The Tree of Pillar Grove: Part Six
Lumin had lost count of the many times where he had felt his heart rise to his throat over the situations he had to deal with. But he could say –without contest- that being forced to watch his child in trouble while he was helpless to do anything about it was when his feelings were at their most gut-wrenching.
Flicker had regained a little of his lost energy, but he still wasn't recovered enough to put up a fight. As much as he dragged his feet on the palace floor and tried to yank his arms away, the two guards escorting him towards the dungeons kept a firm hold on him.
The other four Neopets were asked a few questions about where they were for the past several hours. A brown Peophin soldier approached Chrome shortly after drilling them and said, "The innkeeper says that he saw the glowing Buzz leave the building, but none of the others. It seems that they're telling the truth when they say that they've been asleep this entire time."
Chrome tapped his hooves against the floor as he thought it over. Eventually, he decided to err on the side of caution and ordered the Peophin, "Until their alibi is completely confirmed, continue to keep an eye on them. We don't need to keep them here in the palace, but make sure that they don't leave Pillar Grove."
Zircon watched the procession of events from nearby with his arms crossed. He had a slight scowl, one that looked like it would have been much harsher had he not restrained it. The Eyrie didn't direct his glare towards anyone in particular, but he didn't need to for Lumin to see that his eyes had a betrayed look in them.
"This has to be some sort of mistake," Lumin said to him. Zircon didn't respond. Lumin tried to reach him again, that time more desperately, "Flicker wouldn't have done something like this!"
"On the contrary, we have more than enough evidence to prove that he did," Chrome retorted. Clearing his throat, he took out a piece of parchment and read from it, "According to multiple witnesses, the intruder in both the brick-making facility and the palace dungeons was: A male glowing Buzz, approximately six-and-a-half feet tall, likely in his early-twenties, muscular build, short black hair with a small goatee, wearing only a pair of ragged black pants, and possessing an infinity symbol in the middle of his back."
Lumin heard Flicker shout from across the room, "Yeah, well I'm not even close to being in my twenties! Now let me go!"
For a brief moment, Chrome glanced at Flicker with a rather curious look. He shook it off and added, "He didn't make much of an effort to be discreet about his crime. If you'd like, I'd be more than happy to show you the hammer he left behind and the bruises he gave the guards with it."
Chrome ended the conversation there, as he turned around sharply and swiftly caught up to the other soldiers. Just before the doors shut on them, Flicker yelled out once again in desperation, "Papa! Do something!"
Lumin felt a shiver course through him as the doors slammed. He struggled to retain his balance as those few words from his son repeated in his head again and again. He badly wanted to be able to do something. But what? What could he do? What had he ever been able to do for Flicker when he was in trouble?
Lately, Lumin had come to accept that Flicker was –for the most part- capable of taking care of himself. But along with that came the realization that when he was faced with something that he couldn't defeat, there wasn't much Lumin could do to protect him. The more he thought about it, the more he hung his head in shame. He couldn't protect his own child.
Wingen, Lampyri, and Jacenty didn't know what to say to him. They kept their thoughts over the matter to themselves. Perhaps that was for the better; in the state that Lumin was in, any attempt to console him would have felt hollow, even if it wasn't intended that way.
When it came to Flicker –however- they weren't quite as restrained with their emotions. Lampyri and Jacenty continued to beg Zircon to listen to them and to let Flicker go. Wingen didn't say anything; not out of apathy, but because he was preoccupied with trying to calm his sniffling down.
Lumin sighed. No matter how useless he felt over helping Flicker and how much he thought that he failed him as a father, he knew that he couldn't give him. "Zircon, Flicker was cursed by The Engineer. He doesn't look it, but he's only five years old. He's far too young to have any connection with Halloy!"
Zircon's expression barely changed. Perhaps he might have been considering what Lumin said, but it was equally likely that he was discarding his claim.
"Excuse me for asking, but who is this Halloy?" Jacenty asked meekly.
