The Ardors and Agonies of Witchcraft: Part Nine
M ago’s great claws thundered across the soil. At this speed, every breeze felt like that of a frigid winter rushing through her fur, and she opened her mouth to cry out in triumph for the power coursing through her veins. She could feel it in her claws, in her horns, and deep in her muscles. She could do anything she wanted in the world. She could-
“Mago,” cried the Ice Krawk on her back, clutching her fur like reigns, “Mago, we’re almost there, you have to slow down…”
And Mago did, so suddenly that her homunculus tumbled off of her back into the withered Neovian grass.
“Jeesli,” Mago growled, secretly enjoying how the Ice Krawk fearfully snapped to attention. “Who told you you could give me orders?”
Jeesli faltered. “I-I wasn’t. I was merely pointing out…”
Mago fixed her with a truly frightening glare, and Jeesli cowered until she stopped.
They were deep in the woods behind Neovia. Mago lifted her head towards the smell of rain. “Alright… If my tracking spell worked - and it better have, because I lost that stupid book ages ago and can’t redo it - the jewel should be somewhere north of here.”
“Oh, yes. Shame, really, since the book wasn’t just the possession we used to track Sarabet down, but the source of the superior tracking spell that allowed us to find someone who had otherwise evaded discovery…”
“Did I ask for an explanation, Jeesli?”
She looked about ready to melt. “No, ma’am.”
“Right.” Mago nodded to where thunderclouds were rolling overhead in the distance. “Let’s go.”
Jeesli had a difficult time of it, trudging through the mud. One could never predict the bog’s depths, and she couldn’t swim very well, considering she’d just been born and hadn’t had time to learn. The never-ending rain only made things worse, ramping up the humidity so that she began to sweat: an Ice pet’s least favorite thing to do.
After sinking into one particularly deep spot and almost drowning in mud, Mago tossed Jeesli onto her back and muttered, “Let’s just stop now, if you’re going to be so useless.”
Ahead of them rose a cave. Mago swam inside and then dropped Jeesli onto a dry ledge. But before Jeesli could thank her master for rescuing her from the bog, Mago crouched down and shook the mud from her fur. By the time she was done, Jeesli was covered in it!
“It’s been hours, and we still haven’t found that jewel,” Mago growled.
“I’m sure it’ll show up some time! Others have searched for it for years, so we can’t expect to just waltz…”
“ENOUGH!” Mago roared. Jeesli cowered on the floor as the command echoed through the dark caverns. Surely, any creature living in its depths could hear her...
Mago pinned Jeesli with one claw, forcing her to listen to the entire monologue she had planned. “Ever since my mother let slip about that all-powerful witch, I’ve wanted to meet her! As much as I hate to admit it, Alless’s stupid, bumbling failure has given me the perfect chance to release her! I’m more powerful than ever, and I won’t let anyone - not her, not you, and not this disgusting SWAMP - stop me from finding that jewel!”
“Actually, it’s a bog.” A light appeared in the darkness, illuminating a Mutant Ixi’s face. “Mean one, aren’t ya?” he said, voice gnarled by a Meridellian accent.
Mago’s features twisted into an ugly sneer. “Watch your tongue!”
“Not in my own home.” He glared at her. “What gives you the right to trespass here?”
Before Mago could stop her, Jeesli piped up. “We’re looking for a jewel!”
“So I’ve heard.” The Ixi paused, lowering his lantern. “What kind of jewel?”
“Don’t even think about tagging along to try and rob us,” Mago hissed. “I could crush you, easily. And besides - it’s not really a valuable jewel. It’s a pebble. Just a useless, orange pebble.”
“That shines like an opal,” Jeesli added.
If he tried to mask it, it was too late. An unmistakable look of recognition widened the Ixi’s eyes. Mago approached him as a predator approaches its prey. “You wouldn’t happen to have heard of such a jewel already… would you?”
“N-not me,” said the Ixi, trying to appear gruff. But Mago heard him falter.
