Witches Further Abroad: Part One
Witches Further Abroad
How I learned to love the Space Station and Stop Worrying
Consider the vacuum of space. Big, isn’t it?
Let your mind’s eye focus on a planet, small and lonely, yet full of life. Let your mind’s eye focus on Neopia, home of the Neopets. Out of the cosmic haze, a meteor drifts into view. It hurtles on, burning an icy trail through the void, watched by the silent stars. Its course is true, its aim is clear, it will hit Neopia...
Slowly, like an ancient monolith, the moon of Kreludor drifts into view, obscuring the planet from the sight of the meteor. The interstellar rock impacts silently on the moon, kicking up moon dust for miles around.
Then, with military precision, the meteor cracks in two, and the figure it contained stands up. He looks around, and a thin smile spreads across his face.
“Perfect,” the figure says in a raspy voice. “It shall start here.”
In a million alternate universes, the figure would have succeeded in his plans. In a million universes, the station wouldn’t have depressurised and Grimilix would have made it back in time. In a million universes, Neopia would have fallen.
This is not one of those universes.
This universe has Witches.
Edna studied the green stick in her hand with deep scrutiny.
“Celery?” she said eventually. “That’s not proper finger food! You call this a buffet?”
She took special care to pronounce the T in buffet.
Morguss the Darigan witch looked mournfully at the array of platters spread out on the table in front of the witches.
“I’d heard Kauvara had got into healthy eating... but this is silly...” she muttered, shaking her head.
From nearby, Sophie the swamp witch extracted a plate of small objects from the table.
“Sushi?” she asked critically, “She expects us to eat this?”
The three witches closed ranks, and began gossiping in heavy whispers about their host while stuffing their faces. It may have been horrible food to them, but it was also free. Every witch knows the value of a free meal.
It was the annual witch convention. Well, annual might have been stretching it a bit; it was the first witch convention. It had been Kauvara’s suggestion. The adventures of Sophie, Edna and Morguss with Kauvara had set the cogs moving in the old Kau’s head. She had invited all of the female magic users from all around Neopia to the convention in Neopia Central. To clinch the deal she had included the promise of free food. From Lisha to the Fortune Teller, from Jerdana to the Court Dancer, everyone was in attendance. For a while Kauvara had toyed with the idea of inviting wizards as well, but the general consensus was that wizards had a few screws loose. In fact, the consensus had been that wizards had so many screws loose that they didn’t have any screws left at all.
Still, by all accounts it was a good day. Old differences were put aside, Lisha and the Court Dancer shared a fruit salad, and Kayla struck up a conversation with the mysterious Aisha sorceress about the finer points of magical robe design. It was when Kauvara called them all into the seminar room that things began to change.
The initial idea of a seminar about magic use was instantly met with murmured discontent as the witches filed into the conference room and sat down in rows. Each witch instinctively knows how best to perform her own magic. Being told how to do it is akin to an insult.
Despite this, the witches all sat in silence and listened to Kauvara’s lecture. She covered the problem of inflation in basic magical ingredients, the increasing rarity of anchovies and its implications for anchovy-based curses, and the best way to take care of a wand. Once she finished, the witches all clapped politely and expected to head straight home.
They did not.
“There is one other small matter...” Kauvara mumbled indistinctly from the podium.
There was instant silence. Every witch in the room put her poker face on within milliseconds.
“I recently received a message from one Captain K, of the Defenders of Neopia,” she said, holding up a small letter.
The witches did not move or speak; all of them stared intently at Kauvara.
“He says,” Kauvara continued, “that a number of the programmers onboard the Virtupets Space Station are interested in implementing magical systems alongside the existing ones. Kind of an experiment, science meets magic. It sounds very interesting.”
The silence continued.
“Anyway,” Kauvara persevered, “they require some witches to go up to the station and help them out. I thought we could send a delegation, spreading magic to an uneducated area, morally sound and all that. We’d be helping to rebuild after all that business with Sloth, doing our bit of the good of Neopia.”
“Why can’t you go?” Roberta of Brightvale asked from the front row.
“Ah...” Kauvara hesitated. “You see I would love to, but I simply cannot leave my shop unattended for that long. Are there any volunteers?”
At once a flood of excuses reached Kauvara’s ears.
“Obviously I can't; we are still trying to restore Altador,” Jerdana said happily.
“It’s Jeran’s birthday soon,” Lisha said. “I can’t leave him.”
“I’m invited to the party,” Kayla added.
The Mysterious Aisha Sorceress disappeared into thin air before anyone could ask her opinion on the matter.
“I’ve got a terrible cough coming on,” the Court Dancer said hastily, adding a laboured cough for effect.
“I foresee I can’t go,” the Fortune Teller said mystically.
“You always say that,” Kauvara snapped back.
All eyes slowly started to turn towards the back of the room, where Morguss, Edna and Sophie were sat side by side.
“No,” Edna said flatly. “Can’t leave my tower unattended.”
“I still have people coming to my shack asking for prizes,” Sophie told them.
“I’m just not going,” Morguss snapped. “No way, no how.”
