Travels of a Would-Be Knight: Eddetha the Immortal - Part Four
Hansuke chuckled as he watched Ben army-crawl through the living room, pretending to be either a spy or a soldier. "Quite the imaginative young fellow, isn't he?"
"Yeah, he is. By himself and around anyone older than six, anyway. When he's near someone his own age, he clams up and won't do or say anything," said Madge. She smiled sadly, "Comes of being the only kid his age in Faerieland, I guess."
It had been about a day since Hansuke's arrival in 590 BN, and he'd learned several things already. He'd learned that dark creatures called Veli (which, based on their description, were the wraiths that had appeared when the faeries had been turned to stone) were on the prowl throughout Neopia. The faeries did their best to keep them at bay, but did not have a spell strong enough to stop all of them. At best they could seriously limit the number of Veli in Neopia at one time, and ensure the Veli could only attack at night, when their powers were strongest. The major threat during daylight hours was Magax, servant of Hubrid Nox, whose deepest desire at the moment was to make all Neopia fear him. Between Magax, the Veli, and the many other ghouls running amok, the faeries had their hands full just keeping Neopia from total chaos.
It had been a long time since his last history lesson, but Hansuke vaguely remembered learning about this period in neoschool. Known as the Dark Ages, it had started about two hundred years after Altador vanished and would end within a year from now, when Fyora would discover a magic that could keep the Veli at bay, a magic only faeries could generate. Shortly afterward Magax would attack Faerieland and destroy it, slaughtering hundreds of faeries before he was finally stopped. In retribution Fyora would curse him to not only never age, but also to never be able to leave a certain graveyard unless he came to regret his crimes. It would be centuries before Magax could leave that graveyard. In the meantime, the faeries would be busy helping neopets fight Hubrid Nox and the other monsters trying to take over. Once the monsters were no longer a major threat and Nox was relatively in check, the faeries would set about repairing their ruined city, trusting the neopets to be able to look after themselves. There would never be another Dark Age, up to Year 15 AN anyway.
In the meantime, though, Hansuke was stuck here in the Dark Ages, where one had to stay on one's toes all the time if one didn't want to become monster chow--even in Faerieland. Just this morning Doug had had to rescue Hansuke from a giant mutant spyder that had somehow gotten into the kitchen cupboards.
Speaking of Doug, the man was walking into the living room, clutching a letter that bore Fyora's royal seal.
"Daddy!" cried Ben, running up to Doug and hugging him. Doug smiled, and returned the embrace. "Hey, Little Man."
Hansuke had had mixed feelings when he learned that Ben was not, as Hansuke had first thought, a neopet from this time period that Doug and Madge had adopted, but their son. On the one hand, since the boy didn't technically belong to this time, Madge and Doug wouldn't risk alternating the future of all Neopia by taking him home with them. On the other hand, when they DID return to their own time, it would be awkward enough for Spring and Sai to adjust to their parents being alive without also having a new sibling thrust upon them. Spring got along fine with Xin, but how would she handle living with a hyperactive, clingy three-year-old who constantly drooled and was always underfoot? Granted, Spring was pretty hyperactive and had a tendency to be underfoot herself, and he knew for a fact she drooled in her sleep as well as talked in another language...
Hansuke was jerked out of his thoughts by Doug saying, "Fyora's been browsing through her entire library, and she thinks she's stumbled upon a solution--"
"What?!" blurted out Madge, looking shocked. Doug held up a hand and shook his head, "Not for our problem, but for the Veli problem. If she's right, she and the other faeries will be able to cast a spell that will keep the Veli at bay--ALL of them, all the time. The faeries will constantly have to contribute a percentage of their magic to the spell, but there are plenty of faeries to help, and there's no way it'll ever get so bad that all the faeries in Neopia are dead or turned to stone or anything like that."
Hansuke barely stifled a snort. Wait till he gets back to Year 15, and learn what all happened in the years since he's been gone. He in for a real shock...
"You have your 'There's this great thing that could possibly happen but there's a catch to it' face on," noted Madge, looking worried. "Let's hear it."
