The Book: Part Four
John advanced on Maria, his blade drawn. The Ixi crawled backwards, but she was on a tiny island; there would be no escape. John towered over her, his shadow blocking out the light from the small fire.
“Don’t do this!” she shouted at him.
“Or what? You’ll curse me?” he laughed. “You’re not even a proper witch!”
There was a dull thump, and the expression on John’s face changed, his eyes glazing over. The Lupe fell forward, revealing the figure of Freddy behind him, a lump of driftwood in one hand. In the other, he brandished the Meridell Blue, his one remaining thimble.
“It’s a fake!” Freddy bellowed. “The royal seal is smudged!”
Ignoring the unconscious Lupe, he stepped forward and handed the thimble to Maria. The small royal seal on its top had indeed smudged.
“He’s a fraud. I can't abide thimble frauds,” Freddy muttered, glaring at John.
“You hit him because he forged a thimble?” Maria asked, handing the thimble back.
“Of course, it’s a criminal offence,” Freddy said proudly.
“You didn’t want to stop him killing me?” she asked.
Freddy stared at her for a few seconds.
“He was doing what?” he asked.
“Thanks anyway,” she told him as she got to her feet. “We’d best tie him up before he wakes up.”
She kicked the knife out of John’s sleeping hands and picked up the book. It seemed to tingle slightly in her arms again.
The magic is still in it, she thought. It’s just sleeping.
Mystery Island had never seen so many witches at once. The sight of the group, clad in their full robes in the tropical heat, was causing quite a commotion.
“It’s not here; I can’t feel it,” Edna shouted.
At once Sophie and Morguss clamped their hands over her mouth.
“Jhuidah can’t be far,” Morguss hissed. “Keep quiet!”
“She’s right, though,” Kauvara whispered. “The book isn’t here.”
“Well, where is it then?” Jerdana asked. “I’m getting quite sick of flying all over Neopia looking for it.”
All eyes once again turned to the Fortune Teller.
“Why does it always have to be me!?” she shouted.
“Because it’s your job!” the witches shouted back.
Grumbling under her breath, the Fortune Teller produced the crystal ball from under her robes and placed it in the sand. She began running her hands over it as she stared into its depths.
“Still the same thing, a tropical island,” she said eventually.
“Nothing else?” Lisha asked.
The Fortune Teller looked closer into the ball.
“It’s slightly stronger, that’s all I can see,” she told them.
“There’s more than one way to find something,” she said importantly. “You don’t need a crystal ball for everything, you know?”
Before waiting for a response, Sophie marched off towards the undergrowth nearby and returned a few moments later. She was holding a collection of small twigs in her hands. She whispered a few magical words under her breath and then threw the sticks up in the air. They landed in an apparently random position in the sand. Sophie stepped around them, scrutinising their positions. A thin smile then spread across her face.
“It is west of here, on a small islet,” she said triumphantly, shooting a small glare at the Fortune Teller.
“Well, that could be anywhere; there are hundreds of the things between here and the mainland,” the Fortune Teller told her.
“It’s a start,” Edna said happily. “We’d best begin checking them.”
John regained consciousness at dawn, and soon found his hands and feet had been tied. He turned in the sand, to see Maria sat nearby. The knife lay by her side, and the book was open in her lap.
“Morning,” she said snidely.
John groaned as the pain kicked in and his head began to hurt.
“Freddy is most displeased that you tricked him with the thimble,” Maria told him.
“He hit me?” John asked.
“You were wrong about the book, as well,” she added.
“What do you mean?” John groaned.
“It’s not dead. The magic is still in it; it just needs time to rest,” she explained.
“You talk as if the book is alive!” John laughed.
“You talk as if it isn’t,” Maria snapped.
“If the book is still magical, do some magic,” John said.
Maria glared at him.
“Oh, I forgot; you’re not a proper witch,” John muttered.
“I’d cut down on the insults if I were you. I’m the one with the knife. I may not understand magic, but I understand that pointy things tend to hurt,” she pointed out.
A noise from the undergrowth heralded Freddy’s return to the beach.
“Nothing to eat in the jungle,” he muttered as he sat down beside Maria.
He glared at John, moving the thimble between his fingers.
“He’s still here then,” he snarled.
John ignored Freddy; instead he stared at the book.
“Who do you work for?” Maria asked him.
“What?” John said, shifting his eyes away from the book.
“You were planning on giving this to someone, weren’t you? Who were they, Faeries?” she asked.
“Not Faeries,” John replied. “A secret society in Neopia Central, not a particularly special one; you can’t walk ten metres in the city without falling over a secret society these days. A bunch of Neopets make a quick fortune on the stock market and suddenly they think they’re men of worth... and that they can manipulate the world to do their bidding.”
“What do they want with the book?” Maria asked.
“Nothing particularly evil,” he replied. “They don’t know the book’s power, if that’s what you mean. Every secret society needs a magical tome to gather around. Most of them use any old book lying around, but this time they wanted to do it properly. They consulted the Mystic on Mystery Island, and he told them what they wanted was in Shenkuu. For once, the Mystic was actually right; the book was uncovered in Shenkuu a few weeks later. They dispatched me to authenticate it.”
