The Witch's Cookbook:Part Two
"Hold this for a minute, would you?" Sophie mutters, passing a small vial to Ash. A Mozito buzzes angrily about inside. Ash shrugs and shoves it into her belt with the rest of her spices as the witch brushes back into the crowd to rub elbows with some important Neovian or other.
The Fairgrounds are lit with rows of floating jack-o-lanterns, casting warm, flickering shadows over the who’s-who of evil, dark, and menacing currently roaming the grounds. She feels a chill pass over her and realizes that Eliv Thade decided to walk through her rather than around her. In front of her, snacking on the various potions and hors d'oeuvres she and Sophie had perfected for the occasion, hundreds of faces straight out of the Book of Evil hand out Neomail addresses, dance, and compliment each others’ suits. A large figure distinctively not-at-all-like Dr. Sloth compliments her on her on her blood-shrinking shriek potion and bargjelly ghost toast pairing before sneaking inconspicuously back into the shadows. Instead of enjoying the event, however, she taps her foot rapidly, counting her bottles over and over anxiously and watching Sophie.
For the evening, the witch whipped up a glamour to cover her seeping skin, appearing a slightly-more-radiant-than-usual version of her regular self. As the evening winds down, she whirls about, accepting compliments and ensuring continued donations to this charity for witchcraft and that. Ash sinks into the shadows, growing more frazzled by the second. A dark brown hand with long, curved green nails touches her shoulder and she turns swiftly. "Ah. I should’ve known you’d be here too."
Ilere towers over her, green eyes flashing. "What has she done to herself?"
"I do not care what you have to say. Her glamours cannot fool me. She is playing with very dangerous magic."
"Well, I’m not her mother."
"Yes. You are a chef." She imbues the last word with venom.
"And proud of it," Ash spits.
"I suppose you cannot stop her from this foolishness."
The partygoers gradually slip away one by one, until only a handful remain with Sophie. Ilere looks over her impassively, then turns to leave, sweeping her cape up in one hand. Stopping herself, she turns back to Ash. "You should not have let yourself become caught up in her scheming. Things are as they are." In the blink of an eye, shadows pool into the space she had just filled. The final guest shakes Sophie’s hand and leaves, and she walks triumphantly over to Ash.
"Ready when you are."
"What about Krawley?" Ash asks worriedly.
"He’s taken care of. Come with me."
At night, the woods take on a menace found nowhere else in Neopia. The trees come to life with haunting faces, and screams with no obvious source echo through the woods, some otherwordly, some eerily Neopian in nature. Ash and Sophie reach Sophie’s swamp by the dim blue glow of the witch’s staff. The swamp deadens the sounds of the woods around them, and Ash realizes with a start that she cannot hear the Crokabeks. Instead, the swamp is silent.
Sophie unlocks the door, whispering a few magic words that light the house with its usual yellow glow. She ushers Ash in, then holds out her hand expectantly. "The vial, if you will."
"If you’ll tell me what’s going on first, then sure."
"Well, I can explain if you hand me the vial," she says impatiently. Ash reluctantly hands over the small, clear bottle, the Mozito flapping desperately against the glass. Sophie raises the vial in one hand, her staff in the other, and shouts "Krawley exsistio!"
She shatters the glass on the ground and a cloud of smoke fills the room. Ash coughs, waving the smoke away. She hears a struggle, and then muffled shouts. The smoke clears, and she gasps. Tied to a chair (with Sophie smugly leaning against it) is none other than Krawley himself.
Sophie laughs. "And they said I couldn’t do it."
"Couldn’t and shouldn’t are two different words. You should maybe acquaint yourself with them, Apothecary," Ash snaps. Sophie looks down her nose, but turns her attention to Krawley. Waving a hand over herself, she drops her glamour.
"Welcome to my humble abode, oh great-and-sinister-mastermind." She bows, and he sneers at her.
"You look truly repulsive."
She smiles magnanimously. "Why, thank you. Sincerely, thanks to you, we can undo this magic once and for all. Including long-term effects."