Doug rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, it might involve the two of us--"
"Oh boy, here we go."
"--retrieving this artefact called the Mirror of Dartis from the tomb of Avaryss the Terrible."
Madge paled. "If this is an April Fool's joke, it's not funny."
"April Fools!" bellowed Ben happily.
"We're in the middle of February, as far as I can tell. And unfortunately, I'm serious," sighed Doug.
"Who Avaryss the Terrible?" piped up Hansuke.
"An evil sorceress who ruled a kingdom in what is now the northern part of the Lost Desert. Like her name suggests, she was extremely greedy as well as cruel; she drained her people of all their wealth after enslaving them, then had many go off to fetch her even more riches. Those who refused were tortured, sometimes to death. Finally the rulers of Qasala and Sakhmet, as well as the faeries, decided she needed to be stopped, and defeated her--after a great battle. It was intended for her body to be burned and her ashes buried deep in the sand, but some of her followers stole her ashes and stowed them away in a secret tomb, along with all her worldly possessions. A few years ago a wandering nomad stumbled upon the tomb and a team from Qasala attempted to excavate it, but only one returned."
"Let me guess, it guarded by booby traps and either a mummy or horrible, mysterious monsters?"
"How'd you know?" Doug asked, surprised.
"Does it ever work any other way?" asked Madge, raising an eyebrow.
"I coming with you," Hansuke said immediately. He wasn't sure how much help he could actually be, but he wasn't about to let the people who'd taken him in--not to mention were the parents of one of his favorite people in the world--go into danger alone.
Madge and Doug stared at Hansuke like he'd grown a third eye.
"We couldn't possibly ask you to--" began Doug.
"You didn't ask. I volunteered. Don't look at me like that. Just because I old doesn't mean I'll slow you down! Long as I here I might as well be useful, and besides, I have things to tell you I don't think I should now because little pitcher has big ear... s. And what if we find way home you wouldn't have if it just you two?"
Madge and Doug tried to talk him out of it, but Hansuke didn't budge. As far as he was concerned, it was a done deal. Finally Doug groaned, said Hansuke was as stubborn as a whinny, and consented.
"I can pack and watch Ben while you two make other preparations. Just tell me what to pack," suggested Hansuke.
A few minutes later he found himself stuffing a bag full of various supplies, including several potions, several weapons, and a giant mallard plushie. (This spoke to Hansuke about the dangers of the time he was in more than any words anyone had said, when someone besides him packed for a journey as though preparing for war--though what the mallard plushie was for, he couldn't imagine). Since one of his best friends was a wizard Hansuke knew how much energy spell-casting consumed, and he also packed some snacks.
The supplies packed and an Earth faerie having volunteered to babysit Ben, Madge, Doug, and Hansuke headed out to find the artefact and hopefully save Neopia.
Very few knew what the queen of the Biters looked like, for her face was always hidden, either in shadow or behind a hood. All anyone could tell was that she was pink and furry, which didn't narrow it down much considering the many species of neopets who might match that description. At the moment, she was reclining in her throne, an old-fashioned thing made of gold and covered in gemstones, with a red velvet cushion upon the seat.
Suddenly the door opened, and in marched two guards, lugging a blue Lupe clad in Meridellian-style tunic and trousers. The Lupe was totally limp, the guards having paralyzed him with their venom, but he was snarling and growling something fierce, his eyes blazing with outrage.
One guard, a red Gelert, stepped forward and bowed. "My Queen, we found this one and two of the Deserters attempting to break into our castle. The Deserters got away, but we thought we should bring this one to you to decide his fate."
"A mortal helping out vampires, eh? And the one who bested Ciera, no less," said the Queen, her glowing red eyes studying the Lupe thoughtfully. The Lupe glared back, unafraid. After a moment the Queen looked at her guards and waved a hand dismissively, "Put him in a cell for now. I'll determine his fate later. And bring me the Deserter children you captured earlier."
"Yes, My Queen," the guards replied in unison, bowing, then dragging the Lupe off.
