The Travels of a Would-Be Knight: The Best Offense
"Spring, slow down!"
Spring cackled happily as she flew through Happy Valley on her broomstick, The Blumaroo's Gaze. Behind her Roxias, Scout and Xin were running as fast as they could, trying to keep up with her. Spring shouted over her shoulder, "Last one to the Neolodge is a rotten negg!"
"Yeah, and the first one's gotta eat it!" called Scout, who was rather enjoying herself.
"Scout, don't encourage her!"
"C'mon, Danger Magnet, you have to admit this is good exercise, at least!"
"You're doing great! Keep up the good work!" Spring shouted as she zoomed overhead an iceskating blue Bruce, who screamed something about a witch invasion, lost his balance, slipped, and slid off the ice directly into a lamppost. Spring winced in sympathy and called, "Sorry!"
"Knobs..." the Bruce replied dazedly.
Spring managed to zip through the rest of the Valley without causing any other injuries, though she did make Mr. Chipper drop an ice cream cone onto his foot and Boochi miss a rather large mutant Bori, who wasn't too happy that the little Bruce had tried to turn him Baby.
Spring grinned as a large brown building came into view. "Hey, guys, I see the--"
Something cold and wet hit Spring directly in the face, blinding her and causing her to lose control of her broomstick. Luckily she fell off right before she crashed, so she was cushioned by the snow rather than being buried in it. The human wiped the remnants of the snowball off her face, and blinked several times, trying to stop tearing up. She sat up just as a blue Kougra ran up to her, glowering. "You ruined my shot!"
"Huh?" asked Spring stupidly.
"I was totally about to hit that polarchuck when you come zooming by and get in the way! Don't you know this is Snowball Fight territory?" snapped the Kougra. "What are you even doing on that piece of junk?!"
Spring leaped to her feet and glared at the Kougra with her hands on her hips. "Hey, don't diss The Blumaroo's Gaze! It is a finely tuned instrument of precision and speed!"
"Like you even know what that means. What are you, five?"
"Could've fooled me. You've gotta be the shortest ten-year-old human I've ever seen."
"I am NOT short! I just haven't hit my growth spurt yet! I'll be GIANT in a coupla years!"
"Like that'll happen. Shrimp," snorted the blue Kougra.
For a shrimp, Spring tackled the Kougra rather well. The two rolled around in the snow kicking and punching each other.
"Take it back!"
"Never! Shrimp, shrimpy, shrimp!"
"Jerk! Schuzzbucket! Conceited bulbous-head!"
"SPRING!" cried Roxias as he yanked Spring away. He held the human up by the back of her collar so that she dangled about a foot off the floor, and looked at her furiously, "What were you doing?!"
"Beating the conceited bulbous-head up?" Spring replied weakly. Roxias put her down and shoved her towards the blue Kougra, who had stood up. "Spring is very sorry. Aren't you, Spring?"
Spring looked up at Roxias in disbelief. "You want ME to apologize? He's the one who dishonored The Gaze and called me Shrimp!"
"That doesn't excuse pummeling him, now apologize!" snapped the Lupe. Spring could tell from his expression that if she didn't, she'd be spending the rest of the trip locked in her Neolodge room. She sighed, and looked at the Kougra, "I'm sorry." No one saw her crossed fingers.
"Whatever. Just keep your stupid broomstick away from here," retorted the Kougra, and stomped off, muttering about 'stupid weirdos'.
"Charming guy," muttered Scout. Xin tilted his head at her in confusion, "You think he's charming? He's a jerk!"
Scout sighed. "After all these months, sarcasm is STILL a foreign language to you."
Spring looked up at Roxias with arched eyebrows, "And you still hate me for beating him up?"
"I don't hate you. I just don't want you to do things like beat up whoever offends you," sighed Roxias. "It could get you into serious trouble, and it would only bring you to his level. With jerks like that, the best offense is a good defense."
"Um, I'm pretty sure you've got that saying backwards," said Scout. Roxias glared at the Zafara and said through clenched teeth, "In THIS case, no. Spring, you shouldn't retaliate when jerks like that Kougra insult you. Just say you're sorry for whatever you did to offend them, and move on. You can add a few words in your defense, like you didn't mean to, but don't exchange insult for insult. Turn the other cheek."
Spring stared. "Why would I do that? He'd just slap me."
Roxias sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Let's get to the Neolodge. Grandpa Hansuke'll be getting worried."
One week later
"Hey, Roxias, how much you love me?" Spring asked sweetly, peeping her head into Roxias' room.
"What do you want, Spring?" yawned the Lupe, glancing over at his alarm clock. It read '6:20 a.m. NST'.
"I hear the Snowager's usually asleep from now till seven. So may Xin and I go try to get stuff from his hoard?" asked Spring innocently. Roxias stared, "You realize what will happen if he wakes up and sees you?"