He makes a sound that sounds like a spluttering cough, which turns into a racking, phlegmy laugh. "Ah, you think of your brother. Foolish little girl. You should’ve left well enough alone."
"Everyone keeps saying that, but you’re the one tied to a chair, Mr. Krawley."
He laughs again, a nails-on-a-chalkboard sound that rattles Ash and Sophie both. The Krawk’s face stretches into a humongous, toothy smile. "Go ahead then, witch. Use my own magic against me. Make an antivenom that will solve all of your problems and fix your brother. I’ll even pretend that these ropes can actually restrain me in any way." He pulls a hand out, snapping his claws, before returning it to behind his back.
Ash pulls her aside. "What is he doing?"
Sophie hesitates, then murmurs, "I don’t think this is going to work."
"There’s something off. He knows something I don’t."
"Isn’t that the point of...kidnapping him?"
"Okay, well, kidnapping is kind of a harsh term. Call it a...citizen’s arrest."
"Or illegal detainment."
Krawley snuffles. "Are you two quite finished? I’ve got a meeting with the Pant Devil at 12:00 NST."
With an impressive amount of bravado, Sophie strides over to him with a pair of tweezers, plucks a scale from his arm, and drops it into her cauldron with a great puff of viscous smoke. From her pocket she produces a sachet of ground-up flower petals, pink and glowing. Motioning Ash over, she stirs the ingredients together as they bubble into a glowing golden liquid. She skims the foam from the top into a small wooden cup and sips it, waiting.
Nothing continues to happen. Krawley glowers. "You see."
Sophie frantically downs the rest of the cup, then turns to him. "I don’t understand."
"Did you think you could do away with the ill effects and keep the benefits for your own convenience? Little selfish child." He chuckles, snide.
She whips to face him. "I don’t know what you mean."
He turns cold and stern. "You know well enough what I mean. You can’t keep the magic without the pain the magic causes."
Sophie freezes, a pained look on her face. Ash turns to her angrily. "That’s what your curse was? Magic build-up?"
"I could do so much good if I was stronger," she responds in a quiet voice.
"Do you know why your brother is the way he is?" Krawley asks. Sophie remains silent. "Answer me. Why is your brother cursed?"
Ash looks at her in confusion. "Because he was under the curse for too long. It set in. Right?"
Her voice is almost inaudible. "He is happy with the way he is."
Krawley stands up. "Correct. Your brother became comfortable with the way he looked, the way he lived, whether he was willing to admit it or not. He is strong now. You, too, have taken advantage of the curse, and made sacrifices for power. To reverse it, you must give back what you gained. Unless…"
Sophie touches her destroyed face, then looks down at her bubbling skin. "Unless."
Ash looks at her. "Unless?"
Krawley grimaces. "We can all keep repeating ourselves ad infinitum, but I really must be leaving. Mr. Devil lacks patience and...subtlety."
A moment passes as they all stand still, waiting. Then, at an impossible speed, Sophie casts a circle, trapping Krawley into the house before he can stop her. She refills the cup and hands it to him. "Drink this and you can go, you slimy little lizard."
He snorts. "I wouldn’t touch that bilge with a ten-foot pole."
"Actually, the flavor profile is–" Ash interrupts, provoking a glare from both, "–quite...well...developed…"
Sophie smiles darkly, the old green light appearing for a moment in her bulbous yellow eyes. "You’ll drink it."
For the first time, fear enters the Krawk’s eyes, and Ash sees a flash of an ancient evil behind his glare. He slowly takes the cup from her hands, his claws latching themselves into the soft wood. "If you do this, you’ll have to accept the consequences. I have very good connections." Sophie nods her agreement, and he raises the cup in shaking hands to his scaly lips. As he drinks, his body begins to flake and age rapidly, and he cycles rapidly through his hundreds of guises and glamours, appearing at one moment to be a red Elephante, at another to be an Orange Yurble, then a Purple Lenny, and any number of other faces before returning to himself. His scales now dull and greying, he looks ancient and withered. The spectre of his power stripped away, Krawley stands pathetically gripping the cup.