They said nothing to each other the entire way down to the dungeons. Only when one of them, a red Acara, had opened the door to the Lupe's cell did he turn to tell his Gelert comrade to get the children while he took care of the prisoner. But the Acara had scarcely opened his mouth before the Lupe suddenly sprang up and brought the hilt of his sword down upon the Acara's head. He crumpled to the ground, unconscious.
"You know, it's a good thing I stopped them from confiscating that," commented the Gelert.
Roxias turned and smiled at him grimly. "That it is. Thank you, Julian."
The Gelert nodded, then glanced down at the unconscious Acara disdainfully. "I suppose you'd best don his armor. Though you'll reek of evil for weeks afterwards."
"That didn't stop you," replied Roxias as he began taking off the Acara's armor. "Why do they need armor, anyway? Aren't they supposed to be the most elite in the Biters?"
"I believe Gona started the tradition more for show than anything. Anyway, it provides a handy disguise."
"Aye," agreed Roxias. "You think Guosim and May are alright?"
"I'm sure of it."
"It was rather impressive, the way Guosim fought."
"Well, she's been training for such an opportunity since before we left the Biters. Her experience here was far from pleasant. What truly startled me was the way May fought. She's always been rather introverted and mild-mannered, but out there, she was like a savage warrior."
"My mother was like that once, when we were waylaid by bandits on the road," said Roxias, recalling an incident from when he was five or six. "She said it was because I was there, and 'If there's one thing every Neopian with the smallest sliver of intelligence should know, it's not to come between a mother and her child.' Of course, she was a knight, and a very good fighter to begin with."
"I suppose coming between a mother and her children makes any type of mother a vicious fighter, then, be they outspoken knight or mild-mannered peasant. Whoever said women are weak must not have ever seen that happen."
"Probably not," agreed Roxias. He donned the last piece of armor, a rather plain helmet, then shoved the Acara into the cell and locked it.
Xin was still screaming bloody murder when Spring finally unfroze and sprung into action. Unfortunately, the only action she could think of was to run over to the tree trunk and start whacking it with her broom screaming, "Give her back give her back give her back!"
The tree looked from the little human to the white Grundo, who was still screaming bloody murder. The Zafara hadn't quite filled him, and these two were giving him a major headache with their shrieking. The tree decided to kill two birds with one stone; he picked up the Grundo in one 'hand' and the human in the other, and swallowed them too.
Spring and Xin tumbled down a long, winding tunnel before finally landing in a doglefox pile in the tree's "stomach," basically a large wooden cavern with slimy-looking walls and a peculiar smell. It took Xin a moment realize what had happened, but when it did, he started screaming bloody murder again.
"Xin, stop screaming! And both of you, GET OFF!" snapped Scout from the bottom of the pile.
"Scout?! You're alive!" cried Xin happily.
"Not for long, if you two don't stop squishing me!"
Xin and Spring quickly scrambled to their feet, and backed away from Scout. The Zafara stood and dusted herself off, then looked around, "Well, this is just great. Neither of you touch the walls, okay? If I'm right, you'll get stuck to them, and that slimy stuff will slowly dissolve you. Horrible way to go."
"If we don't find a way out of here, we're gonna starve to death, and that'd be just as horrible," pointed out Spring.
"Starve?" repeated Xin, wide-eyed. Next to doctors, Xin feared starvation more than anything in the world.
"Don't talk nonsense. We're gonna find a way out of here. Maybe there's something in here from Sophie..." muttered Scout, opening her backpack.
"Like what, Sophie's Specialized Upchuck Brew?" asked Spring, picking up on Scout's sarcasm.
"Hey, no one's allowed to be sarcastic and pessimistic in this group except me! But yeah, that would be a good thing to have right about now." Scout began scanning the potion's labels, occasionally muttering things to herself like "No...", "Don't need darkness right now...", "Probably'd explode us along with the tree..."
Spring and Xin soon grew bored of standing around watching Scout sort through bottles, and struck up a conversation.
"You really think we'll starve to death, Spring?"
