Travels of a Would-Be Knight: Eddetha the Immortal - Part Seven
There was a long silence after Hansuke said this; then, slowly but surely, the hedges parted, revealing a hidden entrance.
"Talk about an easy riddle!" exclaimed Madge, laughing more out of relief than anything. "I knew who it was when I was halfway done reading the riddle!"
"What is this Esophagor?" inquired Jethro curiously.
"This thing that lives in the Haunted Woods. It's basically a blob of earth that comes out of the ground; if you give it the food it wants, it'll give you some information," explained Madge. "A lot of Neopians use this for when they're on a quest for the Brain Tree. Well, at this point in time, I guess it's just Haunted Woods citizens, really, who go on quests for the two..."
"A tree that's developed high intelligence, and an insatiable thirst for knowledge. C'mon, after all we've seen today, that shouldn't be so hard to believe," added Madge when Jethro looked skeptical.
"We can discuss supposedly intelligent trees and hungry blobs of earth later," said Razulon impatiently, already walking further into the maze. Madge stuck her tongue out as the monarch disappeared around a corner, and he called, "Very mature, Machiko!"
"He couldn't have possibly seen that unless he's got eyes in the back of his head. Which would prove my 'secretly a monster' theory," muttered Madge as she and the others followed Razulon.
"You know, one of these days he's going to follow through on his threat to turn you into a mauket, if you're not careful," remarked Doug.
"And then I'll claw his face off and run off purring in laughter. It'll be fun."
"Given King Razulon's usual short temper towards those who insult him, perhaps the fact that he has not carried out his threat despite eight years of Mistress Bryant's arguing with him actually indicates a degree of affection towards her," suggested Jethro.
Everyone stared at the Kacheek in disbelief.
Finally, Madge burst out laughing. "Heh, good one! The day anyone in the royal house of Qasala holds 'a degree of affection' for me is the day Dr. Sloth becomes best friends with the Space Faerie!"
"Dr. Sloth? Space Faerie?"
Madge's laughter was instantly replaced with a look of horror. She'd really slipped up this time. "...Nothing. Let's catch up to the king."
"The Esophagor. I can't believe a riddle so simple had you stumped," said Scout as she, Roxias, and Spring walked through the maze, having solved the riddle.
"I know. And Spring and I saw him just a couple hours ago. I feel so stupid now," sighed Roxias. Scout opened her mouth to reply, only to be cut off by a scream--from Spring.
Scout and Roxias whirled around just in time to see the little human being picked up by an enormous grey Werelupe, which had apparently pounced on her. Spring struggled wildly, whacking the Werelupe with her broom. "Let go of me, you... you BEHEMOTH!"
The Werelupe laughed, yanked The Blumaroo's Gaze from Spring's grip, and tossed it aside. "Well, you ain't gonna be much more than a mouthful, are ya, squirt? But that's more meat than I usually get, so..."
"Let go of her!" growled Roxias, reaching for his sword. Scout's dagger was already out.
The Werelupe looked at Roxias and Scout as though noticing them for the first time. "Ooh, more meat. She's sent me a real feast, 'asn't she?"
"She?" repeated Roxias.
"Eris. Evil Light faerie. Runs this joint. 'Ad me family locked away here for centuries," explained the Werelupe as though all this were information Roxias should already know.
"Sounds like a nice lady," remarked Scout.
"She's a 'ag. But that don't matter, long as she feeds me," replied the Werelupe with a smirk. He eyed the other neopets' blades, "An' this time, it looks like I'll be gettin' entertainment as well."
"You won't find it so entertaining when we kick you into next Tuesday. I, on the other, will thoroughly enjoy it," said Scout with a sardonic smile. "Or you could drop the squirt, promise NOT to eat us, and we could part ways as unlikely friends."
The Werelupe guffawed, absentmindedly tossing Spring in the same direction as her broomstick as he advanced towards the Lupe and Zafara. "Oh, I'll drop the squirt, alright, but I'll get 'er back soon enough, once I'm done tenderizin' you two for eatin'."
"No amount of 'tenderizing' could possibly make either of us any less tough," Roxias informed the monster. Scout rolled her eyes, muttering something about how the squire should leave the cool lines to her.
"Oh, yeah? Looks like we'll just 'ave to see about that," said the Werelupe, then lunged.
"Your majesty, DUCK!" shouted Jethro, shooting a blast of magic at a giant brown Werelupe just before it could tackle Razulon.
"Remind me to never get on his bad side," Hansuke remarked to Doug, whom he was back-to-back with as they attempted to fight off a pack of Werelupes. Originally six in number, the beasts had appeared quite suddenly, one managing to give Doug quite a nasty bite before Madge blasted the Werelupe out of the maze. That hadn't deterred the other five from continuing to attack, however.
