Infinity II: Control - Part Eight
"What... What is that?!"
Every single Neopet in the Firefly district stopped whatever it was that they were doing when they heard a roar shaking the cavern. And then without the slightest clue as to where it came from, the monster made its appearance.
Even Flicker felt tiny staring up at it. The monster was a hundred times larger than he was and stood taller than all of the surrounding buildings. In his shock, Flicker couldn't tell what the monster was supposed to be when it suddenly barged onto the scene. Looking at it closer, it almost appeared to be an Ixi, albeit one that was far different than any that he had ever met. Its fur was dark purple and much longer than usual. There were a pair of leathery wings on its back, a feature that was normally absent in the species. However, the most striking feature was its black horns. A regular Ixi had short, stubby horns, but that one's were thick and long, so much so that they curled around the Ixi's head.
The Ixi bellowed out again, forcing Flicker to cover his ear-holes. Nobody -whether they were on Flicker's side or Granite's- had any notions of further combat when they had such a presence looming over them. When the Ixi lowered its head and began to charge at the crowd, their only goal was to immediately flee the area.
All of the Neopets scrambled out of the way of the Ixi. The Ixi kept going, apparently not aiming at the smaller Neopets, but at a nearby wall. It smashed its horns into the rock, causing even more tremors to rattle the ground. It then turned around and ran at one of the buildings. There was no clear objective to its actions; when Flicker looked into the Ixi's maddened red eyes, he couldn't find any indication that it even knew what it was doing.
Flicker swiveled his head around. In the chaos, he lost sight of Granite. "Hey! Where'd Granite go?!"
"He can wait!" Dimitri shouted. "As long as that thing is around, Granite will be the least of our problems!"
"But how are we going to stop it? Can't you see how big it is? What can we possibly do?" Wingen asked desperately.
"We gotta figure out something! It's gonna destroy the whole city if we don't!" Flicker said. One of the reasons he decided to fight was to prevent the Fireflies' homes from being destroyed. But that was back when the only threat was Granite. What was rampaging around in front of him was on an entirely different caliber and Flicker feared that he wouldn't be able to find a way to stop it.
Lampyri stared up at the Ixi silently. There was something on her mind, but when Flicker asked about it, her only reply was, "Stay here. I'm going to get a closer look."
Lampyri flew up and raced over to the Ixi. She kept her distance as she circled around it, but Flicker thought that she could have easily gotten closer to the Ixi without being noticed considering how mindlessly it was acting. Lampyri zipped back to the others after a very short amount of time. When she landed, Flicker saw an anxious look on her face.
"It's just as I thought. The Ixi has the infinity symbol on its back. It must have been transformed by The Engineer," Lampyri explained. "She must be here watching all of this."
Flicker felt like he should've been nervous at the news, considering the way Lumin and Lampyri had talked about The Engineer. But it was hard for him to have that reaction, having never met her face-to-face.
Wingen –on the other hand- was becoming uneasy over The Engineer being in Central Cavern, despite having a similar lack of experience. Flicker saw a sudden increase of those emotions in Wingen when he saw the Wocky look back at the Ixi before exclaiming, "Flicker! Do you think that Ixi is Gabbro?!"
"Gabbro? You mean Granite's right-hand man? You really think that is the same guy?" Dimitri asked disbelievingly.
"I don't suppose you have any other explanations," Lampyri snapped in an irritated tone. Dimitri shot her a glare, but she ignored it as she said to Wingen, "I was actually thinking the same thing."
Regardless of who the Ixi was, he didn't want it to run loose and reduce Central Cavern to ruins. But everything he had heard so far about The Engineer led him to think that her presence was a dire situation as well. "So... Who do I go punch out? Gabbro or this Engineer person?"
Lampyri gave a sarcastic laugh at Flicker's second suggestion, "If only it was that easy!" She sighed and held her head in regret. "She probably knows where the Fireflies live now. I should have known this would happen eventually..."
Lampyri took a deep breath. It took a few seconds for her to muster up her answer, pushing aside all the emotions she evidently held towards The Engineer. "The Engineer isn't likely to get directly involved; she would rather use tactics like this to have other Neopets fight for her. So our first priority should be to stop Gabbro before he causes any further damage," Lampyri replied reluctantly.
To Flicker, it didn't matter who his opponent was, just so long as they could fight. If it was completely up to him, he would rather be fighting Granite at that moment, but -like Dimitri said- he was going to have to wait.
Wingen made a slight nod, agreeing with the decision. He may have not been thrilled about it, but Flicker knew Wingen well enough to know that he wasn't going to run away when there was still something he could do to help.
