The Book: Part One
Words are powerful; they can create worlds of fantasy and twist reality to suit the speaker’s needs. With a simple alteration they can heal or destroy. With words on their sides, mere Neopets can challenge the very stars.
Words are dangerous, simple statements can forge empires, or ruin civilisations. They can spark rebellion, or instil obedience. They can alter the very thinking of someone’s mind.
In the wrong hands, words can be deadly.
In the right hands, they can be even deadlier.
Edna was a witch, she knew it in her bones, and had done for as long as she could remember. There are certain people who just embody their craft, and Edna was one of them.
She was getting on in years, though, and many around her seemed to think that perhaps, just perhaps, she was losing her edge. She’d started attending regular coven meetings with Sophie and Morguss, and travelling to the far flung corners of Neopia. Not to right any particular wrongs, but just to have a bit of a poke about - and to sample the free buffet. She’d developed an obsession with turning people into Mortogs, and to her neighbours in the Haunted Woods it seemed the cackling would never stop.
Of course she had always been a mad old witch, but now people began to consider that she might be an insane old witch. No one ever voiced their opinions, largely through fear of being turned into a Mortog.
In the shadows of the Darigan Citadel, there were whispers that Morguss was going the same way, and that the relatively sane Sophie in the swamplands seemed to condone, and even mimic the behaviour of her erratic peers.
There was only one explanation. If witches everywhere were going slightly off their rockers, there must be something wrong with magic. If there was something wrong with magic, the mob concluded, the witches had to be stopped. It hadn’t got to the torch-burning, pitchfork-wielding stage, but it would. The witches could see it happening, the distrust spreading across the land.
As is so often the way, the mob was wrong about the witches. Edna was just as mad as she had always been. There was nothing wrong with the witches as people. But, against all probability, the mob was right about the magic. Something was wrong, the witches could sense it. There was something out of place, something that shouldn’t be.
So, in the deepest corner of the Haunted Woods, the witches gathered.
They were all there, from Lisha to Morguss, from Kauvara to Jerdana. They all sensed it just as much as the next. They didn’t dare speak it, but they knew their fates hung in the balance. Something was wrong with their magic, and they had to know what.
The witches gathered around a fire, each sprinkling their own herbs and magic dusts into it, and muttering their own incantations. The spell they were about to perform, the knowledge they were asking for, was beyond the reach of the Fortune Teller’s crystal ball.
The fire glowed green when they were finished, and above them, the smoke took shape, took form, before their eyes.
“It can’t be...” Morguss said, a flask falling from her hands, smashing into a thousand fragments at her feet.
There were gasps from some of the other witches.
“It was destroyed!” Kauvara shouted.
“I witnessed it,” Jerdana confirmed.
The gazes of the witches all remained fixed on the shape of a book, etched into the smoke. A thin circle was emblazoned on its cover.
“Someone must have made a copy,” Edna said gravely.
There was a fresh wave of gasps.
“A copy wouldn’t have the same potency,” Sophie pointed out.
“Would it even be possible to copy it?” Kauvara asked, “I mean, that would mean copying a Faerie, surely?”
“She did a lot of things that people thought were not possible,” Edna said distantly.
“We have to find it, copy or not,” Jerdana said, her voice quivering, “Before someone else does.”
“Yes,” Morguss agreed, “And this time, we shall make sure it is dealt with properly.”
She glared at Jerdana through the smoke.
“What if the Faeries have it?” Sophie asked.
“We’d know,” Edna told her.
“What if the Faeries get it?” Lisha asked.
“Then it’s the end for all of us,” Morguss replied solemnly.
Maria wasn’t a witch, she was a barmaid. Of course, she wanted to be a witch, but that wasn’t exactly a viable career for a girl on Krawk Island.
Instead, she had found a job at the Rusty Dubloon, one of the island’s seedier establishments. It was run by Toothless Bob, notable for his full set of gleaming white teeth (the pirates of Krawk Island have a very precise sense of irony). Maria wasted away her life serving grog to the usual suspects, all the while dreaming of another life she could be leading. It was a life of spells, of cauldrons, of broomsticks, and perhaps most importantly for Maria, a life where she didn’t have to say:
“Hello there, my name is Maria; I’ll be your waitress this evening.”
A pirate Cybunny with a hook for a hand and a scar for a face grunted in mild confusion.
“Bob wants to give the place more of a family atmosphere,” Maria explained with a sigh.
The Cybunny lifted what remained of one of his eyebrows. The Rusty Dubloon was arguably the embodiment of dank. The roof was in a permanent state of leaking, the benches had long ago rotted to the point where only their carcasses remained, and there were dark corners that hadn’t seen a brush in decades. Not that the state of cleanliness mattered, of course; the Rusty Dubloon was burnt down so often in bar fights that Bob had eventually decided to just prop up the charred remains and patch up the holes with mud.
Considering this, and the rugged pirates that frequented it, the Rusty Dubloon was arguably the last place in Neopia to have a family atmosphere.
“Don’t ask,” Maria said eventually. “Bob’s in one of his moods again. Between you and me I think he’s been eating fungus from the Fungus Cave again. What can I get you?”
“Grog,” the Cybunny growled.
“How did I know?” Maria replied dryly.
The white Ixi rushed off to the bar while the Cybunny found himself a seat (a process involving throwing smaller pirates off a nearby bench). Maria returned a moment later with a tankard of grog.
“That’ll be a Dubloon please,” she told him.
The pirate reluctantly parted with his money.
That was another thing Maria didn’t like about the job; pirates didn’t tip. She made her way back to the bar, carefully avoiding the various brawls going on at the tables.
