Infinity: Part Eleven
Wingen got over his fear that a crazed magician was on the loose within the next few days. It seemed to take a great amount of effort to cast those feelings aside, though. Regardless, he was soon able to feel relatively comfortable going into town on his own again and resumed spending his free time working for other Neopets once more.
Flicker on the other hand, spent his free time doing something else. He stopped by Dimitri's tent whenever he could. It was an opportunity to play with the clockwork machines that Dimitri had built as well as a chance to hear about the ones in Central Cavern. Dimitri wasn't leery at Flicker's presence anymore and began to enjoy his company.
One day, both Flicker and Wingen decided to visit Dimitri when they found that his tent had been taken down. They saw Dimitri loading up his possessions in a cart and had just put the last of it in it when he noticed Flicker and Wingen.
When they asked what he was doing, he replied, "The repairs are done, so I'm going back to Central Cavern."
"What?! You can't!" Flicker yelled, shocked by the news. Aside from how much Flicker liked his machines, Dimitri was the first person he met since Wingen that was friendly towards him. He didn't want to have to say goodbye to him that quickly.
"Sorry, guys," Dimitri apologized. "To be honest, I'm probably not going to come back here. It's only been a few days, and I'm already sick of Granite. I'm not hurting for Neopoints, so I can afford to find someone else that'll hire me."
Flicker crossed his arms and growled in frustration. Wingen hadn't interacted with Dimitri too much, but he knew that Flicker had grown to like him. Hearing that somebody that Flicker managed to befriend was leaving upset Wingen as well.
Dimitri gave a sigh. After thinking it over, he walked closer to the two and began to whisper, "You guys don't sound like you're in a good situation. How about you come to Central Cavern with me?"
Flicker was astonished at his offer. Seeing this, Dimitri elaborated further, "I'll help you find a place to live and a job where your boss isn't a massive jerk. C'mon, what do you say?"
As appealing as that sounded, Flicker knew that he couldn't accept it. "I can't."
"Why not? Is something holding you down here?" Dimitri asked, surprised.
Flicker didn't feel comfortable going into too much detail, saying only, "Yeah."
Dimitri groaned as he held onto the handle of his cart, getting ready to push it. "Well... If you guys ever change your mind, come find me in Central Cavern. It's a big place, but if you ask around it's not too hard to find somebody."
With that, Dimitri started to head back to Central Cavern. In turn, Flicker and Wingen went back the way they came, both of them feeling sullen over the matter. They stopped at an intersection between two streets, one leading to Mine Headquarters and the other to one of Wingen's jobs.
Wingen, who had spent a lot of time that day with his head down, looked up at Flicker and smiled. "I'm gonna go work for a little bit. I'll be back in a few hours, okay?"
Flicker watched Wingen leave. Wingen tried to sound happy and cheerful, but Flicker could tell that something wasn't right. He had been acting strangely in the past few days. Something was making Wingen uneasy, but Flicker didn't know what.
Whatever it was, Flicker noticed that feeling only seemed to get worse when Dimitri made his offer.
* * *
A few hours later, Wingen took his usual route back to the Mine Headquarters after finishing one of his extra jobs. No matter what his mood, holding his pay for the day usually put a smile on his face. He still smiled that day, but there were so many extra emotions along with it that he felt a little overwhelmed.
Wingen forced himself to press on, though. While he was on his way back, he saw Gabbro standing in the path, as if he was waiting for him.
"Open your Inventory," Gabbro wasted no time in commanding, not even waiting until Wingen came to a complete stop.
"Don't argue with me! Just do it!"
Wingen flinched and quickly followed Gabbro's orders before he angered him any further. No sooner had he opened the doors did Gabbro shove Wingen out of the way and knocked him on the ground. By the time Wingen picked himself up, Gabbro had grabbed the bag full of Neopoints and took off running.
"NO!" Wingen screamed. His heart started to race. He couldn't lose those Neopoints. Not now. He needed to have them. But after the initial shock wore off, the strong desire for those Neopoints fueled Wingen's resolve not to give it up so easily.
Wingen took his bag full of gems and slammed the Inventory door. He rummaged around it in until he found a green gem. He promptly popped it in his mouth and rushed at Gabbro with a burst of speed. Dirt flew up behind Wingen as he tore through Obsidian Quarry in his pursuit. It took no time at all for Wingen to approach Gabbro. Once he had closed the distance between each other, Wingen pounced at him.
With the speed that backed up Wingen's attack, Gabbro was knocked off balance at the impact. But it still wasn't enough to take him down. Wingen rapidly clawed and pounded at Gabbro's back. It wasn't doing much damage, but he had no intentions of stopping. "Give it back, you big jerk!"
