You might want to read Magic and Mayhem for a better understanding of some of the things mentioned, but it is not necessary.
"Got any threes?" My brother, a large red Lupe, peered out from behind his hand of cards.
"Seriously? Ruby!" said Sand, a magical, taking, time traveling kepru from the past. (Yeah, I understand how that sounds; I say this with firsthand knowledge of.... what Sand called 'spirit time travel' and well.... also physical time travel I guess, but that's a different story) She is technically my brother's petpet, but she tended to disagree who owns whom. (She has an ego issue.... And isn't exactly a 'real' petpet--part of "that's a different story.") "I told you once already! We are playing Cheat!"
I skimmed over one of the thousands of Neohome magazines littered through our hotel room attempting to ignore a frustrated game of cards. Ruby may act incredibly thick-headed, but he is surprisingly smarter than people give him credit for. That was hard to see right then since he was being a total block head. Or as Sand likes to put it elegantly: a blundering oaf.
"Forget it." Sand flopped down on a cushion. "I'm done with you!"
Ruby, trotting over to grab a snack, hadn't seemed at all concerned by her moody-ness. A good thing too. It was even worse since she was bored. I hoped we could move into a house soon, but our owner was being terribly indecisive about it.
"Hey, Violet, where would you want our neohome to be?" Ruby sat on the floor opposite my position on the couch, his emerald eyes brimming with curiosity. "I think it would be nice to live near a forest."
"Nothing would ever be as beautiful as my palace." Sand's blue-green eyes flashed with nostalgia for a brief instant. "But change is good. Any place not so sweltering as the Lost Desert would be a welcome change."
"Well," I replied ignoring the fact that Sand had cut me off. "Shenkuu is very lovely. And I th-"
But I didn't get the chance to finish. Our owner, a young teenaged girl, burst through the door. (Ruby and I just call her Mom. Sand calls her "human girl".... I don't know if it's supposed to be insulting or not.)
"I finally found it! I found the perfect house!" She beamed at us, her brown eyes sparkling behind her purple glasses and her long brown hair hanging in her face. "We are going to go look at it this afternoon. I might even buy it today!"
A house, finally! Ruby bounced in circles barking. Even Sand looked excited. I would have been be so happy too. Would. For some reason I had a bad feeling about it.
* * * * * * *
"What... in Neopia is that?" I could only stare.
"Uh... it looks.... very different." Ruby tilted his head and for once Sand was speechless.
An old, deserted, dilapidated castle in Meridell countryside was not what any of us would describe as 'perfect.'
"I talked the guy into giving me a great deal on it too!" Mom boasted, seemingly ignorant of our discouraging response.
"Mom." I took her hand gently. "You need to seriously think about this. The castle requires a lot of improvement and I don't believe we should put the money into restoring it."
"Don't be ridiculous! This is an opportunity of a life time!" She gestured animatedly at the castle in question. It even tried to prove my point with a small avalanche of stones tumbling from the roof. She continued undeterred, "Did you know this castle is enchanted? Not only does it have three stories, but it has a basement-and people say something might be living in there! How cool is that? Our own mysteriously magic mansion!"
"You do hear yourself, right?" I slumped in dismay at the gleam in her eye that proved my case was hopeless.
"Ma-magic? DID YOU SAY MAGIC?" Sand grinned, immediately snapping out of her silence. "Human girl, this may prove to be somewhat cool after all."
Oh great. Just great. Sand was encouraging her irrational behavior.
"I like castles," Ruby unhelpfully supplied. "Oh! Look, it has four towers!"
Now I was completely outnumbered. "Are we going inside or not?" Well, if you can't beat them join them.... I guess. If I had known what trouble lay ahead, I would have dragged them all out of there and taken the next boat to wherever. But I hadn't known. And we did go in. And I did find them.
* * * * * * *
"Once we fix this place up, it will be amazing!" Mom darted around the first floor with Ruby on her heels.
"It has potential," I admitted. "And it's so big! How many rooms are there?"
The castle was large like the property it sat on.(Quite a few trees were out front with an overgrown hedge maze in the back left corner and a valley in the back right. And what castle would be complete without a moat?) The 'main' part of the castle was rectangle-shaped and had a spiral staircase in the middle that went up to all three floors. There were four towers that stood off a little from the main part and all had balconies. Those seemed in the worst condition as most of the towers' walls were a crumpled heap.
