The Tree of Pillar Grove: Part Five
As Flicker and Wingen were getting closer to where Jacenty was doing his research, the former decided that they might as well walk the rest of the way there. As he did, he took the time to observe the grounded neighborhood. The brick buildings were much simpler than the shiny structures higher up in the cave, but it still had its charm.
But before Flicker got too far into the small community, he spotted a familiar face talking to a grey Cybunny. The Cybunny left after only a few words, leaving Lampyri looking rather disappointed. She seemed to be in a better mood than earlier, but that wasn't saying much. Figuring that a few more minutes couldn't hurt, Flicker went to ask her what was going on.
"I've been talking to the people here to see if anyone knows anything useful about The Engineer. I was wondering if there was any particular reason why The Engineer is leaving Pillar Grove alone," Lampyri told him.
She sighed, "So far, I'm not hearing anything that we don't know already. I'm going to keep at it though. Somewhere down the line, somebody is going to have information that we could use against her."
Flicker could tell that –despite her attempt to remain optimistic- her failure at learning anything was bothering her. He could see her smile twitch as it struggled to remain on her face.
He thought about recommend that Lampyri try doing something else to try to get her mind off of it, even if just for a little while. Flicker figured that –as a Buzz- she must have enjoyed flying and doing high-altitude stunts as well, and was about to suggest that to her.
But before he could, he noticed Lampyri holding some sort of bag in her hand. "What's that?"
"Huh? Well..." Lampyri tapped her fingers together as she muttered, "I did see this one shop that was selling some nice dresses at good prices and... I kind of caved in and bought some. But I'm allowed to treat myself every once in a while, right?"
Flicker and Wingen nodded their heads. He refrained from voicing it, but Flicker was surprised that Lampyri had much of an interest in fashion. Then again, he hadn't known her for long enough to be aware of much of anything that she had a liking to – other than fighting.
Continuing the subject, Lampyri said to Flicker, "You know, you really could use a wardrobe change. You must be getting sick of wearing those same pants over and over."
"No!" Flicker replied defensively. "I'm fine with what I got! I hate clothes! I just grow right out of them!"
"Look, I still have plenty of Neopoints left. Go choose something you like and I'll get it for you," Lampyri insisted. "I mean, when was the last time you wore a shirt?"
"Three years," Wingen answered for him. He addressed Flicker, "But maybe you should take up her offer. You're not going to grow much bigger than you are right now – if at all."
But Flicker still adamantly refused, causing Lampyri to groan in a defeated tone, "Fine." She then pointed to a nearby tunnel. "You two were looking for Jacenty, right? He should still be in the canopy down below."
* * *
Flicker and Wingen followed Lampyri's directions, which brought them to a facility that served as a gateway to the canopy. He saw crates full of the crystal-like leaves being shipped out like clockwork. With as many as he saw leaving the area and off into other parts of Moltara, he began to wonder how it was that he had only learned of them just recently.
They requested entry into the canopy, which the red Gnorbu in charge obliged to, but insisted that they wore gas masks first. She explained that the cave that the leaves grew in was constantly being pumped full of poisonous gases. The Gnorbu then proceeded to tell them stories -that sounded like she had told many times before- about foolish Neopets that refused to wear masks and wound up with horrifying ailments that plagued them for the rest of their lives. Afterwards, she cheerfully handed them their masks, which Flicker and Wingen strapped to their faces as tightly as they could.
When Flicker walked into the canopy, he would not have been blamed for briefly thinking he had walked into a glass-maker's workshop. The leaves dangled overhead, making chiming sounds as they lightly hit each other at the slightest puff of air from the vents down below. As Flicker walked by, the leaves reflected his glow, creating a brilliant –yet momentary- display.
He found Jacenty staring at the leaves, occasionally reaching out to one to spin it around so that he could get a different angle. Once he took notice of Flicker and Wingen, he commented, "They're beautiful, aren't they? You know, I've seen many amazing trees in my life. Some of them were even sentient! Why, I once had a conversation with this one tree about the lives of famous scientists and philosophers. For some reason, it liked to quiz me on when and where they died. But I am proud to say that I never failed at providing an answer!"
Jacenty cleared his throat. "Oh, sorry. I got off track there, for a moment. Anyways, what I mean to say is that with everything I have seen, I have never encountered something as wonderful as this."
Flicker agreed. Even though he was fascinated over the world on the surface, he was still able to appreciate the beauty that Moltara could hold in store. Sure, the tree might have technically been brought to Moltara from the surface, but it didn't diminish the feeling much.
Wingen sat down next to Jacenty, reading his notes with great interest. The Zafara was more than happy to cater to his curiosity, as he let him take the notebook while he continued to gaze and the leaves and branches.
"You know, I've been thinking about how this tree could have possibly developed the way it has. Call me crazy, but I think I have reason to believe that it's been enchanted," Jacenty said to Wingen.
