The Sisters of Pillar Grove:Part Four
The shock waves that the earth faerie created were felt even by Jacenty and Halloy within the robot. But while the cave outside went dark, the control room remained well-lit.
Halloy's metal-cased toes had thinned themselves to the point where they could reach into the bag he held and effortlessly grab a single potato chip. He popped it into his mouth, chewing it while he said, “The earth faerie was right assuming that we're is making use of the amber. Unfortunately for her, she was unable to anticipate us protecting our stash with aversion stone glass. So while the rest of the city is without power, we’re free to run around unchallenged. Of course - while it is tempting - that doesn’t mean that we can be attacking everyone in our way with reckless abandon. We’ll have to refrain from using amber as much as possible so that we’ll have enough to capture the earth faerie.”
Jacenty watched Halloy while he rested his head on his knuckles. His expression was flat and his tone of voice equally so as he said, “I know. We’ve been through this already. I don’t need you to repeat it to me.”
“Oh, lighten up,” Halloy grumbled as he reclined himself and poured the crumbs from the bag into his mouth. “I’ve always found that my appreciation for my ideas grow when I revisit them for the second or third time.”
“In other words, you like to hear yourself talk.”
“Yes!” Halloy declared with glee. “And it’s so much better when you have an active audience! The dungeon guards, they’re thick-headed fools that never paid much attention to what I had to say. Ah, how I’ve missed the company of Neopets with a somewhat-acceptable level of intellect…”
Halloy suddenly sat up. “Oh, speaking of idiots…” He reached over to the control panel and swiftly moved a stick to the right; the robot moved accordingly. Halloy peered out the window to see that only one warrior was left standing.
Jacenty couldn’t help but concede a speck of admiration for Chrome; he held up remarkably well. However, that was only in comparison to the unconscious soldiers around him. Chrome was a tiny push away from joining them, as his legs appeared that they were about to give in at any moment.
Halloy brought the robot to an upright position until it was able to glower down on Chrome. The latter struggled to remain standing while the former remained unscathed.
The robot shot forward. Chrome met the robot’s mandibles with his swords. The two were locked in place for a moment – but only a moment. With a little more pressure, Chrome’s swords snapped in two. The silver Uni stumbled to the side, out of the robot's path. Though he was still standing, a sense of resignation came across his face.
The robot stood again and Halloy took a moment to enjoy Chrome's hopeless expression. “I almost feel sorry for you. Almost. You really did think for a moment there that a small team of mediocre soldiers could defeat me. It’s a little funny, in a sad sort of way,” he commented, speaking into a microphone so that he could be certain that Chrome could hear him.
“If you didn’t spend so much time gloating and showing off, we could be much closer to the earth faerie by now,” Jacenty growled impatiently at Halloy. He made a glance towards Chrome and his serious face relaxed slightly as their eyes met. “Although… I will say that your prejudice towards Fireflies made framing Flicker a much easier feat.”
Chrome's posture slackened and the muscles holding his scowl together became loose.
The robot swung its head. The outer edge of its mandibles slammed into Chrome and threw him at a nearby wall. Halloy might not have been willing to humor Jacenty’s statement with a reply, but he silently acknowledged that it was time to move forward. He piloted the robot out of the canopy, eager to begin the next phase.
* * *
“You saw it in the laboratory, correct?” Zircon asked Flicker as the two of them looked out the window.
“Yeah. It looked like a Lyins. A big one. Big enough for someone to pilot it.”
The rest of Flicker’s company gathered around Zircon. Now that the matter of restoring the ability to see their enemy had been taken care of, they focused on trying to figure out how to beat them.
“I recall that Halloy started development into mechanical suits of armor long ago, but it appears that he decided to go a step further,” Zircon commented.
Lampyri stepped forward and added, “The robot appeared to be protected with a strong coat of steel. It looks like brute force won’t be able to defeat it. The lack of amber doesn’t help matters either.”
