The Travels of a Would-Be Knight: The Beginning: Part Three
Scout finally released Roxias once they were in the jungle. The blue lupe tried once again not to trip over any roots or fallen coconuts. While lupes are much better at seeing in the dark than, say, a human, the jungle was still very dim for him, and he could hardly believe Scout could track anything in this darkness. "Are you sure you can see his tracks?"
"Look, there's a reason my nickname is Scout.YOU might not be able to make anything up, but for me, his trail is as plain as day," said Scout firmly. "Low branch."
Roxias yelped as he ran into a low branch. He bent it aside, and kept following Scout. "I'd heard Grandpa Tobi's stories about your grandfather being able to track down a query in pitch blackness, but I thought they were just that."
"Oh, no, they were very true, and I inherited his talents along with his rugged good looks," said Scout in a tone that made it impossible for Roxias to tell whether or not she was joking. "Rock."
Roxias stubbed his toe on a rock. He bit his tongue to keep himself from crying out, then said through clenched teeth, "So, how exactly are you doing this?"
"Sorry, Chivalry Chap. A good tracker never reveals her secrets," said Scout smugly. She paused, and held out an arm to keep Roxias from walking forward. "We're at the quicksand pit."
Roxias, slightly relieved she hadn't let him wander into the pit, questioned, "Okay, so where'd he go from here?"
"Or she. Let's see...they headed west," said Scout, walking off. She proceeded to lead them down a long, winding path, occasionally muttering things like, "Man, they're good," or "Ha, not THAT good, they fell flat on their face right here!" Finally they came to a stop on the docks. Scout groaned, and tugged on her ears. "Oh, you've got to be KIDDING me! They must've taken the ferry to the mainland already! We had to've JUST missed them!"
"What do we do now? Report this to the Defenders of Neopia?" asked Roxias.
"Fat lot of good that'll do! They're too busy chasing down clowns who steal little girls' bikes! Looks like the most we can do now is hope Grandpa Han stalls the bank long enough for us to collect the Neopoints. Aunt Mo won't be happy taking that much in loans, but we don't have any other choice," sighed Scout. Roxias hesitated, then said, "Well, I received a few prizes from the Battledome yesterday, and this really beautiful shell I'm sure would fetch a reasonable price on the market. Maybe I could trade them in, and go ahead and pay for my next few nights? It wouldn't be much, but, at least it would be a little less in loans, right?"
Scout arched an eyebrow. "You realize that means you'll have no Neopoints for yourself, right? And it could take you days to get all that back."
Roxias arched an eyebrow back. "And get stuck in this paradise for a couple more weeks? How horrific."
Scout blinked, then smirked, and punched his shoulder. "Y'know what? Maybe you're not entirely a stuck-up, self-righteous snoot after all."
"Gee, thanks," said Roxias, following her back towards the inn. After a moment Scout remarked, "I still don't like you."
A couple hours later, Speckled-Belly entered Lemon-Fresh's house, still clutching the bag containing all of Max's Inn's monthly earnings. Lemon-Fresh, who had been waiting for the nimmo in a cushy purple armchair, grinned and questioned, "Did you get all of it?"
"Yes," said Speckled-Belly glumly.
"And did Scout know it was you?"
"Not that I'm aware of."
"Good." The Kyrii nodded at the bag. "You need to find someplace to stash that. Or spend it, I don't really care. There's about to be a whole lot more where that came from."
Speckled-Belly grimaced, then asked, "When are we going to do it?"
"Tonight at midnight. Don't be late."
"What about Scout?"
"Let's just say, Chip's going to make sure she comes along for the ride." Lemon-Fresh grinned. "Don't look so down, Specks. By the time we're done, we're going to be the richest people in Neopia."
"That doesn't make this feel any more right," muttered the camoflauge nimmo.
"Don't worry, that'll go away soon enough. Money has this weird way of numbing one's conscious."
When Grandpa Hansuke returned to the inn later that morning, it was with a triumphant grin on his face. He had managed to convince the bank to give them two more days to collect the Neopoints they needed to pay the bills. Mo shook her head in wonder. "I don't think I want to know how you did that."