"Yeah, but you've got a bunch of healing potions for Xin, and I'll be okay. Please let us go? Scout and Grandpa Han already said it was okay!" pleaded Spring.
Roxias considered for a moment. Really, what was the worst that could happen? "Fine. But be careful, and don't talk to any strangers."
Spring grinned from ear to ear. "I love you!" She ran off, slamming the door behind her. "Xin, guess what! Roxias said yes!"
"Yay, I can get a keyring!" said Xin happily somewhere in the hallway. Roxias sighed, and buried his face in his pillow. Sweet Fyora, what have I done?
Spring whooped and danced Xin around in a circle, then pulled him into a hug. "You. Are. AWESOME! You go in for a keyring and come out with a Sloth Negg?! You oughta try those Wheels sometime!"
"But I really wanted a keyring," pouted Xin, the fact that he'd retrieved a super-rare item most Neopians would kill for completely sailing over his head. He and Spring had already been to the Snowager; Spring had gotten a Cheap Water Ring, but Xin had gotten a Sloth Negg. Curious as to what it was for, they took it to the Negg Faerie only to discover that the negg was worth almost two million neopoints. They had to walk because Spring was STILL spontaneously breaking out into dancing and song as she and Xin made their way out of the Ice Caves.
"With this you could buy, like, a THOUSAND keyrings! And I could buy wax for The Blumaroo's Gaze and new pots and pans for my mom and a bunch of comic books for Sai, and Scout could make The Nomad look shiny new, and Roxias could buy his own manor, and we'd STILL have neopoints left!" rambled Spring, flushed with excitement. "This is SO AWESOME! I'm gonna run around the Ice Caves yelling about how awesome it is!"
Xin watched curiously as the little human proceeded to run around the Ice Caves, screaming at the top of her lungs, "THIS IS AWESOME!"
"What's she so happy about?" wondered the Grundo aloud. He looked down at the Sloth Negg and made a face. "Why are you worth so much? You're creepy and you don't even do anything good! I wish you were a keyring!"
With no warning, a small blue Mynci in a black cloak, long brown sleeves and toeless boots, black leggings, and blue gloves appeared from out of nowhere and snatched the negg out of his hands. "Thank you!"
"H-hey, that's MINE! Spring!" cried Xin, unsure what else to do. "Spring, he's stealing your negg!"
Spring immediately jumped onto The Blumaroo's Gaze and began chasing after the Mynci. He was fast, faster than should be possible for a Mynci his size, but he was no match for The Gaze. After a few minutes- the Mynci was a clever one; he knew every evading trick in the book, and several times Spring almost lost him- Spring managed to corner him by the edge of a cliff at the top of the mountain. "Okay, Mynci, hand over the negg, and no one gets hurt!"
The Mynci turned and looked down. There was nothing but air separating him from the freezing ocean hundreds of feet below. He looked from the drop to Spring as though weighing his options. Then he held the negg out over the water. "Back off, or I'll drop it! Don't think I won't!"
"You wouldn't! That thing's worth two million!" cried Spring.
"Yeah, yeah. But I can find another one, easy. You can't," retorted the Mynci. Spring scowled. "Wait, I know you! You're that creepy Mynci thief who froze Taelia!"
"Yup. Valin the Quick, at your service," said the Mynci with a mock bow.
"So a famous guy like you has to stoop to stealing stuff from little kids now? Boy, I'll bet the other villains are laughing to death about how pathetic you are!" snorted Spring. Valin looked offended. "Pathetic?"
"Yeah, pathetic! A REAL villain wouldn't've had to steal a super-rare item from an eight-year-old and run away like a coward. A real villain would've been able to fight the heroes for it," replied Spring confidently. She'd only meant to insult him with the 'pathetic' comment, but maybe if she kept stalling, someone would realize she was in trouble and come to help...
"Oh, it's a fight you want, huh? Fine, I'll be in the Battledome all day. Meet me there at sunset," said Valin. Spring was surprised, but tried not to show it. She slammed her fist into her open palm, "Bring it on, Valin!"
"Not YOU, human! Him," smirked Valin, pointing at Xin, who was running up to them.
"D-don't... fly... so fast," panted the Grundo as he finally arrived at Spring's side.
"Him?! But he's--" began Spring.
"Like you said, a real villain would've been able to fight the heroes for it, and he's the only one of you 'heroes' who can fight me. He wins, you get the negg. I win, I get the negg," said Valin, crossing his arms and smirking. "That's my deal."
Spring scowled. "You're evil!"
"Duh. See you at sunset, Grundo," Valin said to Xin, then walked away, whistling.
"What... what just happened?" panted Xin. Spring had turned a sickly shade of green. She dismounted her broomstick and began pacing back and forth, "Okay, okay, calm down, this is gonna be fine, he's just... level 26 with a bunch of really lethal weapons... Xin, I think I just signed you up for a battle to the death you can't possibly win!"
