Travels of a Would-Be Knight: Eddetha the Immortal - Part Three
"Look, kid, I've met Theaded many times. He's a lot of things, but magically-gifted kidnapper's not one of them. If you really want help, I'd suggest the nice men in pretty white labcoats a few miles away," Sophie told the yellow Zafara who'd just burst into her shack, rambling about how her friend had been abducted by a mad wizard named Theaded.
Scout scowled, unsure which irritated her more: the fact that Sophie had referred to her as "kid" when Sophie herself couldn't be all that much older, or the fact that she obviously thought Scout was crazy. "I'm not coocoo, okay? Theaded's the most likely suspect; he's been with us all day, eyeing us weirdly, especially Roxias. And I saw the tracks: Roxias just vanished, into thin air. It had to be magic."
"Doesn't mean it's Theaded. There are plenty of things in these woods that could cause something like that and would do it just for kicks. I wouldn't waste my time searching; odds are, you'll never find any trace of your friend."
Scout's eyes flashed with anger. "I'm NOT just giving up on him. For one thing, his family AND mine would KILL me. For another, the Lupe's dragged me into more near-death experiences--and worse, social events--than I care to count; I REFUSE to let him die before I annoy him enough to make up for that!"
Sophie blinked. She'd been expecting an emotional plea for help, with lots of wailing about how Roxias was like a cousin, nay, a brother to Scout, and she couldn't just leave him to die. She had NOT seen that angry outburst coming. Well, the Zafara was original, at least. "Okay, okay, calm down. Not that I'm supporting this foolish quest, but I'll give you some stuff that'll help you survive encounters with the more unpleasant people in these woods, if nothing else. I'm guessing that's what you came here for."
Scout nodded. "I figured that was the most help I'd get from anyone here."
A few minutes later Scout exited the shack with a backpack full of potions. Sophie still thought Scout was ridiculous for believing Theaded had kidnapped Roxias, and did not hesitate to say so, but gave her directions to the old Techo's house regardless.
OF COURSE the place turned out to be a creepy, decrepit mansion surrounded by a moat of suspiciously glowing, smelly green...stuff Scout was sure was either poisonous or contained a bunch of flesh-eating monsters. Or maybe both.
"And yet Sophie doesn't think he's an evil wizard?!" muttered Scout, eyeing the landscape before her in disbelief. "Who else lives in a neohome like this?! It's gonna be a challenge just getting to the door!"
The main obstacle was the moat. Had there been a bridge, it would have been no problem. But Scout circled the mansion twice, and she saw no bridge, or any other way to get over or under the moat. What did Theaded do, walk on the moat liquid to the other side? (Scout refused to believe that the stuff was water; there was no way the most polluted water could be so disgusting).
Well, Scout couldn't do that. Nor could she fly across, which was the only other way to cross as far as she could tell. Unless... no, what was she thinking? That was a completely insane idea! If she walked away from attempting it alive, she'd be lucky!
'Well, it's not like you've got any better ideas. And you did say you weren't going to give up on him,' a voice in the back of Scout's head pointed out.
That was before there was a Moat of Evil Stinky Slime. MESS for short Scout retorted.
'Because you've not faced anything as bad or even worse than MESS before? He's your friend, Scout. You don't admit it nearly as much as you ought to, but you care about him deeply. You couldn't abandon him even if it meant dying trying to save him,' said the voice quietly, but firmly.
Good, 'cause that's most likely what's about to happen, thought Scout dryly. Why hadn't she thought to ask Sophie for a flying spell, or bring along Spring's broomstick? Maybe given the circumstances, the Blumaroo's Gaze would have allowed her to control it. Maybe.
Scout sighed, and headed to a grove of trees nearby. A few minutes later she emerged with a strong, long tree limb perfect for using to vault across a ditch. Or in this case, an M.E.S.S. Scout had noticed a rock outcrop in the middle of the moat; while too far away for Scout to jump to, she knew she could use it to pole vault across the moat. Assuming the rock wasn't too slippery, or the limb didn't break, or Scout had misjudged the distance and wound up landing in MESS.
