Finding Crystal: Part One
“Carly, I have decided what I want to be when I grow up.”
“Have you now?”
“Yes, I have decided. I had to think it over for an extended period of time, but I’m happy to say that I have finally decided.”
“Yes. I have decided, you see, to become a—well, I’ll have to tell you first that I originally had thoughts about being a cook, but that was before the Great Cooking Incident of Year 9. Do you remember that?”
“Oh, yes. I can still see the scorch marks.”
“Yes, I can as well. Well, after that, I thought about being ninja, but I’m not Shadow. Can Xweetoks be painted Shadow?” she asked worriedly.
“Yes, I think so.”
“Good. But Mummy says I’m too young to be painted. She says I have to wait until when I turn fourteen—like you. That was your birthday present, Carly, being painted Brown.”
“And being Red is just so. . .boring. And Shadow’s a solid color, and I want something more fancy. Not Faerie, not Desert, Magma, or Plushie. But Island. . .there’s a pretty color.”
“So, now can you guess what I want to be when I grow up, Carly?”
The Brown Xweetok leaned back in her chair, feet crossed over the table, absently thumbing through a textbook. A blank sheet of lined paper sat on the table in front of her, and she twirled a pencil in the fingers of her left hand.
“Carly?” The young Xweetok leaned forward toward her sister, the chair’s back legs tipping off the ground. “Can you guess what I want to be when I grow up?”
“Oh, hmm, a worker at the NC Mall?”
“No, Carly!” The little Xweetok shook her head in exasperation. “I want to be a witch! Like Sophie the Swamp Witch! And I’ll be able to cast spells and ride a broomstick and mix potions!” She sighed with pleasure.
An older Xweetok looked around the corner of the room, unseen, his blue mane bristling slightly as he watched his daughters. His expression was a curious mixture of grief, regret, and sorrow.
. . .
“And she’ll be safe with you?”
The Krawk looked up in amusement, one eyebrow raised, her bright amber gaze betraying her slight impatience. “Define safe.”
“W-ell. . .” The Xweetok drew the word out, rocking back on his heels. One hand fluttered unconsciously to his blue mane, and he smoothed it down unnecessarily. “She won’t come to any trouble?”
“Oh, of course she will.” The Krawk shifted her hold on the blanket-wrapped bundle in her arms. The blue Xweetok looked up, startled.
The Krawk continued. “It is impossible for a child to not meet trouble.”
“Yes, but. . .” The Xweetok gestured about the wood helplessly. “She’ll meet more trouble in the Haunted Woods than in our home in Neopia Central.”
“Perhaps.” The Krawk turned, her long midnight-blue cloak swishing over the dead leaves on the ground. Already her mind was turning to other things: she’d have to plant the winter-blooming herbs soon, and rake the leaf litter out of her garden, and patch up the leaks in the walls; snow and rain would come with the turning of the leaves.
“I. . .I. . .”
She cast an irritated glance over her shoulder at the stammering Xweetok. “It was your choice. No doubt you thought long and hard about this. Well, I’ll be glad to have an apprentice. And you’ll have the pride of having a child with talent.”
The Xweetok sighed, his gaze weary and sad. His eyes flicked up toward the treetops: it wasn’t yet sundown, and the ghosts were not yet roaming the Haunted Woods.
The Krawk took a step away from him, looking down at the bundle in her arms. The sleeping Xweetok lay there, covered in the soft blue blanket. Blissfully unaware of the spirits and monsters in the wood around her.
“Could I just. . .tell you her name?”
The Krawk paused, sighed in exasperation, and turned quickly. “What?” she snapped.
“Her name’s Crystal,” the Xweetok said, his voice barely a whisper.
“Crystal?” the Krawk answered, scorn dripping from her words. Such a gaudy name like that was good only for simpering, glitter-minded fools who waltzed around in pink dresses and spent their time in the Beauty Contest and the NC Mall.
“I named her after her mother,” the Xweetok said, his voice even quieter.
The Krawk was silent. She turned her head a fraction of an inch, her eyes averted from the grown Xweetok. “I feel sorry for her mother, then,” she said, her voice barely a whisper, and then turned her head back and walked away.
The Xweetok didn’t answer. He knew what she meant.
. . .
“So. The essay.” The Ogrin leaned forward on the table, her hands clasped together, her elbows on a blank sheet of paper and a pen.
The Xweetok across the table stifled a giggle. “Oh, fine. But essays are so boring.”
The Ogrin rolled her eyes. “I know, Carly. But it’s due on Tuesday, and it’s Saturday now. We can’t talk all day. Well, we can. But now we have to talk about the history of Shenkuu.”
