The Travels of a Would-Be Knight: Part One
One of the reasons most Neopians preferred the new portal system over sailing for traveling, Roxias decided, was that if they just transported themselves to another land they wouldn't have to worry about turning into petsicles while traveling during the winter. Like Roxias was right now. The blue Lupe had on four layers of thick clothing, yet every time the wind blew on him he felt like he was standing naked on Terror Mountain. Unfortunately, this being the Month of Celebrating, strong winds were pretty much unceasing throughout Neopia.
Finally the blue Lupe could take no more. He peeled his frozen fingers off the wheel and headed below deck, where his companions were huddling near the nice, warm stove and drinking hot chocolate.
"Your turn to become an icicle," Roxias addressed one, a pretty yellow Zafara named Scout.
"You were only out there for thirty minutes," she pointed out, taking a sip of hot chocolate.
"It's freezing out there! You'd think we were going to Terror Mountain instead of Roo Island."
"Really? I don't think it's that cold," piped up one of Roxias' other companions, a white Grundo named Xin.
"That's because you grow up in space. Space always cold," shrugged his last companion, an old Ogrin everyone called Grandpa Hansuke. "I agree with Roxias; the cold's ridiculous! My ancient joints can't take being out in such freezing weather!"
"Okay, Grandpa Han's old, he's got an excuse. But I figured a knight of Meridell'd be tougher than this," said Scout, arching an eyebrow at Roxias.
"I'm not a knight yet, Scout," said Roxias tiredly. "I'm a squire. I won't become a knight till after I finish my pilgrimage. How many times have I said that?"
"Twenty-three and a half," replied the Zafara promptly. She took one last sip of hot chocolate, set it down, and rose to her feet, "We shouldn't be too far from Roo Island's port by now. I'll sail us in. See you guys in about fifteen minutes. There's still some hot chocolate in the pot if you want some, Sir Wimps-A-Lot."
With that, she headed up to the deck.
"I hate it when she does that," grumbled Roxias.
"Does what?" asked Xin, tilting his head curiously.
"Makes me feel like a bumbling, incompetent idiot. She's right; I SHOULD be better at dealing with freezing temperatures. It's pretty sad the Mystery Island girl handles it better than me."
"Eh, Scout been all over Neopia in her eighteen years. She used to all kinds of weather. And of COURSE she makes you feel like a bumbling, incompetent idiot. That's what women are for," said Grandpa Hansuke sagely. He pulled out a measuring tape. "Now, let me take measurements for your garlic bulb necklace. I want to finish it before we reach Lady Amber's."
Roxias, Scout, Xin, and Hansuke were traveling Neopia on a year-long pilgrimage. Technically Roxias, a squire of Meridell, was the only one who had to go on the pilgrimage, as it was the last stage he had to pass in order to become a full knight. However, Scout and Grandpa Hansuke- old family friends- had tagged along for the adventure, and Xin had joined the group after they rescued him from the Space Station. Right now they were headed to Roo Island to spend the holidays with Roxias' third cousin, Lady Amber.
"It's going to be fun, spending the Day of Giving on Roo Island. I kinda wish we'd gone to the Haunted Woods, though. Eliv says he was going to throw a big party," added Xin, sighing sadly. Somehow the little white Grundo had struck up a friendship with the specter, and they were now penpals. How the somewhat slow Xin could decipher Thade's scrambled messages, no one knew.
"There's always next year," said Roxias, who had never really liked the Haunted Woods and was in no hurry to return. "I'll just be glad to stay in a real neohome, and see Lady Amber again. I only met her once when I was a cub... wait, Grandpa Hansuke, did you say 'garlic bulb necklace'?"
The old Ogrin in question had finished taking measurements and was stringing garlic bulbs together.
"Of course," he replied. "Have to be prepared."
Xin looked questioningly over at Roxias, who shrugged and asked Grandpa Han, "Prepared for what?"
"For the vampire, of course! Have you forgotten that Count von Roo lives on Roo Island? You want to get bitten by vampire? No? Then you wear garlic necklace!" ranted the Ogrin, waving a garlic bulb in the air.
Roxias didn't know what was worse: Grandpa Hansuke's paranoia, or the fact that Roxias was so used to it that he hadn't even questioned the garlic bulb necklace for several minutes.