Scout took a deep breath, then charged at the M.E.S.S., a war cry ripping out of her throat. "YAAAAAAH!"
"SCOUT! NO!" cried Xin, appearing in front of her right before she reached the edge of the M.E.S.S.
Scout barely skidded to a stop in time to keep from bowling the little Grundo over. She stared at him in disbelief, "Xin?! What--"
"What were you DOING, Scout?! You could've gotten yourself killed!"
Scout turned to see Spring and Eliv Thade running up to her. The Zafara groaned, and put a hand to her forehead. "I better be hallucinating. You better not be here! I told you to--"
"Stay with Eliv. And we did," said Spring, pointing at the specter. Eliv shrugged sheepishly when Scout glared at him. "Ehs si revy presusavie."
"You're a genius! A MAD one, but still a genius! Geniuses do not find little girls 'very persuasive!' And now I'm beginning to understand Jumble Mumble! Great!" sighed Scout. She glared at Spring, "How'd you find me?"
"We followed you. Well, tried to. I got a calabat tangled in my hair while you were talking to Sophie, so we missed you leaving and had to ask Sophie where you'd gone. After we got the calabat out of my hair. We just managed to catch up with you, and you were about to try to pole vault over a moat of evil acidic slime!" concluded Spring, shaking her head like Scout was the crazy one.
"We don't know for sure it's acidic. And I didn't see any better option," retorted Scout.
"Well, now there's the option of me flying us over the evil, PROBABLY-acidic slime on The Blumaroo's Gaze."
"What makes you think I'm letting you come along?"
Spring looked hurt. "C'mon, Scout, Roxias is my friend too, and Xin's! He's like our big brother! And Roxias always says his family's number one rule is 'never wander off alone.' You need backup, and we're up to providing it! Please!"
At the last word, Spring put her hands together imploringly and looked up at Scout with a puppyblew pout. Scout arched an eyebrow at her, and looked over at Eliv, who pointed at Spring and nodded as though to say he agreed with the human. Scout rolled her eyes, and was about to tell Spring to get her fanny back to Eliv's mansion when she made the mistake of looking at Xin. Xin was looking at her with Sad JubJub eyes that would make even Dr. Death's heart melt. Scout sighed. "Roxias is going to kill me when he learns I let you kids tag along on a dangerous mission like this."
"We'll tell him we ambushed you and tickled till you surrendered," grinned Spring. The smile faded and her face grew uncharacteristically grim. "We'd better hurry, before the kidnapping creep gets away."
It had only been a little over two years since Faerieland had fallen from its centuries-long home on a giant cloud, but even for someone as old as Hansuke it felt like much longer. He was totally accustomed to Faerieland in its present location in a crater by the Haunted Woods; for some reason, he just assumed they were going there, temporarily forgetting the fact that he was over five hundred years in the past. It was with joyful surprise that he dismounted Donpedro and landed on a cloud, which somehow supported his weight. He looked around at the surrounding Faerie City, grinning from ear to ear. "I missed seeing Faerieland like this!"
"What do you mean? Faerieland hasn't changed in...well, for as long as anyone can remember," said Donpedro, puzzled by the ogrin's words. Hansuke mentally berated himself. Big dummy! Now Donpedro going to be suspicious, unless you come up with something quick! "I just mean it been a long time since I come here."
Technically, it wasn't a lie. He hadn't been 'here' as in 'on this specific magic cloud' for almost three years.
Suspicion flickered in Madge's eyes, but she merely said, "I'd better find Queen Fyora and report the Magax attack. She'll send some faeries to increase the defense spells and hopefully prevent it from happening again."
"I'm gonna go take a nap. All this flying and fearing for my friend's life has made me exhausted," said Donpedro, yawning. "Good luck, Madge. You might want to find Doug before he learns about the attack from someone else and has a fit."
Madge made a face as she and Hansuke headed for Fyora's throne room. "I hadn't thought about that, but Doug would flip out. I just hope that if he DOES learn it from someone else while he's around Ben, he'll keep his cool."