“Shenkuu.” The Xweetok sighed. She ran a hand over her dark brown mane. “Umm, they have noodles there? And it’s in the mountains?”
The Ogrin smiled. “That’s why we have a textbook, Carly. So we don’t have to go on and on about their noodles and the mountains.”
The Xweetok rolled her eyes and pulled the history textbook toward her. “Okay, okay. You know, Olivia, you’re really lucky.”
“Lucky that the history teacher assigned me a paragraph more on this essay than the rest of the class because I was ‘talking too much’?”
“No, not like that. It’s because. . .you’re an only child.”
Olivia laughed. “Yeah, but your little sister’s so cute.”
“Cute? Please. She’s so annoying. Yesterday, when I was trying to do my homework, she kept rambling on and on about what she wants to be painted when she grows up.”
“Do you think she’ll get painted when she’s fourteen, like you were?”
“Probably. But she’s only eight. She has six more years of wishful thinking.”
“Well, best to start saving now, unless she wants a cheaper color like Starry or Cloud.”
“No, she wants to be painted Island.” Carly rolled her eyes again.
The Ogrin smiled. “Well, you settled for plain old Brown, didn’t you? In that way, you’re the lucky one, Carly, being painted.”
“I guess so.”
“I mean, look at me,” Olivia complained. “I’m green. I’ve been green for my whole life. And you, you were green, like me, just like any other pet on the street. And then, bang, you come to school the next day all brown.”
“Brown’s not necessarily pretty.”
“Come on! You’re painted now! Sure, it’s not like you’re Faerie or Royal, but a paint brush is a paint brush.”
“I guess so.”
“Anyways. Oh, wait, did you go to art class yesterday?”
“So, Miss Jenkins was totally hinting that she’d assign us an essay on the history of Brightvale stained-glass windows. Art’s not supposed to be a homework class! So I was thinking that if she does assign that essay, you can ask your mom and we can do the essay at your house—“ She broke off, her mouth still open.
Carly stood abruptly, her face stony. She pushed her chair in silently.
“Carly, no, that was stupid, I shouldn’t have said that, I mean, it’s something you say automatically every time, I know you don’t have a mother—“
Carly broke her friend off. “I have to go now,” she said, her voice flat. “It’s almost dinnertime.”
Olivia watched her leave, regret and guilt showing plainly on her face. She didn’t bother to point out that it was only two in the afternoon.
. . .
“Chris, would you fetch me some powdered Drillaroot?” The Krawk stood in the dimly lit cottage, her arms raised over the cauldron. Bubbling water hissed and spat in the iron-cast container, and an eerie golden light shone from the heart of the mixture. The Krawk had pulled back her sleeves, the lavender cloak blending in almost perfectly with the Krawk’s purple skin. Sweat beaded on her face as she clenched her fists over the cauldron, amber eyes staring into its depths.
“Coming!” The Xweetok sprinted across the wooden floor, the slats creaking with protest as she banged open a dark cupboard built into the wall. Herbs, bottled potions, and packets of mysterious powder rolled to the floor as the Xweetok sifted through the multitude.
“Careful!” snapped the Krawk. “It’s in the paper packet marked ‘Drillaroot’!”
The Xweetok blushed, the red showing on her white fur easily. She handed the witch a packet silently, her head slightly lowered.
The Krawk snatched it away and emptied its contents into the potion, which burbled and turned a delicate shade of lilac. The Krawk tossed the empty packet over her shoulder. “Chris, tell me, what do you put in a Shrinking Solution after the powdered Drillaroot and the rowan tree bark?”
The Xweetok bit her lip, eyes raised skyward as she thought. The Krawk snapped her fingers. “Quick, girl!” she snapped.
“Queela leaves?” the Xweetok said finally, hesitantly.
The Krawk rolled her eyes. “Great Fyora, child, have I not raised you better? I would expect an eight-year-old such as yourself to know better! Is this a Wart-Vanishing Potion, or a Shrinking Solution?”
“A Shrinking Solution!” Chris squeaked.
“Exactly,” the witch replied. “So I ask you again: what is the third and final ingredient in a Shrinking Solution? This is a simple potion, child!”
“Correct! No need to take that hesitant tone, child! You are a witch’s apprentice, not a wimp! You must be strong, confident, and. . .?”
“Correct! Now, while I finish this potion, you will copy the exact procedure used for dicing a Gruisberry found on page sixty-five in Potion Ingredients: Chomato Through Tchea Fruit.”
To be continued...