Travels of a Would-Be Knight: Eddetha the Immortal - Part One
Author's Note: This story was originally meant to be published last year. However, various complications made it so that I didn't even finish writing it until quite recently. And, of course, I couldn't finish with the stories set after it, either, until this one was complete. So please, keep in mind that this story--as well as ones to come after it--are set in Year 15, unless otherwise stated.
Roxias liked Scout, he really did. In the months they'd traveled together, she'd become a close friend. However, there were times when he couldn't tell if the Zafara was insane or just had a really, really messed-up sense of humor. This was one of those times.
"You want to spend Valentine's Day in the Haunted Woods?" he asked slowly, staring at his best friend like she'd grown a third eye. They and their companions- Grandpa Hansuke, Spring, and Xin- were in the kitchen/living room area of Scout's ship The Nomad, discussing where to sail next.
"Yeah. We haven't been there in a while, and it was past time we took Spring," shrugged Scout. "And let's face it, it's the only place in Neopia where we'll really be able to get away from Singles' Awareness Day."
"It's called Valentine's Day, not Singles' Awareness Day," sighed Roxias.
"Tah-may-toe, tah-mah-toe. Point is, very, very few citizens of the Haunted Woods will be putting up decorations or bombarding tourists with cards and chocolates they can buy for their sweetheart, at half the regular price!" said Scout, her voice dripping with false excitement. Xin raised his hand, "Um, what's Valentine's Day, again?" Until Scout and Roxias rescued him, Xin had lived in a tiny cell in a secret lab in Virtupets, only coming out for experiments. When they first saved him, Xin hadn't known about many things most Neopians took for granted, like clouds and the ocean. He'd learned a lot since then, but his companions still hadn't gotten around to explaining a few minor things to him, like Valentine's Day.
"A day when people send each other cheap heart-shaped cards, balloons, and boxes of stale chocolate as a token of their affection for each other. Oh, and they send each other flowers, usually bought at the last minute at the cheapest price possible," said Scout. Roxias stared at her, surprised by the bitterness in her voice. "Why would you hate Valentine's Day?"
Scout shot him an 'are-you-serious' look. "I hate Valentine's Day because it's so STUPID."
"Why is showing how much you love someone stupid?"
"It's not! But you should show your loved ones you care for them EVERY day, not just one day of the year, and it ought to be with little things like helping with the dishes or making them their favorite dessert when they've had a bad day, not with cheap, gaudy cards or boxes of heart-shaped candy that taste like chalk and have cheesy little messages on them. Valentine's Day is just another way for the shopkeepers to make neopoints," concluded Scout, crossing her arms. Clearly, she'd been wanting to give that little speech for a long time.
"I agree with Scout. Valentine's Day far too commercialized," piped up Grandpa Hansuke.
"But it's the only holiday that gives you an excuse to eat lots of candy till the Festival of Neggs! I need Valentine's Day to hold me over between the Day of Giving and then!" piped up Spring.
"So we change Valentine's Day into the Festival of Candy. Sort of like the Chocolate Ball, but bigger. Problem solved," shrugged Scout.
"I thought the problem was that you wanted to go to the Haunted Woods," said Xin, confused.
"No, the problem was that I want to go on Valentine's Day because I want to escape the cheap lovey-dovey mush. And then we somehow went off on some sort of Cybunny trail about candy," explained Scout. "Though now that I think about it, Roxias' problem probably is that I want to go the Haunted Woods at all. He seems to have some sort of personal grudge against it."
"It's dangerous, it's creepy, and the last time I was there with my family, my brother Rex got changed into a mortog," said Roxias flatly. Noticing Xin's alarmed expression, he added, "He got better."
"But it's not THAT dangerous, not during the day," piped up Spring. "And this way Xin gets to see Eliv Thade again."
"Maybe I can give him a card for Valentine's Day! Is that allowed?" asked Xin anxiously. Roxias smiled, "Yes, Xin. You can send valentines- that's what Valentine's Day cards are called- to anyone you care about."
