The Travels of a Would-Be Knight: The Beginning: Part Four
Scout had already changed into a bright pink jumpsuit (though she had somehow managed to keep her hat) and was sitting in a cell, playing a harmonica, when Roxias and Hansuke arrived at the Faerieland dungeon. She grinned, and ran over to the barred cell door. "Oh, thank goodness! Tell me you found a way to get me outta here!"
"Not yet," Grandpa Hansuke replied. "But we're going to, I promise. Now, everything points to the real thief trying to frame you. Any idea why they want that?"
"To throw the guards off their own trail?" Scout replied with a shrug.
"But why you, specifically?" argued Roxias. "There are twenty-three other drivers, and from what I've heard, the majority are skilled enough to pull off a heist at the Hidden Tower. And some of them would be much easier to frame than you."
"Well, I have made a few enemies in my time. Maybe they figured they'd kill two Weewoos with one stone, and get revenge on me as well as get rich," mused Scout. "But there are only two other Neopets with the key to the Water racer, plus the water faerie who owns it, and I get along with them just fine."
"So you still have your key?" asked Hansuke.
"Yeah, it's in my room, under the ghost repellent."
"So one of the other Water drivers must have done it."
"Not necessarily," spoke up Roxias. "The thief could have stolen one of their keys. We should go ask them if they seem to have misplaced theirs."
"Ha, see, I knew it good idea to bring you along," said Grandpa Hansuke approvingly. "We be back soon, Scout."
"While you're out, could you bring me a taco?" called Scout as the two hurried off. "Prison food is terrible- annnnd, they're gone."
Hansuke and Roxias tracked down the afternoon and night drivers first. When the afternoon driver admitted that she had misplaced their key the previous evening, and had yet to find it, they were relieved. It looked like they were on the right track. Now they just needed to narrow down the suspect list, which at the moment consisted of...well, everyone in Neopia.
"Whoever it is has grudge against Scout," said Hansuke as he and Roxias walked through the streets of Faerieland. "Thank goodness she so anti-social, because that narrows it down to fellow Training School students and fellow drivers."
"Since whoever this was knew how to operate a cloud racer so well, it's probably a fellow driver," said Roxias. "Did Scout ever mention any who dislike her?"
Hansuke shook his head. "She complain when someone fly stupid, but not when they have feud with her. She prefer to fight her own battles."
"I noticed," muttered Roxias. He suddenly froze in his tracks. "Wait a minute. When Scout and I first met up a couple days ago, it was because this group called the Jetsam Thieves were after her. They said they'd been hired to keep her out of the way for the next few days. I think...I think whoever did this hired them to do that, in hopes that it wouldn't seem like a good enough alibi. And then when that failed, they robbed the safe instead, to make it look like she was driven to steal from the Hidden Tower to help out her family. I mean, you lot ARE pretty much the only Neopians she actually likes."
"So we looking for the driver of cloud racer rich enough to hire Jetsam Thieves, but greedy enough to rob Hidden Tower, and who has big grudge against Scout," mused Hansuke. "Okay, that narrows it down considerably! Let us go talk to drivers, see who matches that description!"
As he ran off towards the cloud races, the ogrin had to admit that he was enjoying himself. While he wished Scout hadn't had to suffer for it, this was the sort of adventure he'd missed! He had a mystery to solve, thieves to catch, and someone to save! While he was skeptical of Scout's theory that Roxias was a "danger magnet," he had to admit, things HAD gotten a lot more exciting the moment the lupe came around. If Scout was right, he hoped the boy stuck around a little longer. Hmm, or maybe, he could stick around the boy...
They reached the cloud races, and Hansuke jolted himself out of his thoughts. He looked around, trying to remember which driver was "Yule." He distinctly remembered Scout talking about Yule being the least stupid person there, which, for Scout, was pretty high praise.
Oh, right, the Earth driver, that Christmas Xweetok! Hansuke hurried over to the Earth racer, shouting, "Hey! Yule, right?"
The Christmas Xweetok looked up from cleaning her racer. "Yeah, that's what they call me. What can I do ya for?"
"I Hansuke. Scout's uncle," explained Hansuke. Yule's eyebrows shot up. "I thought you were her grandpa."