"'Course not. If Scout doesn't find anything to make the tree spit us up, we'll just cut our way out of the tree's stomach, somehow."
"Won't that kill the tree, though?"
"It's EVIL, Xin. It needs to die, so it doesn't eat anyone else."
"Oh. You think Eliv's okay?"
"He's not here with us, so I guess he wasn't eaten. I wouldn't eat him either. If I was an evil tree, I mean. Or anything else that eats neopets. I mean, he's basically a zombie, right? Zombies taste AWFUL."
"Maybe he went to get help."
"I hope so. It STINKS in here, even worse than under my bed the time I put socks over eggs and put them under my bed so I could hatch baby sock monsters. But the eggs just went rotten instead. Mom had to explain to me that sock monsters aren't real, and even if they were, you couldn't just--wait a second, why don't we just fly out on The Blumaroo's Gaze?!"
"Thought of that," said Scout without looking up from the potions. "I don't think we could manage it. For one thing, the tunnel's too narrow. For another, unless we time it so that it's yawning when we reach its mouth, there's no way it's letting us out. Ugh, Bloodberry Potion... guess in case we run into a vampire, or something..."
With no warning, Eliv Thade fell into the room, landing on Scout. "ARGH! What is with you people and using me for a landing cushion?!"
"Eliv!" cried Xin, shocked, as the specter stood up and helped Scout to her feet. "You got eaten, too? I thought you ran to get help. Did you get stuck in the tunnel, and that's why it took you a long time to get here?"
"On. I nar kacb ot ym namions, cnocctde hist rewb, dna rna bkca eehr tsaf sa I culdo," said the specter, holding up a vial.
"Wait, so there actually IS a such thing as Upchuck Brew?" asked Spring in disbelief.
"S'ti ont Puhucck Werb. I'st limk nad inevrag," added Eliv, holding up a bag of baking soda.
"Milk and vinegar? That sounds nasty," said Xin, wrinkling his nose.
"That's the point," said Scout, grinning for the first time since they'd first met Theaded. "Thade, you're a genius."
"I kown," replied the specter, and uncorked the vial and headed over towards once of the sticky walls of the cavern.
"You guys might want to close your eyes, hold your breath, and plug your ears," Scout advised the children, pulling them close. "This is gonna be gross."
"I confused about something!" Hansuke said to Madge and Doug as they rode towards the Lost Desert, hollering to make himself heard over the wind. "I thought Lost Desert hidden from rest of Neopia for thousands of years, till Brucey B discover it!"
"Mucus V. recovered from it? Recovered from what?" questioned the Uni Hansuke and Madge were riding on, a spotted Uni named Inigo, who couldn't hear his passengers due to the wind blowing in his face. Doug rode beside them on a magic broomstick, which he had apparently learned to control after 'borrowing' it from an evil witch who had attempted to steal his and Madge's youth. (Hansuke hoped that it wasn't just wizards who could control magic broomsticks; if not, Spring was in for yet ANOTHER big surprise when he, Madge, Doug, and Ben got back to Year 15).
"For most of Neopia, yeah. But the faeries aren't exactly 'most of Neopia'," Doug shrugged.
Madge glanced back at the old Ogrin, "So, what'd you want to talk to us about earlier that you couldn't in front of Ben?"
That caught him offguard. In the rush of packing and making other arrangements, he'd forgotten to prepare for telling Madge and Doug about Spring. He didn't want to just leap into that conversation without working out what he wanted to say; he needed to stall for time. He glanced over at Doug, "It not just magic users who can control magic broomsticks, is it?"
Doug blinked, confused. "Well, obviously you need to be able to use magic to enchant the broom to fly in the first place, but... theoretically, no, you control it with your will. Magic broomsticks, once parted from their original owners, have been known to choose non-magic people as new masters."
"Oh. Good." Neopia might be safe from the chaos a magical Spring would bring after all.
"Why'd you want to know that?" Madge questioned. "And what was it you really meant earlier, when you said you missed seeing Faerieland 'like this'? Did something happen to Faerieland while we were gone?"