"We should all discuss this before you go and do someth-" I began, but halted abruptly as I caught sight of Mom's sheepish expression. "You already bought it, didn't you?" I really shouldn't have been surprised. Even the three minutes I hadn't been watching her when she had her head full of some crazy idea was enough for her to act on it.
"Do you like it?" she asked anxiously. "If you don't, we could always sell it."
"It's fine," I caved, giving her a thin smile. "It could be a wonderful castle."
"I approve." Sand examined a broken stained glass window speaking as if Mom had directed the question at her. "But I believe you will need to put in a great deal of work."
"Sand." I frowned. "You are helping, right?"
"Yeah, yeah." Sand made a face at me. (She can be so mature.) "You don't have to nag!"
Ruby shook the dust from his fur. "Let's get started!"
* * * * * * *
It was a lot of work. We had to buy new stone for the walls, buy wood for the stairs, hire builders, hire gardeners, attempt to chase away the thing that lived in the basement, clean everything, retile the kitchen, and make money to pay for all of that. Thankfully, there was furniture still in the house and after all of it had a good washing, it turned out to be nice. By the end of six weeks, we were nearly done.
Mom was satisfied with the outside--her favorite part was the pool. "That didn't take as long as I expected."
One day I had been dusting a nearly empty bookshelf when I noticed something odd. There were a few grimy books scattered on it with yellowed pages sticking out, but one stood straight up. Carefully, I climbed up the sturdy wood. (Not a difficult task for a Xweetok.) I glanced at the cover: 101 Fun Facts About Dirt. Why anyone would read that willingly was beyond me. When I reached over and tried to pull it out, the entire section of the bookcase swung forward. Shocked, I had released my grip and plunged to the cold stone stairs below. Disoriented, I could only watch as the secret door swayed shut with a snap. After running my paws over the smooth wall frantically and shouting for help, I decided I had no choice. Steading myself with a deep breathe, I walked down the stairs to a part of the basement I never knew we had.
"Eep!" I untangled a spyderweb from my head and almost tripped my way to bottom. I have sharp vision even in the dark, but eyes need some light. Fumbling for a light switch, I stepped in something wet. The fur along my spine rose as the lights flickered on. To my immense relief, I had only wandered into a puddle of water from a pipe leak. At first, I had let my hopes build up: that this was an ordinary basement, not at all magical. But why a secret door? Defiantly not ordinary. I sighed. It would have been a lot more fun if I hadn't thought there might not be an exit. I wandered as far as I could, but it was a tiny room. Just when I feared I was trapped, I felt a slight breeze. Knocking on the wall, I discovered a secret panel that slid open. I found that the next room looked more welcoming. The floor was a creamy white tile with several rugs laying on it. There wasn't much otherwise... a few desks, bookshelves (Possibly more secret rooms?) and in the center of the room a large bronze globe.
"Blue Xweetok? I don't remember any blue Xweetoks!" A ghost Scorchio materialized which caused me to leap backwards in alarm. "Oh, sorry miss!"
Trying to slow my racing heart, I gazed around the room. "What is this place?" (You may be confused as to why I wasn't concerned about a random ghost that appeared in my face. Unfortunately, I have had some experience with this sort of thing.)
"Not too many people have come to these underground rooms. It was a secret chamber of Xiar the Mighty." The ghost drifted towards the ceiling rambling on. "He wasn't cruel like Duke Brenham. Just strange. Pardon me! I'm being quite rude. My name is Ralph. And you are Miss....?"
"Violet." I had no idea if he could shake paws so I just gave a clumsy curtsy.
"Miss Violet." Ralph bowed. "Come this way."
I followed Ralph out a heavy wooden door and into a winding hallway and asked him some questions. "Who owned this castle before us? Just Duke Brenham? I've never heard of him. How long ago was it?"
"Duke Brenham was the last who owned this castle for a long time." He hesitated for a moment. (I noticed he hadn't clearly answered the question, but didn't press him about it.) "None of us are sure how long. Ghosts are not very good with time, I'm afraid. But it must have been at least.... Let's see.... According to Devin at least six decades."
