The Travels of a Would-Be Knight: Part Two
Scout and Roxias tiptoed into the main hall of the crumbling castle, trying to be as silent as possible.
"I'll take the east wing. You check the west one," Roxias whispered. Scout nodded, and handed him something. He looked down and saw a garlic bulb necklace.
"Spring made Xin a new one, but it was so fresh it was stinking up his whole room, so I confiscated it," explained Scout. "But then I figured that Grandpa Han's right, 'It never hurt to be prepared!', so I stowed it in a smell-proof box in my backpack.
There were two things Roxias wanted to say to that: 1) Where did she get a smell-proof box? and 2) Was everyone in Neopia turning into mini-Grandpas? Instead, the Lupe thanked Scout, told her to be careful, and the two went their different ways.
If his calling for Spring and opening rusty-hinged doors didn't attract the vampire's attention, Roxias thought dryly, this garlic necklace surely would. Roxias was pretty sure he could take thirty showers and still reek of the stuff.
He came to the last door and felt a twinge of hope. Maybe she'd be in this room. However, when he opened the door he found nothing but cobwebs covering every inch of the very empty room.
Well, she obviously wasn't in the west wing. He'd better go help Scout. Roxias turned around to go back to the main hall- and nearly had a heart attack when he saw Xin standing just a few feet away.
"Xin?! What are you doing here?!" the Lupe whispered explosively (yes, this is possible).
"We went to the Defenders of Neopia like you asked, but they were all out on missions. Then I remembered that Grandpa Hansuke said you could kill a vampire with a stake, so I got one," said Xin matter-of-factly, holding up a medium rare steak.
Roxias facepalmed. "Stake as in s-t-a-k-e, not s-t-e-a-k! How did you even get in here?"
"I dug under the wall. I'm good at digging. Did I do something wrong?" Xin asked worriedly, noticing that the skin beneath Roxias' fur was turning a rather interesting shade of red.
"Yes, Xin, but it was partially my fault. I should've specifically told you I didn't want you to come in here," said Roxias after a moment of reaching DEEP into his well of patience. "Let's go find Scout."
"Spring!" whispered Scout as she walked through the west wing, praying she'd find the human before Count von Roo found either one of them. "Spring!"
She turned the knob of a nearby door- maybe Spring was hiding in here- but with no warning the whole door broke off its hinges and fell to the ground with a loud clatter.
Well, Spring didn't come in here Scout thought dryly, then added more worriedly, Maybe this sort of thing happens by itself all the time. I mean, this IS a pretty ancient place. Maybe the count won't notice.
She tiptoed through the west wing, taking care not to touch anything. "Spring! Spring!"
"Scout?" asked a tiny voice. Scout jumped about three feet in the air and whirled around to see Spring coming out from behind a tapestry and rushing to hug her.
"Scout! I can't believe you're here! Count von Roo's awake, and he tried to get me, but I threw some garlic at him and ran away! But he's not gonna let me leave; he said I could play Kacheek Seek if I wanted, but he always wins!" whispered Spring rapidly.
"So he's playing with his food? You'd think a two hundred-year-old vampire would have better manners," whispered the Zafara, shaking her head in mock disappointment. Noting Spring's panicked look, she added quickly, "Don't worry, he's not going to get any of us. If he really wants to play games, he's about to find out this group makes AAA look like a big loser."
The two girls rounded the corner to go back to the main hall just as Roxias and Xin rounded the corner from the main hall.
It was hard to say who was more surprised.
"YAAAAHHHH!" Xin screamed.
"AAAAHHHH!" Spring screamed.
"WAAAHHHHH!" Roxias and Scout shouted, pulling out their swords. For a few comedic seconds the two groups just stood there, screaming at each other. Then Scout and Roxias recognized each other and, realizing that yelling was probably not the best idea in a vampire's home, quickly shut their mouths and clapped their hands over the children's mouths.
"Sorry, Danger Magnet! I thought you were the count!" Scout whispered. Her eyebrows shot up when she saw Xin. "What's he doing here?"
"Talk later!" hissed Roxias. "Let's get out of here before..."
"Wow, an appetizer, dinner, AND dessert. This must be my lucky day," drawled a deep, silky voice. They all turned to see Count von Roo slowly emerging from the shadows.
