The Book: Part Three
Maria came to with sand in her mouth. She spat it out, and lifted her head up, slowly rolling over onto her back. It was a few moments before she remembered the night’s events, but when she did she quickly regretted it. Her body ached in every conceivable place.
It was a beach, a small one, bits of driftwood were scattered here and there, mostly the remains of the Irritating Pawkeet. The book was lying nearby, caught in seaweed. It looked strangely untouched, though Maria’s dress and apron looked as if they’d been at the bottom of the ocean for a century of two. She picked the book up and instinctively opened it. There was no flood of power. The pages were still blank. Maria shook it in the hopes of kick-starting whatever magic had happened on the ship. It didn’t work.
“Typical,” she said half to herself.
She put the book in the drenched pocket of her apron, after removing a few bits of seaweed, and surveyed her surroundings. Farther down the beach, there was a body lying in the sand. Maria ran quickly over. It soon became obvious it was Captain Freddy. Maria knelt down beside him and thumped the Chomby’s chest. She wasn’t sure how CPR worked, but thankfully Freddy didn’t require it. He groaned slightly and opened his eyes.
“Why did ye hit me?” he groaned.
“To see if you were still alive,” Maria told him, and sat back.
Freddy sat up.
“I think you lost your ship,” Maria told him.
To her surprise, tears began running down Freddy’s face.
“I’m... sorry, I’m sure you’ll find another...” she said, patting him on the shoulder.
“I don’t care about the ship!” Freddy bawled. “Ye can’t move for falling over new ships on Krawk Island!”
“So why are you crying?” Maria asked.
“I lost me thimble collection!” Freddy cried. “Twenty years of me life just washed away! All I’ve got left is this one.”
He brandished the Meridell thimble at Maria, the one the red Lupe had given him.
“Well, that’s an expensive thimble,” Maria said reassuringly. “You could buy many more for that one, I’m sure.”
“It wouldn’t be the same,” Freddy sobbed, blowing his nose on his eye patch.
“There, there,” Maria said absentmindedly.
She got up and looked around. The beach, apart from them, seemed deserted.
“I don’t suppose you know where we are?” she asked the Chomby.
Freddy looked around for the first time.
“Can’t be Mystery Island,” he said. “We’d gone too far west when we sank.”
“So that’s a ‘no’, is it?” Maria asked.
“Probably a little islet,” Freddy said glumly.
Maria sighed. She was stuck on an island with a depressed thimble enthusiast and a magic book that had lost its magic. The Rusty Dubloon looked a lot more appealing.
Edna’s fire roared. The steam rose off the witches. It had been a long night, and they were soaked to the skin. Edna had brewed them up some more tea, and they sat huddled around the fire, absorbing as much warmth as they could. The Fortune Teller sat closest to the fire, running her hands over her magic ball.
“It’s no good,” she said. “It must have shorted out in the storm.”
“Don’t you have a spare?” Morguss asked.
“Not with me,” she replied. “The other is in my caravan at the camp. Do you have one, Edna?”
“Why would I have a crystal ball?” Edna asked. “If I want to see what’s coming, I look out of my window.”
The Fortune Teller sighed.
“I’ll go and get the spare,” she mumbled as she got up.
“It was a good storm,” Sophie said as she looked into the fire. “I haven’t seen one that powerful brewed up in a long time.”
“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” Morguss told her.
“Do you think anything could have survived?” Lisha asked.
“I hope not,” Edna said cruelly.
“But someone read the book; they could have escaped if they knew how it worked,” Jerdana said.
“Someone opened it, that’s all we know,” Kauvara corrected her. “Besides, if they had the power of the book, don’t you think they’d have come after us by now?”
The walls of Edna’s tower seemed to darken slightly as the witches looked around nervously. It was probably just their imaginations... probably.
“Nothing survived,” Morguss said, more to reassure herself than anything else.
“We’ll know soon enough,” Sophie said, still staring at the flames.
Inland from the beach was a little forested area, hardly the size of a Yooyuball pitch. Maria had hoped to gather fruit or berries or whatever it was you got on tropical islands, but most of the trees were bare. She emerged onto the other side of the island after only a few minutes struggling with vines, and found an identical beach. The driftwood from the sunken Irritating Pawkeet was there, and there were tracks in the sand. Fresh tracks, they were heading towards the island interior.
Maria’s mind made the connection too late. As she was about to turn, a knife was brought to her throat.
“Hello again,” sneered the familiar voice of the red Lupe. “Still got my book?”
Maria nodded; the cold steel was pressed against her skin.
“Good; are you the only survivor?” the Lupe asked.
Maria shook her head.
“No,” she replied. “Freddy’s alive as well.”
“But no witches?” the Lupe asked.
“No, not that I’ve seen,” Maria told him.
“Give me the book,” the Lupe demanded.
Maria fished around in her apron pocket and produced the book. The Lupe snatched it out of her hand, and Maria felt the pressure of the blade lifting.
“It seems we are trapped on this island,” the Lupe told her. “So there’s no sense in killing you yet. You can turn around.”
Maria did so, and took in the sight of the Lupe. His clothes were soaked and ragged.