Ben? thought Hansuke, his heart sinking. Ben better not be what I think he is. Things are complicated enough already.
Hansuke had been shocked when he heard Madge explain how Gorunda had finally caught her. A human woman who went missing on Roo Island, leaving behind a Blumaroo named Josiah, aka Sai, and a daughter named Spring? That sounded like...but there was no way it could be true! Spring's mother had died in a Werelupe attack! But then Hansuke recalled that, according to the newspaper article he'd read, no body had been found, only Werelupe tracks and shreds of Madge's jacket, both of which could have been planted by Gorunda to throw off any searchers. It looked like Spring wasn't an orphan after all.
At first he had been too stunned to say anything to Madge about her daughter. However, now he held back because he was unsure how to voice it. What could he say? "You know the two-year-old daughter you left behind? She's ten now, and 'considers herself a Blumaroo' because she and Sai were adopted by a Blumaroo after you supposedly got eaten by a Werelupe. Oh, and since she met me, she's been almost eaten by a vampire, faced a bunch of evil meepits, confronted a famous thief, got caught in an avalanche, caught the flu, and almost caused a civil war amongst an underground city of mutants and Neopians with superpowers." Even if he left out that last bit, Madge would be shocked and, no doubt, hurt. Hansuke had never had children, but if he had and he'd missed basically his son/daughter's entire childhood, he'd never get over it.
"Huh?" Hansuke asked, jolting out of his thoughts to find himself standing outside of Fyora's throne room. Madge was in front of him, and beside her was a human man with cropped brown hair and dark-brown eyes the same shape as Spring's.
"Doug, this is Hansuke. Hansuke, this is Doug," reiterated Madge, giving Hansuke an annoyed look.
"Oh! Nice to meet you," said Hansuke sheepishly, shaking hands with Doug. The man was about five foot ten, and built like a runner, lithe and strong. Hansuke had never been good at determining age, especially with humans, but he thought Doug and Madge couldn't be much older than thirty. "The weather in Neopia Central nice this time of year, huh?"
Doug's eyes widened, and he looked over at Madge, who nodded. Doug looked back at Hansuke and asked quietly, "What year are you from?"
"Year 15 A.N."
Doug exhaled loudly, and ran his fingers through his hair. "Fyora's going to have a heart attack."
"I don't think faeries can have those, but she definitely won't be happy, especially when I tell her the OTHER bad news," agreed Madge, and entered the throne room.
"Wait, what other bad news?" Doug questioned, following her into the throne room. After some hesitation, Hansuke followed as well.
Fyora looked exactly the same as she had (or was it would?) five hundred years in the future. The faerie's eyes widened when she saw Hansuke, and she stood, "You've found another one, haven't you?"
Hansuke blinked, wondering how Fyora knew he was a time traveler just by looking at him. Sure, his clothes were different from everyone else he'd met here, but nobody else had said anything about it. Either everyone but Fyora was really unobservant, or Fyora had some special talent for recognizing time travelers (or maybe both).
"Yes, Your Majesty. This is Hansuke. Gorunda sent him here from Year 15 A.N."
Fyora nodded, looking unusually grim. "I see. Let's talk about this in a more private space."
"Before we do, you also need to know there was another Magax attack in Neoville. I saw it firsthand."
Doug stared at Madge in disbelief. "WHAT?!"
Fyora sighed, and shook her head. Hansuke had never seen the Faerie Queen look so weary. "I'll see to it that security there is increased. There were none of the Veli this time, were there?"
"No, ma'am. Just Magax."
Fyora summoned an air faerie messenger and told her to find Valeane and inform her of the latest Magax attack, if she hadn't already learned of it. The air faerie promised she would, bowed, and fluttered out of the room.
That matter settled, Fyora led the three time travelers to her private study. As they walked down the long, winding corridors of the queen's palace, Doug had a quiet but heated conversation with Madge about the attack.
"Why didn't you tell me right away?"
