Infinity: Part Five
Neon was right; if Lumin had only heard about it, he would never have believed it.
The soldier was standing before him, wide-eyed and shaken. He was breathing deep and heavy, almost to the point of hyperventilating and his face looked horror-struck. But the thing that almost petrified Lumin on the spot was that the soldier was no longer Glowing. Rather, his body took on a bluish-white color with small, pink stripes all over him. There wasn't a single speck of light emitted from his body.
"What... What happened to you?!" Lumin's voice faltered as his own breath became short.
The soldier shook his head. "I don't know... I-I was on patrol and all of a sudden... My entire body felt like it was on fire. And then... this. I looked like this!"
Lumin let out a deep sigh, trying to keep his composure. Nothing like that had ever happened before. Once a Firefly started to glow, they stayed that way all their life. Suddenly losing their glow was unthinkable. Lumin wanted to comfort the soldier and try to calm him down. But when something of that magnitude just occurred out of the blue to a Neopet that was proud of their color, he didn't know how he would go about doing that.
Neon –who had taken Flicker back to his room- caught up to Lumin. He looked confused as well and had no idea what to make of the situation. Lumin thought in silence about it, but he couldn't come up with any definitive answers in that short amount of time. "I don't know how this could have happened... The only thing I could think of is some sort of medical condition that's remained undetected up until now. Neon, go contact the doct-"
At that moment, something caught Lumin's eye. He barely saw it; it was something on one of the soldier's hands as he held his head in distress. "May I see your hands for a moment?" The soldier shakily held them out, and that was when Lumin's eyes widened. On the back of the soldier's right hand was a mark, the same one on Flicker's back. "Where did you get this mark?!"
The soldier looked at his hands and became bewildered once he saw the mark. "I'm not sure. I didn't even know I had it..."
Lumin and Neon looked at each other as both had the same exact thing on their minds. Lumin took another deep breath before he attempted to confirm his suspicions. "Have you come in contact with any outsiders lately?"
The soldier thought about it for a moment before coming up with an answer, "The only outsider I've seen recently was a Red Acara that bumped into me just before this happened..."
That was all Lumin needed to hear. "It's her... She's back!" Lumin growled under his breath.
The soldier was left in confusion over what Lumin was talking about, but the same couldn't be said for Neon. He immediately understood what Lumin meant and grabbed the hilt of his sword. "I know what to do, sire!"
"Alert the others. Tell them that she is to be attacked on sight," Lumin ordered, his voice low and serious. He thought about The Engineer and her betrayal, the threats she made on his kingdom, and the harm she brought to Flicker. As he recalled those memories -the last one especially- the anger in him began to boil. Lumin was no longer going to pretend that The Engineer was ever his friend after she had so clearly labeled herself as an enemy. Now that she had returned to collect her "payment," he became determined not to let her have her way with his kingdom.
Determination alone, however, just wasn't enough.
Within a few weeks, the City of Lights gradually began to darken once again.
* * *
Lumin always believed that his duty as king was to protect the City of Lights. He was physically weak and had no fighting prowess whatsoever. But he had the respect of those that were strong and he knew what kind of power words could hold. It had been about a decade since his rule began, and throughout that time he thought that he used what abilities he did have efficiently enough to keep the City of Lights at peace.
Lately, however, Lumin questioned just how much worth he truly had as a king. Sightings of The Engineer were sparse at first, but they quickly became more frequent. And as much as he devised plans to capture The Engineer, nothing worked. Every single attack a soldier or even a Royal Guard made was launched to look like a joke as The Engineer evaded each of them. All the while, more and more Fireflies had their glow and pride robbed from them. Lumin was forced to sit by and watch the spirits of his people crushed with absolutely nothing he could do to help them.
The citizens became afraid of leaving their own homes in fear of having their color changed as The Engineer became public knowledge. Not that it did any good, since The Engineer had begun appearing to Fireflies when they were alone in their houses. She still had yet to approach him directly, and yet Lumin felt as if she was laughing right in his face.
Flicker had begun to pick up on the hopeless aura that Lumin gave off. But every time he would ask if something was wrong, Lumin would pet his head and tell him that everything was just fine. He would show him an artificial smile to prove it and that was all it took to convince Flicker. No one else was fooled, though.
Eventually the situation escalated to the point where Lumin looked upon a plethora of different colors in his throne room as opposed to a uniform fluorescent green. Their colors were no longer identical, but their faces held the same emotions: Despair, shock, and anger. Even if they couldn't get their glow back, even if they couldn't get sufficient protection from the one causing the mayhem, they were determined to get answers.