Wingen's attention was immediately taken off of the book. "You mean it's magical? What makes you say that?"
"It's just a theory –mind you- but I think that the leaves may have a bit of air magic within them. Their main purpose is to attract impurities in the air, is it not? That's an ability that's distinctive of the element," Jacenty theorized. "I'm sure you've seen the amber that powers the machines around here? I don't think it would be a stretch to say that earth magic is responsible for those and the tree's growth. Most plants don't grow in such fantastic ways without that kind of help, after all."
While Jacenty and Wingen discussed magic, Flicker took it upon himself to inspect the leaves up close. While he floated among the branches, he noticed that a few of the leaves were black, a sharp contrast to the pristine, clear ones surrounding them.
When Flicker questioned him about it, Jacenty answered, "I was told by some of the workers that the black leaves are the ones that have reached their limit as far as their capability to absorb pollutants is concerned. They say that the tree is able to use the gases for itself, so they always make sure to let some leaves remain there when they harvest."
"But aren't the gases supposed to be poisonous?" Flicker asked, bewildered.
Jacenty laughed. "You would be surprised at the things that other life forms can survive off of that are toxic to us Neopets!"
Flicker decided to fly deeper into the canopy. Within seconds, the other Neopets were out of his sight. The solitude gave him the chance to further absorb his environment. For a while, he just hovered in place, watching the miniature light show that he and the leaves put on. Jacenty and Wingen talked quietly enough so that Flicker was left in relative silence, with the occasional puff of gas briefly interrupting the calm. The shimmering leaves lulled him into a state of peacefulness and brought tranquility to the ordinarily-energetic Buzz. They was spellbinding to an extent, and he couldn't help but reach his finger out to lightly touch one.
The sharp, sudden bark jostled Flicker into alertness. He spun around to find Chrome, the Uni guard from the day before, watching him intently from the ground. "If you want those leaves, you're going to have to pay for them like everyone else," he said as the echo from his gas mask caused his biting tone to become very noticeable.
"What? I wasn't going to take any!" Flicker retorted with a scowl.
Once again, Chrome's gas mask made his hardly-subtle nuances even more apparent; his unconvinced snort could not have been clearer. Indeed, the Uni continued to watch Flicker, even while he fluttered back to the others after having his sense of comfort yanked away.
For that reason, he hurriedly requested to Wingen that they leave soon. The Wocky was puzzled as to the sudden change of heart in Flicker, but he didn't question it –at least not vocally. They told Jacenty that they would see him later at the inn and exited the canopy. Flicker had an especially fast pace to his departure, as he hated nothing more than having a pair of untrusting eyes fixated on his every move.
* * *
When Jacenty returned to the inn, his hands were full of notes that he struggled to carry without them falling to floor. The fur on his palms were blackened from lead while the hands themselves were cramped and tired. But despite all that, Jacenty was still his chipper self.
As if he read Flicker's mind, Jacenty brewed another batch of twirly fruit tea, which the glowing Buzz was eager to guzzle down. The others drank their cups more slowly, taking their time in unwinding from the day.
"I think it would be best for us to leave first thing tomorrow. Zircon said that he'll only cover our rooms for two days, after all. That, and our driver is still waiting for us, so we don't want to leave him there for too much longer," Lumin announced his plans.
"Aww, do we have to? I was having so much fun today..." Flicker groaned.
"Well, I wouldn't rule out the possibility of coming back somebody. This trip went rather well, I think," Lampyri attempted to raise Flicker's spirits back up.
Wingen felt that he needed to confirm Lampyri's point for sure, as he asked Jacenty, "Did you get enough information about the tree? I mean, I know it's only been a day, so it might have been better if you had more time..."
But Jacenty shook his head and laughed, "No, you've all done plenty for me! I've learned so much more than what I was initially hoping for. Sincerely, thank you all so much for bringing me here! I don't know what I can do to repay you for this!"
Flicker replied with a chuckle, "Nah, you don't have to do that. The city here is really neat and fun, so just getting to see it is enough. Right?"
That sentiment was shared by everyone in the room.
Even Lumin had a smile on his face as he stood up and said, "We should probably get to bed early today. It'll be a long trip back home."
* * *
Wingen's eyelids cracked open. He yawned, stretched his limbs out, and stepped out of bed. Nothing in particular woke him up that time; there was no strange noise coming from outside of the room and Flicker's glow hadn't bothered him for years. He simply felt totally rested, a rare occurrence for someone that had to struggle to find the initiative to move right after waking up.
Flicker was still asleep, but Wingen decided to leave him be for a little longer. He knew that Lumin said that they needed to prepare to leave Pillar Grove as soon as possible, but he figured that Flicker needed a bit more rest after such a long day.