"What?" I was shocked. "Really?"
"Yes. Likely more," Ralph hadn't seemed worried at all. "Here we are."
We entered a huge dusty room that reminded me of a Virtupets hanger. There was a table with blueprints strewn all over.
"Why did you take me here?" I cautiously picked up a faded plan for what looked like some kind of modified faerie racer.
"It was important to wizard Xiar and Cinder." Somehow Ralph perched on the metal railing. "And Cinder foretold of someone coming and using it."
I didn't find him that hard to believe. I mean, Sand did some pretty extraordinary magic so this talk of prophecy and spells wasn't anything new. "Alright... who is-or uh... was Cinder?"
"Xiar's wife and a powerful enchantress." Ralph's voice held admiration for whoever they were. "She despised the duke and the feeling was mutual."
"Why was this duke guy so.... malicious? And what happened to him?"
"Devin remembers everything much better." Ralph waved a paw impatiently. "We should go see him."
Okay.... Devin apparently had all the answers. We entered the hallway again and went to what looked like a dead end. I knew better than to think that. What was it with secret passage ways? Sure they are kind of awesome, but this felt like overkill. Ralph just floated through the wall so I had to figure it out on my own. After touching every brick and tugging at a fancy unraveling tapestry for a while, I accidently leaned on a marble Lupe statue I hadn't noticed before. Its head flipped over which made me panic until I saw a big red button. I impulsively pressed it and the wall divided into two parts swerving inwards. A weird blue light came from the room. My fur tingled.
"There you are." Ralph, his ghostly red eyes holding a vacant look, blinked at me.
"Well, I can't just walk through the walls." My voice sank into a mutter as he rudely glided away. "Problems with time and manners, I guess."
In the center of the room was a giant silver sphere and the blue light appeared to originate from it. This was magic, I was positive of it. I barely observed all the fuzzy blank-eyed ghosts orbiting the sphere, which was-now that I think about it-kind of creepy. A fire Lupe sat near the power source. He seemed almost normal, but if you looked closely, you could see he was faded like a ghost. Even stranger: he had a semi-transparent ghost book (Is there such a thing?) in his lap.
"Are you Devin?"
"Yes." Devin stared at me in confusion. "Have we met? I recognize your aura... I think."
My what? "Uh... I have no idea. Probably not."
"Well." Devin casually turned a page in his book as if he was used to neopets just wandering in the ghost infested basement to speak with him, which as far as I knew then could have happened every day. "Is there something you'd like to ask me?"
"So many things!" I wanted to know something very important first. "There is a way out, right?"
* * * * * * *
I trudged through the mud as I made my way back to the castle. There were several other exits, but Devin had insisted on retrieving the sword so I had to walk back through the mud. And the rain. Lovely. I shifted the knapsack in my awkward grip with a sheathed sword strapped to my back. I felt the magic power buzzing in my skull. Sand would be delighted. Magic, ghosts, curses..... Didn't we have enough? Apparently not.
"Violet!" A blur of red fur tackled me. "We were worried about you!"
The only answer I was capable of making with Ruby crushing me was a groan.
"Get off! You're squishing her!" (At last, her bossiness put to good use.) Sand managed to drag a towel to the doorway. "I told you she would be back."
I wiped the sludge off my paws the best I could before going inside.
"So." Sand curled up on the couch. "What happened? You were gone for hours."
I told them what had happened (With a few interruptions mostly from Sand about how Brenham was a preposterous name for anyone and how she was sure Xiar couldn't have been mightier than her. I was beginning to worry that she has a severe narcissistic problem. But.... then again it might be excusable--to an extent--as she had been without her magic for a while). Ruby and Sand weren't very surprised about the hidden rooms and the ghosts. What Devin had said and given me fascinated them.
"Let me see!" Sand demanded.
I emptied the sack on the floor. The journal landed with a muted whack while I pulled off the sword.
"This is what he gave you?" Ruby gingerly held the black journal. "What does it say? And why the sword?"
"I'm not sure," I said. "Most of the letters are all scrambled, but some entries rearrange themselves for me. I believe the sword is charmed too." I didn't mention the voice then. I did later of course, but at the time I wasn't sure if I was just going crazy.