Hansuke hesitated. "You hoping to go back to Year 6, or you expecting to go to Year 15?"
"After Ben hit three, we started hoping we'd go a little into the future so we wouldn't have to explain why Spring suddenly had an older brother. But that doesn't answer either of my questions, and it makes me even more suspicious. What do you know that you're not telling us?" demanded Madge.
Hansuke sighed. "I know for fact that you not go back to our time before Year 15, because I know your daughter. We been travelling together since last Christmas, when her adopted mother, a Blumaroo named Kayla Inezstep, asked me and my companions to take her with us on our travels so she learn better discipline."
There was an awkward silence, broken only by Inigo saying, "Eh, what's that? What about Father Ling?" Madge and Doug were too busy gaping at Hansuke to respond.
"....You know our daughter," said Madge slowly.
"You've been travelling with her. Since last Christmas."
"You know all about her life for the past eight years."
"Well, not ALL about it, but she speak of a lot of it, yes."
"AND YOU DIDN'T MENTION THIS BEFORE?!"
Madge bellowed this at the top of her lungs. Everyone, even Inigo, jumped; Hansuke nearly tumbled off the Uni. "I sorry! I not know how to bring it up, and like I say before, did not want to mention it in front of Ben!"
Madge still looked furious. "Is there anything ELSE you're not telling us?!"
"Well, two years ago, Faerieland fell and now exist in big crater near Haunted Woods--"
This time Madge and Doug both shouted (and Doug swerved and nearly ran into a passing flock of weewoos). "WHAT?!"
"And new lands discovered too. And new neopet species. A lot change since you been gone, actually," said Hansuke weakly.
Doug shook his head, looking weary. "Of course it has."
There was another awkward silence. Then Madge looked at Hansuke, "What's she like? Spring, I mean? And do you know Sai, too?"
There was no longer any anger in the woman's eyes. Merely sadness, and a longing to know as much as possible about the children she hadn't been able to be a mother to for four-fifths of their lives.
"I met Sai briefly, yes, back when we stay at Lady Amber's for Christmas--their mother Kayla is Lady Amber's cook. He and Spring both hyper and chatty and love magic, but other than that they mostly opposite. Spring look a lot like you, Madge, but with lighter skin, and her hair always back in pigtails. She really short, about three foot four..."
He went on to describe how he and his companions had first met Spring when she helped Xin when he got lost in Lady Amber's mansion, how at first she'd pretended to believe she was a Blumaroo, how they'd found out she knew she was a human but 'considered herself a Blumaroo'. (He didn't mention that they found that out after she, Roxias, Scout, and Xin were nearly eaten by a vampire). He told them how Kayla had asked them to take her along on their journey so she could learn better self-discipline, and mentioned some of the crazy misadventures they'd been through with her. He described some of the quirks she had: how she talked in her sleep in another language, spontaneously broke into song and dance or ran around screaming "THIS IS AWESOME!" whenever something really exciting happened to her, slept UNDER her bed instead of on it, ate her pizza in a circular motion, dipped her sandwiches in her drink, used phrases like "conceited bulbous-head" one minute and "meany poo face" the next, and only read books while hanging upside-down. He recounted Kayla's tale of how she'd first found Spring and Sai huddled by a tree, and how she'd adopted them after learning that the police had found evidence that their mother had been attacked by a Werelupe.
Madge's eyes lit up in realization. "Oh, so THAT'S why the Nimmo ripped off part of my sleeve! But how did the Professor and them not find the kids? They're detectives, for crying out loud!"
"What?" asked Hansuke, confused.
"Professor Olshem Decoder, this Aisha who works as a consultant for the police, and his sister Leona and my cousin Sherry--and this girl we know named Gladys, who works for the Professor. There's no way they couldn't have found the kids in all this time. Unless Gorunda kept them from finding them," added Doug thoughtfully, looking concerned. Hansuke frowned, "Theaded DID say something about human Blumaroo. Maybe Nimmo keep children from being found so Spring would become human Blumaroo?"
Madge shook her head. "The more we try to figure this out, the more confusing it gets!"