Sophie’s gaze rakes over him callously. She drops the circle around him. "Krawley, return to Neovia. Live amongst the pets you’ve scarred."
"You would have them kill me? Rather cruel to leave me to the mob."
She smirks. "As fitting as that would be, Mr. Krawley, I will provide you protection." She waves her hand over him and the air around him glimmers as he is disguised by a glamour, now appearing as a red Lupe. "It will fade gradually away until you’ve become one of them. Now, get out of my sight."
He wordlessly shuffles through the door into the dark and dangerous night. Ash gingerly closes the door behind him, then slumps against it, pale. "I just wanted to throw a nice fundraiser and you sucked the soul out of an ancient evil."
"I didn’t suck his soul out, he isn’t evil, and it was a lovely fundraiser."
"Well, that’s it, I’m done here, and I’m going home to my house in a non-haunted locale and making myself breadsticks. Maybe stress-crying into them. Who knows. Have a nice night." She begins hastily stuffing her cooking supplies and ingredients into her bag.
"I didn’t mean to worry you. You’ve been a great help," Sophie offers lamely.
"Worry me! Worry me? Mozito this! Skeem that! Curse this! Krawley that!...I didn’t even get to enjoy the party," she raves, shoving items into her bag with vigor, "and I didn’t get an explanation, and there was definitely a soul sucked out right in front of me and I think you’re staying cursed on purpose."
Sophie opens and closes her mouth several times, then sighs, takes a deep breath, and stands still with her arms to her sides. A great rushing sound fills the room as blue energy, electric and crackling, shoots from Sophie through the ceiling. A bright cocoon of light surrounds her for several moments, then recedes, leaving the room dark. Sophie falls to the floor, weakened and coughing. "Wow. That was quite a ride." Ash stares and Sophie looks down. "Well, would you look at that."
She laughs, her voice restored to her usual sharp, clear tone. Running her hands over her face, Sophie smiles weakly. "The breakouts are cleared, praise Jerdana."
"Ew. Was that...uh...Krawley soul?"
"I DIDN’T SUCK HIS SOUL."
"Okay, may I rephrase then. What exactly just happened?"
Sophie struggles over to sit at the table. "He’s not evil. He’s just...shifty."
Ash gawks at her. "He cursed an entire town."
"He didn’t curse a town. He gave them what they wanted. Their desires were corrupt. I mean...my desires were corrupt. Magic doesn’t work like that. There are always consequences. The greater the benefit, the greater the cost."
"So the soul-sucking thing…" Ash motions towards the door.
"Oh, I nullified his magic. I used Krawley to undo Krawley. Just not the way I wanted. I think this was better though. He shouldn’t have the kind of power he had." Ash snorts, but Sophie stops her before she can speak. "I know how hypocritical that sounds. But Krawley hurt a lot of people, and he was planning on hurting a lot more to make a quick buck. He’s too irresponsible. I mean, at the very least, he could’ve provided the traditional vague warning."
The Aisha considers this for a moment before responding. "You gave up your power."
Sophie laughs. "I was the most powerful witch in these woods before any of this ever happened, and I will be long after. I suppose I don’t really need the extra juice. I was being naive."
"What about Bruno?"
"He’s happy. Bruno took the cure with the rest of the townsfolk, and the day he decides he doesn’t want the curse any more is the day he breaks out of it. I can’t do that for him. It took a bit to realize that." She gazes mistily out the window. "Krawley was right, though. Hustlers like that have a lot of underworld contacts. I’ll use my own, but I’m going to be fending off a lot of annoying attacks for a while until everything settles again. You might want to take your leave of the Haunted Woods, Chef Grey."
The chef cinches her belt around her waist, the bottles clattering. "The fundraiser really did go well."
Sophie raises her eyebrows. "Yes."
"So, I’ll...work with you again next year," Ash leads.
The swamp witch laughs. "I’ll see you again next year, little chef. No ulterior motives next time!"
"And no soul sucking!"