"No, no, that just my title, Mystery Islanders call most all their elders Grandpa. Well, her aunt calls me Uncle Han because the age difference not that great, but I really just a family friend...you know what, I explain some other time," decided Hansuke. He and Roxias explained about Scout. When they finished, Hansuke questioned, "You know any rich drivers who would want to land Scout in big trouble?"
"Well, the majority of people here are rich, you almost have to have lots of connections to compete, but I only know three who really have it in for Scout," mused Yule. "See the speckled kyrii, the camoflauge Nimmo, and that yellow Tonu with the chipped horn? I'd suggest talking to them."
They thanked her, and did as she said. The kyrii smiled innocently at them as they neared. "Hello there. Can I help you?"
"We looking for someone who framed Scout. All signs point to you," said Hansuke.
"Oh, did Yule tell you we're Scout's worst enemies or something? We do have a pretty big rivalry with her, but I promise, I would never do anything like INCRIMINATE her. That would be insane," laughed the kyrii. Hansuke looked at the Nimmo and Tonu. "And what about you two?"
The Nimmo looked down at his feet as he murmured, "No. Wouldn' do anything like tha' at all." The Tonu looked Hansuke in the eye as he denied it. Hansuke's eyebrows shot up. "You have green eyes."
"I was born a red Tonu. Most of us have green eyes. Is there a point to that statement?" the Tonu retorted.
"Feh, I guess not," shrugged Hansuke. "Come, Roxias, let us look elsewhere."
As they walked away, Roxias muttered, "You think it was them, don't you?"
"There are morphing potions that would let him become yellow zafara. Lab ray could do him one better and make him girl yellow zafara," Hansuke muttered back. "Add wig, and he looks a lot like Scout all of a sudden. I guess he couldn't find way to get completely back to red Tonu."
"We're going to have to find more proof than Yule's statement about them having it in for Scout, and that Tonu's green eyes."
"I know." Hansuke thought for a moment, then questioned, "Those were the Jetsam Thieves who hate your whole family, right?"
The blue jetsam who led the Jetsam Thieves sat in a Neovian restaurant, drowning his misery in tea and crumpets. A Weewoo flew up to him just then, a yellow envelope in its beak. Curious, the jetsam took the envelope, and read the name scrawled on the corner. Roxias Elbuort. What was HE doing Neomailing a Jetsam Thief? The jetsam ripped open the envelope, and quickly read the letter. His face grew redder and redder, and he finally ripped the letter to shreds, and shoved those shreds in his mouth and chewed them up. That done, he shot to his feet and hurried towards the door, ready to go to Faerieland to do the same to the letter's writer. "'Slimy as a slorg and twice as stupid!' I'll show him...!"
"'Slimy as a slorg and twice as stupid'? You couldn't do better than that?" Scout asked, staring at Roxias, who had just finished telling her what he and Grandpa Hansuke had uncovered so far.
"I didn't NEED to. I could call him the most gorgeous of Neopians, and he'd be ready to fight me," Roxias replied.
Scout arched an eyebrow. "And you're sure that challenging him to fight you down in the Faerieland dungeons won't seem the slightest bit suspicious to him?"
She was surprised when the lupe gave her a sardonic smile and said, "The 'slorg' thing wasn't an insult so much as a statement of fact."
"...Right. Well, here's hoping this little plan of yours works, AND that this guy actually talks," said Scout.
"It MY plan, actually, so of course it going to work," said Grandpa Hansuke confidently.
"Fine, but I'm gonna do the asking. You two wouldn't scare a puppyblew," decided Scout.
A few minutes later, the blue jetsam arrived, though he was so flushed from anger that he looked purple. When he saw Roxias, he didn't seem to consider the fact that the lupe had taken down several of his goons the other day, nor did he seem to notice Scout and Grandpa Han's presence. He charged at Roxias, bellowing, "ELBUOOOOOORT!"
Within seconds, they had him locked in the cell next to Scout's. Grandpa Hansuke triumphantly held up the keys, which he'd "borrowed" from a guard. "I still got it!"
The jetsam snarled some unintelligible threats as he attempted to bite through the bars.
