The Sisters of Pillar Grove:Part Six
Wingen exhaled deeply. He made it, but just barely.
He knew that time was of the essence, so he made sure to accomplish his task back at the palace with haste. Wingen never liked to rush his work, but he shuddered to think what would have happened to Dimitri had he chosen to go at a slower pace.
Wingen glanced over his shoulder to Dimitri, who was still kneeling on the ground. He could only assume that Dimitri and Frazer were in Central Cavern in the first place because they too learned about Jacenty's true nature somehow. It was a conversation that he dreaded to have with them, but seeing them find out first-hand was no easier either.
“Wingen… I’m sorry. I’m so sorry…” Dimitri said once he found his voice, spoken through a watery blockage in his throat.
“It’s okay. It’s not your fault,” Wingen assured him. As much as he was sure that Dimitri wished that he could have prevented the whole situation, he doubted that he –or anyone- could have done anything. It still stung to think about Jacenty’s betrayal, but some time alone to absorb it helped keep his emotions from falling into disarray. “I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about me.”
Wingen caught a brief glimpse of Dimitri’s confused face before he turned around, but he didn’t have the time to question it. Instead, he glared at the robot’s windows, knowing exactly who was on the other side. He stood his ground and intensified his scowl. In the past, he used to run away from pain and keep the sorrow bottled up inside. If there was any time to practice facing his problems head-on, it was now.
“…Wingen!” came Jacenty’s voice from within the robot, sounding as if the breath was stolen from it. The robot began to position itself to strike Wingen, but abruptly stopped as Jacenty shouted, “No! Stop, you fool! Get away from the controls!”
“What bit you in the tail?! Lumberjack is my robot! I’ll blast whoever I please with it!” a second voice sharply snapped at Jacenty – Wingen figured that it must have belonged to Halloy.
“I swear to you, if you fire on him…” Jacenty growled. A short scuffle followed and resulted in Lumberjack lowering itself to the ground. Once it was closer to his level, Wingen could see inside the control room. Jacenty forced himself in front of Halloy to get a hold of two levers on the panel, while the Jubjub had a pout that invoked the image of a child that was watching someone else play with his favorite toy.
Wingen didn’t hear all of what Jacenty said to Frazer and Dimitri before their battle, but he heard enough. “Moltarans are a bunch of filthy cowards, huh? Is that what you really think, Dr. Jacenty?!”
“Oh Wingen… You’re different,” Jacenty said, his tone matching the light-hearted one he used before revealing his real colors. “Ever since I first met you, I could tell that you weren’t like the rest of your kind. You’re inquisitive, talented, and –most of all- very intelligent. Do you know why all of us -myself, Frazer, Kiele, and Weimin- spent so much time and effort instructing you? Because we could all tell that you have so much potential!”
Wingen’s frown grew tighter. He never thought he would find himself so insulted by words that were meant as a compliment.
“That kind of potential would be a terrible thing to waste, Wingen,” Jacenty continued in a quieter voice. “I know that you’re capable of making the right decisions. And I also know that you know how to surround yourself with the right people and avoid bad influences.”
If Jacenty was correct about anything he said, it was his last statement. Wingen’s reply was instant, without the slightest second set aside for consideration. “I am with the right people! You’re the one I should have avoided all along! And after what you did to Flicker… I’ll never forgive you! I won’t let anyone that hurts my Little Brother get away with it!”
Jacenty's face changed. Wingen saw a sense of offended shock in his eyes, mixed with a hint of disbelief. Jacenty almost seemed to be hurt by what he said. Wingen nearly felt guilty about it until Jacenty's disappointment faded in favor of anger.
“You ungrateful brat…” Jacenty muttered with a sort of displeasure that was a mere push away from turning into outright resentment.
Deep, deep down, Wingen wanted to give Jacenty the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps there were more to his actions. Perhaps Lampyri was mistaken in her note. They were foolish notions, sure. And as he said, he’d never be able to bring himself to see any goodness in someone that had hurt Flicker as maliciously as Jacenty did. But even so, the fond memories from over a decade ago still lingered in his head and told him that maybe there was hope after all.
