The Witches Ride Again: Part One
“Let me see... let me see... where did I put that ground Eye of Techo?” Sophie muttered under her breath as she trawled through the countless shelves in her shack.
She held up a bottle to the light.
“No, that’s salt,” she said eventually, and flung it over her shoulder.
Eventually her hands located a small jar with a peeling label that read ‘Eye of Techo: Ground’. It was empty.
“Oh, fiddlesticks,” she muttered.
Slowly, with utmost caution, she walked over to her door and peered out into the darkness. Aside from the usual howls and screams, the Wood was silent. Then, quickly as she could, she walked over to the stricken salt pot and picked up a pinch in her fingers which she added to her bubbling cauldron.
“Same difference really,” she told herself.
She took up a large spoon and began stirring the foul mixture as it bubbled up, letting off gasses worse than the smell of Sloth’s socks. After a while, she paused in her mixing, and began a silent countdown. When she reached the end, there was a sharp knock on the door.
“Enter,” she shouted, in her most occult voice.
The door was pushed open slightly, and a green Techo in adventurers garb entered, smiling broadly.
“Good day, Lady Sophie,” the Techo said graciously, venturing a little bow as he removed his hat.
“Get on with it,” Sophie said dismissively.
“You may not remember me,” he told her, “But I am Harry, adventurer extraordinaire! I helped your brother and you to bring peace back to Neovia some months ago.”
Sophie strained to recall. There did seem to have been a lot of people hanging about in the Woods at the time, but she remembered Gilly doing most of the work. Then realisation dawned.
“Oh! You’re the one who came round asking me for prizes after everything got sorted out aren’t you? Prizes, as if just helping your fellow citizens be restored to their old selves isn’t reward enough, as if the entire thing was some kind of competition!” she recalled.
“You did provide me with some exceedingly rare rewards,” he told her.
“I seem to remember it being a pile of junk,” Sophie thought out loud.
Harry considered this.
“Well, perhaps not akin to the treasures offered to me by Princess Amira, or King Kelpbeard...” he said.
The temperature dropped a few degrees as Sophie fixed him with a glare.
“Not good enough, are we? Don’t offer you riches beyond your wildest dreams, do we?” she shouted. “I don’t know, you people get something for nothing and then just complain about it all day long. It’s a wonder you have any time left for adventuring.”
“But you said-” Harry began.
“Do not correct me!” Sophie shouted.
The room seemed to darken considerably.
“I feel as if we’ve got off on the wrong foot... Can I start again? I came to ask for some help,” Harry said apologetically.
“Of course you did,” Sophie snapped. “Everyone comes to a witch wanting help; it’s what we’re for.”
“Well,” he said eventually, “I was wondering if you could help me solve a small mystery.”
“I’m listening,” Sophie replied.
She began stirring her soup methodically again.
“I was adventuring in the deep woods, as you do,” Harry explained, “when I came across a clearing. This was in the centre.”
He produced a worn black hat. It was unmistakably a witch’s. Sophie took it and turned it over in her hands.
“What’s so special about a hat?” she asked. “Everyone’s wearing them these days. I hear that there’s a shop in Neopia Central selling ones with green ears on so you can look like Edna.”
“You will notice the absence of stitched green ears,” Harry pointed out.
“I can see that,” she snapped.
She looked at the hat again. It was subtly different from those used by herself and Edna. There were several orange stars on it, and a red band around it, just above the rim. There was only one witch in Neopia that wore such a hat.
“Kauvara,” Sophie cursed.
“Oh yes, I hear some shops are selling them as well,” Harry volunteered, “they come with both fake ears and fake horns, so I’m told. The stars twinkle as well, not like these.”
“These are twinkling,” Sophie told him.
Harry looked down at the hat. While at first glance, it appeared to be a shoddy and muddy old hat with some of the stars peeling, if you looked at it long enough, it changed. The stars, for no apparent reason, began to shimmer. Although you were still aware that you were looking at a battered old hat, you couldn’t help but think it was an amazing headpiece.
“Why does it do that?” he asked.
“This is a magic hat,” Sophie replied, “Not a cheap knockoff that peddlers sell to tourists, but a hat that has been worn by someone who uses magic, a lot of magic. This is Kauvara’s hat.”
“What’s it doing in the Haunted Woods?” Harry asked.
“I don’t know. Take me to where you found it,” Sophie commanded.