For once, Lampyri’s input dampened the spirit of those that listened, rather than lifted them up with her usual optimism. But Zircon wasn't about be dissuaded so easily. “Nonetheless, I'm going to try to incapacitate the robot as much as possible. I may be old, but they have another thing coming if they think that I've become weak and feeble. But I will still need backup.” He focused his gaze on Flicker. “Son, can you fight?”
Flicker suddenly straightened himself and declared, “Of course!”
“Hm, very good,” Zircon said with a bit of a smile. Gesturing to Lampyri, he noted, “And your king has already gone to great lengths to assure me of your strength and trustworthiness.”
Lampyri's head gave a short jolt upwards to look directly at Zircon. Then she spun to Lumin, who responded with only a nod. All the while, she was silent and wide-eyed. Flicker saw her mouth open a few times to begin to say something, but not so much as a syllable left her lips. She eventually returned Lumin's nod, but did so as she looked to the wall next to her and tugged at the rim of her glove.
“If Halloy and Jacenty have reason to believe you two are dead, then we could catch them off-guard by having you wait in the wings until I can get them into a vulnerable position,” Zircon said as he gestured to both Flicker and Lampyri.
Flicker's shoulders dropped as he felt the excitement drain out of him. He crossed his arms and muttered under his breath, “No fair... I wanted to fight a giant robot...”
Though Zircon didn't hear the comment, it didn't escape Lumin, who glanced at Flicker with a raised eyebrow. But he chose to ignore it and instead offered to Zircon, “With your permission, I can organize and direct the soldiers here in the palace should Halloy and Jacenty get this far.”
“I hope it won't come to that, but permission granted,” Zircon replied. He looked at Wingen, who seemed lost-in-thought. “As for you... I understand that you're skilled with defensive magic?”
Wingen flinched out of his musing. “Yes... But...” The silence hung in the air for a moment. Wingen stared at the ground, as he often did when his mind tugged itself back and forth between two decisions. Eventually, one side won out as he took a breath and faced Flicker and Lampyri. “There's something I want to do first. And before that, I need to ask you guys something.”
* * *
With great reluctance, Flicker pulled the hood over his head and straightened out the rest of the robe. “I thought I wouldn’t have to wear this anymore…” he moaned as he watched his glow fail to penetrate the cloth. The first time that he was surrounded by total darkness was unnerving enough. To Flicker, blocking his glow meant the same as tearing away a chunk of his mental security. Going out into the sparsely-lit city suddenly felt a lot more perilous without his personal guiding light.
He may not have been excited about the environment, but he was still more than willing to take part in the fight. If that was the best way that he could contribute, then he would have to learn to get by.
Wingen left the throne room and said that he'd join up with the others once he was done with his task. It didn’t feel right being separated from him, but that was what the situation called for. Flicker reminded himself that it was only temporary and that they would be reunited before long.
But before Flicker could run off to catch up with Lampyri, Lumin approached him and brought him to a halt. “Flicker, just one moment please.”
It was a familiar scene to Flicker. He went through the same thing when he fought Granite and hoped that would be the last time. “Look, I’m not going to change my mind about fighting, no matter what you tell me,” he stated to Lumin. The frustrated memories of the previous incident and the speed at which his words left his mouth caused the tone to be much sterner than what he intended.
“I know that,” Lumin replied calmly, choosing to let Flicker’s irritated tone slide. “I just want you to be careful. I… I worry about you, that’s all.”
Flicker’s self-esteem automatically assumed the worst possible meaning of Lumin’s words. He looked away and mumbled, “You don’t think I’m strong enough.”
But Lumin shook his head and smiled in response. “Flicker, you could be the strongest Neopet in the world, and I’d still worry about you. It’s just part of being a parent. It’s not easy watching you put yourself in danger. I just want to have a little peace of mind knowing that you’re thinking things through.”
Flicker sighed. In the face of what Lumin told him, he couldn’t help but relent. “Okay. I will.”