It had remained civil for a while. The four Royal Guards told the group that they were doing all that they could. The citizens weren't satisfied with that and made their displeasure clear. Their words over their failure to protect the city struck a chord with each of the Royal Guards, who each knew that the criticisms were absolutely right. Glowstick and Lampyri were no longer the only ones wracked with guilt; Neon and Infrared were haunted with the knowledge that they couldn't stop The Engineer either. But even though the air was tense, there was still order in the throne room.
Then one of the Fireflies, a Purple Buzz who had remained quiet up until that point, turned to Lumin with grit teeth. "And what about you?! This is your fault, so why are you so quiet?!"
The blatant show of disrespect nearly caused Glowstick to throw the Firefly out, but Lumin spoke up before he had the chance, "Stop. Let him speak," Lumin looked back to the Purple Buzz. Like the Royal Guards, he felt immensely guilty over The Engineer's presence, but having it pointed out by someone that didn't know the entire history between her and Lumin still surprised him somewhat. "Why do you say that?"
The Purple Buzz's scowl tightened. "Don't act like you don't know! The Engineer's changing all our colors because you won't pay her! That's what she said to me as she changed mine! Is it the truth or not?!"
Lumin sighed and clamped his eyes shut. Regret over keeping that information secret finally hit in full-force now that The Engineer had started to spread it. Hearing it from her mouth instead of his own was just going to make the Fireflies even more incensed. There was no point in hiding it anymore. "The Engineer... The Engineer approached me when the poison hit. She was the one that gave me the cure that we needed. At the time, I believed that she came with the intention of helping us out of kindness without asking anything in return. But before she left she brought up the matter of payment-"
The Purple Buzz stepped back in astonishment, as if he didn't want to believe The Engineer, but begun to anyways. Before Lumin could continue, the Purple Buzz screamed out, "So it's true?! You really did sell us out?!"
The crowd erupted into exclamations of disbelief. The stunned Fireflies turned to the ones next to them, questioning between each other whether what they heard was really true or not.
"Of course not!" Lumin stood up, not so much offended by the Purple Buzz's suggestion as he was shocked. "The Engineer demanded that I sacrifice to her a portion of the city. I refused then and I refuse now. I would never throw anyone's lives away like that; there is nothing in this world that is worth that price!"
Lumin scanned the expressions that each Firefly wore. After what he just said, Lumin saw many calm down and regard what the Purple Buzz said as completely ridiculous. But then there were those that still wore furious and betrayed scowls. The voices of those that believed Lumin were quickly drowned out by the shouts of those that didn't.
"Liar! That monster is taking away our glow because of you!"
"You always told us to give outsiders a chance, and this is what happens when we do?!"
"I don't see The Engineer taking your glow away! That's because you're allied with her, isn't it?!"
The crowd grew louder and angrier with each accusation thrown at Lumin. Throughout it all, Lumin remained silent. He kept his composure and refrained from lashing out at the citizens voicing their discontent. But he began to recall how easily he trusted The Engineer and how this all traced back to him. Lumin became quiet because he knew that there was nothing else he could say in his defense.
Glowstick, on the other hand, didn't have that kind of restraint nor did he have such a loss of words. He didn't hesitate to raise his voice loud enough for the crowd to hear, "Listen to yourselves! The King has lead this city honestly for ten years, and yet you're believing The Engineer?!"
The other Royal Guards quickly followed suit, saying whatever they could to defend their King. But at that point, those were convinced that Lumin was responsible became deaf to all evidence to the contrary. And all it took was one Firefly to try to push their way through the crowd in an attempt to strike Lumin for the entire throne room to be thrown into chaos. The Fireflies that lost their trust in Lumin were consumed with rage and began to rush at the King. They clashed with the Royal Guards and those in the crowd that still supported Lumin.
Lumin watched the scene unfold. He quickly became convinced that what he was witnessing was the condensed version of what The Engineer had done to the city. Fireflies became infuriated and disillusioned, ripping apart the peaceful atmosphere in their attempt to take the blame out on someone.
But even as violent as the Fireflies that were fighting with the Royal Guards had become, to Lumin they were still citizens of the city he vowed to protect and lead. He tried to order them to stop fighting each other, yelling and shouting in desperate attempts to be heard over their enraged screams. But after seeing that he reached no one, he realized that his words were not as powerful as what he always believed.
