like a Cobrall, the robot raised its upper half in the air as it prepared to strike. Halloy pulled one lever, and the feet still touching the ground dug themselves into the rock. He pulled another, and the Lyin’s mandibles spread apart as it let out a piercing shriek. The scientist grinned before he slammed his foot on a button, causing the robot to shoot an amber-powered blast at the branches.

      The branches directly in the way disintegrated on impact. The ones that avoided the blast snapped away from the ceiling and fell to the floor. The shock waves shattered every leaf in the area and joined the crumbled bits of branches. Not that long ago, the canopy was a natural wonder. Now it was ruined. The destructive, indiscriminate power of the robot left Jacenty in a state of awe.

      But he couldn’t help but give Halloy another glare. It might have been a secondary occupation, but Jacenty was still a botanist. And if there was anything besides sheer incompetence that irritated him, it was blatant disregard for nature.

      He forced himself to give a deep breath. Patience. He learned over the years that sometimes the greater good had to come before his personal opinions and feelings. The robot might currently be in the hands of a reckless idiot, but he was still necessary to give it the power to become fully operational. In time, Jacenty would see that the robot used its power in a more focused manner. Until then, he needed to tolerate Halloy’s actions.

      Within the cloud of dust, Jacenty could see a faint, pale-blue light. As the air began to clear, the light became brighter. Whereas its immediate surroundings were vaporized by the robot, the source of the glow was perfectly unharmed, floating calmly above the ruined canopy.

      In her sleeping form, the air faerie looked less like those that Jacenty had met in the past and more like a faerie-shaped mass comprised of her element. If he squinted enough, Jacenty could almost see wisps of air swirling within the faerie's skin and dress, momentarily causing him to wonder if she was a solid being at all. But what he took the most note of was the thin, nearly unseeable barrier that surrounded the air faerie, only made visible by the failure of the dust still in the air to float more than an exact distance from her.

      “Hmph, very cautious, to be casting a defensive spell while asleep,” Jacenty commented. To take such an attack without even flinching, even in a weakened state… that was why Jacenty found the power of the faeries to be so terrifying and yet so valuable.

      The air faerie’s eyes opened and her wings spread out. In mere seconds, she shed her protective barrier and unleashed a blast of wind at the robot. The robot’s feet were forced to secure themselves further into ground, as not even its weight was enough to stop the gusts from pushing it back. The faerie was relentless, continuing her attempt to repel her enemy with the force of a hurricane.

      Yet even in the face of such a tremendous display of might, Halloy merely laughed at Jacenty, “Don’t look so panicked! She is doing nothing that I haven’t already prepared for! It will all be over in a moment!”

      Halloy gleefully inched to the edge of his seat, closer to the controls. He adjusted the head of the robot slightly, but carefully. Once it was in the perfect position, he pressed another button.

      The Lyins’ mandibles opened up again, but instead of a destructive blast, it attacked with a small dart, propelled by a thin beam of energy. It pierced through the winds and struck the air faerie, bringing an immediate halt to her assault.

      “The dart is made with aversion stone. It won’t bring any real harm to the faerie, but it’s just enough to stun her,” Halloy explained.

      While the air faerie was still shrinking back from the strike, Halloy took his chance. The robot lowered itself until it was sitting flat on the ground. The tail rose upwards and the tip opened up as it aimed itself at the faerie. At Halloy’s command, a metal, cylinder-shaped capsule launched out of the tail.

      The capsule trapped the stunned air faerie; the lid slammed shut and locked itself upon impact. It fell to the ground, spinning and rolling around some before finally coming to a stop. The air became still and the ground was barren after the canopy’s debris was swept aside by the winds. After the capsule was picked up by the mandibles and swallowed by the great machine, the robot was the only presence left in the cave.

      Jacenty heard the robot transporting the capsule beneath him, eventually ending up in the engine room in back. Halloy quickly shut the robot down. He hopped out of his seat and eagerly beckoned Jacenty to follow.

      The instant they walked into the engine room, Jacenty was met with the sight of dozens of glass containers that stored the energy that the robot needed. It was solely powered by amber. When they began, every last container was filled to the brim. But after just a few minutes, many of them sat empty except for the black, crumbled remains of their power supply.

      Halloy gestured to the large capsule that sat at the back of the room and flipped a switch so that the metal doors built into it spread apart. The air faerie stood inside, futilely trying to break her way out of the thick aversion stone glass that the capsule was reinforced with. Halloy chuckled at her plight and waved his foot tauntingly. “She can struggle all she wants, but no magic will ever be able to break her out.”

