Uncertainty: Part Three
Flicker found himself standing in a river of sand that led to a steep drop into a pitch-black abyss. Before he even realized it, he was already a quarter of the way there.
The sand barely covered his feet, but he found that they were like shackles. He could attempt to lift his legs or even try to fly away as much as he wanted, but not a single grain was displaced in his struggle to escape. There was no escape. The only thing he could do was watch the cliff approach in utter helplessness.
Inch by inch he moved forward without the slightest possibility of going back. There was hardly any time for Flicker to even yearn to for the ability to fight his way back upstream; the river was far too short and flowing far too fast.
As he was being carried towards the drop, Flicker felt strength and vigor leave him at a pace equal to the river's flow. He felt his exoskeleton soften and the muscles inside lose substance. His black hair began to gray and his radiant green glow dulled to the point of it being practically non-existent. Perhaps out of some sort of cruel mercy, his eyesight faded to almost nothing just as he stood at the edge.
Flicker plummeted down the waterfall of sand. And as the shriveled husk of a Buzz fell, all he could think about was how that river ended just as soon as it began.
* * *
Flicker's eyes were as wide as they could possibly be. He was terrified of closing them again, knowing full well what his mind had in store for him if he did.
He was lucky to even get those few hours of sleep in. But it hardly felt like when he was constantly being bombarded with bad dreams – or nightmares, as Dimitri would call them. It wasn't the first one he had in the past few days and the glowing Buzz didn't expect them to stop anytime soon.
After he had spent a sizable amount of time staring upwards, he brought his hands up in front of his eyes. He was still young, still the same as he was before he fell asleep. But even after he managed to cease his shivering, he still couldn't get any rest. Ever since his father, Lumin, told him about how his accelerated aging shortened his lifespan, Flicker found it difficult to get even a wink of peaceful sleep. That time was no different, as the knowledge and his racing thoughts kept his eyes open.
But for once, it wasn't just his anxiety over his aging that stole sleep from him. Lately, he had begun thinking about other things. Of course, his conscience wouldn't allow him to mull on those questions much when he had a more pressing matter foremost in his mind. Now, however, those briefly-forgotten thoughts were coming back and starting to bother him again.
For a while, he did nothing about it. Instead, he laid still on the couch in the hopes that he'd fall back asleep eventually. His mind was set on making that impossible, as it made sure to remind him of why he was suffering from that bout of insomnia at every second. Flicker listened to the clock out in the kitchen, the incessant ticking sounding like it was mocking him.
Flicker couldn't stand it anymore. He sat up, giving up on sleep altogether. He needed to calm his mind somehow. He still had no idea how to do that in regards to his curse, but the other questions that nagged him could be alleviated with some answers. But there was only one person that help him with that.
He turned his head towards Lumin's bedroom. The door was closed, but Flicker spotted a strip of light slipping out from underneath it. He raised an eyebrow at it, as he was certain that Lumin had gone to bed several hours ago and that he wouldn't be awake for a few more. Not questioning it, he walked over and opened the door.
But to his further bewilderment, Flicker saw the white Buzz sleeping soundly, even though the room was as lit up as much as it could possibly be. "Papa?"
Flicker realized only after the word had left his mouth that he had forgotten to lower the tone of his voice. Jarred awake, Lumin swiftly sat up in bed and nearly gave a shout at the sudden noise. When he saw that it was just Flicker, the fear in his eyes disappeared instantly, but the same could not be said for his heavy breathing.
"You scared me, Flicker," Lumin gasped in between a couple shaky breaths. "What are you doing?"
"Why do you have all the lights on?" Flicker asked, forgetting momentarily about Lumin's question and his own reasons for being in the room.
"I dislike sleeping in the dark – hardly any Fireflies do, these days," Lumin explained quickly. He was much more eager to ask Flicker again, "What's the matter?"
The bit of annoyance in Lumin's tone made Flicker reconsider for a moment. But he figured that he might as well move forward, as backing out now would only irritate Lumin even more. "Can we talk? There are some questions that I wanted to ask."
Lumin calmed down once Flicker said that. He pushed the covers off of himself and sat on the edge of his bed, gesturing for Flicker to sit down too. The white Buzz was still clearly tired, but he still accepted Flicker's request without a complaint.
Flicker's hand reached for the doorknob. He gave a brief peek back out into the living room and saw that Wingen was still sound asleep on the couch opposite of Flicker's. He couldn't help but be a little envious at the Wocky's ability to sleep without any issues, but he did hope that his talk with Lumin would improve things a little. He then closed the door behind him and sat on the bed.