"But, Grandpa, Count von Roo lives on the other side of the island from where we're staying, and besides, he's only awake one hour of the day-" began Roxias.
"You mean for one hour of the night he plays that game, Deadly Dice! But what you think he does the rest of the night, hmm? Not sleep; he goes into the homes of unprepared Neopians and preys upon them!"
Xin whimpered, and grabbed onto Roxias. "I don't wanna get preyed upon!"
Roxias calmly peeled the Grundo off of him. "You're not going to get preyed upon, Xin, especially not by a vampire. Von Roo won't come anywhere near us."
Just then the boat came to a stop, and Scout ran in. "Turns out I overestimated the distance. We just docked. Oh, and there's this fire Blumaroo standing around on the dock and holding up a 'Roxias Elbuort' sign. I'm guessing he's a butler, or something."
As they gathered up their luggage and headed upstairs, Xin asked, "Grandpa Hansuke, since Roxias doesn't want his garlic bulb necklace, can I have it?"
"Of course. If Roxias want to become vampire chow, let him," said the old Ogrin, handing the white Grundo the completed necklace. Scout looked over at Roxias and rolled her eyes, and he nodded to show his agreement.
"Greetings, Master Roxias!" the fire Blumaroo said when Roxias and Co. reached him. "I don't suppose you'd remember me. I'm Alfred, Lady Amber's butler. She sent me here to fetch you and your companions."
"Nice to meet you. This is Grandpa Hansuke, Xinsarqusay, and Lila Capernaum," said Roxias, gesturing towards his companions.
"Call me Scout," said Scout as she shook Alfred's hand.
"Wow, a real butler! Do you really plan to murder your master in order to gain their wealth?" Xin asked with wide eyes.
"Xin!" cried Roxias. Scout facepalmed, and Grandpa Hansuke hid his snickers by pretending to have a coughing fit.
"Um, no, the thought never even crossed my mind," said Alfred slowly, giving the Grundo an odd look. "Most butlers are fairly loyal to their master. Don't believe all that you read in books."
"Ohhh. What?" added Xin innocently, noticing the disapproving looks Roxias and Scout were giving him.
Alfred ushered them into a blue carriage waiting for them at the end of the dock. The Christmas Uni pulling the carriage was relieved to see them, and took off for Lady Amber's home a split second after the last neopet piled into the carriage. It was a nice ride; you could look out of the window on either side of the carriage, as well as the back, and see the winter wonderland Roo Island had become. Xin would not stop jabbering about all the things he wanted to do during their stay. "...ooh, and then we can go get hot chocolate at the coffee shop and have a snow angel contest! This is gonna be awesome! Hey, you think maybe we can go see AAA and Abigail, too?"
"No!" said Roxias sharply. Everyone stared at him.
Just then, Alfred announced that they'd arrived, and they exited the carriage to find themselves on the doorstep of a large mansion. Scout whistled, "This place makes my grandpa's inn look tiny!"
"How many rooms do you think they have in here? A hundred?" asked Xin, staring at the mansion with eyes almost too wide for his face.
"Forty-nine, actually," said Alfred with a smile as he held open the door. He bowed to Scout, "Ladies first."
"Thanks." The Zafara grinned, stepping into the neohome. The others followed her.
They found themselves in a large hall with a black-and-white marble floor and a grand staircase on either side. An elderly pink Acara was standing at the top of the right staircase.
"Roxias?" she asked, then broke into a grin and swept down the staircase to embrace the Lupe. "Look how you've grown!"
Lady Amber was no younger than sixty-five and had completely gray hair and several wrinkles, but she still looked like an elegant lady. She carried herself well, with no cane to assist her, and she wore a green dress that was somewhat old-fashioned, but lovely. She led the group into her parlor, where her entire regular staff was waiting. She introduced the travelers to each one. "This is Fae, a maid", "This is Gerald, my gardener", "This is Kayla, Neopia's best cook", etc.
Once all the introductions were made, she said to her guests, "Dinner should be ready in half an hour. I suppose you'd like to see your rooms?"
"Yes, please," answered Roxias, exchanging a look with his companions. All were thinking the same thing: this stay was going to be the best one they'd ever had.
Xin was excited to see his room, but at the moment he was more interested in the mansion as a whole. Forty-nine rooms?! That was almost as many rooms as there were in Sloth's headquarters at the Space Station, he was pretty sure! And Xin wanted to see all of them!