"There were more pressing matters at hand."
"You still could've told me!"
"Why are you freaking out so much?! I'm fine! There's no need to obsess over spilled milk!"
"I'm 'obsessing' over the fact that you didn't tell me about the spilled milk until you reported it to Fyora!"
Hansuke sighed. He wished Scout and Roxias could see this. He was always telling them how they fought like an old married couple. Maybe if they saw this and realized they really DID sound like an old married couple, they'd stop arguing so much.
They finally reached Fyora's study, which was more like a medium-sized library with Fyora's royal desk in the center of it all. The queen sat down at the desk and nodded at Hansuke, "Start from the beginning. Where were you when you were sent back, were you traveling with anyone, and did anything odd occur before this? You weren't lured away from your group or wandering alone?"
"I was on vacation in Haunted Woods with adopted grandniece Scout, Lupe named Roxias, and two kids named Xin and Spring. We trying to avoid holiday called Valentine's Day because Scout hates it. I don't blame her, either. So while in Haunted Woods, we run into old friend of mine, Theaded. See a lot of sites, have good time. Then we decide to split up. Spring and Roxias go to see Esophagor, Scout and Xin go to see friend of Xin's, I go to wait for them with Theaded at Spooky Petpets. Theaded and I get to talking, I tell him about the kids. Then all of a sudden he leap up and jog off--odd, how spry a fella he is, 'cause he older than me!--and the next thing I know there's a bright flash of green light, and I'm meeting Madge."
"Theaded's not an old Split Techo, is he?" piped up Doug.
Hansuke stared. "How you know?"
"Because I did a lot of work for an old Techo named Theaded. I repaired his roof, cleaned his chimney, stuff like that. He'd saved me from a Werelupe, and I wanted to repay him. I was headed back one afternoon when I thought I heard someone crying for help. I headed off the path towards the sound, and suddenly found myself face-to-face with an old blue nimmo--Gorunda the Wise, I remembered after a moment. She looked me over and grinned and said, 'I can see why Theaded wants you to be one of the Seven. Didn't think it was possible, but you've got the Spark. I'm glad your potential isn't gonna be wasted.' You know the rest of the story; she told me she was doing this for a good reason, there was a flash of green light, and the next thing I know I'm in Fyora's study, catching Madge before she falls to the ground."
Hansuke was having a hard time taking this in. "Theaded is part of this?"
"According to Gorunda, at least," nodded Madge.
"What does she mean by 'the Seven', and 'the Spark'?"
"We don't know the meaning of 'the Seven', but 'the Spark' refers to the ability to perform magic," explained Fyora.
Hansuke stared from Fyora to Doug to Madge, unable to believe his ears. "Say what?"
Madge looked embarrassed. "I guess I should've told you. Doug and I can do magic. We're definitely not full wizard level, but..."
"How that possible?!" Hansuke exploded. "Humans can't do magic! Magic only for faeries and neopets!"
"Magic is genetic, Hansuke. You're born with the ability to do it... or receive that ability when something awakens the gene that gives the ability. How strong that ability is varies. I believe that while some humans possess the gene, something in or on their home planet has made it dormant. But when Madge and Doug came to Neopia, their genes were awakened, though of course they didn't realize it. It was only after Doug told me what the nimmo had said and I tested him and Madge did they discover their powers," explained Fyora.
Hansuke shook his head in disbelief. I hope Spring not have that ability. She troublesome enough already! "So Theaded and old nimmo able to see 'Spark' in couple of young humans, and decide they should be part of 'the Seven', whatever that is? And they send them back to most dangerous period in Neopian history? That make no sense."
"That's what I said!" agreed Madge.
"And why send ME here?" continued Hansuke. "Sure, I tough adventurer when I was young, but I sixty-seven now, and I'm no wizard or genius inventor or anything! I just normal old ogrin."
"I'm sure there's a reason for sending all of you to this specific point in time. But we can't just wait around to find out," said Fyora. She stood, "I'm going to go through the archives again. There has to be SOMETHING that can help me figure out how to make a time travel spell."