“I think you do know.” And with that, she lunged.
“STOP!” Jeesli begged. “Stop, Mago, please! He told you what you wanted to know!”
In one last act of malice, Mago threw the bruised and battered Mutant Ixi across the floor of the cave. “Fine,” she hissed. “I stopped. But only because I was done. Not because you told me to.”
Multint groaned, struggling to lean up on his elbows. “You are an u-ugly thing… inside and out. I know your kind...”
“Probably because they’re your kind, too,” Mago replied, drily. Multint blushed with a deep shame; she was right, of course. He’d done a lot of awful things in his life, but now that he had given up his friends to this horrible monster, he didn’t think he’d ever be able to face them again. Seeing the anguish on his face, Mago reached out one clawed hand to Multint and stroked his ear, her touch bizarrely tender… But then it started to sizzle, until there was a white light gathering above the crown of his head.
“What are you doing?!” Multint cried.
Mago smiled unkindly. “Taking care of evidence. You should thank me - I’m also releasing you from your guilt.” When the spell had finished and Multint slumped down, unconscious, Mago released his head. “Come along, Jeesli. We have a hunt to commence.”
The Ice Krawk threw one last, pitying glance over her shoulder to Multint before following her master out into the bog.
Multint seemed to lie there for an eternity, struggling to breathe through his swollen nose. Then there was someone calling out to him. He remembered being lifted into the air before he blacked out.
The next thing Multint knew, he was surrounded by concerned voices. It wasn’t humid anymore, and the surface where he lay felt much more comfortable than that of the cave floor. With his eyes still squeezed shut, he moved one cloven hoof over what seemed to be a quilt, a pillow, the softest sheets he’d ever touched…
“Look! He’s awake!”
He cracked an eye open. There was a colorful blur, which gradually sharpened into... the boarding house folks. Erzo, Colly, and Bella.
Multint wrinkled his nose. “How’d I get here…?”
“I brought you,” said Erzo. His voice was high and timid. “I’m sorry to have dragged you out of your ‘home’ like that, but you were very injured! I had to bring you someplace cleaner where we could tend to you.”
Multint rubbed a hoof over his aching head. “Why’d ya even come in the first place…”
Erzo lowered his eyes. “I just wanted to check on you.”
Colly laid a tender paw on Multint’s arm. “We’re so grateful Erzo found you in time.”
“What happened, Multint? Who did this to you?” Bella asked.
Multint’s head throbbed. He couldn’t remember what happened, but everyone was looking at him so expectantly he became defensive. “It’s none of yer business.”
Erzo was immediately angry. “Of course! That’s so like you, to brush off your friends’ concern!”
“Erzo, please,” Colly scolded. She turned back to Multint with a smile, but her eternally sad eyes made him avert his gaze. “Don’t listen to him, Multint. You don’t have to tell us anything you don’t want to. You need rest.”
Her kindness threatened to melt his heart. He wanted so badly to accept her affection, but he knew that for them to get mixed up with a Mutant like him… “Yer right. I need sleep - so get out, all of ya!”
With a huffy sigh, Erzo nevertheless did what he was told. Bella followed, as did Colly, after one last glance across the threshold. She turned off the lights, and Multint was plunged into the kind of dark, grey haze a room takes on when the only light comes from an overcast window. He turned to see how bad the storm was getting, and with alarm realized that he was lying not just in any old bedroom, but HIS old bedroom, from when he used to live in the boarding house. There were his old, ragged curtains, and the ancient Fungus Drawer, and… on the desk, there, were his tools. He blushed with shame of the memory of the day he had stolen Colly’s jewel. What a fool he’d been. The same old negative voice arose in the back of his mind: who’d want to befriend some nasty-tempered Mutant who broke everything he touched?
A sharp pain arose in his temple, and he gasped, reaching up to touch it. What HAD happened to him today…?