"Common sense should tell you that, but alright," replied Doug, gritting his teeth as he raised his injured arm to fire off another spell.
After a long and intense battle, the Werelupes lay unconscious in a pile.
"Let me see your bite, Douglas," ordered Razulon. Doug walked over to the king, sucking in a quick breath as the Kyrii lifted his arm up and inspected it.
"Well? Is he gonna turn into a Werelupe, or not, sire?" asked Madge, a hint of anxiety in her voice. Hansuke wondered if that was even possible. A human turning into a Werelupe. He'd heard of non-Lupe neopets turning into Werelupes, and even a petpet, but humans weren't exactly like regular Neopians. They'd come from a whole different planet.
"No. If a Werelupe's bite infects someone with the condition, you can tell by the strange coloring around the bite marks. Besides some pain whenever he tries to move his arm for the next few weeks, Douglas will be fine. However, as this leaves him somewhat crippled, it's unfortunate for the rest of us, because I'm sure there are more monsters in this labyrinth, and we need all the manpower we can muster to fight them off," said Razulon. "This place could be even more dangerous than Avaryss' tomb."
"Could be? I'd say it got Avaryss' tomb beat," remarked Hansuke.
They bandaged Doug's bite, as well as any other wounds anyone else received during the battle, then moved on.
"What is it with evil plants and trying to eat me?" grumbled Scout, using her dagger to flick away the remains of the thorny vine that had ensnared her ankle.
She and Roxias had managed to knock out the Werelupe, and they and Spring had resumed walking. They weren't more than fifty paces away from the unconscious Werelupe when a thorny vine had crept out from the hedges and wrapped around Scout's ankle, sending venom into her leg to numb the pain so that she wouldn't notice the attacking plant. Luckily, Scout had happened to glance down and, seeing the vine, severed it before it could do any more damage.
"That was a Snaring Vine," said Roxias, eyeing the dead vine. "My mother warned me about these. If you hadn't noticed it, it would've kept pumping venom into your leg until you suddenly fell over, paralyzed, then it would've wrapped around you and slowly digested you."
"Pleasant. And I'll bet there's even more of these things throughout the maze, not to mention monsters and riddles and traps. Looks like it might be kind of hard to keep my promise to Xin that no one would get eaten."
"But weren't we already eaten once today, by that tree?" piped up Spring.
"What?" asked Roxias, having not heard about this before.
"Yes, but we weren't digested. My promise is only broken if we're eaten AND digested," Scout replied to Spring, ignoring Roxias.
"When did you get eaten by a tree?! And why didn't you mention this before?!"
"And in here, getting eaten and digested is gonna be a lot easier, with all these carnivores around," continued Scout, as though she hadn't even heard her Lupe comrade. "Anyway, let's get out of here, before something ELSE happens."
Roxias sighed, deciding it wasn't worth it to continue to inquire after the tree. He probably didn't want to know, anyway. "Right. Let's go."
Thirteen riddles, numerous monsters, and uncountable traps later (not in that exact order, of course), the three found themselves staring at a stone wall with this message engraved on it:
"Out of this maze you almost are,
Only this wall you from freedom bars.
To get this stone hedge out of your way,
The answers to these riddles you must say:
What do you always say is divine, until it you yourself have to do?
What vice do you hate so much in others, but very rarely see in you?
What puts king and peasants on equal footing, yet almost all wish to avoid?
What poison rarely kills a content man, but both starving and wealthy it has destroyed?
What treasure is a crown of gold for some, but is spurned by a fool?
What can stir up strife in an instant, but can also in a moment anger cool?"
"Are you serious?! That's, what, ten riddles?!" cried Scout in angry disbelief.
"Six," corrected Roxias after a moment of examination. "And they all seem pretty challenging."
Scout huffed. "Six riddles, all at once. No fighting or traps in between to keep the blood pumping to the brain. That's just cruel."
"I think we've safely established that whoever designed this maze rather liked cruel things," said Roxias dryly. "But the sooner we stop whining and get to solving these, the sooner we can leave."
"Maybe we can ask the magic mirror," piped up Spring.
The neopets stared at her. "What?"
Spring pointed. Following the human's finger, Scout and Roxias found themselves looking at a mirror with a golden frame studded with amethysts. It was in a bush, almost covered in foliage. Had Spring not pointed it out, they would never have noticed it.
"...Weird decoration, for a place like this," commented Scout. "But what makes you think it's magic?"
"It's a mirror in the middle of a dangerous maze, and it has to have been here FOREVER, 'cause bushes grew up around it, but it looks brand new," said Spring, as though it should be completely obvious. "And you guys know I'm good at detecting magic stuff."