“My name’s John,” he told her.
“Maria,” she replied cautiously; he still had the knife.
“Good. Let’s go and find Freddy, shall we?”
He turned and marched her off into the small jungle.
“See anything yet?” Edna asked.
The Fortune Teller shook her head.
“Before, on the ship, it was giving off magical energy like a lightning rod; it must have discharged it all... it makes it much harder to see,” the Fortune Teller replied, staring into the new crystal ball.
“We could try asking the Brain Tree,” Jerdana said distantly. “He knows a lot.”
“No,” Edna and Sophie said together.
“It’s probably at the bottom of the ocean,” Morguss said confidently.
“Wait,” the Fortune Teller said, “I think I might have something. It’s very faint, though. The book almost doesn’t want to be found.”
“After the storm we just threw at it, I’m not surprised,” Morguss commented.
“Where is it?” Kauvara asked.
“Land, solid land,” the Fortune Teller said.
The witches sighed with relief; it hadn’t got into the hands of the Faeries.
“There’s a beach,” the Fortune Teller added.
“Mystery Island? The Island Faerie might find it!” Sophie asked.
“Maybe, I can’t be sure; it’s very foggy,” the Fortune Teller replied.
“Right then, let’s get to Mystery Island!” Edna shouted, running off to fetch the broomsticks again.
It was night on the island. John had gathered a collection of logs from the forest and started a fire. He sat near it, next to Freddy and Maria. The pirate Chomby had long ago cried himself to sleep over his thimbles. Maria was absent-mindedly staring at the book.
“I suppose you want to know what it is,” John said eventually.
“What?” Maria asked, returning to the world from her private thoughts.
“The book,” he replied, waving it in front of her face. “We’re probably stuck here anyway.”
“You know what it is?” Maria asked.
“Of course; I’m an archaeologist,” John told her.
“I don’t know many archaeologists who carry knives and threaten barmaids,” Maria snapped.
“I don’t know many barmaids who track people half way across the ocean,” John replied. “You must really want a tip.”
“It... drew me after you, the book, I mean,” Maria confessed.
John looked from Maria to the book and back again.
“Do you have any magical blood in you?” he asked.
“No,” Maria replied, “but I’ve always wanted to be a witch and get away from the island! So, it’s a magical book, isn’t it?”
“Much more than a magical book, this is the magical book, the book of magic,” he told her.
Maria gave him a blank expression.
“Have you ever heard the story of Esmeralda?” he asked her.
“No,” Maria replied.
“Esmeralda was a witch who lived a long time ago, long before most of the current cities and empires were founded,” John told her. “The first witch ever to live. Before her, only the Faeries had magic; if you wanted to use it, you needed a sword or a shield or something that they had blessed. Esmeralda didn’t like this; she thought everyone should be equal. To this end, she trapped a Faerie within a book.”
“How did she do that?” Maria asked.
“No one quite knows, but it’s thought she either tricked the Faerie, or the Faerie entered the book of her own free will. Either way, she did it; the book was filled with all the power of a Faerie, a very powerful Faerie at that. But that wasn’t enough for Esmeralda; she wanted magic for everyone, not just a powerful book. Esmeralda cast a spell, the like of which has never been seen again. She linked the book to Neopia, feeding the magic into the very rocks in the ground.”
“Doesn’t seem very impressive,” Maria commented.
“The magic filtered up through the rocks, into the grass, into the trees, and eventually into the Neopets. Soon, anyone with a half-magical inkling in their heads could wield magic. Esmeralda changed the world... forever. Now, as you can imagine, Fyora wasn’t happy about this. She’d kept magic from the Neopets for a reason, to protect us more than anything. She mobilised an army against Esmeralda, and the witch replied in kind, gathering together all of the newly magical Neopets she could find. There was a terrible war... and in the end Fyora and Esmeralda met in battle. The witch was cunning, and ripped up the book right in front of the Faerie Queen. With the book destroyed, the magic it had weaved could never be undone.”
“But you are saying Esmeralda didn’t rip up the book,” Maria said.
“One of my associates found this in Shenkuu,” John told her. “It fits the description and with its lack of Faeries, Shenkuu would be the perfect hiding place. Plus it seems this book attracts witches, which is all the proof I need.”
“But the inside is blank,” Maria said.
“What?” he asked.
“The inside, it used to say ‘Magic’ on the first page, but now all the pages are blank,” Maria explained.
“You read it!?” John shouted.
“Yes, why?” Maria asked.
John didn’t reply; he thrust open the book and thumbed through the pages like a maniac.
“You stupid girl!” he shouted.
“What? I didn’t do anything,” she replied.
“All that magic!” he screamed at her. “No wonder the witches were angry!”
“What are you talking about?” she asked.
“The magic must have escaped!” he shouted. “Now I’m trapped on an island with a depressed pirate, a worthless book and a silly little girl!”
“Well, there’s nothing I can do about that!” Maria shouted back.
“No,” John sneered as he drew his knife, “but maybe I can do something about it.”
Eyes wide with fear, Maria backed away as the Lupe advanced.
To be continued...