Still thwarting Sloth's mind control... Circulation: 180,824,489 Issue: 451 | 9th day of Swimming, Y12
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Finding Crystal: Part Three

by hedgehog_queen



      The brown Xweetok lay on her bed, the blankets pulled up to her chin, her hands clutching at the sheets. She sat bolt upright, her eyes staring at the open door.

      "Carly, it's just me. Tess." The red Xweetok moved in, closing the door so that only a thin sliver of light gleamed out from the bottom. She padded across the wooden floor and perched herself on the edge of the bed.

      "Tess, what are you doing out of bed? It's the middle of the night."

      "Where's Dad?"

      "Dad's at work. Tess, it's almost midnight. Your bedtime was four hours ago."

      "It's Saturday, I'll be able to sleep late tomorrow morning. I'm scared. Why's Dad gone, Carly?"

      The brown Xweetok let the covers drop, rubbing her eyes and closing them. Dark blue afterimages of the bright hallway lights danced underneath her eyelids. "He's just working a night shift, Tess."

      "But why?"

      Carly shook her head, irritated. "How should I know?"

      "You're fourteen. And a half. No, wait, your birthday was only four months ago. That would be..."

      "Fourteen and a third."

      "Right. Where were you all day, Carly?"

      "I wasn't gone all day."

      "You were at Olivia's house. Why'd you leave early?"

      Carly bit her lip. If she told her sister why, she wouldn't understand. She was only eight, and besides, she'd been only a tiny baby when... tears rose to Carly's eyes.

      "Carly, are you crying? Carly, don't cry!" The little Xweetok leaned across the bed and looked down at her sister, alarm and worry flashing in her eyes.

      "I'm not crying," the older Xweetok snapped, making the younger one flinch. "Go to bed, Tess."


      "GO TO BED!"

      She had no idea, really, how she'd gotten into this position. One moment she was crying under the covers, and the next she was standing on the floor, in Tess's face, hands balled into fists, shouting, all trace of tears gone.

      Her sister looked up at her, worry being replaced completely by alarm and fear, tears welling up and blurring her gaze. With a sob, she sprinted away from her sister, wrenched open the door, and then slammed it shut, her cries and heavy footfalls echoing in the hallways.

     Carly stood there by her bed alone, staring at the door.


      "Chris, would you look up a spell for me?"

      The white Xweetok raised her head, her eyes and neck strained from the hours of bending over the table, mincing and dicing and cubing and juicing potion ingredients. "What spell?"

      Rue's back was to her apprentice as she crouched over her cauldron, sweat beading on her face. She gripped the edge of the iron cauldron, knuckles white, muttering an incantation.

      "What spell, Rue?"

      "It's highly advanced. But you've been fifteen for a week now, Chris. It's high time you got into all that stuff. It's a spell for a potion, really."

      "What potion?"

      "A sleeping potion. A well-made one is strong enough to knock you out for a couple of days. It's in Spells for Potions."

      The Xweetok stood slowly, wincing and stretching out her arms. She took a few steps toward the bookshelf before Rue stopped her.

      "It's not there, Chris. I hardly ever use it, so I think it's under my bed, gathering dust. It takes up too much space."

      Chris nodded and headed toward Rue's bedroom, the only other room in the cottage -- more of an attachment, really. Chris herself slept on a small cot next to the bookshelf.

      She lifted Rue's worn quilt and pushed it away so that she could see under the bed. A Spyder scuttled out and pattered out of the room. Chris stuck her arm into the space, over a century's worth of dust and cobwebs coating her arm with a fine grey-brown dust.

      Rue kept all her notebooks down here, years of notes on spells, plants, and the Haunted Woods in general. There was really no room in the main room; the bookshelf was bursting at the seams, and the floor was practically covered with dried leaves, seeds, bits of paper, books, and scorch marks.

      Next to a tottering pile of notebooks was a stack of thick books, the only books in the room. They were all the rarely used books, filled to the brim with complicated enchantments, potions, and spells that were pretty much useless in everyday life. Most of the spells Rue and Chris cast were to help the garden grow faster, to keep the Petpets away, and to ward off the legions of ghosts, zombies, and other assorted undead and monsters that wandered the Haunted Woods.