So about three seconds after the servant who'd led him to his room left, Xin also left to explore the mansion.
Unfortunately, the ten-year-old Grundo had never been very good at retracing his steps, especially in a place as big as the mansion, so pretty soon he was hopelessly lost. When he'd come back to the same spot three times he finally remembered Roxias' instructions to stay where he was when he was lost, and flopped down on the carpet. His stomach let out a loud growl.
"I know, tummy, I know, we're late for supper," sighed Xin. "Roxias is gonna kill me. Then Scout's gonna. And Grandpa Hansuke's gonna call me a buffoon again. He still hasn't said what that means."
After a few minutes Xin started to wonder if anyone was ever going to find him. A terrible thought suddenly struck him: what if Count von Roo had gotten into the mansion and was attacking everyone? What if Xin was the only one left, and Count von Roo was coming down the hallway right now to get him? Just then he heard footsteps, and his overactive imagination convinced him that it was the vampire. Xin screamed in panic, and quickly held his garlic bulb necklace out in front of him. "DON'T EAT ME!"
"Ew, dude, why would I eat you? I'm not a cannibal, and besides, I don't even have any salt!" said a little girl's voice. Confused, Xin opened his eyes and found himself looking at a short little human with olive skin, small almond-shaped brown eyes, and jet black hair pulled back into pigtails.
"You're not Count von Roo?" he asked, puzzled.
"Do I look like a vampire?" replied the human.
"So I'm not Count von Roo, then. Duh. I'm Spring," added the human. "Spring Inezstep. I've never seen you before. Are you one of the visitors Mom was talking about?"
"Yeah. I'm Xinsarqusay, but you can call me Xin," said Xin. "Does your mom work here, or something?"
"Yeah, she's the cook. And aren't you supposed to be at dinner? You were trying to explore the mansion and got lost, didn't you?"
"Yeah... Scout says I'm directionally challenged..." admitted the little Grundo, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly.
"Well, c'mon. I can get you to the dining room in just two seconds tops. I know every room, hall, and secret passageway in this place by heart," said Spring proudly, grabbing Xin's hand and pulling him back the way she'd come from.
It suddenly occurred to Xin that she'd said that her mom was the cook. But he'd met the cook, and she was a blue Blumaroo. There must be another cook, a human one.
"It's been five minutes since the dinner bell rang and he's still not here. It's official, he's lost," said Roxias with a sigh.
"What'd you expect? That Grundo's more directionally challenged than anyone I've ever met," said Scout. Roxias rose to his feet, "I'm going to go look for him. I'm sorry for all this trouble, Lady Amber."
Before the old Acara could reply, a little human walked into the room with a certain white Grundo in tow.
"I found Xin. He was lost in the west wing and freaking out about vampires. He tried to threaten me with a garlic necklace. The garlic's going rotten, by the way," said the human cheerfully.
"Is not! I bought it just two weeks ago in Shenkuu!" huffed Grandpa Hansuke.
"Everyone, this is Kayla's daughter, Spring. Spring, this is my cousin Roxias and his friends Scout and Hansuke," introduced Lady Amber. The human grinned and dropped a half-curtsy, which looked rather odd since she was wearing jeans and a purple Altador Cup hoodie. "Hi."
"Wait, so she is the Blumaroo cook's daughter? But she's a human!" blurted out Xin.
Spring looked at him like he was crazy. "Don't be ridiculous. I'm not a human, I'm a Blumaroo, just like my mom and brother!"
You could have heard a pin drop. Lady Amber had a funny expression on her face, and her guests stared at Spring like she'd sprouted an extra head. The human blinked and tilted her head to one side, puzzled. "What?"
"Typical. Xin finally meets someone his own age, and she's a lunatic," Scout muttered to Roxias.
"I found her and Sai, on my way home from a Christmas party about eight years ago," Kayla, Spring's 'mother', told Roxias, Lady Amber, Scout, Grandpa Han, and Xin about an hour later. "They were just huddled up against a tree, a toddler human and Blumaroo, completely alone. I couldn't just leave them there to freeze, so I took them home with me, figuring the girl's mother would come to claim them soon. But a few days later I read an article in the newspaper stating that a human woman, her child, and her neopet had been missing for the past few days. The woman had been found--she was attacked by a werelupe--but the child and neopet were still missing. That's when I knew their mother wasn't coming back. The article said they didn't have any other family, so I took them in and raised them as my own, Spring as well as Sai."
