The Ardors and Agonies of Witchcraft: Part Three
The next morning, Maikya whisked into the library at the stroke of eight, robes fluttering behind her. “I collected the yellow fruit as you asked me to, but on the third day out Craya appeared to me. She hadn’t been at her house when I checked, so I was surprised when she emerged from the thickets to tell me that we’d do better with the flesh of one of these.” From her bag, she pulled a rosy-colored fruit, with light blue specks. Seneca had never seen it before. “When I looked up to thank her, she’d disappeared.”
“Typical,” Alless huffed. “That woman’s such a recluse.”
“Could she be suffering from NeoPhobia?” Seneca suggested.
“She’s suffering from vanity. She accidentally drank a Faerie Poogle Morphing Potion, and she’s so embarrassed she won’t even appear to us, her former students.”
Seneca frowned. “But why would she be embarrassed? Poogles are so cuddly and cute…”
“I think that’s why,” Maikya chuckled. “But anyway, back to this: I think this is the Everlasting Apple replacement we’ve been searching for, Alless.”
“Well, we shouldn’t get our hopes up.” Even as she said it, Alless couldn’t stop staring at the fruit.
They went about their preparations, activating crystals and setting the cauldron to boil. Seneca couldn’t help but notice that whenever Maikya said an incantation, the crystal would glow warmly, as if imbued with life; when she added an ingredient to the cauldron, the potion wouldn’t belch smoke, but turn a pleasant color. In fact, in a matter of minutes, Maikya re-did the prep work that Seneca and Alless had been failing for days. It seemed unfair to Seneca, that Maikya could do so easily by herself what she and Alless had struggled to do as a pair, but then, magic ability was never fair. Seneca had accepted this at a young age, when she realized she’d never have an aptitude for it.
“What a shame,” Maikya sighed. “We’re so close to the end, but we have no idea how to solve the issue of the ancient Altadorian incantation that completes the spell. The language is dead now, so there’s no way to replace it…”
Alless stared at the beautiful array of crystals and ingredients her sister had effortlessly set aglow, her brow furrowed as if solving a particularly vexing and somewhat offensive math problem. After a minute or two, she flew to one of her largest tomes, labeled in a script Seneca couldn’t read. “Maikya, open this for me and turn to page 492. Yes, thank you. If you’ll look at my notes, please…”
Maikya did as she was told. After a minute or so, she raised her face from the page, frowning. “I don’t know what you mean to tell me, Alless. This is a decent translation so far, but…”
“Decent!” Alless huffed. “For your information, what is written here is as good a replacement for the incantation as any! If my calculations are correct, it should be perfect to complete the spell.”
Maikya worried her lower lip between her teeth. “It just sounds a little risky to me. Have you practiced this translation at all?”
“It doesn’t need practice! Maikya, I know I’m not a talented witch. But if anything, I am a studious and dedicated researcher, so if I’m going to get anything right, it’s a translation!” She lost her fervor, suddenly, fixing Maikya with worried eyes. “Or don’t you believe me?”
After an intense staring contest, Maikya relented with a sigh. “No, I do believe in you. Let’s do this.”
Seneca was instructed to draw a magic circle on the floor and place the crystals around the rim and the cauldron in the middle, and then stand very, very far back. Because she wasn’t involved in the casting, her interference might unbalance the spell. As the bubbling cauldron filled the library with a bilious smoke, sure to damage whatever it clung to, she decided to save their lungs and the books by opening a window.
Maikya closed her eyes and held her hands over the cauldron, repeating every word that Alless read from her translation. In contrast to her many fumbled spells from the days preceeding, now Alless spoke like a true spellcaster, her voice resonating with an authority that Seneca was sure the forces of nature could not oppose. The air became humid with magic, static shocks alighting all along Seneca’s fur as the spell picked up momentum.
The final word was spoken, and a blast of air sent Seneca falling back into the wall hard enough to bruise. Smoke filled the library, blinding her and sending her into a violent coughing fit.
“Alless?” she called. “Maikya!” She charged through the smoke in search of her cousins. She nearly stepped over the magic circle when she heard Alless cry out in reply, “Seneca?”
With enough frantic waving, the smoke to the right of the cauldron cleared. Seneca gasped.
Standing before her was a Lupe with lavender fur and yellow eyes - a Royal Girl! Seneca reached out to touch her, and felt the softness of her fur, the warmth of the pad of her paw.
“Alless… It worked!”
Alless’s yellow eyes turned glassy and began to spill over. “Y-you’re not lying, are you? I can hardly see, I need my spectacles…”
“Of course I’m not lying!” Seneca dragged her cousin into an affectionate embrace. “Oh, Alless! I’m so happy! I’m so proud…!”
The remaining smoke continued to swirl around them, blinding them to the library, making them feel like the only two neopets in the world.
And then there came a groan. Reminded of her other cousin’s existence, Seneca cried out, “Maikya, it worked! Alless has her body back!”
But Maikya did not respond. There was only more groaning. Seneca felt dread drop like a stone in her stomach. “Maikya…?”
Alless raised an arm, and the smoke cleared. But something was wrong. Instead of the same Silver Lupe they knew and loved, there floated a shimmering spirit with large, red eyes.
“No…!” Alless staggered back in horror. “Maikya, you…!”
They had switched conditions. While Alless had returned to her former body, Maikya had been reduced to a ghost. She looked at them now with sad, swollen eyes, and then turned away.
“I can fix this, Maikya.” Alless’s voice was shaking. “Here, let me…”
She reached out for her sister, but Maikya jerked back. She fixed Alless with a mournful glare, and then suddenly, her body seemed to blur. Before Seneca could ask what was happening, Maikya’s spirit sprang across the library and out of the open window.
