Monazite told no-one – not even Cinnabar – that she and Agate intended to flee Obsidian Quarry. Of course, Granite couldn’t read minds, but Monazite underestimated just how perceptive he was. It made sense, now that she thought about it; decades worth of pushing workers to their limit would give him a keen eye as to when they were about to hit their breaking point and seek desperate solutions.
Either way, there was now a Buzz-shaped roadblock in Monazite’s plan. She had forgotten it, after seeing how friendly Flicker truly was, but having him in direct opposition to her now reminded her of why Granite used him for intimidation.
But time was still of the essence. Monazite strongly doubted that she could convince Flicker to turn a blind eye to them. Thus, she had to quickly think of something else. “Um... A-Aggie has a doctor's appointment today. I, uh, was just taking her to that.”
Flicker seemed almost relieved at that claim, and said lightly, “Oh, I remember where that is. I can take you there.”
Flicker had Monazite walk ahead of him on the way to the doctor's office. All the while, her legs shook with each step, both from Agate on her back and the fear of what she'd do once caught in her lie. And every inch closer she got to the office was precious time wasted. Her mind raced to find a way out, but the stress of the situation was to it that she was unable to come up with anything coherent or sensible.
Soon, the doctor's office was in sight, and all Monazite could do was wish a fissure would open up at her feet and swallow her. But that line of thinking was interrupted when Agate said, “Flicker, do you mind getting the door for us? Mona's having trouble carrying me.”
Flicker ran up ahead, bringing his back into Monazite's sight and herself a return to clarity. He really did have a good heart. She hated to take advantage of it.
Agate sharply whispered in Monazite's ear hole. “Go!”
She didn't need to be told twice.
Monazite turned around and took off with the biggest burst of speed that was possible for her. The weariness of that day's work and Agate's presence worked to slow her step, but she put all her mental effort into ignoring the complaints of her feet and pushed forward anyway. She knew precisely where to go, but didn't head there in a straight line. Instead, the debris from the recent earthquake provided obstacles for her to weave and zig-zag through.
But it wasn't long before should could hear approaching wing-beats. Flicker wasn't going to be thrown off that easily.
He dove down from above. Monazite skidded across the ground once she saw his infuriated scowl just feet away. She ran by his side, he shot out his arm. Monazite ducked just in time and slipped past Flicker, while a nearby wall was gouged with claw marks.
Monazite ran back through the residential district, with streets too narrow to fly in. It only worked somewhat. Flicker was grounded, but was still right behind her.
Up ahead, she saw a barrel of water next to a store. Giving her quick apologies to the absent owner, she slammed her body against it and spilt the contents onto the ground. The loose soil was rapidly soaked and turned to mud. Flicker was too late to notice; his bare feet slipped on the mud and he slammed into the puddle.
That wouldn't get rid of him for good, but it'd at least buy Monazite some time. She got enough of a lead that she soon saw the Marlock-pulled, covered wagon a short distance away, and Flicker nowhere to be seen behind her.
The shadow Korbat driver sat up on his seat, tapping his fingers idly. He was startled at Monazite rushing towards him, but her frazzled demeanour kept him from asking questions. Instead, he nervously looked away, pretending to not see anything.
Monazite went to the back of the wagon, pressed her side against the opening, and adjusted Agate's position. She preemptively said in guilt, “Sorry!” and released Agate, causing the Bori to tumble inside. Monazite could hear her stifle a shout as she and her bad leg hit the bottom. Ordinarily, she would have taken every caution to let Agate in gently. But being pursued by someone that could snap their spines with the same ease as she could break a very thin carrot meant that there wasn't much of a window to be careful.
Monazite herself jumped in shortly afterwards. She frantically searched for a tarp or something else to cover up with. But as soon as Agate urgently said, “Get down!” Monazite dropped to the floor.
From what little she could see through the cracks in between the loosely-constructed metal walls, Flicker had just stumbled into the area. He was still covered in large splotches of mud, and did not look at all pleased about it. The mud obstructed his glow somewhat, but the light still grew brighter as he approached. Monazite and Agate were absolutely still. All that hid them were the wagon walls and the half-door at the back. If Flicker got too close, he would surely see them.
Flicker lumbered nearby, as he slowly turned his head and scanned his surroundings. His eyes moved along the cargo in the wagon. Then, they stopped. He stared. His line of sight was directly pointed at Monazite and Agate.
Flicker broke eye contact and looked towards the voice. They never entered Monazite's limited sight, but the rhythm of the footsteps indicated to her that two Neopets were approaching. Judging by the arrogant tone of the voice, she assumed that they were foremen.
“What on Neopia happened to you?! You look like a Sludgy with wings!” the first foreman jeered.
“I was chasing some miners that were to trying to escape,” Flicker answered. He hesitated for a moment, then continued, “I think I saw them running down that tunnel over there.”
To Monazite's disbelief, Flicker pointed in the exact opposite direction.
“Well, what're you doing loitering around here?! Get moving!” the second foreman shouted.
Flicker then turned his back on the wagon and flew off. After he passed the range of artificial lights, Monazite could still see him against the darkness, until he too vanished into it.
The first foreman said to the other, “Sheesh, guess it's true about Fireflies – all brawn and no brains.”
“Yeah, no kidding.”
Both foremen left after that. Once Monazite was certain that there was no-one nearby to see, she stood up long enough to rearrange the cargo in such a way that they'd be better hidden. She took the lightest items and buried herself and Agate under them.
Just before the shadows covered Agate's face, Monazite looked into it to see if she also possessed the same mix of guilt and gratefulness; she did. Monazite couldn't – and didn't want to – imagine the kind of trouble Flicker was about to be in after that act of kindness.
