Infinity: Part Ten
Flicker and Wingen had barely set foot outside their room the next day before Gabbro met them. Gabbro almost always wore an expression of impatience and disdain in the presence of just about everyone except for Granite. But for the first time, Flicker saw a sense of nervousness in his face.
"Did you two see anything unusual outside after the fighting match?" Gabbro asked them.
Both Flicker and Wingen shook their heads. Wingen explained further, "We've both been inside since then. What's going on?"
Gabbro groaned in frustration. "One of the foremen died yesterday."
* * *
Flicker didn't recognize the name of the foreman. He hardly interacted with any of the foremen aside from Gabbro, so he didn't bother to learn much about them. Besides, his memory wasn't the greatest and he knew that it wouldn't take long to forget their names anyways. But even so, it felt strange to know that someone that he was in the same room with just the day before was now dead.
He and Wingen sat in Granite's office along with the rest of the foremen after hearing the news. Another foreman, a Brown Techo, was standing in front of Granite's desk, trying to explain what happened.
"You said you found him a few hours ago?" Granite asked. Flicker noticed that he didn't seem terribly agitated over the situation. But the fact that he deemed the issue important enough to hold off business in favor of asking questions over it surprised Flicker a little.
"Yeah. Diorite was still alive then, but just barely. He wasn't himself, though. I could tell it was him, but..." the Techo stalled in his words as he explained. He appeared to struggle to find a way to describe what he saw. "His body was different. It looked like he was made of water, but... solid. And cold."
"'Solid water?!' Don't be ridiculous!" Gabbro barked incredulously. That earned him a sharp glare from Granite. He quickly got the message and learned to keep his comments to himself for the rest of the discussion.
"But it looked like he was turning into water," the Techo continued. "When I found him, he was staggering along the path with a trail of wet dirt behind him. His body was dripping and melting. He tried to say something to me; it sounded like he was begging for help. But he was panting so hard that I couldn't make out much of what he said. By the time I ran off and came back with someone to help him, he was nothing more than a puddle on the ground!"
The other foremen stared at the Techo suspiciously, unsure of the validity of what he described. But nevertheless, they still had horrified looks in their eyes and seemed like they wanted the Techo's claim to be a lie. Wingen wasn't faring any better than the foremen were, as he shivered in place while listening to the story. It took a lot to frighten Flicker and what he just listened to didn't particularly scare him. But even then he did have to admit he felt somewhat disturbed by what happened to Diorite.
Granite sat back in his chair, giving a deep breath. The story didn't seem to settle with him that well either. There seemed to be something on his mind, but he didn't voice it. Instead, he opted to give out orders to the foremen, "For right now, none of you go out alone, you hear?"
None of the foremen had any objections. They all appeared to be worried over whether the story was true or not and if the same could happen to them. The foremen left the room without any words.
Flicker and Wingen were left with Granite and Gabbro in the office, awaiting their orders for the day. Flicker was still confused and had a lot of questions over the Techo's story. But he knew better than to ask anything of Granite or Gabbro. Even though the thoughts were gnawing on his mind, he chose to keep quiet.
"Are the repairs in Mine D finished yet?" Granite asked Gabbro, changing the subject.
"Not that I'm aware of. Last I knew, they still weren't done," Gabbro gave a short laugh in response.
Granite slammed his fist on the desk in ire, growling, "What's taking so long?! I swear, those surface-dwellers aren't good for anything!" He turned his head to Flicker. "Hey you! Go find out what that surface-dweller's problem is!"
Flicker sat still for a moment, waiting for Granite to clarify his orders further. He didn't know where Mine D was, what the surface-dweller looked like, or even that there was a surface-dweller there in the first place. But all he got in response was a sharp glare.
"Get moving!" Granite yelled, prompting Flicker to stand up and head for the door. Wingen was still shaking from hearing what happened to Diorite, only to shudder even more when Granite focused another glare at him. "You beat it too! I got nothing for you to do today."
Wingen didn't waste any time following Flicker out the door, bumping into him in the process. Flicker left Mine Headquarters and began to wander in a random direction, hoping that by sheer luck he'd manage to find the surface-dweller. Wingen stuck close to him the entire time, twiddling his thumbs nervously as he stared at the ground.