The old Darigan witch stared at Kauvara, her eyes boring into the shopkeeper’s soul.
“Well, someone needs to go!” Kauvara shouted eventually.
“Cant we send a Faerie? What about the Space Faerie?” Sophie asked.
“The Faeries have expressly refused to help magically fortify a station that was once Sloth’s base of operations,” Kauvara explained.
“Well, we refuse as well, more expressly than they do,” Morguss told her as she folded her arms in apparent triumph.
There was only one reason the witches were kicking up a fuss. As one, they hated space. The idea of being up there, encased in metal, sent shivers down their spines. The witches were creatures of magic, and the space station was a place of science. The two didn’t mix.
“Well, how about we put all our names into a hat and the first three out are the ones that go?” Lisha suggested.
There was a general murmur of agreement.
“Not in a magic hat, though,” Edna added, shaking a finger at Kauvara. “Can’t trust what you pull out of them.”
Kauvara sighed and went outside, returning with a non-magical hat she had taken off a passer-by in the street. She proceeded to write the names of all the witches on bits of paper, and placed them all inside the hat. Once they were all in, she jiggled the hat slightly, and pulled out the first name.
“Sophie,” she read aloud.
Sophie groaned, and put her head in her hands.
Kauvara selected a second bit of paper.
“Edna,” she told them.
Edna mumbled something inaudible as Kauvara selected the third piece of paper.
“Morguss,” she said happily.
“You fixed it!” Morguss shouted, leaping to her feet in protest.
“Well,” Kauvara said, ignoring Morguss, “That’s settled then. Morguss, Edna and Sophie will leave for the Space Station immediately. I think a programmer named Grimilix is who you will be working with, but I’m sure Captain K will explain it all when you get there.”
Kauvara shuffled some papers on the podium, and then left the room as quickly as she could. The other witches followed one by one, heading back to their homes. As Edna, Sophie and Morguss were about to go, the Fortune Teller grabbed Sophie’s arm.
“Don’t trust the man with the Wain,” the Kau told her.
“What do you mean?” Sophie asked.
“I can only tell you what I see,” the Fortune Teller replied, “Don’t trust the man with the Wain.”
“Is something going to happen?” Sophie asked.
“All signs point to yes,” the Fortune Teller replied.
Before Sophie could ask her further questions, the Fortune Teller walked out to rejoin the travelling gypsy camp.
“Loon,” Sophie muttered.
Getting to the Virtupets Space Station had always been a problem for planet-bound Neopians. Even winged Neopets couldn’t survive in the vacuum of space, so everyone needed some kind of help getting there. Many different solutions had been tried over the years. For a while, they used to teleport people directly there using some high-tech gadgetry, but that abruptly stopped when a young Kougra entered the machine at the same time as a Buzzer. What came out of the machine at the other end was mismatch of both. Whilst it ultimately inspired a range of Buzzer-themed clothes for Kougras to wear, it also ended that particular method of travel. This prompted the use of Space Shuttles, which ferried Neopians to and from space for a very minor fee. The witches were special, though; Captain K would be giving them a lift in his own space craft.
So it was that the witches made their way to the Defenders of Neopia Headquarters in Neopia Central. The massive building gleamed white in the sun.
“They must waste a fortune in white paint,” Edna commented as they approached.
Captain K the Kacheek was waiting outside, looking dashing in his custom made space suit.
“Ladies, welcome to Headquarters!” he said enthusiastically to them as they arrived.
The witches exchanged glances; it wasn’t often they were called ‘ladies’.
The Captain led them up through the headquarters, hastily rushing them past the break room where the Marvellous Stretchy Chia was relaxing. Eventually, they reached the roof, where the Captain’s spacecraft was parked. Like the headquarters building, it was gleaming. It was a sleek model, clearly build for speed and style rather than safety.
“How do they keep everything so clean?” Edna whispered to Sophie.
“If you will follow me, we will launch soon,” Captain K told them.
He led them up the ramp into the craft, and seated them on what Morguss had to admit were the comfiest seats the witches had ever sat on.
“Where do the Defenders get all the money for this?” Morguss asked.
Captain K hesitated.
“Oh, you know... we have our ways,” he said vaguely, and sat down at the helm, “Mostly charitable donations, though.
“I must ask you all to strap yourselves in,” he continued, changing the subject.
The witches followed his instructions, and Captain K pressed a button that slid the ramp back inside the craft. Then, he pressed a few other buttons which caused the ship to whirr softly, and then grasped the controls firmly in his hands. The three witches immediately grabbed the chair arms and held on tightly. None of them looked at the others; they didn’t want to admit they were afraid.
“Off we go,” Captain K said merrily.
He pulled back on the controls, and the ship glided smoothly up into the air. The witches suffered a brief sensation of leaving their stomachs behind on the ground, and tightened their grips on the chair arms. Through the view screen, they could see as they passed through the clouds, and slowly, the blue sky turned black as night. The stars were out in daylight, they were in space.
Ahead of them, they could see the space station, slowly orbiting Neopia. The witches hoped to be back on firm ground sooner, rather than later.
To be continued...