Return of the Crimson Witch: Part Three
The Witch of the Crimson Circle stood on the peak of the mountain. From up there, she could see for hundreds of miles. Her frayed dress billowed in the wind as she surveyed how the land had changed.
The Haunted Woods... they’d grown deeper, and darker.
The land with the rainbow... well, that had just appeared. There’d been nothing but a few travelling gypsies there when she’d gone to sleep.
There was a walled city that had sprung up near Shenkuu as well; the witch didn’t remember that ever being there.
Even the Lost Desert had grown, sprouting great structures out of the inhospitable sands.
In the hazy distance, she could just make out the clouds of Faerieland.
Some things had not changed at all, then...
And somewhere... somewhere within all the sprawling cities were witches... witches that had stolen from her, that had destroyed her property.
Somewhere, there were witches who had to pay the price.
The Witch of the Crimson Circle reached out with her mind. It was difficult to concentrate with the background magic of the Faeries everywhere... but slowly, the energy started to fill her mind.
There was a powerful witch in the walled city. But she was one... it would take more than one witch to destroy the book. There was much more magic in the land of the rainbow... and more still beyond it, but there were Faeries everywhere...
The witch turned her attention southwards, and smiled to herself.
Three very powerful witches were gathered together in the Lost Desert. The aura that surrounded the place smelled of interference. It had to be them; it just had to be...
The Witch of the Crimson Circle set off from the mountaintop. With no broomstick, it would take time to return to the desert. But when she did, the witches would pay.
“Henry, Henry Dorchester,” the Ogrin introduced himself as he led the witches through the streets of Qasala.
“That sounds like an old Qasalan name,” Sophie laughed to the other witches.
“I’m from Meridell originally,” Henry told her. “There’s not a lot of work for clerks in the old country... so I came to the... err... older country, as it were. I try my best to blend in with the local culture, though.”
“You look as if you’ve been here all your life – a real local,” Sophie lied.
“So, what’s this Spelling Box all about?” Edna asked, deciding that the Ogrin had been buttered up more than enough.
“The Expellibox?” Henry corrected her. “That was created by the late great sorcerer Alvare Thornpipe. He was called in to deal with the problem of the scarabs that built up in Qasala during the events that led up to the restoration of the city. He designed a great network of pipes that lead all over Neopia to get rid of the scarabs and equally distribute them over the planet.”
“Pipes?” Morguss asked. “The Scarabs fell out of thin air.”
“Oh yes...” Henry said wearily. “Well, Thornpipe was a wizard, you see...”
The witches exchanged knowing looks. They could see exactly where this was going. Wizards rarely produced things that worked properly... they ended up causing more harm than good in the humble opinions of their female counterparts.
“The pipes all exist... but we’re not entirely sure which dimension they exist in, you see?” Henry continued. “There’s a few solid pipelines heading to Sakhmet, and one to Altador... but most of the others work via trans-dimensional conduits. The worst part is that upon completion of the machine, Thornpipe died before telling anyone how it works.”
“So you’re guessing?” Edna asked.
“In a manner of speaking,” he admitted. “We let people throw in one scarab per day, and hope the rest works according to plan. I’m told by the repair-wizards we have working on it that it really is a complex series of tubes...”
“Can’t you just turn it off?” Sophie asked.
“Oh if only... Thornpipe wired the system into the magical fault lines below the desert. The repair-wizards have told us that turning it off might blow the entire place sky high,” Henry explained.
“What happens when you run out of scarabs?” Edna asked, leaping ahead.
“I’m sure we’ll find something else to throw down the tubes... something that eats scarabs perhaps?” Henry considered.
The four of them emerged out into the plaza, and Henry led them to a small café with tables in the street. They sat down, and Henry began rifling through the forms. A pristine gold pen emerged from underneath his many layers of robes, and he began writing furiously.
“Most of the form is standard stuff, I can fill that in myself,” he explained as he wrote.
“Excuse me, can I take your order?” a waitress asked in a familiar voice.
The witches looked up and examined the girl stood before them, pad and pencil at the ready. She was a white Ixi, and one the witches recognised. A few months earlier, she had helped them track down a magical book.
“Maria?” Edna asked. “What are you doing in the Lost Desert?”
The Ixi took a few moments to process who she was talking to, and then a broad smile spread across her face. Maria was one of the few who were actually happy to see witches.