But Dimitri appeared to be a great state of thought over the matter, as if he was deeply considering something. Eventually, he said, "I'm gonna run off for a minute. I'll be back in a bit!"
Dimitri spread his wings and flew off before anyone got the chance to ask why. Flicker was about to try to catch up with him, but he was stopped when he heard another booming roar. This time, Flicker listened more closely to it. He realized that the roars weren't being made out of anger, but pain.
Gabbro was not much better than Granite in terms of his views and treatment of Flicker over the years. But even so, as Flicker listened to how agonizing Gabbro's screams were, he couldn't help but feel a little sorry for him.
Flicker looked to his side to find Lampyri watching the expression on his face. Knowing exactly what he was thinking just by his reaction to the roars, Lampyri commented, "That is something that I would never wish on anyone."
* * *
"I don't know where that thing came from, but it's in my way, nonetheless," Granite growled as he watched the monstrous Ixi's frenzy from a distance.
Granite took cover in one of the houses on the other side of the district. The Ixi was still far away from Granite at that moment, but he knew that could change at any time. That was why he kept a close eye on the monster's activity, ready to run if it came closer.
All of Granite's foremen gathered in the house with their boss. A good number of them were previously engaged in fights with Firefly soldiers, but took the sudden appearance of the monster as a chance to slip away.
"There's no way I'm going to be able to get at Flicker while it's running rampant out there. Somebody needs to get rid of it," Granite said.
The foremen looked around nervously, thinking that by "somebody," Granite meant them. But that was disproven when Granite laughed, "Flicker and those fools fighting beside him are probably going to want to be heroes, so I'll just let them deal with it."
Still having doubts about their involvement in the matter, a red Yurble asked, "You're not suggesting that we work together with them, are you, Boss?"
"Of course not, you idiot," Granite huffed. "None of you are going to do a thing while that monster is around, you hear? I'm fairly certain that The Engineer wants Flicker alive. If it looks like Flicker isn't going to survive a fight with the monster, then I'll take care of it. Either way, Flicker is likely to be exhausted by the end of it, which will make it all the easier to capture him."
* * *
Flicker really hated to be stared at.
It made him feel uncomfortable, as it would remind him of all the Neopets that used to mock and harass him because of his growth rate. That likely wasn't the case with the Firefly soldiers that watched him intently, as there was a lack of repulsion in their faces. But it still didn't ease his anxiety much.
"I see. So the foremen got away," Lampyri said to a blue Skeith.
The blue Skeith nodded and further explained, "We had no choice. It was either let them go for the time being, or find ourselves under the Ixi's hooves."
Lampyri seemed to understand the soldier's position. She then asked, "Are there any injuries?"
"Aside from a few scratches and bruises, no; nothing major."
"The foremen don't appear to be all that strong, so they're much less of an immediate threat than the monster. We can deal with them later," Lampyri stated, setting her sights on Gabbro.
Flicker and Wingen looked at Gabbro as they stayed far away from him. He was still, a fact that Wingen pointed out by saying, "It looks like he's calming down."
"For now. I've seen this happen before. The change that The Engineer caused in him is drastic enough that his mind is tearing him apart in its struggle to adapt. He's lost control of his own body and -unless he has enough willpower- any bouts of tranquility isn't likely to last long," Lampyri replied. She addressed the whole group, "We need to take advantage of that and make our move before he starts up again. Ordinarily, I would consider trying to restrain him, but I'm not sure if either myself or my chains would be strong enough to complete the task."
"If all of us lend our strength, I think we would be able to hold him down," a purple Mynci suggested.
The floor shook a little as Gabbro stomped the ground. Flicker turned around to find him vigorously shaking his head as he tried to keep a grip on reality. Whatever clarity Gabbro had at the moment was rapidly starting to fade away.
Wingen gulped at the impending rampage. But he still raised his hand to volunteer to help. "Miss Lampyri? If I throw smoke in his eyes, would that help any?"
Lampyri mulled it over. "It would certainly disorient him, but there's the chance that it would just make his movements even more erratic. But..." Lampyri looked around at everyone, finding that they were ready to take the risk. Therefore, Lampyri decided to take it too. "I think it'll be fine. How are you going to get up there?"
Flicker quickly said, "I can fly him up."
Lampyri narrowed her eyes. "You better not do anything reckless," she growled.
"Yeah, yeah..." Flicker grumbled back at her as he turned around and let Wingen climb onto his shoulders.
