Uncertainty: Part One
This series is meant to be an epilogue to Infinity II: Control, or –more accurately- a collection of scenes that were intended to be in the main story that I couldn't find the room to fit in.
145 Years B.N.
There were two doors that Wingen considered opening. He held the key to one while the other was a quick knock away from letting him in. He had intended to open both, but the fire Wocky had encountered far more reluctance to do so than he expected.
Wingen's fingers played with the wavy designs on the silver key as he silently battled his second thoughts before they could come into fruition. Of course, it wasn't so much of a "key" as it was a magic charm - an activator for a spell. And the doors didn't open up any typical room, but rather a small dimensional space used for extra storage. The Inventory was accessible from any point in the world, but only through the specific key that Wingen held.
Eventually, Wingen made up his mind and held the blade of the key outwards and turned it, causing the glowing outline of a pair of doors to appear in the air. It looked impressive to anyone that had never seen such a thing before, but in reality the Inventory spell was actually very simple. Once a reasonably-skilled magician made the key, absolutely anybody could make use of it, regardless of whether they had any magical abilities of their own. The Inventory was a useful tool, but to someone like Wingen, it was downright essential.
Wingen was a potion-maker. Or at least in essence, as his approach to his craft was quite unconventional. Either way, his Inventory was invaluable for its ability to store all the materials he needed without having to worry about where to put it all. And as he had been told and seen first-hand a long time ago, a potion-maker's working space could get cluttered in quite a hurry.
Wingen gave a deep breath as he quickly took out the books sitting near the Inventory's entrance. No sooner had he closed those set of doors did he rap his knuckles on the metal one just a few feet away. Once a voice from within the room called for Wingen to enter, he hurriedly stepped through, forcing himself into the situation so that it was too late for his conscience to try to convince him to back out of it.
Central Cavern had always been the largest cave in Moltara, but it was only until relatively recently that it became one of the most bustling. Twelve years ago, a team of Neopets from the surface suddenly arrived in Moltara and settled in Central Cavern. Their objective was to stabilize Neopia's core, which had been causing problems all over the world. Eventually they managed to build a machine to achieve that goal, but they decided to make their stay in Moltara a permanent one so they could keep an eye on the Core Stabilizer.
Many years ago, Wingen had been taken in by some of the surface-dwellers. While there were plenty of mechanics and scientists among their ranks, there were also a large amount of magicians with them as well. A couple of those magicians decided to mentor Wingen when they saw that he had shown a keen interest in their profession. He had seen just what kinds of amazing things they could do with their abilities and –in his eyes- they were an irreplaceable part of the exploration team.
That was why Wingen went to Town Hall; he wanted to know why he hadn't heard anything about the magicians anymore.
Wingen was a child the last time he had been in Central Cavern. Ten years later and that fact was still true. He had been cursed with slow aging; he looked, thought, and acted like a child that was not quite eleven, but in actuality had forty-three years of life experience behind him. His teachers weren't aware of that when they took him in. And Wingen –who had been treated like an abomination because of his curse in the past- feared what would happen if they did. After two years of being with them, Wingen ran away from Central Cavern before they could get the chance cast him out too.
A string of recent events brought Wingen to Central Cavern once again. Just a few days ago, Wingen had met up with one of his former teachers and found out that he would have been accepted for who he was and that he had no reason to fear otherwise. That person was Professor Frazer, the leader of the exploration team. Frazer was never the sort of Neopet to dabble in magic and any interest in it was mostly in the form of barely-hidden skepticism. As such, he made it a point to instruct Wingen in more scientific studies, such as biology and geology. While Wingen didn't have as much of an aptitude towards those subjects as he did magic, most of the knowledge he had of the surface world was thanks to the Professor's teachings.
Frazer was at his desk when Wingen walked into his office. "Concentrated" was not the word that Wingen would have used to describe Frazer when he was working – "absorbed" was much more accurate. Yet even he had no choice but to take his attention off of what he was doing when Wingen set three books –all of which were texts on potion-making- in front of him.
The strawberry Grarrl took the books, opened their back cover, and looked at the library cards inserted in them. Frazer read the dates stamped on them, commenting, "My, these are quite overdue."
Wingen's posture became submissive as he confessed in a tiny voice, "I stole them. I-I took them with me when I ran away ten years ago." Frazer had no reply, causing Wingen to frantically add, "I'm sorry! I promise that I won't ever set foot in the library again!"
Frazer closed the books and sighed. "There's no need for that, Wingen. It was a long time ago. Just don't let it happen again."
While Wingen had to give a breath of relief over how easily Frazer forgave him, there was still too much gnawing on his thoughts to feel relaxed. "What's happened to Central Cavern?" he asked.
Frazer looked at Wingen with an expression that both signaled confusion and a suspicion over what exactly the Wocky was inquiring about.
Wingen pressed Frazer further, "When I was in the library with Flicker the other day, I looked all over the place for the magical texts that we used to have, but I couldn't find any of them. Those three books I just put there? I'm starting to think that they're the only ones about magic left in Central Cavern!
"But what's really bothering me is that I haven't seen a single magician since I came back here! It's been ten years, but I can remember all of the magicians very well and I'd know them if I ran into them! And I haven't! Where is everyone? Where's Kiele and Weimin?" Wingen drilled Frazer, his voice becoming increasingly distressed with each word.
Another –much deeper- sigh came from Frazer. He folded up his reading glasses and set them on his desk; Wingen could tell that the story he was about to hear was long enough that it would be a while before the Grarrl could get back to his work.
