The Ardors and Agonies of Witchcraft: Part Seven
Not long after their talk in the library, Seneca had Alless and Maikya get together for a talk of their own. It was a difficult process; at first Maikya had fluttered near the door, smiling meekly and insisting there was nothing to talk about. “Nothing’s wrong, Alless,” she said. “Don’t be silly.”
“You won’t look me in the eye anymore,” Alless murmured. “And except for dinnertime, you leave the room as soon as I enter. You want to leave, now, I can tell.”
Here, Maikya faltered. “Look, Alless… I know it was a mistake. But I’m finding it hard to be in your presence because I’m still hurt about what you did to me. I worked with you for years to restore your body, and I told you it was dangerous to use that incantation, and now… now I have to live the rest of my life as a wooden doll. So forgive me if I’m not as cordial as you’d like.”
Alless’s lips trembled as if they wanted to let loose a sob, but she composed herself. “I know. I know, it’s my fault, and I’m sorry. You’re welcome to hate me for the rest of your life. I just…”
But she was silenced by the look of horror on her sister’s face. “Hate you? Ally, I could never hate you! It might be painful for me to be around you right now, but you’re my older sister! I know you didn’t hurt me out of malice, and in time, we will heal. Together.” She gathered her sister in her arms. “I love you.”
Both girls began to bawl, and it took all of Seneca’s inner strength not to join them. She swiped quickly at the corner of her eye, catching, as she did so, the gaze of Alless’s Mazzew. Cora tilted her head at Seneca, as if bewildered by her. The young Lupe replied with a wink and the universal gesture for “Shhhh…”
The girls were making happy, teary-eyed peace in the kitchen when Mago entered from the back door. The warmth of the oven made the snow in her fur melt on the spot, giving her a drowned look. With blank eyes, she surveyed her sisters, holding hands and giggling.
“Mago!” said Seneca. “It’s so nice to see you! Come on in, we were just baking-”
“No thank you,” Mago said, curtly. “I’m going to my room.”
Her gaze was as cold as her chosen element; it quieted Alless, making her meek again. She wouldn’t speak until Mago left the room. Seneca decided that she had to get those two to talk, somehow, but it would likely be a feat that required more coaxing than ever before.
And despite their teary moment earlier, Maikya and Alless’s relationship was also far from restored. When they reached for the same pan, Maikya retracted her hand as if burnt. When they got too close together, Maikya flitted away, her smile turning nervous. And when the sweets were finished baking, Maikya excused herself, looking quite haggard and in need of some alone time. The look on Alless’s face when Maikya left broke Seneca’s heart.
Over broken gingerbread, Seneca made a decision.
“How would you feel about me… maybe moving in?”
Alless almost choked on her cookie. “For how long?”
“For a few months. Maybe a year.”
Alless’s jaw opened and shut a few times before any sound came out. “What brought this on?”
“I don’t know. I just thought you could use some company. Maybe a magical assistant, since...” She didn’t finish the sentence, but it was obvious that Maikya wouldn’t want to do magic with Alless for a while, wasn’t it?
Alless put her cookie on her plate and folded her hands. “Seneca, please don’t do anything out of pity’s sake.”
“It’s not pity,” Seneca insisted. Then, after a pause, “Okay, it’s not entirely out of pity. I like living with you all - it was just me and Ronan for most of my life, and while I love him, it’d be nice to have had a bigger family. And it’s like you said, Alless - you could use some allies in the house.”
Alless swiped at her eyes, knocking her spectacles askew. “It’s like it’s your goal in life to keep my eyes as swollen as possible at all times.” But she smiled. “Thank you, Seneca… I would love if you came to live here.”
Ronan, of course, was saddened by the news, but sent his blessing. While she would always be his daughter, Seneca had to grow up and be independent from him some time. She worried over who would help him run the shop, but he brushed her off with promises that he’d ask that dour neighbor of theirs to help out. He had Seneca’s furniture and possessions shipped, and it wasn’t until these packages landed on their frosty doorstep that it felt real to Seneca. She’d actually done it! For the first time in her life, she’d moved across Neopia entirely of her own volition! No adult had told her to do this - it was all Seneca’s decision. The whole situation made her feel very mature. If anyone was bound to make Mago and Alless talk things out, it was the new-and-improved, grown-up Seneca!