It was the oddest tale any of them had ever heard. A neopet being adopted by a human was nothing new- it had happened hundreds of times every day for over thirteen years now- but a human adopted by a neopet? They'd never heard of such a thing happening before.
"Well, there's a first time for everything, I guess," said Scout after a moment.
"But why does she think she's a Blumaroo? Didn't you ever tell her...?" began Roxias. Kayla shook her head. "It just never seemed to come up. I guess I was waiting for her to bring it up, but she never did. I had no idea she thought she was a Blumaroo, though. She's so smart... I've no idea how she can possibly believe..."
She drifted off and stared at her hands, which she was wringing anxiously.
"Kayla, it's not healthy for a girl her age to believe she's a whole other species," said Lady Amber gently.
"I know. I just don't know how to tell her. How do you tell anyone, let alone a child, that the belief she's held for most of her life is completely false?" sighed the blue Blumaroo. "If I tell her now, it will ruin her Christmas."
"Maybe you can wait till after the holidays," suggested Scout. "Let her enjoy one last Day of Giving as a Blumaroo."
"I don't like her to be deluded, but yes, I think that's what I'll do. I think that's best," agreed Kayla.
"Xin, you can't tell Spring anything about what you heard at this meeting," said Roxias, looking at the Grundo.
"What about her brother?" Xin inquired curiously.
"Him either. You can't tell anyone outside this room what you've heard."
"Oh, okay." The Grundo nodded. "Pinky promise."
That settled the issue. Xin considered breaking a pinky promise worse than feeding a petpet to Turmaculus. The others promised not to tell Spring anything either, and then the meeting adjourned.
As they headed out of the room, Roxias looked over at Scout and asked, "Do you think we're ever going to meet a normal person on this pilgrimage?"
The yellow Zafara stared at him in mock confusion. "Eh, normal? What is this 'normal' you speak of?"
Besides the whole 'little girl with an identity mix-up' issue, the next week was the best week any of them had ever had. Roo Island is one of the best places to be during the Advent season; not only can you do the usual winter stuff like ice-skating and sledding and snowball fights, you can also go on the Merry-Go-Round and play Blumaroll. Xin became fast friends with Spring and her 'brother' Sai, and they had Roxias and Scout (Grandpa Hansuke refused to leave the mansion because it was so cold) running all over the island from early in the morning till late at night every day.
"Okay, kids, after this we're headed home! It's Christmas Eve, remember; you need to get to bed early so Santa can get here!" Roxias called to the children as he and Scout followed them up an extremely steep, very high hill Spring and Sai had lovingly dubbed "The Mount of Doom".
"'Kay, Rox!" Spring shouted back.
"Yeah, okay, Rox," said Scout, smirking at the Lupe.
"Put a sock in it, Scout," said Roxias calmly.
"Ooh, 'put a sock in it'? Such strong language for a follower of the chivalric code!" said Scout, feigning shock. Roxias rolled his eyes, but smiled. Over the past few days he'd grown kind of fond of Spring. This was evidenced by his allowing her to call him 'Rox', something he wouldn't let anyone else do (besides Scout, but he certainly hadn't failed to prevent her from calling him that for lack of trying). The little human was a bit impish and completely hyper and crazy, and confused about her species, but Roxias couldn't help but like her. She reminded him of his cousin Arthena and his little sisters Avatar and Dainileai back home in Meridell. Speaking of which, he couldn't wait to see his family when they came to Lady Amber's tomorrow. He hadn't seen any of them face-to-face since he first set out on his pilgrimage in April. All in all, this was shaping up to be a good Christmas. Nothing especially disastrous had happened to him in almost three weeks, he was going to see his family soon, and he'd managed to stay on Roo Island for an entire seven days without encountering...
"AAA. I've been meaning to ask you about him. What's your issue with him?" Scout asked suddenly.
"You don't like AAA? But he's awesome! He's the Games Master!" exclaimed Sai, turning around to stare at Roxias.