Xin beamed. "You think I should write it like a puzzle, so he can solve it? What do valentines have to look like, anyway? Do they have to be all poemy, or...?"
"I'll help you make one later," interrupted Roxias. Spring grinned, "So we're going?! Sweet! I'm gonna go polish The Blumaroo's Gaze so Edna and Sophie'll be impressed when I show them!"
"I'm going to go put on disguise! Do not want Esophagor getting me arrested for breaking restraining order!" added Grandpa Hansuke.
The meeting apparently adjourned, Grandpa Hansuke and Spring went off to their business.
"You know, no one ever did explain just what Grandpa Han did to tick the Esophagor off so much. It's kind of like the animosity between Magax and the faeries, but more humorous," commented Scout. "And I love how none of us think anything of the human talking about the magic broomstick she flies around, or the old Ogrin talking about how a blob stuck to the ground filed a restraining order. 'Cause compared to meepits, spirit switches, and vampires defeated by hunks of meat, that's practically normal."
"What's animosity?" questioned Xin.
"It's where two people or more really dislike each other. For example, during the wars, Meridell and the Darigan Citadel felt animosity towards each other," Roxias explained.
"Oh. Will you help me write the valentine now?" Xin added hopefully.
"Alright. Get some paper and markers, and we'll get to it. What?" added Roxias when Scout rolled her eyes and made a noise of disgust.
"Please, a GUY teaching someone how to write a valentine? Even if it isn't mushy, boys still don't have a clue how to make a good card. That's why they carry premade ones in stores. C'mon, Xin, let's get down to business," said Scout, and headed for her cabin, tugging a confused Xin along.
Roxias loved Scout, he really did. However, there were times when he couldn't tell if the Zafara was actually two people sharing the same mind or just liked messing with his head. This was one of those times.
Since they couldn't sail right up to the Haunted Woods, they docked The Nomad at a small town on the outskirts of Faerieland and caught an eyrie taxi to the Haunted Woods. (They would've used the new teleportation system, which basically consisted of going to a certain place in the land and reciting a spell that would teleport you to a certain spot in the land you desired to go to, but Grandpa Hansuke refused to use it. He claimed it gave him vertigo for days on end. No one could exactly disprove this, and besides, no sane person would argue with the old Ogrin).
Roxias had to hold Spring's hand so that she wouldn't run ahead. As it was, the human jerked his arm every which way as she took everything in. "Ooh, look, ghost meepits! Wow, are they really dancing? Hey, I think I see Edna's tower just beyond those trees! What up with that creepy Techo cuddling that ring?"
"Most little girls fangirl over faeries. Spring's fangirling over the creepiest place in Neopia. See, this is why I thought it was a good idea to bring her along," muttered Scout to Roxias, her eyes twinkling with amusement. "She's so much like me at that age, it's scary!"
Roxias imagined Scout acting just like Spring, and Spring acting just like Scout, and shuddered. One Spring and one Scout were already difficult enough to deal with.
"It's not that I don't like faeries, it's just I've seen them so much they're old hat. The Haunted Woods is new, and it's creepily cool!" exclaimed Spring, shivering excitedly. "You think we'll encounter a Werelupe? Or a vampire?"
"If you want us to come out of these Woods alive, you'd better hope not," said Roxias flatly.
They were almost to Edna's tower when some THING with swirling green eyes leaped out at them.
Roxias and Scout immediately drew their weapons, while Grandpa Hansuke held his cane up like a sword, Spring held up her broom like a club, and Xin shot up a tree with almost unnatural speed screaming, "AAAAH! MONSTER!"
"Whoa, whoa, calm down, young 'un, I ain't no monster!" cried the monster in a raspy voice. Everyone slowly realized that the 'monster' was actually an old Split Techo with a bushy white beard, chimney sweep Techo trousers, jacket, and scarf, Techo wanderer shirt and hat, a walking stick, and green x-ray goggles. He looked like a crazy old hobo. Somehow, that didn't make Roxias feel any better.