"Big Brother? What's the matter?" Flicker questioned Wingen, startling the Wocky somewhat.
"Huh? Oh... It's nothing. I'm okay," Wingen stammered, looking away.
Still, Flicker could sense that something was wrong. Wingen still looked terrified. Flicker wasn't surprised, he always knew how timid Wingen could be. But even so, Flicker –without hesitation- offered to do what he could to rectify that, "Want to come with me today?"
"Please?" Wingen begged, immediately dropping his already shaky façade.
Wingen tagged along with Flicker, guiding the Buzz to where he needed to go. As they were on their way, Wingen admitted, "Sorry, I... I just didn't want to go out alone today. It was probably some kind of magician that did that to Diorite. I've never heard of spells that can change someone's body so drastically like that. But that's the only explanation I can think of," Wingen then tugged at his hat, pulling it over his eyes as he began to shiver again. "Just thinking about it is really scary."
When Wingen lifted his hat back to its normal position, he looked into Flicker's unfazed and unafraid eyes. "You're not scared?"
"Nah," he replied. Flicker wasn't too worried about the situation. If anybody tried to do to him or Wingen what they did to Diorite, he'd just punch them. That would do the trick.
Wingen gave a nervous laugh along with a sigh, "I wish I was that brave..."
As Flicker and Wingen walked to Mine D, Flicker heard a strange sound coming from nearby. He turned his head and found a Hoggir wandering around on the path. It made snorting noises as it sniffed the ground, snacking on the occasional stray chunk of obsidian. Hoggir were regarded as pests around Obsidian Quarry because of their strange diet. Wingen once told Flicker that several Neopets around the city would pay a good sum of Neopoints to anyone that managed to hunt one.
Flicker's mouth began to water. He stopped in his tracks and just stared at the black Petpet. With the fire burning on its body –mostly on its head- it practically cooked itself. Flicker had no idea what he'd do with any significant amount of Neopoints, but the idea of eating something other than roots for once quickly became very appealing to him.
Wingen didn't notice Flicker's fixation on the Hoggir until it was too late. Flicker rushed at the Hoggir, clenched his fist, and brought it down at the Petpet from above. The Hoggir just barely evaded it, jumping up several feet in the air when it saw the crater that Flicker just created in the ground.
The Hoggir scrambled away, squealing in panic. While Wingen instantly became just as anxious as the Hoggir, Flicker was unperturbed and gave chase. The Hoggir constantly glanced behind it, becoming increasingly terrified as Flicker got closer to it.
But all of a sudden, the Hoggir skidded across the ground a little as it spun around. Contrary to how frightened it was just a moment ago, it glared at Flicker with enraged, red eyes. Without any warning, the Hoggir bellowed out loud enough to echo all throughout the cavern. The flames on its head erupted, creating an advancing wall of fire as it charged straight at Flicker.
Flicker stood his ground and got into an offensive stance, staring the Hoggir down. But Wingen, with his fur standing up straight and his tail bushed out, dashed over to Flicker, trying to push him away. "Don't fight it! Just run!"
With some reluctance, Flicker took off running as fast as he could once Wingen jumped onto his shoulders. Even as speedy as Flicker was, the Hoggir still remained right behind him. Flicker eventually took to the air in an attempt to throw it off, but even then it still doggedly pursued him. His path quickly led into tunnels that didn't allow much for altitude, so Flicker had no choice but to continue flying at his top speed.
Flicker eventually saw something up ahead. From a distance, he could just barely see the form of another Neopet. As he got closer, he saw a mostly yellow Draik with black spots right in his path. The Draik at first looked with curiosity at the scene that was unfolding, but the expression quickly changed to dread once he realized what was going on. He turned around and ran further into the tunnel, but hardly fast enough to have a chance at escaping the Hoggir. Once Flicker caught up to him, he single-handedly picked up the Spotted Draik and carried him along.
The Draik struggled at Flicker suddenly grasping him, but stopped fighting once he saw just how close the Hoggir was. The Draik soon became just as frazzled as Wingen was, as he yelled, "What did you do?!"
It wasn't long after that did Flicker come to a dead end. There was a mechanical lift sitting in front of him, but it looked worn down and out of commission. Cornered, Flicker dropped the Draik, faced the Hoggir, and once again prepared himself to take it on.