"There was... a falling out, between the scientists and the magicians," Frazer began with a little reluctance. "The magicians felt that their contributions to the exploration team were being disregarded and that they as a whole were unappreciated. Shortly after you left, they started getting more vocal about it. And eventually, they had enough. The magicians stayed around Central Cavern long enough to help complete the Core Stabilizer, but once it was finished, they all left to start their own settlement elsewhere in Moltara."
Wingen had already been disappointed that the magicians were nowhere to be found in Central Cavern, but now the feeling was much more crushing. "Where'd they go? Are they alright?" he questioned.
"All I know is that they headed down into the deeper parts of Moltara. I don't know exactly where they are now, nor do I know how they're doing. We haven't had any contact with them since they left," Frazer answered sadly.
"T-They went down there? To Lower Moltara?! Don't they know how dangerous that place is?!" Wingen sputtered, his breath growing short.
The caves in Moltara could be divided into three main categories based on their depth into Neopia's crust: Upper, Central, and Lower. The general rule was that the further one goes down into Moltara, the less populous it was. The reasoning for that was sound, as the caves in Lower Moltara were full of hazards, whether it was rivers and lakes of magma flowing through the area or the monsters that could spell the end for a whole group of Neopets in a second. Some were able to make a living down there, but most wanted absolutely nothing to do with the place.
And when Wingen thought about the possibilities arising from the magician's venture into that area, he started to panic. "What if something happened to them? What if they've all been killed?!"
"Wingen, you know as well as I do how talented and strong the magicians were. Even though contact between us has been severed, there is not a doubt in my mind that they're still alive," Frazer groaned as he tried to pacify him.
It worked, but only a little. Wingen inhaled and exhaled in his attempt to keep his eyes dry. He was well aware how easily something could make him cry, usually out of either fear or distress. He told himself that he would work on steeling himself more, but the feat was a difficult one.
"I was so excited... that I'd be able to see Kiele again and show her how much I've improved. And... And that maybe Weimin would see it too and actually be impressed with me for once," Wingen whimpered as his disappointment –and tears- started to well up. He took his arms and wiped the tears away before they could manage to travel very far down his face. He really had no other choice but to accept that staying composed in those sorts of situations was just something he couldn't do. "I just hope they're all okay..."
But whenever Wingen tried to suppress his sadness, anger and frustration would often take its place. "What did you say to them?!" he snapped while there was still a hint of a sob in his throat. "You know that the exploration team wouldn't have gotten as far as it did without their help! What did you guys say that made them angry enough that they had to leave?! H-How... How could you be so ungrateful?!"
Wingen immediately wanted to slap his hands over his mouth. Under most circumstances, he would never have even thought about allowing himself be so vocally indignant. But with his emotions in such a disarray as it was, he hadn't even thought to screen his words before he spoke. And now because of it, Wingen was starting to fear that he had tried the last of Frazer's patience.
But to his surprise, Frazer was not offended. Instead, he quietly replied to Wingen, "It was never any one thing that the other scientists and I had said. This had been building up for a very long time." Frazer then closed his eyes and exhaled a regretful breath. "I just didn't realize it until it was too late."
Frazer planted his elbows on his desk and held his head. He couldn't even bear to look Wingen in the eye as he said, "I deserve every insult. I... I should have never let things escalate to that point. I am so sorry..."
Both Wingen and Frazer were quiet for a while. Neither of them could have possibly said anything at that point that would have improved the mood of the other. The revelation of what happened in the time that he was gone still caused a surge of distress within Wingen when he thought about it. And Frazer couldn't let go of the guilt over causing the situation in the first place.
Wingen thought about leaving Town Hall. With nothing else to say to each other, his presence in Frazer's office would have only caused even more friction to form. He thought that it would have been best to let their emotions simmer down for a while. He tipped his top hat to Frazer as he began to head for the door.
Something stopped him, however. Wingen was suddenly reminded of another question he wanted to ask Frazer. He debated with himself over whether asking it would have been appropriate at that time, but he decided to take the opportunity anyways. "Oh! Professor, I was curious... Are there going to be any supply runs up to the surface soon?"
Flicker had voiced his desire to travel up to the surface and Wingen figured that tagging along with the surface-dwellers when they next go and collect resources would have been their easiest chance. But Frazer replied, "We just made one shortly before you arrived. We probably won't need to take another trip for a long time."
Flicker's going to be disappointed when I tell him that, Wingen thought, his hopes fading a little. He sighed and said, "Okay. Thanks anyways."
Wingen turned around and left the office uninterrupted that time. As he exited Town Hall and began to walk back to the apartment above the light shop, he reflected on what Frazer told him.
Before long, Wingen was standing at the front of the apartment. But yet again, he was faced with another door that he was reluctant to open. Instead, he sat down on the edge of the structure that the light shop and the apartment were built on and watched the city for a while.
Central Cavern had changed so much since Wingen had last been in it. But there was still a good amount of familiarity attached to the place, since Wingen recognized some of the streets and houses from ten years ago. His eyes naturally drifted to a couple houses a short distance away from the Town Hall. The inside of one was a hopeless disaster-area filled to the brim with potions and materials. The other was far more spacious and pristine, decorated with simple, yet elegant red and yellow furniture and illuminated by many well-maintained candles.
At least, that was how they were. Now, they were most likely abandoned and empty.
Wingen's hands started to reach to the rim of his hat. It was a quirk of his, that he would tug on his hats' rim whenever he was deeply bothered by something. But instead, Wingen took his hat off. He hugged it while he stared at the houses, remembering their former inhabitants and wishing desperately that he could see them again.
To be continued...