Soon, the wide and heavy feet of the Marlocks were put into motion, and the creaky wheels of the wagon began to turn. The bumpy road and a Marlock's lack of grace caused the entire wagon to rock, and there was nothing to hear in the interior but the rattling of loosely packed items.
There was a brief window of opportunity for Monazite to slightly adjust her position and take one last look at Obsidian Quarry. But wistful nostalgia for one's hometown only existed for those that had love for it in the first place. Instead, Monazite stayed put and closed her eyes for the next few hours.
* * *
A few days later, Monazite found herself in another office that was well-decorated and pleasing to the eyes. But unlike Granite's back in Obsidian Quarry, this one was warm and cosy – even if somewhat cluttered with textbooks. As Monazite waited by herself sitting in a plush chair in front of a large desk, she couldn't keep her eyes from wandering. The thing that grabbed her attention the most was a glass case protecting a display of minerals – all labelled with their names and locations she had never heard of. She even saw her own namesake included in it.
There were a couple knocks at the door behind Monazite before it gently opened to let in a Grarrl. When she and Agate arrived in Central Cavern, they were told to seek out the leader of the surface-dwellers: Professor Frazer. Having no idea what to expect, her first surprise was at his unusual colour, which she was later told was similar to a surface fruit known as a “strawberry.” Though she was initially anxious about talking to Frazer, their first meeting went well. Now it was time for their second meeting, and her nervousness had nothing to do with him, but rather the subject they were about to discuss.
“Well, before we get to business, I must ask: Your friend, Agate, I believe? I hope she's doing well?” Frazer asked as he made his way to his seat.
“Yes, the doctors said everything went well, and she sounded better right before I came here,” Monazite told him with a nod.
“Good, good. I'm very glad to hear that,” said Frazer. With a smile, he reached into his pocket, placed his palm on the desk, and moved it aside to reveal the gemstone. “Allow me to make this an even better day. Your initial identification was correct; this is indeed a red beryl.”
At last, at long last, Monazite was able to breathe a deep sigh of relief. She held it in when they reached Central Cavern and when Agate got proper medical attention. It was only when all three objectives of her plan fell into place did she think it appropriate to release that breath.
“Now, even for a red beryl it is somewhat small, but it's otherwise a fine specimen. I would estimate its worth... roughly around 50,000 to 60,000 Neopoints. Certainly enough to keep the both of you comfortable for some time,” Frazer continued.
Monazite almost collapsed into her seat. She rubbed her fins against her eyes, almost convinced it was all only the best dream she ever had. That amount of Neopoints was unthinkable to her over several years, let alone all at once.
Frazer gave Monazite a moment to absorb the information. After a little time passed, he observed, “I couldn't help but notice you examining my mineral collection when I came in. Between that and your accurate identification of the red beryl, may I assume that you have an interest in geology?”
Monazite was preoccupied with wrapping her head around the news that she almost didn't hear Frazer. “Oh, yes! I've always loved gems and minerals, ever since I was little.”
Frazer's eyes lit up. “Is that so?” There was an added dose of vitality to his tone as he gestured to the case and said, “I'm rather fond of collecting them myself. Those specimens you see there took me decades to gather and came from all over Neopia.”
Monazite wasn't at all disinterested, yet Frazer stopped himself once he realized his excitement was leading him to brag. “P-Pardon me... At any rate, much as I would love to add your red beryl to my collection, that is quite the frivolous amount of Neopoints for me to be spending...”
Frazer gazed at the red beryl. He tightened his lips, then released a heavy sigh. It seemed to pain him greatly to do so, but he said to Monazite, “I assure you that I'll see to it that it finds a buyer as soon as possible.”
Monazite chuckled, “Thank you so, so much. It'll definitely help us a lot while we figure out where to go from here.”
Frazer nodded in agreement. But then his claws made their way to his chin, rubbing it as he began to think. “If I may, to what extent have you studied geology?”
“No more than just a hobby, really...” Monazite mumbled bashfully.
“Hobby or not, you do seem rather knowledgeable of the subject,” Frazer argued. “You see, while I am the leader of us Seekers here in Moltara, I'm also the head of the Geology division. And there's nothing that delights me more than having new students.”
“W-Wait... You want me to study here?” Monazite stammered, scarcely believing what she heard.
“Indeed. Now, should you enroll, you'll find that it's a rather rigorous program. Eventually, depending on the rate of your progress, you'll be able to narrow your studies however you wish to apply your field,” Frazer explained.
Monazite thought it over for barely a second before she blurted, “Like making jewellery?”
“That can most definitely be arranged. What of Agate? Would this be of any interest to her as well?”
“No, no. She's not really into geology,” said Monazite. She perked up once she remembered something. “But she used to really want to be a journalist.”
“We have a Journalism division as well, in fact,” Frazer said eagerly. He then began to rummage through his desk. “Actually, why don't I give you a couple of these...”
Frazer eventually produced what were probably intended to be pamphlets. But whoever wrote them seemed to be the long-winded sort, and ended up as books short in height, but thick in width. There was two of them, and Frazer handed them both to Monazite.
“These detail all the programs and courses we offer. The life of a scholar isn't easy, but I still hope the both of you take this under serious consideration. The Seekers are always looking for new members.”
Monazite flipped through the pages and eventually reached the Geology section. The world around her dissolved as she was enraptured by the descriptions. All that she ever wanted to learn – and learn to do – was there. Yes, it looked difficult, but it would be by her own will and choice, and not simply by virtue of the cave she was born in.
There was a sparkle in Monazite's eyes as she read on. It did not go unnoticed by Frazer. He smiled warmly and said, “Welcome to Central Cavern.”
To be continued…