Return of the Crimson Witch: Part Two
The witches flew on as dawn greeted the Haunted Woods. It would be boiling in the Lost Desert by the time they got there; the sun didn’t take long to heat the sands.
“Too much yellow,” Morguss complained as they crossed the border between wood and desert. “Not a sensible colour for a place, yellow.”
“Garish,” Sophie agreed.
“Now black, or grey, those are perfectly acceptable colours for a place to be. Can’t go wrong with a bit of grey,” Morguss continued.
“Nothing yellow’s ever amounted to anything,” Edna said knowingly.
“Except gold,” Sophie added.
“Alright, gold’s slightly useful, but apart from that yellow-” Edna corrected herself.
“And the sun,” Sophie continued.
“That’s more of an orange, though,” Morguss supplied helpfully.
“I’d say that it is yellow,” Sophie persisted.
“Fine,” Edna snapped. “Besides gold and the sun, yellow is a horrible colour.”
“I quite like cheese,” Morguss said quietly. “Cheese is yellow.”
Edna glared at the Moehog.
“Well, I’m sure there are lots of things that are yellow that are also not useful at all,” Sophie said diplomatically. “The desert is probably one of them.”
On the horizon, the city of Sakhmet came into view. Behind the walls, the towers gleamed in the morning sun. Across the river, the far less impressive sight of Qasala waited for the witches.
The people of the restored city had tried their best to rebuild their homes, and by normal standards it would have been fairly impressive. However, when placed next to the larger city of Sakhmet, Qasala somehow managed to look second rate, like a cheap knockoff.
The witches came in low over the river. They collectively did not voice their disappointment with the look of the city. The sun was getting higher in the sky and the temperature was already rising beyond their comfort zones. Whoever they found to take the blame for the scarabs would regret it.
The archaeologists chipped away at the rocks carefully, making sure not to disturb anything locked away within the cave walls.
Shenkuu was such an ancient place, and so untouched by the rest of Neopia that many archaeologists had flocked there to discover the ancient histories hidden within the mountain caves. It was no secret that they were also the ones who didn’t like the desert heat.
“Professor Maybern?” a young Nimmo asked an old looking Elephante. “I think I’ve found something very interesting.”
The Elephante looked up from the Jade tablet he was examining.
“In region 4-B?” he asked. “I thought we already conducted a search there?”
“You’ll really have to see this to believe it, sir!” the Nimmo said excitedly.
The student led the old Professor down into the depths of the cave. In a small area covered in stalactites, the Nimmo presented the old Elephante with a small tablet.
“It was in one of the stalactites in the corner, sir,” the Nimmo explained. “The rock was broken, must have happened during our original search.”
“Looks like ancient Neopian... seems to predate Altadorian-era script...” Maybern explained. “Let’s see... ‘To those who read this, you are cursed. The book is not for your eyes, not for any but the true wielder. It shall take vengeance upon you, in time’. Book? What book?”
“The stalactite was broken, sir...” the Nimmo tried to explain. “It looks as if it was forced...”
“You mean someone has stolen something from our dig!?” the Elephante gasped. “We must inform the Emperor at once!”
The Professor scooped up the tablet in his arms and turned to leave. A shadow fell over him. In the mouth of the cavern, a Kyrii was standing.
She was old, and it showed. She was dressed in an old patchwork dress that reminded the Professor of Jerdana, except the Kyrii’s dress look far older and much more worn. Thick locks of grey hair exploded haphazardly from her head, barely concealing the ruthless scowl the Neopet wore.
“What are you doing in my cave?” she rasped.
“Your cave?” the Professor asked. “My good woman, we are here on the full authority of the Emperor of Shenkuu.”
The Kyrii snarled, and lifted her hand. The Professor made a quiet choking noise as he was lifted off the floor by an unseen force. He scratched at his throat, clearly unable to breathe.
Ignoring the Nimmo, the Kyrii swept across the cave, and came to the place where the smashed stalactite had stood. She glared at the Nimmo.
“Where is it?” she demanded. “Where have you taken my book?”
The Nimmo backed away in fear.
“I... I don’t know, we think it’s been stolen! Please!” he looked meaningfully at the dangling Professor. “Please, we mean no harm!”
The Kyrii glanced at the Tonu, and he fell back to the ground, able to breathe again.
“Who... are you?” he gasped.
The Kyrii narrowed her eyes at the Professor.
“You don’t know me?” she asked. “My appearance doesn’t strike fear into your very heart? How long have I been away...?”
The Kyrii flinched, as if sensing something.
“The book is gone,” she whispered to herself. “It was burned... by witches?”
The Nimmo and the Tonu exchanged a glance.
“I’ve heard of the witches, madam,” the Professor ventured. “If they have stolen something from you, I would give it up as lost. The witches are well known for travelling about the planet, getting their way and trampling anyone who happens to protest.”
The Kyrii grinned, revealing many of her teeth were either missing or crooked.
