The Tree of Pillar Grove: Part Two
Lampyri gave a heavy breath. She had been standing in the same spot and looking at the same thing for well over five minutes. With the indecisive battle being waged in her head, she fully expected to stay still for a while longer.
It wasn't until she heard Lumin call to her that she finally took a momentary break from her dilemma. "Lampyri, are you almost ready?"
Lumin entered Lampyri's bedroom, only to find that the blue Buzz had went straight back to mulling her problem over. She stared at the suit of bronze armor stored away in her closet and said, "I feel like I should take this. But it's just so cumbersome to wear and transport. I hate wearing it unless I'm absolutely certain that I'm going to need it." She took another breath, then shook her head and turned around. She grabbed the bag that she packed for the trip to Pillar Grove and walked to the door. "I'm ready. Let's go."
With all the preparations made, Lampyri followed Lumin to the apartment's exit. Lumin stopped by the kitchen briefly to ask Dimitri one last time, "Are you sure you don't want to go?"
Dimitri, who had been watching Lumin and Lampyri from the table, shrugged and answered, "Someone's got to make a new air filter, right? I'll be fine by myself. You guys have fun."
"Ha!" Lampyri laughed sarcastically on her way out.
The two Buzzes stood on the edge of the structure that the light shop and the apartment was built on top of. It was hard to see much of anything past the growing density of the city, but they both knew exactly where they needed to go and had little problems finding their way there. As they flew, Lumin explained, "Dr. Jacenty said that he'll be waiting for us just outside of Central Cavern. I'm not sure how long he wants to stay in Pillar Grove, but I'd imagine we'd be gone for a few days at least."
Lampyri listened and understood Lumin just fine, but part of her mind was distracted by one nagging detail. "Sire, where did Flicker and Wingen run off to?"
"Ah, they left a couple hours ago and will meet up with us later. They said that they'll take care of our transportation," Lumin replied.
"'Transportation?'" Lampyri echoed, raising an eyebrow. "What did they have in mind?"
Lumin let out a small laugh. "Well..."
* * *
Flicker and Wingen had both agreed that the last thing either of them ever wanted to do was return to Obsidian Quarry. Of course, that was when it was still under control of Granite, the businessman that was responsible for the decline of the city into poverty. Now that he had gone missing after Flicker defeated him in battle, Obsidian Quarry was starting to see some improvement. So a quick to trip to it didn't worry Flicker.
But even if their presence in Obsidian Quarry was to be as brief as possible, Wingen still didn't look terribly thrilled to be there. While Flicker responded to the greetings from the citizens with the carefree attitude that was typical of him, Wingen only gave the bare minimum of acknowledgment towards them. Even then, he did so grudgingly; Flicker might have been able to let go of how the city previously rejected them, but forgiveness didn't come anywhere near as easily for his brother.
"Yup, things are getting better here. 'Course, it's going to take a while before the city will truly be up to muster, but at least it's getting off to a good, fresh start," the old grey Kacheek told Flicker and Wingen as he leaned against the fence holding in about a dozen Marlocks. The Kacheek ran a small business that rented a giant breed of Marlock for transporting Neopets and goods all over Moltara.
"That's great to hear!" Flicker replied with a good-natured smile. It was fantastic to hear that the citizens didn't have to suffer under the old management of the mining company anymore, but he had to remind himself why he and Wingen were there in the first place and to get to the point. "So can we rent a carriage for a few days?"
"'Rent?!'" the Kacheek laughed. "That implies that you're meaning to give me money! Boys, I'll let you use a carriage for free for this trip of yours! After all you did for us, it's the least I can do!"
"Seriously?!" Flicker exclaimed. "Big Brother, did you hear that?!"
"Yeah... That's great. Thanks," Wingen mumbled to the grey Kacheek, still having a hard time letting go of his embittered feelings.
The Kacheek gestured to a bucket of carrots nearby and said to Flicker and Wingen, "You two go ahead and pick out any Marlock you want. They're a bit shy at first, but give them a treat and they'll warm up to you mighty quickly."
Like the Kacheek said, once Flicker and Wingen held out the carrots to them, the previously timid Marlocks immediately crowded to them. The stock of carrots was rapidly starting to run low as the Marlocks gobbled them right out of the two Neopet's hands. Even Wingen, in the midst of his less-than-happy mood, couldn't help but giggle a little at the experience.
