The Book: Part Two
Edna’s Tower had never been so full. The comfy, moth-ridden armchairs, the solid wooden dining chairs, even the stools from under the stairs had been used. She simply had no more emergency chairs to go around. They were all gathered around the Fortune Teller, who was waving her hands mystically over her crystal ball.
“I don’t see why we are letting her do this,” Sophie said from a corner. “She didn’t even know the thing still existed.”
“Do you have any better ideas?” the Fortune Teller snapped.
Sophie fell silent.
“Lisha, dear,” Edna said to the young Aisha, “light the fire under the cauldron, would you? I think we could all do with a nice warm brew.”
Lisha did as she was told, and within a few minutes the witches all had steaming mugs of tea in front of them. Edna may not have had a large supply of chairs, but she had a seemingly infinite amount of mugs.
A large drop of water landed on Kauvara’s head.
“You really should get that leak seen to,” Morguss commented.
“Oh I have, hundreds of times,” Edna replied. “The roof just seems to want to leak.”
“Shush! I have something,” the Fortune Teller said, peering into the ball at the mists inside which seemed to be spiralling.
“What?” the witches asked in unison.
“Hold on,” the Fortune Teller replied. “I see... waves, water, lots of water.”
“That narrows it down,” Sophie scoffed.
“Maraqua?” Edna asked.
“No, it’s on the surface, inside something... a ship?” the Fortune teller said, trying to make out the images in the ball.
“Great, a ship,” Morguss said.
“Wait, there seems to be land nearby; the ship hasn’t left port yet,” the Fortune Teller continued. “Krawk Island, it must be!”
“Pirates, that’s the last people we want getting it,” Sophie muttered.
“No,” Kauvara said. “The Faeries are the last people we want getting it; pirates we can deal with.”
“It looks like it’s going to set sail soon,” the Fortune Teller said.
“Then we have no time to lose!” Edna shouted. “Ladies, grab your broomsticks!”
Maria tracked the hooded figure as best she could, but the closer she got to the port, the more she was forced out into the open. She clung to the shadows until they were no longer there. The figure had stopped near a small galleon, and was talking to a pirate Chomby there. She pressed herself against the wall of a nearby building and moved closer.
“I need passage to Kiko Lake,” the figure said to the Chomby.
“Then today’s your lucky day,” the Chomby replied. “I’ve got some thimbles to pick up in Kiko Lake.”
Maria sighed internally; she recognised this pirate. He was known locally as Thimbles Freddy, and captained the ship, the Irritating Pawkeet. Although he was a sound sailor, he was clearly insane to the residents of Krawk Island. When you consider that most of the residents of Krawk Island are mad old pirates, that’s saying something. Freddy was obsessed with thimbles, of all shapes, sizes and materials. He rarely got passengers, due to his habit of showing his entire thimble collection (numbering into the thousands) to all people who sailed with him. The dark figure must have been in a hurry to enlist the help of Freddy.
“How soon can you leave?” the figure asked.
“An hour, I suppose, maybe two,” Freddy replied.
“Good, take this as payment,” the figure said.
He passed over a small package which Freddy opened.
“This is a Meridell blue!” Freddy said in amazement. “It’s one of the rarest thimbles in the world! You can even see Skarl’s seal on it!”
“I trust it will be enough?” the figure asked.
“Well, the seal alone is worth five million...” Freddy began, but his brain caught up with his mouth. “I suppose it will be enough.”
“Good, I shall wait in the cabin,” the figure said, climbing the gangplank. “I hope to leave as soon as possible.”
Maria watched as the figure went below deck. If he had enough money to give away five million without blinking, the book must be beyond a price. Maria simply had to see it again; it called out to her mind, like a magnet of magic. Perhaps, with it, she’d have the means to escape Krawk Island forever.
She walked as smoothly as she could up to Freddy, who was examining the thimble.
“I need passage on your ship, Freddy,” she said.
Freddy glanced up from his new possession as if he was re-entering the universe from a strange parallel world of thimbles.
