The four companions continued to make their
way through the Haunted Woods, searching for the Tower of old Edna, the Witch.
Twice they were attacked by vicious claw-matoes, but luckily their numbers were
not as daunting as the horde of almost gummy rats that had assaulted them earlier.
Though they were all starting to feel hungry (especially Hollowbelly), none
of them wanted to eat the ugly, misshapen, red and green tomatoes after defeating
"Are you sure you know where the old hag's tower
is, sis?" 7_flames asked Pearlbeak.
The Silver Eyrie nodded, glancing down at a dark
piece of parchment that she had taken from her backpack. "According to this
map, we're nearly there."
"Aw, that's just a piece of a map," her brother
groused. "You can't expect it to be accurate."
"Oh, can't I?" Pearlbeak crowed triumphantly,
pointing ahead of them. Sure enough, the grim shape of a forbidding-looking
tower was visible through the veil of dead trees. In fact, it looked so forbidding
that for a long moment, the four NeoPets just stood and stared at their goal.
"So," whispered BlossomAnn, "what now? Do we
try to sneak in, or march in boldly?"
"I think the best approach would be to pretend
we've come to perform an errand for the Witch," Pearlbeak replied. "We'll just
walk in casually--"
"Uh, guys..." began Hollowbelly.
"--ask to see old Edna, and she'll probably be
brewing up another Glowing Potion of Negg Frazzling or some such nonsense, and
"Guys..." repeated the Lupe, a little louder
"--offer to find the spell ingredients she needs,
but one of us will sneak away and search her Tower for any clues as to whether--"
"GUYS!" barked Hollowbelly. "LOOK OUT FOR THE
Before Pearlbeak could reach for her Attack Fork,
a series of slimy, rope-like tentacles whipped over her, pinning the Eyrie's
arms and wings to her body. Screaming with rage, she tried to slash the restraining
appendages with the claws on her feet, but another thick strand of Mummy Spaghetti
wrapped around them as well. More strands lashed out and snared the other three
even as they tried to ready their own weapons. There was no escape; they were
surrounded on all sides by an enormous mass of squirming, clinging Mummy Spaghetti.
In a trice, the four of them were securely bound and muzzled by the clammy vines.
Still more spaghetti oozed and spilled into the
clearing, pushing its way under the helpless NeoPets, lifting them up and bearing
them toward Edna's Tower. While this was happening, Hollowbelly's mind was reeling:
This stuff's taking us straight to the Witch! She must be controlling it somehow.
Pearlbeak was right--Edna must be the one who enchanted all the food. He tried
to catch his cousin's eye to convey this thought to her. The Eyrie returned
the Lupe's glance with a grim, knowing nod to indicate she understood.
Into the dark Tower the Mummy Spaghetti slithered
with its four prisoners, up a winding staircase dimly lit with torches. At last
they reached the top floor, a musty, smoke-filled room with a cauldron smouldering
on a fire. Next to it was the Mistress of the Tower, Edna the Witch.
"Well, well, well," the ancient crone chortled,
rubbing her gnarled hands together. "What have we here? Four mummified NeoPets,
come to visit old mother Edna? Eh-heh-heh-heh!"
Pearlbeak made an indignant sound through the
spaghetti clamping her beak shut.
"Release them, and leave us for now," the Witch
commanded. At once the Mummy Spaghetti unwrapped itself from the four of them
and slurped away down the stairs.
As soon as he could speak, 7_flames blurted out,
"I HATE ALL SPOOKY FOOD!!"
"Now, now," cackled Edna, shaking a withered
finger at the Wocky. "That's no way to talk. They're quite obedient servants,
as you can plainly see. Eh-heh-heh-heh-heh!"
"Hey, my backpack is gone," Hollowbelly suddenly
"Mine, too," BlossomAnn cried. "The Mummy Spaghetti
must have taken them from us."
"Give us back our stuff, you old crow!" yowled
"Tch-tch, such manners!" scolded the Witch. "Is
that any way to speak to your hostess? You four are guests in my Tower, and
unless you promise to behave, I'll whistle for the Mummy Spaghetti to return
and wrap you up until you do! Do I make myself clear, my little NeoPets?"