“They have a name?” Maria asked.
“The Order of the Crimson-”
“Look!” Freddy shouted; he was on his feet and pointing out to sea.
“Do you see a boat?” Maria asked, shielding her eyes from the sun.
“There, look!” Freddy continued to shout.
Maria looked out to sea; there didn’t seem to be anything on the horizon.
“Let me guess, it’s a giant thimble,” Maria groaned.
“No!” Freddy shouted, “Look at the sky!”
Maria looked upwards from the horizon. Sure enough, cutting through the clouds was a ship.
“From Shenkuu...” John said from the floor.
Instinctively Maria drew the book closer to her chest.
“Are they here for the book?” she questioned.
“I doubt it. They didn’t even know they had it before it was stolen,” John replied.
“We need to get off this island!” Freddy shouted, jumping up and down while he waved his arms at the flying ship.
The ship continued on its path.
“They can’t see us; we need a signal flare, a fire or something,” John told them.
“We have no time to make a fire!” Freddy shouted at the thimble fraudster.
Maria paused, she could hear whispering, faint, but clear in her head. They were the words of a spell, she knew it. She glanced down at the book, was it lending her its power?
She thrust it open. The pages were still blank, but it crackled with power around the young barmaid. She muttered the magical words quietly, and the effect was instant. From the centre of the book, a great flare shot up into the sky. A few hundred metres above the island, it exploded into a giant red firework.
“Can’t do magic, eh?” John questioned.
“It’s turning!” Freddy shouted.
The flying ship was turning, banking back towards the island. They had been spotted. A broad smile spread across Maria’s face; they were rescued at last.
The cave was dark. It wasn’t the kind of night time darkness, or the darkness that comes from the absence of light. Someone had tried very hard to make the cave appear darker than dark. Black drapes hung down off the walls, a black carpet had been unfurled on the floor. In its centre, a crimson circle had been painted. The circle glowed in the darkness, providing a small source of light.
“Is the Celestial Portal sealed?” a voice from the darkness asked.
There was silence.
“What?” a response came eventually.
“Is the Celestial Portal sealed? Are the demons of the outer world held back by its divine purity?” the voice repeated.
“I’m not sure,” the other voice replied.
“What’s a Celestial Portal?” another voice asked.
“I didn’t know we needed divine purity,” someone else said. “How much does that cost? Is it more expensive than white emulsion?”
The questioner sighed deeply.
“Is the door locked?” he said eventually.
“Of course it is,” a voice replied. “Why didn’t you just ask?”
“Then I call to order the first meeting of the Circle of the Crimson Circle,” the authoritative voice said regally.
There was silence. In the darkness, the face the authoritative voice belonged to smiled.
“First, we shall begin by lighting the Beacon of Souls,” he continued.
“What’s one of them?” one of the other voices asked.
“The candle,” the authoritative voice said. “We are going to light the candle. Look, if you’re not all going to take this seriously, then we might as well not bother and just meet under the Money Tree or something. Some of us want to do this properly, though.”
There were murmured apologies from the darkness.
“Now, who holds the Beacon of Souls? Who shall be our light-bearer this evening?” the authoritative voice asked.
“That’s Clive,” a voice said.
The authoritative voice cleared its throat.
“Oh, I forgot we were all anonymous. I mean, that’s Brother Beacon Bearer,” the voice corrected itself.
“Then step forward, Brother, and light the path for our wayward souls,” the authoritative voice commanded.
“Yes, oh High Master,” Clive replied.
“That’s Grand Master,” the authoritative voice said firmly.
“Does it matter?” Clive asked.
“Yes!” the Grand Master shouted.
Silenced, Clive the Beacon Bearer stepped forward and placed a small white candle in the centre of the crimson circle. He lit it and stepped back.
“Good, now, we shall read from the holy book,” the Grand Master said. “Who ventured forth to obtain our relic from the heretic?”
There was silence.
“Who went to meet the archaeologist at Kiko Lake?” the Grand Master asked, his temper rising again.
“Well?” he asked, after no one responded.
“Oh!” a timid voice said. “I had my hand up... I forgot you can’t see. It’s Brother... Placid Hands, was it? I can’t remember who you said I was.”
“The book, that’s all we need,” the Grand Master said irritably.
“Well, you see,” said Placid Hands, “he didn’t show up. The fishermen said there was an awful storm, and that bits of driftwood had been washing up all day.”
There was another, louder sigh from the Grand Master. Then, the cave was filled with light; he had lit a torch. The half a dozen or so black robed figures struggled to adjust to the light.
“What is the point?” the Grand Master said, as he went around lighting more torches in wall brackets. “Why do we even bother having a secret society if we can’t even do it? You don’t read up on the protocol, you don’t remember your roles, and then you don’t even bring the equipment!”
“It’s not my fault!” Placid Hands said, noticeably quivering.
“If the book is lost, find it!” the Grand Master shouted. “You can’t have a secret society without a book to read from! We’d be laughed out of town!”
The Brothers of the Crimson Circle stared at him.
“Now!” the Grand Master shouted. “Find it now!”
To be continued...