Witches!: Part Four
“You are the same Sir Bernard that used to be the castle’s gatekeeper?” Lisha asked.
The old Lupe nodded.
“After I let some thieves get by me, the King sent me down to look after the dungeons. Can't say we have many inmates,” Sir Bernard answered.
“You risk being executed for this,” Kayla said solemnly.
“Yes, but only if you fail,” Bernard replied sagely. “Any idiot can see Skarl’s under a spell. If you stop him, Belton can be imprisoned. I think it’s a knight’s duty to help his king however he can.”
“Well, still, I think you had better stay here, or get your brother out of the castle or something,” Lisha said diplomatically.
In truth, Sir Bernard was slowing them down. The old man was clearly arthritic, and had to stop at every turning to catch his breath. It wouldn’t be long until they were discovered, and the witches assumed he wouldn’t be much help in a fight either. For starters, his iron sword was clearly far too heavy for his feeble arms to carry.
“Very well, come on Hector,” Bernard agreed.
He took his brother by the arm and shuffled off down another corridor. The six witches were now alone.
“How are we going to challenge Lord Belton if we can’t do magic while he’s wearing the pendant?” asked Lisha.
“Well, we’ll have to get it off him,” Edna thought out loud.
“In the meantime,” Sophie suggested as she took a lance from a suit of armour, “we can use these.”
The sun was setting over Meridell, sending soothing orange light over the landscape. It entered the throne room of the castle through the slit windows in the wall, illuminating the twilight just enough to see. Lord Belton barely even flinched when the six witches burst in, carrying a plethora of pikes, poles and badly worn swords.
“I see castle security is lax,” Belton said smugly. “Guards, take them back to the dungeons and this time see that they are adequately imprisoned.”
The ten or so guards inside the chamber saluted and approached the women. It was Sophie who stepped forward. She was the tallest out of the witches, and brandished the sword like a holy relic.
“Your magic no longer works, crone,” Belton sneered.
Sophie would have been first to admit that the talk of Kauvara’s betrayal and the magic-dampening pendants went straight over her head, but she was still a witch. Witches everywhere on Neopia knew that if you didn’t have time for a potion or spell, a sharp kick to the shin or a firm blow to the head would normally give you the time to cook some magic up. So it was that she brought her lance down on the closest guard’s head, making his helmet clang. At once she brought the lance round in an arc that clattered into a further two guards. Taking the cue, Edna hobbled forward and kicked another in the leg, causing him to hop around in pain as Roberta smashed him on the skull with a metal pole. A flurry of clangs, painful groans and the odd cackle then filled the chamber. When it was over, the witches stood at the top of a heap of vanquished soldiers.
“Now,” said Morguss purposefully as Sophie barred the door with her lance, “we have unfinished business, Lord Belton.”
The witches began to stalk down the red carpet that led to the throne.
“You are only witches! You have no power!” Belton screamed.
“Magic or no, we still have power,” Edna sneered as they moved ever closer.
“Stop,” Belton screamed as he grabbed Skarl and held a blade to him, “or he gets it.”
The King twitched slightly, but was still powerless in Belton’s grasp.
“You wouldn’t dare!” Roberta exclaimed.
“Wouldn’t I?” Belton said madly.
Behind the witches, more guards began banging on the throne room door, trying to break it open.
“It is over, I have won. Meridell belongs to me now!” Belton screamed with rage.
From behind the door, voices started shouting.
“Open up, in the name of the King!” a gruff voice shouted.
Lisha and Kayla gasped at the sound of a voice they both recognised.
“Jeran,” they stated in unison.
Belton’s face fell.
“No reinforcements for you,” Morguss said flatly.
The witches were now metres from the throne. Belton glanced from them to the doorway, and then growled slightly. He threw the King down to the floor in a heap and ran towards the back of the room.
“Get after him!” Edna shouted.
Roberta and Sophie followed, but found only the door of a secret passageway clicking shut. They immediately began searching for hidden switches. The other witches meanwhile clustered around Skarl. Edna examined him.
“It’s just an ordinary incapacitation potion by the looks of it. They are ten a Neopoint back in the Haunted Woods,” she said authoritatively.
“I should be able to brew up a cure for that in no time,” Kayla said proudly.
“Good, get right on it,” Edna ordered.
The doors at the entrance to the throne room finally gave in, and Jeran burst in with a troop of guards.
“Lisha, go tell your brother the situation, then help him go round the castle and destroy all of the pendants,” Morguss told the young Aisha.
There was a gentle click from the back of the room as Roberta found the hidden switch.
“Right,” said Edna as she rolled up her sleeves. “It’s time we put a stop to this.”
The secret passage was pitch-black. Normally one of the remaining four witches would have stoked up a magical fire to light there way, but they were still close to Lord Belton, and their magic fizzled into nothingness at the mere hint of being used.
“Would you stop pushing?” Sophie complained.
“It’s not my fault you are walking so slowly,” Edna grumbled from behind.