"A strong enchantment," Sand commented. "You can only read what it allows you to read for now. Hmmm.... I am not familiar with the spells on the sword. "
I frowned, thinking over the history Devin had talked about. Years ago, the duke was a somewhat nice guy- even though he was spoiled. Then, he decided he wanted to be a formidable wizard and soon the power got to his head. Greedily, he had foolishly contacted some shady spell caster. No one was certain what he did but the duke soon got out of control. The king and his entire group royal wizards couldn't stop him so Xiar, his best friend (and Devin's father), had to restrain him. But the duke had disappeared one day. Nobody had any clear proof, however; that didn't stop them from claiming sightings of the insane sorcerer.
"So, what does this have to do with us?" Sand asked.
"Devin wasn't even sure." I paused, lifting the sword. "But I think time travel is involved."
"Cool!" Ruby wagged his tail. "Did we go there then?"
"I'm... not positive. Can we stop talking about this for now?" Ouch. My head had hurt.
"Trust your instincts. You might be surprise how sensitive you are to magic," Sand advised me with an almost suspicious stare (like she had known I was holding something back) as I retreated to the tower I had claimed. Not very comforting. My instincts had warned me that all this was far from over.
* * * * * * *
For now I decided not to worry about a wild enchanter, ghosts in our secret basement, or even a talking sword. I just enjoyed putting the finishing touches on our castle. Our castle. It had certainly grown on me. Mom was going to 'officially' name it that day with a special party on the roof top gardens. I had desperately hoped the name wasn't anything too ridiculous. I imagined a conversation with our neighbors playing out already.
"Hello! Is that your castle? How nice! What is it called?"
"Oh, well, you see our owner thought she'd name it Mysteriously Magic Mansion/Cool Castle Club."
"Oh... how... charming?"
"What do you guys think of....." Mom hesitated for suspense. "The White Diamond Castle?"
It was fitting. Once we had washed the castle stones we had discovered that they were actually a shiny white and not a dirty grey. Sand, Ruby and I all dedicated a toast to our new home with the punch Mom had bought.
"Hey, human." Sand gave Mom her 'trademark' toothy smirk. "You aren't completely a doofus."
From Sand-who rather enjoyed being bluntly honest and loathed petty, un-meaningful praise- that was a rather remarkable complement. I think.
"Cake! I want some cake!" Ruby bounded after Mom as she went down the stairs to cut up some slices of castle-shaped cake.
"Are we just going to wait until they eat all the cake or...." Sand gasped at something behind me. "Whoa! Automaton!"
"Excuse me? Auto-what?" I turned to see what I thought were harmless Draik statues moving.
"Greetings," creaked one in a female voice with flickering pale red eyes. "We are here to serve and protect."
"And we are much better than those Eyries!" A slightly smaller Draik eagerly twirled his stone tail, his pale green eyes scanning the area. "They are just feather-brained..."
A sharp glance from the older statue ended his sentence. "We have sworn an oath to guard this castle and its occupants."
"Yeah," the green-eyed Draik boldly chimed in. "Don't you worry about Brenham's dark spirit army! They could never get past- oh...."He winced as the female whipped her head toward him. "I wasn't supposed to mention that...."
I gulped. I had really, really hoped that Brenham would not be anything we had to deal with. But of course. A 'normal' life was not possible. I just had to accept that. Oh well. Who wants to be safe when you could own a haunted castle, spend time with a magical petpet and be attacked by an army of evil ghosts?
Sand and I chatted with the automatons for a bit. The Eyries were friendly despite what the Draiks claimed. (They had some kind of rivalry going on I suppose.) I noticed that there was one female Eyrie (blue eyed) and one male Eyrie (his eyes were orange). Ruby would like them (and did when he met them the next day), but he usually was easy to get along with. When we went back inside, we weren't surprised to see that most of the cake had been eaten (Ruby has a huge appetite). As I savored the piece left for me, I had wondered what else this house could possibly hold. I wasn't sure if I truly wanted to know. But we did find out the hard way. Is there any other way for us?
I wanted to give a special thanks to my cousin (kca_98) again. Thanks for listening to all my talk about the story. You're the best! ~thedoggirl_97