Just then, there was a crash downstairs, and a high-pitched scream - it sounded like Colly! Multint threw the covers aside and leapt out of bed, wincing when his bruised body cried out in protest. He ran out into the hall, and nearly crashed into Bella.
“I heard it, too,” she said. “Come on!”
Together, they ran down the steps, ready to charge into the fray, but the sight that greeted them froze them on the threshold.
The front door had been smashed open, chipped wood and broken glass scattering the floor beneath the claws of a gigantic monster. The sight of her made Multint’s head throb, and filled him with the impression he had seen her before - but where? The monster cackled and swung her massive hand, which was when Multint realized that she had Colly in her clutches!
“You let go of her!” Erzo was in the living room with Colly, and now he faced the monster with more bravery than Multint realized a Grey pet could muster. Erzo ran forward as if to fight the monster with his bare hands, but before he could, an Ice Krawk tackled him to the ground. The two struggled, until the Krawk let loose a burst of white light, and Erzo’s hands were suddenly bound by shackles of ice.
Colly was trying to twist herself out of the monster’s grasp, but the more she struggled, the harder the monster seemed to clench its hand. It was a wonder she didn’t pass out.
Bella looked about ready to join the fray, but Multint stopped her with a hand on her shoulder and an order: “Run out the back door and get help.”
Bella was shocked. “But Multint, I’m magic! If anyone has a chance of standing up to this monster…”
“Ya can’t take her down alone,” Multint said firmly. “And there’s no way I’m goin’ to make it to town in my condition. Go get help. Now!”
She looked like she wanted to argue, but Colly’s cry of pain from the other room melted her resolve. “If you know what’s good for you, Multint, you’ll hide,” she said. And with that, she ran out the back.
Multint watched Bella go. They both knew he wouldn’t follow her advice. He had no chance of beating this monster, but if he could get it to attack him instead, maybe Colly would be safer. He took a deep breath, before stepping into the room to shout, “YOU LEAVE HER ALONE!”
Everyone looked up in surprise. Multint lowered his head so his twisted horns pointed outwards, and charged straight for the monster!
She threw him aside with one thrashing claw, not even loosening her other hand’s grip on her prisoner. Multint landed with a THUD on top of Erzo, and groaned in pain as his already sore body was bruised yet again.
The monster turned to her prisoner with glee. “At last! The Jewel of Sarabet! To think some ordinary little innkeeper has had it all this time!” She snatched it off of Colly’s neck, the chain breaking easily. “What’s this? You turned the most powerful witch of our time into a bit of JEWELRY? Why, she’s not going to be very happy with you, now, is she? Come with me!”
“No…” Multint groaned. He reached feebly forward, but found his hand encased in ice.
“Not so fast!” cried the Ice Krawk. “You’re not going to touch Master Mago with your filthy hooves!”
Mago cackled. “Oh, Jeesli, what would I do without you?” She squeezed Colly so tight, the young Gelert’s eyes bulged. “Now, on with the show!”
Mago dragged Colly out into the pouring rain. As if in anticipation, the wind had kicked up, and thunder crashed overhead. It seemed as though the building cyclone would carry them away across the muddy landscape. Colly cried out as the wind sent her ears smacking into her face, but Mago continued to move with purpose towards the eye of the storm.
She held the orange jewel in the air, her sharp smile manic. “Finally, I can begin!”
She closed her eyes so that they disappeared into the void of her face. Then she began to chant. “Reh esaeler ot uoy redro-i, niar dna dniw eht fo stirips larutanerp!”
A great white light crashed overhead, and Colly flinched and shut her eyes, preparing to be struck by lightning… but it didn’t happen. She opened her eyes and saw that the light was coming from the apex of the storm, and was expanding more and more by the second.
The jewel lifted up out of Mago’s fingers on its own, bathing in the light until it seemed to shine with one of its own. The light grew larger and brighter, until it was about the size and shape of a grown-up neopet. Colly could make out ropy limbs, long ears…
There was a sound like an explosion, and then a loud SPLAT when mud flew from the ground. The creature Mago summoned had landed. Colly had closed her eyes to protect from the impact, and now she was afraid to open them again and see what new monster awaited her.