* * *
The sight of Fireflies flying around The City of Lights that Lumin loved so much was nowhere to be found again. Nobody that worked in the palace had lost their glow yet, but they all had friends and family that did. Glowing Buzzes, which were once the only kind of Neopet that lived in the City of Lights, were now in the minority.
Each Firefly that lost their glow just fanned the flames that were burning among those that believed that Lumin was at fault. Lumin could no longer stand on the balcony to search for the few Fireflies that hadn't met The Engineer, as it became unsafe. Going out in the open for even a few minutes invited the opposition to make an attack and security inside the palace was tightened considerably. The whole situation just reeked of distrust among the Fireflies.
The Fireflies that opposed Lumin became more organized, eventually forming a rebellion. Planned attacks against soldiers were becoming increasingly common until it became something that Lumin would hear about every day. Lumin told the Royal Guards and the rest of the soldiers to keep on the defensive and to refrain from hurting the rebels as much as possible. The way Lumin saw it, if the military went on the offensive against his own citizens, any chance of stabilizing the city would just collapse in on itself.
Lumin was on his way to Flicker's room one day when he met Infrared in the hall. With everything that had been going on, Lumin found it difficult to find the time to see Flicker like he used to. He thought about going straight to bed, but he decided against it. "I'm going to be staying in Flicker's room for a while. I want you to guard this section's entrance," he said to Infrared quietly. The tone of his voice became dull and weary over the past few days, as what he had for optimism slowly drained out of him.
Infrared easily saw the reasoning behind Lumin's orders despite his efforts to hide them. "If you're worried about The Engineer going after Flicker, I can keep watch over him."
Lumin shook his head. "If The Engineer approaches him, I'll confront her."
Lumin continued on his way without another word. He knew that if The Engineer appeared to Flicker, there wasn't much that Lumin could do to protect him. But then again, neither could anyone else. The Engineer was quick-minded and fast, able to disappear and dodge attacks with ease. Fighting with her was a moot point, as she would just evade everything that her opponent threw at her. Lumin's anger towards Lampyri and Glowstick for failing to protect Flicker's egg had now faded. He knew now that the result would have been the same even if he had ordered Infrared and Neon to stand guard in the nursery room.
But he even if he had no chance at defeating The Engineer, he still wanted to deal with her face-to-face. In the back of his mind he believed what the rebellion was saying about him. He was the one that initially fell for The Engineer's façade of kindness, so he felt that he was partially to blame for what she had done to the Fireflies. If that was the case, he also felt that he should at least try to personally confront her.
He entered Flicker's room and saw the boy thrilled to see him as usual. Lumin still couldn't bring himself to tell Flicker what was going on. He felt that if he told him that the citizens were revolting against him and that he didn't know how to fix it, it would just put an unnecessary amount of worry on the boy's shoulders. Lumin didn't like having to lie to him, but he knew that the truth would just do more harm than good. For the time being, Lumin told Flicker that he was just very busy lately and that now he had a lot of free time to spend with him.
When Lumin told him that, Flicker grinned with delight. Flicker immediately gathered as many toys as he could and dropped them in front of Lumin, eager to play all the games he wanted -but never had enough time- to. Lumin smiled at him, partially to give the impression to Flicker that nothing was wrong, but also out of genuine happiness as he watched the child's excitement. Even if just slightly, Lumin could take his mind off his worries and focus on bonding with his son.
It took a few hours of almost non-stop play and running around the room, but Flicker's energy finally petered out. Flicker didn't put up much of fuss when Lumin had to carry the already half-asleep child to bed. As Lumin tucked him in, Flicker muttered that playing with him was a lot of fun and that they should do the same thing tomorrow. He also said some other things, but Lumin couldn't make out any of it as Flicker's words became incoherent as he fell asleep.
Lumin turned off most of the lanterns on the walls, but kept a few on so that the balance of light and darkness in the room was at a comfortable level. The one thing that terrified Fireflies almost unanimously was total darkness. While their natural glow kept them from ever experiencing such a thing, having a few lights on while one slept put things more at ease. Lumin thought of all those in the kingdom that were forced to rely on artificial lights and shuddered when the image of them standing in a completely black environment came into his mind.
He pulled up a chair next to Flicker's bed so that he could face the rest of the room. While Flicker slept soundly, Lumin forced himself to stay awake. He watched the room intently, looking and waiting for signs that he and Flicker were not the only ones there. If he caught so much of a glimpse of movement, he would act without an iota of hesitation.