Just then, Inigo bellowed, "Hate to interrupt, but you might want ta brace yourselves! We're about to land! Um, there's a landing strip for Unis, right?"
"I doubt it," replied Doug. "There aren't many Unis living in Qasala, and they aren't used to visits from outsiders."
"Oh. Um, have I mentioned I can't even stand on sand without slipping and falling?"
"What?!" cried Madge and Hansuke.
Inigo somehow interpreted this as "Go!" Before anyone knew what was happening, he was diving down to the center of Qasala, trying to land, slipping, and falling flat on his face, Madge and Hansuke flying from his back.
Doug hurriedly landed, dismounted from his broom, and ran over to Madge, who had somehow wound up hanging upside down from a store sign. "Are you okay?"
"I'll let you know as soon as the world stops spinning," the tiny woman replied, closing her eyes.
"I fine too, thanks for asking!" called Hansuke, who had landed on his back in a sand dune. "Just normal sixty-seven year old flung from Uni at several mile an hour!"
Doug pointed at Madge and muttered an incantation, and Madge began to levitate. Using his hand, Doug rotated her right-side up before placing her on her feet. She grinned at him, "Thanks. You okay, Hansuke?"
Hansuke stood and dusted himself off, then turned at the waist. His spine let out a satisfying crackle. "Never better. Think I don't need my cane anymore!"
All three travelers turned to see a red Kyrii in traditional Qasalan royalty robes walking towards them, looking faintly irritated. Hansuke stared and whispered, "Wow. He look just like Jazan."
"Who?" questioned Madge.
"Tell you later."
The Kyrii stopped a few feet away from them. Doug and Madge bowed at the waist, and Hansuke followed their example. The Kyrii looked at Doug and said dryly, "Your wife always has to make an entrance, doesn't she, Bryant?"
"Oh, you think that was DELIBERATE?" muttered Madge, looking annoyed. Doug shot his wife a warning look, then addressed the Kyrii respectfully, "King Razulon. It's an honor to see you again."
"Let's save the pleasantries for later. Fyora is quite sure this mad venture will bring relief from the Veli, should it succeed?"
"And she wants you two amateur sorcerers, one of whom can't do a simple dark magic spell, to go on this Neopia-altering, unlikely-to-succeed-even-if-attempted-by-the-best-in-Neopia, quest?"
Madge's face had gone red at Razulon's comment about a simple dark magic spell. Hansuke was sensing some bad history between the two, but knew better than to ask about it.
When Doug didn't respond to Razulon's 'amateur sorcerers' comment, the Kyrii shook his head and sighed. "Desperate times do call for desperate measures, I suppose. Well, we need to hurry if we want to be back here by nighttime. I don't want to have to face Veli on top of the monsters in the tomb."
Madge looked like she'd swallowed dung. "We, sir?"
"You really think I'm leaving the fate of Neopia to amateur sorcerers? My two top mages and I will be joining you."
If she had been able to strangle the king without being executed for assault on royalty, Hansuke was sure Madge would have attempted it.
They headed to the palace (Inigo following and apologizing profusely for his crash landing), meeting Razulon's top two mages--a handsome Desert Wocky named Bashir and a young yellow Kacheek named Jethro--and the Unis they'd be riding to the tomb site, at the palace steps.
Razulon wasn't happy when he learned that Hansuke intended on joining them. He didn't outright state it, but Hansuke could tell the Kyrii thought he was an old, incompetent buffoon who'd only slow everyone down. But he'd come this far, and was not about to lounge around Qasala doing nothing. It took quite a bit of persuasion, but eventually Razulon reluctantly agreed to let Hansuke come along.
As Hansuke once again boarded a Uni with Madge (not Inigo; Razulon would not allow a Uni who couldn't even land properly to join the quest), he hoped they would come out of this adventure okay (and with the artefact), and he also thought of Roxias, Scout, Spring, and Xin. He hoped they weren't freaking out too badly about his disappearance. Knowing them, though, they probably were, and they were probably just coming out of the oddest sticky situation...
To be continued...