“Oh my stars,” Mago whispered, voice dripping with reverence. “Are you real?”
The wind had calmed from a cyclone to a gale. Colly braved a peak.
A Maraquan Gelert sat before them. There were leaves and vines hanging down from her body, giving the impression of a creature who belonged deep in a swamp, not the ocean, like most Maraquans. She had a sinister look to her, a greenness about her gills, a zombified blankness about her stare, and an ancient-ness to her power… and yet, she looked young, as if fresh out of university.
“Sarabet,” Mago breathed. “It’s you. It’s really you! I did it - ha, I did it!”
Sarabet watched with a flat expression as Mago danced with joy.
“Who are you?” Colly didn’t think she’d ever heard the question spoken with less interest. Mago didn’t seem to notice.
“I’m Mago. The pleasure is all mine.” As a sign of respect, she kneeled down before Sarabet, and Colly yelped as the hand that held her flipped upside down! When she was upended, she noticed Sarabet was staring at her face with her brow wrinkled.
“Who is that?”
“This?” Mago waved Colly as if she were a doll. “This is the girl who’s been wearing your prison as a fashion accessory.”
The admission filled Colly with fright - would Sarabet take revenge on her? But the bog witch didn’t seem to understand.
“Yes,” said Mago. “Don’t you remember? Your friends couldn’t handle your power, so they locked you up in a pretty little gemstone.”
A light came on in Sarabet’s eyes. “Ah…”
“I bet it’s all coming back now, huh? Awful things, those three did to you...”
To their surprise, Sarabet clutched her head and turned away. She thrashed as she spoke, twisting as if the memories coursing through her brain burned like fire. “No… Stop… Lascen! Craya…!” Then, in a much darker voice, “Ronan!”
All at once, Sarabet stopped her writhing. Mago and Colly traded looks, as if to ask each other, “What in Neopia was THAT?”
When Sarabet turned around, the zombie-like look and haggard nature were gone. She now wore the eyes of a Darigan general: cold, calculating, and intelligent. Even her voice had more clarity to it than before.
“You freed me from that rock?” she asked.
“Yes! I’m your savior!” Mago said eagerly. “All I ask in return is that you include me in your plans to wreak havoc on this miserable planet.”
“Yes.” Sarabet’s gaze flickered to Colly, who had audibly gasped at the suggestion. “...In due time. First, I want to know what has happened since I’ve been imprisoned.” She nodded to the building just beyond. “We will discuss things in the boarding house.”
“Oh, yes, of course,” said Mago. “I have a million questions for you, too! You see, I have your book - well, I HAD your book…”
As they trudged through the rain, Colly’s head was swimming with many questions about the safety of her friends, the people of the nearby town, and the very land they lived on. She was consumed with fearful inquiries, most about the danger seeming to loom on the horizon, but one question stood out from the rest:
How did Sarabet know about the boarding house?
Alless stumbled out of the bush, plucking barbs from her fur. A trio of little Earth Faeries fluttered above her head, giggling at her foolishness. She glared at them. “Knock it off! Go on - shoo!”
The tinkling laughter rose into the sky, until there was nothing but the wind in the trees to accompany Alless up the path. At least she had finally found the path; any more aimless stumbling through the forest, and she would have screamed.
Alless followed the neatly placed cobblestones, having a hard time picturing Craya laying them down herself. It was too domestic an image to associate with that woman; she must’ve had a familiar do it. Maybe a faerie; her glare could command just about anyone. Maybe it was all that power she possessed - people could feel it. That would certainly explain why no one ever trusted Alless to lead.
She arrived at the door of a looming marble house. Somehow, instead of standing out like a sore spot in the middle of the forest, its columns seemed to blend right in with the trees’ trunks. Alless knocked on the door.
No answer. No surprise. She tried the handle: locked. Okay, that was a slightly bigger surprise.
