Infinity: Part Three
Two weeks had passed, and Lumin could once again stand on his balcony and watch the City of Lights sparkle with the glow of the Fireflies. Most Fireflies at that point were on their feet again, fully recovered. There was still the matter of making up for lost business while those that ran them were sick, but overall the city was regaining its vigor.
The whole ordeal was still something that Lumin didn't like to think about. Thinking about Ultraviolet still left him with a hollow feeling inside. But now that his fears about losing the rest of the kingdom were gone, Lumin knew that he couldn't dwell on things and tried to move on.
Glowstick had returned to work in full health a few days prior and was in the hall leading into the balcony with Lampyri. Lumin could hear the two of them bragging and trying to convince the other that they were clearly the better one at flying, fighting, and so forth. Hearing their light-hearted bickering was proof enough to Lumin that things were returning to normal.
Infrared and Neon joined Lumin on the balcony. Infrared spent that time mentoring Neon on various procedures, but was constantly interrupted by the other two Royal Guards and their bickering. Infrared rolled his eyes at Lampyri and Glowstick and told them that they were childish, but Neon found it somewhat amusing and tried to hide his laughter the best he could.
Adding on the bustle of the city, there was a lot that could be heard from the balcony at that moment. However, considering that the city was deathly quiet just two weeks ago, Lumin had no qualms with the sounds.
But even with all the noise that was around him, there was one voice that suddenly became very distinct. "Things seem to have gotten better around here, haven't they? Your city certainly isn't like it was when I first approached you."
The Engineer's way of presenting herself still startled Lumin, especially considering he hadn't seen her since she gave him the cure. He grew calm once he realized who it was, but the same couldn't be said for the Royal Guards. The instant The Engineer appeared and spoke, each of them stopped what they were doing and jumped into action. Lampyri unhooked her chains and swiftly threw part of them at The Engineer. The chains wrapped around The Engineer and made her unable to move, but elicited no greater reaction than a slightly annoyed grunt. While Lampyri held The Engineer in place, the other three Royal Guards circled around her and pointed their weapons at her: Glowstick had his spear, Neon had his long-sword, and Infrared had his own fists.
The Royal Guards were so fast to act that none of them bothered to ask why or how The Engineer just appeared out of thin air when they first noticed her presence. But as they stared her down, looks of confusion came across them as they realized just how strange the situation was. Just like the rest of the city, it was impossible for a wingless Neopet such as an Acara to enter the palace without assistance.
Lumin wasn't shocked at the Royal Guard's reaction to her. He didn't tell anybody about The Engineer since the story behind his meeting with her was just too farfetched for anybody to take seriously. But even though he knew that the Royal Guards were just doing their job, he quickly tried to calm them down. "Stop! Lower your weapons!" He looked at The Engineer, whose expression only showed mild irritation.
The Royal Guard's puzzled faces didn't disappear, but they still did as they were told. They looked at The Engineer with suspicion, while she looked back at them with indifference. Lumin knew that he wasn't going to be able to keep what happened two weeks ago a secret anymore. "It's alright. She's a friend. This is the one that gave me the cure." He turned to Lampyri. "Let her go."
The Engineer closed her eyes and smiled. "No need." She then disappeared again, much to the astonishment of the Royal Guards. As the chains that were previously wrapped around her fell and clattered on the floor, Lampyri took a few steps back and nearly lost her balance. The others couldn't believe what they just saw either. When The Engineer reappeared standing next to the pile of chains, they all gave exclamations of shock and began to question her on how she managed to do that. She didn't answer them, instead directing her focus on Lumin. "You know why I'm here, correct?"
Lumin nodded. He remembered The Engineer saying something about payment before she left the last time he saw her and figured she was there to collect it. Lumin requested to speak about it in a more appropriate place, and The Engineer obliged. She followed him into the throne room instead of teleporting there, which was probably for the better as Lumin thought the Royal Guards would keel over if they saw her do that again.
When they arrived, Lumin sat in his throne while The Engineer stood before him, refusing the seats offered to her. Lumin initiated the conversation, "You didn't mention anything about payment when we first met."
