Stand behind yer sheriff Circulation: 180,898,992 Issue: 452 | 16th day of Swimming, Y12
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Finding Crystal: Part Four


by hedgehog_queen

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“They say they gave their daughter to a witch.”

      “Who’s ‘they’? You can’t believe every bit of gossip you hear, Matilda.” The plump Meerca shook her head, letting out a soft tut-tut. The Meerca’s fingers moved quickly, the knitting needles clacking as she swayed on her dark red tail, almost hypnotically.

      The Kougra sat beside the Meerca, sighing slightly. “And you can’t naysay everything you here, Keisha.”

      Keisha’s tail twitched disapprovingly; she nearly capsized. Matilda put a hand out hurriedly.

      “Thanks, Matilda,” Keisha said. “Shoot, I dropped a stitch.” Her tail dropped down a bit so that she was level with the Kougra. “You shouldn’t say things like that. . .”

      “Why not?”

      “In front of the kids.”

      “Ha,” Matilda snorted. “Think they’d get bad ideas? Why not? Homer and I talk about things like that all the time at our house.”

      Keisha sighed. “Yes, but this is my house, Matilda, not yours, and I don’t want my daughters hearing things like that.”

      Matilda snorted again. “I wouldn’t give a Noil’s paw if my children heard stuff like that. They’ve got to grow up some time, Keisha.” Her pale blue tail lashed emphatically.

      “Really,” Keisha cried, dropping her needles and diving for a vase that Matilda’s tail had dislodged. “Crystal and Henry don’t have any children. And they’re a respectable family, in a home in a good part of Neopia Central.”

      “Ah, but you don’t hang around with the folks I do, Keisha. I heard. . .”

      “And for good reason,” Keisha said sharply. “What Crystal and Henry do is their own business.”

      “But I heard that they did have a daughter. It was all very hushed up.”

      “Where have the kids gone?”

      “Outside, I suppose. Stop changing the subject, Keisha.”

      “But how could anyone not have known if Henry and Crystal had a daughter? They live right next to us, for Fyora’s sake! Two of the most respectable Xweetoks a Neopian has ever met!”

      “Have you seen Crystal recently, Keisha?”

      Keisha blinked. Her knitting needles were quite abandoned by now. “Well, no, but I’ve seen Henry plenty.”

      “And why is that?”

      “They say Crystal’s very sick. . .”

      “Exactly. Henry gave their daughter to a witch in return for making a potion for Crystal’s health.”

      “Really!” Keisha exclaimed. “That’s quite enough of this nonsense, Matilda!” She looked around wildly. “There. . .look! Look at the time! Tim will be home from work soon, and I’ll need to start work soon! You’d better get back to your own house,” she added sternly.

      “But, Keisha. . .”

      “No excuses! I don’t want to hear any of this nonsense again!”

     . . .

      “I’m leaving.”

      The two young Xweetoks stared at their father. Carly had been staring at her plate sullenly, upset over a low grade on an exam she’d received that afternoon at school, and Tess was in the middle of an animated chatter about whether or not her friend at school would be zapped into a Mutant or into a beautiful Faerie at his next visit to the lab ray. The Red Xweetok’s mouth was still open, her mouth forming the next word in her tirade.

      The Blue Xweetok was sitting straight, his hands clasped on his lip and his dinner untouched. He took a deep breath, raised a hand to straighten his mane, and then reached forward toward his fork. He seemed to change his mind halfway; his hand stopped a foot from his plate and dropped to his lap.

      It was Carly who spoke first. “Why?”

      Tess spoke a split second later. “Where?”

      “I’m going to the Haunted Woods,” the Blue Xweetok said hesitantly. “It’s. . .it’s something that I should’ve done long ago.” His daughters stared at him.

      “I mean, you’re fourteen years old now, right?” He looked hopelessly at his older daughter.

      Carly didn’t speak for a moment. Finally she got out, “Yeah. That’s right, Dad.”

      “So she’d be fifteen now,” the Blue Xweetok muttered.

      “Who’d be fifteen now, Dad?” Carly asked loudly.

      He waved his hand impatiently. “It doesn’t matter.”

      “Yes, it does,” Carly said, her voice rising at every word. She stood, kicking her chair back. It fell with a bang, the back flat on the tiled floor. “You’ve been so secretive lately. More so than. . .before. I remember how you used to be. But even then, you and Mom always acted. . .strange.”

