The glow of Karipo's lantern did little to dispel the damp gloom of the forest at night. She pulled her cloak tighter around herself and glanced to the left and right, catching sight of a lone Whoot watching her from the treetops.
Somewhere in the distance, a branch crackled as if it had been stepped on.
She stiffened, frozen in place for what felt like a long time...and then she bolted. Moonlight fell in scattered rays through tangled webs of branches, chaotically lighting the way through the woods. Karipo's mind raced with thoughts of what might be following her. Ghosts? Terrible mutated creatures? A pack of particularly hungry werelupes?
Each option seemed more horrifying than the last, and the further she allowed her mind to go, the faster and faster she ran.
What a foolish idea it had been, venturing into the woods alone for the sake of completing a quest! She bet her siblings were having fun at the fairgrounds, browsing the marketplace for souvenirs, or sightseeing in Neovia. Karipo resigned herself to the thought that if she got out of there alive, she was never coming back to the Haunted Woods for a vacation.
Her train of thought was sharply interrupted when she tripped over an exposed tree root, lost her footing, and slammed to the ground with enough force to send the items in her basket tumbling down the hill before her.
Fear exploded into full-blown panic. Karipo scrambled to her feet and rushed to gather the objects Edna requested for a potion: a green apple, honey sticks, and a turnip. Frankly she thought it was a horrifying combination, but, well, Karipo didn't want to ask questions. She just thought it would be fun to run a quest for the old witch who lived in the tower at the edge of the woods.
That was a mistake she wasn't going to make again.
The baby Eyrie swiped at a dirt smudge on the green apple with the end of her cloak, then dropped it in her basket with the other items. Behind her, at the top of the hill, she could hear the sound of something snuffling, stepping on crackling foliage, and drawing ever closer.
She turned around just in time to see something blurry and indistinct moving next to the tree where she had tripped. She decided just as quickly that she didn't want to know whatever it was that was chasing her, and swiftly turned on her heel and took off faster down the path.
Lights from town glowed in the distance. It wouldn't be much further until she could drop the items off at Edna's and the whole mess could be done with. And yet something nagged at her, something she couldn't place...
Karipo glanced down into her basket and saw honey sticks and a green apple staring back up at her. What she didn't see was the turnip. Her heart plummeted at the realization.
Edna was a witch.
If Karipo didn't get her what she asked for, how would she react? By turning Karipo into a Mortog? Something even worse than that? She had no desire to find out exactly what would happen if she didn't bring Edna all the items she requested.
The path before her glowed with light and familiarity, and the woods behind her were pitch black. Dead trees yawned toward the night sky, branches clawing up. The treetops looked like a pit of spikes beneath the full autumn moon.
She swallowed hard and turned back down the path leading into the woods, figuring that whatever was laying in wait for her in the forest would probably be nothing in comparison to inciting the anger of an ancient and powerful witch.
As Karipo traced her steps back to the base of the hill where she had dropped her basket, she couldn't help but notice that the woods had grown unusually, startlingly silent. Yellow eyes appeared and disappeared through the blackness of the trees. A Whoot darted out of the shadows with a frantic squawk, vanishing up into the sky with a trail of feathers drifting to the ground in its wake.
Relief washed over her as she spotted the turnip lying on its side, partially obscured by the bushes next to the path. What she hadn't been expecting to see, as she reached down to pick it up, was the tiny green creature attached to it.
Well, biting into it, more accurately. It blinked up at her guiltily and released its grasp on the turnip. Karipo stared down at it in a mixture of confusion and amusement when it occurred to her that the tiny creature she was looking at was most likely the thing which she had been so afraid of only moments ago.
It certainly didn't look fearsome.
In fact, it was almost adorable, all huge yellow eyes and bright green fur.
"You hungry?" Karipo said.
It stared at her curiously and approached, a bell jingling at its neck. There were two tiny teeth marks where it had bitten into the turnip, and, looking closer at it now, it was obvious that the creature was somebody's Petpet that had somehow gotten lost in the woods.
Once she was satisfied it wouldn't bite her, she picked it up and placed it on her shoulder, feeling much more confident on the way back through the forest now that she had a companion.
By the time she arrived at Edna's tower, the old Zafara was clearly agitated. "It's about time!"
"I hope I'm not too late," Karipo said.
"You're not. But just barely!"
Edna tapped her finger against the grandfather clock in the corner of the room, as if to emphasize her point. "Now please hand it over," she added.
Karipo unloaded the items from the basket on the table before her and hoped Edna didn't notice the bite marks on the turnip. "I ran into this little guy out in the woods," she said, gesturing to the creature on her shoulder. "I... don't suppose you know what he is?"
Edna looked startled. "Jeffrey, is that you?"
The green creature shied away from her, attempting to hide in the folds of Karipo's cloak. "Now, Jeff, don't be that way," Edna continued. She turned to Karipo with a frown. "Jeffrey is a Furwitch. They like to live around my tower because I feed them leftovers from my potions, but he's been missing for a while. I was wondering where he went."
"A Furwitch? I've never heard of one before."
"They're exclusive to these parts. If you live somewhere else, you'll probably never see one. Now Jeffrey, get over here and leave the poor lass alone."
Hesitatingly, he jumped down from Karipo's shoulder and crossed the room to where Edna was waiting. "Good boy. Now, dear, let me get your reward-"
"Well, actually, if it's not too bold of me to ask..."
Edna halted, then turned to look at her expectantly. "Yes?"
"No, no, never mind."
"You want to take Jeffrey, don't you?"
Karipo couldn't deny it, but she felt terribly rude for even attempting to ask. Edna sighed and stood back with her arms folded. "Well, he does seem to like you," she said. "Have you ever taken care of a Petpet before?"
"No, but my sister and brother both have one. I've never been able to find one I like."
"Hmph. If it's what you want, Jeffrey..."
The creature whirled around excitedly and raced back to where Karipo stood on the other side of the room. Edna stood watching them for a moment, then said, "Very well. Now please leave so I can finish my potion before the magic wears out."
Delighted, Karipo thanked the old Zafara for her reward, and she and Jeffrey the Furwitch headed back out into the night.
Edna watched them wander back into the town from the highest window in her tower, then chuckled to herself, turned away from the window and back to her bubbling, bright green cauldron. She stirred the mixture with her wooden ladle and looked down at the Furwitch hopping excitedly at her feet. All of them were adorned with tiny bells, witch hats, or collars, and Jeffrey had been no exception.
The Zafara glanced at the grandfather clock just as it struck twelve o'clock, then shooed away the Furwitch begging for scraps next to the cauldron. You were never, ever supposed to feed them in the middle of the night, a fact which Edna may or may not have withheld for the sake of stirring up a little chaos.
She was an old witch who didn't get many visitors, after all--especially not Neopians from other lands. All the locals knew the story behind the Furwitch, and if a tourist wanted to take one of her creations, she'd be darned if she didn't allow it to happen just to have some fun.
The Eyrie seemed like a nice girl. Maybe this would teach her to be more careful of the Haunted Woods.
"Yes, deary," Edna said with a cackle, "let's just hope you don't feed him after midnight."