Preparing Neopia for the Meepits Circulation: 177,073,878 Issue: 334 | 14th day of Running, Y10
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Wicked in the Woods: Part One


by scarletspindle

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The moon shone bleakly over the dead and twisted vegetation of the Haunted Woods, washing the forest in ashen light. Disembodied creatures seemed to twitter from the bony branches of the trees and the wind howled its sinister tune, calling voiceless threats to all who wandered in the forest. Through the eerie woods ran a frightened spotted Uni, her eyes wide with mindless terror as she frantically pushed past a nasty thorn bush that bit at her flanks. Her head whipped from side to side, looking in vain for her pursuers. All she knew was they were coming, and she had to flee with all her might, or something dreadful would occur after her capture.

      In her frenzy, her hoof caught on an old gaunt root sticking up from the ground, and she fell hard, tumbling over herself. Her breath coming in gasps, she tried to stand up, falling to the ground again in pain as she tried to put pressure on the injured hoof. Behind her she could hear the dead underbrush begin to crunch and crackle as her pursuers neared. The steps came closer and closer, unrelentingly thudding at a slow and determined pace. The Uni looked around trembling, tears of pain and fear rolling down her face; it seemed there was no way out.

      “Please!” she squeaked helplessly into the shadows at her attackers, fighting to keep consciousness because of the pain in her leg. “D-d-don’t hurt me! I-I just wanted my brother back.”

      Deep throated chuckles echoed from the jet black darkness, and chills crawled down the Uni’s spine. That sound could only mean one thing; they saw her plea as a joke and the end of her flight would come to a violent and unhappy conclusion. The Uni closed her eyes, letting the throbbing pain of her hoof finally take over. There was no use fighting unconsciousness if all that awaited beyond it was death. However, just before she fainted, she saw something glow so brightly green that it shone through her closed eyelids, but before she had time to even wonder what it was, she sank into the shadows of oblivion.

     ---

      When she awoke again, the ache in her leg had let up some and she was lying on something lumpy, uncomfortable, and stuffed with hay; the air around her seemed to be laced with the unpleasant odor of dirty laundry and fish. Slowly she opened her eyes and saw the silhouette of an Ixi standing over the cauldron where the scent seemed to be emanating from; all around her glowed an odd green light. The light! Suddenly the nights events all came rushing back to her and she let out a gasp. I wasn’t killed! Someone saved me!

      The Ixi had turned around quickly when the Uni had gasped and what she saw made her gasp again. Staring straight at her in her patched up hat and clothes, her eyebrows raised expectantly, was Sophie the Swamp Witch.

      “Y-you, you’re the Swa--”

      “Yes, yes, I’m sure we both know who I am,” Sophie cut in crossly. “What I don’t know is who you are and what you were doing sprinting away from a pair of Werelupes in the Haunted Woods in the dead of night. Seems like something your savior might want to know, don’t you think?”

      “Oh... I’m sorry... my name’s Wrey... um... so the guys who were chasing me were Werelupes?” she shuddered. “I only got a quick glance of teeth and glowing eyes before I started running.”

      “And...?” Sophie looked at her expectantly. “Why were you there in the first place?”

      “It was my little brother... he wanted to come here to visit the fairground and we got lost in the woods... I think we wandered off the path.” Wrey looked close to tears now. “We were so very lost and it got so very dark. Then they came... those... Werelupes... there were three of them. One of them took my brother and the other two tried to attack me so I ran. I finally lost them but I couldn’t just leave my brother behind so I backtracked to find him... and instead those two found me again. I was running from them for the second time when you saved me.”

      The green Ixi looked at the Uni with a frown on her face; she was biting her lower lip in thought. “Your brother... what species is he?”

      “W-Why? Is that important?”

      “Yes!” she snapped irritably. “It’s important, so tell me.”

      “A Lupe... he’s a white Lupe.”

      “I see... is he young?”

      “Uhhh... yeah he’s about two months old.”

      “This is bad then.” The Swamp Witch sighed. “Why do troublesome things just sprint into my path? All I was doing was collecting ingredients! I didn’t ask for anything like this! Ugh.”

      “What do you mean?” the Uni asked, clearly alarmed. “What’s so bad?”

      The Ixi eyed Wrey with a look mingled with irritation and pity. “It seems, my dear, that the Werelupe King is recruiting. The way things are going, your brother won’t even be recognizable anymore. He’ll be a soldier, existing only to follow the commands of his leader.”

      “No!” the Uni cried, horror-struck. “They can’t do that to Rilo! He won’t let them; he’s strong enough to resist that!”

      “Ha!” Sophie laughed grimly, a twisted smile on her face. “Resisting powerful magic like that is like a starving Werelupe resisting a Uni as a midnight snack. I’m sure you know how that would turn out.”