Alless ran to the window and stuck her head out, but it was useless. No matter how loudly she called out to her sister, she wouldn’t return. Maikya was gone, and it was all her fault.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t like me to stay a little longer?”
“There’s no point,” Mago sighed. “Maikya is gone, and Alless has holed herself up in the library.”
“She has a real body, now. She’ll have to eat sometime,” Seneca pointed out.
“I don’t care.” An ugly sneer took hold of Mago’s features. “She can starve. She can work until she collapses. After what she did to Maikya, I’ll never forgive her!”
Seneca couldn’t argue with her cousin. She stood on the threshold of the manor, suitcase in hand, the Mystery Island sun still sleeping just below the horizon. Since the accident, Maikya’s spirit hadn’t returned, and Alless hasn’t left the library. She was fevered with guilt, working to fix all that she had ruined. She wouldn’t even listen to Seneca; she ran from book to book, flipping pages so quickly they tore at the corners, her brand new body trembling with nerves. Seneca feared leaving her here with Mago, but she couldn’t delay her trip home any longer, and lacking in magic, there was nothing she could do to fix things. She’d tried to do some chores around the house after Alless banned her from the library, made dinner as best as she could, but no one, not even Mago, came to eat what she had made. So she had put the leftovers into the fridge and gone upstairs to pack.
Mago hugged her quickly, unfeelingly, and then shut the door in her face. Seneca made the trip to the dock all by herself, dragging her luggage and her heavy heart behind her.
Because Moltara was located underground, after the ship docked, Seneca and the other passengers were put into repurposed mine carts and then driven through dark tunnels deep into the underbelly of the city. By the time they pulled into the visitors’ station, Seneca was exhausted, and not looking forward to the long trip across town alone.
But as she stepped out of her cart, she thought she spotted someone familiar in the crowd; granted, Magma pets were common here, but something about that Skeith, and all his silly steam regalia…
He approached her with a wide smile, and she gave a start. “Ronan! How did you know I’d be here?”
“Your cousin sent a message by Weewoo,” the Skeith replied. He took her little paw in his large one, and maybe it was the heat of his molten fur, but Seneca was instantly filled with warmth. The relief of being home with her father was almost too much for her, and tears sprang into her eyes.
“Oh, Seneca. I know.” He patted her gently on the back, steering her out of the crowd of the visitor center as he went. “Alless told me what happened. Granted, it was curt, and there are probably many details you’ll have to fill me in on later, but I know the jist, and I’m very sorry about what happened.”
Seneca gave a snotty sniff, and wiped her eyes on her arm. “It was so awful, Ronan. Poor Maikya. Poor Alless…”
They began the walk home. The neopets they passed kept craning their necks to see why Seneca was crying, and this only made her more miserable. Ronan noticed, and took off his brass goggles. “Here, Seneca, take these. They’ll hide your eyes, so people won’t notice as much.”
“But your eyes are so sensitive… are you sure you’ll be okay without them?”
“For the walk home? Absolutely, I’ll be fine. Take them, Seneca.”
He pushed them into her hands. She thanked him, then put them on, thinking that, although she felt bad for her cousins, she was grateful to be back in Moltara, with the person who loved her most in all of Neopia.
Despite the wonder and magic and tragedy of the past week, Seneca’s return to Moltara was achingly normal. She ran the counter of her father’s shop when he was busy, and when he wasn’t, she took inventory in the back room. Some days it was just the two of them in an empty shop, playing checkers and waiting for customers to come, and other days they worked non-stop from opening to closing, the shop crawling with neopets trying to haggle their prices down.
Every week, she wrote a letter to her cousins, and every week passed without a reply. It was months before Seneca finally received a letter from Alless, and this is what it said:
First, I’m sorry for not responding to any of your previous letters. They were incredibly kind. Second, I must ask that you do not thank me for contacting Ronan - it was the least I could do, for all that I put you through. I figured that after I traumatized you, you’d want him by your side as soon as possible. Third, I wish there was enough room here to apologize for everything I’ve done, but there’s simply not enough paper in the world. But I am. I’m sorry.
Maikya still hasn’t returned home. I’ve written to family friends all over Neopia, explaining what happened, but no one has seen her… Well. Those who have replied haven’t seen her. Craya refuses to answer my letters, and I suspect Maikya might be with her. I’d check to make sure, but I don’t want to show up if it will only hurt her. I still wish Craya would write to either confirm or deny my suspicions, because I’m worried, and would at least like to know where Maikya is. I know it’s a stretch, but if Maikya appears to you, PLEASE tell me, even if she begs you not to. I won’t force her to come home - I just want to know that she’s okay.
In the meantime… Mago and I have been forced to relocate. I didn’t want to leave the manor behind, in case Maikya came back and couldn’t find us, but we were ordered to leave. You see, Mago has been restless since Maikya disappeared. I understand Maikya not contacting me, but it seems she won’t contact Mago, either. As a result, Mago has been teasing our neighbors more harshly than usual with her magic. The culmination came when she brought a blizzard upon Mystery Island; she destroyed parts of the beach beyond repair, and there are still parts of the jungle that are frozen over. I relocated us to Terror Mountain under the assumption that if it won’t calm Mago down, at least her ice powers won’t cause as much havoc here. She hates me, of course. I would too, in her place.
In any case, I hope you are well. I have provided our new address in case you want to send more letters, but don’t feel obligated.
As soon as she finished reading, Seneca whipped out her favorite stationary and set to work penning a reply. She assured Alless that she didn’t hate her, and that she should feel free to confide in her any time. When she was finished, she mailed the letter out, and began the long wait for a reply.
But this letter, like the others, received none. To Seneca’s disappointment, it seemed that her life returning to normal also meant she was once again isolated from her cousins.
To be continued…