      There were only three books here: Growth Potions for Livestock, Spells for Potions, and Ghost Summoning. Rue didn't have any livestock, and if she wanted a ghost, she didn't exactly have to summon it -- she could just walk right outside and talk to one. Chris supposed that this book was more for witches who lived in less haunted areas.

      Spells for Potions was a rare use as well. It was more for the incompetent potion brewers or those who found the hours of boiling and stirring tedious. Rue specialised in potions; she'd only used it to help Chris with her beginning potions training before she got good enough to do it on her own. Chris flipped open the book.

      A cloud of dust bloomed up from the yellow pages. The Xweetok ran a thumb down the table of contents, found a page, and turned to it. She ran back into the main room, holding a finger in the book to keep her place.

      "You took long enough," Rue panted. "Hurry up and read it. When you're done, put it back and hand me those Scarab antennae you've been chopping."

      "'When brewing the Potion of Sleeping, it is, as one would know by reading this compendium, most mandatory for one to stir the elixir clockwise for six straight hours, adding a counterclockwise stir every eleventh clockwise stir. As this can be quite tiring and tedious, a simple spell of Involuntary Rotation Upon An Inanimate Object would suffice. Simply take the spoon, spatula, etc. and soak it in rosemary tea for a quarter of an hour before performing the incantation thrice found in the index of this book. For this spell, add "roto pro six hora obvius of clock per a orbis ceterus via secundum undecim orbis" in place of "roto forever insquequo ego levo vomica".'" Chris took a deep breath, panting slightly after having read aloud without a stop.

      "Good. Then I'll allow the potion to simmer for the fifteen minutes while I soak the spoon in rosemary -- stupid of me, I should have read up on that while the potion was boiling half an hour ago. It's not too much of a setback; I'll just have to let it boil for fifteen minutes more to get the exact temperature." Rue tapped her wooden spoon against the side of the cauldron. "Run along now, Chris. I'll need to put in the antennae right before the extensive stirring, or the potion will lose its potency."

      "How potent would it be then?" Chris asked curiously.

      "It would merely cause the drinker a fleeting sensation of light tiredness. Yes, I know. It's surprising but true. You have fifteen minutes to put the antennae in, but I daresay you won't need that long"

      Chris nodded and carried the book back into Rue's room. She attempted to shove it back where it had been, under Growth Potions for Livestock, but it knocked into a tottering pile of notebooks. The bound stacks of parchment spilled all over the ground like dominoes, their faded cloth covers flapping and clouds of dust billowing up all over Chris's fur.

      Sneezing, the Xweetok began hastily shoving notebooks back under the bed at random, hoping that they hadn't been in a particular order. One of them fell open; the cover, faded from black to a dusty grey, flapped open, the cloth easily recognizable by Chris as a scrap from Rue's old travelling cloak. The young Xweetok had seen it: it had been Rue's first cloak, back from the Krawk's own training as a witch, worn and thin and threadbare by the time she grew up and got her own place. It had been scrapped long ago, and the remains had been stitched together to bolster the ragged curtains that hung limply from the warped windows.

      The pages were yellow and wavy. A large brown stain was visible on the front page; the notebook had dried, and the pages were stiff and curled. Rue's crooked, spidery cursive covered the pages, along with several diagrams and calculations. It was thicker than most of the books; there were perhaps a hundred pages or so. It had been bound by twine, the kind that you could by in huge bound loops at any shop.

      The page that was open was in the first couple pages or so of the book. Chris traced the writing on the very top of the left page: a date, fifteen years ago, only a day before being on the exact same day as the present one.

      Chris raised her finger. A fingerprint-shaped spot had appeared on the writing, showing a glimpse of the parchment's true color surrounded by the dust-covered yellow.

      She leaned forward. The writing was messy, hard to make out.

      She read the first sentence.

      I named her Chris.

To be continued...

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Other Episodes

» Finding Crystal: Part One
» Finding Crystal: Part Two
» Finding Crystal: Part Four

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