"Do you need our help, my lady?" questioned Doug.
"Most of the books I'll be reading will be in the Ancient Faerie tongue. But if I find some you three can read, I'll send them," promised the queen. "In the meantime, why don't you two get Hansuke settled in, explain some things to him? I'm sure he's got a lot more questions."
"That big understatement, Your Majesty," snorted Hansuke. He bowed to show his respect, then headed out the door. Madge and Doug followed.
Roxias burst into Gorunda's hut, covered in mud, sticks, leaves, and various other things. The wizened blue nimmo hardly glanced up from the book she was reading. "You're late. I expected you fifteen minutes ago."
Roxias bit back an ugly reply. "I understand you want me to retrieve something for you?"
"Straight to the point. I like that. It seems I've forgotten my Werelupe Claw Necklace in a cave this side of the Demonica River, and I loaned my Grimoire of the First Order to Eliv Thade a while back. Would you be a dear and get them for me?" the nimmo asked sweetly, batting her eyelashes.
Her title should have been Gorunda the Mad! decided Roxias. Aloud, however, he said "Yes, ma'am", and headed for the door.
"The cave you're looking for has a torch with green fire at the entrance! And don't forget, I need them by midnight!" Gorunda called after him. Roxias gritted his teeth. The temptation to tell the old crone to forget him helping her and that he hoped she was eaten trying to get the items herself was almost overwhelming. For Grandpa Han, he reminded himself. You're doing this for Grandpa Han.
He found the cave easily enough. The trouble was, it was apparently inhabited by a family of vampires. Roxias saw two adults, a teenager, and at least two children vampires coming in and out of the entrance as he scouted it out. He eyed the cave and shook his head. Of COURSE it's not going to be as simple as going into the cave and finding the thing. I have to fight off a family of vampires as well.
Roxias crouched in the bushes, watching them and taking in their movements, trying to work out a plan.
Suddenly, he found himself being pinned on the ground by the teenager, a red Cybunny who might have looked quite pretty were she not snarling.
"Who sent you, hunter?" demanded the Cybunny, blood-red eyes narrowed almost to slits.
"I'm not a hunter!" he retorted. "And--"
"Likely story! Why else would you be out here, with a sword and shield of all things?"
"I'm a squire--"
"Of where? There aren't any knights or lord around here! Now who sent you?! The Biters? The Eofs? It's a shame you're so handsome. You smell delicious."
"Gorunda sent me!" cried Roxias.
The Cybunny stared at him in astonishment. "What?"
Suddenly a piercing scream filled the air, followed by the sounds of battle. The Cybunny looked up, snarled, and raced off. Roxias shot to his feet to see the Cybunny and her family battling six other vampires. One, a Dark faerie with pinkish-purple hair pulled back in an enormous braid, lunged towards him, but he managed to dodge, hitting her on the head with the hilt of his sword as he did so. The faerie crumpled to the ground, unconscious.
One of the other vampires saw this, and barked the order to retreat as he picked up the limp faerie. But as they retreated, one, a Spotted hissi, coiled around the two children vampires before vanishing in a puff of black and purple smoke with her brethren.
One of the remaining adults, a blue Cybunny, fell to her knees and let out a piercing wail. "Dezzy! Racso!"
The other adult, a red Gelert, went to comfort the blue Cybunny as the red one turned to Roxias, furious. "You! This is your fault!"
"I had no idea those other vampires were going to attack! Or that you or your family would be here! I'm just here on an errand from Gorunda!" retorted Roxias.
"A likely story! You were a distraction so that those Biters could sneak up on us! I--" began the Cybunny, advancing towards the Lupe menacingly. Suddenly the red Gelert was behind the teenager holding her back. "Stop, Guosim! This one isn't an enemy; I saw him knock out Ciera! Besides, what would a mortal be doing working for the Biters? You know they only keep mortals for food."
"Maybe he's working for them so that they won't bite his family," argued the Cybunny, breaking free of the Gelert's grip.