"One of the greatest scientists that Pillar Grove has ever seen. Or... at least he was," Zircon finally answered, his voice booming slightly in anger. "Halloy may have contributed much to our understanding of technology, but -as the years went by- it became increasingly apparent that he was more interested in money rather than the advancement of the city. When he became displeased with the amount of Neopoints we were paying him, he turned traitor and began selling weapons to someone else: King Lumin I."
Lumin took a deep, slow breath.
Zircon continued, "Halloy was caught shortly before the war ended. Ever since, we had been keeping him imprisoned in the dungeons. Now that he's escaped, there's no telling the kind of havoc he'll cause." He addressed the Peophin soldier, "Since Halloy has such an exceedingly rare color, it's not as if he'll be able to blend in with the city. Tell Chrome to keep a few patrols within the cave, but also to begin searching the nearby tunnels."
The skunk Eyrie paced around a bit. Lumin heard a small growl contained in his throat. He then looked at Lumin, but just barely, as he kept his head turned so that he could only see one half of his face. "You do realize that I have to put the word of my own subjects above that of an outsider," Zircon stated with a sour tone. "But if you can prove to me that your son is innocent, then I'll release him. Until then, he's staying here."
Zircon left the throne room, but the suddenly antagonistic feeling he gave off remained. The four Neopets stood by themselves for a short while, none of them knowing where to even begin.
* * *
Flicker groaned. It was usually a moot point for him to try to remember any name or face that hadn't been in his life within the past few months, but he tried anyways.
The tapping his finger made against the cell walls gradually became more forceful. Eventually, it culminated into his fist pounding against the stone in frustration.
I don't know that name! So why does everyone think that I helped him escape?!
With another moan, Flicker turned his search through his memories to what he was doing when the crime was supposedly committed. But there was nothing to remember. He went to bed and then he woke up a while later. It was as simple as that. Even if he had left the inn for any reason, Wingen would have woken up the instant he sensed that the room had darkened because of the absence of Flicker's glow.
From down the hall, Flicker heard the doors open. At first, he figured that it was probably Chrome again, wanting to get him to say where he had hidden the amber that he had "stolen." Before even being asked, Flicker was ready with his reply and was eager to bark, "I DON'T KNOW, OKAY?!"
But then he actually looked at his visitor – or visitors. It was Lumin, Wingen, Lampyri, and Jacenty. Any other time, Flicker would have apologized profusely for screaming at them like that. But he was just so happy to be able to see them at all that he didn't even think of it and instead ran up to the bars.
Lumin sat down on the other side and Flicker followed suit. The white Buzz didn't waste any time and got straight to the point, "Flicker, I want you to be completely honest with me. Did you actually steal the amber and release Halloy?"
"No! I swear that I didn't! I don't even know who Halloy is!" Flicker replied, somewhat exasperatedly. "You guys believe me, right?"
Nobody answered him.
The tone of Flicker's voice quieted. "...Right?"
The silence hung around for a moment longer.
And then Wingen said, "Yeah. I believe you."
The others were quick to follow. "This... This is all very unlike you. I can't believe that you would do something like that," said Lumin.
Jacenty commented, "My boy, after everything that you've done back in Central Cavern, it's just outrageous for anyone to accuse you of stooping to such a low."
"I can tell you're telling the truth," Lampyri said as a hint of smile started to form. "Because you're such a horrible liar."
Flicker scowled at her. It just so figured that she had to be the one to ruin the moment. He couldn't stay angry for any length of time though, knowing that he did have some support.
"Unfortunately, the evidence does seem to be stacked against you. But it's almost certain that there's more to this than what we know. We are going to do whatever we can to prove your innocence," Lumin told him, giving his son some much-needed comfort.
Suddenly, Flicker heard the fire Xweetok guard posted in the dungeons say, "Hey. Time's up."
Lumin stood up. But before he left, he nodded to Flicker and silently assured him that things would be taken care of. He nodded back, not doubting him in the slightest.