      Satisfied with the visual confirmation that the mission was a success, Halloy walked back to the control room. As he did, he explained further, “I’m sure you noticed how much amber the robot needed to use. A significant amount of that was just getting it to move, which is why we needed to go after the air faerie first. The rest of the amber will support the weaponry for a little while, but it too will need to be replaced quickly. Fortunately, the earth faerie will provide the rest of the robot’s needs. Once that's done, it will take decades of use for the robot to require new batteries.”

      As Halloy fiddled with the controls, Jacenty heard him mutter, “Alright, disconnecting the engine system from the amber, reconnecting it to the capsule…”

      The workings of the robot shifted around as Halloy talked to himself, until finally the air faerie was secured and ready to start transferring energy. Once he turned the system on, the air faerie flinched and brought her knees to her chest. Her magical aura was drawn into the cords attached to the capsule, carrying it into the robot’s engine.

      “Looks painful,” Jacenty commented as he stared at the air faerie’s tightened face.

      Halloy laughed, “That means it’s working.”

      Not willing to dwell on the subject any further, Jacenty turned his back on the air faerie and returned to the control room. He put a hand into his pocket. Inside, his fingers wrapped around a ring that he hadn't worn since he left Brightvale, but signified his membership to the clandestine organization he swore loyalty to, and was reminded of its ultimate purpose. If one person had to suffer to better the rest of the world, then so be it. Sympathy only served to stand in the way of his goals.

      The power that the faeries would lend Jacenty would let him to return to the rest of Neopia and prove to his superiors just how invaluable he was. The robot would allow his organization to step out of the shadows and control the world with direct force instead of hiding their influence. No longer would it be necessary to topple a regime by picking it apart like petpetpets burrowing through the foundation of a building. Any land that refused to fall in line would be crushed out in the open. All of Neopia would know of the lands he visited with the Seekers that were unknown to the rest of the world, making it that much easier to make a rogue one out as an example to the rest.

      The thought crossed Jacenty that his superiors might not see things his way. But if that was the case, then no matter. Such outdated opinions had no place in the world. And it was not as if they would be in a position to stand against him.

      Jacenty went back to his seat and fastened himself in. Once again, the robot barely made a few steps forward before it came to a sudden stop. He let out a loud growl at Halloy, his patience worn far too thin to be able to screen his words and actions. “Will you stop that?!”

      Halloy didn’t answer. Instead, he was fixated on something directly in front of the robot. Jacenty took a look as well and found a small troop of soldiers gazing upwards at them. Their faces had appeared to have fallen long before he took notice of them. There was no confidence whatsoever in their eyes, as if they knew that the robot was far too much of a match.

      Jacenty recognized Chrome among them. He stood in front of the other soldiers, intending to lead the charge. Unlike the others, he did not seem to have lost hope in a victory. Or at least he wasn’t as obvious about it. His facial expression appeared stoic at first glance, but even his gas mask was not enough to hide the minute twitches of nervousness.

      “Oh, what luck,” Halloy said. He gripped the levers in front of him, grinning as he continued, “It appears that we’ll be able to test the robot’s new abilities right away.”

     

* * *

      After a few strikes, the match in Zircon’s paw ignited, after which he stuck the tiny flame inside the lantern. The light that it provided was faint and barely lit up even a small portion of the throne room. It didn’t help that the glass itself was cloudy from years of being unused.

      Zircon gestured Flicker to a certain spot in the throne room. With a small groan, he fluttered near a hook on the wall, which Zircon hung the lantern from once he could see it. As just about the only thing in Pillar Grove at that moment that emitted any light, Flicker had no other choice but to be towed all over the building in search of matches and spare lanterns. He gave a sigh of relief at the first one being lit up, as it signaled the end of his status as a living torch.

      The throne room gradually became brighter as Flicker’s company, as well as a few of Pillar Grove’s soldiers, spent some time lighting up more lanterns. But even then it wasn’t much, as the storage room that Flicker was dragged to earlier had little more than a hundred lanterns, and only a few were placed in the throne room.

      “I thought that Pillar Grove trades with the City of Lights? Shouldn’t there be a lot more lanterns than this?” Wingen observed as he shut the door to one of the storage rooms.

      “The lanterns the City of Lights exports to Pillar Grove are custom-made to be powered by amber. Most of what we send to them has been rendered useless,” Lumin answered.