While Flicker was scratching behind the ears of one Marlock, he noticed another one a fair distance away. "What's that one doing all by himself?" he asked. The Marlock was penned up in a solitary enclosure, had his head lowered to the point where his nose nearly touched the ground, and just looked generally miserable.
The Kacheek groaned, "That's a stray that I found wandering around the city last month. He doesn't get along with the other Marlocks, so I keep them separated. That, and he's been just plain stubborn to train. I'd choose a different one, if I were you."
"Aw, he's probably just lonely," Flicker said, dismissing the Kacheek's reservations, as he remembered very well what it was like to feel unwanted. He grabbed another carrot and went over to the fence. The Marlock was back-to Flicker, so the Buzz had to get his attention by shouting, "Hey! You don't have to be alone! C'mon, let's be friends!"
The Marlock turned his head slowly, lacking much energy at all. But when he caught sight of Flicker, his tired, unhappy eyes suddenly snapped wide.
The only thing stopping the Marlock from charging straight into Flicker was the mesh fence. But even then, Flicker was knocked backwards as the petpet crashed into it. The Marlock roared as he rammed his body against the fence, trying to break it out of the ground. All the while, he glared at Flicker with more hatred and rage than he had ever seen in the eyes of anything before him.
The Kacheek rushed into the enclosure and threw a lasso around the Marlock's muzzle. It stopped him from trying to destroy the fence for the moment, but it hardly did anything to quell his anger. He tugged and swung his head back in an attempt to break free. It was only when a few nearby Neopets that witnessed the scene jumped in did the Marlock find himself overpowered. No matter how much he fought back, his chances of winning dwindled to nothing.
Wingen helped Flicker onto his feet as they watched the out-of-control Marlock. Flicker considered going in to assist as well, but by that point, it appeared that the other Neopets had a handle on things.
It was for that reason that Flicker didn't make any attempt to resist when Wingen tugged at his hand and shouted nervously over the noise, "Alright Flicker, let's go choose a different one!"
* * *
After getting a far tamer Marlock as well as a driver to control the carriage, Flicker and Wingen met up with the others just outside of Obsidian Quarry. As everyone was eager to get moving, nobody wasted much time in loading their things in the back and hopping inside once the final preparations were finished.
Once Wingen finished talking to the driver up top, he joined the others inside the coach and told them, "Marlocks can't climb, so the driver says that he'll only take us far as he can before we reach a cliff. But that shouldn't happen for a while."
As they left Obsidian Quarry, Flicker was reminded of the illustrations he saw of Neopets enjoying the scenery as they traveled in carriages pulled by other sorts of petpets. Of course, the resemblance was thin at best, since he was greeted by nothing but rock walls when he looked out the carriage window. He idly imagined what it would be like to be able to witness so much more variety during those sorts of trips. But before his dreaming lasted too long, Flicker snapped out of it and decided to pass the time some other way.
In no small part was Flicker's departure from his train of thought fueled by Jacenty, as the Zafara asked him, "So, Flicker. I noticed that you and Wingen appear to be rather close. When did you two get to be friends?"
"That's not really it. He's my Big Brother!" Flicker corrected him cheerfully.
Jacenty was struck with silence and bewilderment. The name that Flicker used to refer to Wingen appeared to be foremost in Jacenty's mind, although it seemed to be the "Big" part of it that confused him. He steadily grew more baffled as he failed to find anything in their appearances that suggested that the word was accurate. Eventually, Jacenty leaned closer to Flicker and whispered, "Oh dear. I hate to be the one to inform you of this, but I think you might want to consider getting your eyesight checked."
But before Jacenty had any opportunity to recommend Flicker to an eye specialist –likely the same one that gave him his horribly inefficient glasses- Lumin said to everyone, "Seeing as how we're not going to arrive in Pillar Grove for quite some time, this would be a good time to explain a few things."
Everyone in the carriage become quiet and ready to listen. Lampyri did not appear to have the expectation of hearing anything new, but Wingen and Jacenty were intrigued over what Lumin knew of Pillar Grove. However, it was Flicker that had the most investment in the oncoming story. Being the City of Lights' former prince did not change the fact that Flicker knew precious little of his birthplace. Any sort of information or history about it warranted great interest from him.
"As I mentioned yesterday, many years ago the City of Lights waged war with Pillar Grove. It started thirty-two years ago when I was seven years old and ended when I was twenty-five, on the day I became king. Back then, the City of Lights... was a different place."
Lumin inhaled, his facial expressions tightening as he breathed in the unpleasant atmosphere that his story was already starting to bring.