That was true. Spring had saved Roxias' life just three weeks ago, when she'd stopped him before he could touch a cursed ring someone had either lost or deliberately left lying on the street for an unsuspecting Neopian to pick up. It had looked like a perfectly ordinary ring; how Spring had been able to tell it was enchanted, no one knew, not even Spring.
"If it is magic, we probably should be careful--" began Roxias.
But Scout was already cutting the mirror free with her dagger.
"--and try not to directly touch it," finished Roxias lamely as Scout yanked the looking glass out of the bushes. It was close to five feet tall, and oval shaped.
"Wow. It's bigger than me!" breathed Spring, gazing at the mirror in awe.
"Practically EVERYTHING is taller than you," replied Scout. "So, anyone have any ideas for how we operate this thing?"
"Talk to it?" suggested Roxias. "That's how it usually works in stories. And I think it has to rhyme."
"Alright. Mirror decorated with ridiculous ornamentation, find us the answers, or I'll send you on a permanent vacation."
"What? I'm in a bad mood, it's a MIRROR and doesn't have feelings, and it's a WAY better rhyme than some of the stuff we've seen here!"
"It's working!" exclaimed Spring suddenly. The three watched as a blurry image appeared in the mirror, slowly becoming more and more clear.
"Hey, this looks just like the Mirror of Dartis, only the frame's gold!" remarked Madge, gazing down at the mirror she'd almost tripped over a few moments ago.
"There were originally two Mirrors of Dartis: one gold, and one silver. This must be the second one. Perhaps we can take it with us when we leave," said Razulon, but he wasn't really paying attention to the mirror. He was too busy trying to figure out the riddles.
"If Eris doesn't double-cross us--YIPES!" yelped Madge, leaping back as an image suddenly appeared in the mirror: an image of a blue Lupe, a yellow Zafara, and a tiny human girl who looked an awful lot like Madge.
"What yipes--Roxias! Scout! Spring!" cried Hansuke, staring at the image of his friends in disbelief.
"Grandpa Han?!" cried the Roxias in the mirror. "How--what--? Where are you?!"
"In spooky maze made by evil Light faerie sadist! Where you?" asked Hansuke, quickly propping the mirror up against some bushes.
"Who ARE you?!" demanded Razulon, he, Jethro, Bashir, and Doug turning to see the mirror.
"Is that spooky maze inhabited by lots of monsters and evil plants?" questioned Scout, ignoring the strange Jazan-like neopet in favor of figuring out what was going on.
"Then we're in the same place as you. But in a different time, I guess. Are you talking to us through a magic mirror?"
"Yes. I suppose you are, too, through future version of mirror. So Eris won't let us keep it," mused Hansuke.
"Who... who's with you?" asked Spring, gawking at Doug and Madge, who were gaping right back.
"Right! Spring, Roxias, Scout, this Doug and Madge Bryant, King Razulon, Bashir, and Jethro. Everyone, these my friends Roxias, Scout, and Spring," introduced Hansuke.
"Spring?" choked out Madge, still staring at the little girl in disbelief.
"Who ARE they? And how do you know them?" demanded Razulon.
"Oh. I... kind of from 500 years into the future..." said Hansuke, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. "Didn't really want to mention that before, but... yeah. And they my friends in my time. But what they're doing in maze in future, I don't know..."
"Your friend Theaded sent Roxias to Gorunda the Wise, who in turn sent Roxias on a mad quest. I went after him, and Spring tagged along," said Scout. "And for whatever reason, Danger Magnet wound up here. And WHY are there two humans, one of who looks EXACTLY like Spring, with you if you're 500 years in the past?!"
"Don't be ridiculous! None of these people even remotely resemble that furless girl--" began Razulon.
"Madge and Doug Spring's parents. Gorunda sent them here too, eight years ago our time. Fyora put up spell so people from this time see them as neopets," explained Hansuke awkwardly, fully aware of the disbelieving looks he was receiving from people on both sides of the mirror.
"That's... that's..." stammered Scout, for once at a loss for words.
"Our daughter?" asked Doug breathlessly, staring at Spring with a mixture of awe and joy.
"My parents are still ALIVE?" whispered Spring, shocked.
"As much as I hate to interrupt this reunion... what, exactly, has your group encountered in this maze?" asked Roxias with as much politeness as he could muster. After a detailed account from Razulon, Roxias said, looking relieved, "So, the maze hasn't changed much in the centuries. Are all of you looking at a group of riddles you need to solve to be able to leave the maze?"
"Yeah. See?" asked Hansuke, turning the mirror so that the trio could see the wall.
"Those are the EXACT same riddles we're looking at! No wonder the mirror showed us you guys--and girls," said Scout.
