How do you solve a problem like Neovia?: Part Four
Thumburt settled down in the next few days, mainly due to the fact that the factory did not explode. Balthazar delivered in captured Faeries at the start of the night, Herman and his men bottled them, and Balthazar returned to pick them up at dawn. It all worked exceedingly well. People were flocking from all over the woods to purchase discounted Faeries from the factory’s shop; Neovia was making a steady profit. Of course, there was always one problem. A great plume of magical smoke rose constantly from the factory’s chimneys into the sky. There, the magic stagnated, and made the sky above Neovia glow, even in the dead of night. The residents had complained at first at not being able to sleep, but Prigpants & Swolthy had quickly produced a range of fetching sleeping masks to blot out the glow. On the whole, everyone agreed it was better than the sound of zombie groans.
Thumburt did wonder about the smoke though. Herman had explained that shrinking the Faeries to the bottle size produced a whole lot of excess magic that needed burning off. Herman had assured the Mayor it was perfectly safe, but he wasn’t convinced. Sophie hadn’t visited Neovia in a while either, out of protest. She was after all trained by a Faerie. Thankfully Ilere hadn’t heard about it, or there would surely have been trouble. Thumburt sat back in his chair and let out a happy sigh. Everything was going right.
The Crumpet Monger was not as happy. She had pursued Sophie back to her shack and demanded (albeit silently) that the witch help restore her voice. Sophie had cackled at length and slammed the door in her face. Edna had still not returned to her tower. The Crumpet Monger was stuck as a mute. Or perhaps, she was not. She hadn’t gossiped in over a week, and very few people were willing to engage in sign language. She was a desperate baker, and desperate times call for desperate measures.
There was a tinkle of glass as she broke into the factory at midnight. She wasn’t quite sure why she waited until midnight; it just seemed more fitting. She levered herself through the small window with difficultly, and fell into a crumpled heap on the floor. Amid the noise of the complicated machinery, she was not noticed by the workers. Herman Dorfdrap was snoozing in his chair as the others went about their work. The Faeries were placed in a large cage upon arrival. The bars were reinforced to be magic proof. Once all the Faeries were captured, the cage was upended rather inelegantly into a large machine that made a noise rather like a tumble dryer. It was here that the Faeries were shrunk, and vast pipes took the magical smoke to the chimneys. At the bottom of the machine, the small Faeries were released one by one, where they were quickly grabbed and shoved into magical bottles by the workmen. The Faerie bottles were then placed on a conveyer belt which led to the sorting room. It was there that the Crumpet Monger crept to.
She pressed herself flat against the processing machine so as not to cast a shadow over the workers, and tiptoed along the side, knocking a lever as she went. Once at the edge of the machine, she ducked and scuttled along underneath the conveyer belt until she passed through the large double doors of the store room. Someone had sorted the bottles into types of Faerie. It would make the Crumpet Monger’s task easier. She sidled over to the nearest box of Light Faeries and ripped off the lid. The glow of hundreds of trapped Faeries filled the room. The Crumpet Monger took a bottle at random and smashed it to the floor. Light blinded the Meerca for a moment, and then a glorious full sized Light Faerie stood before her.
“Thank you, young Neopet. You have released me,” the Light Faerie said airily.
The Crumpet Monger nodded eagerly.
“It is customary upon such occasions for you to be granted an ability of the Faeries,” the Light Faerie told her.
The Crumpet Monger shook her head violently.
“You do not want my power?” the Faerie asked.
The Crumpet Monger pointed at her throat and jumped up and down a few times.
“Ah,” said the Faerie wisely, “I see you have been cursed by a foul witch. Do you wish for your voice back?”
The Crumpet Monger positively exploded into a grin.
“Very well,” the Faerie replied.
She extended her arms out and the Crumpet Monger glowed bright yellow briefly.
“It is done,” the Faerie announced.
“I can talk again?” the Crumpet Monger ventured.
Her voice was croaky; she hadn’t used it in quite some time. The Faerie nodded encouragingly.
“Well, that’s a weight off my mind.” The Crumpet Monger sighed. “Two witches! Count them, two, just plain ignored me! Can you imagine that? After all I’ve done for this community as well; I’m an upstanding citizen, don’t you know? Oh, I’ve heard them, sniggering behind my back since this happened. Well, they are going to get a piece of my mind, let me tell you. Not too keen on the idea of a Faerie plant either. Got nothing against Faeries, mind; just don’t like that Balthazar character, he gives me the creeps. More than the woods, that is.”
The Light Faerie began to wish she hadn’t removed the spell.
“And another thing,” the Crumpet Monger continued. “I didn’t ever get refunded for all those cursed pastries I had to throw out! That Mayor’s a few screws loose if you ask me, going around listening to the likes of Hubrid Nox. Everyone knows he’s the undesirable sort.”
The Faerie sighed.
“I don’t suppose you could help me with my sisters?” the Faerie asked.
The Crumpet Monger stopped mid rant.
“Certainly,” she said politely.
The two of them turned to push over the box of Faeries, but became distracted by a siren ringing back in the workshop.