The Engineer shook her head at Lumin. "All take and no give, are we? When one receives, they must also give. That's a law of nature. You didn't know that? And you call yourself a King?"
Lumin leaned back in astonishment at the biting remark that she made. Hearing that kind of comment came as a surprise to Lumin after listening to her speak so softly before. The Royal Guards, who had no prior knowledge of The Engineer, gave an insulted scowl in response. But Lumin decided to overlook what she said to him and held his hand to the Royal Guards before they got the chance to do anything to The Engineer. They stayed put, although reluctantly.
But The Engineer wasn't done there. "That's alright, though. I'm not too keen on order, myself," she continued.
Even putting aside The Engineer's strange comments, Lumin couldn't help but think that there was something different about her. Her tone of voice was the same and she still wore that little smile. On the surface, there was nothing unusual. Lumin shook his head, assuming it was just his imagination. "We have plenty of gold. What's your price?"
She gave a short laugh in response. "How cute. Money means nothing to me."
"...Then what do you want?"
The Engineer turned her head to face the windows on the other side of the room and looked out into the city. "What's the population of your kingdom?"
Lumin was quiet for a moment, not sure what the relevance of her question was. "It's a small kingdom; there's about seven hundred of us."
"I see," The Engineer said quietly as she still faced away. She then turned back to Lumin. "I want you to hand over a quarter of your people to me."
Lumin's entire face filled with shock. Her request... no, her demand pierced the composed disposition he had and completely shattered it. His wide, disbelieving eyes stared at The Engineer who continued to smile back at him. When he opened up his mouth, his words shook out of apprehension. "What... Whatever for?!"
Not an ounce of Lumin's anxious words disturbed The Engineer's face, remaining completely serene and tranquil as she answered, "Whatever I want."
Lumin's heart began to pound at her words. He thought of their first two meetings. He remembered her generosity and the gratefulness that he showed towards her. She gave him the cure, she saved the kingdom from peril. At that time, he truly believed in her benevolence.
But now all of his notions of her were being brought to question. Each of the memories he had of her were quickly becoming tainted. If there was any iota of suspicion over The Engineer that the Royal Guards kept hidden, then it came out in full view as their scowls intensified and their grip on their weapons tightened. Lumin, who had placed his trust in The Engineer, adopted that same suspicion and promptly stood up. Lumin was quiet and soft-spoken. But at that moment he completely threw aside that demeanor. The Engineer's words outraging him, he raised the volume of his voice and his tone became stern and harsh. "Absolutely not! You may have helped cure this kingdom, but I don't intend to sacrifice a single one of my people to you!"
The Engineer still maintained her expression. Up until that point, Lumin chalked up tendency to simple calmness. But he realized that wasn't it at all. She didn't react to his sadness, his surprise, nor his anger. It wasn't out of a calm nature, it was out of sheer apathy.
When she finally did react, it was in the form of another short laugh. She didn't give a single indication that she took the matter seriously at all. "I figured you would say that. But in a way, I'm glad that you did..."
Her smile, that peaceful smile had remained on her face for most of the time Lumin had known her. It changed rarely, and when it did it was only for a brief moment. It was part of what soothed Lumin's frantic and nervous emotions when she first appeared.
Lumin now knew that was just a façade, one that he saw The Engineer decide to drop altogether. At that moment, that harmless smile widened into a full-blown grin. There was no compassion, nothing that made Lumin feel relaxed and comfortable. Instead, he saw malevolence and malice. The Acara that had previously given off a warm and friendly aura was now sending chills down Lumin's back.
"...It gives me the chance to play with you a little."
The Engineer disappeared once again. Lumin just stared at the spot where she was standing while his body and breath shook. Part of him was in denial. He wanted to believe that The Engineer was on his side. She saved his kingdom. The City of Lights was still alive thanks to her. But eventually, Lumin found that he couldn't lie to himself anymore. The dark and cold feeling she gave while ordering Lumin to sacrifice his own citizens to her was undeniable. He couldn't consider her an ally, not with those words burned into his mind.
Lumin looked to the Royal Guards. They were stunned once again by The Engineer's disappearance, but –like Lumin- they were also stunned at what she demanded. Lumin knew now that he couldn't ignore their suspicion and force them to restrain themselves any longer. They turned to Lumin once they realized their King shared their feelings.