Grudgingly, the four of them promised to behave
themselves. Pearlbeak, though furious at the loss of her Attack Fork and the
rest of their possessions, kept her voice low as she spoke: "Why'd you do it,
Edna? Why did you curse all the Food Items and make them come to life?"
The Witch seemed genuinely taken aback by this
question. "Dear, dear! How you talk, my pretty! You think that poor old Edna
is the one responsible for the Great Neopian Food Crisis, do you? You are quite
wrong, my duck. I have cast no such spell as that."
"But..." the Eyrie protested, confused by this
unexpected denial, "...but the Mummy Spaghetti brought us here, and obeyed your
commands. You must be controlling it, therefore you must have used magic to
make it come to life in the first place. Well, didn't you?"
"I'll bet she sicced those almost gummy rats
on us, too," muttered 7_flames.
Edna shook her head. "The Mummy Spaghetti obeys
me, 'tis true, for I am the Dark Lady of the Haunted Forest and the Mistress
of all Spooky Food. But I swear by my broomstick that I am not the one who ensorcelled
the Food Items, my brash and brazen little NeoPets."
For a moment, nobody knew quite what to say.
Finally, BlossomAnn ventured the question, "Well, if you didn't, then perhaps
you have an idea of who did?"
"Hah!" sneered the Witch. "If I knew that, I'd
send the Mummy Spaghetti after them, I would! This Food Crisis affects me too,
dearies. I sometimes need a leg of Chicken or a ripe pair of Cherries to put
into my brew for spell purposes. But ordinary food won't obey me like the Spooky
Food does. It hops right out of my hand and runs away before I can pop it into
my cauldron. And no NeoPets will dare come to me for quests anymore, either;
you four are the first I've seen since the crisis began. So you see, my Poppits,
I want to see the food returned to normal as much as you do. But how can I do
anything to help, when I cannot make my spells?"
"In other words, we've just wasted our time coming
here," grumbled the Fire Wocky.
"Well, at least now we know for certain it wasn't
Edna," Pearlbeak replied. "That's something, anyway. I guess we'll head over
to Faerieland to check on my other suspect: Jhudora."
The Witch nodded. "Clever little lambkin. Jhudora--now
therrrre's a real witch! Cunning NeoPets must beware, for she's twice as powerful
as old Edna and three times as wicked."
"What about our belongings?" Hollowbelly wanted
Edna clapped her hands twice, and the Mummy Spaghetti
returned, depositing the four backpacks at their feet. "There you are. If you
can succeed in changing all the Food Items back to normal, old mother Edna would
be ever so grateful. Come back after you've accomplished your goal, and I'll
give a Strawberry almost gummy rat to each of you."
7_flames made a gagging sound. "Thanks, Edna,
that's very kind of you," Pearlbeak said politely as she put her backpack on.
"We will remember your offer. Goodbye, now."
"Wait!" cried the Witch as they were about to
leave. "There's something I can give you right now, to keep up your strength.
I'm guessing you bold young NeoPets have been eating none too well since the
Food Crisis started, am I right?" She picked up a sealed jar.
"Well, actually--" Pearlbeak began.
"No Ma'am, we sure haven't!" Hollowbelly woofed
quickly, despite BlossomAnn's glare.
"As I thought," the Witch chuckled, removing
the lid from the jar. Four lumpy white objects floated out, each choosing a
NeoPet's backpack and flying over to it. Upon closer inspection, each "object"
was actually a cluster of five marshmallows with smiling faces.
"Ghost Marshmallows!" exclaimed Pearlbeak.
"Gourmet Food," murmured BlossomAnn. "Too bad
I've already had them..."
"You don't seriously expect us to eat these,
do you?" 7_flames asked. "I mean, they're alive!"
"Silly goose!" Edna grated, "Why do you think
they're called Ghost Marshmallows? They're not afraid of being eaten--their
spirits will simply float back into my jar and reform into more Ghost Marshmallows.
Now take them and begone; I've been too nice to you NeoPests!"
And with that, the Witch seized her broom and
shooed the four of them down the stairs and out of the Tower. The door slammed
behind them and they could hear it being barred from within.