"I looked everywhere in Happy Valley, but there was no sign of them!" Roxias exclaimed as he approached Grandpa Hansuke and Scout.
"They weren't in the Ice Caves, either," sighed Scout.
"Or Top of Mountain! It like they just vanished!" exclaimed Grandpa Hansuke. Roxias shook his head. "We've been looking for them for FOUR HOURS! Where in Neopia could they possibly have gone?!"
"Come ON Coltzan, it wouldn't kill you to bless someone twice in one day, would it? You're already dead! I KNOW you can increase Xin's speed as well as defence! Come on, it's an EMERGENCY! If you don't do it, he's gonna get beaten to a pulp by a schuzzbucket Mynci! What kind of king are you?!" hollered Spring, kicking the sand in frustration when there was no response from Coltzan's Shrine. She grabbed Xin's hand, "C'mon, Xin, let's get back to the Training School! You're rested enough, aren't ya?"
"But I already trained in there TWICE today!" whined the Grundo. "Two hours each!"
"My mom says hard work's good for you. It builds character," replied Spring. "Now come ON, before Ryshu goes on lunch break!"
She and Xin had been teleporting from Mystery Island to Faerieland to the Lost Desert, doing all they could to increase Xin's HP and stats before sunset. Unfortunately, since Xin had been quite slow and weak to begin with, they'd only managed to get him up to level 3, average in everything.
"Hi,sensei! Here for another lesson!" exclaimed Spring cheerfully as she and Xin entered the Training School. Ryshu stared at her in disbelief. "Young lady, I've half a mind to report you for neopet abuse! I appreciate the enthusiasm, but your neopet is only eight and is here for the very first time! He can't take so much intense training in one day!"
"Nuh-uh!" agreed Xin, who had flopped down on the floor the minute Spring let go of his hand.
"But if he doesn't get really good really fast, he's gonna get whooped by Valin and we're gonna lose the Negg!" protested Spring. Ryshu stared. "What?"
Spring explained the situation to him. "So you'll help us, right?"
Ryshu sighed. "I suppose. But not in the way you think."
Ryshu looked at her and Xin, the twinkle in his eye betraying his grave expression. "Have you ever heard of a spirit-switch?"
"No luck?" Scout guessed as Roxias stormed up, looking furious.
"Apparently, it's against policy for them to start a Neopia-wide search for someone before they've been missing twenty-four hours! Can you believe it?!" snapped Roxias.
"I've tried to tell you, Roxias, people are stupid. Even the DoN," shrugged Scout.
"I think it to make sure person is really missing, not just run away as prank," piped up Grandpa Hansuke.
"But it's been nine hours since we heard anything from them! What, do they think we'll just see the kids strolling through the Ice Caves?" demanded Roxias.
"Er, Danger Magnet?" said Scout, pointing. Roxias and Grandpa Han turned to see Spring and Xin strolling through the Ice Caves with a red Nimmo who uncannily resembled Master Ryshu. They appeared to be heading for the Ice Arena.
"Once we're done yelling at the kids, you and me are getting some scratchcards," Scout declared and she and the others ran after the children. They caught up with Spring in the Ice Arena; she and the Nimmo were sitting on the row as close as possible to the fighting ring.
"Spring, where have you been?! You and Xin had us worried... where's Xin?!" demanded Roxias, looking around wildly.
"Roxias..." said Scout weakly, pointing at the fighting ring.
Roxias turned to see the fighters entering the ring. One was Valin the Quick, and one was... XIN?! He gawked at Spring, "Have you lost your minds?!"
"But if he wins we get back the Sloth Negg, and he's been training real hard all day, and it's not even him, not really!" stammered Spring defensively. A bell rang, signaling the match's start.
"Yup, she's cracked," moaned Scout, and gave Roxias a light shove, "You go tell the ref to stop the match. I'll watch Little Loony over here."
A cheer from the crowd made everyone look over at the ring, where Xin had just nimbly dodged an attack from Valin and retaliated with a blow to the Mynci's head. The Mynci lost 3 hitpoints.
Roxias, Scout, and Grandpa Hansuke's jaw dropped. They looked from Spring to the ring, still slackjawed.
"Spring... what did you do?" questioned Roxias once he found his voice.
"I didn't do anything. Master Ryshu did," she replied, grinning. Roxias and Scout had no idea what she was talking about, but Grandpa looked over at the red Nimmo and grinned like it was the Day of Giving. "Ooh, this will be good!"
For the next few minutes Scout and Roxias just sat there,watching in amazement as Xin managed to dodge or parry every single one of Valin's attacks and score his own touches, as though it were no big deal. The audience cheered with every touch the Grundo made; the chief screamers were Spring, Grandpa Han, and the red Nimmo. Finally Valin collapsed unconscious from a strike to the back of his head, and Xin was declared the winner as Valin was carried out of the ring. The crowd went wild.
