Return of the Crimson Witch: Part One
Maniacal laugher echoed through the trees from Eliv Thade’s mansion. Strained organ music screeched down from the fortress of Hubrid Nox. The rhythmic creaking of the Deserted Fairground’s gates competed with the moaning of the Esophagor for volume in the night air.
It was business as usual in the Haunted Woods. The spooks were spooking and the creeps were creeping. Perhaps the most evil creature of all, the travelling double glazing salesman, was going about his business with glee.
In a dark and distant corner of the woods, three solitary figures gathered around a cauldron.
The witches were meeting again.
There was Sophie, witch of the swamplands and saviour of Neovia. Stood next to her was Morguss, loyal servant of whoever the current ruler of the Darigan Citadel happened to be. Finally, there was Edna, the witch of the tower, and general busybody.
Amidst the myriad of gruesome noises the Haunted Woods were producing, there should have been the cackling of witches. Normally, there would have been.
“It’s no good; it won’t light.” Sophie sighed, leaning back from the cauldron.
“What do you mean, it won’t light?” Edna snapped.
“The wind’s too strong. The flames won’t catch,” Sophie told her.
Edna looked critically at Sophie. Sometimes she was sure that the young Ixi was difficult on purpose. She whirled around and glared in the direction of the wind.
It might have been magic, or it might have been the steely determination of an old woman. Either way, the wind thought better of it and stopped blowing.
“Try it now,” Edna suggested, turning back to Sophie.
Sure enough, the fire under the cauldron was lit a moment later. Soon, the liquid within was bubbling furiously.
“What soup is it?” Morguss asked impatiently, licking her lips.
“Vegetable,” Sophie replied, gently stirring the liquid.
“That means leftovers. Means you didn’t have enough so you added in onion,” the Moehog pointed out.
“What soup was it before the onion?” Edna asked.
“Pea,” Sophie informed them.
This got approving nods from the other two witches. There was nothing like pea soup on a cold night. Morguss produced three mugs from the endless depths of her robes, and the three of them drank the soup.
“Look at that!” Sophie said after a while.
She was staring into the depths of the cauldron, at the soup that remained.
“What is it? A Petpetpet?” Edna asked, leaning in.
“No, look at the shape...” Sophie explained.
The three witches leaned in closer.
For the longest time, witches had been able to see glimpses of the future. In the mists of a crystal ball, the falling of twigs and the shapes formed in a spiralling liquid. It wasn’t a powerful form of magic, and not a reliable one either, but it was magic all the same.
“That looks bad,” Morguss commented.
The swirling of the mixture altered slightly, changing the picture of the future which it showed. Collectively the witches gasped.
“Really bad,” Sophie whispered.
“Ancient evil...” Edna told them. “Moving, getting closer...”
The witches glanced up towards the tree line. The wind was rustling the branches, keeping its distance from Edna’s glare.
There was a distant whooshing sound, growing louder. With a loud plopping noise, something fell into the cauldron.
Sophie fished it out and held it at arm’s length.
“A scarab?” she frowned.
“Not exactly ancient evil,” Morguss said critically.
“I don’t know, scarabs have been around for a while,” Sophie pointed out.
Edna picked the scarab off the spoon and inspected it. There was something printed on the bottom.
“Property of the Qasalan Government,” the Zafara read.
“The Lost Desert?” Sophie asked. “The Lost Desert is sending us scarabs?”
There was another whooshing sound, and a scarab hit Edna firmly on the head. The witches looked upwards as a third scarab emerged out of mid air and landed in the cauldron.
Morguss picked up the scarab that had hit Edna and scowled at it.
“There’s something else written on it,” she told the others.
The old Moehog squinted at the small print.
“Please address all complaints to the Royal Expellibox Office, Qasala,” she read.
“Why is the Qasalan government attacking us?” Sophie asked in confusion.
The witches had offended a lot of people over the years, but she couldn’t recall ever making an enemy of Prince Jazan. It didn’t seem like a very efficient attack either.
Morguss fished out the third scarab as Edna hitched up her robes.
“We’ll see about this!” she scowled.
The desert winds battered the Faerie as she flew across the sands. The sandstorm would have choked most creatures, but this Faerie was tightly clad in fine silks, her Fire Faerie wings beating quickly to get her to her destination as soon as possible. She saw it come over the horizon, a small tent flapping madly in the wind, barely staying anchored to the dune.