"Since when do Biters make deals with any non-vampires agreeing to RELEASE their food? And I highly doubt they'd bother with that simply to capture us; they proved tonight they could easily find and capture us by themselves," added the Gelert when Guosim opened her mouth to argue. She shut her mouth, scowling.
"Why are we arguing about a mere mortal when Dezzy and Racso have been captured by Biters?!" demanded the adult Cybunny, walking over to them. "They'll be being presented to the Queen now! Who knows what she'll have them do with the poor children?!"
"Considering her boss was the one who turned them in the first place, probably she'll try to utilize their powers," said the Gelert dryly.
"I'm sorry, but what's going on here?" piped up Roxias.
"It's none of your business, mortal!" hissed Guosim.
"I'm a squire of Meridell. It's my duty to help any innocents in jeopardy, mortal or vampire. But I don't know what's going on here. Who are the Biters, and what powers do the children have?"
The three vampires stared at Roxias. Guosim looked ready to attack him and the other Cybunny was gawking at him as though he were insane, but the Gelert appeared to be seriously considering him.
"..The Biters are a group of evil vampires," answered the Gelert finally. "They have a Queen, but the one really pulling the strings is a vampiric Dark faerie, Gona. Around five hundred years ago when the Biters were first getting formed, Gona had Dezzy and Racso, who had been captured in a raid, bitten because she was curious about what would happen. They were turned, and, like some other vampires, developed some unusual powers. When Guosim, Petunia and I fled from the Biters ten years ago, we took the children with us. Since then we've lived in this cave, coming out only to pick the ingredients for bloodberry elixir."
"A substitute for the real thing."
Roxias was shocked. He'd had no idea that was possible. But if his time with the Elbuorts and on the pilgrimage had taught him anything, it was that sometimes it was better just to accept things, and move on. "Do you know where they might have taken the children?"
The Gelert grimaced. "I know exactly where: a castle in the middle of the Woods, abandoned for ages now. The problem is getting in without being caught. They'll know we're coming; that's probably another reason they grabbed the children, for bait."
That would make sense. Even the most vile and unscrupulous of creatures hated their own deserting.
"Do you remember the basic outline of the castle, how many guards there are? Unless things've changed drastically, we should be able to work out a plan to get in."
Now even the Gelert was eyeing Roxias like he was mad. After a moment the blue Cybunny questioned, "What's your name, mortal?"
"Roxias Brown Elbuort."
"Well, Roxias Brown Elbuort, you're either mad, stupid, or some combination of the two. But if you can come up with a good plan to save my children, I'm all ears."
Roxias saw the way Guosim scowled at him, and knew that, should he fail, the children's lives weren't the only ones that would be in jeopardy. "First I need to know some information about the castle, please."
The vampires told him as much about the castle as they could remember, from the architecture to the number of guards. Roxias listened intently and, when they were done, picked up a stick and drew on the dirt a rough draft of his plan. Even Guosim had to admit it was a fairly good strategy.
Now, they just had to hope it worked in practice as well as theory.
"Have I mentioned how much I hate spyders right now?" Scout questioned.
"Twenty-four times," replied Spring glumly. She, Scout, Xin, and Eliv were dangling a few inches off the floor of Theaded's mansion's corridor, caught in enormous spyder webs. They had flown over the M.E.S.S. with ease, and Scout had kicked the front door open. The valiant rescuers had rushed into the mansion, determined to find Roxias...and had found themselves getting tangled up in spyder webs in the first corridor they went down. The spyders who'd made the webs had yet to make an appearance, for which all of the victims--especially Scout, though she'd never let anyone know that--were grateful.
"Well, I really, REALLY hate spiders. I loathe them. They are all vindictive twits who should be wiped off the face of Neopia."
"Twenty-seven. Are you SURE there's not any way out?" added Spring impatiently.
"Positive. The more you struggle in a spyder web, the more tangled up you get. I can't reach my dagger, I know for a fact none of you guys have anything sharp to cut the webs with, and it's unlikely to rain on the webs anytime soon. Especially considering we're indoors. We'll just have to negotiate with the horde of spyders who made this web, I guess," said Scout sarcastically.