"Infrared. Neon," Lumin addressed them, his tone serious. He didn't know exactly what The Engineer planned to do with the Fireflies. But for all he was concerned, it didn't matter. The cruelty present in her face told Lumin all he needed to know. "Find her."
Neither of them hesitated. With a quick salute, both of them raced out of the throne room, understanding the situation. Once they left, Lumin turned to Lampyri and Glowstick. They too appeared to realize the potential threat and eagerly awaited orders, ready to act at a moment's notice. Lumin thought back, remembering what he told The Engineer during their first meeting. Those like The Engineer that show a clear intent to do harm to someone often won't directly hurt the target, but will strike as close as possible. That was something that Lumin understood well. "I want you two to guard the egg."
* * *
A long time had passed, although Lampyri wasn't exactly sure how long. Half the day could have gone by at that point for all she knew. However long it had been, Lampyri and Glowstick spent the entirety of it in silence, watching the egg attentively. If The Engineer made a move and appeared in the room, they were prepared to attack in an instant. With something as dear to their King as that egg on the line, they had every reason to heighten their senses to their limits.
Lampyri left her chains behind and replaced them with two iron clubs. When she shared the room with a fragile egg, it wouldn't do her any good to be flailing her weapons around like she was used to. But even if she brought her chains, she knew how little use they would be in that situation. She remembered how The Engineer had effortlessly escaped her chains, the same ones that Lampyri had used to immobilize so many opponents over the years. Everything about The Engineer was strange to her, but she clearly declared herself as the enemy and that was all that mattered to Lampyri at the moment.
She took her thoughts off of the subject and put her entire focus on the egg once again. More time slowly slipped by without any sound being made except for the pipes. After a while of that being the only noise in the room, she immediately reacted when she heard another sound. It was the faint sound of movement nearby.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the Acara make her appearance and take a few steps towards Glowstick. He quickly took notice of her as well and didn't waste a second to take his spear and thrust it at The Engineer. But even though Glowstick's reflexes were fast, The Engineer's was faster. She vanished just before the spear could make contact with her.
Lampyri grasped her iron clubs, her eyes darting around for any sign of The Engineer. She wasn't in front of nor beside her. Lampyri swiveled her head around. There she was, behind her. Lampyri gritted her teeth and swung at her. But she struck nothing.
The Engineer appeared again to Lampyri's left. She attacked again and missed again. To her right, in front of her, in front of Glowstick, back to Lampyri... Over and over she teleported around the room, daring the Royal Guards. Growls of frustration left their lips as they continuously missed their target. All the while The Engineer smiled playfully at them in an almost dark sort of way. The taunting look in her eyes made it no secret that she was just toying with them.
Lampyri began to pant as The Engineer's teasing was wearing on her. She took a deep breath, forcing herself to go on. Even it took her a thousand tries, she was going to hit her and she didn't intend to stop until she did.
After missing once again, Lampyri scanned her surroundings for where The Engineer would appear next and noticed how much distance was between her and the egg. Her eyes widened in horror once she realized that The Engineer was gradually drawing her and Glowstick away from what they were guarding. Lampyri screamed Glowstick's name and he too figured out what was going on. The two began to run back closer to the egg, only to find The Engineer appear right next to it. Lampyri readied her clubs and drew her arm back as she ran. At that instant, The Engineer took a hold of the egg and held it directly in front of her.
When the sight of the egg in the path of her club registered in her mind, Lampyri immediately locked up her body. Her arm was right in the beginning of its swing at The Engineer, but she instinctively stopped herself from moving any further. She stood frozen in place, uneasily shivering as she stared at the egg that The Engineer held. Lampyri glanced over at the club that came so close to destroying the egg and became even more horror-struck as images of such a thing ran through her head.
The Engineer didn't appear to have any such worries as she held the egg with one paw. Instead, she looked amused that Lampyri just barely avoided hitting the egg that she shielded herself with. "I'd think twice about moving further. You wouldn't want me to drop this, now would you?"