"Yeah, you can try that until all your teeth fall out of your head, OR you can tell us what you know," said Scout. "Who hired you to try to spirit me away?"
"I'm not saying nothin'!" grumbled the jetsam.
"I suggest you change your mind. Grandpa Hansuke's got the keys, remember? So either you can talk and we can let you out all peaceful-like, or he can let ME in there. WITH his cane," growled Scout. "You saw what I can do with my bare hands, how well d'you think you'll do if I have a weapon?"
The jetsam paled. "Alright, alright, you got me! It was some speckled kyrii. Said she needed you outta the way for a coupla days, and that once she gave the word, we should go dump you a little ways outside the city and make it seem like you crashed into a tree or somethin'. But that's all I know!"
"That's all I need," said Scout triumphantly. She turned to Grandpa Hansuke and Roxias. "Looks like you were right. Man, that was easy."
"It's not quite over yet," Roxias pointed out. "We still need to convince the guards."
"Oh, that won't be a problem. Lemon-Fresh is gonna tell them herself," said Scout with a wicked grin.
A couple hours later, Lemon-Fresh was on her way to Faerie Furniture when she bumped into a yellow zafara.
"'Scuse me," she muttered, then did a doubletake. The zafara was wearing an oversized hoodie, with the hood pulled far over her eyes, but there was no mistaking her for anyone but Scout Capernaum.
Before Lemon-Fresh could process this, a blue lupe clad in guard attire ran up, shouting, "You! Zafara! Halt!"
Scout took off running. Lemon-Fresh, wanting answers, followed the zafara. She managed to catch up to her, and took her to her Neohome, claiming that the zafara could hide out there for a bit. Once they were inside, Lemon-Fresh demanded, "How did you get out?"
"P-picked the lock," gasped Scout, a bit winded from all that running. "I-I was on the second floor, it wasn't that hard to climb down. I'd changed and was halfway to the eyrie taxi station when they realized I'd escaped, and started the manhunt. Please, Lem, if they come to your door, just pretend I'm not here!"
Lemon-Fresh grinned. "Yeah, sure, I'll do that. It's the least I can do, after you took the fall for me."
Scout stared. "What are you talking about?"
"You know, I was the best at cloud racing till you came along. Now whenever anyone sings the morning shift's praises, it's always 'Waterjet' this, 'Waterjet' that, and it gets pretty tiring. To say nothing of how utterly unlikable you are, with your dagger tongue and your refusal to take anything lying down. I like to be under control at all times, and you, you refuse to comply. And so, when I fell into a little debt with some...less-than-savory Cheat players, I thought, why not pay my debtors AND get rid of the thorn in my paw in one fell swoop?"
"Wait. Are you seriously saying you framed me because I wouldn't let you be the King Buzzer?" asked Scout in disbelief.
"That was certainly one reason," agreed Lemon-Fresh.
"But...how did you even manage something like that?!"
"Oh, it was simple. Speckled-Belly and Chip weren't too happy with you stealing their glory either, so it was all too easy to get them to along with my plan. It turns out the Lab Ray isn't entirely random. You CAN program it to give you a specific combination, it just takes a lot of effort, and isn't nearly as fun. Speckled-Belly knew a guy, and we managed to convince them to turn Chip into a female yellow zafara last night. Once he donned a curly brown wig, it was all too easy to mistake him for you. We took Steampunk's key to the Water faerie racer, and, well, you know the rest. We'll sit on the loot for a little while, then, once it's safe, we'll sell it off for twenty times the amount we stole from your family's safe. And you'll spend the rest of your days on the run for a crime you didn't even commit!" said Lemon-Fresh, a wicked grin breaking out on her face. "Tell me, Scout, how does it feel to hear that?!"
"Oh, pretty great, actually," said Scout. The next thing Lemon-Fresh knew, one of her arms was twisted behind her back. Scout said cheerfully, "Limona "Lemon-Fresh" Amargo, you're under arrest."
"You don't have the authority to do that!" snarled Lemon-Fresh, furious.
"No, but I do," said Brynn, stepping out from behind a curtain. The elderly yellow ogrin who had spoken to Lemon-Fresh at the races poked his head out of a giant vase, and exclaimed triumphantly, "I told you this would be worth it!"