"What if it's not a bunch of spyders, but one big mutant spyder? What if it decides to drink our blood, and turns us into vampires somehow? What if the crowd of spyders won't listen to you, and eat us?" asked Xin, close to a panic attack.
"A spyder couldn't turn us into vampires, even if it was mutant. Only vampires can make you a vampire by biting you. And didn't you hear what I said before? No one's getting eaten. I'm going to work something out. I just need to whine a little, that's all!" snapped Scout.
"But you always said whining is for spoiled, bratty wusses--"
"Xin, sweetie? Stop talking. Please," ground out the Zafara, slowly and carefully. Xin wisely shut his mouth.
A voice suddenly boomed behind them, "WHO DARES TRESPASS UPON EDDETHA THE IMMORTAL'S--oh, it's you."
With no warning, the webs disappeared; the would-be spyder victims hit the floor with audible "Oof!"s. Scout shot to her feet and glared at the old Split Techo standing at the corridor entrance. "You...you...you...!"
"At a loss for words?" guessed Theaded, looking amused.
"Ones that I can say in front of the children, yes!" snarled Scout. She whipped out a potion, "You have exactly ten seconds to surrender Roxias before--"
"Oh, I've already sent him away."
You could hear practically hear Scout's fury deflating. She stared at Theaded with alarm, "Sent him WHERE?"
"To Gorunda the Wise's, to run some errands for her. He should be headed to Eliv's to pick up her Grimoire of the First Order by now. You'd best catch up with him so he won't be locked out," added the Techo helpfully, nodding at Eliv.
"And I suppose you've sent Grandpa Hansuke on an 'errand' too," said Scout caustically. "Or is he one of your pet spyders by now?"
"Actually, I have sent him to help a couple friends of mine. Doug Bryant and his wife Madge. Dear people. I doubt you'll be able to reach him, though. Really, Scout, you need to relax. I haven't done anything to deliberately harm them, nor would I. Don't you trust me?"
"There are very few people I trust in this world, and none of them have ever spirited away my adopted relative and best friend," said Scout flatly. She put the potion back in her backpack and turned to the others. "Let's go to Eliv's, before Eddetha the Immortal here decides to send US on an 'errand' too."
"Ouy rallye tknih s'eh letling het hutrt?" Eliv questioned as he followed Scout and the children to the door.
"I think he's either totally wonky or a pathological liar, but why take any chances? And I'm understanding Jumble Mumble again. Great."
"Why aren't we flying, again?" questioned Spring a few minutes later as she and the others walked along the path to Eliv's castle.
"Because vampires can fly. They won't attack witches, but they will attack us ordinary mortals if they see us flying around. On the ground we have a lesser chance of drawing their attention," said Scout without looking back at Spring.
"But they could still--"
Scout glared over her shoulder. "Ot-nay inay ont-fray ofay in-Xay! E-say ensitive-say!"
"Orry-say!" muttered Spring, and sighed. She looked back at Xin, "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine!" called the little Grundo, a considerable distance behind the others. Poor Xin had such short legs he couldn't walk very quickly normally, and right now he was tired, though he wouldn't admit it. "Don't worry 'bout me!"
"Are you getting tired?" questioned Scout. "I could carry you."
"No, I'd slow you down, and you might not reach Roxias before he leaves Eliv's. Just go on ahead without me."
"That's not a good idea," began Scout, turning around and walking toward Xin. "These woods are a treachorous place. A little kid like you would be dead meat if you ran into a Werelupe or a swamp ghoul or--"
With no warning, a nearby tree suddenly came to life, snatched up Scout, and swallowed her.
Spring stood frozen in place, gawking at the tree in disbelief. She was vaguely aware of Xin screaming bloody murder in the background, and Eliv saying something about an Evil Tree.
"Or, you know, swallowed by a tree!" shouted Scout from inside the tree, her voice muffled by the wood.
To be continued...