      “That’s not funny,” Wrey muttered under her breath.

      “Life’s not funny,” Sophie snapped back. “Life is miserable and unfair, and this situation is miserable and unfair too, just like life.”

      Slowly Wrey started to get up from her place on Sophie’s makeshift bed; she stumbled a bit but managed to get to her feet. Her hoof didn’t feel so bad anymore, but she wasn’t sure how long it would last. Wincing a bit as she moved, she turned to face Sophie again, her eyes red-rimmed but filled with determination. “I’m going to try to save him; I’ll make this situation right.”

      “As much as I admire your tenacity, you seem to be forgetting some important facts,” the Swamp Witch said, trying her best to look uninterested. “First, you’re a Uni, second, you’re completely unprepared, and third, you already tried that once and narrowly escaped with your life because of my act of incredible kindness.”

      Wrey looked shaken and tears began to trickle down her face. “What else can I do? He’s my brother. I have to save him... or at least try.”

      “Look, I said life wasn’t fair; I didn’t say I wouldn’t help,” Sophie said quickly, rather startled by the Uni’s outburst.

      “You mean you’ll come with me to save my brother?” The Uni looked up hopefully.

      “Ha! I also didn’t say I’d come, but I’ll give you some things that’ll help.” After a pause the Swamp Witch turned around and walked into a small cluttered back room in her shack, leaving Wrey standing there looking bemused.

      After a few moments of silence, there were some smaller clinking sounds followed by a huge crash as something very large and made of glass shattered. Sophie’s loud curses reverberated through the tiny house and the tinkling and clacking continued. Finally, after some extensive searching, she came out again holding an amulet with a deadened looking grey stone set in the middle of it clutched in one hand and a very large ratty spell book in the other.

      Wordlessly she walked over to a rickety table propped up near the fireplace where her cauldron still fumed and bubbled, giving off its unpleasant stench. She set the two items down with a thump and began riffling through the book, paying no mind as some of the pages developed rips. About halfway through, she stopped and pointed to a spell, a look of triumph on her face. Wrey limped over to see what the Swamp Witch was looking at.

      “Did you find something?” Wrey ventured hesitantly, looking over the Ixi’s shoulder at the book.

      Sophie whipped around and snarled at her. “I was about to start the spell; if you interrupt this, then I’ve wasted a perfectly good amulet, so don’t say anything until I tell you it’s okay.”

      “Okay,” the Uni said to herself quietly, widening the distance between herself and Sophie.

      Wrey watched as the Ixi raised her hands up high and began to mutter indistinguishable words quickly under her breath. The air seemed to grow heavy with magic as plumes of different colored light wove around her and slithered inside the amulet. Slowly everything began to dissipate and Sophie turned around to look at Wrey again. She was holding up the amulet, which now swirled with life and color.

      “Is that for me?” the Uni asked, looking at the object in awe.

      “No, I just made something to protect someone from a vicious onslaught of Werelupes because I felt like it,” Sophie replied sarcastically as she marched over and placed the stone around Wrey’s neck.

      “Thank you! Oh thank you! Now I can go save my brother!” the Uni cried happily, ignoring the Ixi’s sardonic remark.

      “No, you can’t do that quite yet,” Sophie said seriously. “You’re still a Uni; you don’t even have hands to hold a weapon. What do you plan on doing? Goring a pack of Werelupes with that little bitty horn of yours? Ha!”

      Wrey faltered again. “I have to, though; I have to save him!”

      “Of course you do, but you can’t go alone.”

      “You said you weren’t coming,” the Uni replied, looking half hopeful.

      Sophie smiled menacingly. “Of course I’m not, but I know a certain Kougra who owes me a big favor who will, since I’ll turn him into a Greeble if he doesn’t.”

      “A Kougra?”

      “Yeah, a mutant one,” Sophie replied happily, the evil smirk still on her face. “His name’s Garith and you’ll find him moping about the Deserted Fairground, probably near Bagatelle since he has a bad habit of being swindled for all he’s worth. You’ll need to go there and get him to join you before you even think about going to find your brother.”

      “So I can leave now?” Wrey asked hopefully, eager to start her quest.

      “Yeah, you can leave; in fact I never want to see you back here again,” the Swamp Witch snapped merrily. “Actually there’s one more thing first, then I want you out of my sight for good.”

      Sophie raised her hands again, like she did when she was enchanting the amulet and bright green light came pouring out. It surrounded Wrey, most of it clumping about her flanks and her injured right hoof. After a moment it dispersed, leaving the Uni completely healed.

      “Now get out of here,” she said crossly. “Don’t you dare tell a soul I helped you either, not even that rat of a brother of yours who got himself captured, you hear me!”

To be continued...

 
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