"Like I told Scout here, I VERY persuasive," said Grandpa Hansuke with a big grin.
"Two days. That'll give me some time to earn some points in the races and the Dome," said Scout. "So we don't have to get as much in loans."
Mo nodded. "We can all take turns in the Dome. It's been a while since I fought, but, I learned from the best, I'm sure I can manage."
"I AM the best, I definitely get us some points," declared Grandpa Hansuke.
"I can fight as well. And help watch the inn," said Roxias. Mo beamed at him. "You really are sweet. Uncle Tobi raised you well."
Roxias felt the tips of his ears go red. "Well, er, just doing my job."
So they sent a message to Grandpa Tobi, explaining their predicament but asking him to hold off till they knew how many Neopoints he needed to send. Once that was out of the way, they threw themselves into earning Neopoints. Scout was "off-duty" for the races that day, since her initiation was supposed to take place sometime that morning, but she threw herself into fighting in the Dome, and into playing as many games as possible.
At one point Grandpa Hansuke and Scout were teamed up for a particularly intense game of Mynci Beach Volleyball. As they played, Grandpa Hansuke remarked, "So, I guessing your initiation happen already?"
"Well, yes and no," grunted Scout, blocking the ball and sending it back over the net. "They wouldn't let me take the final test. Some sort of mumbo-jumbo about needing to face my inner enemies and embrace the magic of friendship and all that."
"Ah," said Grandpa Hansuke, sending the ball over to one of their other teammates.
"What do you mean, 'Ah'? Did you know that was gonna happen?" demanded Scout.
"I might have had suspicion. So, what you do now?"
"Find a way to convince them otherwise. This is utterly ridiculous. So what if I'm an introvert who doesn't like to explore my feelings all day long? There's nothing wrong with that! I don't NEED friends, I don't need ANYONE, and I definitely do NOT have emotional issues!" growled Scout. Just then the ball came soaring overhead. The yellow zafara leaped into the air, and spiked the ball so hard that it sent sand flying everywhere, and wound up stuck in the ground.
"You got me convinced," said Grandpa Hansuke dryly. Scout flushed, then snapped, "Well, what about you? You're not exactly right as rain, either! I've heard you talking with Aunt Mo about how much you wanna run away!"
"You trying to start argument because you want excuse to take anger out on someone, but I not in mood, so I suggest you say what really eating at you," said Grandpa Hansuke firmly. Scout flushed deeper, and stared at the ground, ashamed. "I...I don't know what to do. I've been training for this forever, I can't just give up now."
"Then don't. Find compromise."
"Like what? Do I just start acting all chummy with every Neopian who comes my way? Cry about my precious feewings to everyone who'll listen?"
"Please no, my old heart cannot take something so scary. You smart, you think of something. Now, I think that mynci coming over to kick us off court, so let us skedaddle!"
Scout was deep in thought after that, and thus a lot quieter. Roxias noticed, but decided not to complain if it meant less insulting nicknames. He found that running an inn was a lot more work than he'd thought it was. They received three new guests that afternoon, all of whom had lots of luggage that he and Scout had to take up the stairs. Then, when lunchtime came around, he had to alternate between cooking in a kitchen that quickly grew sweltering and running out to greet visitors there to eat. He had them all fill out forms with their names and orders, then he would dash back to the kitchen and put the forms up on a clothesline. It had just been him and the Capernaums and Hansuke yesterday, but that day, there was a large crowd, due to the discounts the inn always offered on those days. It was all Roxias could do to remember which order to give to which person.
After lunch, things quieted down considerably, and once the kitchen was clean, Roxias headed to the Battledome, where he fought until he maxed out on prizes. Then he went to the market, and sold the prizes, some for far cheaper than he would have liked. He played a few games, then hurried back to the inn to help prepare dinner. They received four new guests for the night, and he once again had to drag heavy suitcases all through the inn. Mo finally realized that none of them had eaten dinner around nine, and hastily put together some three-bean chili. Roxias made it about halfway through his bowl before he suddenly found himself facedown in it, having apparently passed out. Scout teased him about how handsome he looked with his new chili-beard, then Mo sent him off to bed. He was halfway up the stairs when his knees gave out. Before he could hit the floor, strong arms caught him on either side. Grandpa Hansuke and Scout, sensing that he wouldn't make it all the way to his room, had followed him.