But even though Wingen refused to give up his furious assault, Gabbro was becoming more annoyed at it than anything. Gabbro took his free hand and used it to yank Wingen off his back. He effortlessly threw Wingen aside and proceeded on his path without a scratch.
Wingen forced himself to stand up again. He knew he was too weak the take Gabbro down. But that didn't matter at that time. He was set on getting those Neopoints back no matter what, even if he had to be in complete denial over his lack of physical strength.
Wingen put every bit of the energy he had left into running back to Mine Headquarters before the gem's effect wore off and he lost those Neopoints for good. As he entered the front door, his intuition started to tell him that Gabbro was acting on Granite's orders. When he burst through Granite's office, Wingen saw that he was right.
Wingen abandoned all notions of politeness and formality that he usually had to show in Granite's presence. He still held the incensed scowl on his face as he marched over to Granite sitting at his desk. Granite wasn't intimidated and neither was anyone else in the room. Flicker was in the office at that time too, watching Wingen's rage in confusion.
"So, Wingen. I thought you told me that you were only earning a little bit of Neopoints?" Granite taunted him. He then opened the bag and ran his hand through the mass of Neopoints. "This certainly doesn't look like a 'little bit.'"
Granite's voice dropped to a low hiss as his went on, "What does someone like you plan on doing with all this? Are you trying to pull something behind by back? That would be why you lied to my face about this, wouldn't it?"
Granite always frightened Wingen. He had always been terrified of him, knowing that he had the power to make Wingen's life really miserable in an instant. But Wingen decided to swallow his fear for the time being. It was now or nothing. He took a deep breath and shouted, "I want to use those Neopoints to buy Flicker's freedom!"
Every pair of eyes in the room widened. Flicker's were the ones that grew the biggest.
The room was suddenly silent. Even the anger that was slowly building up in Granite had dissipated. Wingen stuffed his hand into his pocket. He took out the Neopoints that he made that day and dropped them on Granite's desk. Once the coins finished spinning and rolling around in front of Granite, Wingen declared, "There! Add those to the ones in the bag and you have 40,000 Neopoints! That's double the debt you forgave! You can keep it! I just want Flicker to be set free!"
The silence hung in the air for a long time. No one dared to say anything. Wingen looked closer at the expressions of everyone else. The foremen –including Gabbro- just stared at him in awe. His eyes then turned to Flicker. He saw utter disbelief in his face.
Granite broke out laughing. Wingen's assertive posture began to loosen into a much more submissive one. It took a while before Granite calmed down enough to say, "What makes you think I'm just going to set Flicker loose? He may have been a pain at first, but he's grown to be quite valuable. He'll do any physical work I tell him to and he's great at hunting down anyone that think that they can get away with not paying me back. He's far too useful to get rid of!"
Wingen's lips tightened as he tried to fight back the tears that were starting to well up. Three years. Three years of saving up every little coin he came across and worked for. Three years of enduring all those insults thrown at him just so he could come a few Neopoints closer to his goal. Just so he could pay back the kindness that he had been shown. And it turned out to be all for nothing.
Granite began to laugh again as he picked up the bag. "Well, this is 40,000 Neopoints I didn't have before! In a way, you turned out to be useful as well!"
The tears didn't come out of Wingen's eyes. The scowl returned, but even more intense. His teeth clenched as a growl escaped his lips. He still held his bag of gems. Wingen quickly pulled out a black gem and shoved it into his mouth.
Enough was enough.
A small, concentrated orb of darkness swirled in Wingen's hand. He threw the orb at the ground, and in an instant the entire room was enveloped in black smoke. Wingen could hardly see more than a few inches away, but the same could be said for Granite and the foremen. While they reacted in confusion, Wingen caught the very faint sight of Flicker's glow and used it as a beacon. Once he got his bearings, Wingen ran over to Flicker, grabbed his hand, and led him out of the room. "C'mon! Hurry!"
Wingen threw open the door and the smoke from inside the office started to spill into the rest of the building. But the smoke became thinner as it started to spread over a wider area, allowing Wingen and Flicker to find the exit with ease. The two dashed out of Mine Headquarters. Flicker was still completely confused about what was going on, but he didn't resist as Wingen pulled him along with the intention of heading for the nearest tunnel out of the city.
Flicker instantly stopped, pulling Wingen backwards. Wingen turned around to see Granite at the entrance to Mine Headquarters, furious. Granite started to come closer to them, prompting Wingen to tug on Flicker's hand in a desperate attempt to get him to keep moving. "Flicker, let's go!"