But as the time passed, no such movement presented itself to Lumin. In spite of all the effort he made to stay awake, he eventually found that his eyelids were growing far too heavy to keep open. After some struggle, he finally gave in and closed his eyes.
He barely had time to fall into even a light slumber when he was suddenly jolted awake by a large sound. His eyes snapped open and he frantically looked around the room. But the room was quiet and vacant except for Lumin and Flicker. Lumin wasn't sure what the sound was that awoke him or if it was even real at all. Lumin quieted his breathing, making the room as silent as possible as he listened carefully.
Then he heard the sound again, but this time it was even louder. Lumin's first thought was there was an eruption. But he soon realized that wasn't the case at all. It sounded more like the walls of the palace being broken down. It was powerful enough to shake the ground and cause items on the shelves to fall off. Once Lumin was able to stand as the tremors ceased, he instantly picked up Flicker, who had also been awoken by the explosion. He held the shivering boy close, not sure what was going on.
When he heard the door open, Lumin instinctively backed up and held Flicker closer to him. He calmed down a little once he saw who it was that entered the room, but the uneasy feeling he had still had a grip on him. "Infrared! What's going on?"
Infrared's breath was heavy and there was a sense of anxiety in his eyes. "The rebellion...," he started, but paused as he struggled to contain the minute traces of fear that he was giving off. "The rebellion has broken into the palace. They're overwhelming our soldiers. They're heading this way, and Lampyri, Glowstick, and Neon are struggling to hold them back!"
Lumin winced. The enraged Fireflies were finally making direct assaults at him. He expected such a thing to happen eventually, since nothing he was doing was able to curb The Engineer's attacks. But it still felt like something straight out of a nightmare.
Infrared wasn't finished, however. He began to back up, heading for the door. "Sire, we need to leave the city right now!"
But even as terrified as Lumin was, he stood firmly in place. "No. I'm staying right here."
A wave of surprise came over Infrared's face. "It's for your own safety, sire! Please hurry and come with me!"
"I will not. Take Flicker to safety, but I'm not going to leave this building," Lumin adamantly refused, looking Infrared squarely in the eyes. He was the King. When trouble befell the kingdom, he was the one that the citizens turned to. In the face of that, Lumin knew that he couldn't just run away from it all.
Hearing Lumin's declaration, the desperation in Infrared's voice became more apparent as he shouted, "If you stay here, you're going to be killed!"
"Then so be it! I'm not a coward. I'm not going to abandon this city when it needs a leader the most!" Lumin retorted.
He expected another desperate plea from Infrared. But instead he saw the Buzz straighten his posture, bringing himself to his full height. Lumin was forced to lift his head up higher to look into his face. Contrary to the aura he was giving off just moments earlier, his face was straight and calm as he said, "Sire, I am a hundred times stronger than you. If I need to pick you up and carry you off to safety, I will."
Lumin was taken aback. "You intend to protect me by kidnapping me?"
"If that's what it comes to, then yes."
Lumin took a deep breath. He looked down at Flicker and saw the frightened child trembling and crying into his arms. Flicker didn't say anything in response to Infrared and Lumin's argument, but the way he was holding onto his father told Lumin that -in his own way- he was begging him to get to safety as well.
He shut his eyes tightly and grimaced, swallowing his pride. "I suppose you're not going to give me much of a choice..." Lumin sighed. He then looked back up at Infrared. "This will be temporary. I will be coming back."
Infrared nodded. "Of course."
Lumin turned his head to Flicker and got his attention. Once Flicker glanced at him with his watery eyes, Lumin whispered, "Flicker, I want you to close your eyes. Don't open them unless I tell you to."
With that, Lumin carried Flicker with him as he and Infrared ran out of the room. Infrared left first, swiveling his head back and forth, peering down both ends of the hall. He motioned with his hands for Lumin to follow once he made sure the coast was clear.
They rushed down the hall, heading deeper into the section and farther away from the palace's main entrance. But even with as much distance as they made in a short amount of time, the rebellion was quickly gaining ground as well. Lumin heard shouts, at first from a distance, but it didn't take long for them to sound close. He glanced behind his shoulder and caught a glimpse of a few rebels taking notice of him and calling to their comrades. It started with a couple of Fireflies chasing after him, but before long, Lumin was looking into the eyes of several dozen rebels.
To be continued...