“What?” he asked.
“How much for passage?” Maria asked.
Freddy looked at her. He may have been insane, but he could tell when things weren’t right.
“Why does a barmaid want to go to Kiko Lake?” he asked.
“To visit relatives,” Maria lied.
This seemed to satisfy Freddy.
“Let’s see, four Dubloons, or a thimble,” he told her.
Maria searched the pockets of her apron.
Blast, she thought, pay day isn’t till tomorrow.
Freddy was still looking at her expectantly. There was nothing else for it. She pointed to the floor behind him.
“Look, a thimble!” she said.
Like an obedient pet, Freddy turned to look. Maria was at the top of the gangplank before he turned back. The Chomby stared at the space where Maria had been, and scratched his head. Then he frowned slightly, clearly unable to remember if there actually had been a person standing there earlier.
“I really must stop hallucinating people,” he said to himself before returning to his examination of the new thimble.
The Irritating Pawkeet set sail half an hour later. Being given one of the rarest thimbles on the planet had somehow lubricated Freddy’s old bones into preparing the ship to leave port a whole lot faster. Maria had located the cabin the figure had gone into straight away, and was lurking outside behind a barrel. Minutes passed, and the gravity of the situation slowly began to sink in.
Maria had abandoned her home, her job, her entire life, on a whim. Just so she could get another look at the magic book. She scowled at herself for being so impulsive. But, on the bright side, she was finally away from Krawk Island. Maybe she could start a new life somewhere else... a life as a witch.
High above, the witches circled.
They were packed onto their broomsticks. As a rule, witches like Lisha or Jerdana didn’t ride them, so the witches were being forced to share. It was also raining, and it was windy. All in all, the witches were not happy.
“Would you stop holding on quite so hard?” Sophie shouted at Jerdana.
“Sorry, I just don’t like heights that much,” Jerdana confessed from behind Sophie.
“Are you sure this is the one?” Morguss asked, pointing down to the Irritating Pawkeet.
Behind her, the Fortune Teller nodded.
“It must be,” she replied.
“It seems to be heading for Kiko Lake,” Kauvara shouted through the night wind and rain, “which means Neopia Central.”
“If the book ends up in the city, it could go anywhere!” Kayla shouted over Kauvara’s shoulder.
“If the book reaches the city, it’ll reach the Faeries, mark my words!” Kauvara added.
“Then we have to stop this ship,” Edna said quietly, though her words cut through the wind like knives.
“A storm should do it!” Sophie shouted.
“But what about Maraqua, or Water Faeries?” Lisha asked, “The book could be found!”
“Then a really big storm should do it!” Edna cackled.
It wasn’t the best plan, but it was the only plan they had. The ship could not be allowed to weigh anchor.
The witches flew in a circle, surrounding the ship, high above. Around them the winds grew fiercer, the rain stronger. The clouds gathered, the waves crashed. Within minutes, a full blown storm raged through the ocean, with its epicentre at the Irritating Pawkeet.
The ship lurched, Freddy at the wheel, waves the size of houses crashing onto the deck. Half of the crew was swept away instantly. Below deck, Maria was thrown from wall to wall. Eventually, the door of the cabin opened, and the figure stepped out. His hood was down, and Maria, hidden behind the barrel, could see he was a red Lupe. A pirate Grundo came running past and the Lupe grabbed him by the arm.
“Does the Captain require help?” he asked.
“All he can get!” the pirate replied, before running off down the corridor.
The Lupe put his hood back up, and went up to the deck to brave the storm. Maria took her chance, and ducked into his cabin, closing the door tightly behind her.
The book was on the table inside, still tightly bound. Oblivious to the ship lurching around her, drawn in by the book’s mystical power, Maria sat down at the table. She touched the cloth gently with her hands. They tingled on contact. Slowly, with awe, she unwrapped the cloth, uncovering the book within. There was the sensation of power coming from it again, and like clockwork the wall of air hit her. Maria fell backwards off the chair.