With Wingen holding on, Flicker launched himself into the air. Wingen directed Flicker to approach Gabbro from his side, where he would be less likely to notice him. When they got close, Flicker could start to hear Gabbro's heavy, ragged breathing. It seemed like Gabbro was only now starting to realize just how exhausting his rampaging was.
Wingen pulled out two black gems and bit into the first one. He sent the ball of smoke into Gabbro's right eye, instantly obscuring half of his vision once it made contact. Gabbro growled in distress and discomfort, but still didn't move from where he was. Flicker flew over to the other side of his face as Wingen readied another smoke ball.
The moment Gabbro's left eye caught sight of Flicker and Wingen, his pupil shrunk in recognition. Wingen yelled out, "Back up! Back up!" Flicker reacted to it just in time, as Gabbro swung his head at him. Once Flicker could get close to Gabbro, Wingen didn't waste a second into throwing the smoke ball at his other eye.
At first, Gabbro made a few guttural noises as he stumbled around in a blinded daze. But they soon evolved into full-blown roars as his state of mind went berserk again. When Gabbro lowered his head in preparation to charge, Flicker and Wingen took that as their cue to leave.
Gabbro slammed into another building, causing the second floor of it to collapse. He swung his head back-and-forth, slashing the rock with his horns. He bucked and kicked, toppling any structure that his hooves made contact with. Not be able to see wasn't a concern to him; it just made his outburst even more frantic.
But nevertheless, Gabbro's temporary blindness gave Lampyri and the Firefly soldiers an opening. Lampyri hovered in the air as she threw her chain rope at one of Gabbro's horns. Once it wrapped around his horn tightly, the other Fireflies took a hold of the chain and began pulling on it. Gabbro tried to pull back, but it was a struggle. Lampyri took out a second chain and did the same thing for the other horn; soon Gabbro was stuck in one place, unable to move.
Flicker landed on the ground and Lampyri was quick to meet him and Wingen there. "Now that we have him restrained, it would be best to start attacking before he tries to set himself loose. But getting close to him is still dangerous. Is there any way either of you can attack from a distance?" Lampyri asked Flicker and Wingen. When neither of them produced an answer, Lampyri sighed, exasperatedly, "Fine. I'll handle this, then."
But before Lampyri could take off, the ground began to rumble again. This time, however, it wasn't coming from Gabbro; he was still tied up with the Fireflies. Rather, the rumbling came from behind Flicker and the others.
Flicker spun around and found himself facing a gargantuan machine, almost rivaling Gabbro in sheer size. Propelled by a single continuous track, the brass-colored, box-shaped machine rolled onto the scene with its two pincer-shaped arms outstretched towards Gabbro. It slowed to a halt just before it reached Flicker, letting out a burst of steam from the vents on the very top of it.
Flicker was stricken silent at what he was gazing up at. It was real, wasn't it? He had actually began to wonder if it was real or if he was dreaming. But when he squinted his eyes and caught the faint sight of a spotted Draik behind the round, blue window in the front of machine, Flicker yelled out, "Dimitri!?"
Wingen's eyes also widened once he saw Dimitri. "Is he controlling that?!"
Lampyri wasn't as energized at the sight of the machine, but she appeared to understand its appearance. "So that's where he went."
Flicker grinned as he could hardly contain himself; he just had to see the machine from up-close. With next to nothing in terms of self-constraint preventing him, Flicker jumped into the air and zipped over to Dimitri's machine.
Wingen nearly tumbled off of the Buzz's shoulders as Flicker took off faster than he could react, but managed to grab onto the back of Flicker's head before that could happen. Once he gained enough altitude, Flicker found a door high up on the back of the machine and went over to it. After a bit of tugging, Flicker managed to yank the door open and he and Wingen slipped inside.
Flicker immediately recoiled at the hot air he was suddenly immersed in. Even Wingen was starting to grow uncomfortable with the stifling temperature created by the pipes on the walls that had boiling water running through them. The hallway they found themselves in was only wide enough for single-file traveling and so short in height that Flicker was forced to lower his head as he went through it.
Eventually, Flicker and Wingen reached the front of the machine, which had two levels. The upper level was where the blue window was, surrounded with too many levers, knobs, and gauges that Flicker could ever hope to keep track of. Flicker peered down the second level, where he found Dimitri breathing fire into a boiler all while constantly feeding it coal.
Flicker shouted to Dimitri to get his attention. It worked, as Dimitri's immediate reaction was to bang the top of his head on the boiler door in shock. Dimitri rubbed the bruise with his hand as he snapped around. "Flicker?! Wingen?! Wha- How... How did you get in here?!"