But Flicker refused to move. He just stood in place as Granite approached him. Wingen began to shake in fear as his efforts to escape proved fruitless and Granite was just a few feet away from him.
Wingen swiveled his head. He could see the foremen near the entrance, grinning in a mocking sort of pity at Flicker and Wingen. But there was also a fair amount of Obsidian Quarry's citizens watching the scene unfold, cautiously keeping their distance.
"You see? Flicker knows where he stands in life. He knows that his only purpose is to follow my orders to the letter and without question! This idiot doesn't know anything aside from working for me, and that's what's best for a freak like him!" Granite callously picked apart any hope that Wingen had for his or Flicker's future.
Flicker's eyelids lowered while the rest of his face remained straight as Granite insulted him. But Wingen could still see the sense of powerlessness that Flicker had in regards to his own life. To see Flicker feel that there was nothing he could do to better himself, Wingen lost the confidence that he could do anything to help.
Granite glared at Wingen. "But you. You little brat!" Granite stomped over to Wingen, clutched the collar of his suit, and yanked him closer, causing Wingen to cry out.
The moment that sound reached Flicker, his eyes snapped open. A flame ignited in them, taking only milliseconds to burn into a wildfire of rage. Granite let go of Wingen the moment Flicker's claws seized his tail. With his sheer strength, Flicker swung Granite through the air, sending him flying through the closed doors of Mine Headquarters.
The doors broke off the hinges and crashing noises could be heard from inside. When the noise subsided, the foremen all peered nervously inside the building where their boss was knocked out. Even from a distance, Wingen could see them shiver as they slowly looked back at Flicker. Flicker then stepped in front of Wingen, shooting a infuriated leer at the foremen. They quickly got the hint, as they all scrambled back inside Mine Headquarters, terrified.
The citizens were wide-eyed in shock, their jaws hanging open. None of them dared to come closer and the area was completely quiet. But they didn't need to say anything for Wingen to see how astounded they were over the audacity Flicker just showed.
Wingen couldn't say he was expecting Flicker to do that. He was just as startled as everyone else, but he also felt relief come over him. Flicker lowered his eyes to Wingen, needing to make sure that he was alright. Wingen nodded, and with that the two left Obsidian Quarry without ever looking back.
* * *
"I don't care what Granite says. As far as I'm concerned, I bought your freedom," Wingen stated as if it was an absolute fact.
Obsidian Quarry was no longer in sight, but Flicker and Wingen decided to stop before they got too far. If they had just opened up a new door to their future, Wingen figured it would probably be best to take some time to figure out what that future was.
Wingen weakly smiled, lifted his arms horizontally and brought them back down. "Well... You're free. You control how your own life works now, and nobody can tell you otherwise."
Flicker had no idea what to make of what just happened. Earlier that day, Flicker was completely convinced that had no control over how things played out. And now he suddenly found himself at the reins of his own life. The feeling was alien to him, but somehow, it felt refreshing.
But Flicker was still puzzled over what Wingen did. "You didn't tell me that was why you were earning all those Neopoints. Why'd you do all that for me?"
"'Cause you're my brother! Brothers look out for and take care of each other. That's just what they do," Wingen answered before he leaned up against the tunnel wall and sat down. "Before I met you, I really thought that I'd be alone for the rest of my life. I thought that no one would ever accept me. But then you came and proved me wrong! No one that knew how old I really am ever treated me so nicely! I just wanted to do something to make your life better too."
As thoughts of Granite seemed to come back into Wingen's head, he began to frown. "I knew that as long as you were taking orders from Granite, things wouldn't get better for you at all. So I decided to earn your freedom with Neopoints, the one thing that I thought Granite would listen to. I didn't think that any of what went on earlier would happen. And I certainly didn't think that both of us would be here right now. I thought that I would have to stay behind in Obsidian Quarry while you left with nothing tying you down," Wingen then stood up and looked Flicker straight in the eyes, determination showing itself. "But I still really wanted to do this! I really wanted to make you happy! Even if that meant that I couldn't be anymore. But back there I realized that I don't deserve to be pushed around by someone like Granite either."
When Flicker was around Wingen, he had a reason to be happy. He was his Big Brother. He meant everything to him. But there was still that nagging reminder in the back of Flicker's head that his life was worth only as much as Granite wanted it to be. And that was preventing him from obtaining the joy that he should have had...
...But that wasn't the way Flicker's life was going to be anymore. He looked at Wingen and gave him the biggest smile he had ever made. "Thanks."
Wingen matched that smile.
To be continued...