“Don’t you wish you could just leave all this behind?” she asked Bob, who was behind the bar cleaning glasses with a dirty cloth, or perhaps just moving the grime around.
The pirate Techo laughed as he moved the dirt around the inside of the glass.
“Of course not!” he replied, “Every single other owner of this place has left it. Most of ’em left against their will, too.”
“I don’t mean being abducted!” she told him. “I mean going out into the world, making a name for yourself - getting away from Krawk Island!”
“Away from Krawk Island?” Bob asked, his face contorting from the mental process the question involved. “You mean Scurvy Island?”
“Never mind,” she said dismissively, and walked off to serve the pirates.
The witches made their way back through the woods towards Edna’s tower. Normally they would have all gone their separate ways, but this was no time for a witch to be alone. These were dark times, and dark times call for solidarity. Unfortunately, solidarity doesn’t come easily to witches.
“Why didn’t you see this coming then?” Edna complained.
“Oh please,” the Kau Fortune Teller replied. “Why do I have to see every little thing that comes our way?”
“Because it’s your job!” Sophie yelled as she marched on.
“You know just as well as me every witch has a bit of precognition in them,” the Fortune Teller muttered.
“But it’s your job!” Sophie repeated.
“Be that as it may,” the Fortune Teller said, “we wouldn’t be in this mess if someone did their job correctly.”
She glared in the direction of Jerdana.
“Don’t you try and pin this on me!” Jerdana shouted. “I was only a girl when Esmeralda made the deal with the Faeries. How was I supposed to know it was a fake she ripped up?”
“Nobody thought to look at the pages?” Morguss asked.
“Of course not,” Jerdana said, avoiding the gazes of the other witches. “Back in my day you didn’t go around questioning things like that; you trust the word of the most powerful witch to ever live!”
“Besides,” Kauvara said in the ensuing silence, “Fyora was there. She saw the book being destroyed. If it fooled the Queen of the Faeries, it’d fool anyone there.”
“That’s not the point! Someone should have known!” Sophie shouted. “Someone should have figured it out! We shouldn’t be in this situation!”
The party of witches had stopped in their tracks.
“We shouldn’t be fighting like this,” Edna said eventually. “Finding the book is the important bit, and then we can blame people all we like.”
Sophie was staring into the distance.
“We are close to Ilere’s lair,” she whispered. “We’d best get out of here before she gets curious.”
Silently the other witches nodded their heads and walked on through the woods. Not another word was spoken until they reached the safety of Edna’s Tower, they couldn’t risk letting the Faeries know. Not now, not ever.
Maria tucked her tray under her arm and wiped her hands clean on her apron.
“Hello there, my name is Maria and I’ll be your waitress this evening -” she began.
“Two grogs,” a deep voice commanded.
Maria had said the words absent-mindedly, not even looking at the customers, but now she gave them a cold hard stare. They weren’t pirates, at least not the traditional sort. They were wearing coats and had their hoods up; there wasn’t a cutlass in sight. They’d picked a table in the darkest corner; they were clearly up to no good. But, that was hardly unusual; it was Krawk Island after all.
“Right away, sir,” she said sharply, offended at being cut off in mid sentence.
She turned and made her way back through the throng of pirates to the bar.
“Two please, Bob,” she muttered.
Bob put two full tankards on the tray, and Maria carried them back to the table. A conversation was in progress.
“You have the merchandise?” one hooded figure asked.
“You have the money?” the other asked.
A bag full of Neopoints was placed on the table. In exchange a small oblong package wrapped in cloth was placed next to the bag. The hooded figure that had asked for the merchandise unwrapped the package carefully as Maria deposited the grog on the table. Slowly, the cloth gave way to reveal a book, grimy and centuries old. A small red circle was drawn on the cover.
Then suddenly, it was as if the book was firing out invisible lightning. Maria could feel it tingle on her fingers, causing her to drop the second tankard. The tingling grew, and then it was like a wall of air hit her in the face. Maria fell backwards to the floor.
She came to a few seconds later courtesy of a pirate throwing some grog on her.
“You alright, miss?” a pirate Kau asked.
Behind him, the two hooded figures were deep in conversation. The book and the money had gone.
“Yes... yes, I’m fine,” Maria said as she got to her feet.
Magic, she thought as she returned to the bar, Actual magic, not just the cheap kind you get on cursed pirate gold.
She’d never felt anything like it. It had to be a magical book; it just had to be.
For the rest of the night she lurked as nonchalantly as possible in the shadows near the table of the hooded figures.
“They found it in Shenkuu, hidden deep in a cave,” one figure explained.
“Why Shenkuu, I wonder?” the other one asked.
“Makes sense, doesn’t it?” the first figure replied. “Shenkuu’s never had any Faeries living there. It would be the perfect hiding place for this dirty little secret.”
“Yes, I suppose so,” the second said. “Did they discover what it was?”
The first figure chuckled.
“Of course not. I nabbed it before they got the chance to find out,” he said.
“Good,” the second said. “You have done well. I will come to you should we need any further work doing.”
The figures got up and left the bar.
Faeries and Shenkuu, Maria thought, what has that got to do with a magic book?
She had to know more. As quietly as she could, avoiding Bob’s eyes, she slipped out of the bar and into the street. Realising she was wearing her incredibly obvious waitress outfit, she ran into the shadows and hid herself.
She followed the two figures until they parted ways, and then she tailed the one holding the book, tightly bound in its packaging. He was heading towards the port, and so was Maria.
To be continued...