There was a loud crash.
“Sorry, I fell over a step,” Morguss said out of the darkness.
“Why didn’t one of you ask for a torch from the guards before you came in?” Roberta asked from the lead.
“Well, I assumed, being as you are a highly educated witch,” Morguss said scathingly, “that you wouldn’t go loping off into dark tunnels without a light.”
“He could get away if we wait around for torches,” Sophie commented.
There was a second loud crash as Morguss fell forwards into Edna, causing a domino effect that ended with all witches on the floor.
“Someone’s sitting on my elbow,” Edna said after a brief pause.
There was a muffled noise.
“Oh, sorry,” Sophie said as she moved off Roberta.
“I said,” Roberta repeated while gasping for air, “that there is a light up ahead.”
The four witches gazed upwards at the light. The end of the tunnel was near. After a few curses, they all got to their feet and ventured out into the light.
They surfaced in what appeared to be a large factory grafted onto the back of Meridell Castle. All manner of contraptions belched out smoke from all around them, conveyer belts whisked potions of unnamed substances around, and in one corner there was a large stack of boxes bearing Kauvara’s seal.
“This must be where all that smoke we saw before is coming from,” Edna said as she dusted herself off.
Roberta ventured over to the conveyer belt and took a potion as it zoomed past. She uncorked it and breathed in.
“That smells like your mystical cold remedy, Edna,” she told them.
The old Zafara sidled up and took a swig.
“It is, but the recipe is slightly different. He’s mass producing potions?” Edna questioned.
“Still sounds like magic to me,” Sophie grumbled.
Morguss made her way over to the boxes and opened one. It was full of the pendants.
“Why does he need so many?” Roberta asked.
“For the peasants, he needs to make sure magic stops working everywhere before he makes his next move,” Morguss replied.
“What?” Roberta asked.
“This isn’t about ‘teck-knowledge-ee’ or the end of magic or anything like that,” Morguss said in horror, “it’s just about putting him in power. I doubt Kauvara even knows about it; it turns out Belton is just an old fashioned tyrant after all.”
“Roberta, you stay here and smash these pendants. Every last one must be destroyed,” Edna ordered.
“Where are you going?” Roberta asked.
Edna pointed to a thin iron staircase that led up to an office.
“Why can’t I come?” Roberta asked in confusion.
“There’s four witches here, count us, four,” Morguss said dismissively. “Who ever heard of witches doing things in fours? No, we go around in threes, always have, always will. We started this as witches and we’ll end it the same way.”
Roberta, who knew better than to question Morguss on the affairs of tradition, simply shrugged and got on with her task of smashing pendants, Sophie, Morguss and Edna ascended the stairs.
“Welcome,” the voice of Lord Belton greeted them.
He was sat behind a desk under a mound of paperwork, and had a crossbow trained on them.
“All this time, twittering on about progress, and what you really wanted was the reverse,” Morguss said disapprovingly as she fixed him with a stare.
“What do you mean?” Belton asked cautiously.
“I know what it is you’re planning. You’re going to send these pendants out to the people and order them to wear them. Then, all the magic will dry up, and lo and behold you’ll offer them an alternative,” Morguss explained.
“Exactly, the alternative being progress,” Belton replied.
“No, mass produced copies of potions and cures we already make, exactly the same magical content. Of course, you’ll have everyone remove the pendants then so that yours work, but by that time all of the magic users will have packed up and gone so you will be the choice left,” Morguss told him.
“It’s all about profit. I’m sure you’ll charge a hefty sum for your modern ‘kemy-cals’,” Edna huffed.
A thin smile spread across the Lord’s face.
“Exactly, my good women, you have figured out my dastardly plan,” he told them, “but it will not help you one bit. You see, I still hold a pendant, so your magic is still useless. Might I also remind you that I am the one with the crossbow?” he said triumphantly.
“Nope, you’ll still lose,” Morguss said cheerfully.
“Why’s that?” Belton sneered.
“Because you talk too much,” Morguss said simply.
Then her gaze drifted for him, ever so slightly to his left, to the figure of Sophie, who had been moving ever closer all the time. Belton turned, but it only served to allow Sophie to hit him squarely in the jaw. The Lord fell backwards, but not before Sophie could grab the crossbow and yank the pendant from around his neck. She dropped both on the floor, and crushed the pendant with her foot. As Belton nursed his jaw, a look of fear took him.
“Right, now you are going to learn why it isn’t wise to mess about in the affairs of witches,” Edna said smugly.
She smiled an evil smile and cackled an evil cackle as she spread her arms wide. This time there was no fizzle; this time there was no pop. This time, the spell worked.
No one ever did find the body of Lord Belton, though some time later Sir Bernard found himself a pet Mortog that he kept with him in the dungeons. For some reason, it feared leaving the castle, possibly in case it encountered any more witches.
On the moors, or as it were, Babaa paddocks of Meridell, the witches continued to meet and weave their spells long into the night. Not a single farmer ever did challenge them about it again.