Flicker began to walk back to the cell's corner as the others started to leave. But he was stopped when Wingen whispered out to him, electing to linger just a few moments longer. Once he had gotten his attention, he smiled and said, "Hang in there, okay? We'll get you out."
When everybody had left, Flicker began to think to himself again. That time, he was a bit more positive about the situation – as positive as anyone in a dungeon cell could be, at least. But he was certain that his friends and family would figure something out.
Even though he hated to wait, he had no choice in the matter now. He just needed to be patient and have faith in them.
* * *
"None of us are detectives, you know..." Wingen mumbled as he headed back to the suite.
"Pillar Grove's own forces are likely investigating the matter themselves. You are right Wingen, in that there's probably nothing we'll be able to sleuth out that they haven't already found," Lumin groaned in response.
Even in the short trip from the inn's entrance to their suite, Wingen saw that Lumin was correct. They passed by several soldiers along the way, scouring the building for any clues and interviewing anyone that could have possibly seen Flicker in the crime's time frame. With how well of a job those Neopets with actual experience were doing, Wingen had no clue how he and his friends could possibly compete.
"Maybe it was another Firefly that did it? Do... Do you think that The Engineer missed someone else?" Wingen surmised. He knew it was a long shot, but it was something.
Lumin considered his guess, but with substantial dose of skepticism. "I suppose it's not impossible. But the chances of that being the case are rather slim."
"Mm. It just would make things even more confusing than they already are," Lampyri supplemented through a mutter.
Lumin noticed the preoccupied tone in her voice. "You've been quiet for a while. Do you have an idea?"
Lampyri was hesitant to answer him. She controlled her facial expressions to keep what she was thinking hidden. "I'll need more information before I can say anything for certain," she answered quickly, keen to let the subject go for the time being.
Jacenty's ears perked up all of a sudden. "Oh dear. Do you hear that? Seems like some sort of commotion is going on in our suite..."
Wingen closed his eyes and swiveled his ears in the direction of the suite. From that distance, it was faint, but he could certainly hear several pets exclaiming over something. The two Buzzes couldn't hear well enough, but what he and Jacenty were able to pick up was enough for them to speed up their pace.
As they thought, something of interest was causing the soldiers to crowd inside the suite. It got to the point where Wingen and his friends had no room to squeeze in and were forced to wait outside until someone could provide them with information.
That person was Chrome, as he exited the suite the moment he saw its guests arrive. Wingen didn't think he could do it, but his expression was even more unimpressed than usual. "If you all are so certain that your glowing Buzz is innocent..."
Chrome dropped a bag of amber in front them.
"...Then explain how we found this in his room."
Wingen's breath was stolen the instant the bag hit the floor. It slightly opened upon impact, allowing him to see the emerald-green beads for himself. There was no mistaking what he saw.
But Flicker told him, swore to him that he didn't do it. He knew that Flicker would never do such a thing. "You planted it!" Wingen burst out, raising his voice to a volume that he hardly ever even approached. "You're trying to frame him!"
Chrome's nostrils flared as he gave an offended hiss, "Don't insult me. You honestly think I would release the city's most notorious traitor and steal all that amber just to frame your friend? For what? I've never met him before in my life, so what vendetta do you think I hold against him?"
"He's a Firefly," Lampyri spoke out. All heads turned in her direction. She glared at Chrome as she took a few steps further. "I noticed how closely you were watching him ever since we stepped foot in the city. You were suspicious of him right from the start. Convenient that one of those brutish Fireflies happened to be around just as this all went down, isn't it?"
The acid in Lampyri's voice kept Chrome from arguing back right way. Their faces were mere inches away from each other. Lampyri held her stare into his eyes, waiting for his response. He was quiet, but his ears were as flat as they could possibly be while his frown intensified.
"...We're done here," Chrome muttered to the other soldiers while he still kept his eyes on Lampyri. He left the area in a huff, shouting as he went down the hall, "Some of you stay behind! They're still not to leave the city!"
To be continued...