Flicker pointed to his side nonchalantly. "The door. It was kinda hard opening it, though."
"It was locked!" Dimitri replied frustratingly. "Were you born yesterday?!"
"Actually..." Flicker began, but was swiftly stopped when he spotted Wingen rapidly shaking his head and moving his hand horizontally in front of his neck.
Deciding that was a subject better left to touch upon later, Flicker instead hopped to the lower level, grabbed Dimitri by the shoulders, adopted a thrilled look in his eyes, and exclaimed, "This thing is so awesome! It's the most incredible thing ever! Tell me everything!"
Dimitri widened his eyes, startled at Flicker's sudden outburst of excitement. "I'd be a little more flattered if you didn't rip off my door just to tell me that..." Dimitri groaned. He then climbed to the upper level, went over to the machine's controls, and began explaining, "This is the Dal, a machine unlike anything else in the world! Unlike all the clockwork machines you've seen up until now, this is steam-powered. It's primary function is help out in mines, especially in places too dangerous for Neopets. But I think defeating monsters should be well within its abilities too."
Flicker was speechless and in awe. Even Wingen –whom never found machinery terribly interesting- couldn't help but be impressed. "Dimitri, this is amazing!"
Dimitri laughed, but his tone suggested that he actually disagreed with the praise. "Not really. The thing is, the Dal is a prototype in every sense of the word. I'd love for it to be able to run on its own, and being so big is such an enormous hassle. And because of its size, it's requires a massive amount of energy just to move. I can only keep it running for a few minutes, so we need to make this q-"
Dimitri was suddenly interrupted when he looked out the window. Lampyri hovered on the outside of it, knocking on the glass to get the attention of the three Neopets inside. Nobody inside the Dal could hear anything that Lampyri tried to say; once she realized that, she instead looked at Dimitri while pointing at Gabbro. Dimitri responded by holding his left hand up and then slamming it with his right hand. Lampyri nodded, appearing to understand. Within a few seconds, Flicker saw Lampyri fly over the Fireflies that still held Gabbro in place. The Fireflies then widened the distance between their two flanks, given the Dal a plenty large enough path to Gabbro.
Dimitri took a hold of one of the levers. "Alright guys, hang on!" he yelled as he swiftly pulled it down.
Flicker felt the entire Dal rumble as it slowly began to move forward. But before long, it picked up speed in its charge towards Gabbro. The Fireflies on the ground let go of the two chains holding Gabbro in place just before the Dal rammed into him.
Flicker and Wingen, startled by the sudden impact, nearly lost their footing. In spite of how well sounds from outside were blocked by the thick metal walls, they could still hear Gabbro bellow at the Dal's powerful attack. He yelled out again as Dimitri pulled on another lever and caused one of the Dal's arms to hit the side of his body.
The Dal –even with the gigantic Ixi in the way- still continued to move forward. It persistently rolled along, gradually pushing Gabbro backwards. Flicker watched Dimitri command the machine, the Draik smiling with confidence as he continued to gain the upper hand.
But then Gabbro swung his head and pierced the Dal with one of his horns.
This time, the tremor that followed knocked the three Neopets off their feet. Gabbro's horn was deeply embedded into the Dal and he rocked the entire machine in his struggle to break free. Dimitri was the first to manage to get up off the floor. But when he saw the glowing red pipes and the steam hissing out of them, he desperately prodded Flicker and Wingen to do the same. "Guys! We need to get out of here right now!"
As the pressure began to build up in the pipes to dangerously high levels, Flicker and Wingen didn't need any convincing. They all made a mad dash down the narrow hall, the wide-open exit quickly coming within sight.
But then Gabbro made a particularly strong attempt to free himself, turning the Dal on its side in the process. Flicker, Wingen, and Dimitri suddenly found themselves falling back inside. Wingen was close enough to Flicker to instinctively reach out and grab onto his leg, but Dimitri –who was behind the two of them- wasn't as lucky.
Flicker spun around in mid-air to find Dimitri plummeting behind him. Without a single thought, Flicker swiftly reached a hand out to Dimitri and grabbed a hold of his. Flicker's free hand then seized the first thing he saw that he could grab onto and support himself with, which he instantly realized was one of the pipes. Flicker screamed at the burning pain, but gritted his teeth in order to withstand it; he knew that if he was to let go, all three of them would fall. The hallway was so narrow that Flicker's and Dimitri's wings were useless, so the Buzz had no other option, but also no further solutions.