“Why didn’t anyone wake me?” Herman bellowed.
The workers exchanged glances.
“You looked peaceful,” one told him.
Magical steam was pouring out of the machine; it was overloading. Herman trotted around to the back and checked a few levers and buttons.
“Here’s your problem; someone turned off the extractor fan,” he said authoritatively.
He flicked the lever back. The smoke didn’t stop.
“How long has it been doing this?” Herman asked cautiously.
“About ten minutes, sir,” a worker replied.
Herman looked horrified. He took a handkerchief from his pocket and rubbed some soot off a dial.
“That amount of pressure build up shouldn’t be possible. There’s no way to stop it now. Everyone out, she’s going to blow!” he yelled.
The ensuing explosion was heard in every corner of the woods. The crater it left in Neovia wouldn’t be fully repaired for months. Magical explosions always are the worst.
“I told you there would be trouble,” Sophie threatened.
She was once again sat in the Mayor’s chair, her fingers were interlocked.
“I’m sorry, but it wasn’t my fault this time. It was that wretched Crumpet Monger,” Thumburt pleaded.
“It was still your idea. Just be thankful no Faeries were hurt, or I would have involved Ilere,” Sophie said calmly, but with acid.
“What are we going to do? Hubrid and the others are coming; they are going to seize the town!” Thumburt explained.
Sophie glanced down at the two remaining dossiers. Number five lay open.
“You just leave them to me. Neovia is my town; I’ll teach them not to meddle,” she sneered.
The Haunted Woods Tourism Board moved cautiously through the woods. The Faeries were angry. Balthazar could take one or two, but an entire legion would be difficult.
“I tond ese hwy ew clountd ylf,” Eliv muttered.
“I only have one broomstick,” Edna replied after working the anagram out in her head.
“Sssurely Hubrid could have made it posssible,” Sidney remarked.
“A walk will do you good,” Hubrid replied testily.
None of the Board wanted to go to Neovia. It was late; most of them had been busy when the explosion had occurred. Edna had only just returned to her tower. The truth be told, most of them were bored with Neovia. It had been a nice evil scheme on paper, but it just wasn’t worth the hassle of trekking backwards and forwards every time Thumburt messed something up.
“There’s a signpost up ahead,” Balthazar growled.
There were two paths, and a sign at the fork pointing the way to Neovia. The strange thing was, though, the writing seemed to move when you looked at it.
“Can anyone make it out?” Hubrid asked.
A chorus of ‘no’s filled the clearing.
“Annoying local dialects,” Hubrid said dismissively. “This way.”
He led them down the right path, assuming all roads eventually lead everywhere. They walked in silence for a while, and eventually came to another fork in the path with a signpost.
“I don’t recall the path to Neovia being quite so complicated,” Hubrid commented.
He approached the sign and squinted; the writing moved, hovering in the corners of his eyesight, just beyond reach. As much as he tried to pin the words down, they flowed through his vision like oil.
“Magic,” he muttered.
“My spell, if I am not mistaken,” Edna said proudly.
Hubrid glared at her.
“Come on. They are up to something,” he snarled.
He led them down the left path, striding out importantly. Sure enough they came to another identical fork.
“Déjà vu,” Balthazar growled apprehensively.
“What’s going on here?” Hubrid shouted at the air.
“I think I can help you there,” Sophie told them as she stepped out from behind the signpost.
“You,” Hubrid snarled.
“Yes, me,” Sophie replied innocently. “It seems you have accidentally fallen into an infinite loop spell I cast. What a pity; thanks for the idea, Eliv.”
She waved the final dossier. Eliv blushed.
“Edna, dispel it!” Hubrid shrieked.
“Cant,” she replied.
“What?” Hubrid asked as he rounded on her.
“There’s about twenty different infinite loop spells. They are quite common actually. If I do the wrong counter spell I might blow your head off,” she told him.
“It seems you are stuck,” Sophie sneered. “Whatever will you do?”
“What do you want?” Hubrid asked her.
“You leave Neovia alone. The town is my business, not yours,” Sophie demanded.
“But it’s letting down the side,” Balthazar growled.
“Does that matter? Would you rather be stuck here forever?” she asked.
“No,” they conceded.
“Good. You will stop harassing the Mayor then. You wanted to know how you solve a problem like Neovia. You leave it alone, that’s how,” she told them.
She waved her hands in the air mystically.
“You are free,” she said.
She turned, picked up the signpost, and marched off down the right path.
“Foolish girl, now we take Neovia!” Hubrid yelled.
Down the path, Sophie stopped and smiled. Of course she knew an evil genius like Hubrid wouldn’t give in that easily. It was a good job she had a backup plan.
“I’ve found Balthazar!” she yelled at the top of her voice.
At once the clearing erupted into a hail of multi-coloured sparks as dozens of angry Faeries descended to take their vengeance. Sophie chuckled to herself as she walked away, the Faeries probably wouldn’t kill them, but the Tourism Board wouldn’t be visiting Neovia again any time soon.