"He's not awesome, he's a cheating jerk with ego issues!" Spring retorted. For people who thought they were twins, Spring and Sai were almost nothing alike. Both were hyper and chatty and loved magic, but besides that they had very different likes and dislikes. Aristotle A. Avinroo was just one matter of many upon which their opinions differed.
"He doesn't cheat!"
"So you admit he's a jerk with ego issues?"
"What? No! He's not, that's just what TNT wants you to think so Daily Dare will get more publicity!"
"How do you know? You've never met the guy!"
"Neither have you!"
"Well, Roxias has, haven't you, Rox? That's why you dislike him so much," said Spring, looking over at the Lupe. By this point they'd reached the top of the hill.
"Yes, I've met him, and I found him to be a 'jerk with ego issues', like Spring said-"
"Ha!" the human said, sticking her tongue out at Sai.
"-but that's not the only reason I dislike him. Back when my adopted family- the Elbuorts- formed, there was only five of them: Dainileai, Jaylie, Rex, Wingreski, and Grandpa Tobi."
"Grandpa Hansuke's old traveling buddy?" Xin piped up.
"Yes. Anyway, about a month after they first came together, though they were still very poor Jaylie adopted a Xweetok named June who was suffering from neomonia. They weren't about to abandon her in the Pound, so Jaylie, Rex, Wingreski, and Grandpa Tobi all took up jobs. Jaylie's was in a restaurant. So, one afternoon she's been having a tough day when this obnoxious yellow Blumaroo comes in."
"AAA?" Xin asked.
"No, Xin, it's another Blumaroo. One who kept interrupting a story and was never heard from again," said Scout, looking at Xin pointedly.
"Really?" asked the Grundo, Scout's sarcasm flying right over his naive little head.
"No! Now let Danger Magnet finish."
"Oh. Sorry," said Xin sheepishly.
"Thank you, Scout," said Roxias dryly before continuing. "First he sends back the pie he ordered three times, then he starts blaming her for every little thing that goes wrong- she's getting the order wrong, she's moving too slow, etc.- and finally he insults her and says she's just a broke loser. Jaylie finally snapped at the 'loser' comment and, well, to make a long story short, the Blumaroo got a pie in his face and Jaylie lost her job. Next March Daily Dare began, and Jaylie was shocked to see the same yellow Blumaroo she'd hit with a pie hosting a great game tournament. Unfortunately he remembered her, and held a grudge. So ever since then he's been in a big feud with our family. If you have the last name 'Elbuort', you are automatically a loser in his mind."
"Funny, I thought everyone was already automatically a loser in his mind," commented Scout.
"You know what I mean," retorted the Lupe.
"Yeah, I know. So, a gang of jetsam criminals known as the Filthy Liars hate you, Dr. Sloth hates you, the Pant Devil hates you, Sidney hates you, the meepits hate you, M*NCI hates you, and now I find out AAA hates you... how many Neopians have you and your family managed to tick off?" questioned the Zafara.
"Our last name is trouble spelled backwards for a reason," said Roxias dryly. "So, are we going to sled down the Mount of Doom anytime soon?"
The Elbuorts' disaster magnetism now known by everyone on the hilltop, the group got onto two sleds- Scout and Spring on one, Roxias, Sai, and Xin on the other- and they plunged down the slope, Spring and Sai shouting "WHEEEE!", Roxias and Xin screaming "AAAAHHHH!", and Scout laughing maniacally.
Roxias was in such a good mood as he and the others walked back to Lady Amber's, he should have known that something horrible was about to happen. If he ever had a good day, let alone a good week, something disastrous just HAD to occur to balance out the scales.
That disastrous thing came in the form of the obnoxious yellow Blumaroo Roxias and Co. had been discussing just a few minutes ago.
They ran into him on the sidewalk- literally. AAA was walking while playing a video game and paid no attention to where he was going, and collided with Roxias and fell to the ground.
"Oh, I'm so sor- Avinroo?" said Roxias, shocked and more than a little annoyed when he recognized his family's old nemesis. O, Universe, why dost thou hate me so?
"Oh, great, an Elbuort. Just what I needed on the night before the Day of Giving," said AAA sarcastically as he stood to his feet. "And who's this, your fanclub?"