Flicker didn't waste a second. "What was my mother like?"
He thought that Lumin would have reacted in surprise when he suddenly dropped that question on him. But Flicker was the one that ended up being surprised, as Lumin's demeanor hardly changed. Looking closely, he saw a bit of pining sadness in his eyes, but that was all. It was as if Lumin was expecting him to ask him that at some point.
As such, Lumin had an answer ready for him. "Her name was Ultraviolet. She was the queen of the City of Lights and the leader of the Royal Guards. And..." Lumin smiled a bit. "...she was a lot like you."
Lumin had to give a small chuckle when he saw Flicker's eyes widen in curiosity. "Flicker, the truth is that you don't take after me much at all. In terms of both your appearance and personality, you inherited a lot more from your mother's side of the family.
"She was about your height and was just as strong. In battle, she used her power to defeat her opponents so quickly that they were rarely able to even get in an attack against her. To Ultraviolet, her offense was her defense." Lumin then asked, "I suppose you were wondering why I was so surprised that you were using a hammer against Granite?"
Frankly, it had slipped Flicker's mind. But thinking back to it, he started to grow confused about the subject again. "Yeah. What was that about?"
Lumin explained, "Each of the Royal Guards specialize in a certain weapon. When your mother was alive, her weapon was a hammer."
When Flicker found that hammer, he just grabbed the first thing in his reach that could possibly damage Granite. He didn't make any conscious decision in choosing it. But now that he thought about it after hearing what Lumin told him, he did have to admit that he felt a certain liking to that kind of weapon.
"It's probably just a coincidence. But sometimes I like to think otherwise," Lumin added, his small smile growing a little more.
Flicker heard Lumin laugh quietly as more memories were being recalled. In the midst of it, he continued, "Ultraviolet had such a bad habit of charging into the danger without a thought. If bandits were invading the city, the rest of us would try to work up a strategy on how to drive them out. But Ultraviolet didn't have that kind of patience. She'd be the first one to run right in and take care of the problem, making up a plan as she went. Things would always turn out alright, although she scared us countless times doing that.
"But she always acted with the best interests of the Fireflies in mind. I don't think it mattered much to her how she personally was affected by her actions, just so long as everyone else would be protected." Lumin paused for a moment and closed his eyes tightly. His face looked pained as he said, "When the City of Lights was poisoned, Ultraviolet insisted that the rest of the citizens received the antidote before she did. And, well..."
He was quiet for a while after that. Flicker resisted the urge to say anything in response, out of fear that it would only serve to hurt Lumin even more.
Eventually, after a few deep breaths to compose himself, Lumin said, "I truly wish that you and her could have known each other. Considering how much in common you both have, I think that the two of you would have gotten along quite well."
At that point, Flicker thought that it would be best to move on to his next question, as the current subject was starting to cause Lumin a fair amount of heartache. "How do I be a prince?" Bearing in mind how desperate Flicker was to figure out what to do with his life and how he had yet to find anything truly appealing, his royal blood was his best lead at that moment.
"In the City of Lights, we're not terribly concerned about having a single family rule the kingdom over several generations. When the matter of succession comes up, the new ruler is chosen based primarily on how fit they are for the position. While a family member of the preceding ruler has a fairly good chance at receiving the throne, a completely unrelated Firefly will be selected if they are better qualified," Lumin started. "That said, a prince or a princess is merely the child of whoever the ruling monarch is. It is not a guarantee that they will go on to inherit their parents' throne. There's not much to being a prince. It's being a king that warrants concern."
"Well, then how do I be a king?" Flicker prodded Lumin a little impatiently. He wasn't going to let go of that possibility so easily and therefore was adamant on not letting the first part of Lumin's explanation deter him.
Lumin appeared to be a little uncomfortable, as if he was unsure on how to put his reply into words. "To me, being a king meant being responsible for the entire city. Everything: the economy, health, infrastructure, military... If something went wrong in the kingdom, it would eventually fall on my shoulders to figure out a solution. I had to make decisions based on what would be best for the Fireflies. Sometimes they were not popular and sometimes the city's opinion of me was soured. But I always felt that the citizen's livelihood was far more important than my own. After all, if it weren't for the ordinary citizens, there would be no kingdom to rule in the first place."
It sounded... daunting, to say the least. Flicker did not expect the job to sound so stressful. Could he handle it? He had a hard enough time trying to decide things for himself. How would he be able to bear responsibility for hundreds of others?
Flicker saw Lumin place his hand on his forehead as he said regretfully, "But in all honesty, Flicker, you shouldn't see me as a model on how to rule a city. I've made plenty of mistakes over the years and I don't know if I'd be able to take any of them back. That's the reason why I'm still here in Central Cavern; I'm not sure if the City of Lights would overlook the magnitude of my errors and give me a second chance."