"If we put our heads together, we're sure to be able to solve this," added Roxias.
"Hold on! How do I know you three aren't a mere trick, and Hansuke is the cause?" demanded Razulon. "How do I know you aren't trying to lead us astray?"
"Because if Hansuke wanted to 'lead us astray' and off us, he would've done it a long time ago?" suggested Madge dryly. "Trust me, everything he's said so far is true."
"And I'm to believe you and Douglas are some type of furless neopet from the future, whom Fyora cast a spell on to look like an Acara and Lupe?" scoffed Razulon. "I can't even detect any enchantments on you!"
"We're not neopets, we're aliens from another planet! And Fyora's good at hiding things she doesn't want discovered. But if you, Bashir, and Jethro were to really try, you could remove the glamour spells on me and Doug, and see for yourself," retorted Madge.
Razulon and his mages did so. Fairly soon, everyone--from the future or not--could see the two humans for what they really were.
"But... why was I not informed of this?!" spluttered Razulon, furious.
"Fyora didn't feel you needed to know," replied Doug. "The only ones who knew up to this point were Madge, Fyora, and myself. And, of course, Hansuke."
"Can't you have this discussion later? When we're all out of this maze, and we've gone our separate ways?" suggested Scout.
"Separate ways?!" cried Spring, looking horrified. "But--but what about my mother and dad?! And what about Grandpa Hansuke?!"
"We'll find a way back," Doug assured his daughter quickly. "Or Gorunda will bring us back. Either way, we won't give up till we find a way back to you."
"No, we won't!" said Madge, eyes ablaze with determination.
Finally, they settled down to solving the riddles.
The third and fourth were easy enough to solve, once they really thought about it: death and greed. Soon, they'd figured out the first, fifth, and six answers--forgiveness, wisdom, and the tongue--as well, though for a while they thought that the fifth answer was children instead of wisdom. Only the second riddle was left.
"'What vice do you hate so much in others, but very rarely see in you?' That could be almost anything. Greed, anger, selfishness..." said Bashir.
"Not necessarily. Most greedy people know they're greedy, and temperamental people know they have problems," pointed out Roxias thoughtfully. "They just deny it when confronted. And this vice is something you rarely see in yourself."
"It has to be something universal, something everyone has," mused Razulon. "I know that I'm not greedy or temperamental."
Doug suddenly broke into a loud coughing fit, conveniently drowning out Madge's snort of derision.
"So, what vice does every single Neopian have, which they despise in others, but rarely see in themselves?" continued the king, apparently not noticing the humans' antics.
"Pride," said Jethro quietly.
Everyone looked at him. Jethro looked sheepish, "Well... my mother always said that pride was the worst of vices. It feeds all of the other vices, except perhaps apathy. Pride's the main source of greed, envy, and wrath. And it's also the thing people hate the most about other Neopians: when they're arrogant and boastful, or full of pride for themselves."
"But the thing is, most of those Neopians don't realize when they're BEING arrogant. They very rarely see the vice in themselves," realized Roxias.
"That's actually pretty deep," remarked Scout. "I wonder how many times everyone in this group's argued with each other or gotten angry because of our prides."
There was an awkward silence as everyone pondered anew their sense of pride, and whether it was ever a vice for them. The majority had to come to the humbling realization that it was, much more often than they'd like.
Finally, on both sides of the mirror, the leaders of the two groups--Razulon and Roxias--turned to the wall, and simultaneously recited the answers: "Forgiveness, pride, death, greed, wisdom, and the tongue."
And on both sides of the mirror, the wall slowly sunk into the ground, revealing the exit.
After bidding each other farewell (quite emotionally, in Spring and her parents' case), Razulon and his group left the maze, hurrying to go stop Nox.
Roxias and his comrades, however, lingered, staring at the mirror until it became a reflective surface again.
"...We need to go," said Roxias finally. He and Scout resumed walking, but soon realized Spring was still standing by the mirror, staring at it with a distant look in her eye. She was clutching The Blumaroo's Gaze so tightly that her knuckles had gone white.
"My parents... I still have a real mom... and a dad. I've never had a dad," whispered Spring. Roxias and Scout looked at each other, uncertain what to say.
"...I've never had a dad, either," said Scout eventually. "Are you okay to fly us back to Gorunda's place?"
Spring looked at the Zafara, eyes still distant. "I thought you said we shouldn't fly."
"Yeah, well, the sooner we get to Gorunda's, the sooner we get Hansuke and your parents back. I think we'll be safe this one trip."
"...Okay," said Spring dreamily.
Despite Spring's dazed state, she flew rather well. They arrived at Gorunda's with no problems.
To be continued...