Before Flicker got that chance, Wingen jumped directly in front of him. He frantically took a blue gem out his bag, biting into it. Wingen held one of his hands out towards the Hoggir. Suddenly, a large, transparent blue shield in the shape of a hexagon burst out from the palm of his hand. It appeared with such speed that the Hoggir didn't have any time to react. It smashed face-first into the shield, bouncing right off of it.
Aside from his own nervous quivering, Wingen didn't budge an inch, as his magic shield absorbed the impact. The Hoggir, on the other hand, dizzily stumbled around the tunnel. It shook its head in an attempt to bring itself back to its senses before looking back at Wingen. Wingen continued to hold out the perfectly intact shield, ready for the Hoggir to charge again.
But as the Hoggir stared at Wingen, it seemed to realize that it wasn't going to win. Instead of another attack, it promptly turned around and rapidly ran out of the tunnel.
Once he was certain that the Hoggir had gone away, the shield disappeared and Wingen fell to the floor in relief. While he sat on the ground, he lifted his head up just enough to shoot a frustrated and scolding glare at Flicker. Out of pure bullheadedness, Flicker stuck his pointed tongue at him and turned his head away.
The Draik just stared at Flicker and Wingen in confusion. It all happened so quickly that he was still left completely clueless over the situation, and was eager to get answers. "What'd you guys do to make it so angry?"
"I tried to eat one," Flicker responded.
"You mean you were hunting?" The Draik questioned as he raised an eyebrow and scratched his shaggy red hair. He looked Flicker over, as if he was searching for something that wasn't there. "You don't have any spears or weapons on you. What was your strategy?"
Flicker quickly recovered from his bad mood once he heard the Draik's question. He held his fist as he grinned and said enthusiastically, "Punching it really hard until it stopped moving!"
Somehow, the Draik became even more scared as than he was when trying to get away from the Hoggir. His eyes widened at Flicker and was fixed on him as he slowly began to back away.
Now that Flicker had the chance, he looked at the Draik more closely. He seemed to be young, probably in his late teens. His brown jacket had many pockets and zippers, perfect for carrying various small items. When Flicker saw the tools hanging off his iron belt and the goggles strapped around his forehead, he knew that he was looking at a mechanic. Adding to that, Flicker had never seen anyone in Moltara with the Draik's coloring. "Hey, are you the surface-dweller?"
The Draik nodded nervously. Realizing that he had stumbled into Mine D without even trying that hard, Flicker remembered what Granite told him to do. The large Buzz stepped closer to the average-sized Draik and crossed his arms. While he looked down at the much smaller Neopet, he asked roughly, "Granite wants to know what's taking so long."
After hearing Flicker's uncouth voice while staring up-close at someone muscular enough to crush him with one finger, the Draik broke out into a sweat. He opened his mouth, only for squeaky and incoherent sounds to come out of it. If Flicker did so much as inch towards him any further, the Draik probably would have fainted on the spot.
All that did was confuse Flicker, however. It was just a simple question. He didn't speak any differently than he usually did. Flicker turned his head sideways a little as he tried –and failed- to figure out what the Draik's problem was.
Wingen had an idea what it was and tapped Flicker's arm to get his attention. He whispered, "Flicker, you're being kinda rude..." Wingen then stepped between Flicker and the Draik, speaking quietly in hopes of calming the latter down, "Excuse me, but we just want to ask a few questions."
The Draik became slightly less tense as he mulled it over silently. Even though he still appeared nervous in regards to Flicker, he eventually accepted Wingen's request.
* * *
The Draik led Flicker and Wingen to the small tent that was set up not far from the lift. He told them that his name was Dimitri, and he seemed to calm down quite a bit after introductions were made. Dimitri sat with the other two Neopets in the tent as he explained to them what was going on, "I work as a mechanic. Granite hired me to do repairs on that lift you saw over there. Many of the gears are old and need to be replaced and the crank that makes the lift go up and down is in dire need of fixing. Getting all that work done will take another few days. It's not exactly a job I can just rush on. If I don't do it right, a lot of people could end up getting hurt."
"Oh, okay," Flicker easily accepted that answer. If it was a matter of ensuring the safety of others, then he was more than willing to understand Dimitri taking his time.
Wingen, however, sighed in response, "I dunno if Granite's gonna listen to that, though..."