"Oh, Theaded! You scare us!" cried Grandpa Hansuke, grinning.
"Hansuke? What a pleasant surprise! I wasn't expecting to see you here after the Esophagor put that restraining order on you!" grinned the Techo. Hansuke laughed and pointed towards his 'disguise', fake glasses and a mustache. "That's why I wear these!"
"I take it you two know each other," said Scout as she sheathed her dagger.
"Of course. Theaded, this is my grand-niece Scout, her boyfriend Roxias, Xin up in the tree, and Spring. She's a human, but thinks of herself as Blumaroo. Everyone, this is my old friend Theaded," introduced Grandpa Hansuke. He pronounced it like one would pronounce "Theodore," but with "ed" instead of "ore" at the end.
"Very nice to meet you," said Roxias, trying to ignore both his embarrassment at being referred to as Scout's boyfriend and the dirty look Scout was giving him for not immediately clarifying that he wasn't.
"Oh, we've met before. The time your brother was turned into a mortog. I helped your family find your way through the swamp to Sophie's. I had different goggles then, so I suppose you wouldn't recognize me," replied Theaded.
"Oh. Um, yeah, nice to see you again, then," said Roxias awkwardly. How in Neopia had he not recognized the Techo? Theaded was pretty hard to forget, with those clothes and that bushy beard of his.
"I hope I'm there the first time that happens to you at a Meridell court party," whispered Scout, smirking at him. Theaded turned to her, "And Scout, it's been such a long time! I remember the last time I saw you, you were just a little cub, toddling around and holding that usuki doll, Dolly, I think you called her. I don't suppose you'd remember me."
Scout's yellow fur turned orange, she blushed so hard. "Nope. Sorry."
"So, where you folks headed?" Theaded asked Grandpa Han.
"Edna's tower, so Spring can show off her broomstick. And maybe we'll do quest," shrugged the Ogrin. He added brightly, "How about you come along?"
"Oh, I wouldn't want to impose..."
"Nonsense. This way we can catch up on old times. Don't know next time I'll see you again," said Grandpa Han, waving a hoof dismissively. Scout looked like she'd swallowed a mortog. She turned and bellowed up at Xin, "Are you coming down today?"
"Do I have to? What if another crazy hermit jumps out at us?"
Theaded raised an eyebrow, looking amused.
"Because crazy old hermits are much worse than meepits, which you willingly went to because you thought they had Roxias, or Count von Roo, whose castle you went into armed with only a hunk of meat. Shall I continue?"
"I thought that was the type of steak you needed to stop vampires, though!"
"My POINT is, you've faced much worse than old hermits, so what are you scared of? Now either you come down, or we're moving on and leaving you here alone!" snapped Scout, fed up with the little Grundo's cowardice.
Xin reluctantly began to climb down. Roxias helped him down, then the group continued on their way to Edna's tower.
For the next thirty minutes Theaded tagged along everywhere they went, he and Grandpa Hansuke chatting away about the 'good old days.' Apparently they'd met when Grandpa Hansuke was a thirteen-year-old runaway, exploring the lands of Neopia with his fellow fugitives Max Capernaum (Scout's grandfather), Tobias Haddock (aka Grandpa Tobi, who now lived with Roxias' family), and a yellow Lenny everyone simply referred to as 'Evans'. Theaded had been around seventeen at the time, but he and Hansuke had become fast friends when they ran into each other in the Haunted Woods. It had been years since they'd seen each other, though, thanks to the Esophagor's restraining order.
Spring and Xin listened to the old neopets' tales with interest and asked all sorts of questions, but Scout stayed at the very back of the group, scowling at Theaded like he was responsible for all the problems in the universe. Roxias hadn't seen her act this hostile towards a stranger since the first time they met. He casually backed up till he was right beside Scout.
"What do you have against Theaded?" he whispered. Scout glared at him, "Why's it any of your business, 'boyfriend'?"