Within a heartbeat, she had tied a long cloak around her, found her own hat, placed it firmly on her head, and extinguished all the candles in the shack.
“Now,” she added.
Harry stared at her for a second until his brain kicked in and then walked quickly out of the door. Sophie followed in his wake, slamming the door as she left.
The shimmering moonlight lit the clearing up brightly, even at the late hour at which Harry and Sophie arrived. The woods were full of such clearings, and to be honest, Sophie couldn’t see why. Everywhere else, the trees crowded together like Feepits at a Meepit convention, but here and there the trees just avoided patches of ground. Clearings therefore, made Sophie deeply suspicious.
This particular one had no unique features as far as Sophie could see upon arrival. It was only five or six metres across, and covered in grass.
“Where did you find the hat?” Sophie asked.
Harry pointed to the edge of the clearing, where some of the nearest tree’s branches had been snapped. Some of the branches had blue fur on them.
“Seems as though she didn’t drop her hat accidentally,” Harry commented from over Sophie’s shoulder.
“A witch never leaves her hat behind,” Sophie muttered.
“Why?” Harry asked.
“Just because,” Sophie snapped. “A witch without her hat is like... a person without a very important thing.”
“So there was a fight? Was she abducted?” Harry asked.
“That’s not the question,” Sophie told him.
“What is then?” he asked.
“What was she doing here in the first place? The woods belong to me and Edna. She hasn’t been here in years... why now?” Sophie thought to herself.
She walked across the clearing, kicking the grass and prodding the occasional tree. Finally, she knelt down at the stump of a gnarled old tree.
“Aha!” she said triumphantly as she held aloft some glowing mushrooms.
“What are they?” Harry asked.
“A type of mushroom called Witch’s Bane,” Sophie told him, “notable for its use in exactly no potions whatsoever. It’s practically unique in that respect.”
“What does that mean?” Harry asked.
“It means,” Sophie said as she stood up, “that I’m going to have to call the coven.”
“It’s definitely her hat; I knew as soon as I saw it,” Edna mumbled as she turned the hat over in her hands.
“Could be anyone’s fur, though, really,” Morguss the Darigan Witch muttered from the other side of the clearing near the broken twigs.
“She just happened to leave her hat behind?” Edna asked.
It was the kind of voice that implied what was being said was quite impossible.
“All I’m saying,” Morguss replied, “is that someone could have surprised her, she threw some magic at them, some of their fur came off, and...”
Morguss trailed off. She couldn’t think of a reason why Kauvara would intentionally leave her hat behind.
“Well, I don’t see how it’s our problem,” Morguss added.
“It isn’t; everyone knows you don’t go wandering about in another witch’s territory. Let’s face it as well; it was Kauvara,” Edna said.
Kauvara was widely disliked among other witches. The fact that hard working witches had to toil away in shacks and towers for weeks on end while Kauvara mass produced potions in a luxury shop had driven a wedge between them.
“Maybe so, but we can’t let this go unchecked,” Sophie told them.
Morguss and Edna glared at Sophie, making it perfectly clear they thought it could go unchecked for a very long time.
“I mean, something did this to her. We have something in our woods that attacks witches. We can’t be having that,” Sophie explained.
The other two witches murmured in agreement.
“Can I ask a question?” Harry asked.
He had been sitting patiently just inside the clearing as the witches talked.
“What?” Sophie asked.
“Why was she gathering useless mushrooms?” he asked.
The three witches exchanged glances. Sophie shrugged.
“Can’t hurt to tell him, he seems useless as two short planks,” she said to the others.
“A little while ago,” Morguss explained, “we stopped a nasty little upstart in Meridell called Belton from sapping all of the magic out of the place. He was using pendants that absorbed nearby magic, rendering spells useless. He was getting them from Kauvara.”
“How does that relate to mushrooms?” Harry asked.
“Witch’s Bane mushrooms can’t be used in magic for the reason that they absorb it. Hence the name,” Sophie told him.
“They are quite rare, these mushrooms. She’s probably been getting them from here the whole time, and using them to make her necklaces. Now someone’s seen to her; that’s justice!” Edna cackled.
Out of the three witches, Edna was definitely the best at cackling.
“Still, we have to find out who did this, even if they did only do it to Kauvara,” Sophie persisted.
“Oh all right then, we need to find someone in the know,” Morguss conceded.
“We need the Brain Tree,” Harry suggested.
Sophie groaned. She really hated the Brain Tree.
To be continued...