"Before that happens?" suggested Scout, her sarcastic tone marred by her quivering voice. She and Roxias pushed the children behind them, and kept turning as the count slowly circled them.
"Why isn't he attacking?" whispered Xin, confused.
"Roxias' necklace. It must be keeping him at bay," replied Scout.
"Correct, my pretty. But sooner or later one of you others will get worn out, and I'll pick you off. It's only a matter of time," smirked the vampire, who had excellent hearing.
"Excuse me? I know you did not just call me 'my pretty'!" snapped Scout. Being called 'my pretty' was one of her pet peeves.
"Scout, I really don't think that's an issue right now," Roxias muttered out of the corner of his mouth. The count continued circling, and the would-be victims continued turning, making sure they never had their backs to him.
"He won't go anywhere near you, Rox. If you make a run for it with the kids, I think I can stall him long enough for you guys to--" began Scout.
"No! If I'm not allowed to heroically yet stupidly sacrifice myself, you aren't, either!" interrupted the Lupe.
"Then how are we going to get out of this one?"
The one who figured out how to get them out of that sticky situation was, ironically, the one who'd gotten them into it in the first place: Spring. The human had been looking from the steak in Xin's hands to the count since von Roo had first entered the room, and now she was also looking up at a chandelier hanging from the ceiling. The girl smirked as an idea formed in her head.
With no warning she grabbed the steak and held it out with a triumphant cry. Count von Roo stared at her for a moment, then burst out laughing, "A 'steak' to put through the vampire's heart? Really? Does no one read anymore? You need an s-t-a-k-e, not an s-t-e-a-k!"
"Nope, an s-t-e-a-k'll do!" Spring grinned, and threw the steak--but not at Count von Roo. She threw it at the chain holding up the chandelier.
The human had very good aim. The steak hit the chain right at its rustiest point; the chain broke, and the chandelier fell right on top of the count.
Everyone was stunned, but Roxias and Scout were seasoned adventurers and knew better than to stand there gawking. Roxias scooped Spring up and Scout scooped up Xin, and they tore out of there as fast as their legs could carry them.
"So you knew the whole time that you're a human?!" Roxias asked in disbelief twenty minutes later. He, Scout, Xin, and Spring had made it safely back to Lady Amber's. They were currently huddled around the parlor hearth, sipping hot chocolate as they related their adventure to Lady Amber, Grandpa Hansuke, Sai, and Kayla.
"Well, duh. I mean, I'm not stupid. I figured out I was a human when I was, like, five," said Spring, taking another sip of hot chocolate. "But I figured Mom would want to tell me, so I didn't say anything."
"So why did you say you were a Blumaroo when we first met you?"
"'Cause I consider myself a Blumaroo. Aren't you grown ups always saying it's not what on the outside, but on the inside that counts?" the ten-year-old said innocently. Nobody could think of a proper response to that.
"Then why did you run away in tears when AAA confronted you?" asked Roxias after a moment. For the first time since they'd met her, Spring looked sheepish. "Oh, that. Um, I might have been acting."
"Acting?" everyone repeated. Spring stared down at her cocoa, "Yeah, I just pretended to be that upset so Sai could see how big a jerk AAA really is. And I ran into Count von Roo's castle 'cause that's where I'd really go if I had a meltdown. I'd know no one would bother me, and usually the count's still asleep at that time of night, so I thought it'd be safe..."
Roxias was unsure whether to get mad or laugh, and judging by the odd expression on Scout's face she was having the same dilemma.
Kayla gave Spring yet another scolding about reckless stupidity--she'd already given her daughter one the instant she was done hugging her, and then again while she was preparing the hot chocolate--and Sai chimed in saying how she shouldn't've lied to him like that, even if it was for a good cause. While Spring apologized to her family yet again, Grandpa Hansuke gave Roxias yet another lecture on how this proved that Roxias needed to stop disregarding Grandpa's advice, because clearly Grandpa knew best. After all, if Roxias hadn't been wearing a garlic bulb necklace like Grandpa advised him, he would have been vampire chow!
Once it was established that Grandpa Hansuke's advice would be followed from here on out and that Spring was going to do penance by helping out with the ball's final preparations (this meant staying up all night, and hyperactive Spring was usually out like a light by ten), everyone went to their various rooms. Roxias had had a long day; he was unconscious before he hit his pillow, and would have slept like a log the entire night if Xin hadn't woken him up at about midnight.