High above, the witches felt the power of the book. Several broomsticks flew off course as their owners felt the wave of magical energy wash over them.
“It’s definitely in there!” Edna shouted once she recovered herself.
“Increase the power of the storm!” Sophie shouted among thunder claps.
Maria woke on the floor of the cabin. The power of the book was still there, filling her mind with static, just on the edge of her hearing. Slowly, she got to her feet. The book didn’t look special; it was old and rotten, and didn’t have any of the stars or purple Maria had imagined magical things needed to have. There was a faded red circle on the cover, but that was it. She imagined that she’d have been more impressed by a magic book.
The ship was rocking from side to side violently now, the little oil lamp in the cabin swinging perilously on its hook. Maria ignored this; the book had her in its spell. Touching it as lightly as she dared, she opened the cover.
If the mere sight of the book hit her like a wall, opening it was like being hit by a sledgehammer, and then Kreludor falling on her. Maria’s body buzzed with the power, her hair stood on end. Lighting crackled and fizzed off her body. She would have blacked out, but she couldn’t. The book held her there, discharging magic into her body. Maria couldn’t even move her eyes; all she could do was stare at the first word of the page, the only word of the page.
High above, the witches spiralled out of control.
“What is it?” Lisha screamed into the wind.
“Magic!” Sophie screamed back. “Eons of residual magic, built up over the years! It’s discharging it all at once!”
“Someone has opened the book!” Edna shouted. “Someone is reading the book!”
“We bring this ship down now!” Morguss screamed with all her power.
There was no murmuring this time. The book was being read; it was too late for alternatives. The witches circled faster, chanted quicker. The storm’s rage increased. Waves rose on all sides, lightning earthed itself on the rigging. The winds tried to strip the wood from the ship, and the bones from Freddy, still holding tightly to the wheel.
Below in the cabin, the book released Maria. She sagged back onto the chair, panting as her hair returned to its normal state. Slowly she leaned forward. The first page was blank, the word was gone.
Had she imagined it?
Quickly she thumbed through the rest of the pages, all the rest were blank as well. Suddenly she came back to the present with a thud as the ship rocked and groaned. There was an almighty ripping sound, somewhere part of the ship had been blown off. The oil lamp fell from its holder and smashed on the floor. Maria picked up the book, closed its cover, and ran out of the room.
The corridor beyond was a mess of broken wood and smashed glass. The lamps there had broken as well. While being thrown from banister to banister, Maria made her way up the stairs to the deck. The wind and rain hit her instantly, almost lifting her off her feet. She fell to the floor; in front of her she could see Freddy behind the wheel, turning it madly. He was looking at the sky, there were dark figures swarming in a circle, illuminated by the lighting.
“Witches!” Freddy screamed into the night. “They’re after me thimbles!”
A shadow loomed over Maria. It was the red Lupe. His hood had been blown back. He was soaked.
“We’ll need all the help we can muster if we are to survive this,” he said, offering her a hand.
Then he paused; he had seen the book in Maria’s hand.
“That is mine,” he said carefully.
“Do you know how powerful this is?” Maria asked, backing away without getting up.
There was a shrill cackle in the night air.
“Witches!” Freddy screamed.
“Yes, I do; so do they,” the Lupe said, glancing up at the circling witches. “I think you and Thimbles are the only ones here who don’t.”
He held out his hand for the book. There was a nasty glare in his eye.
“You stole it!” Maria shouted.
“So did you,” the Lupe said calmly.
There was a flash of lightning, it hit the main sail and snapped the mast like a twig. Maria could see it fall; the Lupe couldn’t. She was on her feet and running as it fell on him. Where she was running she didn’t know, she was trapped on a boat in a storm. She reached the side of the ship and screamed at the witches.
“I have the book!” she yelled. “Take me with you!”
Her screams were lost to the night. As she fought for breath against the wind, a wave rose up out of the ocean. It was ten times the size of the ship, and crashed down on it like a bucket of water devouring a Moach. The ship did not return to the surface.
The Irritating Pawkeet was no more.
To be continued...