“Well, you obviously haven’t met a witch quite like me before,” she rasped. “Any others are nothing more than children compared to me. I am the witch!”
The Kyrii advanced on the pair of terrified Neopets.
A moment later, there were screams from within the cave, but they were lost in the mists of the mountains.
The witches didn’t take their time in finding the Royal Expellibox Office in Qasala. They accosted the first person they caught sight of in the large bustling square.
“You!” Edna shouted, poking a Bruce in his middle accusingly. “Where is the Spelling Box Office?”
“The what?” the Bruce asked innocently.
“Don’t get smart with me, young man!” she commanded.
“The Smelly Box,” Sophie intervened. “Where do they keep it?”
The Bruce continued to look confused. Eventually Morguss handed him one of the scarabs.
“Oh! The Expellibox!” he said, sighing with relief.
“That’s what I said! The Spelling Box!” Edna shouted, her nostrils flaring.
“It’s just over there,” the Bruce told them, pointing to a large, if rather battered looking building.
Edna grunted thanks at the Bruce, and led the witches off towards the building.
There was a large queue in the Expellibox Office. As a matter of habit, the witches ignored it and pushed straight to the front. A Kacheek wearing thick glasses sat behind a desk pilled high with paper work. He wore the fixed frown of civil servants everywhere.
“May I help you, ladies?” he asked.
Edna’s nostrils flared again.
“These,” she snapped as Morguss unloaded the three scarabs onto the table, “attacked us in the Haunted Woods!”
The Kacheek nodded politely.
“Let’s see... you’re from the Haunted Woods, yes?” he muttered to himself. “That makes one hundred Neopoints per scarab... of course we only award Neopoints on a per scarab basis, not per person.”
He dipped into a battered looking biscuit tin and produced three small bags of Neopoints which he handed over to Morguss.
The witches were temporarily nonplussed.
“Why are you giving us Neopoints?” Sophie asked. “We’re here to complain!”
The Kacheek’s face did not move for a moment, but then set into an even deeper frown. He snatched the Neopoints back from the witches.
“Well, you should have just said that in the first place,” he grumbled. “Wasting government time should be a criminal offence if you ask me. What you need is the E390 form. Sign it in triplicate and return it back to me in no more than five working days. After it’s been processed, the pipes will be removed within fourteen working days.”
The Kacheek dumped a small forest’s worth of forms on the desk, with ‘E390’ written boldly on top.
“Just what’s going on here!?” Edna shouted, finally losing her temper. “We don’t sign papers! We’re witches! You’d best start getting cooperative or I’ll turn you into a Mortog.”
The Kacheek looked sceptically at the Zafara.
“We know all about witches in the Lost Desert,” he told her. “You are Edna, and you are Sophie. You must be Morguss. You travel across the land poking about in government business, making a large fuss about nothing and creating a lot of paperwork for innocent employees of the state. You were involved in the minor rebellion in Meridell, and then you caused a commotion in Neopia Central. You caused outright chaos on the Virtupets Space Station, and though no one can exactly remember everything, there are rumours you were involved in a fracas in Neopia Central again only months ago.”
“What’s a fracas?” Sophie whispered.
“Exotic dance, I think,” Morguss told her. “It sounds unwholesome.”
Edna eyes grew wide with anger.
“In all my years, I have never been accused of exotic dancing!” she shouted at the Kacheek.
The Kacheek furrowed his brow.
“Yes, well... my point was that we know all about witches in Qasala,” he continued. “Our own prince is a renowned sorcerer. But you don’t seem to know about civil servants, madam. Should you turn one of us into a Mortog, ten more will rise to take his place. At any rate, some of us carry these.”
He brandished a small pendant he had been wearing around his neck. The crystal held within it was one the witches knew all too well. It was Witches Bane, the mushroom capable of sucking up magic in the surrounding area. Edna couldn’t have cursed him no matter how hard she tried.
“Now, as you are foreigners, you are entitled to a diplomatic envoy to guide you through the E390,” the Kacheek told them. “Dorchester!”
A weedy yellow Ogrin appeared at the Kacheek’s side instantly. He was wearing a full turban, and layers of fine desert cloth and gold trinkets almost seemed to drip off his body. He didn’t look like any other Qasalan the witches had seen; he was unmistakably a man trying too hard to fit in.
“Yes sir?” the Ogrin asked in what was unmistakably an upper class Meridell accent.
“These ladies need an E390 filling out,” the Kacheek told him.
“I’ll get right on it, sir!” the Ogrin said enthusiastically.
He scooped up the forms in his hands, losing a few bangles in the process that rolled off across the floor.
“I’m afraid we’re a bit short on space here,” he told the witches. “I know a great bistro in the city, though; we can fill out the forms there!”
Dorchester led the way, with the witches following slightly nonplussed in his wake. Things were not happening like they usually did, and the witches didn’t quite understand why.
To be continued...