"Yes, you're very persuasive," agreed Brynn with a tired smile. She cuffed Lemon-Fresh, and addressed Scout. "I'm sorry I didn't investigate this more thoroughly."
"It's fine. At least I got this cool souvenir," said Scout, holding up a harmonica.
It didn't take long for the guards to find Chip and Speckled-Belly. Chip struggled the whole time, but Speckled-Belly actually seemed a little relieved. He addressed Scout, "I'm sorry, Waterjet. We took this way too far."
"Why didn't you go to the guards, then?" asked Scout. Speckled-Belly cast a fearful glance at Lemon-Fresh, who was relieved that she still had SOMEONE, at least, in her power. Scout shook her head. "Tell you what, I'll put in a good word for you. Maybe they'll let you go sometime this decade."
With that, the guards led the trio away. Once Lemon-Fresh was in her cell, she glared out the window. Scout stood grinning up at her, along with the ogrin and that blue lupe in guard attire.
"You've just made a big mistake, Scout Capernaum! I vow to never rest until you rue the day you ever set eyes on Limona Amargo!" Lemon-Fresh hollered down at the zafara.
"Too late!" Scout laughed, then turned, and walked away. No matter how much Lemon-Fresh ordered her to come back, as she wasn't finished threatening her yet, the zafara refused to so much as look in her direction again.
Roxias was relieved to get out of the Faerieland guard uniform. The majority of the guards there were either faerie, or female Neopets, and it showed in their attire. While Roxias liked the color pink, he didn't necessarily want to WEAR it, so he gladly changed into his own tunic as soon as he could.
"Aw, but it went so well with your complexion," teased Scout as Roxias joined her and Hansuke in the guards' break room.
"Allow me to apologize once again for the misunderstanding," said Brynn. "If there is ever any way I can repay you, just let me know."
"Well, my grandfather was arrested on false charges more than once, and so was my aunt. Who am I to break the family tradition?" Scout asked, once again using that tone that made it impossible for Roxias to tell if she was joking or not. "But, I will keep your offer in mind."
Brynn looked down at her watch, and flushed. "Oh! I, um, I'm afraid I must leave you now. I promised someone I'd meet him for dinner."
"Well, don't let us keep you from your favorite ixi thief," said Grandpa Hansuke with a grin. Still flushing, Brynn took her leave. The others followed her out.
"That was fun," declared Grandpa Hansuke. "We should do that more often."
"Fine, so long as YOU'RE the damsel in distress," said Scout.
"I hardly think you can be called that. You told us what we needed to know to start to piece together what happened, you got the blue jetsam to confirm the truth, and you caught Lemon-Fresh."
"Yeah, but you and Danger Magnet did all of the footwork, and you were the one who convinced Brynn to let us try to trap Lemon-Fresh like that in the first place."
"Okay, so you were a halfway damsel in distress. A halfsel. That make you happy?"
"I'm never happy," said Scout, which was a complete contradiction to the smile on her face. "Let's go home."
'Home,' thought Roxias, his heart giving a little pang at the thought. Had it really been only three days since he'd left his own home?
They took an eyrie taxi cab back to Mystery Island. If Scout minded being knocked to the ground by her aunt's flying tackle-hug, or the way that Mo spent a good thirty minutes alternating between chastising her and smothering her in affection, she didn't show it. Between the four of them, they managed to raise a pretty good amount of Neopoints that evening. It helped that word had gotten around the island that Max's Inn had been robbed, and the inhabitants suddenly got a strong desire to eat dinner there, and to give VERY generous tips. Roxias recognized a lot of faces, including Jhuidah, the Island Mystic, the Techo Master, and even the Tombola Man, who bravely stayed at the inn until his meal was done despite the death glare Grandpa Hansuke was giving him. That night was a happy one, made happier by the realization that they had raised just enough to pay the inn's bills. They wouldn't have to borrow anything at all!