"What is it, Xin?" asked Roxias groggily.
"I couldn't sleep. I kept having nightmares. About vampires," whispered Xin, looking up at the Lupe with wide, anxious eyes.
"You don't have to be afraid of Count von Roo, Xin. He's probably still pinned to the floor, and even if he isn't, he can't get into the house. Vampires can't come into a neohome without being invited," said Roxias, letting out a big yawn.
"I know, but I'm still scared. May I stay in here with you? I feel safe with you. You can do anything," said Xin. Roxias looked down at the little white Grundo, who was now looking up at him pleadingly. The Grundo was clearly terrified.
Roxias scooted over to one side of the bed, and patted the other side. "Park it here."
Xin grinned, and leaped onto the bed and snuggled up under the covers.
"G'night, Roxias!" he called.
"Good night, Xin," yawned Roxias, or started to. Both of them were asleep before he could finish the sentence.
Scout picked her way carefully down the stairs, all her focus on not tripping over her long red skirt. The Zafara was wearing a sparkling red holiday gown, and her curly brown hair, usually tucked under a blue fishing hat, tumbled freely down to her shoulders. She sighed in relief when she made it to the bottom of the stairs without falling, then scowled when she saw Roxias watching her with amusement. "Oh, stop smirking, Danger Magnet! It's not like I'm one of those Meridell court ladies who goes around wearing poofy gowns all the time!"
"Nor would I want you to be. You look lovely, though," Roxias said, offering her his arm.
"I thought part of the chivalric code was honesty," deadpanned Scout, taking his arm. "You look great in that tux, though. And I see you've got the compass I gave you this morning."
"Yeah. Like Grandpa Hansuke says, always be prepared."
The two headed into Lady Amber's ballroom, where Lady Amber and various guests--including Roxias' family--were already milling about in ballgowns and suits. The whole room had been decorated with holly wreaths and tinsel, and the tables had poinsettias as centerpieces. Alfred the butler, who was apparently a bit of a musical genius, played various Christmas carols on his violin, and several of the guests danced to the music. It was afternoon on the Day of Giving, and at Lady Amber's that always meant a ball with all her friends and family.
Roxias and Scout joined his family, Grandpa Hansuke, and Xin at one of the tables. "Happy Day of Giving, everyone!"
"Roxias!" Dainileai, Avatar, Babbles, and Jiopuyd cried, and Roxias suddenly found himself knocked over by four flying tackle-hugs. His cousin, Dregiyop, laughed and pulled him to his feet. "Great to see you, cuz."
Once all the greetings were exchanged, Roxias caught his family up on all his adventures. They listened with wide eyes as he recounted the most recent one.
"Count von Roo? A vampire defeated by a medium-rare steak? Wow, only with an Elbuort!" said Wingreski, shaking his head.
"So where's Spring now?" questioned June.
"You know, I don't know. Probably in bed sleeping off a night of hard work-"
"Happy Day of Giving, Rox! Wow, is this your family? There's so many of them!"
Roxias jumped about three feet in the air, and turned to see Spring standing right next to him. "Spring!"
"I woke up a couple of hours ago. Like I was gonna miss Lady Amber's Day of Giving ball? You're gonna love the cake, by the way," said Spring as she plopped down in the chair next to Xin, who was sitting across from Roxias. "Oh, and Mom says I can go with you guys."
"What? Go where?" asked Roxias, bewildered.
"On the pilgrimage. Duh. I've been asking Mom all week if I can go with you when you leave, and she finally said yes last night. She figures since you're a knight in training you can teach me better self-discipline, whatever that means."
The skin beneath Roxias' fur went white. He looked over at Grandpa Hansuke, who looked just as panicked as he was, then at Xin, who looked thrilled. Finally he looked at Scout, and felt his heart sink when he saw her grinning.
"Well, it is about time we added another girl to the group," the yellow Zafara said cheerfully.
Roxias sighed. First a temperamental old Ogrin joined up with him, then a sarcastic Zafara, then a slow, danger-prone Grundo, and now a hyperactive ten-year-old human who 'considered herself a Blumaroo'? Talk about a motley--and annoying--crew to travel with.
But without them, there was no way he'd make it through his adventures as a would-be knight.