"I'm disappointed. I thought knights were supposed to be made of sterner stuff than this," said Scout.
"'M not a knight. 'M a squire. Won't be a knight till my pilgrimage s'over," mumbled Roxias.
"Semantics, semantics," said Scout, waving a hand dismissively.
"Hey, you doing better than my first day at this. I pass out in CUSTOMER'S soup at dinnertime. And that without games and Battledome thrown in. Very embarrassing," said Grandpa Hansuke.
"You were also sixty-one years old at that point," Scout pointed out.
In between the three of them, Roxias made it to his room. He was surprised when Grandpa Hansuke suddenly handed him a flask full of a peculiar green liquid. "What's this?"
"Ghost repellent. Ghost Lupe been sighted nearby. Keep it under your pillow, and you should be safe," said Grandpa Hansuke cheerfully. "Well, good night!"
The ogrin left, but Scout hovered in the doorway, surveying Roxias with her arms crossed. She opened her mouth as though to say something, closed it again, then whirled around and hurried out. Roxias blinked, then shrugged, stuffed the flask under his pillow, and curled up under his blanket. He had just enough time to wonder if he could really sleep when he was so worried about the inn, then he passed out.
It was almost midnight when the night shift of faerie cloud racers decided to take a snack break. One suggested going to a 24/7 pancake place, and they cheerfully set out, leaving their cloud racers unguarded. Scarcely had they left when Lemon-Fresh and Speckled-Belly arrived, and made their way towards the Water Faerie racer.
"Oh, good, not a scratch on it," said Lemon-Fresh, inspecting the racer. "I was worried those idiots on the night shift might have crashed it, or wound up in the Haunted Woods with it again."
"Where's Chip? Do you think he got caught?" asked Speckled-Belly worriedly, looking around for the red tonu.
"Nah, he probably just had some technical difficulties with getting Scout here. Ah, speak of the Pants Devil," added Lemon-Fresh as a yellow zafara walked up, clad in an all-black outfit, her curly-brown hair pulled back into a ponytail and hat, for once, nowhere to be found. Lemon-Fresh grinned at the zafara. "You ready?"
The zafara glared, but nodded.
"Good," said Lemon-Fresh. She tossed the zafara the key to the racer. "Meet us at my place when you're done, and we'll divvy up the spoils."
The zafara got into the racer, and was soon zooming off. Once Faerie City came into view, the zafara pulled on a mask, which hid all but the eyes of its wearer, though the species was still obvious enough. The zafara landed in an abandoned alleyway, and headed towards the Hidden Tower. While the guards were distracted by some fireworks she had set off around the corner, she got out a grappling hook, and slung it at the tower. It took her a couple tries, but finally the hook latched onto something seventy feet in the air. With seemingly little effort, the zafara scaled the tower. Close inspection of the grappling hook made it clear that it was most likely on a window ledge. The zafara felt around for a moment till she located the window, and a latch to open it. Her green eyes sparkling like emeralds, she pulled on the latch, and was soon inside the Hidden Tower.
Fyora wasn't there at the moment, as she was on some sort of diplomatic mission to Altador. The only one present was an Air Faerie, and the zafara was able to knock her out easily. The zafara locked the door to ensure no one would walk in, then pulled out a sack and began stuffing it with the most valuable objects she could find. The sack was almost bulging by the time the guards, who had seen the grappling hook and realized that something was amiss, broke down the door. The zafara grabbed one's spear and used the blunt end to knock the Fire Faerie out, then vaulted over the Earth Faerie's head and charged down the spiral staircase. The Earth Faerie followed, uselessly ordering her to halt.