The next few days, much to Roxias's relief but Grandpa Hansuke's disappointment, were fairly peaceful. Mo allowed Roxias to help out around the inn, which had become a hub of activity once the tourists learned that it had been the scene of a crime, and insisted that he keep whatever he received in tips. Roxias earned far more than he ever had fighting in the Battledome, though he still went there for a few sparring sessions each day so that his fighting skills wouldn't grow rusty. When he wasn't working or fighting, he meandered around the island alongside Grandpa Hansuke, who had insisted on being his "tour guide." The elderly yellow ogrin knew of a lot of places you can't find on a Tikki Tour, like a cave that led to an underground lake illuminated by thousands of glowing crystals, and a village of Neopets who were painted Disco as soon as they came of age. Then, about two weeks into Roxias's stay, Grandpa Hansuke decided to show him what he called "This island's greatest treasure."
A little ways down the beach from Max's Inn there was a massive waterfall that spilled out into the sea. Grandpa Hansuke and Roxias took a hidden path that led to a narrow tunnel behind the waterfall.
"Alright, if I get ahead of you, just remember, keep going straight. No left or right turns," said Grandpa Hansuke. With that, they went down a long, winding tunnel, which finally let out into a massive cave that appeared to let out straight to the sea. The cave was totally empty, save for a single ship, which appeared to be a large sailboat with a map of Neopia on the largest sail. Her name was spelled out in gilded letters: "The Nomad."
Roxias's eyes widened. "Is...is that...?"
"Oh, yes. Tobi, Maxwell, and me stole her from his family when we first ran away to explore Neopia, and we and Evans called her home for many years," said Grandpa Hansuke, a wistful smile on his face. "After Tobi become chief of Elbuorts, he give her to Maxwell so Maxwell could be a wayfinder in style. After Maxwell pass on, he leave her for me to keep safe till Scout can take it, but since Scout not want her right now, I think it okay if you borrow her or a bit."
Roxias stared. "You can't be serious."
"No, I mean it. Of course, you can't operate her all on own, so, I might have to go with you," said Grandpa Hansuke, his merry expression making him look a lot younger.
"Well, only if you're sure," said Roxias uncertainly.
"Oh, I very sure. You an Elbuort, you sure to have plenty of crazy adventures during your pilgrimage, if a few days ago any indication, and I been dying to have some more of those," said Grandpa Hansuke.
Roxias grinned himself. "Well, having a friend along for the trip isn't technically against the rules."
"Great! Now, let me give you grand tour!"
They headed onto the boat, Grandpa Hansuke jabbering away so quickly that it took all Roxias's effort to keep up.
They made the announcement to Scout and Mo that night at dinner. Mo wasn't done congratulating them before Scout stood, and silently stormed out of the dining room, slamming the door behind her. She headed to the roof of the inn, where she sat with her chin on her knees, gazing out at the sea. She had avoided it for so long, but over the past few days, something had changed. For most of her life, the sea had always meant adventure, and while she had suppressed her desire for adventure, she hadn't wanted anything to do with the sea. But something about the mishap with Lemon-Fresh had fully awakened that desire for adventure, and she couldn't get it back to sleep no matter how hard she tried. She hated to admit it, but she wanted to smell the salty sea air and go to sleep rocked by the waves again. And she had almost convinced herself that she didn't need to, that she was needed here and that leaving the safety of her little world of cloud racing and innkeeping would only bring back bad memories anyway, when that STUPID Elbuort guy suddenly decided to steal her grandfather's boat- HER boat- AND her uncle, and leave her behind. She growled, and muttered, "It's not like I was gonna use that pile of driftwood anytime soon, anyway."
"No, but we can fix that," said Mo. Scout jumped, and whirled around to see her aunt standing right behind her. The green kougra smiled, and sat down next to her. "I told Uncle Han a few days ago that I'd pay for someone to work in his stead, and now that we're getting more guests than ever, I can pay to replace you, too. Just temporarily, of course. Just so long as you want to be away."
"But I DON'T want to-" began Scout. She sighed. "...It's that obvious?"
"Honestly, I'm just amazed it took this long," said Mo. "If the Elbuorts are known for landing themselves in sticky situations, we Capernaums are known for our wanderlust. Well, were, but you can change that."
Scout hesitated. "I...I don't want to leave you alone."
"You'll never leave me. Not really. Mom and Dad haven't, and they're farther away right now than you could possibly sail," said Mo with a slightly sad smile. "And I believe that this might be just what you've needed. I would rather you go away for a while, and return the person I know you can be, than stay here, and waste all of your potential."