As The Engineer taunted the Buzz in front of her, Lampyri realized that she fully intended to carry out her threat if she didn't stay put. Yielding to someone like The Engineer was unthinkable to her, but she didn't have any other options with the safety of the egg put in jeopardy. Lampyri didn't move her body an inch, but was still adamant that she wasn't going to submit to The Engineer completely. "Put it down."
But her order fell on deaf ears. The Engineer continued to hold the egg that was just one swift movement away from falling and shattering on the floor. Then all of a sudden, Lampyri saw The Engineer's palm light up beneath the egg. She didn't know what the light was or how The Engineer was creating it, but its presence was enough to cause the anger simmering inside of her to reach its boiling point. "I said put it down!"
The light faded just as quickly as it appeared. The Engineer moved back towards the cushion. All while keeping an eye on Lampyri, she gently put the egg back into place.
Lampyri didn't make any sudden movements while The Engineer was still close enough to the egg to inflict damage upon it in a matter of seconds. Her eyes moved to Glowstick, who was quiet during the entire ordeal. He was mostly frozen up like Lampyri was, but she saw him slowly and silently adjust the position of his spear until the head was pointing directly at The Engineer. All he needed to do was slightly tilt his head to his left while making eye contact with Lampyri for her to know exactly what he was planning.
Lampyri placed her weapons on the floor and showed The Engineer her bare hands. Presenting herself as unarmed and not a threat, she backed away from the Acara. But as she backed up, she went in the direction that Glowstick tilted his head towards until she was no longer standing directly in front of The Engineer.
While The Engineer was still paying attention to Lampyri, Glowstick took his chance. His spear did not appear to be anything special aside from the bottom of the shaft that was unusually thick. But then Glowstick took his hand and swiftly unlocked a collapsible component that was hidden inside the shaft. The component contained a trigger that Glowstick quickly pulled and launched the spearhead towards The Engineer.
Most Neopets did not expect that Glowstick's weapon was a speargun rather than an ordinary spear, but The Engineer took notice of that fact far faster than what Glowstick and Lampyri were hoping for. She had apparently been alert enough to Glowstick's actions that she was able to react and disappear before the spearhead could hit her.
Glowstick stomped his foot as he watched an attack that even Lampyri thought would be too fast to evade miss yet again. Both of them expected The Engineer to reappear before Glowstick got the chance to retrieve the spearhead that was lodged into the wall, but no such thing happened. They were once again in a silent room occupied only by the two of them and the egg, and this time it stayed that way.
Still, Lampyri wasn't going to take any risks. She immediately took a hold of the egg before The Engineer came back and went after it again. As time passed and it became clear that The Engineer had actually left, Lampyri took the opportunity to look the egg over. There were no cracks or any signs of damage that she could see. The egg seemed to be just fine.
But Glowstick and Lampyri saw that flash of light that appeared while The Engineer was holding the egg. She did something to the egg and the two Royal Guards knew it. They felt their stomachs twist into knots as the realization that they failed to protect the egg set in.
Lampyri heard the door open and began to react defensively as The Engineer was still on her mind. She calmed down when she saw two guards walk in, looking confused and worried. One of them asked, "We heard noise in here. Is there something wrong?"
They didn't answer at first, their minds still preoccupied with the egg. Lampyri found herself just staring at the egg trying to fight off the thoughts over the worst possible scenario. When she lifted her head up, she found that Glowstick's eyes were fixated on the egg and filled with anxiety as well.
"Go get the King," Glowstick ordered in a barely audible voice, still breathing heavily out of exhaustion and nervousness.
The guards looked at each other before one replied, "Sir, I believe the King is asleep right n-"
"Then wake him up! This is an emergency!"
The sudden increase in volume and the irritation present in Glowstick's tone was enough to make the guards flinch and immediately heed his orders. No longer interested in the details unless they wanted to anger Glowstick further, they dashed out of the room to fetch the King without another word.
Time once again began to move very slowly for Lampyri. But this time she was stuck standing there thinking not about what could happen, but what already happened. When the realization that she and Glowstick would have to look Lumin in the eyes and tell him that his child may have been harmed, Lampyri just wanted time to grind to a halt.
To be continued...