“Craya?” Alless called. “Crayaaa? Come on, it’s really urgent!”
She stood there for a while, but the massive wooden door didn’t budge. Alless sighed; where was the nearest rock?
After much huffing and puffing, Alless managed to stack three large boulders by one of Craya’s front windows. She was just working on smashing the glass with a rock when the door opened to reveal a Darigan Aisha, wearing a long, blonde wig.
“By Illusen, Alless, I was in the bath! You don’t have to go vandalizing my house! Come in before you fall off those rocks and break your neck.”
Once inside, Craya lounged on a rather sleek and modern sofa, unlike the style Alless usually associated with witches who isolate themselves in the wilderness. Actually, despite how well-camouflaged her house was on the outside, on the inside, Craya’s house was very clean and fashionable.
“Sit down,” said Craya. “You’re making me nervous.”
“No - it’s urgent. You have to come with me.”
Craya glared. “You’ve got a lot of nerve demanding anything of me, Alless. Now sit down, and tell me what’s happened.”
Alless sank into the cushions. “It’s Mago…”
“Your doing, I suppose?”
Alless blushed. It was an accurate guess, but she was ashamed Craya had so easily.
Craya scoffed. “I’m guessing by the look on your face that I’m right. Can’t you handle your own mistakes for once, Alless?”
“It’s not just Mago, though... Sarabet’s involved, too.”
That one was clearly a shock. Alless had never seen an Aisha’s eyes go so wide.
When Alless was finished explaining what had happened - from the time she cursed Mago to the imminent danger of her releasing Sarabet - Craya pinched the skin between her eyes. “Honestly, I don’t know how Lazan ended up with such troublesome daughters. He was such a strict student. He must have loosened up in fatherhood.”
Troublesome, she called them! As if Mago had drawn a little graffiti, as opposed to releasing an all-powerful evil witch. While Alless was pondering her choice of words, Craya stood up and left the room. Alless wasn’t sure if she should call her back or follow; Craya was very cagey with her emotions, so perhaps she just wanted to cry in private? But after five minutes, she returned with two jewels: one a sherbert orange, and the other a sky blue.
Alless frowned. “Why two? Is one a backup, or…?”
Craya looked at Alless as if she’d just sprouted two more heads. “The orange is to seal Sarabet away. The blue is for Mago.”
Alless pulled away, aghast. “No! We can’t seal her away, she’s-!”
“What? Are you going to tell me the same thing Ronan said about his sister? That she’s not evil? That she’s not dangerous?” To Alless’s shock, Craya’s lip was trembling. “Mago was a brilliant student. But she’s always had a cruel streak. We must contain her.”
“She’s just confused,” Alless whispered. “I did this to her. I made her a monster!”
“You made her a monster on the outside,” Craya corrected. “But the decision to release Sarabet? She didn’t decide that on impulse, Alless. She’d have to have been planning this for a long time.”
A thousand images at once came crashing down on Alless: Mago, holding Alless’s paw when she was very small; Mago, laughing when the ice she conjured made a tourist slip and break his wrist; Mago, being berated for conjuring a blizzard, and preparing to fight the inhabitants of Mystery Island for defying her; Mago, crying with anguish when Maikya was hurt.
Tears dripped onto Alless’s dress. “I… I don’t know if I can do it.”
“From the sounds of Ronan’s plan, you won’t have to. I’m being summoned because you’re not skilled enough for such a containment spell,” Craya pointed out, not unkindly. She touched Alless’s shoulder. “Of course it’s hard. This sort of thing is never easy; but it’s necessary, to keep everyone safe.”
Alless nodded, wiping her eyes on her sleeve. When she’d composed herself, she said, “It’s going to take ages to get there.”
Craya grinned. “Not if you’ve got the right mode of transport.” Alless was about to ask what in Neopia she meant when a pair of spiky purple wings sprung from Craya’s back.
“That’s new,” said Alless, when she’d collected her jaw from the floor.
To be continued…