Flicker then caught a glimpse of something dangling beside him. Once he realized that they were a string of chains, he quickly looked up and saw Lampyri standing at the entrance. "Hurry! Grab on!" she yelled.
Flicker let go of the pipe just long enough to move over to the chains. Dimitri and Wingen also took notice of them and made a jump for the chains as well, freeing up Flicker's leg and other hand. Once they were all holding on, Lampyri lifted herself in the air and proceeded to pull them up. But even as strong as she was, the weight of three Neopets was enough of a challenge that her progress was slow. When Flicker saw the dread building up in Dimitri's face, he knew that there wasn't much time left.
Lampyri continued to pull them up, eventually managing to get Flicker partially out of the Dal. The instant Flicker sensed the open air around him, he spread his wings, flew up, and assisted Lampyri by tugging on the chains with her. With the addition of Flicker's strength, Wingen and Dimitri were easily lifted out of the machine.
Flicker dove over to Wingen and took a hold of him once he and Dimitri were out. Once he did, he followed Lampyri and Dimitri as they flew as fast as they could away from the Dal. They were lucky; had they taken much longer, they would have been caught up in the explosion of fire the Dal was engulfed in. The four Neopets landed on the rooftop of a building far away from the blast and watched the flames that could have spelt the end for them.
That was, except for Dimitri. Flicker looked over to him to find the Draik hanging his head. Dimitri couldn't even bear to look at his ruined invention; all he could do was shut his eyes in pain.
Flicker suddenly felt Wingen carefully pull his hand towards him. Wingen had barely touched it, but Flicker still cringed at the pain that came from his palm. "Flicker, you burnt your hand!" Wingen exclaimed, worried.
"I saw what you did. I saw you grab onto that burning pipe. That was awfully hasty of you," Lampyri said.
Flicker scowled at her and said sharply, "And because of it, no one else got hurt. I don't regret what I did!"
Lampyri, however, did not return the glare. "I didn't say that you should," she replied simply.
Flicker's eyes widened a little in surprise at her answer, but his attention was quickly seized by the noise coming from the fire. He thought that the explosion would have been the end of Gabbro, yet the Ixi was still standing and even had enough energy left to throw the remains of the Dal into the cave wall. However, the movements Gabbro made were unsteady and tired. Just a little more and he could finally be brought down.
Flicker forced himself to ignore the pain in his hand for the time being. His ready and eager expression promised Wingen that he was going to be alright. Wingen was still concerned, but he decided to trust Flicker's reassurance and hopped onto the Buzz's back. Flicker set off towards Gabbro, regardless of what anyone else had to say about it.
* * *
Dimitri lifted his head up to Lampyri. He expected her to stop Flicker or tell him that he was being foolish and reckless, as she had been doing all day. But she didn't. All she did was watch him fly away and mutter, "You are Ultraviolet's child, alright."
Curious, Dimitri wanted to question Lampyri about that comment, but he realized that was for another time. He stood up and began to fasten his cannon onto his right arm. At the very least, he was fortunate enough to save that in his escape from the Dal. But that still didn't erase the stinging feeling that all of the work he put into the steam-powered machine was brought to a swift end.
Lampyri noticed Dimitri's cannon and commented, "That's probably a good idea. Even if Gabbro is weakened, it would still be better to keep our distance. We can't afford to get carel-"
Lampyri suddenly stopped talking. Dimitri waited for her to continue, but she never did. He turned around, about to ask what the problem was. But before he could, he saw Lampyri staring at the red Acara sitting down just a couple yards away.
Without a hint of warning, Lampyri whipped her chains at the Acara. The Acara noticed Lampyri's presence at just the right moment, having enough time to give her a small, smug smile before vanishing into the thin air.
Dimitri's breath grew short at the sight. He began to question himself if he really saw that Acara disappear right in front of him. Dimitri turned to Lampyri for answers, but he didn't receive any.
Instead, he saw Lampyri continue to stare forward at the smashed section of the roof where the Acara was sitting just a few seconds prior. He saw her grip on her chains tighten while the other hand shakily went up to her face and covered her eyes. And then Dimitri heard the most chilling sound come from Lampyri, something that could only be described as a strange mixture of crying and laughter.
"...Lampyri? Are you okay?"
Dimitri immediately wished he hadn't asked. Lampyri turned around, allowing Dimitri to see the twitching grin on her face and her widened eyes that desperately fought to hold back tears.
"Of course! Everything... Everything is just FINE!"
To be continued...