When those hopes were dashed right in front of him, Wingen didn’t make any effort into keeping his eyes dry.
Wingen heard Halloy grumble impatiently, “Hmph! Can I blast them now?!”
Jacenty leaned back in his seat. Wingen watched his eyes chill over. “Do what you will.”
The lingering feelings of guilt within Wingen vanished completely. As the tears on his cheeks dried, he came to realize that the loss of Jacenty’s friendship was not one worth mourning over.
Wingen got into position, the blue shield in his hands ready to take another hit. If the next attack caused it to break, then he had plenty more on standby. He didn’t need to defeat Lumberjack; he just needed to defend and keep his friends safe.
Lumberjack reared up as Halloy took up its reins again. It showed off by clashing its mandibles together while bringing its head back even further. Halloy decided at the last second to conserve energy and switch to a more physical style of combat. Wingen was confident that he’d be able to block a second energy blast, but was far more doubtful about a direct attack. Had he not been the only one between the Lumberjack and Dimitri, he would have started running. Lumberjack swiftly moved its head forward at such a speed that Wingen had no other option but to stand firm and hope for the best.
Zircon rushed to the scene just in time for his swords to clash with Lumberjack’s mandibles yet again. He caught the pilots off-guard and pushed the robot to the side far enough that it missed Wingen and Dimitri. Though it didn't miss them by much; it landed close enough to Wingen that he could make out every bolt holding Lumberjack’s armor together.
Wingen didn’t even have time to brush the dust off of himself before Zircon picked him up by the nape of his neck with one paw. Zircon forced Dimitri to stand with his other paw, then gave him a light push to get him running as he urged him to take flight. Dimitri, though still dazed, did so without complaint. Before Lumberjack's pilots could react, the three Neopets had fled well outside the range of its physical attacks, onto one of the lower walkways.
Zircon released Wingen the instant his feet met metal. But he didn't set him down gently. Wingen heard Zircon release a pained grunt just before he dropped him. He doubled over as his arm instinctively wrapped around his chest. A moment later, he stood up again and did his best to regain the composure that was expected of a king. Though if he was trying to convince Wingen and Dimitri that he wasn't injured, it certainly didn't work.
“How bad is it? You... you can barely even stand...” Wingen softly addressed Zircon.
“I'm fine,” Zircon shortly replied in between breaths.
“I said I'm fine!” the Eyrie squawked, his eyelids tightening afterwards. “This is nothing I haven't dealt with before.”
Wingen was about to protest further, but stopped himself as soon as he caught the sound of someone running up the stairs behind him. Before he had the chance to turn around, Frazer grabbed a hold of him and pulled him close.
“I’m so glad you’re alright, Wingen,” said Frazer. Wingen said nothing, which prompted him to add, “I’m sorry, it should have never come to this.”
In truth, Wingen did not keep silent out of spite. There was no grudge to be held against Frazer in the first place. Whatever the professor felt over the matter, Wingen believed that the blame for the incident was on Jacenty and Jacenty alone.
The reality was that Wingen simply didn’t know what to say anymore. Not about Jacenty or the events leading up to his betrayal, but that Frazer was another addition to a growing list of people that expressed their concern. It was a surprisingly difficult thing to get used to: the idea that people cared about him.
Though he was made aware of his presence earlier, Zircon didn't waste a second and demanded answers from Frazer, “Who are you? And what is your connection to Jacenty?
Reluctantly, Frazer released Wingen and stood up. He straightened out his collar and sighed, “I'm Professor Frazer, the leader of the surface-dwellers in Central Cavern. Jacenty is... was a subordinate of mine. He's my responsibility; I should have dealt with him years ago.”
Zircon considered Frazer with an obvious glint of skepticism in his eye. The sense of eroded trust from the day before returned to his face. As much as Wingen wanted to vouch for Frazer, he feared it would be little more than hollow words in Zircons ears after he and his company had assured him before that Jacenty was dependable.