"Look, I'm sorry I didn't correct that, but that's no reason to not tell me why you hate Theaded! Is it because of the Dolly comment?"
"No! Why do you assume I'd be embarrassed about my non-creativity when I was a toddler? I just think he's suspicious."
Roxias stared. "What do you mean, 'suspicious'?"
Scout rolled her eyes. "Do I really have to spell it out? Okay, first of all, you heard where he lives, right? The Western Swamp. That is completely on the other side of the Woods. And he said himself he rarely leaves the swamp 'these days' because he's 'an old bachelor with not too many friends left.' So it's pretty weird that he just HAPPENED to be near Edna's tower when we were passing by. Second, did you see the look on his face when Grandpa Han introduced you, me, Spring, and Xin? And have you noticed how he's still eyeing us oddly when he thinks we're not looking? He's up to something, I just know it."
"I think you're being a tad paranoid, Scout."
"We're in the Haunted Woods. Paranoia's kind of a good thing to have here."
"But what would he want with you, me, Spring, and Xin? If he just wanted you and me or you, me, and Xin, I might believe you're right, but we've not made any enemies who'd want to kidnap Spring too... unless he's working for the meepits or Count von Roo. And besides, if he WAS an enemy, wouldn't he have tried something by now?"
"Maybe he's just biding his time, assessing our strengths and weaknesses for when he tries to make a move."
"Scout, he and Grandpa Hansuke are discussing chocolate-chip cookie recipes!"
Scout threw her hands up in the air. "Fine, so maybe I'm wrong! But if he tries to convince us to split up, us with him and Grandpa Hansuke alone, run for it!"
When Spring asked if she could go see Esophagor at the same time that Xin asked if he could visit Eliv, Theaded did suggest the group split up, but not in the way Scout predicted.
"How about we split into groups of two? One of you older ones and Spring can go to the Esophagor, and the other can go with Xin to see Eliv Thade. Hansuke and I'll rest our paws at Spooky Petpets; we're pretty close to it right now."
Scout tried to argue that they should stick together in a place like the Haunted Woods, but no one listened to her. After a few moments it was decided that Scout would go with Xin and Roxias would go with Spring. As she and Xin headed for Eliv Thade's castle, Scout muttered to Roxias, "Be on your guard. He still could try something."
Roxias sighed, but didn't argue. There was no reasoning with Scout when she was like this.
I still don't see why she's even like this. How much harm can one old man possibly do?
"...and that why I now speak weirdly. At my age, it hard to relearn entire language and speak it grammatically correct. Though I do like using big words sometimes to confuse people," concluded Hansuke.
"I can't believe anyone could just forget everything, even how to speak, in a freak Tombola accident. Makes Cap'n Threelegs' accident look like nothing," said Theaded, shaking his head.
The two old neopets were sitting on some chairs on the porch of Spooky Petpets, still catching up on each other's lives.
"Everyone tell me I should submit story to Neopian Times. Problem is, once I remembered everything up to accident, I forgot accident! Typical of me, eh?" said Hansuke. Theaded laughed along with him, then said, "Speaking of strange, does that little Spring girl really think of herself as a Blumaroo?"
"Oh, yes. Got adopted by one when she was two. Knows she's really a human, but still act like Blumaroo. And we all treat her like one, even a magic broomstick."
"So she really can fly it? I was wondering about that."
"Heh, she can fly it like nobody's business, as the kids say. She always zooming around, doing fancy tricks. Sometimes scares Roxias half to death with the stunts she pulls. He overprotective of everyone, but especially the kids. I think it a knight thing."
"He's a knight?"
"In couple of months. He's on a year-long pilgrimage through Neopia. Last step in becoming knight for Meridell."
"I've never heard of that rule before."
"Yes, it quite dumb, if you ask me. But Meridellians never did have much common sense. Look at how those top-rank knights stole Orb from super-powerful sorcerer."