The zafara was almost to the cloud racer when she tripped over seemingly nothing. The Earth Faerie managed to catch up to her in that time, but the zafara had taken off again before she could do more than grab her by the mask. As the zafara leaped into the cloud racer, she turned and glared at the guard, giving her a full view of her face. Then, she took off.
The Earth Faerie was fast, but the cloud racer was faster. All too soon, it had vanished in the distance.
The Fire Faerie guard, having regained consciousness, flew up, panting. "What...what happened?! Where did the intruder go?!"
"She got away," said the Earth Faerie grimly. "But I think I know how to find her. Are there any brown-haired yellow zafaras who compete in the cloud races?"
The next morning, Roxias was woken up by Grandpa Hansuke banging a ladle against a frying pan while standing directly over him. The blue lupe jumped, then sputtered, "What was THAT for?!"
"Oh, good, you finally up. Been trying to wake you for past ten minutes," said Grandpa Hansuke cheerfully, ceasing the noise. Roxias felt ashamed. Ten minutes?! What if this was Meridell Castle, and there had been an attack?! A whole lot of use HE would have been!
"What time is it?" asked Roxias.
"6:50. Breakfast starts in ten minutes. Wanted to get you up an hour ago so you could help cook, but Mo said you needed more rest. And I think now she was right," said Grandpa Hansuke.
Still embarrassed, Roxias followed Grandpa Han down to the kitchen. Mo was already there, as was Scout, though the latter looked grouchier than usual, probably because of exhaustion, if the dark, dark circles under her eyes were any indication.
"Wow, you look..." began Roxias, then stopped himself.
"I look awesome," grunted Scout. She turned, and picked up an orange. "Who ordered an apple again?"
"Uh, maybe you should just carry trays today, sweetie," said Mo. "And drink some coffee. The last time you were this sleep-deprived, you thought a green techo in a bathrobe was Dr. Sloth."
"S'not MY fault. I kept having weird dreams about volleyball and ninjas, I don't think I got more than two hours of shut-eye," yawned Scout.
"No, I have something better than coffee," said Hansuke, holding up a bottle full of smoking orange liquid. "I call it Nyoom Juice, because that the sound you make after you drink it, you go so fast!"
"Think I'll stick to coffee for now," muttered Scout, picking up the pot of coffee and pouring it directly into her mouth as Roxias watched in horrified disbelief.
Just then the bell rang, signalling that someone had entered the lobby.
"I'll get it," decided Roxias, hurrying to the lobby. He was shocked to see Brynn herself standing there, along with an Earth faerie and Fire faerie also clad in Faerieland guard attire.
"Is this the home of Lila Capernaum?" asked Brynn.
"Uh..." said Roxias, suddenly forgetting who that was, as well as most everything else, as he stared at Brynn. This was one of his heroes! Standing right before him! Sure, he'd met lots of famous Neopians before, it came with being the grandson of Tobias Elbuort, but- oh, wait, she'd asked him a question. He'd best answer instead of gawking like an idiot. With some effort, he pulled himself out of his silent fanboy moment and said, "Uh, yes. Yes, ma'am, it is."
"Do you know where she is?" asked Brynn, kind enough to pretend she hadn't noticed Roxias gaping.
"Yes, ma'am, in the kitchen. Is something wrong?" added Roxias, puzzled. It wasn't every day the captain of the Faerieland guard showed up at Mystery Island, after all. What in Neopia had Scout done to warrant this?
"We'll see," Brynn replied calmly, and she headed for the kitchen. Scout was still guzzling coffee directly from the pot when the kougra arrived. Brynn stared for a moment, then managed, "Er, Lila Capernaum?"
"That's my name, don't wear it- oh," said Scout, recognizing Brynn. She hastily set the coffeepot down, and dipped into a curtsy. "Captain Brynn. What, um, what brings you here?"
"If this is about the time she take me on ride on Water cloud racer, I swear, I made her do that!" piped up Grandpa Hansuke.
"No, no, that's...reckless and dangerous, but legal as far as I know," said Brynn, frowning at the elderly yellow ogrin. She turned back to Scout, "No, I'm here because a zafara matching your description robbed the Hidden Tower last night."