"WOOOOO! YOU ROCK, DUDE!" Spring screamed, leaping up on the bench and applauding as hard as she could. "YOU'RE AWESOME!"
"Go Master Ryshu- oops!" cried the Nimmo, slapping his hand over his mouth.
"Wait, Master Ryshu? XIN?" cried Roxias, staring at the Nimmo in disbelief. "You're Xin?"
The Nimmo smiled sheepishly. "Hi, Roxias."
"B-but how is that possible?!"
"Spirit-switch spell. Made Xin and Ryshu's bodies switch spirits," piped up Grandpa Hansuke.
"Xin and the teacher of the Mystery Island Training School switched bodies," Roxias said slowly, unable to believe it.
"Valin said he was going to fight Xin for the Sloth Negg. He didn't say it had to be Xin's spirit, just Xin's physical body," said Spring smugly. "Like you said, Roxias, the best offense is a good defense, right? Or an expert in self-defense."
"Not what I meant. Now let's go get Xin's body back," sighed Roxias.
"And on the way, you can explain why Valin challenged Xin in the first place," added Scout. "Did I seriously hear the words 'Sloth Negg' come out of your mouth?"
A little while later Roxias, Scout, Grandpa Han, Xin (now back in his own body) and Spring left the Ice Caves and headed back to the Neolodge, Spring hugging the Sloth Negg tightly and babbling about all the things she was going to buy with the money.
"If she starts stroking it and cooing 'My precious', run for it," Scout muttered to the others.
Just then a teenage human walked past them, carrying two little Acaras, one red and one yellow.
"Daddy, I'm hungry!" whined the red one.
"I know, Sweetie. I'll get us some food soon, I promise. Maybe even a real neohome, someday," sighed the boy. He took off his scarf and wrapped it around the head of the yellow Acara, who was shivering. "Is that better, Brave?"
The little Acara smiled up at him. "Yeah. Thanks, Daddy."
The boy smiled back, genuine affection flickering in his eyes. "No problem."
Spring stared at the small family as they walked away. They were all wearing coats, but the coats were obviously old, and the clothes underneath were threadbare and torn in a couple of places. And they were all skinny like they didn't get enough to eat, especially the teenage boy, who also had dark circles under his eyes. That family had to be some of the poorest of the poor. Spring felt incredibly guilty just looking at them, probably on their last 100 neopoints, while she had just been rattling off all the junk she was going to buy with this Negg.
Spring looked from the Sloth Negg to the retreating family, brow wrinkling. Finally she sighed, hung her head, and tossed the Negg at the teenage boy. It hit him in the back; he turned, startled, and looked down to see the Sloth Negg sitting in the snow.
"Something has happened: some cruel idiot's thrown a Sloth Negg at you! You quickly pick it up, wondering if they know they've just done you an enormous favor!" called Spring, deepening her voice as much as possible. For a moment the boy stared at the Negg in disbelief, his freckles standing out sharply against his pale face. Then he grinned, bent down, and scooped it up with his free hand. "Braveheart, Sweetie, guess what! We're going to Pizzaroo for dinner, to celebrate getting our 2.0 neohome in Neopia Central!"
Roxias, Scout, Xin, and Grandpa Hansuke watched the family walk away chatting excitedly, then looked over at Spring, who was scowling out her shoes.
"That was very noble of you, Spring," said Roxias gently. She sighed, and mumbled grouchily, "I know. Man, I HATE doing the right thing sometimes!"
"So on the one hand, she was reckless and almost made her friend get hurt. On the other hand, her recklessness wound up bringing good to a family in need. On the one FOOT though, that only happened because she was very, very lucky and found a capable fighter who took pity on her. So what's the moral here?" questioned Scout. "'Cause I'm kind of lost."
"Good can come even out of evil?" suggested Roxias.
"But Spring wasn't necessarily being EVIL, was she? Let's face it, if recklessness evil, half of Neopia's heroes actually villains," argued Grandpa Hansuke. "How about 'Not everything in life have lesson?'"
"Um, isn't that kind of paradoxical? You're saying not everything in life has a moral, as a moral," pointed out Scout.
There was a long awkward silence as everyone tried to come up with a better moral.
"Keyrings are awesome and Jelly World doesn't really exist?" Xin piped up finally. Everyone looked at him.
"Yeah, let's go with that. 'Keyrings are awesome and Jelly World doesn't really exist.' That's always a good stand-by," nodded Scout.
"Does that mean I'm not grounded for disappearing for nine hours?" Spring asked eagerly.
"Nope. For the rest of our stay here, you're not leaving our sight, and neither is Xin," replied Roxias. Spring hung her head, "Aw, man!"