The Faerie touched down close to the tent, and a Tonu came running out, holding down a sun hat on his head.
“Thank you for coming so soon!” he shouted over the wind.
“My pleasure! I’m always eager to help uncover the ancient mysteries of the desert,” the Faerie replied. “Shall we go inside?”
“Yes, of course! Follow me!” the Tonu agreed, beckoning the Faerie to follow him.
Inside the tent, there was a large hole leading down into the ground. Torchlight could be seen inside, flickering in the darkness. The Tonu led the Faerie down. Once she was out of the wind, she unwrapped the scarf that had been covering her face, revealing Nuria the desert Faerie beneath.
There were other Neopets down there, away from the harsh winds. They were carefully brushing dust off the walls or checking reference books. Nuria examined the closest hieroglyphs.
“These look like standard Sakhmetian, professor,” she pointed out.
“Oh yes, these are,” the Tonu said dismissively. “Same old stuff about the glory of Coltzan and all that. That’s not what we want you to look at.”
He took a torch from a wall bracket and led Nuria farther into the excavation. The archaeologists were everywhere, silently learning the secrets of the ancients. The Tonu stopped at a hole in the floor of the tomb. There was light down there as well.
“One of the interns fell through the floor a few days ago,” the Tonu explained as he began to climb down. “There’s an entirely new level down here.”
Nuria fluttered down beside him. The hieroglyphs were still on the walls, but they were different, more basic.
“We estimate it easily predates Chen-Ra script, possibly even before Geb-runes,” the Tonu said smartly.
Nuria ran her fingers over the ancient writings.
“I haven’t seen writing like this for years...” she whispered. “It seems familiar; I just can’t place it.”
The Tonu grinned expectantly.
“We thought you’d be of help... the Faeries have been here longer than anyone,” he told her.
“Could I have some more light down here?” Nuria asked.
The Tonu looked at the torch he was holding.
“Oh yes! Yes, of course!” he said jovially, placing the torch in a bracket and scrambling up to the higher floor.
Nuria continued to run her fingers over the symbols. They all felt so familiar, and there was one, a single circle, that seemed to be very important. She ran her finger over it, and for a moment it seemed to glow crimson.
The wall the hieroglyphs were written on moved backwards, and then disappeared into the floor. There was a second chamber hidden behind it.
Nuria picked up the torch and ventured into the secret room. It seemed familiar to her as well, but when the Lost Desert was still being built she’d seen so many tombs... they all seemed to fade into one.
There was a sarcophagus in the centre of the secret room, and Nuria felt oddly drawn to it. The crimson circle was emblazoned atop it. Once more, the Faerie brushed her hand over it.
The ancient magic binding the sarcophagus kicked in and the cover split in two, revealing the figure resting within. Nuria’s firelight etched out the sleeping figure, and the Faerie’s face fell.
She remembered this tomb.
She remembered it all too well.
“No!” she whispered, moving to close the lid once more.
The eyes of the wizened old green Kyrii in the coffin flicked open, and a hand stronger than steel gripped the Faerie’s arm, preventing her from moving.
“Yes, my dear,” the Kyrii rasped, sitting up in her coffin. “It’s me.”
Nuria felt the magic of the old woman spread through her body. She glanced down in fear at her arm. From the place where the Kyrii was holding her, the Faerie’s skin was turning grey. Slowly, she was being turned to stone.
“Fyora will stop you!” Nuria gasped as her feet became immobile.
“Fyora doesn’t know I live.” The Kyrii laughed. “No one does. The Witch of the Crimson Circle has returned!”
The stone had reached Nuria’s neck, and was continuing upwards.
“You won’t get away with this, Esm-” Nuria threatened, but her jaw froze stiff.
The transformation was complete. The Kyrii let go of the statue’s arm, and carefully eased herself out of the sarcophagus. It was then that she noticed the Tonu standing in the doorway.
“Who are you!?” he gasped.
The Kyrii smiled evilly as she approached the professor.
“Neopia’s worst nightmare,” she cackled.
The burning torch dropped to the floor, and there was a blood-curdling scream. In the minutes that followed there were several more. Then, there was only the silence of the tomb, and the rasping of the wind surrounding it.
To be continued...