"We're definitely not YOUR fanclub, you conceited bulbous-head with growth issues!" piped up Spring. (Roxias wondered how a ten-year-old could come up with an insult like "conceited bulbous-head". Oh, no, Spring must've been paying more attention to Grandpa Hansuke's rants than he thought...). AAA sneered at her, "Oh, because you're so much taller, human?"
"Don't be ridiculous! I'm not a human, I'm a Blumaroo!" snapped Spring.
"Did you hit your head on something?" said the Games Master, staring at her like she was insane. "Anyone with half a brain knows you're a human."
"No, I'm not!"
"Okay, then, Wacko. If you're a Blumaroo, where's your fur? Your tail? Why aren't your ears long and floppy instead of short and Mynci-like? Why do you have ten fingers and toes? Face it: you're not a Blumaroo, you're a human. A very annoying, short, loudmouth human," concluded AAA smugly.
It was clear that Spring was stunned. Her face first went pale, then red, then pale again. She opened her mouth and closed it again several times. She slowly turned to look in a nearby shop window, where she could see both her reflection and Sai's. She stared at the two for a moment, comparing them. Then tears welled up in her eyes and she took off running, sobbing brokenly.
"Spring! Come back!" shouted Sai and Xin, running after her.
"You pick the weirdest friends, Elbuort. A human who thinks she's a Blumaroo? What a loon," snorted AAA.
Scout calmly pulled the sour melon pie she'd purchased from the coffee shop out of her bag and shoved it into Avinroo's face. As the Games Master rolled around on the ground wiping at his eyes and screaming in agony, the yellow Zafara looked over at Roxias. "Say what you want about the Golden Rule and being polite, he had that one coming."
Roxias shrugged, and nodded. "I have to agree with you there."
With that, the two took off in the direction the children had run off in.
They found Sai and Xin three blocks away, doubled over trying to catch their breath.
"We lost her!" panted Sai, a panicked look on his face. "She went over the wall! I didn't even know she could climb that good!"
"What wall?" asked Roxias. Sai pointed. A few meters up ahead there was an old, decaying castle surrounded by a thirty-foot wall. Roxias had seen this castle before on postcards of Roo Island, postcards specifically asking you to come play Deadly Dice. This was Count von Roo's castle. "You've got to be kidding me. She went in there?"
"She's gone in there a bunch of times for dares. She says Count von Roo's always asleep at this time of night," explained Sai. Tears welled up in his eyes. "But I'll bet he's not asleep right now! My sister's gonna become vampire chow, and it's all because of stupid AAA! He really IS a jerk! I should've hit him!"
"I covered that," Scout assured him. She looked over at Roxias, "Well, Danger Magnet, looks like it's up to us to save the day... again. Where's the DoN when you need them?"
Roxias rolled his eyes at her, then bent down so that he was at eye level with Sai. "Spring's not going to be vampire chow, Sai. I promise, Scout and I will get her out of there safely."
Sai wiped his eyes and nodded. "An-and when you find her, tell her she's a nimrod for running into a vampire's castle like that."
Nimrod? Oh, great, all the impressionable young children had been listening to Grandpa Hansuke. Next they'd all be making garlic bulb necklaces and sleeping with ghost repellent under their pillows. "I'll try to remember that. You two go to the nearest Defenders of Neopia office and tell them what's going on. We may need some backup."
As Xin and Sai ran off, Scout and Roxias turned and began climbing up the wall.
Count von Roo's castle could be summed up in two words: Creep-y! Spring decided as she wandered through the ancient building. She was starting to regret coming here. Sure, Count von Roo had been asleep every other time she was here, but what is he wasn't this time? It was Christmas Eve, after all; even vampires had to have some holiday excitement. And even if the count was asleep, there was always the chance of her getting killed in a trap or falling through the stairs or some rotten piece of ceiling suddenly falling on her...
Don't think about that! The castle's fine, you're fine, everything's fine!
Oh, who am I kidding? Nothing's fine! I was so stupid! And now I'm in a rotting castle infested by a bloodthirsty vampire! You know what, I'm sick of this, I'm getting out of here.
As she turned towards the exit, though, she distinctly heard the sound of the basement door swinging open. Spring froze, then slowly tiptoed towards the exit, heart racing. Don't make a sound, don't make a sound, don't make a sound...
"You're a little early for Deadly Dice, little one. Or should I say, little snack?" called a voice.
To be continued...