"Disagreeable ol' Witch," growled 7_flames.
"Oh, I don't know," BlossomAnn mused. "Sometimes
I think she's not half as nasty as she would like us to believe. I suspect she
was simply trying to save her reputation just now."
"And she did give us the Ghost Marshmallows,"
Hollowbelly reminded his cousin.
The Wocky scowled. "Well, I'm not eating mine.
I've gone right off Spooky Food for good."
"Can I have yours, then?" the Green Lupe asked
Either the Witch must have somehow ordered all the Spooky Food to leave the
group alone, or else their enemies had finally learned a bit of prudence after
witnessing the defeat of the almost gummy rats and the claw-matoes. Whichever
it was, the four NeoPets made their way back through the Haunted Woods to the
teleporter without further hostility. Only once did they pause along the way,
when an eerie groan made their fur and feathers stand on end.
"Sssooooooo... hhhunnnnnnngrrrryyy... "
"What was that?" 7_flames whispered, without
really wanting to know.
"Shhh," hissed Pearlbeak. "It's only the Esophagor.
Just keep walking; he can't hurt us."
"Hhhhelllllllp mmmeeeeeee, plllleeeeeeeasssse... "
"He sounds so sad," BlossomAnn could not help
But the Yellow Aisha had already stopped, and
was now stepping bravely towards the miserable-looking pile of sludge that was
the Esophagor. Never a beauty contest winner during the best of times, the thing
looked positively wretched in the wake of the Neopian Food Crisis. With no NeoPets
to bring it the victuals that it constantly craved, the Esophagor had shriveled
and shrunk to two-thirds of its normal size. BlossomAnn felt an unusual pity
for the creature.
"Can I help you?" she asked it. "Do you want
something to eat?"
The Esophagor's sunken pits of eyes stared blearily
at her. "Fffooooood..." was all it said.
"I know how it feels," commented Hollowbelly,
who had come up behind his sister.
BlossomAnn unslung and opened her backpack. "I
know you only eat Spooky Food, Mister Esophagor, and all I have with me right
now are these Ghost Marshmallows. Will they do?"
sighed the Esophagor. "Goooooood."
As soon as these drawn-out words were spoken,
the Ghost Marshmallows floated out of the Aisha's paw and drifted, still smiling,
into the dark, gaping cave that was the Esophagor's mouth. BlossomAnn tried
not to wince as they were promptly chewed up. "Mmmmmmmm... yyummmmy," the
Esophagor murmured. Then, "Mmmooorrrrrre?" it asked hopefully.
"Here, take mine," offered 7_flames, who had
joined the other two. "And good riddance."
Pearlbeak rolled her eyes, but she wound up giving
her Ghost Marshmallows as well.
"How about yours, Hollowbelly?" asked BlossomAnn.
The Lupe's ears reddened in embarrassment. "Um,
I'm afraid I ate mine already, back when we were still in the Witch's Tower.
Sorry. Hey, I was hungry--don't look at me like that!"
"You're such a chow hound," 7_flames teased.
"So how come BlossomAnn is a member of the Gourmet Club and not you, Hollowbelly?
You seem like a natural winner to me."
"I can answer that," replied the Aisha. "When
you're competing in the Gourmet Club, you're really not supposed to eat anything
EXCEPT Gourmet Food. My chow hound brother here wouldn't be able to stand not
having his favourite junk food while competing, so that's out."
"Aw, knock it off, you guys," Hollowbelly whined
as his cousin's laughed at him.
By this time, the Esophagor had finished consuming
the three groups of Ghost Marshmallows. "Thhhannnnk youuuuuuu, NnnneoPetssss.
Essophagorrr grrrratefffulllllll. Taaake thhhissss." The sludgey, slimy body
moved back to reveal a slightly damp jar of Fire Snow.
Pearlbeak collected the prize. "Thanks, Sophie.
Hope you feel better soon."
It was not far from the Esophagor to the teleport
booth. "Next stop, Faerieland," the Silver Eyrie announced as she adjusted the
controls and pressed the button. *Blink*
To be continued...
Next: Dark Faerie, Dark Heart