Everyone else in the room shouted out "WHAT?!"
"Scout would never do something like that! How could you even think that?!" demanded Mo.
"I'm sorry, ma'am, but Tara here described the thief as a yellow zafara, approximately five foot six, with curly brown hair and green eyes. And she flew away on a water cloud racer. Your niece is the only zafara with access to that racer, or any of the racers, for that matter," said Brynn. She looked at the Earth faerie, who nodded and said, "She looks like the one I saw, alright."
"Unless 'green' means something different to faeries than it does to Neopets, no, I do not," snapped Scout, gesturing at her own blue eyes.
"Okay, so I got one detail wrong, but otherwise, you could be twins," said Tara without batting an eyelid. Brynn frowned at Scout. "This is a very serious crime you're being accused of, Miss Capernaum. Can you tell us where you were at midnight?"
"I was in my room, trying unsuccessfully to get some shut-eye."
"Do you have anyone who can verify that?"
"I can, and so can every guest in this inn," piped up Mo.
"So you, personally, saw her in her room at that time?" asked Brynn. Mo was silent. Brynn turned to Scout. "When we went to check out the cloud racers, some of your fellow drivers told us about your family's recent misfortune. That would drive many Neopians to make some unwise decisions."
"And I'm not one of them!" retorted Scout. "We were doing our best to make back as many Neopoints as we could, and the rest we were going to get from loans from friends and family! We'd have to be a LOT more desperate than this for me to try to rob a place like the Hidden Tower, and if I did, I wouldn't be stupid enough to let a guard see my face, or use my own racer as a getaway vehicle!"
"I'm sorry, but unless I see some solid evidence to the contrary, I have no choice but to arrest you for breaking and entering, and for harming a member of the Faerieland guard," said Brynn, gesturing at the Fire Faerie, who glowered at Scout. Scout scowled, herself, but put her hands out for Brynn to cuff. "I'll come quietly, but only because you'd be even more convinced I was guilty if I ran. Mark my words, though, I WILL find a way to prove I didn't do this."
"This is ridiculous!" cried Mo. "Scout is a good girl! Why, she's been training to be a Mystery Island ninja, a protector of this island, for years!"
"Mo, I do not think proclaiming she has skills needed for breaking into buildings and fighting trained guards helping," Grandpa Hansuke whispered.
Once Brynn, the faeries, and Scout were gone, Mo turned to Roxias and Grandpa Hansuke with such a fierce expression that both took a little step backwards. "Stay here and watch the inn! I'm going to find Queen Fyora and tell her to stop this madness!"
She turned to leave, but Grandpa Hansuke used his cane to yank her back. "Mo, no! Your temper worse than Scout's when someone you love threatened! I will not have you arrested for trying to punch the Queen of Faeries herself whenever she tells you no! Besides, you best at running inn. I will hire temporary replacements for I and Roxias, and we will go see Scout and get mess straightened out."
"I'm not going to just sit here while you two do all the work!" snapped Mo.
"You won't be. You will be holding down fort, and that just as important!" Grandpa Hansuke retorted.
Mo tried, but there was no arguing with the stubborn old ogrin, and soon, Hansuke and Roxias were out the door.
"Er, the teleportation site's that way," said Roxias, pointing to the left.
"I cannot abide teleporting. It makes me violently ill for days," Grandpa Hansuke replied. "Scout can wait the couple hours it takes us to arrive there from eyrie taxi."
"You know, I'm pretty sure I'd be more useful back at the inn," said Roxias.
"Nonsense," replied Grandpa Hansuke, waving a hand dismissively. "There could be battles to the death and running for life up ahead, and I will need someone young and strong to help me. Besides, you would-be knight, helping others what you all about, right?"
"That's true," Roxias admitted. He reluctantly followed the ogrin to an eyrie taxi, and soon, they were on their way. Roxias sighed. 'I take it back. If the past couple days are any indication, this pilgrimage is going to be the most stressful year of my life.'
To be continued…