“I decided to go travelling...” Maria explained, recalling the events after the witches had left her in Neopia Central. “Though, this is as far as I’ve got. A few thousand Neopoints doesn’t get you as far as it used to.”
The witches nodded in agreement to this statement of the universal truth that things were always better when you were younger.
Maria seemed to glance across the square, into the distance, before returning her attention to the witches.
“What brings you here?” she asked.
Edna gestured to Henry.
“Trouble with the Spelling box,” he said simply.
“Oh,” Maria replied, unsure of what she’d been told. “Well, I’ll talk to the girl on the till and see if I can get you something for free.”
Maria took one last look over to the other side of the plaza, and then made her way back inside the café as the witches sat back, happy in the knowledge that a free meal could be heading their way.
“I need to know your permanent home addresses,” Henry piped up.
“It’s rude to ask a lady a question like that!” Edna snapped, straightening herself up.
“Just put, ‘Witches, Haunted Woods.’ Stuff normally finds us that way,” Sophie supplied.
“Or Darigan Citadel,” Morguss added.
“I once got a letter addressed to ‘that old woman what has a leaky roof’,” Edna told the others.
“Wonder it got there with the state of the postal service these days...” Morguss mused. “Things were much better in the old days... I remember way back I got a letter addressed to ‘The Moehog’. Found its way to me within two days, it did.”
Maria returned a moment later with four plates.
“Sorry, these are the best I could get,” she said as she set them down.
She glanced once more over to the other side of the plaza.
“Is something the matter, dear?” Edna asked as she prodded the purple substance on the plate.
“Oh, nothing!” Maria said, slightly flustered. “I just can’t seem to get the desert out of my head today, very strange.”
Some more customers had sat down, and Maria rushed off to help them.
Edna prodded the purple substance again.
“Queela Crisp,” Henry informed her as he tucked into a similar dish with a forced look of enjoyment. “It’s a local delicacy.”
“Food shouldn’t be purple,” Morguss said mournfully. Her purple fruit was wrapped in pita bread.
“Now yellow...” Edna said, leaning back. “That’s a perfectly acceptable colour for food to be.”
“Can’t go wrong with a good banana,” Morguss agreed.
Sophie prodded her purple substance with care, it squelched quite unappetisingly.
“Foreign food,” she muttered. “Why is there always foreign food in foreign parts? Has no one ever heard of a good cup of soup?”
“They do Queela soup,” Henry supplied as he scribbled the approximate ages of the witches down.
Thankfully, he was not stupid enough to ask.
Edna meanwhile had grown bored with talk of purple masses, and was staring curiously at Maria as she went about her work. She noted that the girl continued to look out towards the plaza, and the desert beyond.
“What’s going on in the desert?” she asked eventually.
Henry returned from the depths of the forms with some effort.
“Oh, just the usual...” he told her. “There are the nomads, the explorers, the diggers... A few archaeologists have been making a big noise about a temple they’ve found. They say it’s ancient.”
“I thought everything in the desert was ancient?” Sophie questioned.
“Oh yes, well, this temple is supposed to be even more ancient,” Henry corrected himself. “They seem to think it is perhaps even older than the tomb of Ta-Kutep.”
“You think something is happening?” Morguss asked Edna.
“I don’t know... but that girl... strange she should turn up again,” the old witch replied.
“Right!” Henry said, pocketing the gold pen. “I’m finished! If we get these back to Mr. Al-Tuck in the Expellibox Office, we can have the repair-wizards dispatched and send you on your way!”
Saying their goodbyes to Maria, the group left the café and made their way back across the plaza. As they went, Edna felt a tingling sensation on her fur.
“Do you feel that?” she asked, stopping dead in her tracks.
The other two witches nodded.
“Feel what?” Henry asked.
“Magic, a lot of it,” Edna explained.
She could taste it on the air.
“Oh no!” Henry gasped. “I hope the Expellibox hasn’t performed an Illegal Operation again! The last time it did that it restarted itself and the magical backlog turned an entire district of the city into a basket of flowers!”
Edna turned towards the plaza as a loud bang erupted.
Or rather, it didn’t. A loud silence erupted instead; the magical silence deafened the witches more effectively than any noise could of.
And then the world stopped moving.
To be continued...