"Water, food, raw materials... Resources can be very scarce and hard to find in Moltara. Competition over these bare necessities of life has always been fierce. These days, trade and bartering has become the favored method of obtaining resources from other cities that have what we do not. But the Fireflies possess a long history of turning to conquest to fulfill their wants and needs.
"The strength of a warrior used to be just as revered as the lanterns that keep our city lit. In many ways, it still is. But in the past, the City of Lights constantly kept its soldiers busy by sending them to capture whatever resources they could from our neighbors. Most of the time, the targets were small settlements that had no chance of resistance. Rush in, take the spoils, and leave without a thought over the future of the Neopets caught in between. That was the way things were.
"One day, perhaps out of some desire to prove its might, the City of Lights set its sights towards Pillar Grove. They were not a little group that could just be trampled over, they were a powerful and successful city. Most of all, they had technology and resources that could not be found anywhere else. So the Fireflies attacked. Our arrogance allowed us to believe that the war would be over in a few months. But it waged on and on, to the point where an entire generation grew up with battles constantly being fought around them.
"Eventually, both sides become tired and weary. But the Fireflies were too proud to admit that enough was enough, and the people of Pillar Grove could not stop defending with that in mind. Yet I knew that continuing to fight and retaining our power-hungry ways would lead not only the Fireflies to ruin, but many other Moltarans as well. Like I said, the first thing I did when I took the throne was to call an end to the war. From that day forward, I sought to change the attitude of the City of Lights. Even if gradually, I wanted the Fireflies to be able to extend their hands –not their swords- to other Neopets."
The story was followed by the same silence that preceded it. Flicker wasn't sure how to absorb the new information. After hearing about his home being responsible for such things, his already-unsure feelings about the city were spinning in disarray. The only thing he could find it in himself to do was ask, "So did you?"
Lumin lowered his head, just as uncertain as Flicker was. "I would like to think that I did. But when something like that is so deeply rooted within society, changing it is an extremely difficult and long process. The City of Lights is not as isolated and warrior-like as it used to be, but there is still a very persistent notion of distrust towards strangers."
Lumin took a small breath in preparation to say something else, but decided against it at the last second. Judging from the distressed look on his face, Flicker expected him to say something to the effect of, "That was before The Engineer came and made things worse, though." And that was a subject that nobody wanted to discuss.
Seeing Lumin's demeanor, Lampyri decided to take over the subject. "We've been at peace with Pillar Grove for nearly fourteen years and our relations with them are much better now than they were. But I can't imagine that their opinions of us have entirely changed either. So it's still not a good idea for a Firefly to go into the city without any knowledge of the history between us. In short, me and your father are coming along to prevent you from doing or saying something stupid."
Flicker growled shortly at Lampyri. Sometimes he thought that she said stuff like that just to irritate him.
Jacenty cleared his throat. After hearing what Lumin had to say, even he was feeling a little disquieted. "Goodness... Are you sure this is no problem for you?"
"As long as we don't stay for too long, I think things will be fine," Lampyri answered. Lumin nodded, although Flicker doubted that he was in complete agreement with her.
But Jacenty still wasn't convinced all the way, as he quickly stated, "I'll be sure to do my research as quickly as possible. I'm sorry to trouble you with this. I didn't know of all this conflict between your cities."
"You apologize too much," Flicker said bluntly, all while wearing a smile. "She said it'll be fine, so don't worry about it!"
For once, Wingen was not overcome with worry over any possible danger. Instead, he said to Jacenty excitedly, "I'd love it if I could go with you when you look at the tree! Oh, and can I show you all the stuff I've learned since I last saw you? And maybe tell me about some more plants I can use for potions? And tell me more about what you've seen on the surface?"
"Yes, yes, Wingen! I'll be glad to!" Jacenty laughed, raising his hands up as he was taken aback by the Wocky's sudden burst of energy. "And you must tell me what you've been up to all these years too!"
Flicker considered joining in on their conversation, but he decided to leave them be. He hadn't seen Wingen get so worked up over something in a positive way for a long time. And -of course- seeing him happy made Flicker happy.
Instead, Flicker just listened to Wingen and Jacenty catch up on old times. They went at it for nearly two hours. It only stopped because Jacenty was suddenly overcome with surprise again, like something had just sunk in. Flicker and Wingen watched him furrow his eyebrows as he attempted to make sense of something in his mind, the subject of which was a complete mystery to everyone else.
They all got their answer when he turned to Lumin and asked, "Wait, you're a king?"
To be continued...