“Please, talk to me,” Mago begged. “Just one word. One word is all I ask.”
A frigid wind whipped across the mountain top. For any other Lupe, their sensitive ears would be aching; but to Mago, the wind felt like a pleasant breeze. She was sitting on her haunches, paws outstretched towards but not touching a Krawk sculpted out of ice. Her eyes traced the flared nostrils, the thick, wavy hair, the pointed tail, the claws… but these features remained inert.
Frustrated, Mago reached into her pocket and pulled out an old, leatherbound book. She’d found it while they were preparing to move out of Mystery Island. She’d been clearing out her father’s old room, feeling alternately numb and consumed by fury. In trying to pack up the contents of his closet, she caused an avalanche of scorchstones, which rained down upon her. She’d got a pretty big bump on the head for her troubles. Furious, she’d jumped back from the wreckage… only to distracted by a strange object sticking out of the jagged stonework. Curious, she reached into the pile of now limbless scorchstones and pulled free a lockbox whose lock had been smashed off.
And there, nestled in the velvet interior, had been the greatest spellbook Mago had ever laid eyes on. It was a personal spellbook; the cover was blank, and the insides were all handwritten. It didn’t look like her father’s grand, nearly illegible script, which begged the question of who could have possibly written it, and why it had been locked away. The more she’d inspected it, the surer she grew that the book belonged to someone. A person who, a very long time ago, her mother had accidentally told Mago all about, before ordering her not to tell her father or sisters that she knew...
Mago finished reading what she’d been after, and tucked the spellbook back into her parka. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. In, out. In, out. She visualized her breath as a wind, curling into her lungs, and then out, into the icy vessel that sat before her…
She opened her eyes. The Krawk she had sculpted from ice gave a shudder. Then her lips moved.
“Mago… what… can I...”
“Yes?” she breathed. “What, what is it?”
The Krawk’s eyes were fixed on her face. The light of the winter sun sparkled in them so that they shone like diamonds.
All at once, the Krawk’s body lurched forward. She shook, as if having just awoken from a deep slumber, and ice shavings fell from her scales. She stood before Mago, and then, after a beat, kneeled.
Her voice was shaky, but full of conviction. “What can I do for you, Mago?”
A sharp grin curled Mago’s lips.
Making a homunculi of ice is no small feat. When Mago finally returned to the house, she ravaged the fridge for food. The sauce on the leftovers had congealed, and tasted wrong even after reheating. With a scowl, Mago tossed the food into the trash and went in search of Alless, to demand that she make her something new to eat.
Their home library wasn’t nearly as quiet as a public one might be; from down the hall, Mago could hear Alless and Seneca chattering away. Mago rolled her eyes; she didn’t see how Seneca could carry on like Alless was the greatest person in Neopia, but she certainly understood why those two got along so well. Alless, being the magical failure that she was, would naturally join forces with the only other member of their family who lacked such power.
Mago couldn’t care less if she interrupted them by barging in, but just as she was about to slip inside the gaping doorway, she heard the word “morph.” This, paired with the acrid stink of cauldron smoke, made Mago freeze. She had to have heard wrong. Alless wouldn’t dare try to create her own morphing potion right now!
...Would she? Mago crept inside, careful to keep behind one of the frontmost bookcases as soon as she spotted her cousin and her sister with their backs turned. She’d listen in, if only for a little while.
“What are you saying?” Seneca laughed, but she sounded nervous. Alless leaned forward.
“I’m saying I can make Cora more powerful than she is! I learned the spell from a woman in town. She said it’s a great way to maximize the potential of a familiar whose species doesn’t usually attract magical energy.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to just get a new petpet? Or add a petpetpet? How about the petpet lab ray? You don’t have to…”
“It’s just a small morphing potion, Seneca! What’s wrong?”
“What’s wrong? Alless, I don’t think you have a handle on morphing potions.” Wow! Mago was shocked the little toady admitted it. She listened in as Seneca went on to say, “Isn’t a botched morphing potion what got you turned into a ghost in the first place? And now Maikya…”
Alless’s voice was angrier this time. “Are you really bringing that up right now? Seneca, morphing potions are basic magic! I may not be the most talented witch, but I think I can make my Mazzew-”
“Alless.” Seneca’s tone was soothing and yet firm, like a preschool teacher’s. “You know that for all your care and planning, something can still go wrong. So I’m asking you: are you prepared to give this potion to Cora when it could seriously hurt her?”