"But...what if I can't handle it? What if the memories of...of what happened to Grampin...?"
"I know you can take them. It will be hard, the worst enemy we will ever face is ourselves, but if you can defeat your inner opponents, you'll find yourself all the stronger for it."
Scout looked at her aunt as though she'd just revealed the answer to all of life's problems. She stood, and began climbing down the inn walls. "I'll be right back."
The zafara made her way to the Training School as quickly as she could. She found the Techo Master in the garden, meditating. Without opening his eyes, the techo remarked, "Hello, Lila. I take it this is an urgent matter?"
"There's a guest at the inn who's on a year-long pilgrimage. And he's taking my grandfather's boat as his method of transportation. If I go with him, I'll have no choice but to face those inner enemies you were talking about, AND socialize with someone outside of my family," stated Scout. "If I do all that, when I come back, will you let me take my final test?"
The Techo Master slowly opened his eyes and gave Scout a smile. "Yes."
"Yes?" repeated Scout, surprised. "Just like that?"
"Yes. But I do have one condition: you must stay throughout the entire pilgrimage. You cannot take your final test till it is over."
"But, that's almost a year away!"
"Which will give you plenty of time to sort through things," replied the Techo Master calmly. "And, perhaps, work on your balance. I've noticed that that still needs a little work."
Scout knew it was useless to argue, so she simply bowed, and went home. Mo seemed more amused than anything when she learned of the Techo Master's decision. "Well, he's not wrong about your balance."
"I can't believe I just did that," groaned Scout. "I just agreed to spend a YEAR abroad, trying to 'find myself' like some...some..."
"Some wannabe knight?" asked Mo.
Scout scowled. "Well, at least I can TOLERATE the danger magnet."
Mo chuckled, and pulled her niece into a hug. "I'll tell them I forced you into this, if you're too embarrassed to admit you want to go yourself."
Scout shook her head, and went to go pack. This was going to be a long year.
'This is going to be a long year,' thought Roxias as he followed Grandpa Hansuke and Scout over to The Nomad, now docked in front of Max's Inn. Roxias only had a backpack to carry a spare change of clothes and his Neopoints, and Scout had one suitcase, but Grandpa Hansuke was pushing a wheelbarrow full of luggage up the gangplank.
"Do you really need all of that?" Scout questioned.
"You have any idea how many monsters, villains, and legions of evil petpets there are in Neopia?!" retorted Grandpa Hansuke. "Is dangerous, going out there, and I will not have us go unprepared! I am equipping us for every possible scenario, from vampire attacks to the meepit apocalypse! And I am equipping MYSELF with stylish wardrobe! Just because I'm adventurer doesn't mean I can't look fabulous!"
"If you say so. Give me a couple nice blouses and pairs of jeans, and maybe some decent, pocketed dresses, and I'm good," shrugged Scout. On the edge of the gangplank, she hesitated, eyeing the ship floor before her like it had suddenly turned into a tar pit. Roxias frowned, concerned. "Something wrong?"
Scout straightened, and stepped onto the boat. "Not at all."
"Are you sure? Because if there's a problem-"
"Don't you dare suggest I turn back! I said I'd come, and I'll see this through to the end," said Scout firmly. "If only because I won't have your landlubber self messing up my ship. I call the captain's cabin."
She walked off. Roxias watched her go, unsure how he felt.
"Heh, she's definitely warming up to you," noted Grandpa Hansuke. "At this rate, she might even like you someday."
"Sure, when humans fly," muttered Roxias. They said their final farewells to Mo, and then they were off. As Roxias watched Mystery Island disappear, he remembered seeing his own home vanish into the distance a couple of weeks ago. A couple of weeks. Which meant he still had fifty to go before he set foot in Meridell again. Fifty weeks before he could go home.
But, that was also fifty weeks before he could become a full-fledged knight, which was closer to that goal than he had ever been before. And, he mused as he looked at Grandpa Hansuke, currently spraying the entire ship with ghost repellent, and Scout, practicing her kicks, at least he wouldn't be bored in the meantime. This was going to be a long trip, but an entertaining one.
And, who knew, maybe he'd even survive it.