Satisfied, Lumin nodded and turned to check on Wingen's progress. But then Flicker was suddenly reminded of his conversation with Lampyri on the way back from Halloy's laboratory. He hesitated to bring it up at first, but made up his mind as he got his father's attention and asked him, “Did Zircon kill your papa?”
Lumin flinched and gave a shallow gasp. Flicker shrunk back at his reaction; he thought for a split second that his question actually caused Lumin physical pain. Nevertheless, Lumin closed his eyes and pushed back the emotions that burst to the surface. “Yes, he did.”
Flicker almost didn't want to ask anything more in fear of what it'd do to Lumin. But he decided to push forward anyways, and presented his next question as gently as he could, “Doesn't... that make you mad at Zircon?”
Lumin looked into Flicker's eyes for what felt like a long time. Then, his head dropped and he stared at the ground for just as long. When he spoke again, he was careful and deliberate, as if still in the process of choosing his words. “My father... was not a good person. And Zircon only did what he needed to protect his city. So, no. I don't begrudge Zircon for what he did.”
There was a sense of discomfort in the air – most of it radiated from Lumin. Flicker never felt that he was good at reading people, but even he noticed over the past few days that Lumin couldn't even so much as allude to his father without a layer of bitterness attached to the subject.
Realizing the atmosphere that had been created, Lumin sighed, “Someday, we can talk more about this. But in the meantime, please don't worry about it, Flicker. I made my peace with the whole situation a long time ago.”
Before Lumin took his leave, he gave Flicker a quick hug and said, “I love you. Again, please be careful.”
Flicker was left alone as Lumin exited the room. He knew that he needed to meet up with Lampyri, but he stood in place for a moment. As uneasy as he still felt over the matter with his family history, there would be time later to discuss it in more detail – as Lumin said. For the time being, Flicker needed to put everything his all into stopping Jacenty and Halloy,
* * *
Halloy's toes were intertwined, held up just under his goggles that shone with the reflection of the light coming from the control panel. “Tell me…” he began in a quiet, serious tone.
Jacenty glanced at him, mildly curious what the occasion was for Halloy to sound so earnest and why it was important enough that he stopped the robot in the middle of Pillar Grove’s ground level.
Halloy continued, “You surface-dwellers have people that cut down trees for your own use, do you not? What would someone of this profession be called?”
Jacenty raised his eyebrow, confused. “A lumberjack?”
“YES!” Halloy bellowed, slamming his feet on the chair. Jacenty flinched and moved himself further back into his seat as the Jubjub’s sudden outburst echoed in the room. Halloy laughed, “It’s perfect! Absolutely perfect! ‘Lumberjack!’ That is going to be the robot’s name from now on!”
Jacenty sighed and held his head against his fist. He watched as the brief glimmer of hope he had of Halloy taking the mission seriously was swiftly dashed.
Halloy rubbed his foot against Lumberjack’s control panel, stroking it like a beloved petpet. “Ah, it's a shame that I couldn't give you a proper naming ceremony before those nasty Fireflies interrupted. But worry not! After we capture the earth faerie, we’ll have all the time in the world for such celebrations!”
“Where is the earth faerie, for that matter?” Jacenty asked, his tone dripping with strained patience.
“Huh? Oh, right,” Halloy muttered, the pitch of his voice becoming much less chipper when he was forced to converse with Jacenty. “While the air faerie was relatively out in the open, the earth faerie is more concealed. She's inside one of the pillars, but... which one?”
Halloy watched Jacenty’s face, waiting in silence.
Eventually, Halloy scowled at him. “…You were supposed to make a guess.” When Jacenty did not bother to humor him with one, Halloy groaned, “Well, luckily for you, I managed to figure it out over fifteen years ago. And that is-”
Halloy stopped himself mid-sentence. He stood up on the tips of his toes, stretching himself to get a good view out the window. Appearing to confirm his suspicions, Halloy gave a wide grin and let out a loud laugh. He swiftly turned on Lumberjack’s microphone and yelled into it, “Zircon! Still haven’t keeled over yet, old man?”