In response to this, Alless went deathly silent. But Mago herself was too furious to bite her tongue, and she stepped out from behind the bookshelf. “Come on, Ally, just flush the potion down the toilet where it belongs!”
The other two Lupes whipped around, shocked. “How long have you been spying on us?” Alless cried.
What did that matter? Mago ignored the question. “A beginner-level witch like you doesn’t have any right to be playing with magic of this kind.”
The cauldron bubbled like a volcano on the verge of eruption behind Alless. Mago watched her Mazzew, Cora, hide behind her leg. Poor thing probably didn’t know what kind of hideous fate awaited it. Mago got up in Alless’s personal space, expecting to see her sister shrink down in fear.
But she didn’t. Her eyebrows narrowed, and she drew herself up to her full height. “Get out of here, Mago. This is none of your business.”
“And yet it’s hers?” Mago laughed, pointing at Seneca. “I regret ever asking her to come here! All she’s done since she got here is barge into our family affairs!”
“What are you talking about?” said Alless.
“That may have worked on Maikya, but not me!” Mago jabbed her sister in the chest. “I’m not letting you two bully me into forgetting what you did! First you hurt yourself with your incompetence, and that was fine by me. But then you hurt our sister! You ruin every spell you touch, Alless - the fact that you’re a member of one of the greatest magical families in Neopia is a JOKE! If you’d just learn your place and stop altogether, then none of this would have ever happ-!”
Before Mago could finish, Alless grabbed her by the lapels of her parka. Mago, thirsty for a fight, immediately started lashing out.
“Stop!” Seneca cried. “Let’s talk this out - it’s not safe to fight in here!” She tried to pull them apart, but in their struggle, the sisters flung her away, so she landed on the floor on her tail.
Later, none of them could tell if it was the work of Cora, skittering around their feet and knocking them off balance, or if it was because Mago leapt back and then charged, headfirst, eyes closed. By far the ugliest theory was that Alless threw Mago deliberately.
Whatever the case, Mago went tumbling into the cauldron, and the moment the potion seared her skin, a noxious, black smoke filled the room with a BANG.
Seneca coughed as the smoke funneled into her lungs, stumbling backwards. It was happening all over again - she could see Maikya’s spirit all over again, glaring with those swollen red eyes, and then darting out of the window. Seneca’s head spun with the anxiety and the fumes, preventing her from standing without the support of the chair she’d managed to stumble to and grab ahold of. Alless’s voice, muffled by the smoke, called her name. The library door was still wide open, so the smoke was billowing out, but not fast enough to see a thing!
Then, there was the sound of shattering glass. A freezing wind blew in from outside, and swept all the smoke away. Seneca had no time to wonder if who smashed the window, because out of the darkness rose a massive, monstrous form. It stood on all fours, its claws the size of scrolls, a pair of ugly horns curling around an awful face, a yawning void shining like black ice. Jagged slits in its face formed its wraithlike eyes, and its mouth was like a crack in obsidian.
Seneca saw Alless and Cora cowering behind the monster and understood. She reached out her hand and spoke in careful, measured tones.
“Mago… I need you to stay calm. We don’t need a repeat of what happened to...”
The monster - no - Mago let loose a vicious roar that shook the room so raucously, books fell off the shelves and Seneca retracted her paw in an automatic reaction of fear. She saw Alless scramble shakily to her feet, and lunge as if to grab ahold of Mago, but in her new form, she was too quick. Mago took a sharp turn and barreled out of the room, smashing one of the library doors off its hinges and sending plaster raining down from the ceiling. Seneca stood up and ran into the foyer, crying, “MAGO, STOP!” as she went.
For just a moment, Seneca thought her cousin had turned to look over her shoulder at her. But then she realized Mago was backing up, leaning forward with her shoulder towards the door, so that she could have enough force to-
With a powerful CRASH, Mago smashed open the front door and fled into the dark Terror Mountain night.
To be continued…