Flicker let out a loud groan and hung his head. "Then what am I supposed to do?!" he blurted out. He thought that talking with Lumin would ease him a little, but it turned out that it only inflamed his turmoil even more. At that point, his frustration was overwhelming him so much that he didn't even bother to screen his actions or words.
Lumin allowed Flicker a minute of silence before saying, "That wasn't all that you wanted to talk about, was it?" Flicker glanced at him questioningly, causing the white Buzz to drop the volume of his voice and elaborate, "Your lifespan. That's what's been worrying you more than anything."
Flicker cringed and tightened his frown. Lumin was adept at reading him, and he knew that it was no use trying to pretend that he was wrong. But there was just too much bitterness within him that was nearing its breaking point for him to want to approach the subject. "I don't want to talk about it," he said lowly under his breath.
"Then may I at least say this?" Lumin asked. Half of Flicker wanted to say no, but the other half yielded and let him continue, "You try to hide it, but I can tell that there's a lot of emotions running through you. When you worked for Granite, he didn't allow you let those emotions out, did he?"
Flicker looked away, but nodded at the same time. "He'd yell at me if I did. He said that crying made me weak."
"Then he's wrong. Crying is a sign that you have a soul. It shows that you aren't an emotionless husk," Lumin countered. "I understand that sometimes the best option is to keep your troubles to yourself and that talking about it will only make you feel worse. But you can only keep it pent up for so long before it stops being healthy."
Flicker was still silent. But he had stopped facing away from Lumin and turned to look at him directly. Lumin's smile was still weak and small, but –at the same time- warm and reassuring.
"Flicker, it's okay to be scared. It's okay to cry."
The barrier that Flicker had built within himself crumbled right then and there.
He could try to put his hands over his eyes, but the tears just slipped in between his fingers. He could attempt to tighten his lips to suppress any noise, yet the sobs broke through without much effort at all. Flicker simply couldn't handle it anymore. He could not hide a single iota of pain; it all came out in full view.
Hearing was impossible in the midst of Flicker's sobs and trying to see through the pool of tears in his eyes was a futile effort as well. But neither of those senses were necessary to for him to tell what Lumin did at the sight of his son breaking down: One arm wrapped around Flicker to pull him closer while the other went to the back of his head and lowered it into Lumin's shoulder.
Neither of the Buzzes said a word to one another. But even though Flicker cried and prevented any ounce of intelligible speech to exit his mouth, he still wanted to talk. What he had to say wasn't much and –at that point- it would just be stating the obvious. But if Flicker could speak, he would have told Lumin just how terrified he was and that he didn't want to die.
* * *
Flicker eventually fell asleep, although Lumin was not sure if he could truly call it a peaceful slumber. Even though the tears on his face had dried, there was still a tormented expression on it. Lumin didn't doubt for a second that there were bad dreams in store for Flicker, but there wasn't much he could do to help him at that time, as much as he wanted to.
There was no point in trying to carry someone as heavy as Flicker out of the bedroom and onto the couch in the living room, so Lumin let him sleep there on his bed. Lumin himself had left the room, as it was now his turn to be kept awake. Ordinarily, he would have brewed himself a cup of tea to try to calm down. But as the only one in the apartment that was up and about, Lumin left the teakettle off the stove and instead sat down at the table with only his thoughts.
He couldn't help but think back to how The Engineer turned Flicker's life upside-down before it had even started. Every time he would be reminded of that, he would always burn himself up internally over it. That time was no different; Lumin hoped that no one would wake up and see him scowling and seething in anger. He was a believer in second chances. But The Engineer, who had sent his son on a path to an early grave? No. He would never forgive her.
For some time, Lumin wondered how things would have been had the City of Lights never been poisoned and if The Engineer never came in contact with the Fireflies. He thought about himself, Ultraviolet, and Flicker together as a happy family, as what he had expected and wanted before everything went to ruin.
But the fantasies over the past gave way into doubts over the future. If there was any inkling of a hope over a happy ending, The Engineer was standing in the way of it. It didn't matter whether Lumin was on his throne in the City of Lights or selling lanterns in Central Cavern; he wanted and needed to see to The Engineer's removal once and for all.
The only problem was that nobody knew how to go about that. And as Lumin brewed in his pessimism, he began to question how much longer it would be until something was figured out. Had he been in any more of a state of uncertainty at that moment, Lumin would wonder if getting rid of The Engineer was even possible in the first place.