Dimitri scowled as he laughed humorlessly, "Oh, I know he won't. 'Cause I've already told him that. But he still doesn't seem to get it," Dimitri then glanced at the two of them as he asked Flicker and Wingen, "You guys work for him, right? What do you do?"
Flicker was about to answer, but Wingen quickly spoke up first, "Just a bunch of odd jobs."
Flicker looked around him. There wasn't a lot in the makeshift tent, mainly tools and supplies. But Flicker did notice something strange. He stood up and walked over to the tiny, brass-colored item that caught his eye. It looked like a Spyder, but it was completely metallic with a small wind-up key sticking out of its back.
He asked Dimitri what it was. The frown on Dimitri's face disappeared and was replaced with a smile. "Oh, that? That's just something I tinker with in my free time. Watch."
Dimitri picked up the mechanical Spyder and wound up the key. After a few turns, he set it on the floor. On its own, the previously inanimate Spyder began to move its many legs and walk along the ground. If Flicker listened closely enough, he could hear a faint whirring sound: The sound of many tiny gears in action.
Eventually the clockwork Spyder slowed to a stop. But that still didn't erase Flicker's amazement over what he just saw. He had seen plenty of machines before, but nothing like that. The Spyder wasn't alive, but Flicker wouldn't have believed that if Dimitri hadn't told him it was just a toy. Flicker wound up the Spyder again and watched it run its course, all while laughing, "That's so cool!"
Dimitri's smile widened as he laughed back, "Heh, if you think that's awesome, you ought to see some of the other clockwork machines. I've seen some that are hundreds of times bigger than that little thing!"
Hearing that, Flicker stood straight up in excitement and loudly exclaimed, "Really?! Show me! Right now!"
Dimitri leaned back, not as fearful as he was before, but still startled. "Uh, I can't. They're all in Central Cavern."
Flicker instantly calmed down, his eyes widening a little. "...'Central Cavern?'"
"Yeah, it's where me and the rest of the surface-dwellers live," Dimitri said. His eyebrows furrowed slightly when he saw the look on Flicker's face. "Is something wrong?"
Central Cavern. Somehow, Flicker felt like he heard the name of that place before. He tried to dig through his head to figure out why. But even events that happened only a few months prior felt so distant and foggy to him. As much as he clamped his eyes shut and tried to remember, he still couldn't find anything. Flicker shook his head and groaned, "I dunno. I can't remember."
Flicker opened his eyes to see Dimitri and Wingen looking at him strangely. But he also saw that Wingen looked somewhat preoccupied as well, like he was thinking about something, too.
But instead of saying what that was, Wingen stood up and said, "We should probably get going. Sorry for bothering you."
Dimitri held up his hand. "Nah, it's okay. Honestly, you guys are a lot nicer than the other people that Granite sent over here. Come back anytime, alright?"
Wingen smiled faintly and nodded. He and Flicker said their goodbyes to Dimitri and left the mine. Both of them were quiet on the way out, despite the both of them having things that they wanted to say.
* * *
Wingen didn't press Flicker on what was bothering him. But Flicker was curious as to what was on Wingen's mind and asked what it was. Wingen looked a little anxious, remaining quiet before dropping the volume of his voice. "About twelve years ago I met the surface-dwellers in Central Cavern. I lived with them for a while. They were nice people. They made me these clothes from the cotton they got from surface. And one of them taught me everything I know about magic."
The way Wingen described them, it seemed like Wingen was starting to bring up pleasant memories. He began to smile a little as he told Flicker about them.
But Wingen's reaction puzzled Flicker a little, prompting him to ask, "So why'd you leave?"
The weak smile on Wingen's face faded as he mumbled, "Well... After a few years they started to ask questions. I was too scared to tell them, so I ran away. Shortly after that, I met Granite and I've been here ever since."
Flicker and Wingen went back to Mine Headquarters. Flicker thought about the machines that Dimitri told him about and Wingen's experience with the surface-dwellers. It intrigued him greatly and he would have loved to find out more about it.
But he knew that wouldn't happen. He'd never be able to leave Obsidian Quarry. Granite wouldn't let him. His only place in the world was to stay at Mine Headquarters and do whatever Granite wanted him to. Flicker knew that would never change and accepted it a long time ago.
To be continued...