Eventually, though, Zircon relented. “Your help is appreciated.” He glanced over the railings to where Lumberjack was. “I hoped that I could slice off the legs, but it appears to be much sturdier than I anticipated.”
“My arrows can keep it in place for a short amount of time, but I doubt they'll be able to hold it for long,” Frazer said.
“Whatever little bit helps,” Zircon replied. “I won't pretend to know how your water arrows can harden as they did, but if you could do it at the legs again, I'll give cutting them off another try. Wingen, I'll need you to come with me to keep the robot from striking me again.”
Wingen nodded anxiously. He almost suggested giving Zircon a purple healing gem out of reflex, but he had the sinking feeling that the king would be too proud to accept it. Not that it mattered that much, since trying to heal Zircon's injury with a purple gem would be like trying to clear out a landslide with a trowel.
“However we go about it, we need to keep the robot from moving. Once we accomplish that, I'll give the others the signal to launch their attack,” Zircon stated.
Dimitri's head rose. Despite being silent all that time, his voice was still hoarse as he croaked, “'Others?'”
“Yeah. Flicker and Lampyri are waiting to ambush Jacenty and Halloy once Zircon gives the okay,” Wingen explained.
“Flicker and Lampyri?” Dimitri breathlessly repeated. “They're... they're alive?”
Wingen blinked in surprise. At that moment, he put two and two together. He wasn't sure what exactly Jacenty or Halloy must have said to Dimitri to cause him to come to such a conclusion, but it was no wonder he had been acting so odd. However, as much as Wingen wanted to do more to console Dimitri, all he was able to do for the time being was drop his voice to a whisper and say, “Jacenty and Halloy don't know that, though.”
Wingen heard the sound of Lumberjack's feet scraping against steel. His head swiveled back and forth as he tried to find it.
Then, Lumberjack's jaws emerged from underneath the other side of the walkway and tore it apart. The walkway began to tilt downwards, causing Wingen to lose his footing as he began to slide. Dimitri, suddenly alerted into action, grabbed a hold of Wingen and flew to the nearest pillar where it was more stable, while Zircon did the same for Frazer.
Lumberjack continued on its way as it clambered up the pillar opposite of Wingen's company. It paid them no further heed and instead crawled around to the other side of the trunk. Then, Lumberjack leapt to another pillar, causing the entire cave to shake as it landed. Its feet scraped along the metal with an ear-splitting screech. Once it was able to get a foothold, it kept going with purpose, as if there was a specific goal point in mind.
Wingen heard Zircon exclaim to himself once the realization came upon him. The pillar that Lumberjack aimed for was the one that the palace was attached to. No sooner had Zircon caught on to their plan, Lumberjack planted itself in place and gazed at a particular spot. “It's going to chew it's way to the earth faerie's chamber!”
Lumberjack's mandibles extended and partially detached from the main head, stretching to about double the body's width. They bit into the steel coating of the trunk and began to rotate. When the cut was finished, Lumberjack grabbed a hold of the large, round piece of steel and removed it from the pillar, revealing the tree's bare bark.
Zircon began breathing even heavier than before. He turned to Frazer. “Can you hit the jaws from here?”
Frazer grunted in doubt, but notched an arrow anyways. “My aim isn't what it used to be, but I'll certainly try.”
Lumberjack sunk its jaws into the tree and began ripping out chunks of wood. Frazer took aim.
But then, something caused Frazer to loosen his arms and lower his bow. Before Wingen could ask why he was hesitating, he felt something hit him as well. Not physically, however. It wasn't an object. It wasn't even a sound. It was more like a feeling; the same feeling as the shock waves that destroyed the city's amber, something that Wingen felt in his very being.
It was magic. A force felt by the soul. Magic... at its angriest.
A twisted, contorted mass of wood erupted from the gap in the coating, and wrapped around Lumberjack's head.
To be continued…