"Well, there are a FEW sensible Meridellians. Look at Jeran and Lisha. And Roxias seems like a pretty sensible lad."
"He is, and so was his mother, Miss Molly Brown. I met her once. Very practical gal. Good fighter, too. But still kind."
" His mother was Molly Brown? The first female knight of Meridell?" Theaded asked, stunned.
"Yes. And his father was knight, too. That why he want so bad to be a knight. But he works hard for it; does not take any favors."
"Huh," said Theaded, nodding thoughtfully. "Hard worker, doesn't take the easy way out, cares about others. Sounds like a young 'un I'd be proud to call son. What about Scout? She seemed a little less than happy to see me."
"Eh, she just grumpy because it Valentine's Day. Used to be like that all the time, till we went on pilgrimage with Roxias. She still sarcastic and not very social, but at least now she actually talk to people and not spend all day locked up in room sulking. I think Xin even change way she think about kids; used to hate them, say they're evil, but now she as protective of Xin as Roxias. Xin very danger-prone. We rescue him from Virtupets a few months ago. He was used for experiments, and nobody ever taught him anything. So he was scared of everything. Used to hide under a blanket all the time. He still big chicken now."
"Well, you know what they say. 'Courage isn't the absence of fear; it's doing what's necessary even when you're terrified beyond all measure.'"
"In that case, Xin bravest Grundo I ever met!" snorted Hansuke. Theaded smiled, but he seemed distracted. "So, you've got a human Blumaroo, a timidly brave Grundo, and one of royal breed to deal with."
"Scout? She descended from third son of a king, yes. Mother's side. Never thought of it before, but maybe that real reason she have such attitude."
Theaded suddenly stood. "I'm sorry, Han, but I just remembered I've got a couple of errands to run. See you later, hopefully."
Hansuke blinked in confusion as his old friend walked away. "Um, okay! Take care of yourself!"
"It ain't myself I'm gonna be worried about for the next few months!" Theaded called back.
Hansuke shook his head, and leaned back in his chair. "Strange Techo."
He didn't notice the old blue Nimmo creeping up behind him. Nor did he hear the crone chanting under her breath as she waved her staff over his head. He only realized that something was going on when a bright green light flashed around him, and by then it was far too late.
"No. We don't want to attract any unwanted attention."
"What about WANTED attention?"
"I said no flying, Spring, and that's final!"
Spring pouted, but said nothing else about riding The Blumaroo's Gaze as she and Roxias walked down the winding path that led to the Esophagor. "So, is the Esophagor just an alive piece of ground, or is he some sorta monster?"
"I... don't know. I think the latter's more likely, but you never know with the Haunted Woods."
"Oh. Is he really a he, or a she?"
"A 'he', according to the Neopedia. Speaking of which, I don't want you to get too close to him. The rumors of him being behind all those disappearances may be just that, but I don't want to take any chances."
They stopped about fifteen feet away from a giant hole in the ground. Immediately after, the ground started shaking, and the Esophagor- a shapeless blue-grey blob with glowing red eyes and an enormous mouth- popped out of the hole. "III AMMM HUNGGRYYY... feeed mmeee annndd I wwilll reeewwaardd yoouu..."
"I'll help you!" called Spring.
"Thhhaannkk yoou foorr heellppinggg... I neeedd 2 moorree ffoodss...2 hours and 43 minutes. Eliv Thade Wrap and Deviled Stake! Please hurry!!!" the Esophagor boomed.
"That wasn't so bad," said Spring as she and Roxias walked away. "So now what, we head for the Haunted Marketplace?"
"I suppose so. Let me find my--GWAH!"
"Your gwah? What's a gwah?" questioned Spring, turning around--and staring in horror. Where Roxias had once been, there was nothing, save one of Roxias' shoes. There was no footprints besides her and Roxias', no evidence of a struggle... it was like Roxias had just vanished into thin air!
Spring didn't care if she attracted unwanted attention: she screamed at the top of her lungs.
To be continued...