But upon leaving the bedroom, Wingen was surprised to learn that he was the first one up. The doors to the other two bedrooms were shut and there was absolutely no activity in the rest of the suite. He thought it was a little odd, but he shrugged it off as he grabbed a brush and began straightening out his fur.
Even when Wingen felt like he had gotten in a good amount of sleep, he still spent the next ten minutes in a half-awake daze. Eventually, his mind made the transition from grogginess to clarity. It wasn't until then that Wingen glanced at the clock and found that it was several hours later than the time that everyone agreed to leave the inn.
Wingen immediately dropped his brush and took off running towards the other bedrooms. He rapidly pounded his fists on the doors. When that didn't cause the Neopets inside to move fast enough for him, he rushed inside and shouted until they were awake, "Guys! We're late! We need to get going!"
Lumin, Jacenty, and Lampyri left their rooms in confusion, wondering what made Wingen so frazzled. But when they looked at the clocks for themselves, their eyes widened with shock as they realized that the Wocky wasn't joking.
"My goodness... How on Neopia did we oversleep like this?!" Lumin exclaimed. But his wonder was short-lived, as he began to hustle to get all his things together like everyone else in the suite.
Wingen sprinted into his bedroom to grab the last of his possessions. Flicker was still curled up in bed despite all the commotion outside. "Flicker! Hurry up! Let's go!"
But his only response was to give a short grunt and slightly shift his position. Wingen growled under his breath; sometimes even he lost patience with how obstinate Flicker could be. He shook his shoulders and said sharply, "We don't have time for this, Flicker! Get up!"
Flicker moaned again, but this time it was more drawn out and weary-sounding. "I don't feel good..."
"That's what you get for drinking an entire jug of tea in one sitting! Now come on!" Wingen shot back as he tried –and failed- to lift Flicker up himself.
Once Flicker crawled out of bed and got onto his feet, Wingen headed for the door, not wanting to waste another second. But he didn't even manage to cross the threshold before he heard a crash from behind him. He spun around to find Flicker laying down on the floor, with the bed stand toppled over as he attempted to grab onto it for support.
"Flicker!" Wingen dashed over to him. His impatience with his brother disappeared instantly. He gently helped Flicker sit up while he asked softly, "Are you alright?" When he could only squeeze his eyes shut even tighter, Wingen questioned him further, "What doesn't feel good?"
"My head. I feel so dizzy..." Flicker mumbled, struggling to do so much as sit up straight without tumbling back down.
Wingen offered himself for support as Flicker shakily stood up again. They took every step with care; Wingen was ready to reach out if Flicker lost his balance again. He hoped that whatever was ailing him would go away on its own, but he began to think that it would be better to see a doctor before leaving the city - just to be safe.
But before Wingen could mull the idea over any further, his attention went to the front doors as he heard them slam open. Dozens of soldiers swarmed inside the room in an instant and drew their swords at each of the guests. Even if Wingen didn't have a weapon pointed at him, he still would have froze in place at how abruptly so many Neopets surrounded them.
The last one to enter the room was Chrome. He nodded his head slightly at Flicker and yelled to the other soldiers, "That's him!"
Wingen was knocked aside as a brown Gelert soldier slammed Flicker onto his stomach. He could struggle a little in his dazed state, but it was futile, as the soldier easily held him against the floor. "Don't move! You're under arrest!"
The reaction from the other four Neopets was unanimous, "What?! Why?!"
Chrome ignored their shouts and began to give out more orders to the soldiers, "Begin searching. Restrain the others; we'll be bringing them in for questioning."
Wingen saw the soldiers tie the hands of his companions behind their backs as they took them out of the room. A grey Blumaroo tried to lead the Wocky out without taking a hold of him, instead saying, "Come on, kid. You need to come with us."
"What's going on?! Let Flicker go!" Wingen shouted back at him. He tried to run to Flicker, but was helpless to do anything as the soldier rushed to stand in his way.
As Lumin was being brought out of the room, he managed to halt himself just long enough to face Chrome. "What is the meaning of this?! What are you arresting Flicker for?!" he demanded to know.
Chrome huffed, "For one, theft. Five hours ago, several witnesses saw a glowing Buzz attack a brick-making facility and steal at least a hundred amber beads."
Wingen's eyes widened. "Flicker? Is that true?" he asked in a tiny voice.
"No! I didn't do anything!" Flicker groaned, too weakened to make any effort to resist.
Chrome continued, "But most importantly, he was later spotted breaking into the palaces' dungeons. He managed to escape, taking a high-profile criminal with him." He glared at Lumin. "Perhaps you might have heard of him."
Lumin furrowed his eyebrows in silence. Chrome then said in a growling voice, "Halloy."
Judging from the way Lumin's face fell at Chrome's answer, the name was definitely familiar to him.
To be continued...