Jacenty took it upon himself to look out the window as well, and saw the skunk Eyrie standing in front of Lumberjack. Zircon glared into its eyes without the slightest twitch of fear or lack of confidence – a far cry from the soldiers they fought before.
“You must forgive me for having to ask. I wasn’t able to keep up much with current events while locked in the dungeon, you know?” Halloy said in a far more casual manner than what was appropriate for the circumstances. Zircon remained quiet, to which he commented, “Not going to answer, are you? Think you’re going to stop me, are you? Tell you what. I’m in a particularly good mood today. Pay me one million Neopoints, and I’ll come back over to your side. Of course, you’ll also need to provide housing, food, and utilities for me as well. As well as immediate funding towards any projects I feel like pursuing at the given moment.”
Jacenty could not help but stare at Halloy as his mouth hung agape. Halloy held the tips of his toes against each other and nonchalantly said to him, “Oh trust me, this is a very good deal.”
“You could offer your services for free, and I still wouldn’t allow you back, Halloy!” Zircon finally shouted, his paw reaching towards the scabbard attached to his belt.
Zircon swiftly pulled out the sword and drew it back. Jacenty caught the sight of him swinging his arm forward, but it was all he was able to get a glimpse of before the entire robot tilted sideways. He felt Lumberjack scramble a few yards to the left, caused by Halloy suddenly jerking a control stick in the same direction.
“Was that really necessary?” Jacenty grumbled as he tried to regain his sense of balance, his eyesight still spinning. “You honestly think that a simple sword is a threat worth dodging?”
“Hmph! How about you look for yourself before running your mouth!” Halloy spat.
Curious, Jacenty did so. He saw it immediately: A small, but noticeable gash in Lumberjack’s armor on its right side, just barely above its legs. The soldiers they fought before were totally helpless against Lumberjack. Not even the air faerie could put a dent in it. But one Eyrie, wielding an ordinary, non-enchanted sword was able to do what no-one before him could? He refused to verbally admit his defeat in the argument, but Jacenty was unable to prevent himself from drawing a short gasp at Zircon’s feat. He was reminded in that moment that although faeries were on average the most powerful beings on Neopia, Neopets were also more than capable of extraordinary might.
“There is a very good reason why he was known as the only Neopet in Moltara that could stand toe-to-toe with King Lumin!” Halloy noted, his volume increasing with each word. Jacenty saw his clay eyebrows scrunch up and mold into a tight scowl. He snarled, “How dare you… You miserable old coot!”
Halloy directed Lumberjack to leap upwards, a feat made possible only thanks to the air faerie. He caused it to linger in mid-air briefly, then swooped down at Zircon. But he jumped out the way just in time. As Lumberjack lifted its head up, it ripped out a chunk of rock that was promptly broken up once the mandibles applied pressure to it. The debris rolled off of Lumberjack’s face and the steel blades were freed up and ready to strike at its prey.
Lumberjack shot forward, but missed Zircon again. He took to the air in a similar manner as the robot did earlier and prepared for an aerial strike. Zircon swiped at Lumberjack, but that time it stayed put and met his blade with its mandibles. Sparks flew at the impact. Both opponents were locked in place, each one trying to give the extra push needed to gain the upper hand.
Jacenty saw Zircon’s face when he realized that trying to wage a sword fight with Lumberjack was pointless. He pulled back his sword and flew backwards. But he was not fast enough to avoid Lumberjack’s counterattack. Zircon returned to the ground, still standing, but wincing from Lumberjack’s strike. He was a worthy and experienced foe, Jacenty had to concede that much. But even the strongest warriors grew old.
Jacenty turned his head. Halloy looked too, as well as Zircon. Though the voice came from outside and at a distance, Jacenty recognized it instantly. He didn’t require a visual confirmation, and thus was not surprised in the slightest when he saw the strawberry Grarrl standing on a nearby walkway. “Frazer.”
To be continued…