      The Blue Xweetok opened his mouth , but no sound came out. He closed it again, and swallowed.

      “You have a picture of a white Xweetok, a baby, that you always carry with you in your wallet. I used to think it was a picture of Mom. But you have plenty of pictures of her. Why would you care about a baby picture? It’s the adult Mom you knew and cared about.”

      “I remember that picture,” Tess said, her voice barely more than a whisper.

      “And then, when Mom died, when Tess was born, we moved. And now you’re leaving. To the Haunted Woods. We have no relatives there! We have barely enough money for a round trip from Kiko Lake to the Woods! You don’t have a right to go away and leave us like this!” Carly was shouting now.

      The blue Xweetok flinched. “I must go,” he said simply.

      “You must stay!” Carly shouted. There were vertical streaks of darker fur running from her eyes to her chin. A tear rolled down one of the streaks of wet fur, landing on Carly’s half-eaten dinner.

      “I’m sorry!” the Blue Xweetok shouted back. He stood.

      “I don’t need your apologies! I need answers!”

      “You don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s not for you to know!” His voice was rising steadily now. Tess scooted back in her chair, shrinking away from the enraged figures of her father and older sister. Carly was nearly full-grown now, only a few inches shy of being the same height as their father.

      “What’s not for me to know?” Carly yelled.

      “Everything!” The Blue Xweetok shook his head violently. “I’m not apologizing for not giving you answers. I’m apologizing for buying you that stupid paint brush!”

      Carly stared at him.

      “Your sister is much more important than trivial things like that!” He kicked his chair away and sprinted for the door, yanking it open. He leaped outside and slammed it shut.

      There was silence in the room.

      Carly turned her head slowly, to look at Tess. The Red Xweetok’s eyes were wide and wet.

      “Does he mean you?” Carly asked numbly.

     . . .

      Henry sprinted through the streets of the Kiko Lake settlement, on his face tear tracks identical to his daughter’s. His shoes pattered on the cobbled streets.

      He brushed past other residents of Kiko Lake, and they turned back to yell at him. He ignored them.

      His blue mane streamed out behind him.

      He stopped at the harbor.

      The Xweetok took a deep breath and composed himself. He bought a ticket to Haunted Woods.

      Henry stepped onto the boat.

      “I’m coming, Crystal,” he whispered.

     . . .

      Chris leaned toward the paper. Her name was there. The name that Rue had called her all her life.

      She read on.

      ‘At least, that’s what I’m calling her, anyway. Henry told me her name was Crystal—after her mother. I can see why. They both have the most lovely white fur.’

      Chris raised her head numbly. Chris was short for Crystal. Her mother’s name. Who was Henry? She’d had a mother. Maybe a father, too. She looked like her mother. Where was her mother now?

      Her thoughts still spinning, Chris bent forward again to read.

      ‘I’ll be training her as a witch. That’s what I said I’d do, and that’s what’ll happen. That’s why Henry gave her to me, after all. A life for a life. I saved his life, so I saved Crystal’s.

      ‘But Crystal’s still so weak. The sickness should have taken her. It’s taken everyone else. Perhaps it will. But I, Rue the witch, am a potioneering pioneer. I will invent the potion that will cure this illness. It’s worked on all the Mortogs and Meowclops I’ve given it to.

      ‘But Crystal’s too weak to care for her daughter. Having the girl may have weakened her even more. I offered to care for young Chris, educate her in my art, and then Henry could come back for her.’

     . . .

      A boy ran through the undergrowth, his breath ragged, his arms and legs pumping in time with each other as he sprinted.

      His blue mane streamed out behind him.

      The boy’s toe caught on a vine, dead and brittle and grey. With a spectacular shriek, the Xweetok fell face-forward into the grass.

      The vine still gripped his leg.

      His leg?

      He could feel it crawling up his back. Perhaps it wasn’t so dead after all. In minutes he’d be covered with the vines. If the monster didn’t get him first.

      The mutant Bori practically tripped over the boy, surprise evident on its face to see the Xweetok lying on the ground, his lower half almost completely covered with grey vines.

      It loomed over the boy, and the Xweetok twisted his head to look up at his chaser, helpless. The Bori smiled.

      Henry screamed.

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Finding Crystal: Part One
» Finding Crystal: Part Two
» Finding Crystal: Part Three
» Finding Crystal



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