      Zircon nodded and explained further, “The more traditional lanterns that we do have are used mainly in case of an emergency. But we weren’t prepared for one on such a scale as this.” He sighed, “Sometimes, I think we rely too much on the tree. The faeries are inevitability going to leave us one day, after which...”

      Zircon did not appear to know how to finish that sentence. His frown deepened from his own silence.

      Once all the lanterns were prepared, Zircon asked the soldiers carrying them, “Have you found the candles yet?”

      A brown Hissi answered, “Yes, your Majesty. We managed to find several boxes of them.”

      “Good. Spread the lanterns around the city, distribute the candles to the citizens, and order them to stay in their homes. With any luck, we'll be able to resolve this before long.”

      The soldiers saluted their king and headed on their way, but one of them stuck around for a little longer. The shadow Blumaroo watched Lampyri as she examined the suit of armor that she put on herself, all while she growled in frustration.

      “Are you sure this is the only Buzz armor you could find?” Lampyri questioned, looking at it with an opinion that was less than favorable.

      “I’m afraid so. Sorry,” the Blumaroo said before she ran to catch up with the other soldiers.

      Flicker approached Lampyri and also looked the armor over. “What’s wrong with it? It looks cool.”

      Lampyri gave a short laugh, “It’s also outdated. Apparently, it belonged to a Firefly soldier that was captured over twenty years ago. Pillar Grove had been keeping it on display since then. Just as well, because this is not up to muster with modern Firefly armor.” She uncomfortably shifted around in place. “Not to mention it’s a bit big for me. Darn it, I knew I should have brought my own armor…”

      Flicker left Lampyri be while she was forced to accept that the dated armor would have to do for the time being. He caught the sight of lanterns through a window and ran over to get a closer look. It was rather unnerving to see Pillar Grove dark and without power. It only truly hit him how heavily the city relied on amber when he saw the effects of its absence for himself. Ordinarily, Flicker would have been able to clearly see the bottom of the cave. But now with nearly all of the lights extinguished, he was not be able to see more than a single level below him before he was met with a black abyss.

      “I don’t get it. Why did the earth faerie destroy all the amber?” Flicker asked Zircon as he and Lumin walked by.

      “She’s probably under the assumption that whoever is attacking Pillar Grove is making use of the amber. She can always make more, so destroying all of what's currently in the city is no issue for her,” Zircon responded.

      “But still… Doesn’t that do more to hurt us? Wouldn’t beating Jacenty and Halloy be easier if we had amber to use?” Flicker argued.

      Zircon shook his head and groaned anxiously, “Ordinarily, I'm sure that she would realize that. But rage clouds the mind. Neopet or faerie, a furious person will lash out in any way they can, without regard to how their actions hurt their allies instead of their enemies.”

      “I assume that you haven’t heard anything about what caused this reaction, then?” Lumin questioned.

           “No. But I think I can make an accurate guess: I cannot imagine the earth faerie becoming so livid in any other situation other than something happening to her sister,” Zircon said grimly.

      His father and Zircon left the subject be from that point on. But Flicker, not so much. As he watched the soldiers with lanterns scurry around the city in a desperate attempt to light it up again, he took some time to absorb what he was told. He had already mulled over the story of the faeries' arrival in Pillar Grove when it was told to him, so now he merely revisited those thoughts.

      When Wingen approached him, Flicker saw that as his chance to vocalize his musing. “Big Brother, you remember what you said to me when we left Obsidian Quarry, right? That brothers look out for and take care of each other? Sisters do the same thing, don’t they?”

      Wingen nodded his head. “Yeah, they do.”

      Flicker continued, “The earth faerie… She’s just looking out for her sister. Her sister helped her all those years ago and now she’s trying to return the favor. Kind of like you and me. What she did didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but if I was in her position, I really think I’d do the same thing.”

      He had done it before. Certainly not on the earth faerie's scale, but Flicker had seen Wingen in trouble and lost all sense of reason as a response. He knew that one time wasn’t an anomaly in his behavior. If it happened again under different circumstances, he was sure that his reaction would be the same.

      Wingen allowed himself a moment to read Flicker's face. “And that's why you want to help them.”

      Flicker stood up straight and gave a hard nod. “I was already gonna help them no matter what. Jacenty and Halloy caused me a lot of trouble and I don't want them to hurt anyone else. But now I just want to help the faeries even more.”

      When Wingen also adopted a firm posture and determined look in his eyes, Flicker could tell that he felt the same way.

To be continued…

 
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» The Sisters of Pillar Grove
» The Sisters of Pillar Grove:Party Two
» The Sisters of Pillar Grove



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